Future of Schools

Shelby County board members debate role of Teach For America in Memphis schools

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Shelby County board members and superintendent Dorsey Hopson debated the role of Teach For America in Memphis schools. The program was commended for filling spots in high-needs schools and helping stem a ‘brain drain’ in the city, but members had concerns about the program’s financial sustainability and its impact on other teachers in the district.

Teach For America came to Memphis in 2006, and has grown from a 48-person corps in its first year to a 200-member group of first-year teachers this year.

As the board discussed its contract with Teach For America and other alternative certification programs, board member David Pickler asked Laura Link, a Professional Learning & Development Specialist at the district, how long Teach For America teachers stick around in Shelby County schools.

Link’s response seemed to surprise him. She said that 92 percent of TFA corps members stay for a second year, compared to 82 percent of traditionally-recruited teachers. She said 61 percent of corps members return for a 3rd year.

“Irrespective of the numbers, we need to be utilizing our dollars to…do a better job of attracting and retaining teachers,” Pickler said. “I think TFA is a bit of a band-aid. We need to be enhancing the professionalism of teaching.”

Superintendent Hopson agreed. “It’s not financially sustainable to do this for a long period of time,” he said. Still, he said, TFA recruits have “a willingness to go into some places that are hard to staff.”

“It’s working, but it can’t be a long-term solution,” he said.

“We pay $5,000 to TFA for every teacher they place,” said superintendent Hopson. A teacher effectiveness grant from the Gates Foundation currently pays TFA’s contract, but the grant is not permanent. 

Board member David Reaves questioned whether the program had a negative affect on traditionally-certified teachers. “There’s been a significant number of emails from teachers about how we moved a lot of teachers out and we staffed TFA-ers in their place,” he said.

Hopson said, “under our contract, we can place up to 125 teachers through TFA. We hire between 900 and 1,100 new teachers each year. It’s a fraction of the number we hired.”

Reaves said it was important for the conversation about TFA and the district’s staffing strategy to be out in the open.

This article from the Commercial Appeal highlights TFA’s efforts to keep teachers in town and represent itself as an evolving organization.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.