Education news. In context.
Diversity & Equity
Politics & Policy
Teaching & Classroom
Student & School Performance
Leadership & Management
Charters & Choice
Find a Job
How to be a Chalkbeat source
Republish Our Stories
Code of Ethics
Our News Partners
Work with Us
September 5, 2012
Exclusive excerpt: Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed”
This excerpt is drawn from Chapter Three of Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.” The chapter follows the chess team from I.S. 318, a public middle school in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as they compete in the National Junior High Championships in Columbus, Ohio, in April 2011. Much of the chapter’s focus is on the teaching techniques of Elizabeth Spiegel, the school’s chess teacher. This excerpt connects Spiegel’s teaching to the work of some other educators and scholars discussed in Tough’s book, including David Levin and Dominic Randolph, the leaders of KIPP New York and the Riverdale Country School, respectively, whose schools are working together to create a character report card. In her chess classes at IS 318, Elizabeth Spiegel often conveyed specific chess knowledge: how to spot the difference between the exchange Slav opening and the semi-Slav; how to weigh the comparative value of your light-square bishop and your dark-square bishop. But most of the time, it struck me whenever I watched her at work, what she was really doing was far simpler, and also far more complicated: she was teaching her students a new way to think. “Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking,” Spiegel explained to me one morning when I visited her classroom. “Like how to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought processes.” Before she was a full-time chess teacher at IS 318, Spiegel taught an eighth-grade honors English class at the school, and as an English teacher she was, she says, a bit of a disaster. She taught composition the way she analyzed chess games: When students turned in writing assignments, she went through each assignment sentence by sentence with each student, asking, Well, are you sure that’s the best way to say what you want to say? “They looked at me like I was insane,” she told me. “I would write them these long letters about what they’d written. It would take me the whole evening to do six or seven of them.” Although Spiegel’s teaching style might not have been the right fit with an English class, her experience teaching English did help her understand better what she wanted to do in chess class. Rather than follow a set chess curriculum over the course of the year, she decided she would construct her academic calendar as she went, planning lessons based entirely on what her students knew and, more important, on what they didn’t know. For instance, she would take her students to a weekend tournament and notice that many of them were hanging pieces, meaning they were leaving pieces undefended, which made them easy targets. The following Monday, she would organize the whole class around how not to hang pieces, reconstructing the students’ flawed games on the green felt practice boards hung on hooks at the front of her classroom. Again and again, she would go over her students’ games, both individually and as a class, analyzing exactly where a player had gone wrong, what he could have done differently, what might have happened if he had made the better move, and playing out these counterfactual scenarios for several moves before returning to the moment of error. Sensible though this process might sound, it’s actually a pretty unusual way to teach chess, or to learn it. “It’s uncomfortable to focus so intensely on what you’re bad at,” Spiegel told me. “So the way people usually study chess is they read a book about chess, which can be fun and often intellectually amusing, but it doesn’t actually translate into skill. If you really want to get better at chess, you have to look at your games and figure out what you’re doing wrong.”
September 4, 2012
Why I Left My School
I can’t say that I am an “irreplaceable” teacher. But I do know that some of the teachers that I have worked with are, and that we have chosen to forsake our school. The education policy group TNTP coined that term this summer in a report that calls for changes to teacher retention policies. The top 20 percent of teachers are “irreplaceables,” TNTP concluded, and yet they must be replaced far too often. Like many educators, I may take issue with some of the flashpoints of TNTP’s report — the aggrandizing term of “irreplaceable,” the focus on firing “low performers,” the notion of merit pay, or the idea that the wheat can even be separated from the chaff given the measures that currently exist. But I think the report called attention to an important conversation that needs to happen about retention. It’s well past due that we focused on the toxic cultures and conditions in public schools that cause capable teachers to leave. The report got one critical point right: most teachers depart due to a failure in school leadership. As the report further notes (under “low-cost retention strategies”), the remedy for this failure can be heartrendingly easy: All it would often take to retain some effective teachers is a few positive words of recognition. Beyond this simple remedy, most teacher-leaders furthermore crave the opportunity and support to work with other teachers and school leaders to best meet the needs of their students.
August 20, 2012
Researcher: Small Schools Aren’t Enough, But They Help
In 1994, Bridges, along with three other small high schools, was founded to replace a failing comprehensive high school in one of the poorest sections of the Bronx. I wondered, to what extent was Bridges Institute actually aligned with the tenets of critical small school reform? How did the policy and community contexts influence the vision and implementation of the reform agenda? How did the leadership and staff respond to threats? And, most importantly, was it a good school?
August 20, 2012
An Education Samurai Introduces Herself
Leaving the information technology industry when I was 23 was an easy decision as I had a profound need to do more with my life than make money. I quickly landed a job at Far Rockaway High School with no experience or understanding of where my path would take me except for the idealistic belief that I could help create change. I loved teaching at Far Rockaway for the three years I was there — well, maybe not at first. For the first month of my teaching career, I cried every day, wondering if I made the right choice. The inner-city students I taught tried my patience and heart, testing my commitment, until one day it all changed. Because I was truly concerned for my students, I think my dedication was evident, and after I didn’t run screaming from the building after the first month, the students became protective. And because I had little experience in the classroom, I took advice and help wherever I could get it, letting my natural ability to connect with people and my passion for teaching English come through. With the help of the UFT Teacher Center at my school and several inspirational colleagues, I got involved and learned quickly on the job. Now, 11 years later, I can’t imagine being anything but an educator. It is as much a part of my identity as my role as mother. In the last decade, I have seen three different schools, six principals, thousands of students and serious change, both positive and disconcerting. My commitment to the education of students hasn’t changed and neither has my willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure my students “get it." Having lived through a number of initiatives the city has imposed (not all bad), I have managed to take what I feel works and leave the rest because I know that “aha” moment is always just a breath away. My humility and curiosity don’t allow me to call myself a master teacher, but it is my goal: to be one of those people whom kids remember for helping them find their voices.
August 14, 2012
The Fruitful Marriage Of Classroom And Community
“The Art of Debate,” “The Four Steps of Social Justice,” “Redefining Rehabilitation,” “Gender and the Media” — they sound like titles of college courses many of us have taken (or wish we could have). But at our school, they were the subjects of a student-created social justice mini-conference that we held this spring. My colleagues and I challenged a number of 11th-graders to devise 30-minute lessons to teach the underclassmen about social justice. In less than 48 hours, students came up with slideshows, posters, and engaging activities to present to the whole school. Each session took on its own character. For instance, the one I advised was high-energy with lots of debate about oppression throughout history. Another I watched was marked by a contemplative circle discussion on the Trayvon Martin incident and racial profiling. One had students acting out scenarios where they practiced asserting their constitutional rights when approached by a police officer who wanted to search them without cause. Needless to say, I was extremely proud. It was one of those precious days when I unequivocally knew our school’s social justice agenda was rigorous, meaningful, and successful. A year and a half ago there were few students or staff who were able to articulate social justice, let alone actively teach it. Now our upperclassmen can eloquently speak it, write it, and teach it.
August 7, 2012
Why Teachers Quit, And Why We Can’t Fire Our Way To Excellence
In the past few weeks, two major reports on teacher turnover and retention have been released. One was rolled out with extensive media coverage, and has been the subject of much discussion among policymakers and education commentators. The other was written by me, along with Teachers College doctoral student Clare Buckley. The first report, “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools,” was prepared by TNTP, an organization formerly known as The New Teacher Project that prepares and provides support for teachers in urban districts, and that advocates for changes in teacher policy. The second, “Thoughts of Leaving: An Exploration of Why New York City Middle School Teachers Consider Leaving Their Classrooms,” was released by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, a nonprofit research group based at New York University. (The research alliance published a report by Will Marinell in February 2011 that examined detailed patterns of teacher turnover in New York City middle schools apparent through the district’s human-resources office.) There are some important similarities between the two new reports. Both surveyed teachers in large urban districts about their plans to stay in their current schools or to depart either for other schools, other districts or other careers. Both also sought to understand the features of teachers’ work on the job that were influential in their plans to stay or leave. The study of New York City relied on a large, anonymous sample of middle-school teachers: roughly 80 percent of the full-time teachers in 125 middle schools across the city. In contrast, the TNTP study surveyed smaller numbers of teachers in four urban districts (one of which appears to be New York City), and the surveys were not anonymous, because TNTP wanted to link teachers’ survey responses to what the authors viewed as measures of teachers’ performance, such as value-added scores or summary teacher evaluations. The headlines from the two studies aren’t that different: In any given school, many teachers think about leaving, and it’s not easy to predict why some teachers are more poised to move than others.
July 31, 2012
Making The Most Of My Summer, With Help
I was excited when I got the opportunity to spend two weeks at Marist Collegelast summer because I am never away from my home in the Bronx. At first I was nervous but then I thought about it and realized “Hey, I’m really going to be getting college credit for this and it would be good for college applications and my resume.” I applied for the sports management program in hopes to become a sports broadcaster. When I had been accepted they told me that the program was $2,000. Instantly I thought to myself there was no way I can afford it. But with the help of my school's College Preparation and Leadership Program, other donors, and fundraising efforts, we got enough for me and two other girls to go. I was so excited. When I first arrived at Marist College the campus was beautiful. The view from the Hudson River was astounding, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. At first it was kind of a culture shock for me because I saw very few Hispanics, but then I quickly adapted. I finally met my roommates and they were awesome. My roommates were from Long Island and Utica. They were very friendly and welcoming. After we got settled I quickly made many friends.
July 5, 2012
Charter schools no silver bullet for integration, but a start
The comments posted in response to my recent GothamSchools Q&A on gentrification and schools were very helpful in pushing my thinking, and I greatly appreciate those readers who took the time to engage with my work. For those who read my interview but did not follow the back and forth in the comments section, let me quickly summarize what I heard from readers.
June 26, 2012
The Emotional Fallout Of Turnaround
Approximately three weeks ago teachers at Flushing High School began interviewing for their current positions at the turnaround school that will replace ours on July 1: Rupert B. Thomas Academy at Flushing Campus. In addition to preparing students for Regents exams and calculating final grades, my colleagues were working nonstop to gather portfolio materials and letters of recommendations for the reapplication process. Some had interviews during their lunch or prep periods while others still have yet to interview. Conversations around this time of the year generally include happy sentiments about completing another year, but this time it was, “Did you go yet? What did they ask? How did you do?” Colleagues who have successfully held their positions for anywhere from five to 30 years were dressed in their best business attire, pacing nervously in front of the conference room where the interviews were taking place. The interview committee has consisted of the new principal for the new school, two representatives for the UFT, two representatives of the city Department of Education, one parent, and a current assistant principal. The steps leading up to our current situation thus far have left the entire staff (and student body) extremely jaded. We all believe that there is no logic to the entire process and that the DOE had already predetermined who they will be hiring back, and most of us believed that salary would be a big factor. (For each teacher, the city charges schools the average salary of all of the school's teachers, so principals have a financial incentive to hire less experienced teachers when possible.)
June 21, 2012
The Special Education Reforms From A Student’s Perspective
Growing up with a disability, I am very familiar with the term "special ed." I am also aware that the phrase “special education” has a negative connotation. I remember an incident in middle school where one of my math teachers wrote on the board, “All special ed students will report to room 420 for the state exam.” Another student who was in special education screamed out, “Don’t call us special ed!” This incident shows the struggle with identity that students who need Integrated Co-Teaching often find themselves in. (An ICT classroom contains a mixture of students with disabilities and nondisabled students. There are two teachers, one licensed in the general education content area and the other licensed in special education who is responsible for working with students with disabilities.) Many students do not want to be considered any different from our non-disabled peers, but the fact is we are different.
June 18, 2012
Reflecting On A Year Of Blended Learning
Some of the city's "turnaround" schools, including the one where I work, are listing knowledge or willingness to learn about using a blended learning instructional models as a criterion for hiring teachers. That's because we are participating in the iLearn NYC program, a Department of Education initiative to support blended learning throughout the city. The initiative gives schools access to online content from various providers at a reduced cost; a learning management system to host online courses; and professional development, technical support, and training. The term “blended learning” caused a great deal of head-scratching among some staff members in my school as I'm sure it did in other turnaround schools. As the iLearn coordinator for my school, I offered answers to any questions teachers might have and there were many. Some people dismissed blending learning, regarding it as having little educational value, while others expressed fear that the model threatens the teaching profession. Many other teachers were interested to know more. I thought it worthwhile to share my experience and perspective on blended learning for others who might have similar concerns and questions. Blended learning, simply defined as a combination of face to face and online instruction, is a pedagogical model that is often and easily misunderstood. It can mean many different things to different educators and usually it means nothing at all to most. Though it is a term creeping into the ever-expanding teacher lexicon, it remains meaningless to many because it is a pedagogical strategy that is not yet widely in use. When teachers do know what blending learning is, they can easily misunderstand it because it can take many different forms and have many different uses. When I have answered my colleagues' questions, I have told them exactly what I know: that blended learning that is not managed ethically can be damaging, but that strong teachers can use blended learning to help all students in new ways.
June 12, 2012
Going The Extra Mile
A few weeks ago, a parent sent a note to my principal. In part it said, “Ms. Whitehouse is an asset to your school. I only wish there were more teachers like her who would go the extra mile for the kids.” I was touched by this mother’s kind words and the thoughtfulness displayed in taking the time to compose and send the note, particularly in the current teacher-bashing atmosphere. The note worked also made me think about that “extra mile” — who runs it and how far it actually is. Every morning several teachers arrive at school by 7 a.m. (We’d arrive earlier but we are not allowed inside the building until then.) We prepare for our day by organizing lesson resources. We make copies (when the copy machine is working) and put notes on the board. We grade homework and analyze data. We fill out paperwork, plan trips and clean desks with anti-bacterial wipes. Some of us water plants, read professional materials, or prepare our bulletin boards. (That feels like a mile.) A little before 8 a.m., the “show” begins and until 3 p.m. it is a whirlwind of lessons and assessments, student conferences, planning, and duty in the yard, bathroom and cafeteria. Many of us skip “duty-free” lunch to run detention, tutor students or attend meetings. (That’s at least two miles, isn’t it? Cause I’m winded.) When the students leave, our day is not done. Teacher “milers” stay behind to straighten up, review supply needs, gather original materials that need to be copied, and reflect on the day’s lessons or a student’s errant behavior. We look over students’ work and think how best to address their deficits and highlight their strengths. We assess ourselves and redesign our lessons. We make phone calls to parents. Sometimes we speak with colleagues about upcoming tests, lessons, trips, or activities. Often we seek advice from a more seasoned teacher. Some of us attend professional development or college after school. For instance, several evenings a week, Ms. Lichtman takes classes which keep her away from home until 9:30 p.m. (That’s definitely got to be a couple of miles.)
June 11, 2012
Are We Failing Gym Or Is Gym Failing Us?
Travis Dove and Juliana Zaloom are students at CSI High School for International Studies. They reported and wrote this piece for their journalism class. Physical education. The term conjures up images of running, basketball, volleyball, and stretching — and, for many students at CSI High School for International Studies, overcrowding, minimal curriculum, and disorganization. As CSI fills to the ceiling of its capacity, the question of what to do with gym class looms over everyone’s heads. Originally, because classes lasted up to 55 minutes per day, the school offered gym at 1.35 credits for students (as well as all other classes). This allowed students to finish the required four credits in three semesters. However, after a Department of Education audit found this practice to be against regulations, gym was reduced to one credit per class. After two years, another audit revealed that gym is meant to be worth .58 credits and offered for a minimum of seven semesters. Because of this sudden change, some seniors’ graduation was in doubt, and zero block gym was created in September 2011. The class would be worth one credit to allow seniors to finish in time to graduate. In addition to being offered to seniors behind in gym credits, some juniors behind in credits (due to taking extra music or art classes) were also placed in zero block. In some cases, students were scheduled for gym more than one period a day so they could make up missed credits.
June 8, 2012
Four Years To Reverse A Bad Decision?
This piece originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario. Last Friday, the Department of Education quietly disclosed that it will end one of its signature policies: the all-out ban on so-called “social promotion” of students in city schools. Finally, "in response to ... feedback and research showing that being retained multiple times can be detrimental for students," principals will receive an additional $1,500 for every student who has already been retained and will have the flexibility to promote those students if they judge that to be best for the student. Turns out, simply holding students back doesn’t always help them do better. And sometimes, it’s not best for a child to be 16 years old in the eighth grade. I want to say, “I told you so,” but that isn’t very satisfying. It just makes me angry. Back in 2008, parents and community members from the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice protested the strict retention policy, based on years of educational research. One hundred fifty of us showed up to protest the Panel for Educational Policy “vote” to put 18,000 students at risk of repeating a grade because of their state test scores — without any plan at all to help those students do better. Of course we don't want our children passed on if they are not prepared for the next grade, but we did want proof that a ban would work, as well as a plan to give students the academic supports they would need.
June 7, 2012
Researcher: Gentrification can turn into school integration
The Useable Knowledge series brings education research to GothamSchools readers. In the second installment, Jennifer Stillman presents her research into racially diverse schools in gentrifying neighborhoods. Stillman, a research analyst for the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation, earned a doctorate in politics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She lives in Harlem. Leave questions for Stillman about her research in the comments section. What questions guided your research? I researched the process of school integration in gentrifying neighborhoods because I think school integration remains an important societal goal, despite the dismantling of racial integration programs across the nation. Gentrifying neighborhoods seem full of potential. I wanted to figure out how a school without any white, middle-class families goes through the process of integration. What does it take to attract the first white families to a school in a gentrifying neighborhood? And the next wave? And the next? Why do these families stay or go? Is there a point at which we can say the school has successfully integrated? My research question was one of process, not outcomes, relying on existing literature that links integration with positive effects. I am a “gentry parent” myself (which I define as white, middle and upper-middle class, highly educated parents who are gentrifying a neighborhood with their presence and wealth), and I understand why neighborhood gentrification is controversial.
In your inbox.
Chalkbeat New York
How I Teach
Rise & Shine Colorado
Rise & Shine Detroit
Rise & Shine Indiana
Rise & Shine Tennessee
The Starting Line