dennis walcott

New York

School aides union and DOE in talks to prevent layoffs

New York

Walcott outlines steps to help principals focus on instruction

Principals will soon get back an hour every day to focus on instructional leadership, if Chancellor Dennis Walcott achieves his goal of taking tasks off of school leaders' plates. Walcott has said since taking office in April that he wanted to simplify principals' jobs. But even as he has directed principals to spend more time observing teachers and rolling out new curriculum standards, principals have still had to wade through a seemingly endless list of tasks handed down from Department of Education headquarters. That list is starting to shrink. In a message to principals today, Walcott said the city has taken concrete steps to simply principals' jobs. The steps include linking school records and city health records so that principals don't have to chase down students' immunization records; pre-populating some reporting forms with school data; and reducing the number of times principals have to give feedback about their satisfaction. The DOE has also convened a team of officials in the Office of School Support to find more ways to reduce the time principals spend on tasks assigned centrally, Walcott said. And the department is working on making some data systems more user-friendly, including the brand-new Special Education Student Information System, which some principals say has been problematic since launching. "You’ve sent a clear message: you are passionately engaged in raising the rigor of the work that your teachers and students do, but too many of you are frustrated by demands coming from outside of your school that do not contribute to your core work," Walcott wrote in the Principals Weekly newsletter last night.
New York

In training, teachers learn new ways to talk about student work

Dennis Walcott joined principal Annabelle Martinez (standing) and teachers at P.S. 124 in Sunset Park for training on the Common Core standards. Huddled around tables in their school library, three dozen teachers at P.S. 124 in Sunset Park got a taste for how new standards being rolled out across the city would reshape their work in the classroom this fall. Principal Annabelle Martinez handed out photocopies of student writing samples and asked the teachers to evaluate the work according to the new standards. For a team of third-grade teachers, that meant looking at a short essay about weather and determining whether the author used "informative and explanatory text to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly." At first, the teachers found strengths in the essay's display of mechanics. One teacher pointed out that the student had used capitalization correctly. "He knows his paragraphs," another teacher said. "And he knows sentence structure too." Later, the teachers used a projector to present their notes to their colleagues. Under Martinez's guidance, the teachers revised how they discussed the student's strengths. Now, they called the essay "informative" and said it was organized well by topic and included a "clear introduction" and a "clear conclusion" — language that was more in line with the new standards. Scenes like this were playing out in schools across the five boroughs this morning as part of an extra day of professional development given to staff before students start class tomorrow.
New York

City's Common Core rollout ramps up today with teacher training

When it comes to new "common core" standards, theoretical language is giving way to hands-on practice. The curriculum standards, accepted by 48 states, are being rolled out citywide this year after being piloted in 100 schools last year. Today, every teacher in the city is expected to get training on them. Chancellor Dennis Walcott sat in on a training session this morning at Brooklyn's PS 124, which took part in the pilot last year. But at many schools, today is likely to be the first time that teachers learn just how the common core standards are poised to change their jobs. Some principals put together their own plans for today, but they can also draw on four 90-minute lessons the city devised. One session asks teachers to evaluate student work from their own school to see if it meets the new standards. In another, they will practice assessing teachers according to a new evaluation rubric. A third lesson focuses on connecting two overarching citywide goals: strengthening student work and teacher practice. And a fourth lesson asks teachers to examine student work from a school that adopted the new standards last year. The lessons are part of the Department of Education's online "Common Core Library" of resources. In a letter to principals last week announcing the lesson plans, Walcott laid out a timeline for schools' common core-related accomplishments. This fall, he wrote, teams of teachers at each school should identify students' shortcomings. In the winter, teachers should ask all students to complete two common core-aligned "tasks," one in reading and one in math. Through it all, principals should be giving teachers frequent feedback based on classroom observations, Walcott wrote. Walcott's letter to principals is below:
New York

Ten days before 10th anniversary, city launches 9/11 curriculum

As the city prepares to observe the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Education is making curriculum materials — and grief counseling — available to teachers. "As educators and parents of children who grew up in the years before and after 9/11, we have a responsibility to help them learn that the attacks of 9/11 were an attack on all New Yorkers, our nation as a whole, our freedoms, and our way of life," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in an email to teachers today announcing the new materials. High school seniors had just started second grade on 9/11, and most city students have "little or no recollection" of the day, Walcott noted in the letter to teachers. That's one reason why a team of teachers and administrators at the DOE worked with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, scheduled to open next year, to develop a collection of 9/11-themed lesson plans. Those plans went online today. The lesson plans are meant to be used in social studies, history, English, and art classes across all grade levels. The 10 to 20 lessons for each grade level are divided across the themes of "historical impact," "community and conflict," "heroes and service," and "memory and memorialization." Children in kindergarten through second grade might learn about bravery and examine mementos, now in the museum's permanent collection, that children sent to firefighters after 9/11. Middle schoolers might analyze memorial songs released shortly after 9/11. And a high school class might study the recent history of Islamist extremism or develop museum exhibitions of their own. Each lesson is connected to new Common Core curriculum standards being rolled out this year. The department is also planning to offer counseling services to teachers, staff, and students who need them, Walcott said. Walcott's letter to teachers is below.
New York

Bridge-building no metaphor at engineering-themed high school

Ninth-grader Ikiya Devonish prepares to load weight onto her group's bridge, with the help of City Tech Professor Anthony Cioffi. Many schools have summer "bridge" programs to bring new students up to speed. City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology has ninth-graders build actual bridges. The two-year-old school's summer orientation program includes a bridge-building competition where incoming freshmen can showcase their newly acquired engineering skills. The orientation kicks off an intensive program that condenses all of high school plus a taste of college into three years. That's a steep challenge for many students at the Downtown Brooklyn school, which admits students without considering their grades or test scores. But school officials say about three-quarters of the small school's first entering class is on track to spend a fourth year studying full-time at the New York City College of Technology, the high school's partner, free of charge. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott attended this year's competition today, offering congratulations and consolations as students pushed their popsicle-stick bridges to the breaking point. Tension mounted as students, teachers, and supporters watched to see whether any bridges would bear more than last year's record 109 pounds. One bridge did: The winning team, Building Fanatics, loaded 114 pounds of geometry textbooks onto their structure before it collapsed. Stephon Stevens, a ninth-grader who came to City Poly from Explore Charter School, said the team guessed that moving popsicle sticks from the bottom to the top of the bridge design would make it stronger. Four of every five students at City Poly are boys, in keeping with a trend that cuts across many of the city's career and technical education schools.
New York

DOE dealt large portion of funds to narrow achievement gap

New York

Probe underway after staff blows whistle on illicit credit recovery

A Philip Randolph High School is under investigation for credit accumulation fraud. (Credit: NYC DOE school web site) A high school that posted suspicious swings in graduation rates in recent years is under investigation for giving students credits they didn’t earn. Teachers and other staff members at A. Philip Randolph High School said they blew the whistle after seeing administrators abuse a practice that allows students to quickly make up credits in classes that they previously failed. Department of Education officials said the Office of Special Investigations began probing A. Philip Randolph last month after Chancellor Dennis Walcott received several emails earlier this summer alleging illicit use of the practice, known as "credit recovery," to artificially improve the school's graduation numbers. After years of mediocre performance, the school’s graduation rate increased nearly 30 points two years ago and was one of the city’s highest. This year, with less than a week before graduation day, school administrators ordered guidance counselors to enroll all failing seniors into online credit recovery courses so that they could graduate on time, one of the counselors said. She said the courses were crammed into one or two days and often went unsupervised. When she and the school’s programming coordinators protested to administrators, they were rebuffed, the guidance counselor said. “I said to them, ‘That is not right,’” she said. “You’re asking us to do something unethical.”
New York

In wake of national scandals, state is reviewing test security