dennis walcott

New York

Help on the way for schools struggling with evaluation changes

Department of Education leaders, from left, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner and Deputy Chief Academic Officer Josh Thomases spoke to teachers about evaluation challenges this week. It's never too late to help schools figure out how to implement a complicated teacher evaluation system. At least that's the theory at the Department of Education, which is planning to put out a comprehensive guide to navigating the city's new evaluation system this week, more than four months after the details were set. It's now six weeks into the school year, and teachers and principals have been raising red flags about the new teacher evaluations since even before the first day of school. They've complained about not having enough time, resources, and information to confront logistical challenges related to evaluations. Department officials are aware of the gripes, and this week they acknowledged that the process hasn't always been smooth. "I think we have done a somewhat decent job," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said of the rollout this week. They're responding with a series of stopgap fixes to aid with the rollout. They've extended deadlines, allocated millions in overtime pay, and consolidated the state's 243-page evaluation plan for New York City into a 45-page guide. Even teachers eager for the new evaluations, which will judge teachers on a four-rating score and be based on multiple measures, say they feel overwhelmed by the many changes happening at once this year. At an event hosted this week by Educators 4 Excellence, which supports new evaluations and is generally optimistic about school reforms under the Bloomberg administration, nearly 60 percent of teachers said they had been "poorly informed" or "very poorly informed" about the evaluation system. "I think it's been a huge lift for us to get information out there," said Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, who added that he was actually surprised at how many teachers said they had been informed about the changes.
New York

As terms end, council members push to curb school closures

New York

Tenure crunch continues, but just 41 teachers denied on first try

Percentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013 For the third year in a row, nearly half of teachers up for tenure last year did not receive it. But the number of teachers outright denied the job protection remained small. Just under 4,000 teachers were up for tenure in the 2012-2013 school year, with 2,551 of them facing the decision for the first time — fewer than usual because hiring restrictions had been in place three years earlier. Of the total, 53 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion — 44 percent — had their probationary periods extended for another year. Only 41 of the 2,551 teachers up for tenure for the first time this year were told they could not continue to work in city schools, according to city data. That means the denial rate for teachers in the tenure pool was about 1.6 percent, lower than in each of the past two years. The extension rate for teachers up for tenure for the first time was 44 percent, up slightly since last year. The high extension rate is a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration's efforts to make tenure tougher to achieve. Bloomberg vowed in 2010 to move toward "ending tenure as we know it," a change he favored because teachers who do not yet have tenure can more easily be fired. The previous year, 11 percent of teachers up for tenure had been denied or extended. At the start of the mayor's tenure, that figure had been about 1 percent.
New York

Report incites a debate over internet speeds in city schools

No matter who you talk to — politicians, Dennis Walcott, principals or teachers — it's clear that the Department of Education has work to do before teachers and students can handle extensive online activity in their schools. Where they disagree is how close the school system is to actually being up to speed. The disagreement spilled into public today when department officials vehemently objected to the veracity of a report by Borough President Scott Stringer's office. Stringer's report, which was based on data his office received from the city last month, showed that three in four school buildings had slow internet connections. The report criticized the city for moving too slowly to upgrade technology in schools in the age of information. Schools will also need a minimum internet bandwidth  — measured in how many megabytes of online information can be uploaded and downloaded per second — in order to administer online tests by 2015 as part of New York's participation in a national assessment consortium (New York has signaled it may not begin the online testing on time). But city officials said today that the department is actually much further along than what Stringer's report claimed. They said the data they sent to Stringer's office weren't accurate, a point that they said was communicated last week after seeing a draft of the report. The reality, Walcott said in a statement, is that just 250 of the city's roughly 1,250 school buildings have slow internet speeds, a number that is consistent with what education officials told reporters at a technology summit last month. The majority of the schools, they said, have the capacity to download up to 80 megabytes of information per second.
New York

Before lower test scores arrive, a fight over how to interpret them

Union and city officials are sparring in advance of tough test score news that arrives at a pivotal moment for Mayor Bloomberg's education legacy. Scores due out on Wednesday reflect students' performance on the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, which aim to get students solving complex problems and thinking critically. State officials have long warned that the new tests would produce lower scores, which they say will more accurately reflect students' skills, and in April, teachers and students reported that the tests were indeed challenging. After the state sent a letter to principals on Friday confirming that the scores would be "significantly lower" than in the past, the United Federation of Teachers argued — as it has before — that the news will undermine Bloomberg's claims of education progress. Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the union's criticism “despicable” and “really sad” during a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “What they're trying to do is politicize something that shouldn't be politicized at all," he said. Instead, Walcott emphasized that the scores should be seen as a baseline against which to measure future improvement. Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said they would not be comparing this year’s test scores to scores from past years. "You can't compare these directly because they're not just slightly different tests, they're dramatically different tests," Polakow-Suransky said. "It's going to be difficult to make close comparisons with old state exams."
New York

Summer Quest kicks off second year with NYC-themed learning

Chancellor Dennis Walcott asked elementary school students questions about the maps they were making of New York City and the Bronx. This morning, after the class of rising fourth-graders at P.S. 211 established what they want to know about the Bronx, they divided into four different groups to come up with projects that would help teach them. One group wanted to know what animals live in the Bronx, so they decided to create a magazine about wildlife. Another group wanted to know what some of the most famous restaurants are in the Bronx, so they're creating a menu for their own Arthur Avenue eatery. Their project-based learning is the hallmark of the Department of Education's Summer Quest program, which is designed to prevent students from losing ground over the summer. It differs from regular summer school, which is geared toward helping students pass state math and reading exams, because it enrolls students who struggle but are not the lowest-performing, a rarity among city-funded summer programs. Summer Quest, which is part of Chancellor Dennis Walcott's focus on middle schools, launched last year with 1,120 elementary and middle school students in 12 schools and includes 1,800 students this year. Community-based organizations including the Children's Aid Society, Building Educated Leaders for Life, and Good Shepherd Services have partnered with 11 South Bronx schools to provide staff and support services for five-week, nine-hour-a-day program. At P.S. 211, which Chancellor Dennis Walcott toured Thursday morning, the theme for all Summer Quest learning is "Our New York City." Students in different classrooms drew maps of the Bronx and its landmarks, sketched and shared objects that were significant to their cultures, learned to cook a vegetable frittata, and practiced a choreographed dance routine — which Walcott enthusiastically joined.