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October 18, 2013
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.
October 7, 2013
Walcott: Charter schools shouldn't need to pay to fill their seats
Chancellor Dennis Walcott criticized a charter network's brief campaign to boost enrollment using cash incentives, arguing that charter schools shouldn't have to do much recruitment at all. "[I] think it was unnecessary," said Walcott, referring to a $200 incentive offered by Girls Prep to families that referred new students to some of the network's schools. Hours after GothamSchools reported about the offer last week, the schools' management network, Public Prep, canceled the program and yanked a notice about the offer from its website. "Charters, quite frankly, if they're worth their salt, have people knocking down their door," Walcott told reporters after he appeared on a panel of leaders in public education at NBC's Education Nation summit. "So there's no need for them to do that."
October 2, 2013
As terms end, council members push to curb school closures
The City Council was host to a fresh round of familiar debates today, as education committee members sparred with Chancellor Dennis Walcott about central Bloomberg-era education policies: school closures and co-locations. The committee proposed three resolutions, all curtailing aspects of the process that allows the city to change what schools operate in what buildings. One would require school closures or phase-outs to be approved by the local Community Education Council before being voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy, requiring a change in state law and amounting to a reversal of mayoral control. Another resolution calls for a moratorium on school closures and co-locations for a year, something that mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has said he supports. The third calls for additional communication with parents about school closures and co-locations. The calendar took center stage at the hearing, given the little time Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg have left in office. Councilman Stephen Levin, who called for an even broader moratorium on all charter school openings in June, pushed Walcott about the proposed co-locations that wouldn't take effect until a new mayor is in office — which he said would put schools and the city "on a collision course." "Isn't it time to leave well enough alone?" Levin asked. "I am chancellor until December 31 and I have a responsibility to our 1.1 million students," Walcott responded.
October 2, 2013
The Bloomberg administration’s theory of school improvement, in a nutshell
In Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s complete testimony, as prepared for today’s City Council hearing, one can read a concise restatement of the Bloomberg administration’s theory of school improvement: TESTIMONY OF NYC SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR DENNIS M. WALCOTT ON SIGNIFICANT SCHOOL CHANGES: CLOSURES, RECONFIGURATIONS & COMMUNITY NOTIFICATION As Prepared for Delivery Before the NYC Council Committee on Education Wednesday, October 2, 2013
October 2, 2013
Five people who could be the next chancellor of New York City's schools
When the next mayor takes office on January 1, one of his first acts will likely be to choose a schools chancellor.
September 19, 2013
Ex-TAPCO principal back on city payroll after arbitrator's ruling
A disgraced former principal whose academic fraud drew personal condemnation from Chancellor Dennis Walcott is picking up city paychecks again after successfully escaping the city's efforts to fire her. The Department of Education moved to fire Lynn Passarella after an investigation found that she fudged academic records, misused funds, and falsified student transcripts as principal at Theatre Arts Production Company middle and high school. But more than a year after charges were filed, an arbitrator ruled that termination was an "excessive" penalty — even though he agreed that Passarella, a 17-year tenured employee of the school system, had indeed committed much of the misconduct that investigators found and should not be allowed to lead a school. In her defense, Passarella argued that she was set up to fail by an accountability system installed under the Bloomberg administration. The case spotlights an issue that has long frustrated department officials, who argue that labor laws protect school employees from being fired for even the most egregious misconduct. While much of the scrutiny has focused on a small number of teachers accused of sexually inappropriate behavior who remain on the city's payroll, the Passarella case shows that the legal process also affects educators found to have misbehaved in other ways.
September 17, 2013
Walcott responds to deputy’s departure for Walton foundation
Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg is leaving the Department of Education for the Walton Family Foundation, the foundation announced today. More soon.
September 4, 2013
As election nears, Walcott issues one more plea for continuity
Chancellor Walcott criticized mayoral candidates who want to change direction on education policy. Chancellor Dennis Walcott attempted to spell out his legacy this morning, recounting improvements in school safety and graduation rates over Mayor Bloomberg's tenure in front of a friendly audience in midtown. The Association for a Better New York, a group of civic and business leaders, is a forum Walcott and other officials have used to announce policy proposals with a political edge. With the mayoral election around the corner, Walcott used the setting for a valedictory speech and a chance to take a swipe at candidates who he says want a return to policies that led schools to failure. "There are powerful adults whose control over our students’ education was loosened when Michael Bloomberg became mayor. They are now vying to regain their grip," Walcott said. Though Walcott didn't mention any candidates by name, he called out those who advocated changes using "euphemisms for some very bad ideas"—namely, allowing more local control of schools, reducing emphasis on high-stakes testing, and calling for a moratorium on school closures and co-locations.
August 27, 2013
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.
August 20, 2013
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.
August 5, 2013
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."
July 13, 2013
The chancellors club
From Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s public schedule for Sunday: 10:30 A.M.Participates in Panel Discussion with Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and LAUSD…
July 11, 2013
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.
July 9, 2013
Charter advocates say candidates' rhetoric isn't cause for panic
City Journal editor Brian Anderson speaks at a breakfast panel discussion today about the future of education in New York City hosted by the Manhattan Institute. Some Democratic mayoral candidates are calling for a moratorium on charter school co-locations and at least two have said they would require charter schools to pay rent. But charter school advocates say they remain not too concerned. "We should be worried ... [but] I don't think we should be panicked," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, this morning at a panel discussion about the future of education in New York City hosted by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a right-wing think tank. Merriman joined Marcus Winters, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Joe Williams, executive director for Democrats for Education Reform, on the panel. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott also made an appearance to warn against moving away from the Bloomberg administration's school policies, which include helping the charter sector to flourish. Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald and Independent mayoral candidate Adolfo Carrión, who have each expressed support for charter schools, sat in the audience.
June 14, 2013
U.N. secretary general, 'Radiolab' host to address city graduates
The most email newsletter of Democracy Prep Public Schools touted Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations secretary general, as the speaker for the charter network's first high school graduation ceremony. He joins dozens of other prominent people who will appear at city schools' graduations this month. The secretary general of the United Nations joins luminaries in media, the arts, and public service as speakers at city graduation ceremonies this month. Ban Ki-Moon will speak June 24 at Democracy Prep Charter High School, which is graduating its first class this year. Recruiting the graduation speaker was a feather in the cap for Seth Andrew, the charter network's founding director, who is stepping down at the end of the month. Among the many Ray Kelly, the city's police commissioner, and Salvatore Cassano, the fire department commissioner, are each speaking at high schools with a focus on public safety. A Baltimore Ravens football player will speak at a Manhattan school that serves many transfer students. And in a coup that is likely to excite teachers, Jad Abumrad, host of NPR's "Radiolab," is speaking June 24 at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn.
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