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English language learners
May 25, 2012
Parents of English language learners flock to annual conference
Parents at the city's 10th annual English language learners conference literally lept out of their chairs at the chance to meet and take a photo with Chancellor Dennis Walcott this morning. During his brief speech about how the parents could help their children in school, dozens of parents crowded around the stage, cameras and smart-phones in hand. More later greeted him off-stage, where he shook hands and posed for photos.
May 17, 2012
Charter school leaders sound caution about enrollment targets
Eva Moskowitz and her charter school network are objecting to new targets meant to push charter schools to enroll a fair share of students with disabilities and English language learners. When they revised the state's charter schools law in 2010, legislators included a requirement that the schools register a "comparable" number of high-needs students. Now the state has proposed a methodology to calculate enrollment targets for charter schools based on how many students attend the school and the overall ratio of high-needs students in each district. Schools that currently enroll too few students with special needs will be required to show at least a "good-faith" effort to enroll more. But a top official in the Success Academies network said Wednesday that she objected to any such requirement. Setting enrollment targets creates a disincentive for schools to help students get to the point that they no longer need special services, said Emily Kim, general counselor for the Success Academies network. "For us, our goal is not to hit a number and stay at that number for English language learners," Kim said. "Our goal is that they learn English, that they perform at the highest levels, and that they graduate from high school college ready and are successful in life." "So if our figures go down, we're proud of that," she added. UPDATE: A state education official said the proposed targets would not penalize schools schools if their students are declassified as special education or ELL. Through what's being called a "three year lag," schools would get credit for students who had been classified anytime in the last three years. "With the three-year lag, there is little to no chance that there will be a dinging of schools for declassification of a child," said Assistant Commissioner Sally Bachofer, who helped developed the targets.
May 16, 2012
High-needs enrollment targets could challenge some charters
A screenshot from the state's proposed enrollment targets calculator. It shows the range of target enrollments for a school enrolling 150 students in Brooklyn's District 15. The state is preparing to take a step forward in implementing a two-year-old clause in its charter school law that requires the schools to serve their fair share of high-needs students. When legislators revised the charter school law in 2010, their main objective was to increase the number of charters allowed. But they also added a requirement that charter schools enroll “comparable” numbers of students with disabilities and English language learners, populations that the schools typically under-enroll. What comparability would mean has never been clear — until now. Last week, the state unveiled a proposed methodology for calculating enrollment targets, and it intends to finalize the algorithm at next month’s meeting of SUNY’s Board of Trustees, which oversees charter schools. The targets would vary from school to school and be determined based on the overall ratio of high-needs students in each district. The proposal includes a calculator that determines enrollment targets for any school based on its location, the grades it serves, and the size of its student body. Under the proposed methodology, a charter school with 400 students in grades five through eight in Upper Manhattan’s District 6, for example, would have to enroll 98 percent students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 15 percent students with disabilities, and 44 percent ELLs. In District 2, which has more affluent families and fewer immigrants, a similar school would be expected to enroll 64 percent poor students and 13.4 percent ELLs. But it would still need to have 15 percent of students with special needs.
April 5, 2012
Chancellor brings energy to bilingual MS as year-one ends
Chancellor Walcott dances the salsa with eighth-graders and their teacher, Joanne Vasquez, at Dual Language Middle School in Manhattan. This has not been the easiest week for Chancellor Dennis Walcott. He got to champion his middle school initiative at a policy symposium earlier this week. But he also had to reverse course on two policies — a ban on some words on tests and a plan to "turn around" seven schools — after public outcry. And today, as the first year of his appointment comes to a close, the Daily News reported that he has come under fire for his staunch fidelity to the Bloomberg administration's educational agenda and that little has changed in the school system since he replaced Cathie Black. But those criticisms did not dampen Walcott's usual eagerness to get involved in classroom activities, which was on full display this morning when he joined a group of middle schoolers caught in a frenzy of midterms and test preparations for an impromptu salsa dancing lesson. Walcott has also gained a reputation for that seemingly-boundless energy. He often tells reporters about his early-morning running and swimming routines, and he was back at work the day after completing the New York Marathon last year. This morning, Walcott racked up points on the pedometer he wears at his waist while touring Manhattan's Dual Language Middle School—a visit that gets him closer to his stated goal of visiting every school before Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term ends. The school was Walcott's first stop of three on the last day of school before break. Later in the day, he traveled to the Young Scholars' Academy for Discovery and Exploration in Brooklyn and P.S. 48 on Staten Island. This evening, he will fete the student selected to design the cover of next year's high school directory.
February 9, 2012
IBO: Schools up for closure tonight enroll very needy students
A slide from the IBO's report about schools up for closure. For the third year in a row, the city's data watchdog has concluded that the schools the city is trying to close serve especially needy students. In 2010 and 2011, the Independent Budget Office put together longer reports about the city's school closure proposals on the request of Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council's education committee. But this year, the office, which has a special mandate to scrutinize the Department of Education's facts and figures, compiled details about the demographics, performance, and funding of schools on the chopping block on its own. Then it released the statistics in an easy-to-read, stand-alone format. Among the many people who are receiving the IBO's 13-slide presentation by email today are the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, who are set to vote on the closure proposals tonight, according to spokesman Doug Turetsky. "It's an accessible format so people can see the stats and come to their own conclusions," he said. UPDATE: Department of Education officials disputed some of the data in the slides and said the budget office had not given them as much time to review the report before publication as an agreement between the two offices requires. They urged the IBO not to release the report and then to retract it once it was published because data on at least one slide did not match information the city had provided. The budget office retracted one slide that showed change over time in the number of students with special needs at the schools. But other slides showed that the schools up for closure enroll more than the average proportion of students who have disabilities, are overage, or are considered English language learners, confirming analyses published elsewhere.
October 12, 2011
Required to help ELLs, city to open 125 new bilingual programs
The city will launch 125 new bilingual programs under the terms of a required plan to improve the treatment of students who are classified as English language learners. Test scores and high school graduation rates for ELLs lag far behind the city average, and last summer the state told then-Chancellor Joel Klein to produce a "corrective action plan" for how to serve the students better. That plan, released today and posted below, sets out an ambitious remediation schedule — and also highlights just how much the city has lagged in providing legally mandated services to ELLs. In the plan, the city promises to reduce the number of ELLs whose teachers are not trained to work with them and to punish schools that fail to provide services to which ELLs are entitled. It also promises to launch 125 new bilingual programs by 2013, including 20 this school year, on top of the 397 that are already open. The new programs will open in districts with many ELLs and where parents say they prefer their children placed in classrooms where instruction takes place in two languages, rather than in English-only classes with extra help for non-native speakers. The city has hired Ernst & Young, an auditing group, to monitor whether parents' choices are honored. Some of the new programs will open in high school campuses where no bilingual instruction currently takes place. When he approved several school closures in July, State Education Commissioner John King expressed concern about whether new high schools would serve the same students who attended the schools that closed. The plan commits to opening new programs when existing ones phase out along with their schools.
July 20, 2011
Special ed teachers need 'tweaked' evaluations, advocates say
Advocates are worried that the city's new evaluation system could penalize teachers of students with special needs. The nonprofit organization Advocates for Children of New York recently released a fact sheet calling on parents to ask how the new system, which will be piloted in more schools next year, will affect those teachers. Sixty percent of the new evaluations is based on subjective measures like principal observations, and the other 40 percent is based on student test scores. AFC's concern is that teachers who work with high-needs students will be at a disadvantage because they likely won't see the gains in test scores that other teachers will. That will make it more difficult to earn a high evaluation score, lowering the incentive for teachers to take on students with disabilities and English Language Learners. "Teachers are basically going to be looking at lower test scores, and lower evaluations because they're so heavily reliant on test scores," said Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator for AFC. "We're worried that they will be teaching more to the test in those classes."
February 18, 2011
Charter group launches campaign to draw Spanish-speakers
For the first time, the city's main charter school advocacy organization is making a push for parents of Spanish-speaking students to apply to charter schools. The New York City Charter Center is starting an ad campaign in buses and bus shelters in the South Bronx and East Harlem in hopes of reaching Spanish-speaking families who are unfamiliar with charter schools. The ads, which are in Spanish, say that charter schools — "escuelas charters" — are free, public schools that offer their students individualized attention. They include a number for a Spanish-language hotline parents can call to get applications or ask questions. The ads will run in 300 city buses and on 10 bus shelters. Last May, when New York State's legislature more than doubled the number of charter schools that can open, it also approved a teachers union-backed proposal to could force some charters to enroll more non-English speaking and special education students. The law set a vague requirement that charter schools serve similar percentages of non-English speaking and special education students as the other public schools in their district. Currently, city charter schools enroll smaller percentages of these students than do traditional public schools.
May 28, 2010
Brill-ing Down: Adding to Steven Brill’s NYT Magazine Report
Steven Brill's latest article chronicling the politics of the Race to the Top competition has caused a torrent of commentary. One contentious aspect of the piece is Brill's comparison of two schools that share the same building: Harlem Success Academy and P.S. 149. After Valerie Strauss picked up the statistics posted on the New York Public School Parents Blog, there has been much speculation about what types of kids are attending each school. Just how different are the populations anyway? To figure out the answer, I looked at NY State Accountability Report Cards, the Special Education Service Delivery Report for P.S. 149, as well as special education invoices provided to the UFT by the New York State Education Department. I chose these data sets because they seemed to be the most reliable and the most comparable. By "comparable" I mean that both Harlem Success and P.S. 149 have to submit to the state as part of their Accountability Report Cards data on students who receive free or reduced price lunch (an indicator of economic need), whereas, for instance, only P.S. 149 lists something known as the poverty rate (which is slightly different.) According to this data, Harlem Success Academy does appear to serve fewer needy students, both in terms of economic status, limited English proficiency, and special education needs. On the other hand, Harlem Success dramatically outperforms P.S. 149 on 3rd grade test results.
December 21, 2009
State policy an obstacle to charter school serving English learners
A charter school that hoped to focus on students who don't speak English is changing tactics after being told by the state that it cannot give admissions preference to the students it wants to attract. Though New York City's charter schools admit relatively few English Language Learners in comparison to district schools, Inwood Academy for Leadership intended to be the exception. When Principal Christina Hykes applied for a charter, she envisioned a school where half the students were English Language Learners and half were general education students, making Inwood Academy the first charter school in the city to propose such a model. Hykes planned to achieve this balance by giving admissions preference to ELL students living in Inwood, something Department of Education officials agreed she could do. State law encourages charters to focus on students "at risk of academic failure," and students with little English seemed like prime candidates. They routinely have lower scores on the state tests than their English-speaking peers and are less likely to graduate high school. But officials at the State Education Department disagreed with the city's reading of the law, telling the DOE and Hykes that ELL students don't fall in the "at risk" category. As a result, Inwood Academy's application would have to lose all the language giving ELLs enrollment preference if it wanted to get a charter.
July 2, 2009
A culture shift in special education urged after internal review
Special education advocates are giving early praise to recommendations released today that would transform schools' approach to students with special needs. The recommendations, which Chancellor Joel Klein endorsed, center on integrating students with special needs into the city's ongoing school reforms. Garth Harries, a department official who is starting a new job in New Haven, Conn., on Monday, authored the recommendations following a months-long review of the city's special education offerings. Actually implementing the plans will be left to a new top-level administrator who will be responsible for nearly a quarter of the system's students. Laura Rodriguez, a longtime Bronx educator who currently heads one of the support organizations that principals can choose to join, will become the city's first Chief Achievement Officer for Special Education and English Language Learners. Rodriguez will be one of only seven people reporting directly to the chancellor, making the needs of nearly 250,000 disabled students and ELLs "visible and transparent at the cabinet level" for the first time, Klein said.
July 2, 2009
City to release findings of months-long special ed review today
Joel Klein is wasting no time: A day after being rehired as chancellor, he is announcing the creation of a new position to supervise…
June 16, 2009
Report: High school closures hurt students learning English
The rise of small high schools has decimated programs for students whose native language is not English, making the students more likely to drop out. That's the conclusion of a report released today by two watchdog groups that look out for immigrant students, Advocates for Children of New York and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The groups studied two large, low-performing high schools that the city decided to replace with small, themed schools and found that students who are classified as English language learners enrolled in smaller numbers in the new schools. Students who did enroll often did not receive the services they needed, the groups found. What's more, according to the report, most of the new schools are too small to offer a range of language services: State law mandates that schools create bilingual programs if they enroll more than 20 students in the same grade who speak the same native language. The DOE has interpreted this mandate to mean that parents of 20 students in the same grade who speak the same language must "opt-in" to select a bilingual program - and that merely meeting the numerical enrollment threshold is insufficient.
March 18, 2009
Report: Immigrant parents feel shut out of schools
Hot on the heels of a DOE report saying that immigrant students are doing better than ever before, groups serving immigrant families issued a report of their own today, calling on the city Department of Education to "change the culture in schools" so that immigrant parents feel welcome participating in their children's education. Many immigrant parents would like to be involved in their children's schools but do not feel able because of language barriers and cultural differences, according to the report, which was written by Advocates for Children of New York, where I used to work, in conjunction with a number of community groups that represent immigrants. The report calls for the DOE to develop an aggressive plan to involve immigrant families in their schools, citing research that has documented a link between parent engagement and student performance. The premise behind the report — that parents should be involved in schools — is one that DOE officials say they support. Asked at Friday's mayoral control hearing about parent participation among immigrant families, Maria Santos, who heads the department's Office of ELLs, said there is "not enough." The report suggests a number of reasons why immigrant parents might not feel encouraged to get involved.
March 17, 2009
New warring memos dispute ELLs' performance under Klein
The city Department of Education today heralded performance gains among students who are considered English language learners in a new report about how those students have fared under Chancellor Joel Klein's leadership. The tone of the report and its accompanying press release is very different from the tone of Friday's mayoral control hearing in the Bronx, where numerous speakers complained that the department has paid too little attention to ELL students. The report declares that Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have built a "stronger system-wide infrastructure" to support English language learners, and says that the efforts are "starting to bear fruit." More than 29% of fourth-graders met English standards in 2008, compared to 4% in 2003; 64% met math standards in 2008, up from 36% in 2003. The report cautions that middle school test scores and graduation rates are not as rosy, but points out that former English language learners — students who once received help in learning English but have since tested proficient at English — are out-performing even non-ELL students. The report paints a very different picture from the one presented at the Bronx hearing Friday.
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