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April 18, 2014
At Manhattan International, an English learner teaches English learners
Cinzia Bontempo, the 12th grade English teacher at Manhattan International High School, knows what it’s like for her students to be far from home.
January 22, 2014
Budget panel launches BEST oversight bill
The legislative Joint Budget Committee has unanimously approved introduction of a bill that would give the legislature greater control over part of the Building Excellent Schools Today program.
November 1, 2013
Rise & Shine: NoCo business leaders split on Amendment 66
Amendment 66 far from a sure thing, despite massive war chest. Plus: the Halloween debate as told by 40 adults who have nothing better to do; and Napolitano creates fund for DREAM students.
September 5, 2013
Facing federal funding freeze, Success to nix lottery preference
After becoming one of the state’s first schools to reserve seats for English language learners in its lotteries, Success Academy Charter Schools are now planning to…
June 21, 2013
Broad concerns about "harsh" ELA Regents conversion charts
The grading of high school Regents exams isn't even over, but some city educators are already registering concern about the new state conversion charts for English tests. Bronx Center for Science and Math Assistant Principal Stephen Seltzer sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King expressing frustration about the new conversion chart that has made it more difficult for students to pass the English Regents exam. Seltzer writes that "the rubrics and conversion charts must be aligned and consistent, and both should be made available when teachers are preparing students, not at the time of the exam."
May 15, 2013
Addressing immigrant parents, Sotomayor channels her mother
Justice Sonia Sotomayor left the stage to answer parents' questions after speaking at the Department of Education's To make sure that all attendees of the city's annual conference for families of English language learners today could go home with an autographed copy of her book, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor signed 3,000 copies of her book in two days. She was able to write the book, she told parents at the conference, because her mother – who didn't speak English — taught her to value words. "My mother loved reading. Seeing her read inspired my brother and me to read," Sotomayor said in her speech. The Department of Education's annual conference is designed to help immigrant families navigate the city's education system and support their children's learning at home. Sotomayor’s address, as well as the workshops that followed, was translated into nine languages, just a fraction of the 180 languages spoken by students in the city's public schools.
July 20, 2012
Bloomberg says this year's test scores call for more charters
(Credit: WOR) Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning that the test scores announced this week, which showed charter schools had out-paced district schools, are proof enough why the city should be expanding charters. "There's a reason people want to send their children to charter schools," he said during his weekly morning appearance on the John Gambling radio show. The average proficiency rate for charter schools students improved 7 percentage points on the state reading tests and 3.5 percentage points on math. The city's district schools also improved but at a slower pace. Bloomberg blamed the teachers union contract for the districts schools' inability to duplicate the success of privately-managed charter schools, which have longer days and greater flexibility in hiring decisions. But instead of making points about issues such as teacher tenure or seniority-based layoff laws, Bloomberg invoked more salacious news items. "The union keeps protecting people that shouldn’t be in the classroom that touch, have sex, whatever it may be," he said. "It embarrasses other teachers."
July 18, 2012
Seven takeaways from a closer look at the state test scores
The state released the results of this year's third through eighth grade tests yesterday, and officials from City Hall to the charter sector lept to celebrate students' gains. Some changes were the focal point of the Department of Education's Tuesday afternoon press conference—like the drop among English Language Learners and the boosts charter schools saw. But they avoided nuances in the results for the city's new schools, which have been at the center of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education reform policies. Beyond first impressions, here are seven interesting takeaways we parsed from the trove of data: Like last year, English Language Learners took a step back. Students who are identified as English Language Learners improved slightly in math, but took another step back from the statistical gains they made on the literacy test (ELA) earlier in the decade, before the state made the exams tougher in 2010. While just under half of the city’s non-ELL students met the state’s ELA standards, just 11.6 percent of ELL students did so. But in math, the percentage of ELL students scoring proficient rose by 2.5 points, to 37 percent. But students in other categories that typically struggle showed improvements. The percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient in math and literacy went up again this year, to 30.2 percent in math and 15.8 percent in English. And although Black and Hispanic students are still lagging behind their white peers by close to thirty percentage points in literacy and math, they also saw small bumps in both subjects. Officials said that new initiatives targeting struggling students, particularly students of color, contributed to the gains.
July 17, 2012
Bloomberg credits boosts in test results to new school initiatives
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky walked reporters through a powerpoint presentation on the city's latest test score results. This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoyed what could be his last opportunity to point to clear gains on city test data. The state is overhauling its testing program next year, and year-to-year comparisons favored by Bloomberg's test analysts will soon become futile. Until then, city officials are championing the small gains almost every group of students made on this year's state tests, calling the scores a sign that some fledgling school initiatives are already working. Breaking the test results down by race, grade level and students with disabilities, each group saw gains of one to four percentage points for the numbers of students scoring proficient on the literacy and math exams. But students of color are still performing well below their white peers, and the number of English Language Learners scoring proficient in literacy actually dropped by 1.8 percentage points. "There is still a gap, and it is unacceptable, inexcusable and it is our responsibility to rectify it," Bloomberg told reporters this afternoon. He speculated that the ELL scores dropped because the city has begun declassifying greater numbers of ELL students who have become proficient in English.
June 13, 2012
Moskowitz to authorizers: Reject high-need enrollment targets
The head of one of the city's largest charter school networks is calling on state charter authorizers to reject a law that requires schools to serve a larger share of high-needs students. The law, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz wrote in a letter to authorizers this month, creates "perverse incentives" for charter schools to "over-identify" students in high-needs categories, an effect that she said would do more harm than good for children. "We urge you not to impose any enrollment and retention targets," Moskowitz wrote to the New York State Education Department and SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which are charged with enforcing the law. "Instead, we request that you partner with us in going to Albany to change this poorly-thought-out legislation." The mandate for charter schools to enroll more high-needs students was established in 2010 when lawmakers passed the Race to the Top bill. A charter sector self-assessment earlier this year found that a large majority of charter schools still served lower proportions of poor, special-needs and English language learning students than their districts. It's taken some time to iron out the details, but last month authorizers proposed a method of calculating the targets that they intend to use. The proposal is a complex methodology that would assign enrollment targets to each charter school based on the overall ratio of high-needs students in school districts where they operate. Schools that repeatedly fail to comply could be closed.
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.
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