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New York

Travel grants open to globetrotting teachers who aim to improve

Eszter Weiss and Faye Chiu, Millenium High School math teachers, exploring Archimedes Garden in Florence, Italy on a 2011 Fund for Teachers trip Faye Chiu and Eszter Weiss, veteran math teachers, spent last summer in Italy and Greece — not bathing on the Riviera or hopping the isles, but retracing the steps of the ancient mathematicians in search of inspiration to energize their curriculum at Manhattan’s Millennium High School. And while they were soaking up information about Archimedes, other city teachers were going to the far corners of the earth for their students, too: to Sweden to learn about individualized learning plans; to Iran and Turkey to collect information for helping non-Muslim students understand their school’s growing Muslim population; to Brazil to gather tips on getting girls interested in physical activity. If the trips don’t sound like the average professional development sessions, it’s because they’re not. Instead, enabled by the national organization Fund for Teachers and its local partner, New Visions for Public Schools, are fueled entirely by teachers’ own curiosities. In the past, New Visions offered the grants only to teachers affiliated with the schools it manages and supports. But this year, the nonprofit added supplementary grants of up to $10,000 that are open to teachers in all city high schools — provided that they teach courses that culminate in a Regents exam, have been teaching for at least three years, and plan to return to the classroom in September. Applications for this summer's YouPD Challenge Grants are due Feb. 29. The concept behind the grant is simple, according to Robert Hughes, New Visions’ president. “The best professional development is the professional development that teachers create and define for themselves,” he said. Hughes said the program’s expansion is meant to recognize stellar educators throughout the city. “With all of the controversy flowing around teachers it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the extensive commitment that the vast majority of teachers make,” he said. “Despite the rhetoric, we have some of the strongest teachers in the country.”
New York

Report finds lasting graduation rate gains at city's small schools

The Bloomberg administration has long touted the small high schools it created as outperforming large schools closed to make way for them. But a new report finds, for the second time, that the schools also post higher graduation rates than other city schools that stayed open. Being randomly selected to attend small high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration made students significantly more likely to graduate, even as the schools got older, according to the report, conducted by researchers at the nonprofit firm MDRC. The researchers updated a 2010 study that examined "small schools of choice" that opened between 2002 and 2008 and did not select students based on their academic performance. Of the 123 schools that fit that bill, 105 had so many applicants that the schools selected among them randomly, through a lottery. The lottery process enabled the researchers to compare what happened to two groups of students that started out statistically identical: those who were admitted to the small schools and those who lost the lotteries and wound up in older, larger schools. That type of comparison is considered the "gold standard" in education research. The original study found that the small high schools had positive effects on their students — but it looked only at the schools' very first enrollees. The new report looks at those students in the fifth year after they enrolled and also at the second set of students who enrolled at the schools. It finds that the higher graduation rate — 67.9 percent, compared to 59.3 percent for students who were not admitted — continued for the second group of students who enrolled and cut across all groups of students, regardless of their race, gender, family income, or academic skills upon enrollment. Students at the small schools were also more likely to meet the state's college readiness standards in English, though not in math. "Small schools for a variety of reasons, I always felt, were going to succeed in certain ways," said Richard Kahan, the head of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that started a handful of schools included in the study. "But I would not have predicted the impact."
New York

Pioneers in teacher prep chart changes in training landscape

New York

Panel: To serve poor children, a need to go beyond academics

To help poor students do better in school, what comes first: tackling out-of-school factors tied to poverty, like health care or housing, or boosting academic offerings at school? A panel yesterday offered a novel answer: Neither. Supports should target students in school, through teachers, they said, but they shouldn't be purely academic. Those supports, panel members said, range from teaching students skills to calm down during a rage to helping parents access social services they might not even know they are eligible for. The panel featured leaders from three city organizations devoted to providing these supports: Drema Brown, the vice president of education at the Children's Aid Society, Pamela Cantor, president of the non-profit Turnaround for Children, and Robert Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools, as well as James Shelton, the Obama administration official who heads up innovation efforts. In the past, “Words like ‘social and emotional development’ of children were in the margins, nice to do, but not essential,” Cantor said. “A conversation is being framed today that we all can get behind, that a high-performing, high-poverty school has to do a lot—a lot more than is asked of schools to do." At one point, a person in the audience praised the direction of the conversation but asked the panel why their topic — students' social and emotional needs — gets short shrift in the education debate. "Well, our communications strategy sucks!" Shelton responded, to laughter from the audience. 
New York

David Steiner crib sheet: New schools czar to focus on teaching