Monday, July 30, 2007

CUNY Plans to Raise Its Admissions Standards


From NY TIMES:

Published: July 28, 2007

The City University of New York is beginning a drive to raise admissions requirements at its senior colleges, its first broad revision since its trustees voted to bar students needing remedial instruction from its bachelor’s degree programs nine years ago.

In 2008, freshmen will have to show math SAT scores 20 to 30 points higher than they do now to enter the university’s top-tier colleges — Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens — and its six other senior colleges.

Students now can also qualify for the bachelor’s degree programs with satisfactory scores on the math Regents examination or on placement tests; required cutoffs for those tests will also be raised.

Open admissions policies at the community colleges will be unaffected.

“We are very serious in taking a group of our institutions and placing them in the top segment of universities and colleges,” said Matthew Goldstein, the university chancellor, who described the plan in an interview. “That is the kind of profile we want for our students.”

Dr. Goldstein said that the English requirements for the senior colleges would be raised as well, but that the math cutoff would be raised first because that was where the students were “so woefully unprepared.”

The chancellor said he had long planned to raise standards further. The new move, which has been discussed with some college presidents but has not been announced publicly, is also a response to some professors’ complaints that too many students are poorly prepared for college work, especially in math.

In the fall of 2005, for example, more than 40 percent of students in introductory math courses — pre-calculus, college algebra and calculus — either failed or dropped out of the classes, numbers typical of many universities nationwide.

Still, some CUNY professors fear that the new requirements will keep low-income and black and Hispanic students from entering bachelor’s degree programs. The same concern was voiced nine years ago, when students needing remedial instruction were barred. Students, faculty and some elected officials also argued then that enrollments would plunge.

Enrollments, in fact, have grown since then. But the proportion of black students at the top five colleges fell to 14 percent of regularly admitted freshmen last year, from 20 percent in 1999, according to the university’s data. (Those figures do not include those admitted through SEEK, a program for economically and educationally disadvantaged students, who do not have to meet the same criteria.) The proportion of Hispanic students has held even.

William Crain, a City College psychology professor who fought the earlier change, said he vehemently opposed the new plan because he feared it would keep low-income and black and Hispanic students from entering bachelor’s degree programs. “This is turning the university into more of a middle-class university,” he said.

Robert Ramos, a Brooklyn College graduate student who is chairman of the University Student Senate and is a trustee, said he was torn.

“I understand the importance of having high standards,” he said. “They help in making your degree much more valuable, especially in this day and age, especially when there is so much competition.”

But, he added, “you also have to look at who CUNY is and who the mission of CUNY is to provide education for.”

Dr. Goldstein acknowledged that “some dislocating effects” were inevitable, but said he expected them to be limited.

Under the new standards, freshmen will have to earn at least 510 on the math SAT to win entry to the five top colleges, and 500 for the bachelor’s degree programs at the other senior colleges — John Jay, Lehman, Medgar Evers, New York City College of Technology, Staten Island and York. The university minimum is now 480, although some colleges have set higher cutoffs.

The university said 266 students at the five top colleges scored between 480 and 510 on the math SAT last year, but might have qualified in other ways.

Currently, students who do not meet the SAT requirement can substitute a score of at least 75 on the Math A Regents exam, which is typically taken in grades 8 to 10, or qualifying scores on ACT’s Compass placement tests in pre-algebra and algebra. The university has not yet set the tougher Regents cutoff because the state is changing its high school math program.

The plan to raise standards took on momentum last winter, after the university’s math council, a group of college professors, asked that the Compass test cutoff scores be raised.

In May, Selma Botman, the university provost, notified college presidents that those cutoff scores would be raised very slightly this fall — to 30 from 27 — and called on the presidents to improve their teaching and develop other courses for weaker students.

Math professors were pleased by the provost’s attention but less happy with her solutions.

Wallace Goldberg, chairman of the math department at Queens College, said at the time that the small increase was like going “from an F minus minus to an F minus.” This week, he said the plan to move still higher on Compass cutoffs in 2008 — a jump to 45 at the top five colleges — was better but still not enough.

Many college presidents said they were eager to raise the requirements. “They are right in thinking the time has come,” said Christoph M. Kimmich, president of Brooklyn College, who was acting chancellor of the university when the earlier policy change was approved.

Some CUNY officials, like Ricardo R. Fernández, president of Lehman College in the Bronx, who were not big supporters of that change, said they had come to embrace it.

“Perhaps I have become more convinced that students are able to rise to the challenge,” Dr. Fern├índez said.

He added that higher admissions standards would give Lehman added cachet and help it attract some of the 8,000 Bronx students who attend CUNY colleges in Manhattan that have tougher admissions requirements than Lehman does.

Marcia V. Keizs, president of York College in Queens, said higher admissions standards were bringing in better prepared students who had a greater chance of graduating. “Many schools that had described York as not being on their radar screen before have put us on their radar now,” she said.

Edison O. Jackson, president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, said higher admissions standards had increased the proportion of students in the college’s bachelor’s degree program to about half of his student population, while the college’s associate’s degree track had shrunk.

“Students are coming in and saying, ‘I want to move into the baccalaureate program and into my major much more quickly,’ ” Dr. Jackson said. “And they are.”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Let’s get to work

Mayor Mike is like a crazy uncle; he does some crazy things, my parents don't always like him, but he's family. I haven't always agreed with his policies, but I must admit he has created an atmosphere where things could change in the Department of Education. I feel empowered as a school teacher in NYC. He's eliminated much of the layers bureaucracy. It is my impression that he genuinely wants to make change happen. We might not always agree on the way to bring about that change (paying for grades, a bombardment of standardized tests) but I admire his unwavering commitment.



The following appeared in the NY Times this Wednesday morning:




"Mr. Bloomberg attempted an answer of sorts in a half-hour speech that
urged national leaders to follow the methods he used to improve New York City’s
public schools, like increasing teacher salaries, issuing grades for schools and
instituting a corporate-style system of accountability.

“The federal government should commit to a significant increase in new
federal funding, including for higher teacher salaries, but cities and states
could only receive it if they began implementing the reforms I’ve outlined
today,” the mayor said as more than 200 regional Urban League leaders dined on
roast pork, salad and iced tea.

The mayor pitched the plan as a crucial step in alleviating racial
inequality. “We can stop talking about closing the achievement gap between races
and actually have them catch up,” the mayor said. “We can stop talking about the
equal opportunity of the civil rights movement and actually make it a
reality."

The speech was, by many accounts, a hit. Mr. Bloomberg closed with a
charge — “Let’s get to work” — and stepped offstage to a standing ovation as
well-wishers lined up by his chair. "

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Without Art???


The following appeared today in the NY TIMES

Published: July 25, 2007

Almost half the nation’s school districts have significantly decreased the daily class time spent on subjects like science, art and history as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind law’s focus on annual tests in reading and math, according to a new report released yesterday.

The report, by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington group that studies the law’s implementation in school districts nationwide, said that about 44 percent of districts have cut time from one or more subjects or activities in elementary schools to extend time for longer daily math and reading lessons. Among the subjects or activities getting less attention since the law took effect in 2002 are science, social studies, art and music, gym, lunch and recess, the report said.

The report, based on a survey of nearly 350 of the nation’s 15,000 districts, said 62 percent of school districts had increased daily class time in reading and math since the law took effect.

Within a year of the law’s implementation, teachers and their associations were reporting that schools and districts were suggesting or requiring that they spend more time on reading and math to improve test scores, and that they cut back time spent on other disciplines.

The narrowing of the nation’s elementary school curriculum has been significant, according to the report, but may not be affecting as many schools as previously thought.

A report that the center issued in March 2006, based on a similar survey, gave one of the first measures of the extent of the narrowing trend. It said 71 percent of districts had reduced elementary school instruction in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and mathematics. That finding attracted considerable attention, with many groups opposed to the law decrying the trend.

The law’s backers, including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, argued that the intensification of English and math instruction made good sense on its own because, they said, students who could not read or calculate with fluency would flounder in other subjects, too.

The center’s new report raises the question of how to explain the considerable discrepancy between last year’s finding, that 71 percent of districts had reduced instructional time in subjects other than math and reading, and this year’s, which gives the number as 44 percent.

Jack Jennings, the center’s president, said in an interview that the discrepancy was a result of a change in the wording of the questionnaire. Last year’s survey asked districts to say whether they had reduced instructional time in subjects other than reading and math “to a great extent,” “somewhat,” “minimally” or “not at all.” Districts that reported even minimally reduced instructional time on other subjects were included in the 71 percent, along with districts that carried out more substantial changes, Mr. Jennings said.

This year, the center listed English/language arts and math as well as social studies, art and music, science and other subjects on the survey, and asked districts whether class time in each had increased, stayed the same or decreased since the law’s enactment. In a second column, the survey asked districts to indicate the number of minutes by which instructional time had increased or decreased.

Districts that made only small reductions this year, 10 minutes a day or less, in the time devoted to courses other than reading or math, may have chosen to report that instructional time had remained the same, Mr. Jennings said. On last year’s survey, the same districts may instead have acknowledged reducing the time, while characterizing the reduction as minimal, he said.

According to the new survey, the average change in instructional time in elementary schools since the law’s enactment has been 140 additional minutes per week for reading, 87 additional minutes per week for math, 76 fewer minutes per week for social studies, 75 fewer minutes for science, 57 fewer minutes for art and 40 fewer minutes for gym.

In a statement, Secretary Spellings said the report’s scope was “too limited to draw broad conclusions.”

“In fact,” she said, “there is much evidence that shows schools are adding time to the school day in order to focus on reading and math, not cutting time from other subjects.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Summer Program's Last Stop

Once again working a Montessori Summer Program has re-inspired me as an educator. Often times in my career, as many teachers know, teachers become isolated and often feel competitive. We compete within content area and between class productions. The irony is the philosophy of any true school reform movement stresses the importance of collaborative work. The 2007 Summer Program has been an exercise in teamwork better than any professional development session could have been.

The team is fortunate enough to have the chance to work with colleagues that are willing to go beyond the expectation levels any administrator could conceive of. The spirit and dedication of these educators was something those crazy “teacher movies” are based on. The team working together was really something to watch.

Over the past month of planning and definitely over the last two weeks of implementation, our team has evolved into a well oiled education machine. I learned so many things from each team member. I’m going to attempt to share. (I guess its sorta like Everything I Needed to know about Teaching I learned in the Summer Program.)

“Calm down Brown, what is your mantra?”

Each morning at 8:15 Brody led us all in a moment of centering and reflection that challenged us to leave behind all the stresses that were holding us back. She asked us to create an internal mantra. She allowed, through a guided reflection, students to embrace their individuality and more importantly acknowledged that students come to school each day with “baggage”. Laying all this out at the beginning of each day made the focus on the work much more intense and diminished the high school drama.

“How cool is it guys; we are building a train?”

Debra truly was the driving force behind the success of the Summer Program. Her unwavering enthusiasm rubbed off on all of us. So many times during the two week program we found ourselves saying, “I don’t know ask Deb”. She jumped neck-deep into a vat of bacteria (quite literally). She inspired students to create their own questions. Using this model approach to inquiry she engaged so many students that had cast aside the wonders of science as something not for them. Her willingness to be a “risk-taker” modeled for students an example of an adult stepping out of their comfort zone.

“I’m glad to see this all pulled together.”

Mr. Lamb displayed something all team members need, “trust”. At the onset of the program he mentioned how he doubted the process of the loose planning, and the lack of clarity of the final project. He pointed out the short comings of such a rapid planning method. He continued with the entire program providing a necessary reality check we all needed. His input on team meetings stressed the importance of IEP type goals for each participant in the program for proper credit recovery. Lamb encouraged us to define the roles of advisor and facilitator in each our program. His immersion into the local history of Flushing was a lesson in preparation for all of us. His ultimate facilitation of the production of a sixteen page newspaper was something the students were proud of. Students became engaged when sifting through primary sources at the NYC Public Library in Jamaica’s Long Island Room. Through the creation of these newspapers (now on display in the 3rd floor station) students were able to show their understanding of the impact on the 7 train.

“Come on people, what are you doing?”

Each afternoon the math students became restless. Upon their return from lunch the idea of another four hours of math for students whom were not successful during the year seemed daunting. Drawing upon her previous days as an ROTC Captain, Sadera was able to muster her “troops” every afternoon. They each received mastery sheets and performed complex reconnaissance tasks to collect information. She encouraged students to apply mathematical concepts to the work on Al’s Crew. Her persistent attention to detail and her constant reassurance of our ability to complete the task at hand was sincerely admirable.

“Remember we are working to scale.”

Without Ms. Noushig, our two dimensional plans would have been the final project. She brought the students quite literally into the third dimension. Her ability to adapt for learning styles and her personal enthusiasm and work ethic modeled perfectly the necessary skills to be successful in a group. Drawing upon her interior design experience she ultimately became the best resource in our classroom.

“It takes a village”

This African proverb never rang more true than during this summer program. Without the community, this project would not have been possible. Al’s endless patience working with the students, most of whom are inexperienced in the world of carpentry, was something rare even among professional educators. The support from Guglielmini’s parents (her dad building the train and her mom chaperoning the science team) was something not many teachers would be willing to share. When a message was sent out that resources were necessary Queen’s College responded with supplying a grad student from their science program (Rebecca even volunteered to come back the next week to finish touching up the paint on the train), and the Fresh Meadows Apartment Complex, where many of our QHST students reside, provided tools, supplies and “our carpenter” (Al).

“I’ll do it.”

Finally Ferrara’s commitment to our Montessori Small Learning Community is in one word “insane”. She has a truly unique ability to embrace a person when they are down, push them when they have become complacent, and highlight their achievements when they are excelling. Upon her crossing a threshold, one knows the work you are doing is only going to get better. She takes on tasks no one else wants to do, getting metro cards, taking attendance, calling parents, telling the principal that “kids are using power tools”, telling maintenance “not to worry about the floor its water based paint”. Nancy digs through the minutiae of paperwork and allows us as educators to touch students and make change happen.

For me teaching in two week blocks, immersed in one subject, facing the ambiguity in the search for certainty, and constructing knowledge as a team of facilitators and students is really the only way to learn. I can’t wait to bring this idea back to my team. Being grouped with amazing educators during the year is something we need to take advantage of. (or maybe I have just inhaled too many paint fumes during the last week)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Will the train be ready?



The Montessori Summer Program 2007 is winding down and as always we now have a mad rush to the finish. Like any good summer program there is belt sanding to be done, paint to be applied and a ceiling to be placed on a train, but with the help from Al the master carpenter we are all sure of our ability to meet the deadline. We are reproducing turn of the century newspapers for the Flushing experience under the tutelage of Mr. Lamb. Groups of students have taken swab samples and have begun growing bacteria in our lab as we speak with help from Rebbecca a student from Queens College and the always enthusiastic Ms. G. . They will be updating us on the fare beating microbes that travel through our subway system. The English content specialists facilitated by Ms. Brody have conjured up a plan of not only writing about the highlights of the 7 line, but also digging deeper into the immigration story of one family's past highlighting the "International Express."



Please come and join us in our final unveiling of this project Friday at 2pm in the third floor common area of the Queens High School of Teaching.

This day will also be highlighted with the distribution of the Writing Center's First Literary Magazine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

FRIDAY JULY 20th

Where? QHST
When? Friday July 20th 2pm
Why? Writing Center and Montessori Summer Program Celebration





Saturday, July 14, 2007

Alternative Summer School @ QHST


At the conclusion of the the first week of our Alternative Summer Program through the Empowerment Zone the students and teachers have already spent 40 hours looking at photos of a "World's Fair Bluebird" that ran on the 7 train line. We had extensive discussions about scale, proportion, ratio, and dimension. But honestly the students and teachers were having so much difficulty drawing the schematics and creating the miniature models that the motivation level of the groups plummeting at an alarming rate.

We as facilitators began to question if the task we assigned was too difficult. Some educators felt lost in the math, students asked why did we have to make this so hard? The difficulty of a student driven project based summer program was becoming evident.

"Mr. Brown are we really going to finish this by next Friday? We can't even build a model."

(we have an official opening ceremony on Friday July 20th @ 2pm)

But Friday was full of some huge motivating steps. As one team of mathematicians left the school for the hour and half trip to downtown Brooklyn to compare our final version of our schematics to the actual train. Upon their departure from the building we gave the groups tape measures to better complete their tasks. One student brought one from home. This was a sign to me that the students were beginning to take real ownership of the task at had. This student's simple act of bringing a tape measure to school was enough to motivate me for the morning and give this project one last try.

When the team that had left to visit the actual train in the photos called back to report that the measurements were accurate on our original schematics, the students who remained behind to finish creating the 3-D models as well as the teachers began to feel validated in their efforts. (I actually saw students who did not previously associate with one another give a celebratory high five)

Then it happened.

While eating lunch with our students in the cafeteria we received a message that a lumber truck was outside with all our supplies. The students quickly jumped into action. You could see their excitement as they finally began to realize that this was actually going to happen next week. Everyone pitched in carrying supplies up to the third floor. It was train of optimistic students realizing they were doing something very different. I was happy to see the light of success in the eyes of students who for one reason or another missed it during the regular school year.

After the delivery of lumber everyone quickly returned back to their modeling project. The Whole work site ( the 3rd floor of QHST) was a buzz with positive energy once again.

Speaking for the facilitators this delivery could not have come at a better time. The delivery time of that wood really boosted the spirits of the team.

I can't wait for Monday.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

24 on the 7


Today was the third day of the Montessori Summer Program 2007. We are currently in the stage of creating schematics out of a selection of photos of a retired 7 train car. It is an obvious challenge that we the students are put through, but it’s a two week summer program. Other small learning communities within the building are investigating other areas of life including sports, and even amusement parks. We are the community of Montessori we chose a model of the 7 train because the train represents the diversity of the borough of Queens. Many immigrants have come to Queens and use this line as a major mode of transportation.

I noticed when going around tables, I see how some groups have a natural born talent to fly through these schematics and make others look as if they were “dust in the wind.” Most groups are helpless when it comes to math so they respond in such a manor, “I couldn’t convert a huge amount, like 63 feet and 5 inches into an exact measurement in only inches, from one side to another. It was real frustrating, “I have never worked so hard in my life” and took awhile, when not using the calculator.” Another problem faced was as followed by another student, “The floor plan was hard to calculate, because I was the only one doing the math in the group, so it was a constant struggle; as a bunch of numbers came flying at me.”

“I have never worked so hard in my life” stated one student toward the end of the day with a big grin on her face.

In conclusion, it would be a damn shame if these students would put their heart’s on the line as well as their mind’s, for no reason. We need certain materials to build this scale model of the 7 train in the common’s area. We plan to have a replica of this train that would support human weight, with benches exactly like in subway cars by July 20th. That will be the official ceremonial date of our hard work, shown and available to the public.

But, I can’t stress enough, on how if we don’t get the materials one way or another, then we might as well just “stick a fork in it!”

Posted by John Navas

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lucky Number 7

Today was the first day of the Montessori Summer Program 2007. I am extremely hopeful that the program will turn out as smooth as in years past. We are however running into a huge problem with acquiring the necessary materials to finish the project.




Yes to scale.


Yes a train. (actually only a third) During the school year the model will serve as a reading area for students both before and after school. Basically the replica will have benches that students could sit on and well be a train. The advertisements will be a venue to show off the students work in various content areas. There is so much more to the project that looks at the diversity of Queens, the benefit of mass transit, and the changes of Queens throughout its history.


In order to properly complete this project we are going to need plywood and other various items. (Basically if you have a Home Depot Gift Card laying around your house or you want to go out and buy one and can stop by QHST (or contact me walterbrown@gmail.com) your contribution would be greatly appreciated).


I'm not begging for money,and this project is going to happen one way or the other. However this seems to be consuming my mind of late and our options for getting the necessary resources are running out.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Schools Move Toward Following Students’ Yearly Progress on Tests

From July 6th's NYTIMES:


The Cohoes city school district, outside Albany, is considering a gifted program for elementary students and adding college-level courses after discovering that its top students improved less on standardized tests in the past two years than everyone else in the district.

In Ardsley, N.Y., a Westchester County suburb, administrators intend to place more special education students in regular classes after seeing their standardized test scores rise in the last year.

And as the New York City Department of Education begins grading each public school A to F for the first time this fall, more than half the evaluation will be based on how individual students progress on standardized tests.

All three changes resulted from an increasingly popular way of analyzing test scores, called a “growth model” because it tracks the progress of students as they move from grade to grade rather than comparing, say, this year’s fourth graders with last year’s, the traditional approach.

Concerned that the traditional way amounted to an apples-to-oranges comparison, schools in more than two dozen states have turned to growth models. Now a movement is mounting to amend the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization this year, to allow such alternative assessments of student progress.

Many urban educators contend that growth models are a fairer measure because they recognize that poor and minority students often start out behind, and thus have more to learn to reach state standards. At the same time, many school officials in affluent suburbs favor growth models because they evaluate students at all levels rather than focusing on lifting those at the bottom, thereby helping to justify instruction costs to parents and school boards at a time of shrinking budgets.

Adding growth models as a way to satisfy federal requirements to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” could make it easier for some schools to avoid penalties because they would receive credit for students who improve performance but still fall below proficiency levels. It could also increase pressure on high-performing schools that sail above state standards to prove that their students are continuing to advance.

Federal education officials agreed in 2005 to a pilot program allowing up to 10 states to experiment with growth models, but emphasized that they remained responsible for ensuring that all students would reach reading and math standards by 2014, and show consistent gains along the way. Seven states — North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Delaware, Ohio, Florida and Iowa — have joined the pilot so far, federal officials said, and on Tuesday, the Education Department green-lighted Alaska and Arizona to use growth models to analyze data from the 2006-7 school year.

“A growth model is a way for states that are already raising achievement and following the bright-line principles of the law to strengthen accountability,” Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, said in a statement. “We are open to new ideas, but when it comes to accountability, we are not taking our eye off the ball.”

In New York, education officials are developing a statewide growth model that will be in place by the 2008-9 school year, to be used as an additional way to measure student learning. Fifteen New York school districts, mainly in the Albany and Catskill regions, have experimented with growth models on their own through a voluntary program started by two regional support educational agencies in 2005. The districts typically pay these agencies from $1,000 to $6,000 to train administrators and staff, and an additional $2.50 a year for each student for the data analysis, which is partly reimbursed through state aid.

“There is absolutely a need for this kind of data,” said Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, which represents about 700 districts. “It keeps the focus on student achievement, and not on whether you’re going to pave the parking lot or who’s going to get hired as next year’s coach.”

But as growth models become more widespread, some teachers and parents have complained that they are hard to understand and place too much focus on test scores. Teachers’ unions, even while supporting the concept, have protested the use of growth models for performance reviews and merit pay.

“It’s detrimental for education,” said Aimee Bolender, president of the Alliance-AFT, which represents 9,000 teachers and other staff members in the Dallas schools. “It is pulling apart teams of teachers and it doesn’t look at why test scores are low. From the very beginning, we viewed it as a slippery slope that did not do anything valuable to improve the educational environment in the schools.”

Ms. Bolender’s union is fighting a decision by the Dallas school district to remove about 30 teachers from five middle and high schools this summer after not enough of their students passed the state tests, and too many failed to show adequate progress on growth models. Ms. Bolender said that many teachers question the reliability of the growth model data, calling it “voodoo math” because “you have to be a Ph.D. in statistics to even comprehend it.”

Even some supporters of growth models have expressed concerns that they could shift attention and resources away from the neediest students. Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, an advocacy group for disadvantaged children, said she was worried about growth models’ focusing too much attention on students at the top. “It risks so broadening the federal government’s involvement that its historical role will be dissipated,” she said.

While growth models have existed for at least two decades, they were not widely used by school systems until recently because few states had the extensive testing data required for the analysis. But under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires annual testing for students in Grades 3 through 8, states have developed larger databases ripe for the growth-model approach, which many experts see as a more thorough picture.

“When you look at achievement, every single wealthy suburb has high test scores,” noted Theodore Hershberg, a professor of public policy and history at the University of Pennsylvania. “That’s a terrible way to measure the performance of a school or an individual teacher because what you’re really looking at is family background or family income.”

In the high-performing Ardsley schools, where more than 87 percent of the students passed state reading tests this spring, district officials have long mined scores on their own, compiling a thick data book for review and coining the saying: “In God we trust, everybody else bring data.”

But this year, they employed a more sophisticated growth model, which showed, for instance, that seventh-grade special education students had benefited from learning in regular classes. So this fall the district will expand the mainstreaming to the elementary and high schools. “This gives us the ability to measure whether a program has any teeth or is all fluff,” said Richard Maurer, the superintendent.

Cohoes school officials have spent more than $1 million on programs for their most struggling students in the past five years, and wanted to find out how much they had progressed. They learned that the lowest-level students were doing fine, while their high achievers were starting to fall behind.

Charles S. Dedrick, superintendent of the 2,200-student district, said that parents had complained that their children were scoring too low on the Advanced Placement exams to receive college credit, but he thought there was just a problem with the A.P. coursework. Now, after examining over time the state test scores of students in advanced classes, he sees a more systemic problem. So the district has made top-level students a priority, too, and is considering starting a gifted program, expanding A.P. and college-level courses, and adding an International Baccalaureate program to keep them challenged.

“The fact is we serve all students, and not just the lower-end students,” said Mr. Dedrick, who travels across the state to speak about growth models to school superintendents. “If you’re just concentrating on one group of kids, it’s not fair because both sets of parents pay taxes.”

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Smaller School, Higher Graduation Rates

Below is the text of a NYTIMES article, is there even an argument as to why one shouldn't go small?


Graduation rates at 47 new small public high schools that have opened since 2002 are substantially higher than the citywide average, an indication that the Bloomberg administration’s decision to break up many large failing high schools has achieved some early success.

Most of the schools have made considerable advances over the low-performing large high schools they replaced. Eight schools out of the 47 small schools graduated more than 90 percent of their students. One campus of small schools at the old Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, for example, reported a 92 percent four-year graduation rate this month. In 2002, 40 percent of its students graduated.

The announcement appeared to solidify the first signs of progress in the city’s new small schools that came last year when a group of 15 schools that opened in 2002 graduated their first senior classes.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made small schools a centerpiece of his efforts to overhaul the public education system in the belief that a more close-knit environment — and schools with themes like health, diversity, arts or architecture — will serve students more effectively than the large and often chaotic high schools they replaced.

On average, the 47 small schools reported 73 percent of their students graduating this June, compared with the city’s calculations of an overall 60 percent graduation rate in 2006, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced yesterday.

The city and the state have traditionally disagreed about New York City’s graduation rate, and the state calculated last year’s graduation rate at 50 percent, below what the city reported. Still, both say that there have been jumps in performance. Mr. Klein said that using the state’s method of calculation, the 47 small schools had a slightly lower average graduation rate of 71 percent.

New York City’s results are closely watched because of the size of its experiment. Marie Groark, a spokeswoman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has put millions of dollars into small schools, said the foundation was encouraged by the data released yesterday.

“I think it demonstrates that this problem is solvable,” she said. “Schools that New York City has taken leadership in developing are a critical element in any city’s strategy in improving high school graduation rates.”

To publicize the results, Mr. Klein went to the Evander Childs High School campus in the Bronx, long one of the city’s most dangerous and dysfunctional schools. It once housed 3,300 students, and in 2002, the four-year graduation rate was just 31 percent. This year, Mr. Klein said that three new small schools in the building graduated 80 percent of their seniors.

Mr. Klein, speaking in the library of Evander Childs, where, he added, his mother was a student 60 years ago, said that while there is much more work to be done, the data showed that the schools are working. “All indications are that we are making enormous progress,” he said. “I believe we’re going to see more and more students graduate.”

Others were more skeptical, pointing out that the small schools enroll few special education students or students with limited English proficiency, who typically drag down graduation rates.

David C. Bloomfield, the president of the citywide parent council on high schools and an education professor at Brooklyn College, said he was reluctant to draw conclusions from the small schools’ graduation data. “These schools are artificial environments,” Mr. Bloomfield said in an interview. Mr. Bloomfield filed a complaint with the United States Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights last year about the policy of allowing small schools to exclude some students during their early years.

Mr. Klein acknowledged that the small schools have fewer students with disabilities and limited English. But he said that in other ways the schools were serving an educationally disadvantaged population. He said that more than 90 percent of the students attending the small schools are either black or Hispanic, compared with the citywide average of 72 percent, and that more of the students in small schools come from poor backgrounds.

Ron Chaluisan, the vice president for programs at New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit group that has helped create more than 30 schools in New York City, said the special education students enrolled in the small schools have had a high rate of success.

“I think that the classes do take on many of the challenges that face high schools,” he said.

The first batch of small schools, which began opening in 2002, were funded by the New Century High Schools project, a $30 million collaboration among the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Open Society Institute. The Gates Foundation has pumped more than $100 million into city schools.

Last June, the Department of Education announced results from the first graduating class of those 15 new small high schools that opened in 2002. Those schools posted an average 73 percent graduation rate, with a handful reporting high graduation rates and others having low rates. The graduation rate at those 15 schools was largely unchanged this year, the education department said.

Even as they were cheering the results yesterday, some experts wondered if a high school diploma is enough. The Carnegie Corporation announced at the news conference a $10 million grant to help high school students prepare for college, with the goal of doubling the number of students who enter college.

Michele Cahill, a director at the Carnegie Corporation who had previously been a senior aide to Mr. Klein, said part of the grant will be devoted to tracking graduates for the first two years after high school to see how well they perform.

“We want them not to stop, but to go on to the next phase,” said Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation.