Who Will Teach the Poor, the Kids Living in Shelters, in Foster Care …? How Can We Incentivize School Leaders and Teachers to Teach in the Most Challenging Schools?

I suspect they are, as do many public schools. The real question is what would it take to get schools to fight to recruit the hardest to educate youngsters? How would we need to adjust funding for such students, as well as school, principal and teacher accountability metrics?

Eric Nadelstern’s response to “Transparency Required: Are Charter Schools Dumping Struggling Kids into Public Schools?”

Principals understand that the path to success is recruiting kids with “3s and 4s” and avoiding kids with “1s and 2s.” The Department has made it easier – there are over 200 schools and programs that are screened, schools in which the principal can chose his/her kids. Beginning in the 70s the Board created an education option program, high schools, with the approval of the powers-that-be could create a school-within-a-school, a special program with screening requirements for applicants.

The Midwood High School screened Bio-Med program attracted students from across Brooklyn, in essence two schools in the school building, the Bio-Med ed option program and the remainder of the school. As ed option programs expanded across the city some were successful in attracting students while others could barely fill seats. The ofttimes demeaned Board of Education created a choice program within the frameworks of the system that created options for parents and competition among schools.

On the other hand an “unwritten” policy was a triage model – troublesome kids and less successful teachers were shunted to a few schools to “save” the others. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in the Bronx were sacrificed so that other schools might survive – few did.

The Department of Education has expanded the screened options, there are currently over 200 screened schools and programs – most can be traced back to a political solution to an educational program. Active, knowledgeable parents appealed to Tweed, to local elected officials and community organizations to create a local screened program for their kids. There are pros and cons: a screened program keeps kids in local public school on the other hand distributes lower achieving kids frequently to schools with many other struggling kids.

A high ranking Department official was invited to an “A” school in Queens – he walked the corridors and saw classroom after classroom with teachers lecturing, an occasional question requiring a brief reply – very little student engagement. Using a Danielson rubric the classes would be at best minimally satisfactory. When the Department official expressed his concerns the principal smiled, “We have a high A on our Progress Report – why mess with success?”

Schools with “3s and 4s” were succeeding, as measured by Department metrics in spite of the quality of the instruction.

Closing schools are in high poverty neighborhoods, schools with higher percentages of kids in foster care or groups homes and kids who live in projects.

These additional challenges are not recognized by any evaluative metric. I suspect if we track kids from let’s say the fifth grade the lower achieving kids will end up in lower achieving schools and higher achieving kids in higher achieving schools.

From what I can observe this year the Department assigned Leadership Academy graduates to phase-out schools – the least experienced principals, frequently with limited teaching experience and no supervisory experience assigned to schools with the least successful students. A rather cynical recipe.

The macro-solution as espoused by David Kirp is school integration, in his New York Times opinion article Kirp argues,

Amid the ceaseless and cacophonous debates about how to close the achievement gap, we’ve turned away from one tool that has been shown to work: school desegregation … To the current reformers, integration is at best an irrelevance and at worst an excuse to shift attention away from shoddy teaching. But a spate of research says otherwise.

Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment shrank — not because white youngsters did worse but because black youngsters did better. Not only were they more successful in school, they were more successful in life as well. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they’re also healthier — the equivalent of being seven years younger.

Today schools are more segregated and the policy-makers have no interest in addressing school desegregation.

On the micro-front, in the New York City school system, how can we reverse the trend, how can we attract and reward the “best and the brightest” for both leading and working in the highest poverty school?

1. Change the school measuring metrics.

The current Progress Report metrics place schools in peer groups – schools compete against “similar schools,” the peer metrics are shallow metrics and the closing schools almost all are identified in the lowest achieving peer groups. We need more nuanced metrics that acknowledge that kids in foster care, in group homes, living in projects, are much more likely to struggle in school and to drop out. You cannot make zip code the most important determinant of school success.

2. A coordination of community social services and resources

In New York City the wide range of social services available to families are not school-centered, they are too frequently fragmented with different city agencies and programs dealing with the same families. The school must be the hub of the services and the range of service providers clustered around a school building. The Cincinnati Model is one approach. The City Council is currently funding a six school Community School cluster and the about to be approved State budget does create a funding stream. The new Mayor, whoever he or she may be must be committed to continuing, enlarging and embedding the concept. RFP for new round of Coummunity Schools here

3. Attracting school leadership and teachers.

The jewels in the crown of the Department, the leadership programs, are tarnished. The programs have failed to produce school leaders who can thrive in difficult settings. The Department proudly points to a school in an inner city community that is thriving; it is frequently a school that screens students. Bushwick Community High School, a transfer high school accepts students with zero credits, and has been on the “chopping block” for years. Both the city and the state, until recently, failed to understand that the school was not a failure, it was an outstanding success. It was only with the intervention of Brooklyn member of the Board of Regents Cashin and State Deputy Commissioner of Education Ira Schwartz, who included a special section in the NCLB Waiver, that the school’s mission is acknowledged.

School leaders who were highly effective teachers and assistant principals or coaches, working with inner city youth, not data nerds, are needed to lead schools with challenging populations. Bi-monthly computer assessments of student progress are not the answer to school success – a school leader who is respected by the community – students and parents – is much more likely to change outcomes.

Yes, we can debate the lack of school racial integration, point to the re-segregation of schools and communities, there seems to be little appetite for creating proposed solutions – we can implement policies to support students and families in the poorest neighborhoods, policies that will invigorate and encourage, we can remove the specter of school closings and assess schools in a more meaningful way – accept the challenges and create metrics that do not doom schools from the onset.

The current system discourages school leaders from accepting “difficult” assignments and convinces teachers to flee. An NYU Study,

Among middle school teachers who entered their school during the last decade, more than half left that school within three years—significantly higher than the rates seen for elementary and high school teachers. Of the teachers who leave, most exit the NYC public school system altogether and only about 1 in 10 transition to another grade 6-8 school
The punitive PARCC assessments, the lure of online courses, plans written in the aeries of Albany will not impact the streets of East New York and Buffalo, local policies that support school leaders and teachers, mayors and superintendents and union leaders and community leaders creating a synergy, creating paths to “college and career readiness,” better known as a job., is what is needed.

It all comes down to, “Coach says I gotta pass the math test before I can practice with the basketball team – I’m not only going to pass it – I’m going to ace it.”

4 responses to “Who Will Teach the Poor, the Kids Living in Shelters, in Foster Care …? How Can We Incentivize School Leaders and Teachers to Teach in the Most Challenging Schools?

  1. Are Charter Schools dumping…..Yep! Back in the day, the popular myth was that new young and white teachers could not teach in underpriveleged, undisciplined minority populated schools. Those of us who did, in retrospect, knew that that type of thinking was pretty much based on reverse rascist thinking of the times we lived in,as proffered by such racial stalwarts as Roddy McCoy, Sylvester King, Sonny Carson etc. Having spent my first 11 years in teaching @ a school in north central harlem, during the most volatile of times in terms of racial profiling and unrest that we had experienced since the 1860’s, the 1960’s frought with its own version of civil war, ie urban war saw 125th street burned out, riots in Chicago, Boston, ST.Louis, Detroit and so forth. Yet we all carried on in those inner city schools. We experienced success, we developed our trade craft, we were dedicated and ever caring as to our charges and desire to succeed. The reason we were able to do, goes to the support and vision of school leaders we were fortunate enough to supervised by. The question about incentives to have teachers stay in underachieving schools has always been a topic of discussion. The UFT rejected hands down any suggestion that money be an incentive to stay in such schools. There was however from 1960-1967 an incentive provided by the Federal Government, to wit an induction rating of 2S, better known as a draft deferrment for working in a school which was desigated as Service Service.The justiification being that if teachers who were working in such schools were to be dratfted, then vacancies woud ocur and chidren would be w/o teachers in such schools.The Feds also provided the incentive of forgiving balances on college loans if a teacher taught fro for 5 consecutive years. I believe that todays teacher, be they from Teachers College, Teach For america or Teaching Fellows are not looking for extra cash incentives to teach in such underachieving schools at all. What they are looking for is the opportunity to teach and be supported in their efforts, and to experience success in doing so. Anyone who thinks that monetary incentives are an answer to better teachers in the under performing schools is either ignorant of the profession, or insensitive to its nobility! The answer is and has always been School Leadership and their ability to create a strong academic mission statement and support program for meaningful on going Teacher development.I know thisto be so, because I did it!




  3. Carole Silverstein.

    Irwin said it all.


  4. Special Education teachers live the charter school/public school microcosim/macrocosim. We often receive in one classroom all the students with behavioral issues who were the “worst” students in the general education teachers’ classrooms. We know what it is to be expected to not onlny teach, but to work miracles with challenging students; and we know that it is not always realistic to expect the same results under very different circumstances. Yet, many of us continue to teach these children and genuinely care about them and strive to help them succeed. How many of us will survive the models and frameworks that will judge our performance?


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