Vergara Comes East: Tenure, Graduation Rates and Searching for Answers: How Do We Improve the Odds for All Kids?

Vergara come East.

The same folks who won the lower court litigation attacking tenure in California will be suing in New York State (see Chalkbeat report here)

In my view the suit has no legs; I believe the courts will dismiss the suit as not “ripe,” the suit is prematurely filed. The New York State teacher evaluation law has yet to fully rolled out, we only have scores from year one and it will take a couple of years before we have any data on the effectiveness of the process.

As I described in a previous post the law expedites the time frames and establishes a process in which supervisory assessments, student test scores and a locally negotiated tool combine to create an overall score – the law requires that the implementation details (number of observations, Measures of Student Learning, etc.) are subject to collective bargaining.

The law determines teacher competency and sets processes for dismissal with an expedited due process hearing.

On the same day the new litigants announced their intent to sue State Education announced the graduation rates. (See a detailed PowerPoint)

There is nothing surprising – graduation rates report the 2009 cohort – students that entered high school in 2009 (if a student transferred to another school they are not counted in the cohort – if they dropped out they are counted). Graduation rates in “high tax,” meaning high tax school districts (wealthier districts that spend much more per student) have higher graduation rates and low tax (districts that spend less per student) – primarily rural school districts and the “Big Five” (NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers) have lower graduation rates.

Statewide 74.9%
NYC 61.3
Buffalo 53.4
Rochester 43
Yonkers 66.4

English language learners ELL), who are primarily in the “Big Five” had declining graduation rates, no doubt to the elimination of the local diploma.

What the report does not do is investigate the 25.1% who did not graduate – who are they?

The answer is not surprising: English language learners, students with disabilities, Afro-American and Hispanic males, and, students with histories of poor attendance.

At the same meeting that the graduation rates were released the Regents began the process to approve changes in the regulations that govern English Language Learners – Part 154 – the first time the regs have been changed in thirty years. Unfortunately the regs are compliance regulations that will have little impact on actual classroom instruction. In fact, the regs will place additional financial burdens on the small, low tax districts that are already teetering on the edge of educational bankruptcy.

While the regs are an improvement, measuring minutes of instruction will not improve outcomes. Kids who exit (“score out”) ELL programs do at least as well as all other students. Students who enter school, especially in the middle and high school years, with interruptions in formal education, not surprisingly, do poorly, and “ever-Ls,” kids who never score out of ELL programs do poorly.

There are programs that have been successful, i. e., the International and Newcomer High Schools in New York City that teach English in the content areas instead of pull-out and/or push-in programs that essentially treat ESL instruction as a separate course. Counting minutes of instruction has no bearing on successful outcomes.

ESL students in schools with portfolio waivers have much higher graduation rates as well as high completion rates in college.

What is so frustrating is that we not only know why kids drop out of school we can identify the individual kids in the sixth grade. John Balfanz, a researcher at John Hopkins reports,

In high-poverty schools, if a sixth grade child attends less than 80 percent of the time, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, or fails math or English, there is a 75 percent chance that they will later drop out of high school — absent effective intervention.

There are schools that understand the issues and have instituted supports that have been highly successful; unfortunately these schools are the outliers.

Kathleen Cashin and Bruce Cooper, professors at Fordham University point to another key – the drastic reduction in guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists in New York State,

… attention and time devoted to the “whole child” are now much less likely because teachers working alone in their classrooms are assuming more and more responsibility. And we see less staff who are trained and hired to help students — socially and emotionally — with a reduction in social workers, guidance counselors, athletic coaches, and school psychologists.

As a consequence, what are the effects of this drop in guidance counselors, now fewer in number in many schools, on children’s growth, stability, school attendance, as well the impact on levels of bad behaviors, such as physical bullying, and cyber-bullying? Those staff, specifically trained to address these students’ needs and problems, have diminished and thus are no longer around — or have so many students to serve, that they are not able to counsel students fully for college and career readiness.

We can identify students in elementary school who are dropout candidates simply by looking at chronic absenteeism. The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School points to specific schools,

In many neighborhoods, the challenges of child and family poverty are immense. Addressing these issues directly, alongside absenteeism, may not only improve school success in the long-term, but also strengthen families and improve the quality of children’s lives. The report suggests a targeted approach to addressing chronic absenteeism and family instability in 100 city schools with the goal of strengthening schools by strengthening families.

We know who is not graduating, we know why they are not graduating, and, our only approach is punitive. We identify priority and focus schools, schools with poor data, send in teams to write negative reports, and fail to address the core problems.

The Regents (although there appears to be some pushback) and the Commissioner have been fixated on the Common Core as the prime path to increasing student academic competency in New York State. It would be helpful if the focus on the Common Core was accompanied by a content-rich curriculum.

Around the state there are model schools and model clusters of schools that effectively serve all students. Regent Tilles calls them “hybrid” schools – public schools with a university or not-for-profit support organizations; examples are the International High Schools Network, the Expeditionary Learning Schools and Columbia Secondary School.

Towards the end of the monthly Regents meeting the board, once again, for the umpteenth time, began a discussion about eliminating the Global Studies Regents exam – the reason – it’s “too hard.” Mindless!! The feds only require exit exams in English, Math and Science, and, State Ed has been suggesting that the Regents consider adopting the federal standards and abandon the hundred year old requirement of five Regents Exams. Gee, what a novel approach, give fewer tests.

Why not a radical approach – encourage, cajole, arm twist or require school districts to adopt approaches with a proven track record and support with content rich curriculum.

If we get that sixth grader to school every day six years later s/he will graduate high school college and career ready. What a surprise!!!

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2 responses to “Vergara Comes East: Tenure, Graduation Rates and Searching for Answers: How Do We Improve the Odds for All Kids?

  1. Cambell Brown was on morning Joe the other day championing a lawsuit against NY teachers, it was a little sickening…

    Like

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