Out and about: Elijah, Regents maintain public listening to in Brooklyn whereas NY prepares ESSA plan for Feds
Brooklyn, New York
New York state education officials – including Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia – stopped in Brooklyn Tuesday evening for the latest round of feedback on the state’s policy plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The visit to the Prospect Heights Educational Campus, which houses several technical colleges, brought out more than a hundred parents, students and educators. Many of them were concerned about how the ESSA graduation standard could harm their school serving students who dropped out or fell behind in credits.
It was Elijah’s final leg in a month-long tour of the state to collect public input on the plan before the final version is presented to the U.S. Department of Education in three months. Previous stops were in Rochester, Plattsburgh, Syracuse, Long Island, Yonkers and other boroughs of New York City. The travel hearings end on June 15 in Albany. Written comments will be accepted until June 16.
The ESSA, the new federal K-12 Education Act that replaces No Child Left Behind, is shifting much of the power and decision-making in education from the federal government back to the states. New York is among the majority of states that will submit their plan to the ministry in September, the second of two deadlines.
(The 74: Student Advocates Sound the Alarm – States’ ESSA plans will fail the underserved children the law was made to protect.)
Based on the 159-page draft approved by the New York State Board of Regents in early May, officials envision a system where students’ academic skills will remain the central measure of school evaluation, however, greater emphasis is placed on equity – that is, consideration of the resources the schools receive, including money, quality teachers, and access to advanced courses.
According to the draft, which was first published publicly last month, the state will use two main indicators of school quality for assessment purposes: “improving college, career and civic readiness,” including what schools offer advanced courses; and the chronic absenteeism rate, which is generally defined when a student misses 10 percent or more of the 180-day school year.
(The 74: New York Targets Chronic Absenteeism in Its ESSA Plan: 4 Things Research Shows About Participation)
The ESSA also requires states to report four-year graduation rates for underperforming schools identified as failing a third or more of students, or those with graduation rates less than 67 percent. (It should be noted, however, that the implications are much less clear after Congress dropped the key Obama-era accountability rules for the ESSA in March.)
New York State Commissioner for Education Mary Ellen Elia speaks to a parent Tuesday night after a public hearing on the state’s ESSA plan in Brooklyn.
The audience at the Tuesday night hearing pointed out the potential impact of this benchmark on the small but resilient New York City transfer school community, where students ages 16-21 can enroll after leaving their traditional high schools to have. Fifty-nine transfer schools serve around 15,000 students and provide a route to a Regents diploma or an alternative high school diploma as well as paid internships. The environment of the schools with intensive support includes advice, tutoring and vocational training.
The majority of transfer schools, however, have a graduation rate of four years, which is well below 67 percent, according to the speakers on Tuesday. This is a potential trigger for the end of the world within the framework of the ESSA, as non-compliance with the performance standards would lead to government intervention.
(City-wide, the four-year graduation rate for transfer students was 22.2 percent and the six-year graduation rate was 46.7 percent, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Education.)
It could also damage the reputation of transfer schools, spokespeople said at the hearing, which would result in highly qualified teachers being less inclined to work on them and weakening the often last hope for teenagers dealing with the trauma of poverty, physical or otherwise Sexual abuse and gangs fighting have violence or incarceration.
Some students and alumni tearfully described how close relationships with teachers and counselors at transfer schools were a lifeline as they worked toward graduation while coping with homelessness and mental illness. Others handed government officials poster signs, such as one that read “Mistakes are evidence of attempt”.
Ashlie Rivera said she was evicted from her apartment while attending South Brooklyn Community High School but ended up finishing on time with excellent grades.
“Now I’m in college studying to be a teacher. Without these amazing men and women in my life, I wouldn’t be here now,” she said, addressing her former teachers in the audience. Although she was able to graduate in four years, some of her colleagues need more time, she added, and she urged state officials to consider extenuating circumstances.
Graduates from other urban transfer schools shared with Elia the life-changing opportunities the schools offered, such as a paid video internship that led Stephanie Gaweda, a 2012 graduate of South Brooklyn Community High School, to a career in documentary filmmaking. One of her first projects was a kind of documentary homage to her alma mater.
Parent Jaimie Hawkins proudly read the 2015 Department of Education letter she saved to confirm that her son with disabilities received his diploma from Brooklyn Frontier High School.
“I want you to see the proof that alternative schools work,” she said, holding up the letter and applauding. “I ask you, and I ask you, not to change the way services and programs are offered in alternative high schools.”
United Federation of Teachers Special Envoy Pat Crispino told state officials, “I appreciate you very much, but according to your plan, this room will be empty in a few years as these schools are closing. It will not work. Teachers will not want to go to transfer school if they are of the same standard because they are doomed to fail. “
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The two and a half hour session was devoted primarily to listening, and Elijah and the two Board of Regents with her, Luis Reyes and Kathleen Cashin, did not respond to speakers.
Subsequently, in a brief interview, Elia denied the notion that the state’s ESSA plan would automatically aim to cause transfer schools to fail and be condemned to close.
“That is not the case,” said Elijah. “That doesn’t mean a school closes. This means that they are identified as a school that needs to aim for change and improvement. “
She said she met with Superintendent Paul Rotondo, city education officer in charge of transfer schools, and city schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, earlier Tuesday, and promised to work with them to find an approach “that is appropriate for them “.
“These voices were very important for us to hear,” she added. “And I’m especially glad the students came out to talk about these things.”
The ESSA is flexible in a way that could address some of its concerns. For example, districts may include students who graduated in the summer of their fourth year in the four-year graduation rate. It also allows states to use graduation rates for extended years for students, and some states include graduation rates for five and six years, Education Week reports.
New York will also follow this approach, a spokeswoman for the state education department said on Wednesday in response to follow-up questions from The 74. Although the ESSA does not exempt special schools such as high schools from the 67 percent compulsory graduation, New York officials have said the spokeswoman that any high school that achieved a graduation rate of four, five, or five years at or above 67 percent has met the requirement, which leaves some wiggle room for students with difficulty.
About a dozen supporters gathered outside the doorway to criticize aspects of the plan, particularly protesting an arbitrary punitive provision that would assign a “1” to students who opt out of annual state tests, the lowest Score when reporting achievements at school and district level to the federal government. Hundreds of thousands of students have taken the tests in recent years; In Long Island districts, more than half of eligible students refused to take the tests this year, even though New York schools have few opt-outs.
When asked for comment, the state spokeswoman said the state must adhere to state requirements for reporting students who opt out of the tests. However, its own accountability plan only takes into account results from students who actually took the test. Both metrics are used to inform decisions about the accountability status of schools, the spokeswoman said.
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The protesters included stakeholders who, since August, have contributed to the plan through the Education Department’s ESSA Think Tank at weekly and monthly meetings in Albany. However, the department chose not to consider the broader range of recommended indicators of school quality – including teacher wear and tear, average staff experience, and whether and to what extent all-day kindergarten, arts and physical education classes are offered. The quality indicators were said to be too low and too high, raising concerns that schools, for example, might encourage chronically absent students to meet the standard.
In a press release, proponents said Elijah “abandoned” New York students, parents, educators and schools and submitted an accountability proposal to the Board of Regents that “missed the opportunities offered by the ESSA”.
However, in the plan, state officials noted that they will actively expand the list of school quality indicators in the future and engage a stakeholder group to make them measurable so that they can be used to meet the ESSA’s accountability requirements.
School suspension data, school safety incidents, school funding per student and class size are among the indicators listed that would be relatively easy to measure. Perhaps more difficult to measure is access to highly qualified teachers and counselors, student integration, parental involvement, and post-graduate outcomes.
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Comment on the New York ESSA plan: Email [email protected] or write to the New York State Education Department, ATTN: ESSA Comments, Accountability Office, Rm 400, 55 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, New York 11217