BLM in EDU

New York City teachers bring Black Lives Matter to the classroom

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Black Lives Matter at School will rally at the education department on Tuesday. In December, advocates demanded anti-bias training for teachers and culturally relevant education for students.

Students at Sunset Park High School walked out of class recently to protest the removal of a classmate’s artwork that echoes what some at the predominantly black and Hispanic school feel: That police brutality is a problem in communities of color.

In the piece, a black girl wields a spray paint can to turn a racist message into one of hope. “Bigger than hate,” she scrawls over an epithet. But in the background, a white police officer crouches with his gun drawn.

Based off a piece by a pair of professional artists, the poster was part of a week of action for Black Lives Matter at School, a national series of workshops, actions and community conversations centered around the civil rights movement. Hundreds of New York City teachers brought the social movement to their classrooms last week, leading discussions about racial justice and pushing their administrators to adopt culturally sensitive practices.

The events culminate Tuesday with a rally at the education department headquarters.

“This is our modern day civil rights movement, so it’s important we teach it,” said Rosie Frascella, a Brooklyn high school teacher who helped organize events citywide.

But as the Sunset Park protest illustrates, acknowledging racism in the classroom can be treacherous ground for school leaders and teachers. The painting generated controversy after someone posted a photo of it on Facebook, along with the school’s number and an invitation to call in protest. A teacher there said it is no longer on display, despite reports that it was relocated elsewhere in the building.

The week of action comes amid a grassroots movement to integrate New York City schools, which are among the most segregated in the nation. Some activists and educators say that movement cannot succeed unless teachers are trained in having tough, honest conversations with students, and have reflected on these issues themselves.

A spate of racially charged incidents in city schools highlights the consequences when that doesn’t happen in a system where 70 percent of students are black or Hispanic, and a majority of teachers are white.

In the past few weeks, the New York Daily News has reported on a Bronx teacher who stepped on the backs of black children during a lesson about slavery; a white principal who was accused of forbidding lessons on the Harlem Renaissance; and a Brooklyn elementary school PTA president who advertised a fundraiser with pictures featuring performers in blackface.

“All of this is just further evidence of a systemic problem in New York City,” said Natasha Capers, a coordinator for the parent-led group Coalition for Educational Justice. “Systemic problems call for systemic solutions.”

In another show of how difficult the work can be, the United Federation of Teachers recently declined to endorse Black Lives Matter week of action. Organizers say it is the only union do so, out of 10 cities where resolutions were proposed.

An education department spokesman said the city has built racial equity into its principal training programs and has provided a new social studies curriculum that includes “multiple perspectives and voices.” The city has also led anti-bias training for 450 teachers — out of more than 70,000 total — while individual schools and district leaders have done similar work on their own.

“Anti-bias training and culturally responsive teaching are critical to ensuring a welcoming learning environment for all students,” spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email. “These approaches are integrated throughout New York City schools.”

Frascella, an English teacher at International High School in Prospect Heights, said it’s impossible to ignore the experiences her students bring to the classroom. The network that her school belongs to caters to immigrant students, many of whom have been affected by the rancor surrounding the federal immigration debate.

“They come to us with questions. They’re trying to understand the world they live in,” she said. “We put our students first. We honor their experience and their voices.”

At her school, students threw a party in honor of black lives, hosted a fashion show and raised money for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Frascella said Black Lives Matter helps teachers navigate the complexities through resources like lesson plans. In New York City, teachers held a curriculum fair and acted out demo lessons.

“What we’ve been trying to do is creating spaces for teachers to have those conversations so they feel more confident in their teaching and supported,” she said.

an hour a day keeps state accountability away

Florida told its low-scoring schools to make their days longer. It helped, new research finds

Students reading at the Book Fair International at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

Last year, Camille Watkins’s day as a fourth grade teacher got a little longer.

The elementary school where she taught had been named one of Florida’s 300 lowest-performing schools. That meant the school was required to add an extra hour of reading instruction to the day, something Watkins found grueling.

But new research finds that the program really did boost reading scores for students from low-income families. It’s new evidence that lengthening the school day, an approach being taken at schools across the country, can make a difference for students who stand to benefit the most.

In Florida, the extended-day push began in 2012 with the state’s 100 lowest performing schools and expanded to 300 schools in 2014.

“Florida likely made a smart move,” said David Figlio, one of the study’s authors.

The new research looks at that first year of the program, and takes advantage of a natural experiment. At schools with test scores just good enough to miss the cutoff, the students were very similar to students at the schools that scored just poorly enough to qualify. That allowed the researchers to compare both groups of schools over time, knowing that the key difference was the longer school day — one of the first times additional learning time has been studied this way.

What they found was that the extra time paid off, modestly. Over the course of one school year, students’ test scores jumped by the equivalent of one to three months of extra learning. Another way to look at it: The most optimistic estimate is that the program closed about a third of the gap in the reading scores between the best schools in Florida and average schools.

The effects were concentrated among students who consistently qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, students with limited English proficiency, and students whose mothers had teen pregnancies.

Whether adding an extra hour to an affluent school would yield the same effects is unclear, said Figlio, who authored the study with Kristian Holden and Umut Ozek.

Another benefit: The extra hour of class approach provides similar benefits to reducing class sizes at a fraction of the cost. Previous research has estimated that decreasing class size can cost between $2,000 and $4,000 per student each year, while extended day programs cost around $800 per student each year, according to district estimates.

Schools can choose how they work in the extra time, but most schools end their days later. At Rainbow Park Elementary School in Miami, where Watkins taught until June, the extended schedule meant that class began at 8:35 a.m. and finished just after 4 p.m. for second through fifth graders on most days.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (Graphic: Amanda Zhou/Chalkbeat)

The program also requires students to participate in different types of learning, including working in a small group, during the extra hour of intensive reading help.

Watkins, who taught for 11 years but isn’t returning to the classroom next year, said the most difficult part was adding that hour to the end of the two-and-a-half hours she was already spending on reading and writing skills. Watkins said she tried to keep the class engaging by using a reward system, but students often felt like they had already done the work.

The three-and-a-half hours of reading classes was “the cherry on top” of her decision to leave, Watkins said.

Her experience points to potential weaknesses of programs like Florida’s — that flexibility means not all schools may find a useful way to spend that time, and the extra time on the job can burden the educators tasked with executing it.   

Figlio said that was why he wasn’t sure whether their research would find any effect.

“Just because a state goes and tells a school to do something doesn’t mean there is a lot of guidance about it. It doesn’t mean schools know exactly how to do it,” he said.

College Readiness

Find your Colorado 2018 SAT and PSAT results

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post
Students work on projects at Academy High School on May 10, 2018 in their Mapleton School District. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

This year, Colorado has a lot more comprehensive data on students who took the SAT and PSAT tests in the spring of 2018.

Use Chalkbeat’s tool below to compare school results to each other or to statewide averages. This tool has results for every public school with ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-graders who took the SAT or PSAT test. It shows the mean score by grades, as well as a growth score.

The growth score is calculated by Colorado officials to show how much a student improved compared to the previous year, regardless of what their achievement was to begin with. Students with similar past achievement are grouped and ranked with a score from 1 to 99. A student with a growth score of 50 is considered to have made a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time, while a student with a lower score is considered to have made less than that.

Look back at 2017 results and our coverage here.