plan b

TFA planning special activities for frozen-out corps members

Teach for America is calling on its sizable alumni base to help entertain new teachers while they wait for the hiring freeze to be lifted.

Despite halving the size of this year’s cohort and directing many teachers to charter schools, TFA still hasn’t found jobs for 118 of its 300-odd new teachers, according to an e-mail sent to graduates of the program yesterday. While TFA officials “continue to be optimistic” that the Department of Education’s freeze on outside hires will be lifted, they anticipate that “a substantial number” of new corps members will remain jobless when the school year begins, the e-mail said.

The organization is putting together additional training for the unplaced teachers, according to the e-mail from Jemina Bernard, director of the program’s New York region. It is also asking the more than 2,000 graduates of the program who live in the city to provide “social and cultural opportunities,” such as home-cooked meals and walking tours, between now and the end of October for the new teachers. “I want to be very clear how critical this period of time is for our 2009 corps and how extremely important it is that we come together as a family to fully support them,” Bernard wrote.

Teach for America told its new members this spring that they would be guaranteed a salary for 40 business days after the start of classes, even if they hadn’t found a position. The city’s Teaching Fellows program, which like Teach for America offers training and a path to certification for aspiring teachers, is offering no such guarantee, unlike in past years. The 700 new fellows received a stipend for their summer training but will not be paid again until they land a job at a school. More than half of the new fellows are now eligible for teaching jobs, but many are not. 

Bernard’s complete e-mail is below:

Dear [graduate],

I hope this e-mail finds you well.

As you’ve likely read in our recent alumni updates, the New York regional placement team is continuing to work tirelessly to place our 300+ incoming 2009 corps members. Although we continue to be optimistic about securing additional placements, we still have 118 corps members who have yet to be placed. Since the school year is now less than two weeks away, we believe it is very likely that we will have a substantial number of our corps members who do not receive their placements until after the first few weeks of school.

With that in mind, we’re asking for your help in ensuring that corps members who are not placed by the first day of school feel supported and welcomed into both our Teach For America family and the region at large. Our professional development team is creating a menu of workshops, observations and assistantships to build understandings of school contexts for these corps members. We’d like to leverage our strong alumni base in order to provide additional social and cultural opportunities to the 2009 corps members so that, despite the challenges they’ve faced even before they enter the classroom, they develop into our most motivated, inspired, and cohesive corps yet.

We’re searching for alumni who are willing to host activities during the first two months of the school year for yet-to-be placed 2009 corps members. Alumni will be given wide discretion in determining what types of activities they’re willing and able to organize: host six corps members in your apartment for a dinner party, lead a walking tour of your favorite neighborhood in upper Manhattan, start a book club … whatever inspires you and brings our corps members together!

I want to be very clear how critical this period of time is for our 2009 corps and how extremely important it is that we come together as a family to fully support them. If you’re able to organize and host an event between now and the end of October, please let us know by completing the short survey here.

Thank you for your continued dedication to our cause and our corps. And if you haven’t yet met members of the 2009 corps, prepare to be inspired!

All my best,

Jemina R. Bernard
Teach For America • New York



the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.