Posts filed under ‘policy’

Identity Narratives

Submitted by Amelia Clune ’11


“It is the story that owns and directs us….“ Chinua Achebe.


In order to promote engagement and engender achievement in the classroom, we as teachers must appreciate how “identity narratives” impact perceptions of societal roles.

The great Nigerian novelist, and a professor of mine at Bard College, Chinua Achebe once stated that: “People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience…” It is thus in classrooms where we can help to nurture these commonalities and identify connections. I believe that in today’s pluralistic society, we must be ever more flexible in our teaching-styles and use a variety of tools in evaluating success. Our mandate is to develop pedagogy that respects and values differences, to create learning communities that deliver warmth and opportunity without devolving into rigidity or conformity,to cultivate character by promoting academic growth and personal transformation.

Children, especially those growing up in under-privileged inner city neighborhoods, are at risk of reverting back to their community’s expectation and scripted narrative of failure. In Young Gifted and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students, the authors argue that if “identities are the stories we tell ourselves and the world about who we are…” then the most important thing schools, families, and communities can do is to figure out how to develop among African-American children and youth, identities of achievement.”

As we ourselves are in constant negotiation with those “stories,” our purpose as educators is to help students to recast their identities in ways that contribute to a story of hope and success. In the final analysis, teaching is about connecting with people, as individuals, on a personal level. By helping students identify shared stories – narratives which render virtuous tales of courage, humility, integrity, and kindness in spirit – we are modeling for students how those principles can be applied to a common way of life, giving children the confidence to open up in order to connect with anyone, regardless of cultural beliefs or customs. In doing so, we are fostering a shared understanding of what it means to be a member of today’s pluralistic society.

June 18, 2014 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

Charter vs. Public: Misconceptions

Submitted by Steve Evangelista

I’m writing with Margaret Ryan on the eve of a forum about inequities in public education that we are hosting at Bank Street College of Education.  We chose specifically to focus this panel discussion and roundtable on public school education, and not just charter school education, even though we have been running a charter school for the past nine years.  We have heard some concerns such as, “So this is a charter school panel.  When is the public school panel?”

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way: inequity in public education is not a charters vs. public issue (it’s much bigger); and charter schools are public schools.  Charters and district schools are indeed administered differently, and charters can do some things that district public schools cannot do.

See more at:

February 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm 1 comment

Todd Sutler’s Dialogue With Deborah Meier


Read  more of Todd Sutler’s dialogue with visionary educator Deborah Meier on Meier’s Education Week Bridging Differences blog.

Sutler, a 2010 Bank Street graduate, is the executive director of the Odyssey Initiative. He and two other teachers are traveling the country to identify, document, and share successful practices in some of America’s best schools. Todd traded bonds for an investment bank in New York City, Toronto, and Tokyo before running an afterschool program at the Boys Club of New York. He has taught 3rd and 5th grade in Brooklyn, N.Y. and  hopes to co-found the Compass Charter School in 2014.

Dear Debbie,

It is an honor to be invited to correspond with you here. I have enjoyed reading your blog for years, and I am lucky to now have you as a friend and adviser to The Odyssey Initiative, an organization I founded with Michelle Healy and Brooke Peters last year. When we set off to research some of America’s best schools, it never crossed our minds that we would get a chance to sit down and talk to you. When we met, I was pleased to find that your outspokenness in person was just as engaging and inspiring as it is in your writing. I am disappointed, however, that your readers did not benefit from more of that frankness during your conversation with Mike Petrilli. More on that disappointment in a moment.

Matt Candler, of 4.0 Schools, recently introduced me to Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. Christensen’s theory, I believe, happens to describe the education reform movement of the last 20 years. The “dilemma,” he argues, is the choice companies face when deciding whether to allocate time and resources to address their customers’ current needs or to anticipate their future needs. Some companies are reticent to invest in research and design for the future because it requires too much time and money without a guaranteed payout. Other companies take the risk and end up profiting from a substantial increase in revenues. One of Mike’s comments made me think that the ed-reform movement is facing its own “innovator’s dilemma”:

“The choice today is not between 100,000 Central Park Easts or Mission Hills and 100,000 test-prep factories. If it were, I’d pick the Deborah Meier schools in a heartbeat. But let’s face it: There aren’t more than a handful of Deborah Meier schools out there.”


Mike implies that producing more schools like CPE and Mission Hill would use up too much human and financial capital. Even though he must know that future jobs will require workers who are flexible and critical thinkers, he believes there is too much risk involved in trying to create the schools that develop such graduates. “Test prep factories,” in his eyes, are the safer bet.

Had we not spent this year visiting schools across the country, perhaps we would agree with Mike’s premise that there “aren’t more than a handful of Deborah Meier schools out there.” However, when Michelle, Brooke, and I launched The Odyssey Initiative, we argued, “the only innovative thing left to do in education reform is to stop innovating and find the experienced educators already succeeding, identify what practices were leading to their success and replicate them.” Twenty-three states and more than 60 schools later, we are even more confident that the talent and the answers already exist.

During our Odyssey, we met with many educators who are achieving quantifiable and qualitative success without pushing test-prep, including Oakland’s Lighthouse Community Charter School. Lighthouse was founded by a group of parents and teachers, some of whom previously taught at Ted Sizer’s public school, Francis Parker. They have spent 10 years improving their program. Students maintain a portfolio of their work and regularly reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. They lead family conferences from kindergarten through 12th grade and give presentations on personal academic progress each year. Practices such as after-school office hours and two-year class cycles (“looping”) enable teachers to build relationships and support students with personalized instruction. Additionally, Lighthouse gives students a week off every quarter in order for teachers to look at assessments and modify curriculum in response to that data. When we interviewed a group of 6th graders at the school, they took pride and ownership of their education, reflecting: “At my old school, they would teach to the middle of the group, here they teach to me,” and, “I had to repeat 6th grade, but I am a better math student because of it.” Lighthouse’s test scores and college placement results also demonstrate why it has been celebrated as one of the best public schools in the country.

As our research continued, we found programs across the country with different practices that, like Lighthouse, demonstrated a dedication to rigor, structure, and student engagement, as well as attending to the developmental needs of their children. The schools we visited this year demonstrated that it is possible to create schools in diverse communities that are successful by a variety of metrics. Perhaps Mike and others would risk allocating money and time toward replicating schools that both meet state standards and build crucial “soft” skills if they knew more about what these schools were doing. Perhaps if he were more familiar with these schools’ commitment to presenting content in a contextual setting he would know that progressive schools do, in fact, build vocabulary and content knowledge.

So where do you fit in? On this blog, you often celebrate Sizer’s work and the success of the Coalition of Essential Schools as well as that of the Consortium in New York City. Yet I have not seen many citations of the specific practices being implemented at these schools. YourEdWeek readers want to know them. More importantly, America needs to know.

Teacher-leaders are taking action across the country by creating businesses and learning communities and sharing their experiences on blogs, videos, and at conferences. We need national platforms and megaphones (and legends like you) to amplify their voices and broadcast their practices to the rest of the country. Voters, parents, and legislators must better understand the components and merits of student-centered education because they are the stakeholders who effect change in the system. How many people know about Teach For America, KIPP, and Harlem Children’s Zone? What if the same number of people were familiar with the Coalition? Can you imagine the influence it would have?

After all, Pasi Salhberg, the mastermind behind the internationally renowned Finish school system, freely admits that cooperative learning, problem-based teaching, and portfolio assessment (practices the Coalition, the Consortium, and other colleagues of yours have championed) are examples of practices that Finland co-opted from America in the 1980s and have continued to improve upon. We should not have to read his blog to find out what America has been doing well.

The Odyssey Initiative team set out to show educators, parents, reformers, and legislators that successful, student-centered classrooms are a reality in schools across the country. We want to see more of these classrooms for more American children, and we believe that goal can only be achieved with a more informed citizenry. We need to get these messages out in the public; we need more people to know what is happening and what is possible. I am asking you and your peers, our heroes, to raise your voices for this cause.





June 28, 2013 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

Report from South Africa

Last July, Laura Zellerbach ’11 and current student Emily Soong journeyed to South Africa to observe and report on the workings of early childcare centers there. Here is their report from the field.

Report from South Africa:

Data Collection for the INNOVA Project- Developing an Environmental Rating Scale for Group Care for the “Under Threes”

Laura Zellerbach (Bank Street College, M.S.Ed Infant and Family Development/Early Intervention ’11)
Emily Soong (Bank Street College, M.S. Early Childhood & Childhood General candidate)

Our arrival in the black African township of Mangaung in Free State, South Africa since July 16th has been observably marked by evident lingering divisions between the old world and new.  Early care and education, which also reflects existing race and social class tensions here, serves as an insightful lens into the disjointed, but still-evolving, amalgamation between this country’s historical strife with development and advancement work.  (more…)

September 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm 1 comment

Teaching, Learning and Assessment: Getting It Right

posted by Susan Ochshorn ’99, founder/principal of ECE PolicyWorks

This piece is re-posted from Susan’s blog on HuffPost Education.

Google “Teacher Evaluation and Student Performance” and 827,000 entries spring up in the queue; do the same for “Teacher Effectiveness” and the number plummets to 84,300. Such a gap, and so revealing. Teacher effectiveness has become the Holy Grail for the modern education reform movement, one of whose faithful adherents, Shael Polakow-Suransky, headlined a panel last week in New York City on “Teacher Performance,” moderated by Bank Street College of Education’s chief academic officer and dean, Jon Snyder.

Polakow-Suransky pierced the consciousness of Gotham’s education community late last year, in the wake of Cathie Black’s appointment, assuming the role of deputy chancellor for performance and accountability to buttress his boss’ subpar C.V. Dubbed “a data mining administrator” by The New York Times, he was introduced to the locals with the menacing headline, “New Schools No. 2 Wants More and Better Testing.” A child of progressive schools and a student, no less, of education visionary and reformer Ted Sizer, his faith in the infinite perfectibility of tests seemed unwavering.

Recently named the NYC DOE’s Chief Academic Officer, Polakow-Suransky is now deeper than ever in the weeds of performance and accountability. He’s grappling with the demands attached to $700 million of federal education funding, won by NY State last summer in the second round of Race to the Top, and made possible by legislation doubling the number of charter schools and plans to tie teacher evaluations to test scores. This, while a ferocious debate rages across the land about the wisdom of assessing teachers’ effectiveness by such means. As our top education policymakers embrace teacher quality as their mantra, and the states go hungrily after funding, experts — including Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch — warn of the “Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers,” and teachers are quaking in their classrooms.

“If I were in your shoes,” said Snyder, not unsympathetically, to the city’s chief academic officer, “I don’t know how I could sleep.” But Polakow-Suransky, whose face is smooth and inscrutable, exudes great serenity. “For decades,” he declared, “we’ve had no accountability. As you start to reform a system that’s been deeply neglected, where kids have been failing, you need to push.”

What form that push takes is the question. Nothing less than the future of teaching and learning is on the line.

The role of student learning in teacher assessment is a — if not the — critical question of the moment. One that revealed deep fault lines among the panelists, who also included Margaret Ryan, co-founder of Harlem Link Charter School; Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality; and Frederick Frelow, the education and scholarship program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom program. Polakow-Suransky, ever optimistic, envisions great opportunities to “go beyond bubbles,” while maintaining the importance of value-added data.

“When you raise the stakes, there’s a tension,” argued Frelow. “A single test is not a good metric for performance. The more examples you have of performance, the more a teacher can get a better sense of the zone the kids are in.”

Ryan championed “more portfolio and rubrics-based assessment.” “Critical thinking,” she said, “develops over time, and this all has to be part of an evaluative package.”

And Frelow, using a poignant example of his own son, who has struggled with learning disabilities and was recently admitted to Rochester Institute of Technology, reminded us that “learning is not linear,” the case for all children — those who develop typically, and those who do not.

Early childhood educators know this well. While the first five years of life are a time of explosive growth, cognitively, socially and emotionally, young children’s acquisition of skills and knowledge unfold in unique ways, with detours, stop, starts and great bursts. Today’s test-driven, academically narrow times present tremendous challenges to teaching and learning at the earliest end of the education spectrum.

But early childhood practitioners can’t put their heads in the sandbox. As Julie Diamond, Fretta Reitzes and Betsy Grob make clear in their contribution to
The Right to Learn: Preparing Early Childhood Teachers to Work in High-Need Schools
, they must be test-savvy and conversant with the language of standards and accountability; they should be well educated in the methods of observation and assessment; they need to have a rich understanding of curriculum and instructional strategies; and, most important, they must be ready and able to defend their practice, by consistent documentation of children’s active learning.

A tall order, for sure, but one that must be filled.

Susan Ochshorn is the founder of ECE PolicyWorks, a consulting firm specializing in early care and education policy research, program development, and project management. She has managed the Child Care Research and Policy Project at Columbia University; co-directed the Lucent Universal Preschool Initiative; and served on the advisory council for the Early Learning Initiative of the Education Commission of the States. The author of numerous briefs, reports, and other publications, she recently launched ECE Policy Matters, a blog dedicated to bridging professional practice and public policy.

May 8, 2011 at 6:54 pm Leave a comment

Questioning Teacher Evaluation: Your Answers Needed

The Niemeyer Series presented a compelling discussion last week on the topic of teacher performance and evaluation. You can view the panel discussion in its entirety online:

Below are some of the questions that were submitted to the panel.  Please select a question, then click “Add comment” and answer it. Or you can even ask another question!

  • Conversations with teachers and principals suggest that principals and school leaders have little time to work on instruction with their staff educators. Is there any thinking going into structural changes to free up time for instructional experts to spend more time working on instruction?
  • You’ve talked about systems where principals should teach; where they need to consistently be present in classrooms to observe and to coach. How will you make this happen within the constraints of the enormous operational/systemic workload of New York City principals? As a principal who is the sole administrator in my building, I’d really like to know.
  • If teachers are evaluated on the assumption that their professional support is equal, how do we hold principals accountable for that?
  • In evaluating teachers, how do you factor the complex learning needs of students with disabilities while maintaining a clear expectation of a rate of progress that leads to a high school diploma to access to college and meaningful employment?
  • Is there any difference in evaluation effectiveness in states with and without unions?
  • To improve student achievement, please describe how you would effectively involve parents, especially lower socio-economic and non-English speaking parents to extend the learning day?
  • Frederick (Frelow) mentioned that the more examples you have of performance the better. (This is paraphrasing). However, teachers have taken that to an extreme and “over-assess” students. How do we make sure not to “over-assess” teachers or increase the assessments on students to demonstrate “value-added?”
  • Where are the schools of education in this mix? How are we holding them accountable to “real” teacher success that trickles down to student success?
  • Is there a role for students and parents in providing feedback about teacher effectiveness either through surveys, interviews, or other methods?
  • What should the evaluation of principals include and why?
  • Who is being trained to assess all these new evaluation models? Who is evaluating the quality and effectiveness of the principal?
  • How can we help support teachers’ morale while evaluating them?
  • There has been a tremendous amount of pressure to quickly develop teacher evaluation rubrics to avoid “LIFO” as the mechanism for determining teacher layoffs. Isn’t there a danger in rushing an evaluation system to address LIFO?
  • If the advancement and removal of teachers is so difficult, how useful is the information gained through evaluation and assessment? When will the information be utilized?
  • Do you see teacher portfolios playing a role in the change regarding teacher assessment?
  • A question for Shael Polakow-Suransky: If you see so clearly the tensions, the faults, the need for better work on flawed exams, how can you excuse current grading of schools, push to publicize teacher test scores, etc.?
  • Are our teaching preparational training programs preparing high quality teachers?
  • To what extent should our teacher prep programs be involved in shaping an evaluation system?
  • Can you speak more about how an administration can be structured composed entirely of teacher leaders?
  • Are there organizations that are actively engaging classroom teachers in the discussion of building a high quality teacher evaluation system?
  • Aren’t our upper-middle class schools outperforming Finland? Isn’t the real issue poverty as Diane Ravitch has recently stated?
  • Talk about what role the Teacher Education Departments at colleges and universities can/must play in teacher performance/assessment/accountability.
  • Describe your ideal 60% of the New York City or New York State evaluation systems.
  • Administrators, at least in New York, are so overburdened with paperwork, meetings, and outside expectations to prove they’re effective, how will they possibly manage a new labor-intensive evaluation?
  • If standardized tests are an important component, how will teachers of English language learners and students with disabilities be assessed? Will there be different assessments?
  • Peer review was mentioned as popular in one school system, but does not seem to be very popular. In higher academia and in the corporate world, it is key. Why the difference?
  • Who, realistically/logistically, should define teacher effectiveness – each school? district? state?
  • Yes, teachers need to be learners. What if a teacher is improving – is that enough? How much growth, at what pace?
  • Students with severe disabilities do not participate in standardized testing and some of their learning may be difficult to quantify. These students also need excellent teachers. How can teacher evaluation measures be shaped to ensure that students with disabilities are taught by excellent teachers?
  • How can teachers of students with disabilities be fairly evaluated?
  • How can we extend student performance/teacher performance with the current socio-economic disparity?
  • During the debate, no one has mentioned Special Education in the realm of accountability. How do you see this factoring in? Along the same lines as general ed. teachers’ performance, or as a separate standard?

May 3, 2011 at 7:32 am 1 comment

The 6th John H. Niemeyer Series: Assessing Teachers


Teacher Performance:
Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective – How Can You Tell?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 5:30 PM
The Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (at 34th Street), New York City

To reserve a space, please contact Shannon Whitaker-Burke at 212-875-4607 or

Panel Members:
Shael Polakow-Suransky
Shael Polakow-Suransky
Chief Academic Officer & Senior Deputy Chancellor, NYC Department of Education
Margaret Ryan
Margaret Ryan
Bank Street Alumna, Co-founder and principal, Harlem Link Charter School
Barnett Berry
Barnett Berry
President and CEO, Center for Teaching Quality

Frederick Frelow
Frederick Frelow
Program Officer, Educational Opportunity and Scholarship, The Ford Foundation

Jon Snyder
Jon Snyder
Dean of the College, Bank Street

April 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment

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Join the conversation among Bank Street College alumni blogging on education policy, practice, and point of view. Explore issues, ask questions, share what's actually happening in our classrooms, schools, museums, and communities. To submit a post, please send it to:

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Post your own opinions about teaching, learning, children, politics, special education, school reform, play, the standards movement, student teaching, museum education, leadership, block building, morning meeting, curriculum mapping, collaboration, isolation, benchmarks, bilingual classrooms, social-emotional development, the arts...right here on The Bank Street Blog!

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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