Teaching Opinion

Our Union-Based Reform Movement

By John T. McCrann — October 23, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A visitor to my school, Harvest Collegiate High School, might see...

  • Students in engaged in deep, sustained inquiry during 80 to 100 minute blocks, twice the length of regular high school periods;

  • A teacher training session on engaging diverse learners designed not by some outside consultant but by a teacher leader - who was selected by his peers and the school’s administration;

  • A department meeting in which one teacher presents a rigorous curriculum that she designed receiving informal feedback from her peers that can become part of her year-end review

These innovations are possible thanks to our school’s membership in the Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) program cr

eated in the UFT agreement with the city and the Department of Education.

PROSE allows us to revise aspects of the Chancellor’s Regulations and the UFT contract, enabling us to apply creative thinking and approach our students’ problems in more effective ways.

Last year - our first year as a PROSE school - we focused on supporting students with special needs. Our plan included time for extra reading and writing for them, along with a system that included opportunities for teachers to provide feedback to each other and to support one another in developing the best approaches to meeting individual students’ needs.

This approach has paid off, and our special education students showed more than a year’s worth of growth on school-wide performance assessments in four core subject areas.

Harvest Collegiate serves an incredibly diverse segment of our city’s young people. About 70% of our more than 500 students receive free or reduced lunch, students speak more than 20 different home languages, and over 25% of our students receive special education services. We do not screen admissions based on test scores, so we have students of all levels. We do have a school motto: “Every student is an intellectual.”

As part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, our students earn graduation credits through performance assessments that are more rigorous than standardized bubble tests. 96% of students in our current 12th grade class have met their graduation requirement on the English Regents, and 98% of the students in that class are on track to graduate in terms of credits.

Thanks in part to PROSE, we will continue to implement structural change in our school to meet our students’ needs, including encouraging the kind of deep learning that will enable them to be successful at greater rates on the performance-based assessments that our school uses.

We will also deepen the peer feedback process by building in more meeting time for teachers -- a critical need that is too often ignored in schools. This will enable classroom experts to support one another in writing curriculum, aligning lessons to our assessments, and implementing those lessons in ways that support all students’ growth.

As we move forward, we will be relying on quantitative data on the impact of each of these programs and curriculum decisions on students - thanks in part to a teacher leader whose position was created through PROSE.

The qualitative feedback from the parents and students at our school, is however, the most valuable data we have. One parent of a current senior, Iggy Keuchenius, wrote the following to our principal this past spring: “Thank you for this wonderful ‘oasis’ you have created and offer to so many, including our son. He is becoming a better person because of Harvest.”

PROSE helps give the great teachers and administration at our school the power we need to create that oasis.

Photo: PROSE logo from //www.uft.org/teaching/prose

Follow John McCrann on Twitter.
Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Prove It: Math and Education Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.