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Tuesday, 22 November 2011 12:15

Ask Judy: Is Saturday detention allowed?

Dear Judy,

My middle school son tapped on the shoulder of a girl sitting in front of him, but she thought it was someone else and pushed that kid. The teacher sentenced all of them to detention. I think my son was unfairly punished, but what bothers me most is that the detention is on Saturday. Is it legal to hold Saturday detention? And if so, will there be lunch?


Dear Upset,

Your question convinces me that the school is failing in its obligation to communicate with parents.

If you look at the Department of Education’s Discipline Code, you will find that in school detention is listed as one of the possible disciplinary responses allowed, depending on the grade and infraction. In middle school, it is definitely sanctioned for disturbing the classroom peace and according to Marge Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education, "Arranging detentions is up to principals."

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011 11:03

What is the Common Core?

Parents attending parent-teacher conferences this week may be hearing talk about the “Common Core” and wondering just what it is. At a Department of Education presentation in October, David Coleman, founder of the Grow Network and one of the authors of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), declared, “If you do this work [aligned with Common Core standards] then you’re ready for college.”

In short, the CCSS is not a curriculum but a set of standards defining the knowledge and skills that students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade need to master each year to be prepared for the next grade, and ultimately college or work. Creating common academic standards across the country was a state-led initiative, involving a coalition of governors and educators. The actual standards were developed by teachers, administrators, experts and parents.

Modeled after successful programs in the U.S. and abroad the Common Core standards are meant to provide teachers and parents with a shared understanding of what students are expected to learn. One aim is ensure that kids who move across city or even state lines end up in schools with the same information being taught.

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Thursday, 27 October 2011 13:53

Parent-teacher conferences begin

Parent-teacher conferences, being held at most high schools tonight and tomorrow, offer families the opportunity to meet teachers and learn how their children are doing in class. But it's hard for harried high school parents, who must rush around large buildings in an attempt to meet every teacher, to do that in the three minutes allotted for each meeting. 

Our High School Hustle blogger Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way. Apparently, Chancellor Walcott agrees. He acknowledged as much in his Oct. 27 speech about parent engagement, likening the school conferences to "speed dating."  The department is working on strengthening the conferences, he said, and has developed a tool-kit with sample questions to ask teachers as well as tips for how to prepare. Check out 10 questions on the DOE's website and let us know what you think.

Parents who don't speak English can get free over-the-phone interpretation services at evening parent-teacher conferences. Normally translation is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling the Department of Education at 718-752-7373, ext. 4.

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Thursday, 13 October 2011 11:03

New blog for special ed teachers & parents

A special education teacher, Marisa Kaplan, has launched a new blog to help parent and teachers learn about how technology can help kids learn. The blog,, also provides place for parents to ask advice--including the questions you may not have time for in your parent-teacher conferences.

Kaplan, who has taught at Manhattan School for Children as well as The Equity Project Charter School, says she wants to bridge the gap between home and school.

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Monday, 10 October 2011 09:48

Elementary Dad: Learning amid special needs

“I hear that some kids in your 1st-grade class have special needs,” my sister (a retired teacher) told my daughter. My daughter stared back in confusion. When you’re in 1st grade, a “special need” isn’t autism or attention-deficit disorder. A “special need” means you have to go to the bathroom really bad.

In fact, as many as 40 percent of the kids in my daughter’s class do have special needs, meaning they have a learning problem that demands extra attention. But my daughter is unaware of such things. Judging from the “How was your day?” feedback I get, her 1st-grade class is rather typical, except now and then a kid throws a crayon at the teacher.

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The city will lay off nearly 800 low-paid school support staff on Friday to help close a $35 million budget gap. School aides, parent coordinators and other workers got their pink slips on Sept. 22. Pending negotiations this week between their union, District Council 37, and the Department of Education, Oct. 7 will be their last day.  

A DC 37 representative said 701 school aides, health aides, family workers in shelters and 87 high school parent coordinators will lose their jobs. These workers monitor the cafeteria and hallways, help kids on and off the bus, and take sick kids to the nurse, and generally "alleviate the daily needs of teachers so they can focus on teaching," a DC 37 rep told us.

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Monday, 01 August 2011 17:43

State changes teacher evaluations

New York State is changing the way it evaluates teachers and principals. Starting in the 2011-2012 school year, the state will use a new system to evaluate teacher effectiveness based on factors like classroom performance and student achievement on standardized tests. The new system will affect how teachers and principals progress in their careers. Depending on ratings, teachers and principals may be given extra professional development, granted tenure or fired. Principals will also be judged on the school's performance.

This coming school year, teachers of grades 4-8 ELA and math and their principals will be evaluated under the new system. In 2012-13 all teachers and principals are scheduled for evaluation under the system.

Under the new system, each teacher and principal will receive an annual professional performance review (APPR) resulting in a single effectiveness score on a four-point rating system of "highly effective," "effective," "developing," or "ineffective." Under the current, less nuanced system, teachers either received satisfactory or unsatisfactory scores.

This year, still being rated with the old ratings system, about 97% of all New York City teachers received "satisfactory" ratings. These numbers correlate with the amount of NYC teachers denied tenure this year, which was also around 3%, and are likely a result of "the city's sustained push to usher more weak teachers out of the system," according to In 2010, the city introduced a four-point rating system for awarding tenure similar to the system the state will put into effect next year, and the number of teachers who recently received tenure dropped dramatically compared to past years.

According to the state Board of Regents, the following factors will determine "teacher effectiveness" ratings:

  • Student growth on state assessments or a comparable measure of student achievement growth (20%)
  • Locally-selected measures of student achievement that are determined to be rigorous and comparable across classrooms (20%)
  • other measures of teacher/principal effectiveness (60%) including multiple classroom observations for teachers and broad assessment of leadership and management actions for principals.

You can read more details on the New York State Education Department website. Advocates for Children posted fact sheets in English and Spanish to help parents understand the system and to monitor it for fairness.

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Tuesday, 02 August 2011 15:16

Poll: Yay or nay to tougher teacher tenure?

Mayor Bloomberg declared an end to tenure as an "automatic right" for New York City teachers, when he announced last week that only 58% of over 5,000 eligible teachers were approved for tenure this year. This number represents a sharp departure from just five years ago, when 99% of eligible teachers earned tenure. The mayor attributed the significantly lower number to a tougher teacher rating policy that went into effect in 2010.

Of the teachers who were not granted tenure, 39% will have their probationary period extended through the coming year, and the remaining 3% were denied tenure, excluding them from working for city schools. According to The New York Times, a similar amount of all New York City teachers received unsatisfactory or "U" ratings this year, "suggesting the percentage of truly bad teachers in the school system may be similar across experience levels."

State law mandates that teachers are eligible for tenure after completing a three year probation and allows districts to determine how tenure will be awarded. In December, the city announced a new four-point rating scale for earning tenure--highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective. Teachers must rank in one of the top two categories two years in a row to earn tenure. If principals rate teachers still-developing or ineffective, they must give written feedback to teachers on how they may improve. Principals and their supervisors are supposed to weigh test scores, parent feedback, classroom observations and other factors to determine the ratings. ( has a copy of the "effectiveness framework" rating scale.)

Bloomberg and schools' Chancellor Dennis Walcott say the new system enforces higher standards for teachers and gives teachers clearer guidelines on how to improve. The pair went a step further on Bloomberg's weekly radio show, when the mayor questioned the need for tenure and suggested it's an unnecessary throwback from the McCarthy era. Walcott predicted that the number of teachers denied tenure, or put on probation, will increase next year.

Critics charge that the four-point teacher-effectiveness rating scale is not clear enough and fear that principals may give poor ratings for personal reasons that have little to do with teacher performance. Two teachers writing on say school administrators discriminated against them because of union activity.

What do you think? Do you agree with the stricter requirements for teacher tenure? Take our poll!

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parent-teacher conferencePhoto by Sean Dreilinger/Flickr CC.

Elementary and high school parent-teacher conferences are taking place this week. District 75 conferences are coming up next week.

Parents of younger students may find the system easier to navigate with just one teacher (and classroom) to visit, and enough time to actually look at their child's work and talk at some length to the teacher.

By high school it can be a different story. Although some schools actually invite you to sit in on classes during Open School Week, at most large high schools the conferences are limited to a scant three minutes (egg timer and all). Parents may feel they need to put on track shoes to navigate the stairways, get from one classroom to another, and actually sit down for very short "conferences."  In High School Hustle, Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way.

We'd like to know what you think. How did your parent-teacher conference go? Take our poll (on the right column) and let us know.

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Jon Stewart this week blasted conservative media and politicians for protecting Wall Street while calling teachers “greedy.” Last night Stewart’s guest was education historian and NYU Professor  Diane Ravitch, discussing her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I watched the show with Diane herself in a room full of education activists who shared the views that have made Ravitch a major voice in education in this country.

Stewart’s mother was a teacher, and the personal offense he takes from the recent fad of teacher bashing comes across. "So what reforms do we need to change the conversation?" Stewart asked. Ravitch said that teachers all over country are demoralized, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as corporate philanthropists Eli Broad and Bill Gates, are on the wrong track.  Rather than focusing on which teachers to punish or lay off, we should be looking at making sure children have adequate health care and pre-K education. Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Diane Ravitch and see what you think.

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