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Earlier this month 45 of you answered a poll about what you consider the best source of information about New York City's public schools. As I hoped and expected, most of you (68 percent) said Insideschools is your favorite source — but I was a little surprised that the DOE came in second, with 13 percent of responses, before other parents, your school, and "other."

Here's a new poll for the new year. What was the most important 2007 NYC education story? Your choices:

Or did I miss something big? It's totally possible. Leave your nominations for additional stories in the comments. Let's hope the pace of change is happier and healthier in 2008. Happy New Year!

It's back to school already for some Queens kids

Written by Admin Saturday, 29 December 2007 13:18

One teacher who hasn't totally taken the week off is NYC Educator; he's been blogging away. Today he takes aim at the culture of school as work that led PS 15 in Springfield Gardens to schedule optional 5-hour test prep sessions daily over winter break, as the Daily News reported earlier this week. "As we know ... inner-city kids with low standardized test scores are not eligible for vacations or time away from the standardized test prep practice mills," NYC Educator writes sarcastically. "They must be socialized to expect a future where 9 and 1/2 hour work days, little-to-no vacation time, and weekend work days are the norm. In addition, they must be socialized to expect that much of their compensation will come in the form of 'performance bonuses'" — in this case, XBox game systems, which were promised to the top scorers on the state test.

NYC Educator thinks that KIPP schools embody this philosophy, and there is an interesting exchange between a KIPP teacher and his critics in the comments. (Of course, we know that KIPP schools, or at least their teachers, have a healthy appetite for fun and games.)

As valid as his critique of the system are, it's true also that of all the dozen tests kids take each year, the January ELA and March math state tests matter the most for promotion and placement. Even if you're no fan of high-stakes tests, you've got to want to give kids a fair chance to succeed on them as long as they are required, and I've always thought it didn't make too much sense to have such a high-stakes test just five school days after a holiday vacation full of travel, sugar, and video games. If PS 15 cuts the kids some slack after the exam — and for the three kids who bring Xboxes home, it will have to — holding lessons the day after Christmas might be a semi-reasonable thing to do.

Scenes from the Penny Harvest display

Written by Admin Saturday, 29 December 2007 05:18



Yesterday, I went to Rockefeller Center so you don't have to. But maybe you should — the Penny Harvest display really is impressive. Equally impressive: overhearing parents tell their kids to "put those coins down!" in dozens of world languages. The display is up through the end of the year.

DOE titles keep parents confused

Written by Admin Friday, 28 December 2007 04:23

"Education job titles stump parents," Erin Einhorn writes in today's Daily News. Redolent of Insideschools' attempt to spell out the "ABCs of the DOE's reorganization" earlier this fall, the article points out that DOE officials have been bestowed with "wacky," abstract titles such as "chief accountability officer" and "chief equality officer" that don't make their responsibilities clear.

But in focusing on the titles, Einhorn skirts around an important point. It's not the fact that there are highly paid education officials whose tasks aren't immediately apparent that bothers the average parent; there have always been numbers men and strategic planners working behind the scenes at the DOE and other city agencies. It's that, as one parent points out in the Daily News article, "[the DOE] switched from districts to regions and now they've switched back ... [Parents] don't know who is representing what and who is doing what."

In other words, the situation on the ground for parents is a mess, and parents don't feel able to get the help that they and their children need. That's a much bigger problem than an overstuffed nomenclature.

Student Voices: Homework matters, by Toni Bruno

Written by Admin Friday, 28 December 2007 03:18

This is a post by sophomore NYC Students blogger Toni Bruno, another member of the NYC Student Union, about Councilman Peter Vallone's proposed homework cap bill. I'd like to preface her excellent post by saying that at the Dec. 3 NYCSU meeting, the Union decided that some restrictions on homework would be a good thing. I agree with the Union's decision but I think that a City Council bill is not really the best way to do this. Instead, the goal of a reasonable homework cap might best be accomplished through a mandate that all School Leadership Teams should be charged with creating a homework cap, since they are the body most connected with each school. A cap would definitely be a good thing in my mind because 1) under it, teachers would have to be more selective over the homework they gave (hopefully resulting in less busywork and more meaningful exercises) and 2) it would force principals to create better methods of in-school communication, a problem in many schools. Enjoy!- Seth

A recent Sun article by Grace Rauh reports that Peter Vallone of the New York City Council is proposing a limit on homework. His main motivation seems to be his children who "...are routinely swamped with homework and stuck at home, slogging through it." Mr. Vallone also says, "As a parent, I have been unable to have fun with my kids. We can't go for bike rides. We can't go to the park. We can't go to the museum, and that's not fair." His proposal is for a maximum of 2.5 hours of homework assigned each night, and one night of no homework each week.

As a high school student, I fully appreciate where Mr. Vallone is coming from. I am given almost 4 hours of homework every night and have at least 3 tests a week to study for. I have no doubt that limits need to be set in schools.

Here's how I would do it. The DOE should consult with parents, teachers and students to decide on the right number of hourse per night, and then set it as a guideline. There would probably be a different number of hours for different grades, rather than 2.5 hours for everyone. Then, the principal of each school should be responsible for coordinating among teachers so that most students have no more than 2.5 hours of homework per night. That means each teacher would probably be given a limit, but the limit could be adjusted at times when other teachers are giving less.

At the high school level, students who take a lot of honors or AP classes would have to accept that their workload could exceed the 2.5 hour per night guideline. It's true that homework loads are taking away from other important activities in students' lives. More homework means less time for exercise, music, family, friends, etc. But at the high school level, this is a choice that some families might want to make, on the basis of interests and ambitions.

I have attended public school in New York since kindergarten, and I agree with Mr. Vallone. Restrictions on homework time should be put in place by the DOE, and implemented by school principals.

Cross-posted at NYC Students

Comics school a no-go for DOE

Written by Admin Thursday, 27 December 2007 10:32

Nestled in a Times article yesterday about the pedagogical values of graphic novels was the information that fans of the genre tried to start a comics-themed high school but were not approved by the DOE. I'm not sure if I feel better to know that there is some limit as to what school themes are approved, or worse knowing that the DOE thinks wildlife management and fire safety are more likely than comic books to get kids excited about learning.

The Comic Book Project is a national program run out of Teachers College that aims to trick kids into developing literacy skills by reading and writing comic books. Since starting in a Queens elementary school eight years ago, the project has expanded to almost 900 schools nationwide, according to the Times. Check out some comic books by New York City kids at the Comic Book Project's gallery.

And if you're looking for something to do this holiday week, go see "Persepolis." It's based on Marjane Satrapi's excellent graphic novel series about growing up in Iran.

Yesterday's Times article about a charter school in Georgia that enrolls many immigrant students, including several refugees, highlights how having diverse schools benefits all students. If you really want to see why diversity matters, check out the accompanying video, which profiles two adorable boys — one a native American, the other Burmese — who have become fast friends.

In New York City, there are more than 20 high schools for new immigrants, usually those who have arrived within the last four years. (Search for them.) I've always enjoyed visiting these schools because the students, like those profiled in the Times video, are pleased to be in school and are excited to help each other learn.

Study: Less than half of NYC high schools offer physics

Written by Admin Wednesday, 26 December 2007 11:44

Although the city's schoolchildren aren't heading back to their classrooms for another week, I'm back to work. I'm thinking there won't be too much school-related news until 2008 -- even the DOE wouldn't roll out a new initiative between Christmas and New Year's, right? — so for the next few days I'm planning to post about interesting articles and ideas that I just didn't get to this fall.

First up: a recent article in the student newspaper of Stony Brook University about the state of high school science education in New York City. A Stony Brook researcher has been examining what kinds of science courses the city's high schools offer; she found that more than half of high schools did not offer physics during the 2004-2005 school year (I would imagine that the percentage has gone down, given the proliferation since that time of small schools). The researcher also found that a lack of advanced science courses correlates with students' socioeconomic status. Schools with higher proportions of poor and minority students are less likely to offer advanced science courses. On the one hand, this seems intuitive: we know that poor and minority students are more likely to receive inadequate math and science instruction before high school, making them ill prepared to take physics.

But reading articles like this one reminds me that the "soft bigotry of low expectations" is alive and well. An assistant principal at Townsend Harris, which has many advanced science courses, is quoted in the article as saying, "For many of the kids in other schools their goal isn't physics. It's to be able to count their change so they aren't ripped off when they buy food or to be able to read their prescription so they can take care of themselves when they're sick." Those may be the horizons that poor students can see, but their teachers can see farther. Obviously, someone who can't count change can't pass the physics Regents exam — but shouldn't that be the goal? Simply getting a kid ready to deal with the daily math he'll face in the work world or in the first year of a basic college program is a major accomplishment in many places — but doesn't that still sell the kid short?

The state has released its own list of elementary and middle schools in good standing and in need of improvement under No Child Left Behind — and the news isn't great for the city or its progress reports.

The state removed 18 city elementary and middle schools from the list but added 64, bringing the total number of city schools not in good standing to 318. Many schools that received D's and F's on their progress reports are considered in good standing with the state, including at least two of the schools that the DOE has announced it will close this year. And many other schools that received A's and B's made the state's list of failing schools.

City education officials say there is "correlation" between the two lists because as a school's progress report score gets higher, it is more likely to be considered in good standing by the state. Still, the discrepancy between the two lists makes sense; after all, the two accountability systems focus on different things. No Child Left Behind looks only at the percentage of students scoring at proficiency each year, while the progress reports look at individual student improvement over the course of each year. The higher number of failing schools this year on the state's list could have to do with more students being tested, as the Post suggests, or on the fact that the state's requirements are getting stricter each year as we get closer to 2014, when No Child Left Behind expects every child to be proficient on state tests.

Performance pay, incentive programs moving into phase two

Written by Admin Thursday, 20 December 2007 11:59

The DOE proudly announced earlier this week that 86 percent of the schools given the option of accepting performance pay this year chose to. Thirty-four eligible schools chose not to participate. (The percentage would have been slightly lower had the DOE not included the additional schools it apparently solicited once it became clear that a chunk of schools would abstain from the program.)

By the end of the day tomorrow, each of the schools will have to decide, by committee, whether their merit pay will be shared equally among all teachers or given in varying amounts to teachers who especially deserve it. I'm curious whether any schools will choose this latter option, and if they do, whether their choice will reflect an honest attempt to see the effect of merit pay or cronyism, as Norm Scott at EdNotes Online speculates will happen.

Interestingly, a slightly higher percentage of "A" and "D" schools than "B" and "C" schools given the option to participate chose not to. But of the 19 schools with F's on their progress reports, not a single one opted out of the performance pay pilot. I'm not sure what, if anything, to make of this -- I'm open to suggestions.

In other incentives news, we also learned this week that the city has distributed $740,000 so far through the Opportunity NYC program, although we don't know how much money was distributed because of kids' achievements in school.