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I'm about to head down to City Hall for a briefing on next year's school budget and then to the Keep the Promises rally against the budget cuts. There's been so much information floating around in the last few weeks, not to mention the leadership shakeup in Albany, that it's hard to know what's really going on with the budget. But as each day brings more bad news about the economy, we can assume the school funding picture won't be ideal. I'll blog later on whether parents, teachers, students, and advocates turned out in the gloomy March weather for the long-planned mass rally -- but I hope they do. You still have time to make it to the rally, which starts at 4 p.m.
The city's new social promotion policy scares me. I keep imagining corridors filled with giant sneakers and puny 6th graders bumping into their bearded, muscular classmates who are repeating 8th grade.
It brings me back to our first tour of a middle school two years ago, when my then 5th grader had a funny reaction to the size of kids lurking in hallways.
"Mom," he whispered urgently. "I can't possibly go to this school. These are Middle School Giants!"
It happened that the 8th grade boys who spoke on that day's tour were particularly huge. Their voices had lost the high-pitched, pre-adolescent cadence. It seemed pretty intimidating.
But just imagine what middle schools are soon going to look like by the time my 5th grader graduates and the new social promotion policy takes hold. (Assuming he never bombs a major class or standardized test and gets left back, that is.) I predict huge improvements in the basketball teams.
The policy approved 11-1 by Mayor Bloomberg's rubber stamp education board ensures that untold numbers of 8th graders are going to repeat the grade. The panel's 11-1 vote came on Monday night as angry parents and protesters shouted "Shame on You," according to the New York Daily News.
In support of his new policy, Chancellor Joel Klein says it makes no sense to send students "wholly unprepared into a high school environment," and he's right.
But it also makes no sense to turn middle schools into the Land of the Giants.
What about focusing our energies on helping struggling kids long before they face a fourth middle school year?
At the Panel for Educational Policy last night, parents from the Coalition for Educational Justice did raise such a fight against the DOE's 8th grade promotion policy that the rest of the agenda had to be jettisoned. But as we all predicted, their protest had no affect. Even one of the two panel members who had threatened to vote against the policy found religion just before the meeting and voted to approve it instead. Apparently only Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president's representative on the panel, is ever allowed to vote "no." Would having its policies approved by a vote of 10-2 instead of 11-1 really undermine the DOE so much?
At 6 p.m. today, the Panel for Educational Policy will convene at Tweed to vote on the chancellor's proposed 8th grade promotion policy. Unlike many recent DOE policies, this one has met some real resistance on the path toward finalization.
The Sun reports that both the Manhattan and Bronx borough presidents have advised their appointees that they do not support the proposed policy. Last week, members of the Coalition for Educational Justice "stormed" Tweed and demanded to talk to Chancellor Klein about the policy, the Daily News reported, and I predict CEJ members, who vocally opposed the policy at the first public hearing in Manhattan last month, will keep tonight's meeting lively.
None of this opposition is likely to prevent the policy from being approved, of course. Panelists are sure to be mindful of the "Monday Night Massacre," which took place four years ago today when the panel was considering the 3rd grade retention policy. When it looked like three members of the panel planned to oppose the policy, the mayor and Staten Island borough president replaced them just before the vote. NYC Public School Parents Blog has more on the lessons (not) learned since that night. Since then, the PEP has never even threatened to reject a proposed DOE policy.
Maybe administrators didn't get the memo about there not being any money to buy new books. Or maybe kids these days don't want to read young adult classics like Kidnapped or Sarah, Plain and Tall. Or perhaps the bureaucracy involved in selling unused books back to the DOE is too onerous for overtaxed school officials to tackle. But whatever reason officials at IS 73 in Queens had for tossing new books into a dumpster, I can't imagine it's very good.
Last week, I took advantage of the elementary school half day to sit down with Jake G., a 2nd grader and member of the Insideschools family. Jake leveled with me on what it's like to go to Lower Lab, why having a computer means more responsibility for him, and how parents can keep their 7 year olds happy at the end of a long school day.
Q. What's your typical day like? What time do you get up?
A. I would need to get up at 7:30 a.m. to get to school, but I usually get up at about 6:20 so I can hang out with my dad, who leaves at 7. When I get to school, we go to the auditorium. Sometimes there will be an announcement. Then we get picked up by our teachers, and we start off with a morning meeting.
Q. Do you have a class news broadcast?
A: We do have a class newspaper. It comes out every six weeks. Last time I was going to do a jokes column. This time I am doing a math corner. The math problem is easy, but the idea is hard, so it takes a long time to figure out that it's easy.
Q. What's your favorite thing about your school?
A. My school's a pretty good school. The only thing it has to work on is actually getting good stuff to bring the two schools together [Ed. note: Lower Lab and PS 198 share a building] ... They have lots of ideas, but a lot of them aren't that good. It might be a little hard â€” the cafeteria might not be big enough â€” but we could have lunch together or recess together. That's what I would change. I do have a couple of friends who go to PS 198, from my karate class.
Q. What's your favorite subject?
A. My favorite type of book would probably be fiction. It's a little bit hard for me to get new books, so I read the same books over and over. And there's a graphic novel series I like, called "Bone." And I like Mad Libs.
Q. What do you do at recess?
A. I usually play a made-up game, but I also like kickball. I'm a pretty good pitcher.
Q. How much time do you spend on homework?
A. I usually have three pieces of homework, so it takes me maybe 30-45 minutes. I also have a hamster to take care of, named Sparky. And having my own computer is actually a responsibility too. I like to play Webkinz but I only use it for people I know, like kids in my class.
Q. What are you looking forward to in 3rd grade?
A. Learning how to write in script. I'm pretty sure it's going to happen in 3rd grade, but I'm not sure. But a lot of people use script.
Q. What advice to you have for kids who are nervous about going to 2nd grade?
A. A lot of times kids get hungry after school. Kindergarteners and 1st graders get a snack, but not in 2nd grade. The good news is that my dad always gets me a snack, usually a Clif Bar. My favorite food is sushi.
We already know that military recruitment goes "unchecked" at many high schools around the city and that the DOE says it prefers schools to have freedom from regulations than freedom from military incursions. But did you know that the Marines routinely fly teachers, counselors, and parent coordinators â€” those they consider "influencers" over high school students' decisions whether to enlist â€” to South Carolina to "see how we make Marines"? The Daily News recently reported that when the parent coordinator from W.E.B. DuBois High School came back from her trip to Parris Island, she said, "They had a belief in what they were doing. ... It changed my mind about the whole thing. It was real." Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which spearheaded the report about excessive military recruiting in NYC schools, told the Daily News that teachers were getting "a sugar-coated experience that is designed to turn teachers into cheerleaders for the Marines." With teachers as cheerleaders, who needs recruiters?
As the excitement of Governor Spitzer's resignation wanes and the state prepares for next week's leadership change, we can start to think about the practical implications of the leadership shakeup upon the city's schools. Upon taking office in January 2007, Spitzer promised to equalize funding disparities statewide in accordance with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and last April, the state legislature approved the budget he proposed, which included a $7 billion increase in school aid over five years, of which $5.4 billion would go to New York City. Recently, citing budget woes, Spitzer delayed the payment schedule, reducing the amount of money going to the schools next year.
Now, his departure could complicate the battle to win back state and city school funding -- or at least change its tone. Parents and advocates are planning to take to the steps of City Hall next Wednesday to demand that the mayor and governor restore the funding they promised to the city's schools -- but the governor who made the promise now will not be the same one who must decide whether to keep it.
Instead, that decision will fall to David Paterson, who will become governor on Monday afternoon, so it's good news that Paterson has supported the Campaign for Fiscal Equity since his Harlem state senator days. In addition to supporting equitable school funding, Paterson also has a reputation for championing the rights of the physically disabled; he has been legally blind since childhood. And charter advocates who were thrilled by Spitzer's lifting of the cap on charter schools will be pleased to note that Paterson is a fan of school choice.
Plainly stated, the Weighted Regents Pass Rate sucks. For those of you who don't know, the Weighted Regents Pass Rate is an assessment of a school's performance based on students' Regents test scores, and it's one component that makes up a high school's progress report grade.
As you can probably guess, the Regents pass rate part stands for: What percentage of students pass their Regents exams? I guess that one's okay. If you're being taught well in a course, you would likely be able to pass that Regents test (except for Math B, I know many kids who've scored in the top 5 percent on the SAT and have had to take Math B two or even three times).
But the "weighted" part gets tricky.
See, because of that little weighted part schools are given extra points for getting kids to take their Regents early or to achieve "mastery" by scoring an 85 percent or above. This little, tiny, eensy-weensy "weighted" part now puts the whole test prep culture that is so darn prevalent in our schools on STEROIDS. It is now become the SUPER DUPER AWESOME PUMPED UP EXCELLENT-TASTIC TEST PREP CULTURE.
And because of that SUPER DUPER AWESOME PUMPED UP EXCELLENT-TASTIC TEST PREP CULTURE a lot of students' lives get kind of messed up.
I have a friend who passed her Math B Regents exam in 8th grade based on the rock solid, well-oiled test prep curriculum at her middle school. She then came to high school, got dumped into precalculus, didn't know any of the material, struggled and even failed her first two years of math. She eventually had to be put in classes that were prerequisites for a test she'd already passed. This made her look kind of bad on her college applications and messed with her self-esteem.
So, while the school got points for having a student take the Math B so early, the student suffered.
In my discussions with the DOE regarding the NYC Student Union's positions regarding the progress reports, I have consistently argued that the Weighted Regents Pass Rate needs to be cut down or removed. The DOE's reply has been that it is the only measure of "longitudinal growth."
Regents aren't supposed to measure any "longitudinal growth." This growth DOE officials speak of has more to do with the day's weather, test-taking skills, and student anxiety than it does with the quality of teaching and learning that goes on in the school.
Regents are there to make sure that teachers are teaching their students and students are attempting to learn the subject matter at hand, to hold standards. That's it. When it comes to measuring a school's success, a simple Regents Pass Rate will do.
Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog