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After yesterday's excitement, I'm ready to take a more substantive look at the content of the City Council hearing on the progress reports. Jenny Medina at the Times has the best rundown of all of the papers and for an overview of what James Liebman said and how the Council members responded, I would go to her report.

What stood out most to me was that once again the DOE managed to present a compelling initiative in a way that frustrated and angered elected officials and parents. A numbers-oriented friend of mine who shares my interest in education has told me that the progress reports are sound from her vantage point, and from mine, nothing I heard yesterday dissuaded me from thinking that they contain useful information parents ought to be able to find out. Liebman's presentation also helped me understand just how some top schools got low grades by showing how their students' progress, particularly that of their students who began the year in the lowest third, stacked up unfavorably next to other schools with similar students.

So I don't understand why Liebman had to undermine his own hard work by arguing that the grades are not based almost entirely on single assessments in math and English; saying that his office had "consulted" with, among many others, an organization whose leader was in the room and later testified that their only conversation was not about the progress reports; and by giving Time Out From Testing the runaround on his way out the door.

I was also relieved to see that in disliking the progress reports, Insideschools readers are more like typical New Yorkers than the Quinnipiac poll would have us think; Council member after Council member commented that their constituents have told them that poor grades are unfairly stigmatizing some good schools, some of which fear that their recent progress could be undercut. Liebman did say, as he has before, that he is open to tweaking the formula used to calculate the grades or even assigning schools multiple grades based on different criteria. But in my view, it's the presentation and the attitude behind it, not the formula, that need a major revision.

*Title updated to reflect an exchange in the comments about the statistical validity of the reports.

Wow. Folks here are pretty blown away by what just happened. After the council members finished grilling James Liebman (this took about 3 hours), Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson announced that the parents from Time Out From Testing were set up in the City Hall rotunda to present their petitions to Liebman.

But as they waited, Liebman left out of the Council Chambers' side door. The parents — and the many reporters and photographers — scurried to meet him downstairs, on the other side of the building. But security officers and DOE aides pushed the parents back at every turn; it looked like only Time Out From Testing leader Jane Hirschmann made it through the gates to the doors of Tweed, where she too was turned back.

Liebman said many interesting things at the hearing, for sure, many of which could help make parents feel more comfortable with the progress reports and Liebman's accountability program in general. But I can't remember much of what he said. All I can think about is watching him try desperately to avoid involved parents who care very much about what's happening in their children's and their city's schools, just because he disagrees with them.

Time Out from Testing members tell me they collected about 7,00o petitions from schools in every borough and with every possible grade. Now those petitions are sitting in boxes in the hall.

I'm at the City Council hearing right now, and so are a couple dozen representatives of Time Out From Testing, all holding up signs emblazoned with bold F's. James Liebman has just settled in for his presentation, the first, which he says will take about 25 minutes. Will his voice or Time Out From Testing's folks' arms hold out longer?

TODAY (12/10): City Council hearing on progress reports

Written by Admin Sunday, 09 December 2007 20:13

There's plenty to do this week if you're concerned about the progress report grades that were recently released. (And if you have anything to do with the 13 schools the DOE has already said it will close because of poor grades, you're probably concerned.)

First, this morning the City Council's Education Committee is holding a hearing on the progress report grades. 9:30 a.m., City Hall. Map.

Then, tomorrow Central Park East I and II elementary schools are hosting a forum, featuring Deborah Meier and others, about the grades. Tuesday, 6-8 p.m., CPE I, Manhattan. Map.

And if that's not enough, you can also sign Class Size Matters' online petition against the report cards. Class Size Matters says the millions of dollars that are going into the progress reports would be better used lowering class size and building new schools.

I'll find out the answer to this question tomorrow morning when I see how many people are at the City Council hearing, but I'm curious: Are folks still at your school still as worried about the report cards as people were two weeks ago, when most Insideschools readers gave the initiative a "D" or an "F" in our poll? Or have people moved on?

Looks like the state was wise to reject abstinence-only sex education funds. Teen birth rates have just gone up for the first time in decades, at a time when more money than ever has been sunk into abstinence-only programs. Most researchers think the rising teen pregnancy rate relates to the misinformation about safe sex practices that abstinence-only programs promulgate. Fans of abstinence-only sex ed call those claims "stupid," saying instead that young women who become pregnant understand contraception but want babies. If schools choose to adopt the sex ed program the DOE is now recommending -- which includes real information about contraception -- New York City could be a leader in reversing the disturbing trend.

(Though upsetting, this news does get me excited to see "Juno" this weekend. See you Monday!)

Seats available in universal Pre-K programs

Written by Admin Friday, 07 December 2007 12:32

For the first time ever, the state is going to reimburse the Department of Education for the costs of educating children who enroll after the end of October. So the DOE is spreading the word that kids who turn 4 before Dec. 31 can still enroll in Pre-K programs that have space. According to the DOE's guide, both full-day and half-day programs in schools in nearly every district "may have space." Call to inquire -- you could get lucky!

Everyone deserves a Carribbean workation

Written by Admin Friday, 07 December 2007 12:24

Other than Alexander Russo, am I the only one who isn't totally repulsed by the Carribbean vacations that KIPP Academy Charter School staff members took in the last two years? The papers, the state comptroller, and bloggers are up in arms about the $70,000 spent on trips of only moderate educational benefit, and KIPP says it is putting into place tighter internal controls to prevent similar uses of funds in the future. But if, as the school claims, the funds really came from private sources, not the state, is it so bad that KIPP holds some of its professional development on the beach?

KIPP teachers work long hours (often 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.), teach on weekends, and give out their cell phone numbers to their kids. Their hard work seems to pay off for their students (although some dispute the evenness of the field they're playing on). As KIPP founder Dave Levin, who attended the retreats, told the Post, creative rewards are required to keep teachers motivated. A system that struggles with teacher retention should appreciate Levin's attitude, if not the particular reward KIPP offers.

When teachers leave the profession after only one or two years, it's destabilizing for schools and expensive for the system. But when they, like career-changing Teaching Fellow Robert Pondiscio or Bronx blogging teacher Ms. Frizzle, hit a wall or begin "teaching on the ledge" after half a dozen years, schools lose their most valuable teachers. The public wants its teachers to be highly educated, hardworking, and constantly improving. If there's no cost to the kids, why not spend a few bucks to keep teachers happy?

The Money Mom: The holiday spirit of giving

Written by Admin Friday, 07 December 2007 09:35

Next Thursday my child will play the trumpet in his winter holiday concert. After the music and singing, the class will gather for cider and cheese and crackers, to share a time together and give the teacher a little token of appreciation. The mom who arranged the gathering also asked parents to bring donations of food, if possible, for the nearby Yorkville Common Pantry, where, as in all food pantries in the country these days, food shortages threaten.

'Tis the season for kids to experience the joy of giving. For much of the year we put on fundraisers to supplement our kids’ classroom and programming needs, but at this season we can bring a sense of holiday spirit to school by reaching out to others. Whether it’s a bake sale to benefit the Heifer Project, which provides live animals to supplement the livelihoods of families around the world, or food for a local food pantry, or a spare change collection for a local charity, school kids can learn from working together on a benefit that lets them reach out and give to others, bringing a real sense of meaning to the holiday season.

I haven't been blogging about the Khalil Gibran saga because it's just so far removed from the school at this point. But now that a judge has ruled that the DOE did not violate former principal Debbie Almontaser's right to free speech when it fired her after she made controversial comments in a Post interview, the DOE is one step closer to being able to name the person who will replace Interim Acting Principal Danielle Salzberg. According to the Post, the DOE is ready to name the new principal but is holding off while Almontaser appeals the judge's decision. It's about time. The mime with the law degree and the T.S. Eliot scholar from Egypt who are teaching KGIA's 6th graders need strong leadership.

The school-closing carnage continues

Written by Admin Thursday, 06 December 2007 09:04

The DOE has announced the closing of two more schools: Far Rockaway High School in Queens and PS 220 in the Bronx. PS 220 will close at the end of the school year; it will reopen next year with a new name and new leadership. Far Rockaway will phase out and graduate its last students in 2011.

Those students will not, however, include the more than 50 kids who were transferred earlier this year to Beach Channel High School, where many of them disrupted the school's tenuous stability. Enrollment is down, fights are up, and more safety agents have been installed at Beach Channel. I'd say Beach Channel is on the chopping block, but then where will Far Rockaway kids go, now that their zoned school will cease to exist?

Update 12/7: Andy Jacob of the DOE writes: "You should know that those students [Sam Freedman] mentioned weren't actually transfers from Far Rockaway - they were students who are zoned for Far Rockaway but were placed in Beach Channel during the OTC process. The whole thing is a red herring, since (1) plenty of students zoned for Beach Channel were placed in Far Rockaway, (2) if you look at students who actually transferred from one school to the other, more went from Beach Channel to Far Rockaway than vice versa, and (3) as I'm sure you know, which high school a student is zoned for really doesn't matter unless they actually want to attend that school (maybe a student zoned for Far Rock is interested in Beach Channel's unique oceanography program, for example). And it's worth noting, too, that Beach Channel's enrollment is several hundred students under their register projection this year, whereas Far Rockaway is a bit over theirs. Beach Channel has available seats, which is the biggest factor in determining OTC placements."