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What's new on Insideschools -- and what do you think?

Written by Admin Tuesday, 20 November 2007 13:40

Check out what's new -- and then tell Insideschools in the comments what we got right, what we missed, and what questions our correspondents should answer next.

"High school applications due Nov. 30; Here's how to rank your choices": Our advice: Be very careful drawing up your list of high school choices. You will be assigned to a high school based on how you rank the schools -- and how the schools rank you."Poll results: Parents skeptical of school grades, undecided about G&T": Insideschools readers gave failing marks to the progress reports issued by the DOE this month. Reaction was more mixed to the proposed changes to G&T admissions.

Dispatches from the G&T public meetings in Queens and Brooklyn

Judy on lunchtime, Dr. Patti on mean girls, and our college counselor on AP classes

And, of course, new reviews, including nine high school reviews to help you choose

Teacher resignations up 68 percent in last 6 years

Written by Admin Tuesday, 20 November 2007 11:53

The UFT says more teachers are resigning every year. Since 2001, the number of certified teachers resigning has increased by more than two-thirds, from 2,544 to 4,273 last year, the UFT's data show. The DOE says that these numbers are wrong. But does the DOE really care? After all, it wants to see more teachers get fired. But with all this resigning and firing, where will the 1,300 new teachers come from to staff the smaller classes the state has funded?

After a long delay, news about the Contracts for Excellence has finally come down from Albany — and the verdict is good for advocates who pushed the state to maintain attention on small claze size and other goals of the original court case behind the new money. In the revised plan, the state required the DOE to shift $45 million to the highest-need schools, increase the funds aimed at class size reduction, and cut out the plan to spend $13 million in state aid on standardized testing. The new spending begins now, with the Post reporting that the DOE will hire 1,300 more teachers to reduce class size.

The chancellor said in a press conference yesterday that the new plan is "stronger and better," but he probably isn't thrilled about the Times headline above his quote: "City Bows to State on a School Improvement Plan." Still, as the Sun notes, the revisions are unlikely to change the main thrusts of the DOE's reforms, but at least the state has signaled that it's paying attention to what the DOE is doing and won't rubber stamp just any policy the DOE devises.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education, which brought the original case to court, released a positive statement yesterday, with CFE Executive Director Geri Palast saying, "“After 13 years of CFE litigation, Governor Spitzer broke the Albany gridlock on school finance reform with the Contract for Excellence (also CFE) initiative that drives school aid to districts based on need, not politics, and makes clear that new money must be spent on high-needs students in low-performing school and on strategies proven to boost student achievement."

Progress reports reduced to haiku at Eduwonkette

Written by Admin Monday, 19 November 2007 04:02

Looking for a laugh this Monday morning? Check out the results of Eduwonkette's Report Card Haiku Contest. Here's a taste of what you'll find:

who should get an A?
duck*duck*duck*duck*duck* duck*duck
duck*duck*duck*duck GOOSE!
-eduwonkette to my son's teachers
to him you're a shining star
not just a C grade
-nyc mom
My school got an A!
And I thought we were failing--
I was almost SURR! -
Anonymous 1:50 PM

There are 68 haiku in all. Download the complete magazine(pdf) for some levity, but be careful — some of the poems are deadly serious.

Student Thought: Trust and relationships in education

Written by Admin Monday, 19 November 2007 03:30

The key factor in both the transmission of knowledge and the growth of a student as an individual is trust. Trust is necessary to build the relationship between a teacher and student. To run a school effectively, there must be an atmosphere of trust between teachers and administration. This principle — of trust as the mortar that holds together our education system — is also fundamental to the relationship between the DOE, the city and the members of individual schools, specifically the teachers.

The city's new initiative to fire more teachers is a betrayal of this trust. The DOE's new Teacher Performance Unit, a group of five lawyers headed by a former district attorney, has been given the goal of helping principals create cases against tenured teachers and getting rid of unsuccessful young teachers before they get tenure.

The way that the DOE has handled this program reflects a pattern of disrespect that the DOE has shown to other members of the educational community. Through initiatives like the cell phone ban, the DOE has continually antagonized students, teachers and parents. Instead of engendering the trust necessary to hold our schools together, they are creating a situation filled with fear.

Students have often felt over-criminalized by policies like the cell phone ban and random scanning. By hiring former prosecutors to fire our teachers, the DOE has, as Philissa said, made being a bad teacher a crime. The program also sets principals against teachers, further dividing our school community.

In order for Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein's reforms to be successful, they must first end their pattern of bullying and disrespect. They must instead seek to create an atmosphere of trust: one in which the most basic relationships within the system: those between students and teachers in a classroom setting, mirror the relationship between the city and DOE and the various constituent groups within our education system. That is the only way that we can hold an education system a large and complex as the one we have together.

Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog

Why Are middle school curriculums so different? And should every 6th grader be expected to learn the same things? What should every sixth-grader know?

These questions have been on my mind since I began my second round of District Two middle school tours in Manhattan this fall.

I’m trying to find the best fit for my 5th-grade son, but I’m also trying to figure out what is actually taught in 6th grade, why each school approaches it so differently and how much it ultimately matters. How does one define a good education?

Should 6th graders study Newton and the Laws of Nature, The Rise of Napoleon and Greek and Latin Roots? Should they learn trillions, integers and square roots? Child Labor and Mexican Independence? The French Revolution and Ancient Rome? In what grade and in what sequence?

All of the above are among the suggestions for 6th graders by noted author and educator E. D. Hirsch Jr. in What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know.

I read the book recently and had the chance to spend some time with Hirsch at a conference. I noticed that only some of his suggestions have made it into the middle schools I’ve visited so far.

Hirsch says parents should examine curriculums to make sure that “they spell out, in clear and concrete terms a core of specific content and skills all children at a particular grade level are expected to learn by the end of the school year.’’ I have yet to leave a tour with a curriculum in hand, although I always try to ask what will be taught.

So far, it seems to vary widely from school to school – and often changes from year to year.Hirsch touched off a debate when he wrote a book called Cultural Literacy, Hirsch rejects the idea that a set curriculum is either authoritarian or conservative, instead describing it as “super democratic.’’

I can’t help wondering, as I continue these tours, who makes the decision in each school for what must be taught, beyond what will be on state tests that schools are increasingly judged – and graded on.

Whether or not you agree with Hirsch’s assessments of what every 6th grader should know – and many don’t -- the questions he raises seem both worthwhile and interesting to pose on tours.

I’ll try to find more answers.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

Why Are middle school curriculums so different? And should every 6th grader be expected to learn the same things? What should every sixth-grader know?

These questions have been on my mind since I began my second round of District Two middle school tours in Manhattan this fall.

I’m trying to find the best fit for my 5th-grade son, but I’m also trying to figure out what is actually taught in 6th grade, why each school approaches it so differently and how much it ultimately matters. How does one define a good education?

Should 6th graders study Newton and the Laws of Nature, The Rise of Napoleon and Greek and Latin Roots? Should they learn trillions, integers and square roots? Child Labor and Mexican Independence? The French Revolution and Ancient Rome? In what grade and in what sequence?

All of the above are among the suggestions for 6th graders by noted author and educator E. D. Hirsch Jr. in What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know.

I read the book recently and had the chance to spend some time with Hirsch at a conference. I noticed that only some of his suggestions have made it into the middle schools I’ve visited so far.

Hirsch says parents should examine curriculums to make sure that “they spell out, in clear and concrete terms a core of specific content and skills all children at a particular grade level are expected to learn by the end of the school year.’’I have yet to leave a tour with a curriculum in hand, although I always try to ask what will be taught.

So far, it seems to vary widely from school to school – and often changes from year to year.Hirsch touched off a debate when he wrote a book called Cultural Literacy, Hirsch rejects the idea that a set curriculum is either authoritarian or conservative, instead describing it as “super democratic.’’

I can’t help wondering, as I continue these tours, who makes the decision in each school for what must be taught, beyond what will be on state tests that schools are increasingly judged – and graded on.

Whether or not you agree with Hirsch’s assessments of what every 6th grader should know – and many don’t -- the questions he raises seem both worthwhile and interesting to pose on tours.

I’ll try to find more answers.

NAEP results out, city kids either improving or stagnant

Written by Admin Thursday, 15 November 2007 12:21

Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress tests are out, and New York City kids did great! Or not. Let's see what folks have to say about the results of the test considered "the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas."

"City Students Stalled on National Education Tests," from the Sun: "Scores on a math test for fourth-graders went up, but others are statistically flat since 2005.""New York City Public School Students Make Gains on 2007 NAEP tests," a DOE press release: "New York City students made impressive gains on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, with particularly significant progress achieved by 4th graders in mathematics compared to their peers in other cities and by Black 4th-grade students in both reading and math."

Who's right? You be the judge. Check out the scores in math and English for yourself.

JC Brizard to head Rochester public schools

Written by Admin Thursday, 15 November 2007 12:00

Farewell to DOE administrator Jean-Claude Brizard, who has been offered the Rochester superintendency. We're sure he'll do a great job there. It's just too bad the DOE didn't want to hold on to him.

Student Thought: A solution to the cell phone issue

Written by Admin Thursday, 15 November 2007 07:28

Today, it was reported that the DOE's plan to install cell phone lockers outside of several schools has been put on hold. This plan was created as a possible resolution to the cell phone ban, the contentious rule that states that NYC students are not allowed to have their cell phones in school, even if they are turned off.

In short, the ban is wrong because it puts students, who commute up to four hours per day, into an unsafe situation because it takes away their main line of communication with parents and the police in the event of an emergency. This is in turn contributes to distrust between students and that makes the already difficult tasks of teaching and learning slightly more impossible.This new plan of building lockers outside of school in which students would pay to store their cell phones is a waste of money. The safety issues that transparent outdoor lockers raise are to complicated to resolve. It doesn't adequately relieve the distrust in our schools. And it does not address the real issue that the cell phone ban is trying to address: academic integrity.

The main reason that Bloomberg has articulated in support of the ban is that students misuse cell phones in class. He says that students make calls and text messages in class and use their cell phones to cheat on tests. While my first instinct is to ask the mayor why he does not ban pen and paper from schools (because if you did a statistical analysis of cheating in NYC schools I'm sure you'd find that students use those as means of cheating much more often than they use cell phones), I believe that it is more important to propose a simple and effective solution to the issue of students misusing cell phones in class.

Instead of banning cell phones and creating a host of new problems, or building super-high-tech-theft-proof-safety-guaranteed-outdoor-transparent cell phone lockers and wasting too much of the DOE's valuable funds, why don't you just LOWER CLASS SIZES!

A student won't get away with using a cell phone in a class of 25! They just won't. And by lowering class sizes you will also increase the amount of actual education that goes on in our school because teachers will be able to develop better learning relationships with their students. As a high school teacher told me, "Lowering class size would fix everything." Everything including preventing students from misusing their cell phones in class and thus getting rid of the need for a citywide ban.

There you have it: a real solution.