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If you're planning to be home tonight and don't have too much first-week-of-school homework to deal with, check out a new PBS documentary that follows students at the High School for Contemporary Arts, a new small school in the
Do your teachers have great little ideas for projects and supplies that will improve their classroom? DonorsChoose.org makes it easy for teachers to ask for the little things that help brighten a kid's day: books, puzzles, digital cameras, art supplies. Anyone with just a little money to give can help children in a very concrete way, by going to the website and picking a specific project to fund. DonorsChoose.org started as a young Bronx high school teacher's idea in 2000. In the last seven years, over 29,000 student projects have been funded with over $14 million in contributions, $4 million so far in 2007 alone, according to the organization's website. ABC News did a nice story recently and the New York Times published an article as well.
So encourage your teachers to list a project-- cooking, math, literacy, art, gardening, music--on Donorschoose.org. It's easy! All they have to do is sign in and describe something they need that will directly benefit children. Check out the projects that need funding. It's inspiring just to see the ideas of so many creative teachers. You can fund a project in somebody's honor (holiday gift idea!), or even give a gift certificate that allows the recipient to choose which project to fund.
Reporters must have been disappointed yesterday because according to all accounts, the first day of school went smoothly. "Classes without clashes," proclaims the New York Post, which also notes that the cell phone lockers that were supposed to be available at selected schools this fall have been delayed by at least a few months. The Sun says "cooperation is the theme" for DOE leaders this year, although parents continue to feel slighted. Joseph Berger highlights kids' "excitement and jitters" at the start of a new school year in the Times, and the Times also notes that the hotly anticipated Khalil Gibran International Academy opened not to protests but to a rally by supporters who outnumbered the 55 6th-graders.
The chancellor touts rising test scores as proof that his reforms are working just about every chance he gets. We've already seen historian Diane Ravitch tear down these claims. Now, a new report in the Daily News suggests that an increase in average test scores is correlated with an increase in how easy the tests are. That sounds obvious, until you remember that test makers are not supposed to make tests easier or harder from year to year because test results must allow apples-to-apples comparisons of student and school achievement.
The Daily News also conducted its own experiment to show that the 4th-grade math test in 2005, a mayoral election year when students posted record gains, was 7 percent easier than in 2002. The numbers in the Daily News articles are a bit daunting, but as always it's useful to remember that numbers don't always tell the truth and that politics, not just student performance, can factor into test results.
Best wishes to the city's 1.1 million students and 150,000 educators, who start a new year of classes today. It's sure to be a challenging year, what with the new reorganization, schools receiving letter grades for the first time, and the introduction of a science test for 4th graders. But judging from the many small voices I overheard begging for new school supplies at Barnes and Noble last night, kids are ready.
Of course, teachers have officially been at work since last week, and students at many of the school's charter schools have already started classes. The New York Times' back-to-school article yesterday provided a rundown of all of the DOE's recent initiatives; EdNotes calls it "another NY Times puff piece." In the article, Chancellor Klein said this is the year to judge his reforms, as they are now all in place. In her back-to-school letter to teachers, UFT President Randi Weingarten writes, "Although we donâ€™t agree with everything the Department of Education is doing, we are doing our best to make it work for our kids."
Hi, Insideschools readers. I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself earlier but here it goes. My name is Seth Pearce, I am a senior at LaGuardia High School, an active Student Government and School Leadership Team representative, and a proud member of the NYC Student Union. There it is. On to the blogging:
On Insideschools, I am going to blog about two themes: Student Thought and Student Action.
In Student Thought, I will be writing about the students' perspective on issues in our school system. For a long time our views have not been taken into account, many times. Part of this comes from apathy and a lack of respect from higher-ups toward our feelings. Part of it comes from our own failure to organize and express our opinions to the larger education community. Through these posts, I seek to add our ideas to those of parents, teachers, and other members of New York City's education community.
In Student Action, I will be sharing news about student organizing and action around education and other issues in the city. This is another place where students have been underrepresented. However, with the creation of the NYC Student Union, students are starting to organize. The Union, which has representatives from schools all over the city, is expanding after a very successful first year. I will keep you all apprised of their actions as well as those of other students and student groups around the city.
Anyway, I look forward to hearing your opinions on everything that goes on over the next ten months. Here's to a great school year!
I was recently elected to my local Community Education Council, but before that my usual role in my kid's schools for the past seven years has been grant writing. Insideschools thought that both grant writing and Community Education Councils would interest parents, so I will contribute entries on both subjects to this blog.
Some time over the summer, the New York State Department of Education sends out letters announcing special legislative grants. These grants are the means--usually a few thousand dollars or more--with which our state assembly members help schools to buy goods and services that are never easy to afford in a school budget of any size--science kits and field trips, extra music and art programs, murals, nonfiction books for classroom libraries.
What does it take to get funds for your school from local electeds? Make a list of concrete things you could buy that would directly benefit a large number of children at your school. Your school principal should know about and support your request. Send a simple letter describing how you would spend the money you seek, and who it would benefit. The process may take a while: letters sent to state assembly members in January are funded with the state budget in the summer.
Youâ€™re even more likely to get your request funded if you get to know your elected officials personally. Invite them to speak at a PTA meeting or to attend school events such as pot luck dinners or fall fairs. Talk to them about issues that concern you and your school. Donâ€™t be afraid: most local electeds are friendly people who enjoy getting to know their constituents, and public school parents are a good group to know.
Gotham Gazette reports that Kew Garden Hills residents are preparing to protest the DOE's decision to locate a new transfer alternative school in the neighborhood. City Council member James Gennaro is more upset that the DOE didn't seek community approval before making the decision than he is about the nature of the program, which will serve older students who may have had difficulty at their previous schools. â€œItâ€™s really just the community feels so left out,â€ Gennaro's spokesman told Gotham Gazette. â€œItâ€™s almost hurtful.â€
In the last year, several school communities have successfully protested the DOE's attempts to locate new schools in their buildings. But this situation is different -- the alternative school in Queens will have its own building, in an old Catholic school. And usually, when a community finds out it will be getting a new school, folks are happy. Could it be that Gennaro is concerned about having older, less academically successful high school students in his neighborhood? I hope that's not the case. But I think about how folks at MS 113 in Brooklyn recently told the Daily News that sharing space with a GED program instead of a suspension center was "the lesser of two evils." As the recent story about transfer alternative schools in the New York Times made clear, taking more than four years to graduate from high school is becoming more and more common. Instead of resisting schools that will help older kids graduate from high school, communities should be happy to see them made available.
There's been a lot of discussion in the Times this week about the nationwide shortage of qualified teachers. First, a front page article on Monday described how schools across the country compete for teachers because of high rates of teacher turnover. Then, an editorial Wednesday contended that the shortage will persist, stunting school reform efforts, "until states, localities and the federal government start paying much more attention to how teachers are trained, hired and assigned." Today, six readers offered their own solutions, ranging from higher pay to a simplification of credentialing requirements to using retired teachers on a part-time basis.
I've always been a little baffled by reporting about the teacher shortage. I haven't seen any data to suggest that the shortage is particularly worse than it has been in the past, at least since women and minorities became able to enter other fields, nor that New York fares worse than other places with a similar wealth of employment options. In general, half of all teachers leave the profession within five years. Half stay longer. In an era when young people are encouraged to try different fields before settling on one and to work before entering graduate school, a profession where half of all people who enter choose to stick with it five years later doesn't sound bad at all.
Of course, it's still worth working to recruit better teachers and then retain them -- something the Times barely touches on. The current trend in education reform is to attach financial incentives to every desirable outcome, but I'm not sure that's what makes the most sense here. It's unlikely that the incentives schools can offer can compete with the private sector -- $5,000 help for a down payment in New York City?! Ha! -- so perhaps school districts shouldn't waste their money offering them. For young people at the beginning of their careers, starting teachers' salaries and benefits in public schools aren't all that bad -- but the working conditions often are, as Dan Brown points out in his new memoir about teaching in the Bronx. To retain teachers, schools have to make sure teachers feel safe, comfortable, and free from excessive administrative requirements. Schools must also help new teachers become better faster, so they believe it's worth it to keep teaching. Investments toward those ends would benefit schools, not just individual teachers.
In my first post, I made a quick reference to the NYC Student Union. You might be wondering (and for purposes of this post I hope you are) "What is this so-called NYC Student Union?" Ashu Kapoor, an NYCSU member and organizer puts it this way:
The NYC Student Union (NYCSU) is an emerging collective organization of NYC high school students whose goal is to be a voice for student issues and rights, empower students to take ownership of their education, work with administration and DOE officials to secure an education students deserve, build connections across the NYC school system, and take collective action. The NYC Student Union is entirely organized and run by NYC high school students and is open to all NYC high school students interested in working to make a change in our schools.
The union was started by students from three Manhattan schools in spring 2006 to combat the cell phone ban. Representatives testified at the City Council Hearing on the issue, protested on the steps of Tweed (using cups and string as cell phones), and later had a letter to the editor published in the New York Times. From there we decided to expand.
After launching a student-created and run web site, the union held its first citywide student meeting Sept. 25, 2006. Students from around 15 schools attended. At the meeting, students aired their grievances about their schools and the school system.
For the rest of the year, NYCSU tried to take action on these problems. In addition to holding meetings like the first one every other Monday at the UFT, the union lobbied politicians on issues such as class size, security and funding; conducted workshops with middle school students on becoming engaged in their high schools; held a forum on youth involvement in the education system at Pace University with Future Voters of America; and then ran the Education committee of the 2007 New York City Youth Congress.
This year NYCSU wants to do even more. I'll keep you posted.