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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.

DOE to principals: Fire more teachers!

Written by Admin Thursday, 15 November 2007 04:00

The DOE initiative of the day is to fire more teachers, the Times reports. The city has hired top-notch lawyers to help principals build cases against tenured teachers and is encouraging principals to fire more teachers before they get tenure. UFT head Randi Weingarten is naturally upset, linking the new initiative to the progress reports and saying, “Basically, it’s signaling to principals that rather than working to support teachers, the school system is going to give you a way to try to get rid of teachers.”

A few thoughts: No one wants bad teachers to stick around, but the tone of the DOE's program is just mean. Hiring a former district attorney to supervise the firings? Now being a weak teacher is a crime. Under this system the same people assigned to help struggling teachers are also charged with building the case against them. Will teachers be less likely to seek out help when they are having trouble if needing help can be perceived as a sign of weakness? None of the DOE reforms can succeed without strong teachers who are happy to helm New York City classrooms. Making teachers terrified and suspicious of their supervisors can't be good for morale. And bad morale is bad for kids.

I'd also love to know what the DOE's projections are for how many teachers deserve to be fired each year under the new initiative. Right now about 10-15 tenured teachers are fired each year for "incompetence" and about 65 probationary teachers are not given tenure, the Times reports. How many do the number-crunchers at Tweed think need to be fired? Is it 100? 200? A thousand? I'm sure there are projections. Will principals be held accountable for meeting a purge quota? Will community superintendents? It sounds unsavory but in the data-driven DOE I wouldn't be surprised if school leaders were required to meet some kind of firing-to-student performance ratio.

Finally, we should think about how this push will actually affect the teaching corps in schools. After all, the city does have a hard time finding qualified teachers, especially in math, science, and special education. How many principals will really use the new resources to fire new teachers before they are tenured? I'm guessing that principals in high-turnover schools would often rather take a chance that a struggling new teacher will improve over time than go through the rigmarole of removing him and finding a replacement. So I think we will be more likely to see teachers terminated before they get tenure in more functional schools, where they have a higher chance of getting the resources they would need to improve. (On the other hand, preventing bad teachers who leave good schools from becoming bad teachers at weak schools does need to happen — at the Research Partnership conference I attended in October, one paper showed that that is the typical trajectory for struggling teachers. The paper said that bad teachers, as judged in value-added assessments of student performance, in weak schools were more likely to leave teaching altogether.)

But it's in less functional schools — schools where the principal and his teaching staff might not see eye to eye — that I think we will see more tenured teachers being pursued under the new initiative. I can't tell you how many principals have told me that their school's inability to help students is the fault of experienced teachers who refuse to adopt new programs. I'm sure it's a real problem in breeding a unified teaching staff. But refusing to get with the program du jour is not the same as incompetence and I am concerned that this initiative will allow principals to conflate the two issues. If they are permitted to do so, this could result in even larger numbers of inexperienced but impressionable teachers staffing the most difficult schools with the principals least likely to want to develop them.

Cell phone compromise plan on hold

Written by Admin Wednesday, 14 November 2007 08:25

Whatever happened to the DOE's plan to install lockers outside middle and high schools for kids to stash their banned cell phones during the day? Nothing, it seems. As recently as July we were reading that schools had been selected for the storage pilot, but now the Post reports that the plan has been derailed because of safety concerns. The DOE is now saying the program will kick off by next fall. In the meantime, the DOE will spend this year finding a vendor to provide the lockers and ensure that by next fall every single child will have a cell phone.