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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?
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 kidsâ€™ classroom and programming needs, but at this season we can bring a sense of holiday spirit to school by reaching out to others. Whether itâ€™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 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."
Now online at Insideschools: More details about the Gifted & Talented handbook rollout; a Gotham Gazette piece analyzing the backlash to the progress reports; information about scholarships from our college counselor; and Judy's advice about holiday gift-giving. Enjoy and, as always, let us know what you think!
The Times reported this week that fighting in city schools dropped by 20 percent between 2003 and 2005. But dating-related violence is on the rise among NYC teens, with 10 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys reporting being raped or forced into sex by a partner.
The report underscores the reality that while the school system may make kids feel like criminals, New York City teens face real dangers. Last week, a teenager was stabbed to death in a botched robbery across the street from Murrow High School in Brooklyn, although it's still not clear whether the teenagers involved had an affiliation with the school. And as part of the Post's article on dating violence, one Washington Irving High School 9th grader reported that she carries a box cutter to school to avoid problems.
I wonder whether schools' focus on policing prevents them from teaching students how to make healthy choices for themselves and their partners. If so, a short term drop in fighting might belie longer-term dangers for the city's young women and men.
A tipster tells me that desperate parents, unable to believe that the DOE would provide useful resources, are shelling out $45 to buy an OLSAT test prep kit from a "Ph.D. testing specialist" who hawks her wares online. The sample OLSAT questions look pretty much identical to those in the G&T handbooks released this week. It's unclear whether Robin McFarlane set up shop before this year or whether she's taking advantage of New York City parents' nerves, but either way she must be thrilled that the OLSAT is the DOE's test of choice.
The ax has fallen for half a dozen of the 14-20 schools that will be closed at the end of this year. Yesterday the DOE announced that six schools â€” the Tito Puente Education Complex (or IS 117) in East Harlem; EBC/East New York High School for Public Safety and Law in Brooklyn; the Business School for Entrepreneurship (or IS 216) in the Bronx; PS 79 in the Bronx; PS 101 in East Harlem; and the Academy of Environmental Science High School in East Harlem â€” will either close or begin the process of phasing out after this school year.
Various news reports peg parents and kids as feeling sad but not surprised. All of the schools received D's or F's on their progress reports; many have had a revolving door of principals; and a few refused to let Insideschools visit. Kids at these schools do deserve better. But IS 216 was created to replace a failing middle school only five years ago. How can we be sure that the same problems won't claim IS 216's replacement five years from now?
As of this year my younger brother is no longer a public school student. Like me, he attended public elementary and middle schools, however, when it came to choose a high school, he and my parents decided that he would do better at a private school. Fortunately, they made a good decision for my brother. He is now at a school that he loves, he really succeeds in and he feels does a good job in educating the students.
Out of curiosity, I asked him what the difference was between the public school he had attended and his current school in terms of educational value. His answer was quick and simple: the adults in the building have time to care about the students.
In the NYC education system, the first step to improving schools is creating a situation in which educators have time to care about the students. This can only come for significant reductions in class size and teacher load.
One problem with my brother's public school experience, he said, was the feeling that whenever he approached a teacher for extra help or just general academic support, he felt as though he was burdening them, like they didn't have the time to help their student. This is a major problem and it is not the teachers' fault.
Through my high school experience so far, I can count on one hand how many of my classes were below the union cap of 34 (even though the City claims the average is 25). As a member of the NYC Student Union, I know students from every corner of the city, and over and over I have heard the same sentiment when it comes to class size. Just as problematic is the problem of teacher load, the total number of students a teacher teaches at any given time. This number is often around 170 in high schools.
Education is based on relationships, the most basic and important being that between a teacher and a student. Large class sizes and teacher loads, prevents many teachers and students from developing the relationships necessary to make education happen. Furthermore, while classes of 34 are extremely difficult to manage and teach effectively in, it should be noted that they are equally difficult to learn in. When I entered ninth grade, when confronted with larger classes, I came to an academic standstill. I tried to do the work and do well on tests, but inside I knew that I was just not learning as effectively as I had in previous schools.
Because these factors make teaching and learning just so impossible, they also prevent the clear evaluation of new academic strategies, as even the best programs are doomed to fail under these conditions. Thus, as the title reads, class size and teacher load reduction is the requisite first step to saving our schools.
What we need in New York City, is an education system that makes education possible. When educators are so overburdened that they don't have time to care about the needs of individual students, this is not the case. When the classroom is completely unmanageable and knowledge can not pass through the barrier between teacher and student because of population overload, this is not the case. And when students feel as though they are just another "problem" for the all-to-busy adults in the building, this is not the case.
It is time to cut class sizes and trim teacher loads. If we really want to save our schools, that is the first step.
Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog