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The Gotham Gazette analyzes the politics behind yesterday's Middle School Task Force announcement, concluding that the mayor is trying to coopt the City Council's efforts to improve middle schools and speculating that Speaker Christine Quinn is allowing him to do so in anticipation of her anticipated 2009 mayoral bid.
I can't imagine that Robert Jackson, head of the council's education committee, is thrilled about this dynamic, given his frequent criticism of the DOE for its refusal to address the issue of class size adequately and to make information available to his committee. But like everyone else who pays attention to schools in the city, Jackson knows that middle schools have always been a weak link in a strengthening system, and so I hope he's pleased that Bloomberg and Klein for once sound genuinely committed to taking the council's advice â€” even if they do inevitably try to spin the results as their own creation, as they have managed to spin the initative itself.
We addressed this issue in our most recent email alert, but it's so important that we wanted to remind you that now is the time to tell Governor Spitzer that you want him to sign into law new burden of proof legislation.
By midnight tomorrow the governor must decide whether to sign a bill that would restore the burden of proof in special education cases to school districts. The bill would make it easier for families to secure special education services even when schools are trying not to provide them. Obviously, school districts are lobbying the governor not to sign the bill, and the word is that he has not yet decided what to do.
AFC urges you to tell the governor to sign the bill. To contact the governor's office, call 518-474-8390 or 518-474-1041 or fax 518-474-1513. All you have to say is, "Governor, please approve A.5396-A." The only other thing you'll need to know is your zip code. This is a fast and easy way to make a difference for many families all over the state.
See NYSARC's site for background on the legislation.
Today, the mayor and chancellor announced a host of reforms based on the recommendations put forth by the City Council's Middle School Task Force. Council speaker Christine Quinn convened the task force this spring to address what the New York Times recently called the "critical years" of middle school, when adolescence threatens to derail kids' academic and social successes.
Parents will be most interested in the DOE's commitment to add Regents-level courses to all middle schools by 2010 and the fact that the highest-need schools will receive extra funds. Here's exactly what the DOE has agreed to, from the city's press release:
- Identifying at least 50 high-need middle schools that will have access to a $5 million fund to implement the Middle School Task Force recommendations
- Working to implement Task Force recommendations citywide
- Waiving fees for professional development for high-need schools
- Expanding Regents-level courses citywide
- Establishing an ongoing discussion on middle-grade reform with various stakeholders
Interestingly, the task force report mentions 15 times that middle school class size is too large, but the DOE's announcement does not address class size at all, except in a quote from UFT President Randi Weingarten. The announcement similarly does not address parent involvement or safety and discipline at all, although those topics take up more than 10 pages in the report.
It's possible that those topics will be broached by the DOE's new "Director of Middle School Initiatives." The person appointed to this new position, housed in the Division of Teaching and Learning, will be responsible for making sure the task force recommendations are carried out. The mayor announced today that Lori Bennett will be the first person to take on this task; she was formerly a LIS in Region 8, where her new boss, Marcia Lyles, was the superintendent.
Prior to working at New Visions, Salzberg was an assistant principal at Millennium High School in Tribeca, where students seemed to have mixed opinions on her, and she was also on the founding team at Baruch College Campus High School. Already, the Arab-American Family Support Center, the school's lead partner, has issued a statement applauding Salzberg's appointment.
Several organizations serving the city's Arab and Arab-American community are holding a town hall meeting tonight in Bay Ridge to discuss the Khalil Gibran situation. On the agenda are a possible boycott of the New York Post, which viciously campaigned against Almontaser and the school, and a discussion of the way the mayor and Chancellor Klein handled the controversy.
An article in today's Times takes a look at the difficult job of providing translation services to schools and parents. Even with a stepped up translation unit that can now handle the city's eight most frequently spoken languages, the DOE can't meet all of the demand for translation services, especially if the many principals who "don't even know the unit exists" start to take advantage of it.
It sounds hard enough to spread 40 translators across all the work that must be done for the 42 percent of kids whose parents aren't native English speakers. On top of this, translators must invent new words in their languages to explain the DOE's frequently changing jargon, much of which is only barely intelligible in English.
The New York Times is reporting right now that Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, has resigned. Her resignation comes after a week of intense criticism over her will and desire to maintain the school's political neutrality.
Without Almontaser, it's unclear whether the school will open as planned next month. "An immediate replacement was not announced, and Ms. Almontaserâ€™s abrupt exit left the future of the school in question," the Times reports. The Post reports that of the 60 kids who are signed up to be part of the school's first class, only six speak Arabic.
At the request of Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, the city's Independent Budget Office took a look at the state of the city's vocational schools -- and found that despite receiving lower per-pupil funding than "general academic schools," vocational schools actually graduate their students at higher rates. The IBO notes correctly that vocational schools have been largely under the radar in the last few years, as the DOE's ongoing reorganizations have focused squarely on improving test scores, not alternate paths to post-graduation success.
The report also points out that while the DOE's new Fair Student Funding formula assigns extra weight for students in vocational programs, the number of seats in vocational programs may be threatened by local and federal accountability programs. More than half of all vocational schools in the city are considered failing according to No Child Left Behind, and the DOE seems eager to restructure these failing schools, as it has with Harry Van Arsdale High School, which closed this year. The smalls schools now in the Van Arsdale building do not offer vocational instruction.
Earlier today Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the City Council's recent bill that would allow kids to carry their cell phones to and from school. I'm somewhat surprised by this development because the line from the DOE when the council was discussing the bill was that kids are not prevented from taking their phones to school, just from taking them inside once they get there.
In a statement reported by Staten Island Live, Bloomberg wrote that he vetoed the bill because it represented "an invalid attempt at imposing the (City) Council's views on how the public schools should be managed." But council members were explicit about the fact that they don't control the schools.
It seems pretty clear that the mayor is overstepping his bounds here by vetoing the council's bill because of what he thinks are its supporters' intentions. The council plans to override his veto, and Bloomberg seems eager to set up a court battle over the cell phone ban. I'm curious what he seeks to gain from this showdown. Certainly he won't have a chance of winning the support of the city's parents -- though of course we know he isn't terribly interested in that anyway.
A second public hearing on the proposed changes to the discipline code will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 13, at the Department of Education. Map. Check out our earlier post on the proposed changes, which include a proposal to make "sexually suggestive" behavior punishable with a year-long suspension.
The first (and, originally, only) hearing was held yesterday, but attendance may have been affected by the day's travel woes. The deadline to submit comments on the proposed changes by email has been extended as well, to Aug. 14.
If you're concerned about teacher quality and retention, take a look at "Your Own Blackboard Jungle," a long article in this week's Village Voice about the training and support that Teaching Fellows receive. (The article is similar in both structure and content to Insideschools' May 2005 article on the subject.)
The fact that "seven weeks of crash-course training and summer school student teaching, [recent fellows] say, is no preparation for the realities of city classrooms" comes as no surprise to anyone who has spent a moment in the city's schools as a teacher, parent, student, or even observer. More interesting are the article's revelations that even in high-needs schools, new fellows may receive the highest-need students, especially those in special education; that 25 percent of all math teachers and 18 percent of special ed teachers are fellows; and that administrators are aware of the vast "room for improvement" in the flimsy graduate programs set up just for fellows.
I'm also always excited to hear teachers with concrete proposals for how to improve the profession; in the article, one teacher advises the DOE to let fellows work as assistant teachers for a year before getting their own classrooms. I'm less interested in reading about young professionals who feel duped by "gauzy subway ads" into becoming teachers, only to find out that teaching is actually hard. That complaint sounds to me like smokers' claims that they just didn't know the cigarettes they were smoking could cause lung cancer. Except, of course, that teaching can be worth the risk, as some of the Teaching Fellows who have stuck with the profession have found.