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8th Grader Izzy: A new challenge in the future

Written by Admin Friday, 30 November 2007 03:02

Hey again everyone! It's been a while, and I've made a ton of decisions since the last time I blogged.

I handed in my high school application yesterday, and after thinking it over for weeks, I've chosen to put the small school in my neighborhood first. If I get in, it's guaranteed to be extremely difficult, and chances are, most of my time for the next four years is going to be totally devoted to it. I'm honestly a little afraid that if I get in, it's going to be too hard for me, and that I might crack under the pressure. But at the same time, I am totally ready for a new challenge, and I think that I'll be able to handle it.

Until I get my answer (as to whether or not I've made it in), I'm going to sit back and relax, because I've done all that I can at this point. The specialized high schools still haven't sent out the answers yet either, but I'll tackle that mountain when it comes.

As a second choice, I put down my current school. I did that because it's honestly the safest school that I can think of at this point; I know the area, the teachers, the kids, and it's not necessarily known for being a school of crushing homework or a hyper-speed curriculum. So if worse comes to worse, I'll just stay where I am, which isn't really a "worst" at all!

Quick! Thank your teachers before they're gone

Written by Admin Thursday, 29 November 2007 15:05

Yesterday the DOE and the UFT announced a feel-good "Thank a Teacher Campaign" -- just in time for the holiday season, and to head off further criticism from teachers who oppose the new Teacher Performance Unit that will go after incompetent teachers. Students and public school graduates can submit short essays about teachers that made a difference. The DOE will randomly select 200 teachers from those honored to attend a party. Plus, Starbucks has donated gift cards for teachers.

A party! Starbucks certificates! I'm not sure that's what the UFT members rallying on Monday night against the Teacher Performance Unit were seeking. Other than the fact that it's clearly designed to undercut the union, the campaign is a nice one. Teachers ought to be thanked. It's too bad it took a lot of hurt feelings for the DOE to make that happen.

Send your contributions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Dec. 21. Some testimonials are already up, mostly from DOE officials.

Tide turns against testing in North Carolina

Written by Admin Thursday, 29 November 2007 04:49

Thanks to NYC Public School Parents for pointing out news I missed about testing in my home state, North Carolina. Taking into account criticism that students are spending too much time taking tests and schools are spending too much time teaching to them, a state commission has recommended that some standardized tests be eliminated and others not be considered when evaluating schools.

It's up to the state Board of Education to approve the changes, but if it does, kids in 4th, 7th, and 10th grade will no longer have to take a (routinely flawed) writing test, and 8th graders will be free from a computer exam, which was far more difficult for teachers than students even in 1997, when I took it. And the pressure will be off in five high school subjects, where students will still have to take end-of-course tests to pass but schools won't be judged on their success.

North Carolina's testing program has been in place since 1995 and was a model for other states' accountability programs. A member of the commission told the News and Observer, "We’re testing more but we’re not seeing the results. ... We’re not seeing graduation rates increasing. We’re not seeing remediation rates decreasing. Somewhere along the way testing isn’t aligning with excellence.” Now it's time to try something else. Trends in education have such a short lifespan. Joel Klein and James Liebman may already be living in the past.

A week after hearing that money it won for the city would finally be on its way, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity has issued recommendations on how to reduce class size in struggling schools. In a report, "A Seat of One's Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City," CFE shows that the city's capital plan falls far short of funding the number of classrooms that will need to be created to drop class sizes at schools on the state's list of those in need of improvement.

Of the 408 schools on the list, CFE found that class size can be reduced immediately at 152 schools and that 43 other low-performing schools can drop class size if they put in place adjustments such as creating annexes or improving the way schools within a building share space. (View geographical maps with school-by-school recommendations.) Beyond that, however, the city would need to add more than 1,500 new classrooms to help the remaining 122 schools that do not already have reduced class size. But the city's capital plan provides only 680 new classrooms, and the DOE is planning to hire only 1,300 new teachers.

With its focus on the lowest-performing schools, the CFE report doesn't even begin to address the investment that will be required to reduce class sizes at the two-thirds of schools not considered failing, many of which are seriously overcrowded. As Class Size Matters's Leonie Haimson has noted, the DOE has not yet released current data about class size citywide; the DOE says the information will be released by Dec. 18.

UFT says 'nay' to TPU; PEP votes yea on G&T

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 20:28

Urban Academy Principal Ann Cook collects signatures to a Time Out From Testing petition opposing the progress reports during the UFT's candlelight vigil against the Teacher Performance Unit. (Philissa Cramer/Insideschools)

Hundreds of teachers lined Chambers Street in front of Tweed earlier tonight to protest the creation of a "Teacher Performance Unit" to root out and fire incompetent teachers. Speakers included City Council members Robert Jackson and John Liu, UFT President Randi Weingarten, and a UFT chapter leader who has experienced reprisals for speaking out for teachers and students in her school.

UFT supporters sing "Solidarity Forever" at the vigil. (Philissa Cramer/Insideschools)

Unfortunately for critics of the union, no one defended truly terrible teachers or said they should be retained even if remediation fails; instead, the speakers repeatedly decried the culture of fear and potential for abuse the TPU creates.
Inside Tweed, the Panel for Educational Policy voted 8-1 to approve a slightly modified Gifted & Talented proposal. The revised policy builds in a sibling preference policy, eliminates on-site assessments for the three citywide programs, and adds summer testing dates for children whose families are new to the city. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative to the PEP, voted against the proposal to honor the wishes of District 3's CEC, which passed a motion expressing concern about the potential closure of successful G&T programs on the Upper West Side.

TONIGHT (11/26): Teacher rally and PEP meeting

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 11:58

It's a big night down at Tweed -- the UFT is holding a candlelight vigil at 5:30 p.m. to oppose the Teacher Performance Unit announced last week. Some are saying the vigil is a symbolic event designed to prevent more substantive action, but Chancellor Klein is nervous enough that he sent out a fawning letter explaining the TPU to teachers this afternoon, saying, "Our teachers are heroes, one and all, and I am deeply grateful to them."

Then, at 6 p.m., the Panel for Educational Policy is meeting to vote on the Gifted & Talented proposal. Also on the agenda: progress reports and NAEP results.

Poll: Who has the best information about schools?

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 10:42

Buried in a Downtown Express article about the changes to the middle school admission timeline -- Did you hear? The calendar will be standardized across districts and applications will be due in February -- was this gem about Insideschools:

The problems with notification — [parent Linda] Levy found out about the timeline change not from the school system but from the Web site — are quintessential Department of Education issues, she said.

So that makes me curious. I'd like to think Insideschools always has the most timely and accurate information about schools. But schools, other parents, and yes, even the DOE often beat us to the punch. Which source do you think is the best? Answer in our poll (at the top right side of the blog). Explain your answer in the comments.

More on the NAEP scores

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 07:43

I bet Joel Klein was thankful for the Thanksgiving-induced reprieve from criticism. When the NAEP scores came out last week, the DOE touted them as proof of success. But more reality-driven commentators were quick to note that in all but one category -- 4th grade math -- scores were flat and that even in that category, the gains are only there if one makes the comparison using numbers that predate the Bloomberg-Klein reforms. The Queens Chronicle even called the NAEP scores "a damning blow to the Bloomberg administration."

Then came the news, broken by the Sun's Elizabeth Green, that New York gave more students testing accommodations than any other city in the country. With a quarter of students taking the 4th grade math test and about 20 percent of students taking the other tests receiving special accommodations, some testing experts think the results aren't worth much. "When you change the statistics for 25% of the people who are guaranteed to be at the lower end, that's going to have a tremendous impact," an NYU professor told the Sun.

A couple of weeks ago, NYC Public School Parents wondered whether the report card fiasco would prove to be an "emperor's new clothes moment" for Klein and Bloomberg. The NAEP scores have done much more to show that the DOE's reforms unfortunately have not produced the improvements the DOE says they have. And the more Joel Klein insists that everyone else is wrong and he is right about how to interpret test scores -- as he did in an email, sent last week to all DOE employees, decrying the unfavorable press coverage -- the sillier the DOE looks.

Happy Thanksgiving from Insideschools

Written by Admin Thursday, 22 November 2007 05:53

Happy Thanksgiving from Insideschools. We'll be taking the next couple of days off and hope you will be, too. But if you absolutely need something to do, here are some options:

  • Help an 8th grader finalize his high school choices. Applications are due next week.
  • Send in a question for Insideschools' This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  • Consider signing Time Out From Testing's online petition opposing the report cards.
  • Play Help feed the hungry while boosting your vocabulary.

See you next week and have a great holiday!

Middle School Muddle: Here's why I'm thankful for choice

Written by Admin Wednesday, 21 November 2007 10:27

Middle school tours can be tough on kids and parents, in part because change is hard. Visiting schools feels like an abrupt and painful reminder that elementary school – and childhood – isn’t forever. We don’t always know how to make informed judgments.Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much tours ask of educators – and how much I appreciate the chance to watch them in action.

Teachers are always on. In the District Two classrooms we’ve been visiting, they’re attempting to keep as many as 30 or more students engaged as tours march in and out. Parents peer intently, hoping for a teachable moment or a clarifying detail about the lesson before shuffling out. Kids wave at their friends from elementary schools.

In those brief moments, it’s difficult to capture much about the quality of teaching.

In the talks that follow, principals are measured by their ability to articulate a vision for their middle school. They patiently field what might seem like endless questions. Parents take and compare snapshot notes.

The New York City Department of Education talks a lot about accountability these days, pushing new letter grades as an example.

I don’t find those grades realistic or telling, so I’d like to make the argument that tours — and choice — force a different kind of accountability. It’s one that as a parent, I am especially grateful for.

In the three very different but equally impressive middle schools we’ve toured so far – Clinton, MAT, and School of the Future – teachers have willingly opened their classrooms, even as they are pressured constantly to raise test scores, prepare better lesson plans and get ready for 100 or more parent teacher conferences. Many have taken the time to explain what they are teaching and why. Principals are on display as well, taking time from the unrelenting demands of their day.

If we didn’t have choice in our district, my children would simply move on to their zoned middle school or junior high, like I did during my suburban childhood. My parents weren’t probing into classrooms and weighing schools like Salk that emphasize science vs. schools that stress art or “habits of mind,'' a concept I learned about while visiting the intriguing School of the Future. At the age of 10, I most certainly was not asking myself what kind of a school environment I might thrive in, as my sons have had to.

Those of us lucky enough to be zoned for districts that offer choice have an opportunity to question authority and think deeply about education.

We wouldn’t have this chance if the educators weren’t willing to educate us.