Thursday, 15 March 2012 20:57

Elementary Dad: Cameras to spy on kids?

In an effort to prevent the sexual abuse of children, my daughter’s elementary school now requires parents to wear little white nametags when we visit classrooms. I’m pleased to report that Operation Nametag has been a success: No charges of child abuse have been filed since it went into effect.

Well, no new charges. The school is still reeling from the arrest in February of a paraprofessional who has been charged with attempting to molest an 8-year-old boy. As the criminal case creeps through the legal system, parents at my daughter’s school are sad, fearful, confused and, above all, angry that the school can’t guarantee their children’s safety.

I personally don’t expect such a guarantee. I agree with Helen Keller, who wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” But Helen and I hold the minority view. Other parents are proposing a number of reforms that they insist will make my daughter’s school a safer place.

Sadly, many of the ideas are terrible.

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Monday, 05 March 2012 10:12

Elementary Dad: DOE memo gets an "F"

Anyone who regularly reads Department of Education documents knows better than to expect fine literature. Many DOE memos and letters are so full of the bureaucratic nonsense known as “eduspeak” that they make an IRS 1040 form look like “Huckleberry Finn.” But a letter recently sent home with my 1st-grader set a new low.

The title, “Newly Identified District in Need of Improvement Year 10,” is parents’ first clue they’re in for trouble. Only the DOE could have a school district in need of improvement for 10 years and describe it as “Newly Identified.” But it gets worse.

I give you the second paragraph, as written, with boldface letters as shown in the original:

"During the 2010-11 school year, English Language Arts was designated as a District in Need of Improvement Year 9 (DINI-9) in English Language Arts. Because the District failed to make AYP at the elementary, middle and high school level in English Language Arts in 2010-11, the District has been designated as a District in Need of Improvement Year 10 (DINI-10) in English Language Arts for the 2011-12 school year."

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Friday, 17 February 2012 14:39

Elementary Dad: Helping kids prevent abuse

I attended two presentations last week at my daughter’s Upper West Side elementary school. The first featured the chancellor in charge of New York City schools, who was on hand to absorb parents’ rage after a paraprofessional at the school was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a young boy.

Talking to an overflow crowd, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said what you’d expect him to say: The safety of children is his top priority, and steps will be taken to make sure incidents like this never happen again. But less than a week later, a teacher at an elementary school in Queens was arrested on suspicion he inappropriately touched young boys.

Both incidents occurred just weeks after the arrest of a teacher’s aide at an elementary school in Brooklyn. Investigators say the aide possessed child pornography and may have created a sexually explicit video at the school.

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Monday, 06 February 2012 08:00

Elementary Dad: When to help with homework

The nominating committee for Helicopter Parent of the Year should take note: I recently sent a letter to a 1st grade teacher asking whether my daughter’s homework was too perfect.

Let me explain. Four days a week, my 1st-grader comes home from school with a one-page worksheet in her backpack. The assignments are simple: a bit of math one day, some spelling the next, maybe a quiz to see if she remembers the difference between a reptile and an amphibian. But homework is a regular event at her school.

My 6-year-old daughter is still learning to read, so I help her figure out the assignment and sit nearby while she fills in the blanks. When she makes a mistake, I bring it to her attention and guide her toward the correct answer. The work she turns in at school the next day isn’t flawless (her penmanship is pretty bad, and the worksheet bears lots of eraser smudges), but thanks to my intervention the answers are right and the words are spelled correctly.

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Monday, 23 January 2012 11:14

Elementary Dad: Facing the musicals

Parents who unwittingly lead young children into addiction often can pinpoint that horrible moment when they’ve hit rock bottom. My moment came Thursday when my 6-year-old daughter, home from 1st grade with a cold, sat on the sofa watching a DVD of the idiotic musical “Carousel.”

Sometime after the number “This Was a Real Nice Clambake,” my blank-faced child mumbled, “This is my favorite movie.” I froze and wondered aloud, “Oh God, what have I done?”

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Thursday, 19 January 2012 11:32

Poll: Who's responsible for college prep?

After decades of focusing on Regents exams and graduation rates, in 2011 for the first time the Education Department evaluated each high school on "college readiness" - that is, how many of its graduates were actually prepared to do college work. The score on each school's Progress Report didn't carry any weight this year but the numbers are depressing: fewer than half of the 2011 public high school graduates reported that they planned to enter college in the fall. And only one in four 2011 grads were deemed "college ready" — not in need of remedial college courses after four years of high school. The numbers are even lower for black and Latino students.

The City Council is pressing DOE officials to explain what they are doing to improve college-readiness. In turn, the DOE will hold school's accountable: high schools will be docked points for poor college readiness scores on the 2012 Progress Reports.

High schools already struggle to meet other accountability requirements. Some schools, like It Takes A Village Academy in East Flatbush, have a high Regents pass rate (90% graduate in 4 years) and an abysmal college readiness rate (9%).

Should high schools take more initiative to guide students through test prep, college vists and the application process? Whose responsibility is it to prepare kids for college? Take our poll and share your ideas!

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Tuesday, 10 January 2012 16:54

Upcoming school closing hearings

The Department of Education set dates for another round of school closing hearings. On February 9th, the Panel for Education Policy will meet to vote on the future of the 25 schools up for closure.

Here are the dates for the next two weeks:

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Friday, 06 January 2012 14:33

Teachers want X-rated Bronx principal fired

Teachers, women's groups and elected officials will rally Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 10) to demand that the Education Department remove a Bronx principal who made lewd remarks to staff members.

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Sunday, 08 January 2012 18:05

Elementary Dad: Field trip realities

Dear Parent,

Thank you for agreeing to chaperone our upcoming field trip. It's safe to assume you are a first-time volunteer, since all parents who chaperoned previous field trips have informed us (sometimes via their attorneys) that they will never do so again. Therefore, you ought to know some basics.

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Thursday, 05 January 2012 16:17

Ask Judy: Starting a dual language program

Dear Judy,

How does the DOE decide to start a dual language program? Are they proposed by interested parents?

ELL Mom.

Dear ELL Mom,

Parents do have a big role in establishing dual language programs: the Department of Education is obligated to start one if at least 12 parents of English language learners who speak the same home language request one.

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