Wednesday, 16 May 2012 16:38

Talent show trumps standardized tests

I'm happy to report that what loomed large for my son at school a few weeks ago had nothing to do with the mandatory standardized 3rd grade ELA and math tests, and everything to do with LearningSpring's annual talent show.

To our relief, the tests were given the appropriately small amount of attention they deserve. They don't drive the school curriculum, and their results will be refreshingly meaningless. We already know that my son is academically well-below grade level. He will get practice taking tests—not a bad thing—and no teacher will be fired because he didn't score high enough. But I understand that our school's common sense attitude is atypical in NYC public schools, and I support and admire Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols for taking a stance against these tests that take so much away from and contribute so little to our kids' education.

What Brooks got out of the talent show cannot be measured by a test. He shared his love of music with the whole student body, and he experienced the teamwork of the school coming together to create a performance for their friends and families. Although the teachers and therapists were guiding them, we knew from the way Brooks had talked about rehearsals that this was their show. And from the moment the two upper grade masters of ceremonies warmly welcomed the parents, my husband and I became enchanted.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 15:34

More tests, more boycotts

Fed up with multiple errors on state exams (including loudmouthed pineapples), some parents are planning to boycott "field tests" next week that will be used to design future exams. 

Students at more than 1,500 public and parochial schools in the city are among students at more than 4,000 schools statewide who will sit for the exams. The results will not be used to measure student achievement or evaluate schools, city officials said.

Organizers have launched a statewide campaign and are urging other parents to have their children abstain from the tests as well, providing sample letters and a fact sheet.

"Field test" questions were embedded in the math and reading exams students took last month, which was part of the reason the exams were longer.

Although this is not the first time stand-alone field tests have been administered and the exams will only take up a period or two for one day, some parents say they are in no mood to have their children "help" design future tests.

“I was very upset to learn that the DOE has mandated that our children take these field tests,” said Patricia Velotta, who has notified her son’s school that she doesn’t want her eighth grader taking the planned field test in June. “When I heard yesterday, after the relief of the ELA and math tests being over, that now they want to subject our kids to another week of field testing, I felt exasperated. Our children have had enough.”

The Pearson company's $32 million contract to create the new and improved exams has also rankled parents, who have seen school budgets slashed for several years in a row.

PS 321, PS 107 and PS 261, all in brownstone Brooklyn, are test sites and home to parents who have been vociferously opposed to the rising stakes of standardized exams. But the exams will be given in all corners of the city. Third graders at the elite Manhattan school Anderson will be quizzed on math. Sixth and seventh graders at JHS 125 in the Soundview section of the Bronx will take the reading field test. At PS 207 in Howard Beach, 4th graders will sit for the science exam.

The science field tests will be given between May 14 and 18. Students will take the English and math field tests between June 5 and 8.

For more information about the boycott, parents can email info@parentvoicesny.org or info@timeoutfromtesting.org.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 02 May 2012 12:09

New book by Insideschools staffer

Jacqueline Wayans, assignment editor for Insideschools.org and a co-author of New York City's Best Public School Guides, has a new book out -- this one for children.

If you were bright, talented and adored, would you trade it all in for the chance to be greater?

That is the question posed in Ambrose, a fantasy story of the snake in the Garden of Eden The book is designed to help young people understand that they are born with wonderful talents and abilities - but they must value these qualities or risk losing them.

The book that will appeal to many audiences: from parents who can read it to their pre-schoolers  to middle-schoolers who can think – and write about – the questions and quandaries it poses.

Published by Tate Publishing, Ambrose is available on wayanswork.com. You can like it on Facebook, too!

Jacqueline Wayans, assignment editor for Insideschools.org and a co-author of New York City's Best Public School Guides, has a new book out -- this one for children.

If you were bright, talented and adored, would you trade it all in for the chance to be greater? 

That is the question posed in Ambrose, a fantasy story of the snake in the Garden of Eden The book is designed to help young people understand that they are born with wonderful talents and abilities  -  but they must value these attributes or risk losing them.

This is a book that will appeal to parents who can read it to their pre-schoolers, as well as to middle-schoolers who can think – and write about – the questions it poses.

Ambrose is available on  www.wayanswork.com. You can like it on Facebook, too!

Published in News and views

My family's turn to provide afternoon snacks for my daughter’s 1st-grade class comes up next week, and I'm anxiously awaiting the backlash. When you make dietary choices for 23 New York City kids, only one of whom is yours, some other parent will often take exception.

It's easy to frame the classroom snack debate in broad terms such as cupcakes vs. carrot sticks. The prevalence of sugary cupcakes in elementary classrooms received so much attention that one school district banned them outright. But cupcakes are (forgive me for mixing food terms) a red herring. You don't give a kid a cupcake and kid yourself you're serving health food.

The problem occurs when the little kids are served food that appears healthy but is actually more dessert than snack.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 03 April 2012 10:12

Ask Judy: My 9th-grader is floundering

Dear Judy,

Our son used to be an A student but now he is getting Ds and Cs. He is a freshman in high school. The teachers tell me he does not do his homework. Sometimes he does it but forgets to hand it in. We can't figure out why he is no longer interested in school and we are getting worried!

High school parent.

Dear High School Parent,

High school is a big change for kids and sometimes they can be thrown off course. There may be any number of reasons your son is doing poorly. He could be affected by the extra work load, by having to deal with many teachers and students (depending on the size of his school), by a teacher who made an offhand comment about his academic skills, or a fellow student who disparaged him.

Indeed, there may be a deeper problem. When kids change their habits so drastically, it can be a mask for behind the scenes worries – most likely trouble with other kids at school. He may be finding it hard to make friends, he may be the target of bullies. He may be hanging around with other discouraged kids. There is lots of talk about bullying these days and his school should have instituted programs and discussions that offer kids a confidential way to report their problems. If not, take steps to see that they do. I recently wrote about this.

Published in News and views

April is National Poetry Month. It's also the month many New York elementary schools hold benefit auctions to raise money. Inspired by both events, I composed a poem (much in the tradition of Robert Service, my late father's most beloved balladeer) designed to stir the soul of any parent who ever left a school auction carrying a heavy load after an evening of enthusiastic bidding. Feel free to carry this with you on Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 26.

I got an invitation from the folks at PS 3*
to attend the yearly auction and extend some charity.
I pictured a dry evening at a nondescript bazaar.
Then I beheld a lovely sight: the auction’s open bar!

Next morning, as I tried to soothe the pounding in my head,
I spied a formal document, and this is what it said:
“Your winning silent bids have helped our school an awful lot.
We thank you for your purchases. Now, this is what you bought:

A three-night stay at Ed’s Chalet located near Lake Placid.
A thorough urinalysis of your nucleic acid.
A week at camp. A neon lamp. A rug that’s Oriental.
A round-trip fare to anywhere that’s served by Continental.

An expert consultation to make closets clean and tidy.
A seven-course bonanza at a Bronx TGIFriday.
A wheel of cheese. Five DVDs. Fine wool from Colorado.
Some collard greens and Boston beans. A Spanish avocado.

A ruby ring. A turkey wing. An ancient Chinese bucket.
Some Danish clogs. A scarf from Prague. Two lobsters from Nantucket.
A travel guide. A lantern slide. A chance to see ‘The View.’
A bowler hat. A cricket bat. An outrigger canoe.

A cotton towel. A great horned owl. Fresh corn from Oklahoma.
A Rolex watch. Some homemade scotch. A test for melanoma.
A two-book set on etiquette called ‘What to Tip the Doormen.’
Four tickets plus a chartered bus to see ‘The Book of Mormon.’

A ball of twine. Australian wine. CDs by Justin Bieber.
A scholarly translation of the German ‘Ach du Lieber.’
Two tickets to a matinee that’s showing ‘Mama Mia.’
An in-home test in case you’re stressed that you have gonorrhea.”

My aching head filled up with dread as I read off my tally:
A ballet class. A highball glass. A postcard from Death Valley.
A novel signed by Gertrude Stein. A coat by London Fog.
A weekend at somebody’s house somewhere out near East Quogue.

“This now concludes your purchases,” I read with great relief.
But then I saw a second line, and stared in disbelief.
It seems I’d raised my paddle when they sought a contribution
for items meant to elevate this fine old institution.

I’d bought some new gymnastics mats. I’d bought some spelling books.
I’d paid for nonstick bakeware to be used by lunchroom cooks.
I’d started an endowment for the school’s new marching band.
When all was done, I guess I must have shelled out twenty grand.

“Oh well,” I said, and rubbed my head. “It all goes for the school.”
Then I beheld the final line, and felt like such a fool.
“Next year, we know we’ll see you at our benefit affair.
And we are cheered you volunteered to be the auction chair!”

* Not really. I just needed a number to rhyme with "charity."

Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views
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."

Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views