Monday, 17 December 2012 14:17

How to talk to children about Dec.14 tragedy

All schools should offer a "safe place" for children who wish to talk about last Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in a letter to school communities and families today.

The letter, signed also by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Ernest Logan, president of the principal's union, encouraged teachers to "give solace and support to your colleagues so we can be strong enough to take care of our students."

Included were suggestions of resources that teachers, school staff and families can refer to when helping children try to comprehend Friday's horrific acts such as Resources for Dealing with Traumatic Events in School, published by the University of Maryland's Center for School Mental Health.  

Ever since news of the school shootings in Newtown on Friday, parents have been sharing resources and suggestions on how to speak to their children about what happened. Here are a few resources to consider:

And, after the jump, here are some tips from a social worker accustomed to treating victims of crime. Thanks to Park Slope Parents listeserv for sharing them.

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Thursday, 08 November 2012 14:00

Parent Academy launches Saturday

Chancellor Dennis Walcott will launch the long-awaited Parent Academy this Saturday at Long Island University (LIU) in Brooklyn, with a focus on aiding families who are victims of the hurricane. But, in the aftermath of the storm, it's not clear how many parents actually know about the event or will be able to attend.

In an email invitation sent to parent leaders on Tuesday morning, Jesse Mojica, head of the DOE's Division of Family and Community Engagement, said that Hurricane Sandy made plain the need for the community to come together at this workshop and, "identify the opportunities and resources for not only student success, but also those outlets for aid in the midst of Hurricane Sandy." 

The workshop begins with an 8:30 a.m. breakfast and is open to public school parents, administrators and staff. The DOE and LIU, a partner in the Parent Academy, will provide guidance to help families apply for FEMA and other sources of disaster aid. Mental health experts will advise teachers and parents on how to deal with students affected by the disaster. Additionally, there will be three sessions at the workshop to tackle specific topics: preparing for parent teacher conferences, supporting better parent-teacher communication and, "how to become a more active and engaged participant in your child’s education,"said Stephanie Browne, a DOE spokesperson.

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Friday, 02 November 2012 12:43

What's wrong with fantasy books for teens?

Claire Needell Hollander is an ELA enrichment teacher at a Manhattan middle school and the mother of three daughters, all public school students.

For those not directly affected by the damage wreaked by Sandy, boredom was the enemy over the past school-free week. Lucky were those households with a stockpile of good books, or access to a bookstore whose doors remained open. Alas, most of the books for teens at my local chain bookstore are dystopian novels and paranormal romances. Few and far between are the thought-provoking realistic young adult novels like "Kind of a Funny Story," by Ned Vizzini and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie.

While there is nothing wrong with spending leisure time reading fantasy books, they are mostly devoid of real world knowledge—unlike realistic novels, like "Sold," by Patricia McCormick, that may introduce students to other cultures.

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Monday, 10 September 2012 10:40

NYC teachers rally for Chicago strike

TUESDAY UPDATE: About 200 people were at the Monday rally. The city's teachers union approved a $10,000 donation to the Chicago teachers' strike fund. GothamSchools says the UFT isn't likely to follow Chicago's lead, but you can check out their upcoming explanation of why the strike still matters for our city.

MONDAY: Some New York City teachers are rallying to support the Chicago teachers who were on the picket lines Monday morning. Chicago's Democratic Mayor Rham Emanuel says the city has made a generous offer that would raise teachers' salaries. But leaders of the reform-led Chicago Teachers Union say the strike is not just about money -- they want improvements made to Chicago's schools, including smaller class sizes, and a nurse and a social worker in every school. They also note that the proposed raises would be offset by a hike in health care costs.

If you're with the Chicago teachers, you can join NYC teachers and Occupy Wall Street at Union Square at 5pm.

NYC connection: Chicago schools superintendent J.C. Brizard was a teacher and principal of Westinghouse High School before going to the high school division at Tweed. He left to become head of schools in Rochester, NY and then was off to Chicago.

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Only 55 percent of eligible teachers received tenure this year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced on Friday. This is a huge shift from just five years ago when 97 percent of teachers were awarded tenure after three years on the job.

Walcott said that stricter standards for teachers was the reason that fewer teachers were awarded tenure. "Receiving tenure is no longer an automatic right, and our new approach ensures that teachers who are granted tenure have earned it,” said Walcott in a press release.

Teacher who do not get tenure may continue to teach and, for some, the decision to grant tenure can be extended to the next year. That's what happened to 42 percent of eligible teachers this year.

Principals determine which teachers get tenure, rating them on a four-point scale: ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective.

Even as fewer teachers are getting tenure, more teachers are being hired. NY1 reports that the hiring freeze has eased up for 2012-2013, with many of the new hires coming from the ranks of Teach for America (new college graduates) and Teaching Fellows, a program that targets career-changers.

A scarcity of special education teachers persists. To help ease the shortage, eligible general education teachers who have been "excessed" from their jobs may enter the Special Education Re-Certification Program. That would allow them to teach special needs children if they are working toward getting special education certification at Adelphi University.

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Thursday, 21 June 2012 11:28

Too few NYC grads ready for college

More students than ever are graduating high school in New York City. And many more are applying to—and attending—college. Yet very few of these young people ever complete a college degree. The number of graduates enrolling in CUNY surged to 25,600 in 2009 from 16,200 in 2002, a jump of 57 percent. But as enrollment has spiked, graduation raties at CUNY's community colleges has declined.

An upcoming report from our parent organization, the Center for New York City Affairs, presented at a forum today at the New School, shows how the city's public schools are preparing more and more teens for high school graduation—but not for success in college and the living-wage workplace.

Keynote speaker David Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research and University of Oregon professor, said that test scores and knowledge of subject matter are not the only indicators for success in college. The ability to show up on time, follow directions, organize your time and know how to ask for help and be persistent are just as important. (Download Conley's presentation here.)

Conley joined Sheena Wright, president of Abyssian Development Corporation; DOE deputy chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky; CUNY's director of admissions, Richard Alvarez; and Fernando Carlo director of Urban Youth Collaborative's Sistas & Brothas United for the forum, Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC's Precarious New Generation of College Students, moderated by Meredith Kolodner of Insideschools.

There is a chasm between what students want to achieve and what they are prepared for. For every 100 middle school students, 93 say they want a college degree, according to Conley. Of these, 70 will graduate high school, 44 will enroll in college and only 26 will get a degree of any kind within six years of enrolling. The numbers for city students are even more discouraging.

Most city high school students have high aspirations, and want to become professionals, yet too many don't realize that their grades in 9th and 10th grade count for college admissions, said Andrew White, director of the Center in his introduction (download the presentation he gave here).

We also live-tweeted highlights from @insideschools under #collegeready.

Read accounts of the event written by Philissa Cramer on GothamSchools and Peter Goodman of ed in the apple.

Watch our livestream of the discussion. And, to keep the conversation going, please share your thoughts about what our high schools, community groups and parent organizations can do to help make sure the city's graduates are prepared for college.

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Friday, 11 May 2012 14:13

Poll: Should teachers be paid more?

It’s the end of teacher appreciation week: the DOE's number two guy, Shael Suransky, taught a class, Chancellor Walcott has been visiting schoolsMayor Bloomberg and countless others shared some #thankateacher love on Twitter, and maybe a few students brought apples to their teachers. We wonder, how can we best show our teachers appreciation all year round?

There are several politically charged answers to the that question that have been highlighted in the news lately. But, what about better pay? It’s no secret that teachers aren’t in it for the money. Teaching can be a highly rewarding job but it is not a career path paved with financial gold. A public school teacher in New York City with a BA can expect to earn $45,530 his first year, according to the UFT’s salary schedule.

Still, that’s almost 10K more than the national average: $36,502, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s most recent survey of education from around the world. But the high cost of living in the Big Apple, eats up much, if not all, of the difference.

After three decades on the job NYC teachers with a Master's degree can make over $100,000. Of course if you luck out and get a job at TEP, The Equity Project Charter School, you'll make $125,000 your first year there. But that's the exception.

Average starting pay for teachers in Finland, Diane Ravitch’s favorite place to learn, is actually lower, $32,692 (of course, the Socialist country has much better government benefits, but that’s a blogpost for another day). Teachers in Japan make $27,995 starting out and $30,522 is first-year pay for teachers in Korea. In Poland, on the other hand, starting salary is $9,186 on average. Luxemborg is one of the best places to teach if you’re after some green, starting teachers there make $51,799. (All these numbers are from OECD.) 

With that perspective, maybe New York’s not so bad! Then again, teachers are some of the most valuable members of society, should we pay them more? What do you think is a fair starting salary? Take our poll!

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New York State’s standardized math and English exams for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades are over, except for the scoring and the remaining four years of Pearson’s $32 million contract to provide tests. Here’s a sample question that should be on a state exam but never will be:

Read the following story. At the end, answer four questions.

It was a sunny Monday morning in the Enchanted Forest, and the animal children happily scurried, hopped and slithered to the clearing where Owl taught 4th grade. As usual, Bunny was first to arrive. “I’m so happy, Mr. Owl,” said Bunny. “Monday has music class, so it’s my favorite day.”

Owl looked at Bunny. “We’re not having music class, remember? Today is the annual Enchanted Forest state math test. Instead of singing songs and playing the recorder, you’re going to sit your little cotton tail at a desk for 90 minutes and answer some questions.”

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Anne Stone is Associate Professor of Music at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Jeff Nichols is Associate Professor of Music at Queens College and the Graduate Center. They live in Manhattan with their sons Aaron and Gabriel. As a result of their 3rd-grader's experiences with a test-driven curriculum, they joined with other parents and teachers in Change the Stakes, a committee of the Grassroots Education Movement working on issues related to high-stakes testing in the public schools. They have published two pieces for SchoolBook: "Dear Governor: Lobby to Save a Love of Reading" and "A Lesson on Teaching to the Test from E.B.White". 

When people ask us why we are boycotting the standardized tests this spring, we hardly know where to begin. We find it unconscionable that our son's test results can be used to determine whether his teachers keep their jobs, whether his school stays open, and whether he goes on to the next grade. But the "high-stakes" nature of the tests is just the tip of the pineapple.

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Thursday, 29 March 2012 20:55

Parents petition against testing

A group of parents have launched a petition drive to try and reverse the increasing importance of standardized exams in city schools. In particular, they are opposed to a new law that could get teachers fired if their students' state test scores don't increase sufficiently.

"Parents want their children to have the opportunity to learn, to think critically, to engage in meaningful relationships with teachers, and to have positive school experiences," the Brooklyn-based group of parents write.

They also do not want to see a repeat of the Teacher Data Reports, which used state exams to evaluate teachers and then made the dubious ratings public.

They've gotten about 1,000 signatures by tabling outside schools, mostly in Brooklyn. Now there's an online petition you can sign if you want to join their effort.

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