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Archive for April, 2009

‘Long-Term’ Test Reveals U.S. High Schools in a Rut

Every four years the National Assessment of Academic Progress (NAEP) gives essentially the same test it has given since 1971, to representative samples of U.S. 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds. The results say a lot about whether U.S. students are making real progress. This morning, the 2008 “long-term NAEP” results came out, and there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that U.S. 9-year-olds have improved in both reading and math, in some cases very substantially. Their average scale scores rose 4 points in both reading and math from 2004, and they gained much more — 12 points in reading and 24 points in math — since the tests were first given in the early 1970s. More »

A Day in the Life, Part 1

[Editor’s note: Yo Mista is the pseudonym of a fourth-year teacher in a high school in Queens.]

Every once in a while a teacher has a day that makes him think: this is why the city loses new teachers. I recently experienced one of those days.

After circling the neighborhood to find a parking spot within six blocks of my school I hurried in to the building and bumped in to my assistant principal. “I have a student I need you to work with: 19 years old, six credits, not attending any of his classes. He’s becoming a problem for the deans, roaming the halls and disrupting classes.” She gave his name and asked, “Do you know him?”

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“Well,” she said, “we need to transition him out, maybe VESID, Co-Op Tech, I don’t know, something.” More »

Workers Memorial Day Brings New OSHA Legislation

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, and a number of activities are taking place to bring attention to the need for improved worker safety and health. Two congressional hearings scheduled for that day — one in the House and one in the Senate — will focus on strengthening the nation’s workplace safety and health protections. On April 23, a bill to strengthen and modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Act was introduced in the House. More »

Teachers at KIPP’s AMP Academy Are Officially Certified as a Union Bargaining Unit

The New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has voted to certify the teachers at KIPP’s AMP Academy as a recognized collective bargaining unit of the United Federation of Teachers. The decision was made during PERB’s monthly meeting in Albany, and clears the way for the teachers and their union to collectively bargain with KIPP.

“This ruling by PERB was a huge step toward creating a voice for teachers in KIPP’s quest for school excellence,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “We are pleased with KIPP’s reaction to the ruling, and likewise after talking with the teachers today, we are ready, willing and able to negotiate a contract that is good for kids and fair for teachers.” More »

Union Support Keeps Me Balanced

[Editor’s note: Ms. Teach4Life is the pseudonym of a tenth-year teacher currently in her first year at a Manhattan public school.]

For the first nine years of my teaching career, I taught in the South where there are no teachers’ unions. In fact, I was told upon being hired to not even mention the word. So, as the dutiful, brand-new teacher, I never said “the U word.”

Because I was just starting out in my teaching career, I really could not grasp the concept of what it would be like to work in a district that had a union to support the teachers. I went to work each day and performed the duties that had been set forth by my district and principals. I’d like to share with you the daily work routine of a teacher and those work conditions. More »

Employee Free Choice Act: Fact vs. Fiction

A new video from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers tackles some common misconceptions about the Employee Free Choice Act. [via AFL-CIO Now Blog]

A Little Nurturing Goes a Long Way

[Mr. Eureka is the pseudonym of a fourth-year teacher in an elementary school in the Bronx.]

Fanta was almost seven years old when she walked into our school’s lobby, clinging to her mother’s arm. Her mother, an imposing woman dressed in a flowery African robe with a yellow turban carefully carved over her head walked past our front desk inquiring about where the enrollment activities were taking place. Our security officer pointed her fingers toward the two long tables that were put together to hold the stacks of materials, pens, pencils, and other supplies needed for the registration of new students.

Her steps were secure but slow. It was as if she was counting the tiles that ornate our attendance room. I was brought in to assist in Fanta’s enrollment as a second grade student since both Fanta and her mother could not speak a word of English. As they sat quietly waiting for their turn to speak to a staff member, Fanta played with her fingers with her eyes glued to the large clock hanging a few feet away above the door of Room 109. She certainly did not want to be there. More »

It Shouldn’t Take An Einstein…

What should one make of a national newsmagazine that publishes a high profile interview which offers as gospel truth an urban myth about teacher unions that could not withstand three minutes of Google research? A creation out of whole cloth which turns real history on its head?

More »

Don’t Drink the Welch’s Kool-Aid

Jack Welch, the retired General Electric boss, the “Tiger Woods of management,” according to investor Warren Buffett, has long been a fave of the Department of Education. That’s because he’s the mastermind of the “business model” that mandates head-rolling of ten percent of a workforce every year, even if they are, for argument’s sake, all performing magnificently. His appalling doctrine is almost charmingly presented in his 2001 co-authored autobiography, Jack: Straight From the Gut.

The book is very readable and Welch comes off as a personable, regular guy. It’s got an informal tone and it’s easy to feel like you’d be on a first-name basis with the guy, just from his narrative style. He seems like an unpretentious, fun-loving, unspoiled and even boyishly vulnerable and self-critical guy that we can all relate to. He even swears a bit to prove that he ain’t effete.

Too bad he believes that the way to energize a business (or any workplace) is to keep employees aware that they are at continual risk of being purged. More »

But is the “Freeze” Fair?

My re-analysis of charter school funding in New York City prompted a number of comments and questions — the theme of which pertained less to the substance of the post and instead focused on the state legislature’s decision to maintain charter school per-capita funding for fiscal year 2010 at 2009 levels. Given what we know about the charter funding formula and the state’s fiscal condition, readers have asked (with varying degrees of urgency) “is the charter funding freeze fair?”

Fundamentally, any freeze is unfair to students, particularly when it translates into program cuts due to rising fixed costs. It’s unfair to students in charter schools and it’s unfair to students in district schools.

Similarly, the lack of facilities financing for charter schools exacerbates this problem for the 26 (or about one-third) of the City’s charters not located in a publicly-provided space (although a handful of these are in private space by choice).

Moreover, decisions that treat district schools differently from charter schools are also unfair. To judge if this occurred in this year’s state budget, some context is required. More »

Summer Opportunities for Teachers

[Editor’s note: Señorita in the City is the pseudonym of a second-year teacher in a high school in Manhattan.]

I am one of many lucky people who are able to enjoy a summer off each year. The teachers I know and work with spend their summers doing a variety of things. Some teach summer school, while others travel. I haven’t yet taught summer school, but I have participated in two very interesting summer opportunities available to teachers.

The first is a program specifically for Spanish teachers in the United States. Several universities in different parts of Spain offer three week courses through the Ministry of Education in Spain. I attended a program at La Fundación Ortega y Gasset. Our class consisted of about 15 teachers from all over the United States, coming from both public and private schools. Our course actually consisted of five different classes covering grammar, literature, society, history, cinema, music and art. More »

All the Small Things

[Hospital Teacher is the pseudonym of a third-year teacher now in her second year as a hospital school teacher in Manhattan.]

The saying goes: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” But I say don’t forget about it either. Sometimes it’s the small things that make a big difference.

For the past year and a half I’ve had the opportunity to teach on the pediatric oncology floor at a major hospital in New York City. I work with kids of all ages and cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. What unites all of these children is one very devastating reality: cancer. More »

Charter Funding in New York: An Update

The debate over fiscal equity between district and charter schools in New York is as old as the state’s charter school movement. Charter advocates point to funding shortfalls and other discrepancies while skeptics argue that charters are over-funded. With the state’s current fiscal crisis and next year’s funding freeze on both district foundation aid and charter school per capita funding, the topic has a renewed energy.

As this debate has always contained more heat than light, Robin Jacobowitz (then with New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy) and I set out to understand the issue with some methodological vigor (at the time, I served as Director of Charter Schools for the New York City Department of Education). The result was this 2004 paper that has survived the test of time, as some charter advocates will attest. For charter schools in New York City, we found some modest funding gaps that varied by grade level and student ability. Moreover, with the recent shift of “categorical funds” into state “foundation aid” and the placement of many City charter schools in Board of Education facilities, any inequities are further reduced and in no way consistent across the City’s charters. More »

Marco’s Feedback

[Mr. Eureka is the is the pseudonym of a fourth-year teacher in an elementary school in the Bronx.]

Marco was not the only student that I left totally confused after my presentation on the water cycle. But he was the only one with enough nerve to look straight into my eyes and say, “I don’t understand your water cycle.” He placed an emphasis on the word “your” as if he was holding me responsible for his failure to understand the lesson on how water is recycled.

It was my second week as a science teacher. I had developed an elaborate lesson plan filled with flashy pictures, sound SMART goals, and concrete instructional outcomes. I had consciously followed the 5E instructional model (Experience, Explore, Explain, Expand, and Evaluate). I had even rehearsed my presentation in front of a classroom filled with teacher trainees and got enthusiastic applause for my delivery. I thought I had everything under control until Marco insinuated that this presentation was my own personal show. More »

Put The Public Back In “Public Charter School”

At City Council hearings on the expansion and siting of New York City charter schools, the following testimony was delivered by UFT High School Vice President Leo Casey. UFT Elementary School Vice President Karen Alford accompanied Casey at the hearings.

Twenty years ago, the late UFT and AFT President Al Shanker laid out a compelling vision for a new and different type of public school. Freed from stultifying state and district bureaucracy and micro-management, this public school would be an educational laboratory, an incubator of innovative approaches to teaching and learning which would be shared with other public schools. The men and women who worked in this school could be empowered as educational professionals to use their skills, knowledge and experience to provide the highest quality education for their students. The school itself would have organic ties to the community it served. Shanker called this new type of public school a charter school.”

Today, we in the United Federation of Teachers remain deeply committed to this original Shanker vision of a public “charter school.” And when it comes to this vision of charter schools, we don’t simply talk the talk. We walk the walk: we have started two charter schools of our own in East New York, and we have partnered with Green Dot to start a third charter school in the South Bronx. We proudly represent educators in nine charter schools in New York City, and our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, represents many more across the country. More »