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Archive for June, 2009

NAEP Assesses 8th Graders in Music and Art

For the first time since 1997, the federal education department has assessed U.S. students in the arts. There are no individual or even state results, but there are some important findings. Again, the feds tested a nationally-representative sample of 8th graders. And, while the results are depressing in some ways, the fact that the government goes to the trouble of testing for basic student literacy in music and visual art, and has ways to test for that, is encouraging enough, especially in our math- and ELA-centric world.

How do they actually test a national sample of children for musical ability? Students aren’t asked to compose symphonies, or even play an instrument. But they are asked to listed to music and answer questions, and they are asked to write some basic rhythmic annotation. More »

Multiple Choice: A High Stakes Study Of Charter School Performance

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes [CREDO] at Stanford University today published a report, Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States, which will create a bit of a stir in educational circles.

Multiple Choice sets a new benchmark for national research studying the academic performance of charter schools and district schools: it compares “virtual twins” [charter and district students with the same demographics]; it employs a significant NAEP data set; it looks at longitudinal growth; and it covers a broad cross-section  of states, including many which had not been included in previous studies .  Moreover, CREDO is a think tank which has collaborated with national charter organizations such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers in the past [see this study, for example], and Multiple Choice was financed in part by the Walton [Wal-Mart] Foundation, so its findings can not be easily dismissed as the work of charter school critics. [Although none of this stopped an effort by Nelson Smith of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to spin away its most important conclusions.]

Here are the reports’ main conclusions, word for word, a set of findings which the authors describe as “sobering” [p. 6]: More »

Concorde: Supersonic PD

Most Edwize readers no doubt remember the supersonic Concorde commercial aircraft that was retired from service a few years ago because it was economically unviable. That plane, filled with technological wonders, was a joint venture between the British and French governments and brought much prestige to those countries, despite the excessive pollution it produced and the fact that residents of neighborhoods surrounding JFK and other airports fulminated against its environmental unsoundness and alleged ear-drum bursting boom. That plane whizzed at 1200 mph at 50,000 feet across the pond to Europe in less time than it takes an award-winning DOE Help Desk employee to pick up the phone. More »

A Postscript To The Great Teacher Union/Educational Achievement Controversy

Edwize readers will recall the recent controversy among conservative education bloggers over the relationship between teacher unionism and student achievement. [Our comments, with a link to the debate, can be found here.]

In a rhetorical crescendo that is all too characteristic of  educational discourse on the right these days, the Fordham Foundation’s Mike Petrilli concluded the controversy with the summary judgment that teacher unions were the enemy of all that is educationally good and right:  “they are tenacious and need to be defeated, over and over and over again.” The supposed basis for this conclusion? The claim that Massachusetts teacher unions fought tooth and nail the educational reforms which made its current high academic achievement possible.

So it is with some interest that we read the just published report of the independent and widely respected public policy foundation MassINC, Incomplete Grade: Massachusetts Education Reform at 15. More »

Going Philosophical On Jonathan Alter

Dan Brown goes philosophical on Jonathan Alter’s drearily predictible teacher bashing. [Can’t Newsweek afford a little help in dreaming up some new harangues for its unimaginative neo-lib columnists?] It’s nothing but an example of the errors in epistemology analyzed by Harry Frankfurt in this little classic, Brown concludes.

A Night at Carnegie Hall: The Junior High School Salute to Music

The Staten Island Borough-Wide Senior Band was joined on the Carnegie Hall stage by the RTC Kids chorus for the Salute to Music finale.

The Staten Island Borough-Wide Senior Band was joined on the Carnegie Hall stage by the RTC Kids chorus for the Salute to Music finale.

How many performers can say they’ve received a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall? On the evening of June 10, at least 350 New York City middle school students joined that exclusive club.

My family and I were in attendance for the 2009 Junior High School Salute to Music concert at the hallowed hall on 57th Street. This year the Bronx Borough-Wide Band performed, along with the Staten Island Borough-Wide Junior and Senior Bands, the Staten Island Borough-Wide Orchestra, and Staten Island’s RTC Kids chorus.

[Disclosure: My father, William Levay, conducts the Staten Island Senior Band; as an intermediate school student, I participated in the Staten Island Borough-Wide program and the RTC Kids.]

Judging from the smiles on stage and in the audience, the waves, the hoots and hollers, the enthusiastic applause, and the camera flashes (despite numerous reminders from Carnegie Hall staff that photos were prohibited), the concert was truly a special event for all involved. More »

Desarrollando Proyecto de Amistad Cuba-NYC: Exchanging Words, Ideas and Resources

[Editor’s note: Below is a first-year ESL teacher’s reflections on his visit to Cuba. The UFT and our national union, the AFT, has been strongly critical of the Castro regime which rules Cuba. In particular, we have opposed its jailing of its citizens who organize free and independent unions and who exercise their right to free expression, as teachers and journalists, to criticize the anti-democratic practices of the state. By the same token, teacher unions are critical of the U.S. government embargo of Cuba, as it has only inhibited the free exchange of people and ideas which are the enemy of authoritarianism. In the spirit of an open exchange, we publish the following post.]


I ambled down the street in downtown Havana, sweating, enjoying the heat and talking to a friend I made in Santiago de Cuba. The crumbling streets and dilapidated buildings betray a 50 year effort to provide housing for all Cuban citizens. I was on my way to realize my intention of visiting schools and learning about the Cuban education system.

I walked into the school with concern about how I would be received. In Cuba it can be hard for Cubans and tourists to interact. Every Cuban I spoke to in my ten days was concerned about speaking to me and being social with a tourist. As I learned from a new friend, Cuban law prohibits Cubans from leaving the country without express permission from the government. Many say that this is because the government needs the people to be able to carry out its social project. Others say that it is because the government does not want people exposed to the material commodities and other lifestyles in other countries. However, the only places I did not feel that people were on their guard were in schools. More »

New York Teacher

Highlights from the latest issue of New York Teacher:

UFT, city hail sharp climb in math scores

There’s a $315 million hole in the new school year’s budget, and the City Council is in a position to fill it.

A tentative agreement between the Municipal Labor Committee and the city on employee health plans saves $200 million while maintaining core health coverage and holding the line on premiums for city workers.

A high school astronomy teacher created a planetarium 30 years ago that continues to beam light on science education for his students today. More »

What Do You Think of the High Schools?

Pass or FailSome of the biggest changes in the school system over the last 10 years have taken place in the high schools: the breakup of large ones, the creation of hundreds of new ones, a whole new generation of principals, new data initiatives, citywide student choice, and reconstituted programs for at-risk and non-traditional students. The results?

UFT VP Michael Mulgrew will share the podium with Chancellor Klein, chief schools officer Eric Nadelstern, school reformer Pedro Noguera, parent Zakiyah Ansari and Truman HS principal Sana Nassar to discuss it.

The context is a new report by the Milano School‘s Center for New York City Affairs that examines the state of the high schools. It will be available, and the debate will take place Wednesday, June 17 at 8:30 a.m. at the Tishman Auditorium, 66 W. 12th St., Manhattan.

The event is free but you must RSVP here and bring a printed confirmation with you.

September Strategies

It may be the second week of June, but the AFT is already looking ahead to the new school year.

Teachers: do you have a September strategy you’d like to share with your colleagues?

What teaching tip or strategy do you have for getting the new school year off to a great start? We will publish the best tips of 150 words or less in the September issue of American Teacher.

Click here to submit your teaching tips.

CFE: Education Funding Makes a Difference, Part II: Math Scores

Three weeks ago NY State released the 2009 ELA scores, and I posted the results for New York’s Big Five city districts, noting how gains seem to have followed increases in funding under CFE for the second year in a row. I also pointed out that in NYC, students made greater gains in the two well-funded years than they had in the first four years of the Chancellor’s reforms.

Now we have the 2009 Math, and the pattern holds. First, here’s NYC:
More »

Party Time!

One of the great annual events on the pedagogical calendar has traditionally been the End-Term Party. Each school had one and almost every staff member attended: teachers, paras, secretaries, clinicians, supervisors, aides, food handlers, custodians. It was a school family affair and everyone was equal without poses of self-importance based on rank. There were no social distinctions among various job descriptions, because everyone realized what a crock these Department of Education-induced walls of separation are.

But the institution of the end-term party seems to have fallen on hard times. Celebration of human solidarity at school has devolved into an obscure concept in recent years, seemingly in relation to the decline in morale and the status of the profession as rendered by the DOE. The moonlight cruise around Manhattan and the catering hall dance extravaganzas are less common and more sparsely attended. Perhaps folks are afraid that the party will be like another Teachers College P.D. at which Kool-Aid will be drunk en masse. More »

Keeping the Flame Alive

The following are reflections on the twentieth anniversary of June 4, 1989, the day the Chinese state violently suppressed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. They are written by Han Dongfang, the leader of the independent union formed during the Tiananmen Square protests. After June 4th, Han nearly lost this life when he was jailed in a prison filled with highly contagious tuberculosis patients. He is currently the head of the China Labour Bulletin (CLB), a Hong Kong based organization dedicated to advocacy on behalf of Chinese workers. These reflections originally appeared on the CLB Web site.

Photo by Jeff Widener (Associated Press)

Photo by Jeff Widener (Associated Press)

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the crushing of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, many journalists asked me: “Have you lost hope?” The government has successfully suppressed the truth of what happened that day; young people today do not care as much as the students of 1989 about the fate of their country or their fellow citizens, or set much store by democracy, freedom and political ideals. Instead, they want to find a good, well-paid job, and dream of owning a car and buying a home as soon as possible. As a participant in the democracy movement 20 years ago, these journalists asked me, have you given up on this generation that has abandoned political commitment for the pursuit of material happiness?

The question certainly worries me. But when you think about it, what is wrong with young people trying to raise their living standards? There is no inherent conflict between the pursuit of a comfortable life and the pursuit of democracy and freedom. Democracy is not just a matter of abstract political theory. A democratic system should be able to deliver a better life — decent pay, a good job, a nice car and a place of your own — as a matter of course. It should be a tool for realising dreams. At the moment, how many of the 1.4 billion people living in China are really fulfilling their dreams? Never mind dreams — how many still lack life’s basic necessities?

And yet there are signs of hope. More »

A Show of Solidarity: Photos from the Stella D’Oro Rally

Stella D'Oro rally

On May 30, supporters of the striking Stella D’Oro workers held a rally in the Bronx. A Daily Kos blogger who was in attendance wrote about his experience and posted several photos of the event.

» Photos from a Bronx Labor Rally: Boycott Stella D’Oro Now!

A Tactic That Speaks For Itself

The editorial pages of the New York Post are nothing if not predictable. Last Friday’s attack on the UFT and unionized charter schools, ostensibly based on the exam scores at the UFT charter school, was one more in a long series of such sallies, as unexpected as the rising and setting of the sun.

What was unusual was the extent of outright misrepresentation employed by the Post. More »