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Archive for January, 2010

Fixing The Books, Not The Systemic Failures

Imagine a teacher who, on the first day of class, told his students that no matter how well they performed, 5% of them would fail the course and another 10% would eke by with ‘D’s. And that no matter how poorly they did, 25% would receive ‘A’s.

That teacher is Joel Klein, and the students are New York City elementary and middle public schools. More »

Sheila Joseph:
Charter’s Maybelline Cover Girl

East New York Preparatory Charter School founder and Maybelline honoree Sheila Joseph

East New York Preparatory Charter School founder and Maybelline honoree Sheila Joseph

Sheila Joseph, the disgraced founder of East New York Preparatory Charter School, was once a rising star in New York’s charter school movement.  Today, she has become a stark symbol of why New York charter schools so desperately need the accountability and transparency reforms, the guards against profiteering and the guarantees of teacher and parent voice advocated by the UFT and elected officials.

Born in Rockaway, Joseph attended Berkeley, got a law degree at Georgetown, and for three years served as a Teaching Fellow.  She received a cool $100K from Joel Klein’s Charter Center and was a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, the well-heeled training program for hard-charging charter CEOs.[1] Heralded as “the first African American woman to found a charter school in New York,” she is the star of an upcoming documentary and was even honored by Maybelline as a leader in education reform.  With a back-story like this, what could possibly go wrong?

Just about everything. More »

Making the Most of Something Potentially ‘Wicked’

Wicked poster[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a second-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at The World As I See It, where this post originally appeared.]

Several weeks ago, my colleague across the hall and I were offered what sounded like a sensational opportunity for our impoverished students, something they might never experience in their lives: a trip to see the Broadway show “Wicked.” We were thrilled up until the point when we were told “the catch.” We each have 28 kids in our class, but, unfortunately, only 43 tickets were available.

Ouch. Talk about a punch in the gut. I am staunchly against ever withholding the experience of a field trip from my students, even for behavioral issues. (I’ll clarify: I would never disallow a child to attend the trip based on a transgression in school. I don’t believe in taking things away without warning, like some teachers do. I would however, if cause arose, make the child earn the right to go on the trip. The latter scenario has not occurred in my career thus far).

Given the news that only 43 out of 56 children would be getting this once-in-a-lifetime gift, I knew I would be forced to make some difficult decisions. More »

Pressman: Parents Battle for a Say in Educational Policy

This week’s Panel for Education Policy meeting made it clear that the DOE is not serious about including parents in the decision-making process, according to NBC’s Gabe Pressman.

When the Mayor took control of the city’s schools, he promised to make them better.

Whether he kept that promise is debatable. But whether he has made parents part of the improvement process is not. They are definitely excluded. And that’s a shame.

He goes on to write:

It’s easy to understand the frustration and anger of the parents. But they are learning a practical lesson in how a supposedly democratic process can be distorted to suppress opposition.

The Mayor himself could benefit from some education. He could use a crash course in the values of democracy. The educational policy panel is not there just to ratify decisions already made.

Read the entire piece at NBC New York.

The Peace Tree

Peace Tree

Image by arimoore: flickr.com/photos/arimoore/

[Editor’s note: Ms. Aha-Moment is a third-year ESL teacher in an elementary school in Brooklyn.]

I taught my first year in the New York City public school system at an elementary school in a hardscrabble neighborhood of the South Bronx. My self-contained ESL class consisted of twenty-six students, bridging 2nd and 3rd grade. As in many classrooms throughout the city, the children who entered my classroom brought with them an array of linguistic, academic and social issues.

Fresh out of graduate school, I imagined my class would be a Community of Learners, a circle of polite and happy children interacting seated on the rug. While the majority of my students displayed typical, manageable behavior in the classroom, I had my hands full with no less than five Serious Disrupters. All boys, the Serious Disrupters seemed bent upon sabotaging every attempt I made to create a Community of Learners by engaging in a variety of activities such as, chronic interruption, name-calling, cursing, stealing from, and punching or body-slamming other students. More »

A Powerful And Obnoxious Odor Of Mendacity

What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?…There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it. It smells like death. — Big Daddy in The Streetcar Named Desire

The stench of mendacity appeared on the pages of the New York Post yesterday, where the DoE’s John White is quoted as claiming “Any statement that the teachers union was trying to satisfy the requirements of Race to the Top through an agreement with the state and the [city] Department of Education is a lie.”

The RttT pledge included a core statement of US DoE and State Education Department principles, but also allowed local school districts and unions to add additional terms and clarifications to which they both agreed. Long ago, the NYC DoE e-mailed the UFT’s Secretary, asking if we would sign a joint RttT application. We responded that we would need to know what was being added, and that we should meet to discuss it. Week after week passed by without the slightest effort on the part of Chancellor Klein and the DoE to meet and negotiate these terms and clarifications with the UFT. The eleventh hour came and went. Receiving signs from Albany that their obstructionism was backfiring, the DoE asked to meet with us at the very last minute. They then proposed all manner of addenda that would have violated the collective bargaining agreement, knowing that it would be unacceptable to us. The UFT submitted a pledge on our own, without the NYC DoE’s unilateral addenda.

What a tangled web the DoE weaves.

UPDATE: We got our Tennessee Williams plays mixed up: the quote was from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

D is for Demographics Part II: Closing Schools are Owed an Apology and a Reprieve

Yesterday I said that High School Progress Reports were driven to a significant extent by a buried demographic: the populations of high-need/self contained Special Education students. Some schools took on these challenging students when other schools did not. Now, instead of being supported for it, they are being punished with low grades and threat of closure.

What follows are some charts I did not have time to post yesterday.

As we know, a school’s grade is largely determined by its performance relative to its peer group’s performance. Each dot on the chart below represents one of the schools in the peer groups of closing High Schools. Along the side of the chart is the percent of high-need Special Education students within the Special Education population. More »

Rally Today for Bronx Schools

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the UFT are co-sponsoring a rally outside the Bronx Supreme Court today, Monday, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m., to protest the DOE’s unjustified proposal to close seven Bronx schools. Parents, educators, students, alumni and community activists will be coming out to keep the pressure on the Department of Education.

Jamaica HS Educators Have Their Say

Closing Schools: D is for Demographics

In a 2009 presentation, the DoE lists six Guiding Principles that it says it used to shape the formulas behind the High School Progress Reports. These reports assign a letter grade to every school. Here is one of those principles:

Produce outcomes [letter grades] that are not correlated with socioeconomic status, Special Education populations, or other demographic characteristics

That’s a fine principle: schools should not be punished for the academic challenges with which students arrive. But, in reality, the cards do correlate with demographics; the formula is deeply flawed. In spite of all the high-minded principles, the money, and the brains behind them, High School Progress Report grades reflect the academic challenges with which students arrive, rather than the quality of the education they receive.

Certainly this is true for the high schools the DoE wants to close. More »


The UFT launched a new TV ad campaign this month.

Science and Social Studies

Martin's Big Words[Editor’s note: Miss Brave is a third-year elementary school teacher in Queens in her first year as a classroom teacher. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared.]

At my school, we’re so hyper-focused on reading, writing and math that science and social studies toooootally get the shaft. Which is unfortunate, because taking a strong interest in a particular area of science and social studies is often the catalyst for progress in reading, writing and math.

One of the things that’s surprised me in my first year as a classroom teacher is how much I really enjoy teaching science. Science was never my thing when I was in school, but as a teacher I get to see the “Eureka!” of discovery on a daily basis, which is pretty cool. We use the FOSS science curriculum, and unlike Teachers College, I can honestly say I love it. (And my students do too.) The kits come packaged with almost every supply we need, which is fabulous because it means I don’t have to run around trying to find plastic cups or clothespins for our experiments. All the lessons are hands-on, and they tend to surprise me even more than my students. There have been many times when I reviewed a lesson ahead of time, rolled my eyes and thought, “My kids will never be able to do that” — but then they can! I usually test out the lessons ahead of time so I’ll be able to demonstrate them for my kids, and half the time my kids can make the experiments work better than I can. More »

Collateral Damage On The City’s Most Vulnerable Students

Today, Advocates for Children issued a powerful statement on the detrimental effects the New York City Department of Education’s proposed school closing will have on our city’s neediest students:

What we do not need, however, are reform strategies that leave the most vulnerable students behind or place additional hurdles in their path to graduation. Under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) has pursued an aggressive policy of school closure, which appears to target schools that, as a group, serve disproportionately large numbers of the city’s most at-risk students…

The decision to close a school has a profound impact on current students, potential students, and students at surrounding schools remaining open. The DOE is responsible for educating each and every one of these students, including those who need the most support. The DOE must assure the public that its aggressive approach to school closing is not inflicting collateral damage on the city’s most vulnerable students.


There are only three stages of knowledge separating the states of blank-slate ignorance from genius-level subject mastery. That’s the position and policy of New Hampshire as it follows the recommendation of the New England accreditation body by mandating the replacement of a 100-point to a 1-5 grading system. The purpose, according to the Concord Monitor, is to “shift its academic criteria from traditional standards to broader competencies…rather than assessing knowledge of isolated facts and processes…”

This “is intended to strip grades of association with judgment so they become a tool of communication…” by “encouraging progress rather than marking achievement.”

How humane! More »

Buttons and Badges

Button maker[Editor’s note: Kansan in the Bronx is a second-year teacher in a Bronx middle school.]

Sometimes it really pains me to give stuff away to children. It depends on the reason why, of course, but if it’s for anything other than on an occasion to show them I like them unconditionally I really question why I’m doing it. When I was in school I strove for success simply because I didn’t want to fail. I also had a vague but strong sense that my academic success was important. Last year, a lot of that went down the toilet as I attempted to persuade/bribe my class to behave better. It really bothered me because it was as if to say, “What I am telling you to do is not important enough for you to want to do it inherently, so I’m going to give you a chocolate to make it go down easier.” This year I’ve been giving out awards that are academic in nature rather than out-and-out bribery. The idea has been to reinforce positive behavior without seeming like it’s just an attempt to neutralize the poor behavior. More »