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Archive for October, 2012

They Beat Us Down…

A poem by Terry Fauvell, 8th-grade teacher at PS/IS 266, Queens.

Never “Great job today,”
“You gave your colleague great advice,”
“Your plans look like
the models that the city sent,”
“Your former student said
you’re wise.”

Just “No ‘Do Now’ on the board,”
“Where’s your teaching point?”
“Saw no elaboration,
or differentiation,”
“Put those standards up!”

They try and try
To break our spirits,
Break our union,
Break our minds.

But we remember
Who we are,
What we are,
Why we are
Doing what we do
Despite all the difficulties
That ensue:

The children,
Their education
And edification.
So we stand up,
And don’t let them beat us down.

Pencil Cases and Fire Drills: Musings on a New Year in a Self-Contained English as a Second Language Classroom

A hard plastic pencil case hits the floor with a resounding thwonk. As pencils and pens clatter across the linoleum, children duck to retrieve them. The abrupt noise momentarily silences the chatter of six-year olds, adding a percussive flourish to the classroom soundtrack that heralds the start of a new school year.

“As if this batch of freshly minted first-graders weren’t noisy enough,” I think, and silently curse the school supply store that prices hard pencil cases so irresistibly to the parents of schoolchildren.

I have twenty-seven new faces in my self-contained, English as a Second Language classroom this year. Even though I am entering my sixth year of teaching self-contained ESL in elementary school, very little seems rote. My students speak five different home languages, and each child exhibits a unique and complex personality. Every time I am faced with a new class, it feels, well, new, because I have to learn all about these living, breathing entities, sitting sloppily in front of me.

I spend the first few days of school wishing I had my old kids again: Karen the desk roving perfectionist, the shy and grateful Julio, and even the class braggart, William, who learned over ten long months, how not to step all over the feelings of his classmates.

Last year’s students, however, have blossomed over the summer into taller and wiser second-graders. Some have even tested out of ESL, and now sit in mainstream classrooms.

That is how we ESL teachers measure success. More »

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, Oct. 18, 2012Highlights from the October 18 issue of New York Teacher:

Union in high gear for Nov. 6 elections
In addition to its push to help re-elect President Barack Obama, the UFT is working to elect a number of state lawmakers on Nov. 6 who will support public schools, unions and the needs of teachers, parents and children.

Addabbo wins UFT’s backing
With many important state Senate races in November, the UFT on Sept. 24 enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Addabbo Jr. for re-election for a third term representing the 15th Senate District in Queens. The incumbent faces a well-financed GOP challenger.

President’s Perspective: An inspirational trip
The members in Florida with whom I spoke each phrased it differently, but they told me the same thing: The stark differences between the candidates made it a clear and easy choice. Although we have not always agreed with him, President Obama is the candidate who will move our country forward into the future.

Green machine: New Bronx high school gives leg up on growing field of new energy technology
Teachers are excited, parents are thrilled, and “students can’t wait to begin building things,” said Aldrich Crowe, a teacher at the new HS for Energy and Technology in the Bronx. Creating a school focused on careers in green engineering and sustainable building technology is an idea whose time has come.

UFT contract dispute moves to fact-finding
The New York State Public Employment Relations Board on Oct. 3 appointed a three-member fact-finding panel to take testimony, hold hearings and issue a report and recommendations in an effort to resolve the contract dispute between the Department of Education and the UFT. The UFT contract expired on Oct. 31, 2009.

Union blasts city on rising class sizes
Roughly 225,000 — or nearly a quarter of the New York City school system’s students — spent part or all of their first days in school in overcrowded classes, according to a UFT survey released on Sept. 25.

Brooklyn charter teachers ratify innovative first contract
The UFT and the board at the Fahari Academy Charter School have agreed to a first-ever contract at the school. The three-year contract, which was unanimously ratified on June 29 by the staff, will go into effect during the 2012–2013 school year and cover the teachers and teachers’ assistants at the middle school, which is located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

‘A’ giant leap: After getting F last year, UFT-represented charter in Bronx is thriving
Teachers, parents and students were beaming with pride at the UFT-represented Bronx Academy of Promise’s board meeting on Oct. 9 after learning that their school was one of just three schools citywide to move from an F to an A on its annual School Progress Report. The A grade should help the school as it seeks a five-year renewal of its charter.

Double number of guidance counselors, comptroller says
City Comptroller John Liu on Oct. 4 called for more than doubling the number of high school guidance counselors in city schools. He faulted the lack of hands-on academic and college counseling from an overworked and undersized counseling staff for the fact that just one in five city high school graduates finishes college.

‘We’re ready!': Newest UFT ad stresses dedication of city’s public school educators
“We’re ready,” a cast of five New York City public school teachers told local TV audiences in a 30-second UFT television ad that blanketed prime-time broadcast and cable spots from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7.

A Different Type of Job

In 1999 and 2000, Adidas ran a series of series of running apparel advertisements using the motto “Runners. Yeah, we’re different.” One such ad featured a naked runner, covered in mud, changing his soaked clothing outside of his car as two onlookers gaped at him from a distance. Another Adidas spot displayed a family in the car with a huge, multi-child running stroller attached to the roof. The message, of course, is that runners are much different than “average” people.

Likewise, the UFT could easily put together its own ad campaign: “Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.” Some snapshots from my first week as a fourth-year social studies teacher in the Bronx could provide some material for these commercials. To wit:

— On the first day of school, I surveyed my eighth-grade students on a variety of topics by asking for a show of hands. When I asked, “How many of you think teachers are smart?,” about three-quarters of the students raised their hands. When I followed that up by asking, “How many of you think teachers are poor?,” about nine-tenths of the hands shot up.  My intention was to show students that being educated could lead you to a prosperous life. When I saw my students’ perceptions of teachers, I could only laugh.
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different. More »

Missing the Real Story on Student Attrition at Charters

At a time when the question of how to best serve our neediest students at all schools is a key focus at the local and national levels, media analyses of the impact of student attrition at charters and district schools can be a useful contribution to the discussion. Unfortunately, an article recently published by SchoolBook misses the key point of this question in its failure to acknowledge that charter attrition’s effects come not from the number or type of students who leave, but from most charters’ decisions not to replace those students.

Gary Miron did a great job addressing this issue in his recent study on KIPP, and Mathematica recently confirmed some of his key findings (though they argued that the impact of these practices were relatively minimal).

In general, Miron and others have shown that both urban charters and urban district schools serve populations with high rates of student mobility — every year, relatively high percentages of students change schools in New York and other cities, and students who change schools (in general) tend to be lower achieving and have higher needs. This is what the SchoolBook article focuses on — if you just look at the percentage and type of students who leave schools in any given year, you’re not going to find big differences between district and charter schools.

The key difference is that in district schools, the students who transfer out are replaced by equally needy students who transfer in, including in higher grades. Overall, this keeps enrollment numbers and overall percentages of high-need students fairly stable — in a K-5 district school, if you have 50 kindergartners arrive in 2012, you’ll see roughly 50 5th graders graduate six years later. Not all those students will have started as kindergartners, but those who left will have been replaced by students with fairly similar demographics and achievement levels.

In contrast, even charter advocates admit that most charters choose not to replace students who leave with incoming transfer students, especially in upper grades. This means that at charters, the neediest students are the most likely to leave before graduation, but either they aren’t replaced or they’re replaced in very limited numbers. This is why you’ll often tend to see graduating classes at charters which are much smaller than entering classes.

Based on what we know about the demographics of students who transfer compared to those who stay in schools, the upper-grade students who remain in a charter with high attrition will tend to be those with relatively lower needs and higher academic achievement. In NYC, we’ve shown that the charter middle schools with the highest attrition and non-replacement rates are also the same ones which show the greatest increases in scores in their highest grades. The Mathematica study showed that at KIPP, incoming transfer students tended to come in with higher achievement levels than students who transferred into district schools, a pattern also noted by the principal of the charter school highlighted in the SchoolBook article when discussing his school’s test score increases.

The other element of this that the article doesn’t fully address is the impact of the different discipline codes at the charters. The quotes from the parents and charters leaders in the article are fairly contradictory on this point — they acknowledge that disagreements about discipline were a primary factor in making these students leave the school, but don’t define this as being “kicked out.” The lack of a good way to either measure (1) how frequently these “nudge out” transfers happen or (2) the impact the exit of students with discipline issues has on the remaining students’ academic performance are major problems with the research in this area. Some charters do have high rates of suspensions, but lower-level types of discipline are much harder to track.

Overall, the fact that this article doesn’t even acknowledge that practices around attrition and replacement represent a legitimate difference between charters and district schools makes its analysis significantly less useful and more misleading than those from the Charter School Center itself or the researchers at Mathematica — and very disappointing.

Creating a World That’s Safe for Even the Silliest Questions

“Mr. Thompson,” began Nelly, “How come you’ve got such a pointy nose?” He had an inquisitive look of pure wonder on his face.

Later that day, Tonya asked whether I’d become “a little bit more chubbier” over the summer break. There was no judgment in her tone.

So began my fourth year as a New York City elementary school teacher. In both cases I answered matter-of-factly: People have noses of all different shapes, and mine happens to be a little pointier. And, yes, I put on five or ten pounds over the break — very observant of you to notice. I wasn’t offended in either case. My students’ blunt queries brought a smile to my face, endearing them to me all the more.

I was forced to switch grades this year because of an administrative error four years ago that left my school without a class in my setting. I’m also teaching a brand new math curriculum without manipulatives and student reference books because of an ordering mix-up. Less than two weeks into the year, my reading and writing curricula were scrapped by the new literacy coach in exchange for “lessons on monitoring comprehension” without any more guidance than that. And my new guided reading program and literacy centers have been cancelled for an increased focus on independent reading to help my students prepare for the end of year tests. More »