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Archive for April, 2013

How Can sharemylesson.com Help You?

New York City teachers discuss how they have used Share My Lesson as a resource for lesson plans and ideas. “Just the idea of having a place, a database where you can go and get really good lesson plans – that is like gold for a teacher,” says UFT President Michael Mulgrew in the video. Share My Lesson, created by the AFT in partnership with the UFT, had its New York City launch on April 19 and 20.

Fear, Frustration, Failure and State Tests

ScantronThis will be the fourth year that my students and I have suffered through the New York State high-stakes elementary school tests.  Although the mayor and the chancellor tell us this year’s tests are all new, my stories from the classroom are similar to years past.

As a new teacher and New York City transplant, I was astonished to discover 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-grade students were held over based on their scores from a series of limited assessments.  After that realization, I was much less surprised to see the effect of these tests in the classroom.  Both schools I have worked at ended regular instruction in early February to opt for test prep units designed to milk a few extra points on the state exams. Students’ and teachers’ health began to slowly decline around the same time of year, and behavioral incidents began to rise.

In my own classroom, I have fought to ameliorate the stresses of testing season by reminding my students how hard they have worked and telling them that their only job on state testing days is to try their best. But my efforts have been less than successful. One year a 9-year-old 4th grader asked me if it was okay to put the classroom trash can near her desk in case she got sick to her stomach during her English language arts exam.  The next year a mental block caused a little boy to flip his desk over in a moment of panic and frustration while trying to craft an extended-response essay. Just last week, Natashi, a girl in my 5th-grade class who has only been in the country for two years and is still transitioning to English, asked me whether I would be disappointed in her if she tried her best and still wasn’t able to pass. “What if I just need another year in 5th grade to keep practicing, Mr. Thompson?” she said to me with tears in her eyes.

With a broken heart and tears in my own eyes, I turned to Natashi and told her I would always be proud of her. “You have fought so hard this year!  I will be proud of you no matter what score you get!” Natashi feigned a smile and asked to go to the bathroom to wash the tears off her cheeks.

My students, Natashi included, have been attending an extended-day program on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school all year long. We have spent the last few months keeping students late on Mondays and Fridays for an hour and a half of extra instruction focused on test sophistication.  For the past two months, we have asked students to come to school from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays for extra help to boost scores on their state tests.

Still, all the Common Core-aligned data I collect are telling me that my students are not showing mastery on the vast majority of Common Core standards. Many of the “grade level” reading passages and math problems I share with my students are far beyond their ability levels. The confusion these tasks generate leads to an overwhelming sense of failure among my students. And, of course, when my students feel like they are failing, I feel like a failure myself.

Should it surprise any of us that high-stakes tests, coupled with new standards, little-to-no teacher training, and no citywide curricula are a recipe for disaster? Should cheating scandals, state test boycotts, low teacher retention rates, and teary-eyed students come as a shock to the American educational system?  Should I be surprised that my students score 30 percent lower than last year, as predicted by many educational experts? No!

The only surprising part about this whole process is the process itself. We have created a demoralizing atmosphere of fear, frustration and failure for teachers and students. I will always be proud of the hard work my students put into their education, and I sincerely believe they will succeed regardless of what their state test scores suggest. But if the mayor or the chancellor were ever to come up to me like Natashi did to ask whether I was proud of the reforms they had made to education, my answer to them would be quite different from my answer to her.


Mr. Thompson is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. A version of this post first appeared on the UFT blog edwize.org, where “New Teacher Diaries” is a regular feature. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for edwize, send an email to edwize@uft.org.

Budget Office Finds Fair Student Funding Not So Fair

The Independent Budget Office, in a report released on April 10, finds that the Bloomberg-era school allocation formula, known as Fair Student Funding, actually underfunds 94 percent of schools and “has a ways to go” towards creating a readily-understood and transparent formula.

The IBO report says the formula, which gives schools per-student funding weighted for need levels (extra dollars for an English language learner, for example) has more closely tied school funding with student needs. For example, middle school students, who were historically short-changed, now get an amount closer to their actual formula needs. But overall, schools are coming up short, the budget office writes.

“Effective per-capita [per student] funding is below per capita funding under the FSF formula in each year,” according to the report, which means that actual per-student funding in schools is generally below what the DOE’s own formula says they need — “a reflection of both the limited funding available and how available funds were distributed.”

Students funded below what the formula called for last year and at least two more out of the last five years were 1) middle school students below academic standards; 2) elementary and high school ELLs; and 3) high school collaborative team teaching students.

So as a budget strategy to direct money to students with the highest needs, Fair Student Funding doesn’t appear to have worked so well.

The UFT’s issue with Fair Student Funding was its potential effect on a school that had more senior teachers. Waving the banner of equity, the DOE began funding schools for their average teacher salary rather than the system wide average. This amounted to charging schools for the actual cost of salaries at their schools. The idea was to equalize funding for poor and wealthier schools. But the effect was to penalize some schools, forcing them to leave vacancies unfilled, raise class sizes and avoid hiring experienced teachers in order to meet budget.

But a 2007 IBO report found that teacher salaries were not even close to the main cause of inequities in school budgets. The main reason for disparities in spending was the numbers of students per teacher, it found, not teacher salary. That argument is not made in the new report. In fact, the new report perpetuates the idea that teacher salaries cause the inequities in school funding, a myth the IBO previously disproved.

The report is a major contribution on an important issue. If Fair Student Funding isn’t succeeding in creating fairness or sufficient funding, what is it actually accomplishing? Of course, the final irony is that Bloomberg’s insistence on principal empowerment means that when all the formulas have gone to bed, principals spend their budgets however they want, with little oversight of which students are getting extra help.

Drawing NYC Buildings (and Some Schools)

Artist James Gulliver Hancock is drawing his way through NYC, one building at a time. He’s done a few public schools, including Manhattan’s PS 6, and PS 23 in Chinatown, which closed back in 1976.

PS 6, by James Gulliver Hancock

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, April 11, 2013Highlights from the April 11 issue of New York Teacher:

State budget a major victory for schools
City schools are set to receive $319.5 million in new state funding for the coming school year, part of a statewide 4.9 percent increase in education aid that is the largest since the 2007 recession. The final budget, approved by state lawmakers on March 29, also extends the millionaire’s tax another three years.

Trailer park school
The field next to Richmond Hill HS in Queens doesn’t have a baseball diamond or soccer goal posts. Instead, it is cluttered with 22 trailers in which approximately 600 students from the overcrowded school have class. The existence of the trailers, which the DOE has been promising for years to replace with an annex, is just one of the many examples of the DOE’s neglect at Richmond Hill.

‘Bot stuff!
In the main competition of the New York City First Science and Technology Celebration this year, school teams had six weeks to design, build and program robots to remotely maneuver around an enclosed field, playing ultimate Frisbee and climbing a jungle gym.

The economics of good preschool
Every year, politicians’ promises to invest in early education seem to bloom like daffodils, then fade. Can a hard look at costs vs. benefits help us break this cycle?

Governance Task Force recommendations approved
The UFT delegates voted overwhelmingly on March 20 to support the 60-member UFT Task Force on School Governance’s recommendations to scale back mayoral control of the school system. “We are telling the city what parents already know: what we have doesn’t work,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

Combining learning, fun to help shape students
Nearly 500 teachers, paraprofessionals, parents and child care providers attended the UFT’s sixth annual Early Childhood Education Conference on March 16, entitled “Today We Shape Tomorrow.”

SESIS payments on the way!
Thanks to the UFT’s victory in arbitration, more than 31,000 members should be receiving back pay in April for the Special Education Student Information System work that they did after work hours between September 2011 and Dec. 31, 2012.

Forum message: Labor-community bond crucial
Unions today must organize whole communities, said the presidents of the UFT and the Chicago Teachers Union at a packed forum on union and community partnerships on March 15.