Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Little Diddy about Deb and Diane....

A week ago I received an email regarding the same conversation that Mike Klonsky has so eloquently written about on his blog. I am reprinting Mikes work in its entirety. I will also post the rest of the conversation below in the first comment (its a little long but definitely worth the read). Although Mike does a pretty good job of summing up the “small schools” part of the conversation, there is even more to be said about the common ground reached in regards to the common enemy of education the NCLB act.

"If these two can find common ground, why can't we have peace in the Middle East?

Veteran educators Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch are usually at odds, philosophically and practically. But they have opened up a dialogue which has led them to common ground. Neither has any tolerance for the current standardized testing madness. The latest issue of Edweek carries their co-authored piece: "Bridging Differences," which reads like a memo of understanding between the U.S. and China.

They still are miles apart on issues of mandated curriculum, for which Meier has no use. Unlike Deborah, Diane has long supported an explicit, prescribed curriculum, one that would consume about half the school day, on which national examinations would be based. Diane believes in the value of a common, knowledge-based curriculum, such as the Core Knowledge curriculum, that ensures that all children study history, literature, mathematics, science, art, music, and foreign language; such a curriculum, she thinks, would support rather than undermine teachers’ work. Deborah, while strongly agreeing on the need for a broad liberal arts curriculum, doubts that anyone can ensure what children will really understand and usefully make sense of, even through the best imposed curriculum, especially if it is designed by people who are far from the actual school communities and classrooms.

For me, the most interesting point of agreement in this amazing dialogue, has to do with small schools. Meier has long been viewed as the godmother of small schools, the founder of the first of the modern small schools, Central Park East in New York, and a consistant voice in their defense. Ravitch has argued that we should be worried about schools getting "too small" to support her core curriculum. (See my Nov. 9, 2005 blog post: "Diane Ravitch Barking Up the Wrong Tree ").

But they both find common ground in their critical view of the current, often thoughtless, mass-replication approach to small schools.

Deborah is a pioneer of the small-schools movement. Diane, while not an opponent of that movement, has questioned whether such schools have the capacity to offer a reasonable curriculum, including advanced classes. Yet here, too, we both fear that a good idea has too often been subverted by the mass production of large numbers of small schools, without adequate planning or qualified leadership and with insufficient thought given to how they might promote class and racial integration, rather than contribute to further segregation. "
Most of the stuff Mike writes about is in refference to the small school movement. I highly suggest checking out his blog linked above if you have a moment.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Project Based Guts!

Last year after creating and working on a pilot summer program, using the Project Based Learning ideas put forth by Terry Born at the ISA Summer Institute, my view on education changed.
The teachers and students I worked with those ten days for eight hours a day creating a Field Guide to The Glen Oaks Campus all came to a similar conclusion. How do we go back to the classroom and fall back into the factory model of teaching with subjects divided into departments after investigating learning together? The program opened so many new ways for us to evolve as learners.

In a recent article from Edutopia Magazine, author Diane Demee-Benoit states that :

“Every Project Based Learning proponent says it’s a better way to teach and learn. Teachers and students say they wouldn’t go back to the old way of doing things. So, why aren’t more people doing it? What I most often hear is that there isn’t time because students need to be taught so much material for high-stakes tests. This rationale implies that people view PBL as “extension units” — simply fun, hands-on activities. If that’s what you think, you’re not thinking twenty-first-century PBL.”

So why is it now June and I am concerned with high stakes tests? Why have I not changed my approach? What happened between July and September?

This summer I hope to continue the PBL facilitation the Montessori Learning Community began in the summer of 2005? We will be planning during the Summer ISA conference for 13 hours. I hope to become re-inspired. And after reading the article from Edutopia, brave enough to step out of my comfort zone and stand behind what I have always held, "That Project Based Learning prepares students for life and high stakes exams. "

Other sites suggested by the Edutopia article:

Project Based Learning Handbook

The Online Resource for PBL
I would love people to comment on some of their successes and challenges they have faced with "PBL"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Get My Kid Outta There!!!!

Upon reading the linked article at first glance it seems the NYS Department of Education is genuinely concerned with the welfare of the students whose care they have been entrusted with. However, upon further reflection NYS seems so much more concerned over the "under reporting" than "solving the violence issues". The state seems to be under pressure from parents who are requesting transfers based on a perception of violence in the schools. Schools have not been reporting the incidents and the transfers have been denied.

It is economically more feasible to blame schools for lack of paper work and facilitate transfers for parents who do not want their offspring to attend their zoned schools, than to actually address the violence in the school.

Currently, according to the article, there are only 5 schools deemed unsafe on the list. So there are five schools that if parents are willing to file for a transfer, and have to economic ability to send their children further from their home, their transfer will not be denied.

Who is filing for these transfers? Why should we make it easier to cut and run from a school? Should we be threatening to shut schools down rather than fix the problems?

Paperwork does not stop violence. Bullying either from NYS or a kid in the schoolyard is wrong.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Whose Class Size is it Anyway?

In less than seven days we’ve lived through an emotional seesaw when it comes to class size.

Last weekend, Randi Weingarten announced a new push for smaller classes on behalf of the UFT and our coalition, including a million dollar ad campaign. On Thursday, teachers and parents stood outside schools,
handing out flyers about the need to reduce class size in our schools.

Then on Friday, much sooner than anyone anticipated, Judge Lewis Stone of the State Supreme Court issued a negative decision, blocking our class size charter amendment from appearing on the ballot. Needless to say, we will appeal this decision.

In his decision, the Judge begins by saying that all we would need to prove to get our amendment on the ballot is to show that the State legislature intended to delegate powers over education to the City when it approved Mayoral control of our schools.

But then the Judge proceeds to argue that the Legislature did not really mean to do this when it gave the mayor the power to appoint the Chancellor and most of the Board of Education at will. Thus, city voters should not be able to decide on class size policy, since only the Board of Education (now the rubberstamp Panel on Educational Policy) and the Chancellor can make these decisions, and they derive all their authority from the State – not the Mayor, even though he can fire them at any time.

In support of this unconvincing claim, the decision quotes the Assembly’s written statement at the time of the change in governance, saying that there will remain a “balance of authority” and “a meaningful role for the city board,” now the rubberstamp Panel on Educational Policy. Yet at the time, this statement was nothing more than a fig leaf, and since then, it has been shown to be a complete fiction. From the moment that Mayoral control was adopted, there has been no counterbalancing authority, no system of checks and balances, and if Judge Stone’s decision stands on appeal, the Mayor will continue to wield almost dictatorial powers until and unless the State Legislature makes it clear that it should be otherwise.

Strangely enough, the Mayor’s continued ability to exert almost unlimited control is based upon the legal fiction that he doesn’t possess authority at all when it comes to our schools, a claim which anyone who follows the cell phone debate knows is ridiculous -- because otherwise, city voters could restrict his actions.

Another argument the Judge makes is that since the Legislature acted to change school governance without a “home rule message”, that is, without the consent of the City Council, which is required in any change in laws that affect the affairs of a local government, this proves that the adoption of Mayoral control did not delegate state power over education to the City.

Makes your head spin, doesn’t it? I’m happy to forward the decision itself to anyone who’d like to read it. The city’s written response, late Friday, was as follows:

“While no one disputes that smaller class size is a highly desirable
goal, this referendum simply wasn’t a sound way to get there. Judge
Stone’s decision recognizes that, while recent changes in the State’s
Education Law have given the Mayor greater political accountability for
the performance of the City’s education officials, as a legal matter,
education remains a State function. The Chancellor and the Department
of Education are the local officials responsible for administering the
educational system on a day-to-day basis in New York City.”

Yet the reality is that the Mayor and the Chancellor continue to dispute that smaller classes are a desirable goal, through their actions and noncompliance with state law.

The Judge didn’t mention that though education may remain a core state issue everywhere in the state, this doesn’t prevent elected school boards elsewhere from being allowed to budget for smaller classes for their schools if they so choose. Nor does the decision deal with the fact that it is the Mayor who prepares the education budget each year, not the Chancellor, with separate amounts allocated for everything but class size reduction – so how class size and other educational policies could be out of his control is difficult to comprehend.

Let’s pray that the Appellate Court and/or the Court of Appeals overturns this decision, which is based on a politically convenient fiction for the Mayor, who can exert complete control over our schools when it suits him, but then legally discounts any such authority when it might allow others, including city voters, to have a voice in educational policy. The Daily News summaries of the events on Thursday and the Court’s decision follow.


Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Home Depot HS

This weekend I decided to partake in the most dreadful task I find myself doing each spring, re-finishing my deck. I power-washed the old layers of sealer off the deck, and went to go buy stain, a roller head, and a pan for the stain (note: I didn’t buy into any of the pre-conditioners all the manufactures suggest). I asked several different people where I should go to get these materials; everyone looked at me like I was from Mars and replied, “Home Depot.”

I have a long history with the Depot. I worked there in college, my mother worked there for 15 years and my brother is still a part-time employee.

Everyone knows that Home Depot is the place to go for any home repair need, but everyone will also admit they hate going there. (At least on LI, I’ve heard the experience is different out of state).

I went to Home Depot, shopped for over an hour. The process was very impersonal. The employees were stuck in their department and no one could answer my questions as to which stain was best for me. There were hundreds of choices to make while in the aisle of stain. Anyone, even people who hate Home Depot, know they have everything. It can be daunting even for a former employee.

The store was crowded. This was not a shock because it was a beautiful Sunday morning, a perfect day for a do-it-yourself-project. After an hour of moving from department to department I went to cash out. The lines for the cashiers were ridiculous. One line was moving quite fast, although you had to have a commercial credit card to move through that line.

I have no patience with what I perceive as incompetent adults (as everyone who has ever worked with me knows) and I gave up. Although my cart was full I left the store. Leaving the full cart behind, I drove (at over $3 a gallon) five miles down the road to a smaller hardware store.

I then walked into the small hardware store. The whole experience lasted no more than 10 mins. I bought everything I needed. Received immediate help (with a smile) and was on my way home. They didn’t have every type of stain imaginable, but the one I picked looks great. All together I spent around $20 more than I would have at Home Depot. I got something out of it. Remember I left Home Depot empty handed.

OK why am I writing about this on the blog?

Well as I am always obsessed with educational philosophy I began to think of the frustrating impersonal experience I encountered at the hardware superstore and compared it to how students in a large NYC Public HS must feel. The schools are overcrowded, there is little connection between departments, there are many choices but unless you have AP classes (commercial account) there is little guidance. Frustrated students (carts full) are leaving without their intended goal (a diploma).

The small store experience was what I know the small school experience is like. I was genuinely welcomed, I got what I needed. My questions were answered and the employees were sure my cart was full. Small schools like the product in the small store did cost a little more however the frustration level was absent.

If I had to go to Home Depot HS everyday I would join the huge number of American high school students and drop out too.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Question of Accountability

After having a discussion around the standarized tests slated to be doled out to schools every 6-8 weeks and teachers expressing concerns, one teacher asked me:

If we don’t use standardized testing, how can we address calls for accountability?

If we don’t use standardized testing, holding schools accountable admittedly becomes a challenge. However we only need to look at successful schools that have not used standardized tests.

We are not reinventing the wheel by deciding to use the research of progressive educators to create an environment where everyone has a chance to excel. Take for example the work of Deborah Meyer at Central Park East. As principal she created an environment where the personalization of the work was evident in their exit portfolios. Teachers wrote one page summaries for each student as they finished each class. A typical student graduated with a narrative of their career and their progress over thirty pages long. This was a much more accurate assessment of the students work than the typical three hour test.

There is also a Consortium High Schools for New York City, with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they have successfully petitioned the state to be exempt from standardized tests. The Board of Regents (lead by Tom Sobel) gave them waivers based on their desire to effectively pursue a project based educational program. Tests will never be an accurate measure of accountability.

Tests when standardized across the nation or state inherently have as their goal to reproduce the society which they deem "standard". Successful members our “the standard” society will inherently produce children well versed in the code of standardization. You only need to look at the socioeconomic status of “successful” schools to see that this is clearly the case. Members outside "the standard” will never do as well on these tests. Perpetuating this inequality seems to be Kozol’s and America's biggest problem with testing.

I think the real question we should be asking is:

Why is it so commonly held that standardized testing is a way to hold schools accountable?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Small Support for Small Class Size?

What happened? If we want to "Make Change Happen" we need to actively get involved in attempts at real school reform. We need to get information on how to get involved. When we sit idely by and watch others try to solve our problems we do more harm than good. YES OUR PROBLEMS... QHST needs to reduce class size just like every other HS in the city. If we care about our students then we care about this issue. Every teacher knows that smaller class size would most definitely improve the academic achievement of their students.

Click HERE to find out what more we can do.

Members of the UFT joined together today to picket and get out the information to the public as to how they could best use the money slated for smaller class size to actually go to reducing class size.

The opposition to smaller class size is growing. (Floridia's Jeb Bush is leading the charge)

Where were we on this? What happened? If anyone hears of Union Activity that we are able to get involved in please let me know. Post a comment or email me .

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Small Honors

On Wednesday May 10th, the Montessori Small Learning Community held its first honors awards assembly for it graduating seniors. It was moving. For the first time I actually knew everyone on the stage. I can honestly say that. When I graduated I knew 3/4 of the people on the stage. There were teachers I never had, and students I never spoke with. We were not a family. We were just a bunch of 17 year olds who got through school together. We never truely attended together.

Ok I have to say this... "I'm jealous" I wish I had the experience these students have had. They are known. They are a family. So many adults who have a true concern for them surround them.

Nancy gave the closing remarks, which I personally found inspiring:

"To the parents, I would like to say- you made it!! I know kindergarten graduation seems like yesterday, and the teenage years can be rough, but here you are and they are off the college. You have done your jobs so well and have much to be proud of. Your sons and daughters are a reflection of your decency and generosity and goodwill. Thank you for entrusting them to us. It has been a privilege.

To my colleagues, look around and know that ours is a profession filled with meaning and purpose. On evenings such as this we come together to celebrate our successes, but the truth is that each day is a reason to celebrate. Through our students we effect the future, and thereby change the world, all while getting to spend our days among teenagers who keep us young, make us laugh and remind us that we all have much to learn—not bad work if you can get.

And now to the graduates; congratulations, though the time has passed quickly, you have grown so much in these past three years. In essence, you have been the seniors in this building since you arrived, and you have always lived up to that charge. Whether you were asked to be leaders, or team members or mentors, you have risen to the occasion. We are all proud to place the legacy of being our first graduating class in your hands.

But legacies are not enough to build a future; building a future will demand of you the courage and faith to face a sometimes-uncertain world; the dedication and passion to achieve your goals, and the humor and fortitude necessary to meet challenges with confidence. I have seen all of these qualities in you, so I believe in your capacity for success.

As this ceremony comes to a close, and since this is the Honors ceremony let me leave you with a new charge:"

"Remember your value, aspire to your greatness and live your life with honor."
Thank you Nancy for these words.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Regents Exam Forgot 1954

As I the read the following article I was quick to assume the student mentioned just didn't want to take the test. (Actually I read it while meeting with several other social studies teachers yesterday after school) We all originally thought this was some sort of "sour grapes" over a poor regents exam grade. However upon a further reading of the brief article we were impressed that the student not only passed the regents exam, but also answered the questions correctly that she perceived as inappropriate.

This student knows how to play the game and is not afraid to stand up for what she believes. I admire her actions. We could all learn a valuable lesson from her.

On the anniversary of Brown v Board of Ed I thought this would be appropriate to share our thoughts around the following article.

The article reads as follows:

Testing boundaries

Monday, May 15th, 2006 Black students and educators are denouncing a series of questions on the most recent global history Regents exam that they charge were racially biased and insensitive.

At least one student - Chantelle Jones, a junior at Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn - said she was so outraged by the questions on the January test, she complained to the exam proctor.

She then ran out of time on the test's final essay, never finished it, and failed. She'll have to take the required test again in June.

"It makes me so upset," said Jones, 18. "It's disrespectful to me and my people."

The questions - which asked students to describe how Africa benefited from imperialism - were on a section of the exam that gave students historical passages to read, then asked them to describe the arguments made by the author.

The first was based on an 1893 passage from "The Rise of Our East African Empire," by Frederick Lugard, who, while working for the Imperial British East Africa Co. in the 19th century, helped colonize Uganda and other African countries.

On the exam, students were asked to read Lugard's account of British projects in Africa like digging wells and building irrigation systems, then to "state two ways British imperialism would benefit Africans."

Next up was a passage from Lugard's "The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa," from 1922. It described British efforts to end the slave trade and reduce famine and disease.

"We are endeavoring ... to teach the native races to conduct their own affairs with justice and humanity, and to educate them alike in letters and in industry," Lugard wrote.

Students were asked to name "two ways the British improved the lives of Africans."

"This is just beyond the pale," said Esmeralda Simmons, the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.

"It's basically asking students of African descent, and all students, to justify European or British imperialism as if Africans were either culturally or genetically inferior," added Simmons, who sent a formal letter of protest to the Regents.

Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state Education Department, noted that the test was put together by educators of "diverse backgrounds."

But he added the Lugard portion of the exam "should have been worded in a way that clearly instructed students to respond based on the perspective of the author."

Still, he said, "In order to teach history, we have to use passages that reflect history's reality. ... Kids have to learn the skills of historical analysis, which includes the ability to investigate different and competing interpretations of the theories of history."

But that argument doesn't fly with Brian Favors, who teaches a course on slavery and counts Jones among his students.

He called the questions, "very racist," adding: "It's the equivalent of asking a Jewish child to state two ways the Holocaust benefited Jews."

Favors is a member of Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, which is sponsoring a rally to "end institutional racism" on Wednesday - the 52nd anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. The rally will be at the city Education Department.
Simmons said she wants to see the Regents void students' answers on the controversial questions.

That wouldn't help Jones, though - she said she answered those questions correctly.
"I picked something out of all those lies and put it down," she said. "I was kind of sarcastic with my answer. I let it be known to whoever was grading the exam that I was upset, but I had to pass the exam."

Monday, May 15, 2006


On the weekends I work at a small Italian restaurant on Long Island. The food is decent. The customers on a Saturday night are all the same. They sit at the same table and they often order the same meals. (we have an established set of protocols)

The wait staff is made up of five people of whom three are teachers. Considering the lucrative field of education, its not surprising that teachers moonlight. But what is so attractive to working at a restaurant?

I think waiting tables is a lot like teaching. The dinning room is like our classroom. The specials decided by the kitchen are the mandated standards. Our job is to facilitate a meal. Sometimes I have to adapt my presentation of the specials for the visually impaired and the hard of hearing. Sometimes I have reluctant customers. Sometimes customers bring baggage from home and admittedly often I bring my own baggage. Usually the customers are respectful. Often times they are not. (IEPs of dinning)

I have to deal with many personalities and various demands of each table. Sharing appetizers is definitely group work. Members at tables often help each other out. (cooperative grouping)

The wait staff pools our tips. We help each other out. We respect each other and at the end of each night we sit and eat a meal together. (interdisciplinary teaming)

There is no exam, but each table leaves well fed. (project-based learning)

author's thought this blog was supposed to be about QHST ....Well its the morning after Mother's Day. The resaurant was crazy last night. I'm tired and had no time to read anything yesterday.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Less is More

After reading the NY Times article , G.O.P. Lawmakers Deal a Setback to Governor Bush in Florida, I came to realize that NYC taxpayers and parents need to value the education of their children the way the voters in Florida do. I admire the initiative of the people of Florida. The parents and teachers in Florida want smaller class sizes, but their governor claims it will cost too much. Who gets to ultimately make this choice, voters and taxpayers or the governor?

“A definitive study put out by the US Department of Education recently looked at the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools across the nation, as measured by their performance on the national NAEP exams. The sample included at least 50 schools in each state, including those from large and small, urban and rural, affluent and poor areas. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor that was found to be correlated with higher student success as measured by test scores was class size not school size, not teacher qualifications, nor any other variable that the researchers could identify.“ (

What cost are we talking about? How much will it cost when we do not live up to the responsibility of educating our young? It is already costing too much not to fix the class size problem?

An excerpt from the NY Times article reads:

“Class sizes in Florida were limited in 2002 by a ballot initiative that was approved by voters and supported by teachers' unions. The law calls for gradually cutting class sizes by 2010 to 18 students in kindergarten through third grade; 22 students in fourth grade through eighth grade, and 25 in high school.

While running for re-election in 2002, Mr. Bush made the class size issue central to his platform, warning that it would cost billions of dollars to build schools and hire teachers to comply with the limits.

He has since tried repeatedly to offer enticements to eliminate the limits, tying the plan to teacher salary increases and to a requirement that school districts direct at least 65 percent of their money toward classroom spending. The amendment most recently defeated would have raised the class size limits by five students, among other changes.”

I am constantly receiving emails about rallies in Albany held to limit class size. I usually disregard them as wishful thinking. Unfortunately until now I was in the dark that we could actually do something about this. I can’t believe I teach civics and have been sitting back thinking I do not have a voice.

We are so lucky to have the opportunity to teach children. Finally we have the chance to do it right. Classes would perform much better with ten fewer students in each teacher’s care.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I just recieved an email from a listserve I belong to.

The email states:

Are you aware that Chancellor Klein has set yet another new testing policy which will begin next year? All K-12 students will be given "mini tests" every 6-8 weeks. NO SCHOOL WILL BE EXEMPT. These test scores will be used to rate schools and determine whether a principal can remain at the helm of his/her school. Can you imagine the toll it will take on teaching? This is the final blow to teaching and education in this city. He has put aside so far $25 million to get these tests made and there will be much more money spent on this policy. There is nothing more important than our children's education which is being outsourced to the profiteering testing companies.

There will be very little teaching done in the public schools if this policy gets going. Our children will be taught test taking skills and very little else.

Tuesday, May 16th, there will be a citywide parent meeting (teachers and principals are welcome) to discuss a plan of action to put an end to this policy as well as to the excessive and high stakes tests already in place.

Please join us and call parents you know from
schools throughout the Boros:
PLACE: 317 East 67th St. (between 1st and 2nd Ave.)
Room 109 or the small theater
Jane Hirschmann
Time Out From Testing
917 679 8343

I did not write the above. This is the first I am hearing about this. I'm asking you, my fellow colleauges, to please shed some light on this? Is this information accurate? What is the UFT doing about this? If anyone has any information please leave a comment.

Teachers beat the Terminator

After reading this article, I began to wonder what the long term effect of this decision will be? Between this and the fact that SAT scores dropped an average 10 points, is the world coming to an end??

Read this article:

Two Setbacks for Exit Exams Taken by High School Seniors

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Weighing a pig doesn't make him fatter"

Students in New York must pass five exams to graduate from high school. In the mid-1990s, former state education commissioner Thomas Sobel granted 28 alternative schools (serving 16,000 students) an exemption from most state tests that permitted more innovative curriculum and teaching.

Last night, Sobel was the final speaker in the 5th Annual Distinguished Educators series held at Pace University's downtown campus. Filled with teachers just entering the profession the room was ripe with a feeling that standardized testing is flawed.

Sobel spent much of the time breaking down some of the finer points of the NCLB Act. He started by reminding the audience that the Federal Government's hold on education was almost abolished during the 1980's.

He congratulates legislators for recognizing the inherent benevolent ideas behind the NCLB. He holds that logically if the intent of the act was good, and parents and the public in polls support the act, then the act must be appropriate. He quickly responds to his own assertions though and challenged the audience, "Why then is there a growing uproar? Why the backlash from educators?"

Sobel's dialogue continued as he broke apart MYTHS that the NCLB are founded upon:

  1. Public schools are failing
  2. We don't know who is being left behind
  3. Setting standards will improve instruction
    Results are a matter of will
  4. We (as in all of America) know exactly what to teach
  5. Our measurements are accurate and fair
  6. Good education means good test scores
  7. Annual progress is possible
  8. The present forms of schooling will remain the same
  9. Whatever the problems schools can fix them
  10. The less you know, the smarter you become (further away from the classroom you are the more qualified you are to set National Standards)
  11. Academic achievement is all that matters

Current NYS Education Commissioner, Rick Mills believes that all students, without exception, should take every test. Mills has turned New York's public schools into one of the most test-driven systems in the US.

Mills has been battling the alternative schools--now organized as the New York Performance Standards Consortium--for years and may have the upper hand as the exemptions handed out by Sobel are set to expire.

Consortium schools now have the backing of the chairmen of the education committees in both the State Assembly and the Senate Education, so the stage is set for what might be test of Mills' draconian rule as the biggest test-pusher this side of George W. Bush.

Sobel continued with yet another list of WHAT DO WE (as educators) DO ABOUT THESE MYTHS?

  1. Emphasize depth as well as breathe
  2. Assess progress in multiple ways
  3. Reduce Testing
  4. Seek quality, not uniformity
  5. Hold all accountable
  6. Provide funding
  7. Develop teacher capacity
  8. Remember the longer agenda

For more on the NY Performance Standards Consortium see: resisting the tyranny of tests.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gate Keeping

Arter and McTighe in their book Scoring Rubrics in the Classroom, place great emphasis on empowering students with the ability to self asses. They seem to be suggesting that through a posting of clear expectations, the secret to writing or any skills based task, can be deconstructed into simple parts and tackled piece by piece. Students using rubrics can asses their level of attainment. Teachers are able to objectively look at student work through a specific stated critical lens. For a classroom of similar learners with similar tasks this appears to be a valid way to look at student work.

Kozol on the other hand in his Shame of the Nation seems to be a little gun shy to admit the ability to define or deconstruct “good writing” into six or seven simple facets on a rubric. He feels rubrics are only meant to check for specific aspects of an assignment. Knowledge and human understanding will never be broken down into seven simple principles. Being very mindful of falling into an oversimplification of cognition, Kozol warns us basically against missing the holistic value of student work.

As I was looking for an example of exemplary work that might not be valued through a Arter and McTighe rubric I immediately thought of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” poem. Even the title is grammatically incorrect. Using a well developed rubric Ms. Truth’s commentary on social injustice might receive a failing grade from Arter and McTighe, but Kozol would argue that the value of the piece goes way beyond the minimal expectations of a well defined rubric.

We can’t be too full of ourselves when we grade papers. We are no authority on what is good and poor writing. We must be mindful of becoming the gate keepers preventing the Truths of today from having a voice. Sometimes teachers ( myself included) seem to be too full of themselves as keepers of the knowledge and use rubrics as their swords in their crusade justify their hold on knowledge. Ultimately I think after reading both books I will find myself writing, “This isn’t what I was looking for ….,” instead of, “confusing, awkward sentence” more on the top of student work.

P.S. Lori Mayo shared an article around this very topic this summer if anyone has a copy I would love to re-read it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Make Change Happen

We need to keep a vision why we are teaching in a NYC public school. We are not here for the money. We are not here for all the respect we get at our HS reunions. Why are we here? What is your legacy? A senior for the Montessori community yesterday attempted to organize a demonstration on the 3rd floor to bring awareness to the immigrant demonstrations taking place around the city.

Prompted by an article from the NY Times we read in class two hours before, this QHST senior organized a small very peaceful show of solidarity with the 6% of our workforce whom have no voice in the decision making process in our country.

Later on that day I joined the marchers from around the world demonstrating in Union Square. I was deeply moved. I was also embarrassed that we as an education system, the true venue for social change, did not embrace this cause further.

I was proud of the one senior who took it upon himself to show solidarity. However as someone who believes in social justice and believes that schools are the true breeding ground for tipping the class structure of tomorrow, I think the UFT let these people down.

We need to keep our eyes and ears open for our next opportunity to join or create an opportunity to display our desire to "Make Change Happen."

What I Didn’t Learn in Grad School I Learned from Mom

The following reflection piece by Christine Brody really got me to thinking how much influence my parents had on me, and how much I will have on my own kids. Students learn so much from our behavior and imparticular our relationships with the world. After reading the following reflection we should each add our own advice we've heeded either from mom or someone else important in our life.

What I Didn’t Learn in Grad School I Learned from Mom

Christine Brody, English Teacher at the Queens High School of Teaching

As I complete my first year as a high school teacher, I must admit I have been spoiled. It’s been a wonderful first year thanks to my extremely supportive and generous colleagues, an accessible principal, my fabulous mentor with a PhD in Crisis Management and of course…great students. But I must also give credit to one other factor that helped me survive my toughest year ever—Mom. Let’s admit it. Mom knows best and as we are around young people for 6+ hours a day, I truly begin to feel like a second mother to my students. One thing Grad school didn’t teach me was that as a high school English teacher, Language Arts is often secondary to the daily events I need to prepare for. In a single day boyfriend breakups, parent divorces, and other complex personal issues manifest into attitude problems, behavior problems and other major classroom management challenges. This is where Mom comes in. Here are six gems she modeled for me as a little girl of which I now take with me into the classroom.

Be in Charge—“I’m not cool. I’m your Mother”

When invited to a party that spelled “trouble” my mother was quick to say no. I’d beg, “Mom, why can’t you just be cool this one time and just let me go?” Her response, “I’m not cool. I’m your Mother.” It sounds funny now but her point was well made. As a first year teacher, the temptation to be “cool” and friendly with your students may cost you control of your classroom. Don’t let things slide simply to win your students over. You will naturally win them over (like Mom) when you are fair, consistent, and you’re doing your job well.

Be Consistent

When my older brother got caught cutting in high school he was grounded two nights for each missed class. I knew this would be my impending doom should I follow suit. In Elementary school, if we got perfect attendance for the year we would be rewarded with a new bike. How would my little brother feel if he hadn’t received his “chromed out Mongoose” after enduring 10 long months of perfect attendance? Nothing is more annoying for kids than inconsistency. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t say one thing and do another. Don’t treat one kid different than the others. They have memories like elephants. They are always watching to see how you react. If you are consistent with your rules your students are less likely to challenge them.

Be Clear with Your Expectations

Don’t take for granted that your students know exactly what you expect from them all of the time. It’s very frustrating for them to be reprimanded for something they didn’t even know was wrong. Before you start yelling ask yourself, “Could I have explained this better?”

Discipline with Care

Even if I royally messed up I knew Mom would still love me. Before there ever was a “Nanny 911” my mom knew to explain to me what I did wrong, why it was wrong, and how it was hurting me. When a student breaks a rule of yours do not publicly berate them. They will be more open to learning their lesson if there is a private conversation between the two of you. They will appreciate this level of respect too.

Celebrate Accomplishments—Mom’s Refrigerator

O.K. I admit to this day, in my own house I place accomplishments of mine on the refrigerator. Why? Because we all need to reflect on the things we’ve done well. Remember that feeling when Mom put your finger painting up? We need to do this more in the classroom. One colleague of mine has created her own “refrigerator” cork board to hang her students’ work. Despite the fact that she is an English teacher, she celebrates her students’ accomplishments in all their classes.

Be Transparent—Never Say, “Do it….Because I Said So!”

Mom always made sense with her reasoning. She always took the time to explain why.

A major key to classroom management success is transparency. As adults, we would NEVER do anything just because someone told us to. We want our students to ask why. Share your objectives with your students. Be clear why you’re doing an activity. They view their time as valuable as you view yours.

These are some lessons I learned as a child. Now she instructs me to take my vitamins, eat well, and get lots of sleep—more good advice.

Post your comments below...share your wisdom of experience.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Galeno's Reflection on Top 100 High Schools

After reading this post I whole-heartedly agree with Andrea. We need to teach to the highest level to everyone in the building. All our students should be taking academically rigorous classes. Usually looking at list of top high schools might seem to not foster critical thinking however in light of our possible tracking I think its a timely article.