Thursday, May 31, 2007

$80 Million.......well spent!

I was so excited to hear that $80 million dollars was being contracted to McGraw-Hill. I just bought stock in the company....folks this is the way to make more money as a teacher! Private companies saving public education once again.

"Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced yesterday that the city school system would spend $80 million over five years on a battery of new standardized tests to begin this fall for most of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students....

The test results will not be used for decisions on promoting teachers, whether they should be granted tenure, or how to grade schools, Mr. Klein said at an afternoon news conference. He called them a way to spot students who are falling behind."


What do parents think of small schools?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Out with the Old

Our antiquated approach to teaching science must go.

printer-friendly version
by Leon Lederman

I am a research physicist who has spent the past ten years working to improve the teaching and learning of science in programs for students from kindergarten through community college. I've visited a wide range of sites, from inner city, poverty-dominated schools to a public school for the gifted where the students live on campus for three years.

A scientist may be a highly experienced teacher but is rarely an educator, comfortable in the world of summative assessments, or in the complex interactions of educational systems that include parents, teachers, unions, school boards, city and state educational officers, legislators, textbook publishers, and schools of education -- and, oh, yes, students.

However, about twelve years ago, my colleagues and I began to focus on the fact that a vast majority of public high schools are teaching science using a curriculum developed in the nineteenth century. This threadbare approach follows a sequence, designed by a national commission in about 1890, in which students study biology first, then chemistry, and then physics in eleventh or twelfth grade -- if at all. More than a hundred years ago, this was a plausible sequence justified by the notion that the study of physics requires a higher level of mathematics than biology does. In 2006, however, this is an absurd line of reasoning that ignores all the revolutionary progress these core disciplines acquired during the twentieth century.

Today, we know that the disciplines follow a natural hierarchy. Think of it as a pyramid: The base is mathematics, which does not rest on or need any of the other disciplines. But physics, the next layer of the pyramid, relies heavily on the science of numbers -- so much so that physicists have, in desperation, invented subbranches of mathematics.

Above physics sits chemistry, which requires physics for the explanation of all chemical processes. For example, the periodic table of the elements, displayed worldwide in billions of classrooms, is really a tabulated structure of atoms. Because everything is made of atoms, some sense of their structure and function should be part of early science learning. The fundamental chemical laws of compound formation find their explanation in the laws by which atoms combine to make molecules. When the molecules studied are sufficiently complex, we are verging into molecular biology.

The discoveries of quantum science in the 1920s, and of the structure of DNA in the 1950s, established the key connections between the disciplines and demonstrated a crucial element of how science works. Thus, the reversal of a sequence for studying science is long overdue. Yet, except for a small number of prescient institutions, the vast majority of high schools still teach biology in ninth grade, followed by chemistry, followed by physics. In this crazy conformity to nineteenth-century curricula, the biology is descriptive, full of complex Latin words that must be memorized, and is of little use in the sciences that follow.

Changing the sequence, however, is only the first step in creating a twenty-first-century curriculum. Ninth-grade physics must be taught without the usual emphasis on algebra. This does not mean mathematics is not important; an essential element of conceptual physics is for students to learn why and how mathematics empowers the learner. However, grasp of concepts is key, and the use of these concepts in chemistry and biology is promised. The broad application of such laws as those of motion and gravity is also a feature that is natural to physics and very difficult in ninth-grade biology.

The deep connections between disciplines imply a profound change in professional development as well. I suggest that an estimated 20 percent of teachers' time should be devoted to collegial interaction devoted to creating new learning strategies. Part of this discussion should focus on the need for storytelling. Using narrative makes it possible to explore science more fully: how it works, how it doesn't work, the nature of science, some of its history, and something about who does it and how it is done. This approach will reduce the content in each of the disciplines, but it is an essential trade-off.

The United States is unique among the world's nations in its absence of centralized educational management. We have 50 states, 16,000 school districts, and 25,000 public high schools. In the twentyfirst century, there is a crucial need for coherence in a national education strategy that will educate a twenty-first-century citizenry and a twenty-first-century workforce to maintain the economic strength and cultural level essential to a great nation. A revolutionary update of our antiquated approach to teaching science is a great place to start.

Leon M. Lederman is director emeritus of Fermilab, in Batavia, Illinois, and is Pritzker Professor of Science at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology. He has served as president and chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This article was also published in Edutopia Magazine, March 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Inspiring" quickly became the word that screamed out in my mind after participating in the Taylor Mali poetry workshop today . He used his intense passion and his keen awareness of students throughout the entire process to gain everyones attention. He exuded an air familiar understanding throughout the workshop that seemed even more genuine when he stood in front of the entire Montessori community.

Mayo and Ferrara deserve serious kudos for arranging this for the students and staff.

Keeping the passion in our relationship with education is always a challenge.

Taking a step back and reflecting on our time spent together with students and colleagues essentially allows for proper passion maintenance.

But as for now ...back to the rigor.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"RIGOR" and "BRAIN BASED" jargon

"But for education professionals, the lingo serves a purpose: it's a shortcut. Michael Klonsky, a visiting professor at Nova Southeastern University and the director of the Small Schools Workshop based in Chicago, said any field has its own technical language, which experts use to understand more sophisticated concepts.

"It's like a code language," he said. "It helps them be more specific."

Yet there are times when the terms become "stultifying," Klonsky said, or overused and meaningless. (Stultifying, that's not jargon, by the way).

The word "rigor," for example, is often used positively in education circles to indicate making lessons more challenging for students. According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary unabridged, however, rigor means stiffness, hardness, inflexibility, severity or sternness.

"Now, did you hear anything there that you want to do to your kid?" Klonsky said. "Now there's an example of a word that becomes meaningless."

Another example of academic jargon is the term "brain-based learning." Apparently that comes from research about how the brain works and how individuals receive information, thus framing how teachers teach, Klonsky said.

But isn't all learning brain-based? Somebody, help us, please."


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Autism Speaks

I received the following email yesterday:

Autism Speaks created a music video of the
Five for Fighting song, "World", which features
images of
children living with
autism and their families. It
is a truly moving video and was the work of Bill
Shea. The band is generously donating $0.49 to
Autism Speaks for each time the video is viewed -
the funding goes toward research studies to help
find a cure.

When you have a moment, please visit the link
below to watch the video and pass it along to your
friends and family. They are aiming for 10,000 hits,
but hopefully we can help them to surpass this goal.

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Study Finds College-Prep Courses in High School Leave Many Students Lagging


Only a quarter of high school students who take a full set of college-preparatory courses — four years of English and three each of mathematics, science and social studies — are well prepared for college, according to a study of last year’s high school graduates released yesterday by ACT, the Iowa testing organization.

The study analyzed about 1.2 million students who took the ACT, one of the country’s major college admissions tests, along with the SAT, and graduated from high school last June. The study predicted whether students had a good chance of scoring a C or better in introductory college courses based on their test scores and the success rates of past test takers. Only 26 percent were ready for college-level work in all four core areas. Another 19 percent were not adequately prepared in any of them.

“While taking the right number of courses is certainly better than not, it is no longer enough,” the report said.

Cynthia B. Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of the ACT Education Division, said she was stunned by the low level of accomplishment for students who had taken the core curriculum, which was recommended 24 years ago in “A Nation at Risk,” a federal Department of Education commission report that prompted widespread efforts to improve American education.

“What’s shocking about this, is that since ‘A Nation at Risk,’ we have been encouraging students to take this core curriculum with the unspoken promise that when they do, they will be college ready,” she said. “What we have found now, is that when they do, only one in four is ready for college-level work.”

ACT said 54 percent of last year’s graduates who took the ACT exam said they had taken at least the core curriculum. Those who did not fared even less well; only 14 percent were judged ready for college work in all four areas, while 36 percent were not prepared in any.

Yesterday’s report, “Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum,” is a sign of growing attention to secondary education after decades of emphasis on elementary and middle schools.

In 1999, Clifford Adelman, then a researcher at the federal Education Department, found that the strength of high school work was the most important factor in determining college success, more than the socioeconomic status of a student’s family.

The new report, which cites Mr. Adelman’s research, makes the case that many high school courses are not providing the necessary quality that he described.

“Course titles don’t matter nearly as much as what is taught and how it is taught,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, a Washington-based organization that works with states on academic standards.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

But where are the Tests?

The following appeared in Edutopia's online edition, I personally love the idea of a narrative at the end of the year for each student:

And the school's homework load? There is none.

"We have never assigned homework," Charles said.

Children do take work home, though, if they chose not to complete the work during the day.

"We don't give homework for the sake of homework. Homework has to be a byproduct of the day, if necessary," she said.

Trust is a big thing the school likes to promote.

Read the article

Monday, May 14, 2007

Advisory Visitors

Two weeks ago our school was visited by freshmen student government members from W.J.P.H.S. The visitors attended classes with select juniors and seniors. I always find it interesting how our own students view Q.H.S.T. and often attempt to listen in on the conversations. It is kind of a sneak peak into how we are doing.

Hot topic issues like DEAR, and Advisory don’t often arise. The one thing that continually comes up though is how “The teachers are all over us about our work.” It was amazing to hear a sophomore praising her opportunity to loop with a teacher who “annoyed her” but “makes me work.”

A Montessori junior invited herself into a discussion with Michael Tessler the teacher visiting from W.J.P.H.S. She enthusiastically shared her experience with the Saturday program and a video documentary she was working on. The visiting teacher was impressed.

Later after listing to the student’s lengthy explanation of her research so far. Mr.Tessler said, “Wow, so you guys offer honors classes on Saturday?” Impressed with the level of student inquiry and the obvious evidence of critical thinking, he was floored when I explained that the class was actually our replacement for traditional night school.

Later on my advisory met with the visitors to debrief the experience. After and ice breaker we centered our discussion on, “What does it mean to be from W.J.P.H.S. or Q.H.S.T?” Although the answers varied it was clear that size matters to both schools, teacher commitment was crucial, and a healthy offering of after school activities were essential for student engagement in school.

I learned much from the experience and was impressed how well our students can articulate their views of the school to others. (they really get it)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

School Based Option (SBO) Ballot

We will continue to use the professional period as Small Learning Community meetings. During those 3 one-hour meetings, teams may elect to work with other teachers individually to develop interdisciplinary lessons or with the CTT teachers or within their cohort. These sub-meetings will take place in the room that the team normally meets in. If scheduling permits, communities may be able to decide to meet as a whole community.

If you vote yes, you are voting to maintain the SLC as your professional period; if you vote no, you wish to select your professional period activity from the Circular 6 menu (professional period activity menu), which will be worked out by the Chapter and the Principal to reflect the needs of the school.

Monday, May 07, 2007


I recently received the following email from new teacher to our school, I think its important to voice our concerns and thoughts before a whole school meeting. Lets avoid what has happened in the past and be clear on our options when we vote.

One thing the letter did not mention but that is also up for an SBO vote is SLC meetings. I think we would be remiss if we did not weigh in on this either.

Would you be able to post something to start discussion about Friday's SBO vote? I'd like to hear opinions from all about the items we will be voting on. I'd like to learn more about the issues- for example the Special education Transition/IEP coordinator. What would the job responsibilities be? Is it wise to have three separate contact people that plan with outside sources. How will this position affect the CTT model?
Perhaps there is an opinion that I've not taken into consideration. I want to make an informed decision.
After looking through the DOE website I found what the role of a SETSS provider is supposed to be. Fortunately, in Montessori our providers have done an amazing job at keeping up with all their roles and responsibilities. Do we need to dedicate more time to specific, tasks? Is per-session available? I know as a history teacher I could use some help writing lesson plans.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bases Loaded (revisited)

This was originally posted on June 1, 2006:

Playing baseball isn't easy. Trusting that your teammates can accomplish a task that you yourself are unable at the time to assist in is difficult. Ask any pitcher who leaves a game with bases loaded hoping the reliever will close out the inning and not allow any runs. The statistics by which all pitchers are judged (their ERA) is left in the hands of one of your teammates. There is a level of trust that cannot be denied.

This situation occurred yesterday while I was coaching the undefeated boys varsity baseball team here at QHST. The starting pitcher trusted the reliever to save the game. After the inning was over the starting pitcher shook hands with his replacement and said, "thanks."

I think as a teacher I learned much from this. When teachers are absent from school there is a level of trust we afford our replacement. We hope that they pick up our classes and cover our assignments. As team members we need to trust each other. I trust the English teacher is working on writing skills that will compliment my global studies assignments. I trust that the dean and guidance councilor are looking out for the behavioral and emotional safety of my students. I trust that when I am not available my team will pick up the slack. When I have bad days (too many sometimes) I trust my team will ease my stress. When I have good days my teammates can trust me to help bring them up.

Good team members do not always agree, but they do always trust their teammates. Planning events without members present (of which I am definitely guilty of) can only be done with the understanding that the level of trust that we have for each other as professionals has been established. The team never takes the field without the catcher although they will definitely have a practice. We are not only out for the best of the students, but the best of each other. I trust that when I am not sitting with my team that they are out for my best interest. I can only hope they feel the same.

I have worked in other schools where the idea of professional colleagues was absent. It is not fun. We should never want to do anything to jeopardize our good fortune of working together as teams of equal professionals here. Be it your 1st, 10th or 20th year teaching we all bring valuable insight to the table each time we share our thoughts.

If anyone ever has bases loaded, and can't get ahead of the batters, and if you need me to relief pitch, I'll be there. I also know that my team would be there for me.

Small Hijacking

The following was written by Deborah Meier recently on edweek's blog. I think its interesting how ideas of reform can be hijacked by people with less-than-noble goals. I suppose this happens with all reform movements. Adopting some principles and disregarding others. Creating small learning communities and knowing our students should be a positive move to help our students. However there is also a danger in labeling the students. Or offering teachers an opportunity to reap the benefits of common planning time (SLC) and teachers deciding during that time to vote down SLCs. Are we staying the course set out in the original concept paper? Or are we getting comfortable letting others "Fight the Fight"?

Meier Writes: "On a rather smaller and humbler scale, the role I've played in both pushing and implementing the idea of school choice and small schools sometimes haunts me. Choice has been co-opted by those who want to privatize public education and as a means for resegregating by class, race, "talent" or "future vocations". Small schools, for some reformer, just means creating more manageable sub-divisions in order, I sometimes suspect, to make monitoring for compliance easier. It's far harder to be unnoticed—for good and bad—in a large school. But the story is not over, and both of these concepts may yet be turned around to represent reform practices we both like.

In today's culture, the closer our children get to adulthood the fewer adults they know well, and the less they experience the adult world first hand. We have largely abandoned the young to a peer and media culture that is built round only one value system: the profit motive. (I notice one of our respondents thinks this is precisely what's missing from public school—the profit motive.) I wanted small schools to reconnect strong adults with would-be strong kids. Only powerful schools in which adult life is robust and visible to the young can create the kind of democratic culture we need. The adults include the staff of the school, of course, and the families of the students, and others in the larger community—face to face, not solely through virtual realities. "

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Personalized Volunteering?

Students serve borough right

Wingate kids say volunteering's fun
Posted Monday, April 30th 2007, 4:50 PM

Principal Benjamin Shuldiner with students at the High School for Public Service
Who says kids are apathetic these days?

Students at the High School for Public Service in Wingate are living up to the school's name, logging an astounding 20,000 hours of community service since the school opened in 2003.

Each week, students volunteer for something different, such as visiting senior centers, visiting elementary schools, sprucing up neighborhoods and helping out in soup kitchens.

"I feel like I have been doing community service since Day One," said Ashley Morant, 17, a senior from Brownsville.
The students set volunteer goals for themselves each year. "But now it's fun," Morant said.

The most popular ways to raise money are concerts, basketball games and dress-down days - when kids who give money to charities may wear street clothes rather than uniforms.

"Students want to see these things happen, so they are positive, charitable events, plus service hours," Principal Benjamin Shuldiner said.

There are only 390 students in the school, so their assignments can be personalized, he added.

"We are exposing more opportunities and more ways to be involved," said Nirvani Bissessar, the community service director.

Sometimes their volunteer hours extend into the weekends. But the students said they don't mind giving up their free time.

"You are having fun while doing something good," said Gabriella Cuautle, 15, a freshman from Coney Island. "You're hanging out while helping people."

Mehwish Noreen, 17, a sophomore from Sunset Park, agreed.

"On weekends we can do stuff in our own community, so we are making a difference in our neighborhood, as well as in our schools," she said.

Many students said their volunteer experiences have made them more open-minded and taught them a lot about themselves and each other.

Quendrea Turner, 16, a sophomore from Brownsville, learned to "chillax" - chill out and relax - and be more patient.
Dazni Martinez, 19, a senior from East New York, learned to see people in a different light.

"I had to go to a soup kitchen," Martinez said, noting she felt uncomfortable at first. "But I realized that they were just regular people and that made me feel good to know that I am making a difference."