Thursday, June 28, 2007

No Longer Name Valedictorians

Keely Breen aspired to be her high school valedictorian.

But Vermont's Burlington High School made the decision to no longer name valedictorians at the end of Breen's junior year, stripping the 18-year-old of the title she would have had on June 15. Breen instead shared the top honor, graduating summa cum laude with her good friend.

"At first, it did bug me. I wasn't really happy about it," Breen says. "To enter high school with that as a goal and have it taken away from you, that's hard."

Valedictorians have become less prominent at graduation ceremonies across the USA, as competition has sent high schools searching for alternate designations.

Nat Harrington, spokesman for the Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District, says that's a positive development, because the fight for the title has gotten out of hand. "The student's mom comes in the first day of school to find out what her daughter needs to do to become valedictorian," he says.

Educators and students say pursuit of the top grade point average (GPA) has distorted the academic process: Students might transfer to schools perceived as easier; or they may drop enriching courses in music or arts to grab advanced courses that have a higher weighted GPA.
High schools in Washington, Minnesota, Maryland and Vermont are among those that have stopped naming valedictorians. Schools in Florida and Nevada are considering changes as well.
The Latin honors of summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude, used primarily at colleges, have become an alternative at some high schools. Others simply honor each student who meets a set of standards.

David Cordts, associate director of student activities for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, says choosing valedictorians "has to be a local decision" based on traditions, policies and practices.

"The competition is ridiculous," says Sage Snider, 17, a senior at Severna Park High School in Maryland. "It doesn't make sense. It's completely unfair for so many." Snider ranks fourth in her class.

"I went down this year because I took orchestra," she says. A fellow student dropped it to pick up a weighted Advanced Placement (AP) course.

Minnesota's Eden Prairie High School selected 24 valedictorians this month based on students with a 4.0 GPA. Next year's top graduates will be those who complete at least six AP courses and achieve a 3.5 cumulative GPA.

Amy Mellencamp, principal of Burlington High, says none of her students have lost motivation because of the new Latin system.

"I'm not feeling that (more honorees) is dampening anything," she says. "They want to be in those top categories."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Mile in Frank's Shoes

Not exactly a mile and not exactly a shoe (it was a couple of times around a ball field in a gym sneaker) , but thanks to all the teachers at QHST for making me feel like "I'm living the dream".

The past three years have been great. ...

Looking forward to the summer, I need a break.

Good colleagues and friends are hard to come buy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Assessing 21st Century Skills

I'm sick over Regents exams being the measuring stick of intelligence. By distributing, proctoring, grading, and giving credence to the exams are we only perpetuating the myth that they actually are true barometers of success? I am not sure if I can participate in the process next semester. Do exam grades translate into life long success? Seeing a sophomore cry in the cafeteria over the stress of an exam designed to separate her from society made me sick.

Below is an excerpted article that although might sound a little "Thomas Friedmenesque" is really the push we need to make in our school. If we are pushing project based learning and we are designing our own assessments we should consider changing our transcripts. Are we ready to make this switch?

"Between tasks in Algebra 2, Valari Jacobsen checks her grades in the class. Accessing her personal page on the school’s computer system, she sees she has a 71 percent in course content. She knows she needs to step that up.

But she’s doing really well in collaborating with her peers: Her score is 100 percent. And in oral communication, she has a 135 percent.

Unusual as it may seem, Jacobsen, an 18-year-old senior, is being evaluated on oral communication and on how well she works with other students in her mathematics class at Sacramento New Technology High School. Those interpersonal skills are among 10 “learning outcomes” students here must master as they progress through all their academic subjects. The outcomes are embedded in complex projects designed to build those skills as well as course-content knowledge.

The approach to learning is one response to national concern among policy and business leaders that teenagers are emerging from high school without the set of skills they need to thrive in college and the workplace. Some experts refer to those competencies as “soft” or “applied” skills. Some call them 21st-century skills." (read more)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Some NYC Schools are paying students!

Alfie Kohn in his book “Punished by Rewards” is warning teachers about the dangers of rewards being doled out to their students. He is proposing that the popular theory of rewarding positive behavior is only a contrived way of controlling students. We as educators are not doing the students any favors by rewarding or punishing. Ultimately he makes the claim that “rewarding is punishing.”

I am defiantly intrigued by Kohn’s ideas, but I wonder how they would fit into a classroom that is already preconditioned to search for praise by years of schooling under their belt.

Alfie Kohn needs to speak up about this recent NYC program.

Below I excerpted from today's NY Times:

"Cash incentives for adults will include $150 a month for keeping a full-time job and $50 a month for having health insurance. Families will also receive as much as $50 per month per child for high attendance rates in school, as well as $25 for attending parent-teacher conferences.

The city has already raised much of the $53 million it needs for the program, Ms. Gibbs said. The effort, which officials said was the broadest ever tried in this country to pay poor people to develop good habits, is modeled in part on one in Mexico."

Below is another link:
Daily News

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Teachers have POWER

Below is a link to a NYTIMES story I just read..... I loved the effect a little personal interest by a community of teachers has had on one woman's life.

Check out the story of Kathleen Murphy

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Young Voices Speak in Verse

In today's NYTIMES:

Published: June 12, 2007

IT was 30 minutes before the open microphone part of the show was to begin, and one poet was already nervous.

“I don’t feel like doing it,” he said, tugging at his shirt while eyeing the microphone.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” his mother answered.

“O.K., I’ll do it,” he replied.

Last Friday night, about 50 pupils and their parents were tucked into a corner of a Barnes & Noble store in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for Public School 321’s first open mike night. The students were there to read their original poems as part of a three-day fund-raiser in which the bookstore donated some of its sales to the school.

In a neighborhood known for its concentration of writers and editors, poetry nights like this may be the urban equivalent of the neighborhood car wash.

John Ellrodt, an educational consultant whose children attend P.S. 321, served as the night’s M.C. He briefed students on the protocols of poetry nights, and offered them a backward baseball cap or black beret to wear while they read.

“The Beats used to wear these hats,” he said. “As you get a little bit older, I encourage you to look them up.”

Mya Brady, a third grader, walked up to the microphone to read the night’s first poem. She began:

The owl books are boring

Nothing’s fun

Since Henry moved away

Nothing’s fun to play.

Children came up one by one, reading poems about the ocean, giant bugs and an older man named Tony who sits on the stoop smoking every night.

A group of adults gathered around a table stacked with books on money management, and one parent asked another if she might be able to volunteer to work on the school’s literary magazine.

“You don’t happen to be a graphic designer, by any chance?” she was asked.

“No, I’m an editor,” she replied.

“That’s good, too!”

After the children who wanted to come up had read their first poems, Mr. Ellrodt opened the floor to parents and teachers. Parents took turns walking to the microphone and reciting poems they memorized when they were their children’s ages, and walked back expressing amazement at how they were able to recall rhythm and meter from long ago.

“You see, poetry helps set a rhythm for how you live,” Mr. Ellrodt told the children on the floor at his feet. “There’s no doubt that the days you remember your poems beat the ones that you don’t, because the poetry you love sets a nice pace when yours might need changing.”

Saturday, June 09, 2007

School Vouchers

When I read this article I felt myself saying lets give it a try. I have never felt this is the answer but, the article was an interesting take. Can someone please remind me why I think this will never work? I know the line about too many voters raise my overly liberal ears.

ps. I also got a little uneasy with being lumped in with Haliburton in the last paragraph.

For the Children
By Carl Milsted, Jr.

Environmentalists want to reduce suburban sprawl. Progressives want to reduce the wealth gap. Conservatives want to teach their children traditional values. Libertarians want to cut taxes.

Guess what, we can do all these things at once, using an idea that has already been tested in places like New Zealand and Sweden: school vouchers.

School vouchers would have limited impact in rural areas and low-density suburbs. In the inner cities, however, the impact would be huge.

The U.S. public school system was designed for a different era, when people lived on farms or in small communities -- that were often segregated by race, class and/or religion -- and children walked to school. Because children walked and people lived far apart, education was a natural monopoly. And because the schools were small, and the parents of similar backgrounds, democratic management worked well.

Democracy does not work so well as the number of voters grows. The impact of each vote diminishes, so people have less reason to put much effort into making a good decision. Also, it is harder for those running for school board to get to know the parents. Power devolves from the parents and taxpayers to the bureaucrats and teacher’s unions. Furthermore, democracy works poorly where communities are deeply divided. Just look at the history of the Third World countries containing multiple tribes.

One possible solution for America’s cities would be to have more than one school district per city. Let each high school have its own school board, which oversees that school along with its feeder schools. Layers of bureaucracy would be removed, and each neighborhood could set its curriculum and standards of student behavior. Do this, and the city schools would have a chance at being competitive with the suburban schools.

But we can do better. There is no need for the school board approach in cities. Where children live close together, competition works! Implement a program of school vouchers and the inner city schools would become better than the suburban and rural schools. Upper middle class families would move back into the cities in order to have better opportunities for their children. Interstate highway traffic would lessen, as people move closer to work. Pressure to turn farms and wild lands into subdivisions would weaken.

Children in the slums could get a good education should they so desire. No longer would a poor family have to afford a nice house in order to qualify for a good education. The wealth gap would narrow substantially over time.

So, why aren’t progressives and environmentalists jumping on board this opportunity? Two problems come to mind:

First, vouchers raise the ugly specter of segregation. Some parents would choose schools based upon race, ethnicity, class or religion. This is a legitimate concern, but I think it is way overblown. Many inner city schools are segregated already, since people moved apart after the public schools were desegregated. School vouchers would likely cause a net reduction in segregation, as more people become comfortable living in mixed race neighborhoods. More importantly, ethnic minorities would benefit the most from a system of school vouchers. Giving inner-city minority children a better education would do more to dispel the remaining bits of racism than any amount of propaganda or social engineering.

The second problem is political. The teacher’s unions have been reliable allies to the environmental and progressive movements. Going against their wishes would be hard – just like it has been hard for the Bush Administration to go against the wishes of Halliburton.
Carl Milsted is a senior editor for The Free Liberal.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Early Literacy Assessment

Quiz them-- both orally and on paper
Listen to their retellings
Have them read from the basic sight word list
Select a variety of papers that demonstrate their progress in spelling
Administer and score an attitude survey for each one
Give them the unit pretests and prepare the end-of-level posttests
Prepare a cloze passage for them
See if each one can segment a word into phonemes
Take a running record on all of them
Review their standardized test scores
Make audiotapes of everyone's oral reading for the portfolios
Check with the reading specialist on the progress of caseload kids
Now let's see...seems like there was something else I was supposed to
do by the end of the week. Hmmmmm. What was that?
Oh. Goodness me, I nearly forgot.

Steven L. Layne

Thanks for the poem MAYO

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Graduation in Doubt

Five studnets were denied diplomas because their guests cheered too much!

"In Indianapolis, public school officials this year began removing cheering parents and relatives. At one school, the superintendent interrupted the graduation program in the gymnasium last month and had the police remove a woman.

“It’s an important, solemn occasion,” said Clarke Campbell, president of the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners. “There’s plenty of time for celebration before and after.” "