Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007's Top Ten

I guess it is time for us to once again reflect on our last year and get ready for the next. This year so many things went 'right' for me. Please feel free to add your own top ten successes.

1. My own son started Kindergarten.
2. My brother got married and had a baby.
3. My dad shot his second hole in one.
4. I had a quote in Edutopia Magazine.
5 .I had the opportunity to mentor a college student whom I taught in 7th grade.
6. I am in relative good health (well I would be if I lost 50 pounds)
7. I considered going into school administration.
8. I had an opportunity to meet with veterans, and create care packages for the less fortunate.
9. We built a train.
10. Our school baseball team had an awesome year.

Feel free to attach your own top ten.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Glen Oaks lockdown triggers outcry

In the aftermath of the recent hoax-triggered lockdown of a Glen Oaks public school complex, parents and State lawmakers are putting the city on notice that they want to be put on notice, when it comes to school emergencies.

On Thursday, December 13 teachers and students at the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and Sciences and two other schools, P.S./I.S. 266 and P.S./I.S.208 found themselves locked down when an assistant principal at the high school discovered a letter threatening seven students with death in his mailbox shortly before 2 p.m.

Police were notified and by 2:30, shortly before the normal dismissal time, the schools were "locked down" by police, who conducted a search of the schools, looking for a potential gunman.

For the next two hours and more, rumors were spread by parents unable to pick up their children, and by children secretly calling their parents on banned cell phones, as to the nature of the situation.

The schools themselves were virtually unreachable by phone during the crisis, as school officials reportedly attempted to place phone calls to numbers listed on "blue cards" listing emergency contact numbers for each student in each of the schools."

The following day, Assemblymembers Mark Weprin and Rory announced their intention to introduce legislation requiring the Department of Education to implement an electronic emergency notification system at all city schools during a public rally in front of the gated campus in Glen Oaks.

"The technology necessary for providing timely information about an emergency situation to every parent exists, and the Department of Education should be taking advantage of it," said Assembly-member Mark Weprin. "Every parent has a right to know what is happening in his or her child's school, especially if there is an emergency."

As it was, the most effective communication came from students sharing their forbidden cell phones.

According to one parent of an elementary school pupil, who asked not to be identified because she works in the school system, "I got a cell phone call from my son. He was whispering, 'We're in lock down.' I could hear the teacher yelling at the students in a very excited manner. I never got a call from the school."

Friday, December 14, 2007


I was impressed with how well prepared QHST was during this non-event. An ice storm outside, a vacation just around the bend, and students and teachers alike for the most part remained relatively calm during the extended class time. A letter from some stressed out students sparked a scare in our community that still has visions of Virgina Tech and Columbine dancing through their head. But the staff and students at QHST acted wonderfully.

We had practiced the procedure more than once before, all the teachers were well aware of the protocols that were in place. Contrary to what some have said to the media.

I was lucky enough to be in a classroom that had a radio, colored pencils, plenty of scrap paper, and a window. Everyone was calm, everyone was smiling, and of course everyone was happy that no harm came to anyone.

CBS report




Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dumb down class, asks principal memo

The following article is evidence of the danger of the paying for grades phenomenom that is sweeping the city. What do grades mean? This probably the result of passing rate reports. Is this an effective use of data?


Thursday, December 13th 2007, 4:00 AM

The principal of an East Harlem high school last month stunned his
staffers by suggesting they dumb down their classes.

"If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class,
then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities,"
Principal Bennett Lieberman wrote in a Nov. 28 memo to teachers at
Central Park East High School. "You are setting your students up for
failure, which in turn, limits your success as a professional."

The memo, obtained by the Daily News, urges teachers to review their
homework and grading policies, and reminds them that "most of our
students ... have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in
general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school
experience to our experiences growing up."

One teacher who received the memo said she and her colleagues were
"outraged," especially because the school is one of 200 where teachers
will receive $3,000 bonuses if their schools improve.

"It's like bribery," she said. "It's not the achievement. It's just
the grades."

Lieberman, a graduate of Mayor Bloomberg's elite Leadership Academy,
defended the memo and denied he was advocating lower standards.

"I pretty confidently stand by my words and don't expect my teachers
to dumb things down at all," he said. "The goal is to find where a
student is at and work with them from that point forward."

His school was in danger of being closed several years ago but has
bounced back after showing improvement on test scores. "Really good
things are happening here," he said.

Students shown the memo Wednesday were insulted.

"Why are they going to let some pass who don't deserve it? It's not
fair to those who want to work," said Estevan Cruz, 16, an 11th-grader.

Senior Richard Palacios, 17, said 65% of his classmates don't even
show up for school. "It's already too much of an easy ride," He said.
He estimated that only three or four of the 15 kids in his math class
routinely appear.

Teaching experts said he should be ashamed.
"I'm just appalled," said Deborah Meier, the educator who founded Central Park East High School in 1985 as an alternative school where, she said, "our expectations for all our children were the same."

Back when Meier ran the school, she said, "We would have used the example of the letter you are quoting as exactly what we were trying to fight against. I'm horrified."

Now a New York University professor, Meier said she's worried the memo came as a response to the city's new A-to-F grading system, which factors how many credits students accumulate per year. If more kids pass their classes, the school, which got a B this year, will get a higher grade.

"This is so wrong, I could cry," Meier said. "What's embarrassing ...
is that he could have put that in writing and not understood what he
was saying."

PS thanks to Joanna Vogel, QHST '07, for bringing this article to our attention.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What are we Testing?

This is a must read for every teacher. A research study done by the Educational Testing Service (the people who make the test) admits that schools have little to do with the test results. If this is the case, and home life has such a traumatic impact on school success, why rate schools based on exams?

From today's NYTimes:

THE federal No Child Left Behind law of 2002 rates schools based on how students perform on state standardized tests, and if too many children score poorly, the school is judged as failing.

But how much is really the school’s fault?

A new study by the Educational Testing Service — which develops and administers more than 50 million standardized tests annually, including the SAT — concludes that an awful lot of those low scores can be explained by factors that have nothing to do with schools. The study, “The Family: America’s Smallest School,” suggests that a lot of the failure has to do with what takes place in the home, the level of poverty and government’s inadequate support for programs that could make a difference, like high-quality day care and paid maternity leave.

The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools.

Which gets to the heart of the report: by the time these children start school at age 5, they are far behind, and tend to stay behind all through high school. There is no evidence that the gap is being closed.


A QHST grad has this to say!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Reward or Tool?

Mayo writes:

The Montessori freshmen team had an interesting meeting with a parent this morning. In trying to work as a team to help the student achieve success, the suggestion was made that the student be given a laptop. Without getting into the details, it was felt that the student might be better organized with folders on the laptop, and more motivated to get work done if able to use a medium he enjoys—technology.

In a nutshell, it seems to boil down to what school values and what the student values. Schools value a certain type of compliance. The student showed that he did not value what we were offering, and he failed almost all of his classes. The team was split on whether or not to let the student have a laptop. Concerns voiced included the notion that the laptop was rewarding the student for failing to comply, and thus sending the wrong message. In 2007, is a laptop a reward or a tool? We lag so far behind. All students should have laptops*. Why do we seek to “punish” students who don’t fit the mold rather than trying to change the mold?

*In a post I got from my friend Rich Kent, Director of the Maine Writing Project, Rich wrote that “all of our middle schoolers in the state have laptops. Now, we're on to giving them to high schoolers. All the Maine high school teachers received them in October.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

CUNY’s 6th Annual Technology Conference @ John Jay College

I was looking forward to attending a technology conference that included sessions on using Video Games in the Classroom, and online virtual reality site like Second Life.

I was so impressed with the non-profit group called the This organization is attempting to shift the current values needed to be adopted by participants in online video games. The founder’s goals seem to be noble. Tiltfactor has aligned their video games with values that the public education system struggles to instill in the youth of today. They have “tilted” single person shooter games into games that assault the public with messages of hope.

I can’t wait to attempt at using online games in the classroom. How many more students would be more engaged in the class? For example: If we read and article on our current immigration policy, then played the game ICED, only to ultimately take up and create an action plan in our school community informing others about social issues around immigration.

Games which have been the perceived cause of so many travesties in our youth could be used to create a cohort of learners that values diversity; works collaboratively, and embraces critical thinking. This is not easy, but non-profits are doing the work for us. The website are already out there waiting to be used by the educators who are willing to give up some control.

We need to catch up. We need to jump ahead of the curve. Colleges are waking up to these possibilities. CUNY colleges who were the predominant attendees seem open to the idea of this in the classroom. The positive attitude of amazing possibilities was thick in the air of the entire conference. It was hard not to walk away from the conference wanting to bring "" into the classroom.

But is this school? Well, if your definition is that school is supposed to create a better society then YES, the values these games tap into what drives social reform. If your definition of school’s purpose to create a viable workforce, then YES, this seems to be the way to go. The keynote speaker of the conference was the former three time governor of Michigan (now chief executive at a major manufacturing conglomerate) and he warned about how “not embracing the new we will slip into irrelevance.“

High schools are slipping into the realm of irrelevance, incorporating video games might be the answer.