Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Its always interesting to read this blog. I work for a very large, traditional, old fashioned high school in another city that is one of the top public schools in the nation.We have schools organized the old fashioned way- by department. We have numerous electives- too many to mention. We have tracked classes, and both an amazing gifted track and vocational track where students graduate HIGH SCHOOL with an associates in nursing, electrical studies, mechanics- never go to college, and make much more than the starting salary teacher.

Your idea for a high school always sound interesting- progressive, 'new', etc.

Is it the only way?

I received the above comment in response to the last posting.

This is always a big question. Is our philosophical bend the only way? The answer is a resounding, "NO'. But "our way" is a valid way to run an educational institution. In the grand market place of ideas the NYC school system, of which QHST is a part, has so many schools with different philosophies. Schools that track, schools that test test and test again, schools that have vocational training, schools that highlight the arts, sports, or new comers to the city. This is the biggest benefit to working the a large system. I am in no way saying all schools should be one way or another. I imagine smaller systems do not have the luxury to allow for such diversity of teaching philosophies.

Is it the only way?


Is it the only way for QHST?


I hope the anonomous commenter rejoins the conversation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Path of Least Resistance

I know change is ultimately good. It is what keeps us alive. Without change there would be no growth. There would be no progress.

When I was younger I used to have these ideals in my head. I thought that world hunger could be solved. I thought if you worked hard everything was going to be ok. I believed in a divine presence in my life. I thought everyone was truly equal. I watched the Berlin Wall fall and thought “wow world peace is right around the corner”. I watched the NY Mets win the World Series and thought “life is just amazin’”.

But then life got hard. At age 30 I just got tired. I started to give up on some of my ideals because it was easier than dealing with them. It became easier in my head to coup with life just believing that there just isn’t enough food for everyone. I rationalized that just because you work hard, luck has much more to do with success. Watching BBC News clips of displaced war-torn families pushed me to question my faith. I came to believe that world peace isn’t always in the US’s best interest. After 20 years of ringless teams I also came to realize that the Mets are not that amazin’.

When I came to QHST I entered a real culture that was full of idealism. School administrators encouraged teachers to be involved in school-wide decisions. Here there were classrooms of learners of different abilities all making progress. Here there was an encouragement of a reflective practice. Here students were placed in small dedicated learning communities. There were never going to be tracked classes. There were mixed grade advisories. The concept paper was understood by each incoming teacher and referred to regularly at SLC meetings.

But life is hard. At age 6 our school is getting tired. Are we giving up on the ideals too? Are teacher voices still being heard during decision making meetings? Mixed ability classes? It is easier to differentiate instruction when all the kids are learning at the same standardized test score level. CFGs? It is easier to meet for a couple of minutes at a faculty meeting rather than critically working during one. Cross Communities Classes? I assume its easier to program cross community classes. Single grade advisories? Communication between content area teachers and advisors would be easier, but would communication skills between teachers be any better? Tracked classes? It might be easier if all the level 4s were in the same class. Are the common areas too much freedom for students? Is it just easier to lock bathrooms on alternating floors for students? Would bells and hall sweeps just make the halls a hell of a lot more like school should be?

I hated turning 30 and losing some of my youth and idealism. Please don’t let QHST lose its youth at 6.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Helping Students or Hurting the Profession?

This is an ugly side of teaching. Especially when being asked to differentiate instruction and target the needs of students. When or how do we find the time to help the group we targeted?

In haste I opened a classroom up on the 5th floor during my lunch break. There, selected students, were afforded the opportunity to receive extra help. Lunch has evolved into something where upperclass students aid freshmen with math and writing.

Today I realized this does not solve the problem. Sure it is a "band-aide" for those few students. But the system of over burdened teachers does not shift or change. Ironically I became a cog in a system of educational neglect. School budgets do not have to allocate funds for teachers to help students one-on-one, because teachers are doing it for free. Why buy a cow when they are getting the milk for free?

Students who need more time, more one-on-one time to understand a concept, need the opportunity.

My haste apparently caused undo stress for my fellow UFT colleagues. I hope they understand this was never a goal of mine. Rather working toward fixing the problem I facilitated a broken system.


  1. Tell students the lunch time has been discontinued and sit in on the professional conversations in the faculty room?

  2. Continue to be of assistance to the peer mentors during lunch and ignore the discontent of my colleagues?

I'm genuinely distraught over this issue. I don't want to de-value the teaching profession. I also want to help the students I am currently charged with. I never thought these two would be at odds.

I welcome any opinions or suggestions.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hitting "The Wall" Early and Hard

Hello, QHSTers:

As always, my sincerest thanks for the chance to post to this forum. Your insight is always enlightening.

It's three years that our "brand-new" school has been in existence. We're still trying to find our way, and I guess we will be for a while. But, for the last three years, I've noticed that around this time, I have hit the proverbial "wall" of exhaustion.

I feel very overwhelmed. It just seems as if there is so much to do, and no time to do it. From creating portfolios, to the "assessment for learning," periodic assessment, gathering data, planning, grading, etc., there seems to be no time to get anything accomplished, and it's very frustrating.

In a small school, I guess it's to be expected that you'll do a lot, but how do you handle it all? How do you do what's being asked of you, and still maintain your sanity, and some sense of "life" outside of school?

Whatever insight you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps one element of training should be "how to handle the pressure of working in a small school."

Friday, November 07, 2008


Today during our grade level team meeting a discussion over a disruptive class of students and their behavioral problems prompted the teachers to look more closely at seating arraignments int he classroom. The question which is something our school is looking more closely at now is how does the seating arraignment in a heterogeneously mixed group of students look in a general education class? Are top level students dispersed throughout the class or are they grouped together to offer them more stimulating content depth? Are lower performing students encouraged to sit with students of similar skill level for teachers to have better targeted access to them?

This is a real dilemma of differentiation in a mixed ability classroom.

My question is this, are we providing enough ongoing assessment in the classroom to clearly articulate to our students that they are moving on a continuum of learning? Today they are here with this group working on this skill tomorrow they maybe moved. Or are we as educators from a traditional upbringing content with the validity of summative formal assessments that tracking students for semesters is more effective. Are the labels of High performer and low performer stagnate throughout the year? Does transitioning from ability group to ability group in a heterogeneous classroom help students and teachers see progress as ongoing? Does homogeneous grouping allow teachers to give targeted instruction easier?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fewer Children Entering Gifted Programs


The number of children entering New York City public school gifted programs dropped by half this year from last under a new policy intended to equalize access, with 28 schools lacking enough students to open planned gifted classes, and 13 others proceeding with fewer than a dozen children.

The policy, which based admission on a citywide cutoff score on two standardized tests, also failed to diversify the historically coveted classes, according to a New York Times analysis of new Education Department data.

In a school system in which 17 percent of kindergartners and first graders are white, 48 percent of this year’s new gifted students are white, compared with 33 percent of elementary students admitted to the programs under previous entrance policies. The percentage of Asians is also higher, while those of blacks and Hispanics are lower.

Parents, teachers and principals involved in the programs, already worried at reports this spring that the new system tilted programs for the gifted further toward rich neighborhoods, have complained since school began that they were wasteful and frustrating, with high-performing children in the smallest classes in a school system plagued by pockets of overcrowding.

“They took the knees out of a program that was working,” complained Christopher Spinelli, president of the Community Education Council for District 22 in southeastern Brooklyn.

[Entire Article]

Friday, October 24, 2008

As Schools Face Cuts, Delays on Data System Bring More Frustration

Apparently only teachers, and studnets are held accountable by Mr. Three Term. Outside contractors are held to lower standards.


An elaborate $80 million data and information system that was supposed to be ready in September to allow New York City public school parents to see things like which courses their children need to graduate, or how their test scores compare with citywide averages, has been unavailable even to school principals so far this fall. In its absence, 21 principals have used up to $13,000 in school funds for a more bare-bones data-management program that was developed by staff members at a Brooklyn high school eager to track their own data in an age of accountability.

The status of the information system — known as ARIS, for Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, developed by I.B.M. and a group of subcontractors — is touching a raw nerve as schools throughout the city brace for $185 million in budget cuts.

Ernest A. Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents the city’s principals and assistant principals, said that he had had “major concerns” about the progress and cost of ARIS, and that this had been the topic of “ongoing conversations” with Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

“For something that would supposedly be a resource for schools and school leaders, it really has not come through as it should have,” Mr. Logan said. “I can understand the desire to have something that is supposedly helping, but I’m now looking at the amount of money that we put into this thing, especially when we’re thinking about cutting back.”

One Brooklyn elementary school principal — who, like a half dozen other principals interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the Education Department, said in frustration:

“Principals are held accountable for everything, as you well know, but I.B.M. isn’t held accountable for $80 million that they’ve been paid for a system that they haven’t been able to get working?” A March 2007 news release announcing the I.B.M. contract described ARIS as a “first-of-its-kind data management system” that would “make innovations at one school available” to others, and projected that data would be available to teachers and administrators that September and to parents a year later.

James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, said on Thursday that the project was “proceeding in an appropriate manner” and “in the way we anticipated.” He said that parents would begin gaining access to the system in December, and noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in his State of the City speech in January, said that ARIS would be online by the fall, not September specifically.

Mr. Liebman said that 7,500 to 9,000 school employees, including principals, certain teachers and central Education Department staff, had access last year to ARIS, which at that point included basic demographic information, as well as data used to compile the city’s A through F report cards, like credit accumulation, attendance and scores on Regents exams and other state tests.

He said that the system was shut down in July for an upgrade and that it would be back online for principals by the first week of November with more detailed student information as well as interactive functions like blogs that would allow educators to share information about reading curriculums or innovative ways to teach first-graders addition.

He said teachers would gain access to the system in November as well, with enhanced capabilities allowing them to compare data for all their students.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Teachers to Be Measured Based on Students’ Standardized Test Scores


New York City is beginning to measure the performance of thousands of elementary and middle school teachers based on how much their students improve on annual state math and reading tests.

To avoid a contentious fight with the teachers’ union, the New York City Department of Education has agreed not to make public the reports — which described teachers as average, below average or above average with various types of students — nor let them influence formal job evaluations, pay and promotions.

Rather, according to a memo to principals from Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, sent on Wednesday night, the reports are designed to be guides for the teachers themselves to better understand their achievements and shortcomings.

“They won’t be used in tenure determinations or the annual rating process,” the memo said. “Many of you have told us how useful it would be to better understand how your efforts are influencing student progress.”

Still, even without formal consequences for teachers, the plan is likely to anger teachers and parents who are already critical of the increasing emphasis on standardized test scores as a substitute for judging school quality. It follows the city’s much-debated issuance of report cards labeling individual schools A through F largely on the basis of student improvement on state exams.

The State Legislature this spring prohibited the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions. The new measurement system — called “teacher data reports” — is an expansion of a pilot program that the city began in January involving about 2,500 teachers at 140 schools. The pilot program was so controversial that several participating principals did not tell teachers they were being monitored.

Christopher Cerf, the deputy chancellor overseeing the program, said it was important to get teachers “comfortable with the data, in a positive, affirming way.”

“The information in here is a really, really important way to foster change and improvement,” he said. “We don’t want people to be threatened by this.”

Entire Article

So let me get this straight, we are going to compare teachers using standardized test scores, scores are not going to be published, not going to be used in job performance evaluations, and not going to be rewarded with pay. Why are we spending money on this research if we are not going to use the results? Does three term mayor guy know someone with a compnay who has a contract in data crunching?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Data driven mistakes?

Roland G. Fryer Jr., a Harvard economist, has often complained that while pharmaceutical companies have poured billions of dollars each year into studying new drugs and Boeing devoted $3 billion to develop the 777 jet, there has been little spent on efforts to scientifically test educational theories.

Now Dr. Fryer has quit his part-time post as chief equality officer of the New York City public schools to lead a $44 million effort, called the Educational Innovation Laboratory, to bring the rigor of research and development to education. The initiative will team economists, marketers and others interested in turning around struggling schools with educators in New York, Washington and Chicago.

Backed by the Broad Foundation, founded by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, and other private groups, the research is intended to infuse education with the data-driven approach that is common in science and business, Dr. Fryer said. He compared the current methods of educational research to the prescriptions of an ineffective doctor.

“If the doctor said to you, ‘You have a cold; here are three pills my buddy in Charlotte uses and he says they work,’ you would run out and find another doctor,” Dr. Fryer said. “Somehow, in education, that approach is O.K.”

In its first year, the research group plans to focus on incentive programs, including controversial ideas like giving students cash for good test scores, an approach that Dr. Fryer has tested in New York since June 2007.

Each of the three school districts working with the institute will use a different plan to encourage high achievement, with researchers tracking the effect of each on student performance.

New York schools plan to continue Dr. Fryer’s experiment of paying students in the fourth and seventh grades up to $500 a year for doing well on reading and math tests. A separate Fryer initiative, which rewarded 3,000 New York middle school students with cellphone minutes for academic performance and classroom behavior, was discontinued because the city did not raise enough money from private donors to pay for it this fall.

Conclusive evidence about the effectiveness of such programs has been scant, and Dr. Fryer said officials are still examining the data on last year’s cash incentives. He said he hoped that the cellphone idea would gain traction in other cities.

Dr. Fryer said the new institute would be able to identify what works so that educators across the country could prioritize their spending.

“We will have the willingness to try new things and be wrong — the type of humbleness to say, ‘I have no idea whether this will work, but I’m going to try,’ ” he said.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Fellow Colleagues,


It’s me, I did it MEA CULPA! MEA CULPA! I allowed students to use their cell phones in my class. Before your gasp of shock, please read my explanation below.

My Senior Government class is engaged in a unit about democracy. The culminating activity is to put into practice what they have learned in the unit. Part of this is to lobby for real change in the school. In order to create their proposals they must contact all sorts of outside agencies, schools, and educational professionals. They are using their phones to contact and interview these individuals (who all keep educational hours and would not be available after school). The cell phones are being used for real AUTHENTIC work in a classroom; they are not calling friends chatting about after school plans.

I apologize if this seems like a rant but it is not. I am using technology in the classroom and using it at a level in which today’s youth must learn to use effectively. Is this not college prepatory skills? Is this not prep for life as an adult? Don’t they need to learn how to communicate, not in only in our traditional method, but in the brave new world they are growing up in?

“But Woolsey it’s against a Chancellor’s Regulation!!!!!” Yes, you are right it is. However, our former principal already set the precedent for using “taboo technology” in the classroom last year. He allowed my Global class to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge for a project on international trade. At the time he stated that if it is for academic use and limited to inside the classroom then it is ok to do so. Seriously, would Joel really drop the hammer on this type of educational experience? If so, what are we doing> Are we playing lip service to progressive education? Maybe so. I would try to find the answer for you but it has been filtered on our EDUCATIONAL computer network.

Next time I will be sure to send out a Community wide email, notify the proper authorities. My kids have been warned and are held accountable to keeping it the classroom before we started the project. If there was an abuse there should be consequences. If other students are asking why them and not me now we can explain it to them.

I would like to thank my AP for her support and understanding…you are my saving grace. Seriously, thank you!!!!!

Either we can fear the snake in our Garden of Eden or we can remember that:

“Do not limit a child’s knowledge to your own for they were born in a different time.” –Rabbinical saying

Thank you for your time and hopefully your forgiveness.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

City to Give $14.2 Million in Bonuses to Teachers at Schools With Improved Report Cards

Flawed report cards mean big bucks for some lucky teachers!!!!

Teachers at 89 elementary and middle schools will receive bonuses of several thousand dollars each, based on the progress their schools made on report cards released this week, Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced on Thursday. The bonuses, which total $14.2 million and will go to slightly more than half the 160 high-poverty schools the city deemed eligible, are part of Mr. Klein’s efforts to boost pay-for-performance programs in the city’s schools.

A dozen principals at those schools were awarded $25,000 bonuses — the largest ever given to school administrators by the city — for placing in the top 1 percent among the more than 1,000 schools receiving grades this week.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

CollegeBoard to Debut an Eighth-Grade PSAT Exam

Princeton Review's Kanarek, however, said eighth grade is too late to begin pulling together a college prep portfolio."Eighth grade is not the key year for college assessment. That's sixth grade," he said."

By Gale HollandLos Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 8, 2008

High school students already face a battery of standardized tests on their way to college. Now, the college testing frenzy is reaching into middle school.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, PSAT and other tests, plans to introduce an eighth-grade college assessment exam in 2010, a topCollege Board official said this week.

The new test would be voluntary, said Wayne Camara, the vice president for research and analysis at the New York-based nonprofit, who spoke at a college enrollment conference at USC early this week. But critics noted that the PSAT, which also is voluntary, was taken last year by3.4 million students, and said the new test would just boost the pressures for students considering college.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

In tough times for BREC, new principal looks for fresh start

By Patrick Hedlund

When students return to school next week at the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex, a new face will greet them in the halls of Chelsea’s largest public high school.

BREC’s newest principal, Nancy Amling, has been busy preparing for the 2008-’09 school year since it was announced at the end of June that she would be taking over at the beleaguered institution.

Her appointment came following a difficult year for BREC, which has recently come under scrutiny for poor grades, violence involving students, and divisions among the administration, staff and the former principal.

Amling, 51, formerly an assistant principal at the Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose, was hired on an interim basis by the Department of a Education and will be subject to review by the DOE and a committee made up of Rustin staffers in October to determine if she’ll keep the job. But until then, Amling is focused on righting the ship at Rustin and helping guide the school into a new future.

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be, and I’m the woman for this job,” Amling told Chelsea Now on Tuesday, a day before BREC’s freshmen orientation and a week before school officially starts.

Are Advanced Placement Courses Diminishing Liberal Arts Education?

By Paul Von Blum

At this time of year, thousands of academically accomplished students enter selective higher education institutions like mine, beginning their arduous journey toward bachelor’s degrees and beyond. They have stellar grade point averages, high SAT scores, and impressive records of community service. The vast majority also have completed Advanced Placement courses in high school, providing them with college credit and ostensibly preparing them for the rigorous academic work they will face as undergraduates.

Yet, my 40 years of undergraduate teaching in the humanities and social sciences, currently at the University of California, Los Angeles, persuade me that Advanced Placement preparation is overrated and may, ironically, diminish rather than advance the deeper objectives of a liberal arts education.

Friday, August 29, 2008

No Money and New Roles

The school year of 2008-09 will be very different. Our budget constraints will be felt this year. In the past teachers at QHST could go about their day either apathetic to the fiscal problems or we were sheltered from the outside world from creative administration of the budget. This will no longer be the case.

The same year that “Teacher’s Choice” is reduced 40% we are told that the supply line in the budget has been cut in half.

Another change is in the faces here at QHST. We have three new administrators. (actually the faces are the same)The principal and two APs have changed.
How will this effect our school year?

What do you “as a stakeholder in education” need from an administrator?
What advice would you give these new leaders?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in an elevator with 11 social studies teachers and being the obvious fat guy isn't fun. It was a million degrees. One of the passengers was "elevator expert guy". Every five minutes he would explain that we could just use our credit card to hit a release switch. One man was real upset with the doorman (William Gomes) who refused to call the FDNY. Apparently doorman are not allowed to call anyone... Its not in their job description. After several calls to NYPD, and FDNY we were saved. Sadia and Woolsey (the last ones on the elevator I might add), not me thank god, were insanely hot. Sadia at one point was pressing her face against the doors hoping for some cool air. The insanity of the heat was only trumped by the insanity of 11 people frantically calling 911 and not knowing the address.

I made it out alive. The first breathe of fresh air was overly welcoming upon the door s opening. The reaction of the FDNY (guys who go into burning buildings for a living kinda says it all...) ," Wow, its hot in there."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Support for Doug Avella Builds

To all those in favor of critical thought, You have most likely heard about the situation in the Bronx at IS 318. On May 13 six classes of 8th graders staged a boycott in protest to being forced to take another standardized test, one of over two dozen this year. They boycotted one of the practice tests. An 8th grade social studies teacher, Douglas Avella, was falsely accused of instigating the students to boycott, and he is already in the rubber room and likely to lose his job entirely.


Friday, July 11, 2008

iCOPE --- Student/Parent Union???

Former QHST hotshot Joanna Vogel shares:

"I know the changes that need to be made in my school to make it better but the power to make these changes is out of my hands." More than three-quarters answered yes.

Read the article

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Growing Pains

Feeling comfortable is not the pathway for growth. I’m not implying we as teachers should be uncomfortable but we should grow. Being uncomfortable sucks. Growth hurts.

I remember when I was six years old; I used to get these night time leg cramps. Even now as I write this post they send shivers down my spine. I would lie in bed, unable to sleep, stare and the bottom of the bunk bed above me, and inevitably scream out for my parents to help me. When I told my dad about the pain he responded that it was all part of growing up. According to him (and at seven this made perfect sense) at night my legs were growing. These were in his words “growing pains.”

Growing as a school community, expanding our network of educators, through people leaving to teach in other places and administrators moving on hurts. However in the end it is growth.

Ok I must admit the leg thing didn’t all work out in the end exactly as dad had said. I was in so much pain I figured I should be about seven foot tall. I’m only 5’7”. I guess I’m sharing this because my dad’s acknowledgement of the “growing pains” helped me finally get some sleep.

Moving on, growing, separating from comfortable situations and risking growth is never simple.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ruminations at Year’s End (or Proctoring Regents Exams: The Devil’s Work)

Lori writes:

One thing that I learned from being in other people’s classrooms is that many of us don’t distribute letters, like the one about cell phone policies during Regents week, to our advisees. I found stacks of them (why are we given so many copies?) in several rooms I was in. All of that information belongs on a website that parents could check; the kids leave them on the tables when we actually do give them out.

When I proctored in Lieber’s room, however, I found some more pleasant surprises. There was good material from both his SLC cohort group and his English class. I was able to swipe a few good templates. A good use of PD Day in June might be a share fest where people present some of their good stuff. We all say we’re not up for it this time of year, but many of us are already dreaming about the clean slate, fresh start, and new ideas by the time Brooklyn Queens Day comes around. I’m thinking about workshops like I’ve been to at NCTE’s annual conventions. Or even just something they do called the Idea Exchange where people photocopy lessons, units, ideas, etc. and you can walk around tables and pick up what looks interesting. If not, maybe the TI kids could do the conference that they used to do on a weekend, and present workshops for us along with reflections of their experiences. Thinking ahead.

As for proctoring, teachers need to chill with talking about colleagues behind their backs. Proctors can read, and most of us have told kids write in ink a hundred times only to see them write in pencil. And we’ve begged them to fill in every answer, but a kid that failed math all year and says he doesn’t have a clue what to do is not going to answer every question. Get over it. In general, teachers need to be nicer to one another. Especially to newer teachers and student teachers. We need to use our experience to guide not intimidate.

And remind kids to bring sweatshirts.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Book talk for July?

Ok well we have tried online summer book talks in the past with some partial success. So here is my plan for this summer. On July 21st we will start posting chapter by chapter talk around the following book:

Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching And Learning (Paperback)by Michael J. Schmoker (Author)


"Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives." – Richard Vacca (Quoted by Mike Schmoker in Results Now)

"Imagine. . .all students, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, having spent most of their class time in English, social studies, and other courses closely and carefully reading, rereading, discussing, and writing about the ideas in various texts. Imagine every student graduating from high school having analyzed and imitated excellent examples of adult writing and having written countless close literary analyses, essays, grant proposals, business plans, and position papers on multiple political, scientific, and cultural controversies-after carefully reading and discussing two or more conflicting documents on innumerable engaging issues."
– Mike Schmoker, Results Now (ASCD 2006)

N. Pugh Writes:

Leadership and literacy are my two passions. Over the years I have read much about both. While I have always felt that they are intimately connected, I have never previously read anything that endorses this. A short while ago I was handed Mike Schmoker's Results Now to read in preparation for my new position. To my delight, I find that this inspiring book puts literacy right at the heart of leadership (three of its ten chapters are devoted to literacy education). This will be Empowerment's focus for work next year and I fully expect to be calling upon a number of people at QHST to support this work.

In Results Now, Mike Schmoker challenges the reader to imagine a specific scenario (see above) then deflates the reader by showing the research. Research clearly shows that best practice, or Schmoker’s imagined practice, is not in place in most schools. QHST is not most schools. Much of his imagined practice is either in evidence in many classrooms here or is on the school’s radar for development.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Does QHST need SLC meetings?

At the heart of the philosophy of QHST are several key concepts. Structured SLC meetings, Critical Friends Groups (to those who are new to QHST we used to have these), Inclusive Mixed Ability Classrooms, Advisory/DEAR, three small learning communities, and supporting distributive leadership throughout the building are pillars in our school.

We just voted to continue having SLC meetings. We are staying the course.

But there is concern among some of the professionals in the building. Those voices need to be heard. Attempts at these conversation electronically have proved fruitful in the past.

"Maybe we need to have a conversation about why those 13 people wanted to do away with SLC meetings. " -Lori

"Good idea. I am curious as well and it may lead to changes in what is happening in SLC's that may not be considered beneficial." -Dierdre

Why are 13 fellow union members unhappy with our current structure? What are we doing to support these teachers? How might administration address this potentially philosophy changing vote in the future? How might QHST benefit from not having SLC meetings? How do SLC meetings change our practice as teachers?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The following article appeared in the NYPOST. Last night I was involve in a disscussion with teachers from the high school and teachers from other schools about this issue. The question that was possed was, "How are students, teachers, administartors, department officials, police and parents held accountable when something like this happens?"

By YOAV GONEN, Education Reporter

'Kids are talking about bringing weapons to protect them - selves.' - Parent Kenneth Martinez

May 27, 2008 -- There are plenty of reasons high-school students skip class, but fear of younger kids isn't usually one of them.

Yet that's what teens at Foundations Academy in Brooklyn said is behind the school's shocking 27.7 percent attendance rate on Friday, May 16 - when 195 of 270 students failed to show up.

Students said they've been living in fear for weeks after battles with middle-schoolers who share their Bedford-Stuyvesant building began spilling onto the streets and getting out of control.

"I'm concerned about my safety because they were threatening people with guns," said Christine Squires, a 17-year-old 11th-grader.

Her classmates described being jumped by hoards of friends and relatives of the younger kids both before and after school. Some claim they were threatened with knives or guns.

Parents of the teens - who assumed their days of taking their kids to and from school were long gone - said they've found themselves chaperoning their children because of the violence.

"Kids are talking about bringing weapons to protect themselves," said Kenneth Martinez, who kept his 11th-grade daughter out of school twice in the past 10 days - and who now accompanies her daily to the Tompkins Avenue school.

"I can't leave worrying that, God forbid, something's gonna happen to my child," he said.

Both Gary Beidleman, principal of Foundations Academy, and Kourtney Cole, principal of the Urban Environment middle school, declined to comment.

But parents credit Beidleman for doing his best to keep the kids safe - including procuring a yellow bus to take the high-schoolers to the nearest subway station after school.

Teens said the trouble started weeks ago, when seven Foundations Academy students were selling cupcakes for an AIDS walk in a lunchroom filled with Urban Environment students.

They said the younger kids began shouting anti-gay slurs, hurling food and, ultimately, throwing fists.

In the weeks that followed, friends and relatives of the middle-school kids were apparently recruited on the premise that the smaller, younger kids needed protection - even though several parents at Urban Environment acknowledged their school had been the aggressor.

"This is an ongoing problem with the junior high school," said the mother of a sixth-grader there. "There's no proper supervision."

Department of Education officials did not respond to requests for comment, and cops said they had no record of incidents with guns at the schools.

But with just weeks left in the school year and Regents exams coming up, the high-school students said they don't want to be forced to miss any more days.

"All I can do is hope," said one junior.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Is Teaching a Profession?

The following is an excerpt from an exciting blog for educators [ Leadertalk.org]:

Today marks the beginning of Teacher Appreciation Week. As I was writing a letter to my staff to tell them how much I appreciate all of their hard work this year, I found myself thanking them for their professionalism. The use of the word "professionalism" reminded me of an opinion paper I was required to write in a philosophy of education class I took when I was working toward my Master's degree in educational administration. The question I was asked to respond to was "Is teaching a profession?" That was back in 1991, and I was teaching 5th grade at the time.

My first reaction to this question was "Of course teaching is a profession. I am a teacher, and I am very professional in my daily work teaching children." I had a college degree in elementary education which I received from a well-respected teacher preparatory program, and I was certified by the state of Illinois after passing two different exams. Additionally, there is enough educational research published to fill a wing of the Library of Congress. The data collected constitute a scientific knowledge base from which teachers and their students will benefit. Teaching is a certainly a profession.

Then, as I thought about the question some more, I realized that there may be another side to the argument. The fact that teachers are unionized is the most glaring argument that teaching is not a profession. Teachers unions work hard to increase the salary and benefits of their members, and sometimes, they need to organize strikes or work slow-downs to get what they want. Also, professionals are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act which means they do not qualify for overtime. Conversely, non-exempt employees of a company typically do not require a college degree, and they receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of their regular 40 hour week. Under most teachers union contracts, administrators must pay teachers for their time after school or over the summer. Try asking a teacher to stay after school or work through her duty-free lunch in order to complete a project. You may get hit with a grievance.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I Know What You Did Last Math Class

ON school days at 2 p.m., Nicole Dobbins walks into her home office in Alpharetta, Ga., logs on to ParentConnect, and reads updated reports on her three children. Then she rushes up the block to meet the fourth and sixth graders’ buses.

But in the thump and tumble of backpacks and the gobbling of snacks, Mrs. Dobbins refrains from the traditional after-school interrogation: Did you cut math class? What did you get on your language arts test?

Thanks to ParentConnect, she already knows the answers. And her children know she knows. So she cuts to the chase: “Tell me about this grade,” she will say.

When her ninth grader gets home at 6 p.m., there may well be ParentConnect printouts on his bedroom desk with poor grades highlighted in yellow by his mother. She will expect an explanation. He will be braced for a punishment.

“He knows I’m going to look at ParentConnect every day and we will address it,” Mrs. Dobbins said.

A profusion of online programs that can track a student’s daily progress, including class attendance, missed assignments and grades on homework, quizzes and tests, is changing the nature of communication between parents and children, families and teachers. With names like Edline, ParentConnect, Pinnacle Internet Viewer and PowerSchool, the software is used by thousands of schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. PowerSchool alone is used by 10,100 schools in 49 states.

Although a few programs have been available for a decade, schools have been using them more in recent years as federal reporting requirements have expanded and home computers have become more common. Citing studies showing that parental involvement can have a positive effect on a child’s academic performance, educators praise the programs’ capacity to engage parents.

In rural, urban and suburban districts, they have become a new fact of life for thousands of families. At best, the programs can be the Internet’s bright light into the bottomless backpack, an antidote for freshman forgetfulness, an early warning system and a lie detector.

But sometimes there is collateral damage: exacerbated stress about daily grades and increased family tension.

“The good is very good,” said Nancy Larsen, headmaster of Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Connecticut, which uses Edline. “And the bad can become very ugly.”

At an age when teenagers increasingly want to manage their own lives, many parents use these programs to tighten the grip. College admission is so devastatingly competitive, parents say, they feel compelled to check online grades frequently. Parents hope to transform even modest dips before a child’s record is irrevocably scarred.

“I tell my son, ‘What you do as a freshman will matter to you as a senior,’ ” Mrs. Dobbins said. “ ‘It will haunt you or applaud you.’ ”

Depending on the software, parents can check pending assignments; incomplete assignments; whether a child has been late to class; discipline notices; and grades on homework, quizzes and tests as soon as they are posted. They can also receive e-mail alerts on their cellphones.

With some programs, not only is a student’s grade recalculated with every quiz, but parents can monitor the daily fluctuations of their child’s class ranking. The availability of so much up-to-the-minute information about a naturally evasive teenager can be intoxicating: one Kansas parent compared watching PowerSchool to tracking the stock market.

Kathleen DeBuys, a mother of four in Roswell, Ga., used to check her e-mail first thing in the morning: the ParentConnect alerts would fly in by 6 a.m. The subject line might read, “Claire has received a failing grade. ...”

“And I’d freak out,” said Mrs. DeBuys, speaking of her oldest child, then a high school freshman. “I’d be waking her up, shouting: ‘Claire! What did you fail? What is wrong with you?’ She’d pull the pillow over her head and say, ‘Leave me alone!’ ”

Usually the explanation was benign: there was an inputting error, or Claire had missed the class because she had been sick or pulled out for a gifted-and-talented program. But the family’s morning was already flayed.

“It was horrible,” Mrs. DeBuys said.

Many students, in fact, like the programs, which let them monitor their records. Their biggest complaint is their parents’ unfettered access. “I don’t think kids have privacy,” said Emily Tarantino, 13, a middle-school student from Farmingdale, N.Y. “It’s not like anyone asked our opinion before they gave parents the passwords.”

Entire Article

Friday, May 02, 2008

DATA and Schools

From A Schoolmaster of the Great City:

What the school system needs to understand is that its strength lies, not in the strength of the central organization, but in the strength of the individual school, not in making one school like another, but in making each school a distinct unit. The need of the system is the preservation of its units, so that each school can keep itself alive, wide awake, responsive to its people, easily adaptable, the best of its kind.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

School Campus Receives a Living Senator’s Name, Much to His Opponent’s Annoyance


It is there in black and white: New York City public schools cannot be named after living people, according to the chancellor’s regulations, the set of rules and policies governing the city’s school system.

But the regulations say nothing about naming entire school campuses — like a cluster of schools offset by lush greenery — for those who are still alive. Or, for that matter, for those who are living, breathing politicians gearing up for contested re-election campaigns.

And so, Monday morning, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced that a campus of schools in eastern Queens — previously known as the Glen Oaks Campus, and once home to the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center — would be named after Frank Padavan, a longtime Republican state senator from Queens who is being challenged for re-election by James F. Gennaro, a Democratic city councilman.

Mr. Klein, at a morning news conference on Monday, called the naming a “unique situation,” saying that the campus, which was years in the making and involved, among other things, the transfer of state-owned land to the city, “came into being because of the extraordinary work of Senator Padavan.”

“I’d be happy if other people throughout the city could develop options for us like this, be happy to name campuses,” he said. “I think it sends a signal that when you do unique work you get recognition for it.”

Mr. Klein was also quick to note the distinction between school and campus, saying, “We don’t name buildings.”

But Democratic politicians scoffed at the distinction, calling the naming ceremony a political act intended to give Mr. Padavan an edge in an election in which Republican control of the State Senate is considered critical to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s agenda. Earlier this year, the mayor angered Democratic lawmakers by writing a $500,000 check to the Senate Republicans, even though he has left the Republican Party and is now an independent.

Robert Jackson, chairman of the City Council Education Committee, said that if Mr. Padavan worked hard to create new schools for his constituents, well, that was his job.

“Smells political to me,” Mr. Jackson said. “Just say that you’re doing it for political purposes, in order to support the Republican Party, in order to keep their majority in the State Senate. Just say that.”

Mr. Jackson called the distinction between school and education campus “ridiculous,” saying, “Give me a break.”

Mr. Gennaro said he was “absolutely incredulous” to hear that the campus was being named for his opponent.

“It’s no secret that the mayor is the No. 1 supporter of the Republican majority, which he’s more than free to do with his own money,” Mr. Gennaro said in a telephone interview. “But when he starts naming city infrastructure after sitting elected officials to try to ensure or at least assist the Republican majority, then that is so over the line as to be completely outrageous and totally disgraceful.”

He called the distinction between school and campus “absurd,” saying, “If you’re naming a star, there’s standards, but if you’re naming a whole galaxy that’s O.K.?”

Mr. Padavan said he had worked to create schools on the former grounds of the Creedmoor center since 1998, when he proposed the idea to Rudy Crew, then the schools chancellor. The campus now includes three schools: two kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools called Public School-Intermediate Schools 266 and 208, and a high school, the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences.

Mr. Padavan described himself as the city’s “go-to guy in Albany” who helped secure billions of dollars for the city schools. Asked whether he thought the campus naming was intended to give the Senate Republicans an edge in the election, he said, “We don’t need an edge.”

“If you traveled around my district, I’d take you to Padavan Field, Padavan Way, Padavan Pavilion and a whole bunch of other places that have my name on them,” he said. “I’m grateful for all these organizations and entities who have put my name up on something that they were grateful to get.”



Saturday, April 26, 2008

Informal Style of Electronic Messages Is Showing Up in Schoolwork, Study Finds

As e-mail messages, text messages and social network postings become nearly ubiquitous in the lives of teenagers, the informality of electronic communications is seeping into their schoolwork, a new study says.

Nearly two-thirds of 700 students surveyed said their e-communication style sometimes bled into school assignments, according to the study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in partnership with the College Board’s National Commission on Writing. About half said they sometimes omitted proper punctuation and capitalization in schoolwork. A quarter said they had used emoticons like smiley faces. About a third said they had used text shortcuts like “LOL” for “laugh out loud.”

“I think this is not a worrying issue at all,” said Richard Sterling, emeritus executive director of the National Writing Project, which aims to improve the teaching of writing.

When e-mail shorthand — or for that matter, slang — appears in academic assignments, Professor Sterling said, it is an opportunity for teachers to explain that while such usages are acceptable in some contexts, they do not belong in schoolwork. And as the English language evolves, he said, some e-mail conventions, like starting sentences without a capital letter, may well become accepted practice.

“I think in the future, capitalization will disappear,” said Professor Sterling, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. In fact, he said, when his teenage son asked what the presence of the capital letter added to what the period at the end of the sentence signified, he had no answer.

The study is based on eight focus groups and the survey of 700 nationally representative children, ages 12 to 17, and their parents, conducted in 2007. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Schools are grappling with the language of electronic communication. At the Bank Street School for Children in Manhattan, Stanlee Brimberg has set up an electronic message board for his class. On it he posts nightly questions, assigning students to respond to one of the questions and then to respond to another student’s response.

“After the first night, we had to talk about whether they had to write the way they do in class, or whether it could be the way they do online,” said Mr. Brimberg, who is Bank Street’s upper school coordinator. “We decided that their response to the question should be in standard English, proofread, with capital letters, but their response to the other kid could be informal. And that worked.”

Most teenagers do not think of their e-mail messages, text messages and social network postings as “real writing,” the study found.

More than half of the teenagers surveyed had a profile on a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace, 27 percent had an online journal or blog and 11 percent had a personal Web site. Generally, girls dominated the teenage blogosphere and social networks.

Most teenagers write for school nearly every day, the study found, but most assignments are short. And many write outside school, on their own, although that varies significantly by race and sex. Almost half of black teenagers said they wrote a personal journal, compared with 3 in 10 whites. And nearly half of the girls keep a journal, compared with only 3 in 10 boys.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reframing Bullying in Middle Schools

The following article is dedicated to Dillon who was tragically killed in a car accident last summer.

“Loser” and “Fag” are scribbled on binders littering a classroom. A huddle of “popular” girls glare at the classmate they’ve chosen as outsider of the week. A broad-shouldered 9th grade boy shoves his scrawny, bespectacled friend of yesterday into the stretch of lockers.

Bullying—We know it when we see it. Though we bemoan such behavior, it’s almost as if we expect it from adolescents. Even educators rarely do anything about it. And when such incidents are publicized by the finger-wagging, tongue-clicking media, they implicitly blame the kids. ”Watch out America!” the headlines warn. Adolescents are brutish, evil, aggressive, and immoral.

Or are they?

Perhaps it is time we stopped pointing fingers at adolescents and look instead at the culture that has produced rampant cruelty in many public middle and high schools. Many of our schools are anonymous and uncaring. The average California middle school has over 1000 students, and many exceed 2,000. Classrooms are overcrowded, teachers overworked and underprepared, and buildings are falling apart. Bars on the windows filter the sunlight, metal detectors block the doors, and security guards watch over everything, their walkie-talkies crackling. More time is spent on discipline than on teaching. Those who make a mistake are tossed out, the result of one-strike, zero-tolerance policies intended to make schools safer. When schools operate like prisons, why are we surprised that kids behave like convicts?

We live in an era of educational accountability, when it seems like all that matters to political leaders is test scores and the catch phrase No Child Left Behind. But it just may be that our obsession with deciles and percentiles is getting in the way of the larger, more important goal of education—raising healthy, productive citizens.

Adolescents will not grow up to be caring and compassionate adults of their own volition. Kids are not good or bad. Kids make good or bad decisions. The trick is to teach our children to treat each other with respect. We can do that by infusing decency and compassion into everything we do.

Lessons from Bullying

We don’t have to accept bullying as a part of growing up. When the Los Angeles middle school where I work experienced a series of bullying incidents, my colleagues and I decided against simply suspending those responsible. Instead, we decided to take steps to change the school culture. We embraced the problem as a teachable moment. We facilitated a structured, student-centered discussion about their experiences with bullying. We did not view this lesson as an unrelated interruption in the academic schedule. Teaching tolerance, we decided, was as much a part of our mission as algebra or social studies.

We knew we had been successful when Dillon, the coolest boy in the 8th grade, turned to Freddy, a socially awkward, stuttering peer, and said, “When I first got to this school, I was fat and wore thick glasses. All the kids were mean to me, and I used to sit alone at lunch everyday.” Dillon went on to explain that Freddy suggested they to sit together, and it changed his entire middle school experience. Then, in front of incredulous teachers and fellow students, Dillon began to sob. And the room full of middle schoolers we so readily assume are insensitive, sat in a silent, respectful trance.

Later that morning, I witnessed students surround Dillon in support. Some sat next to him. Some stroked his hand or wiped his tears. Some were the very same students involved in the bullying incidents that spurred these conversations in the first place. Brutish or tender—we get the behavior we expect. It’s all in the messages we send, the attitudes we display, and the expectations we communicate. This scene is not pie-in-the-sky idealism. In fact, it’s pragmatic. It’s what you get when you teach kids, deliberately and explicitly, to care.

Later that morning, I witnessed students surround Dillon in support. Some sat next to him. Some stroked his hand or wiped his tears. Some were the very same students involved in the bullying incidents that spurred these conversations in the first place. Brutish or tender—we get the behavior we expect. It’s all in the messages we send, the attitudes we display, and the expectations we communicate. This scene is not pie-in-the-sky idealism. In fact, it’s pragmatic. It’s what you get when you teach kids, deliberately and explicitly, to care.

It’s time we reexamine our national priorities. We are focusing on test scores at the expense of meeting the needs of the whole child. Bullying is just a symptom of a sick school culture. Reading and math are important, no doubt about it. But it’s also possible to teach kids to consider the common good, to act ethically, and to work with their fellow students to make the school community safe and healthy for all. Griping about bullying adolescents is not enough. It’s time for the adults to grow up and act.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcut

NYC is looking into credit recovery programs and their validity.

This concerns me. This appears to be energy spent in the wrong direction. Rather than forming a team to look into the underlying causes of why little Johnny doesn’t come to school, or why our teaching methods are so disengaging for so many students, a team has been formed to look into why credit has been earned by "at-risk" kids. The team is not out to replicate the process of individualized instruction that facilitated these "at risk" students to the accumulation of credit; instead it's been established to dismantle a perceived "loop-hole" in the system.

Loop-hole in the system??? Are there loop-holes? Yes, there are. Some kids get to go to elite publicly funded schools while others do not, this is a loop-hole. Some students have regular access to current technology while others do not, this is a loop-hole. Some students get to sit in tracked classes surrounded by the brightest minds all day while other sit in overcrowded classes filled with numerous distractors, this is a loop-hole! Some students are exempt for NYS Regents exams while others are not, this is a loop-hole! Some students take three buses to get to school each morning while others have a simple 5 min walk, yes this too is a loop-hole. Some students must walk through sets of metal detectors each morning and remove their belts while others are greeted with a "hello", this is a loop-hole. Some students have a support system at home that values school and encourages learning while unfortunately some do not, this is a loop-hole. Are there loop-holes?

Of all the loop-holes in the system, the one that benefits the neediest is the one that is under scrutiny? Why is this?



Dennis Bunyan showed up for his first-semester senior English class at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem so rarely that, as he put it, “I basically didn’t attend.”

But despite his sustained absence, Mr. Bunyan got the credit he needed to graduate last June by completing just three essay assignments, which he said took about 10 hours.

“I’m grateful for it, but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous,” Mr. Bunyan said. “There’s no way three essays can possibly cover a semester of work.”

Mr. Bunyan was able to graduate through what is known as credit recovery — letting those who lack credits make them up by means other than retaking a class or attending traditional summer school. Although his principal said the makeup assignments were as rigorous as regular course work, Mr. Bunyan’s English teacher, Charan Morris, was so troubled that she boycotted the graduation ceremony, writing in an e-mail message to students that she believed some were “being pushed through the system regardless of whether they have done the work to earn their diploma.”

Throughout the city, an ad hoc system of helping students like Mr. Bunyan over the hump is taking root in public high schools, sometimes over the protests of teachers, who call credit recovery programs a poor substitute for classroom learning and say they ultimately devalue the diploma. In interviews, teachers or principals at more than a dozen schools said the programs ranged from five-day crunch sessions over school breaks, to interactive computer programs culminating in an online test, to independent study packets — and varied in quality.

Top officials with the city’s Education Department say good principals have always found creative ways to help struggling students make up missed work, describing such efforts as a lifeline for students who might otherwise never earn their diplomas. And across the country, school systems confronting abysmal graduation rates are turning to online credit recovery courses, which roughly a third of states have either developed or endorsed in recent years, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, in a statement, called credit recovery “a legitimate and important strategy for working with high school students.” He said there was “no indication” that the practice “has been abused more in recent years.”

“If credit recovery is not conducted properly, just as with any other required course, we will take appropriate action,” he added. “We do students no favors by giving them credit they haven’t earned.”

But city officials acknowledged that credit recovery programs are neither centrally monitored nor tracked.

The State Education Department, after seeing a copy of “independent study” guidelines in use at Wadleigh and a number of other schools, said it was examining whether the practice met its standards. State law requires students to earn credits by completing set hours of “seat time” — essentially, showing up for class — and demonstrating subject mastery. To graduate, they must also pass Regents exams.

“We are looking into this situation very carefully,” said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the senior deputy state education commissioner. “We want to make sure that the student is getting what they deserve.”

Critics say the practice is poised to become more prevalent as principals enjoy greater freedom from supervision at the same time as they are held more accountable for student performance, two hallmarks of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to overhaul city schools. Last fall, schools received letter grades based on student performance, with principals at D or F schools in danger of losing their jobs.

Diane Ravitch, a historian of the city’s public schools who has been a frequent critic of the mayor’s efforts, says the practice of credit recovery could raise questions about the validity of gains in the city’s graduation rate. According to the state, the city had a 50 percent four-year graduation rate in 2006, the most recent year for which data was available, up from 44 percent in 2004.
“I think when it’s used correctly, it might be a good thing,” Ms. Ravitch said of credit recovery, “but when used incorrectly it’s a way of gaming the system.”

But Mr. Klein said there was “no basis to suggest that improper credit recovery has affected graduation rates.” Saying that 39,000 students received Regents or local diplomas last year, 8,000 more than in 2002, when the mayor took control of the schools, he added, “A few anecdotes don’t materially affect this rise.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that the union had received “enough complaints about it that we are really concerned,” but that without hard numbers on the prevalence of credit recovery, she could not say whether the graduation rate was suspect.

“It clearly raises questions about the graduation statistics, but I can’t tell you right now as I sit here how widespread it is,” she said. “I don’t know if it raises questions about a statistically significant number of kids.”

Elizabeth Dougherty, a social studies teacher and teachers’ union chapter chairwoman at the Pelham Preparatory Academy, a small public school in the Bronx, said her school offered several credit recovery programs. “The pressure is so overwhelming now for graduation rates,” she said. “The principals are getting pressure, and the pressure gets put on the teachers.”

One Manhattan principal who has worked in the school system for more than a decade and, like many educators, requested anonymity for fear of retribution by the department, said: “I think that credit recovery and the related topic independent study is in lots of ways the dirty little secret of high schools. There’s very little oversight and there are very few standards.”

Mónica Ortiz-Ureña, the principal of Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, a large school scheduled to close in June after years of poor performance, said its credit recovery programs were developed after the city cut its centrally run summer and evening schools. She said many teachers did not like the practice, which at her school includes online programs in which students complete some work at home and some at school, because “they feel that you’re taking away their jobs.”

“I think credit recovery, as long as it’s done properly and is done according to state law, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students who have experienced failure before to experience success,” she said.

At Franklin K. Lane, a large high school in Brooklyn, an advertisement for credit recovery programs offered last year urged students: “If you failed a class, don’t despair ... turnaround your 55 into a 65 in 6 weeks!!! Ask your teacher for details!!!”

Adam Bergstein, a teacher who is head of the school’s union chapter, said the six-week program, which consisted of six classes, had troubled teachers.

“A 55 could be indicative of anything from a 1 to literally a 55 average,” he said. “It’s not a mere nudge ahead; it could be an astronomical leap.”

“It undermines the whole concept of teaching and grading,” Mr. Bergstein continued.

At Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, a February memorandum from two assistant principals described “our first five-day Intensive Program for Credit Recovery” for English classes, consisting of “two days of full instruction from 9-2 p.m. and three days of classroom instruction and field trip experiences.”

Credit recovery programs generally take place on school grounds; teachers who lead them can receive overtime pay.

At Wings Academy in the Bronx, several teachers, all of whom requested anonymity, said credit recovery programs shortchanged students because they may never acquire the discipline and work habits to succeed beyond high school. The programs include crunch sessions after classes end for the semester and independent study packets.

At the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy, also in the Bronx, Natasha Ramos, a top student, said she was dismayed by a new “term extension program,” in which seniors could make up missing credits during the week when classes stop for Regents exams.
“I didn’t think that that was fair to the kids who had to go to class during the whole semester,” she said. “It takes away from an actual learning environment.”

A teacher at another Bronx school, who did not want the name of his school published for fear of retribution, said a program there let students earn a year’s worth of science credits by responding to 19 questions on 5 topics. “Research and list all the global environmental issues that science focuses on,” read one, under the “environmental studies” category. “What are some ways that you, as an individual, can help?” read another.

Ms. Morris, the teacher who boycotted the Wadleigh graduation, declined to comment; her e-mail message was provided by a recipient. Wadleigh’s former principal, Karen Watts, was rewarded in January for the school’s performance by being named the city’s first “executive principal.” She was reassigned to a troubled school, in exchange for a $25,000 yearly bonus.
In an interview, Ms. Watts said she believed that no more than five of the more than 100 graduates last June had benefited from the credit-recovery work packets, which were meant to take 54 hours and were “just as rigorous as courses they would have taken sitting in the classroom every day with a teacher, or even more rigorous.” She said she believed she had been following “standard practice.”

Same article different opinion.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Legislators Balk at Tying Teacher Tenure to Student Tests

ALBANY — In the latest rebuke to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s agenda, state lawmakers have decided to bar student test scores from being considered when teacher tenure determinations are made.

Legislators said the move was the final detail negotiated as part of the budget, which they expect to complete on Wednesday. It was a setback to efforts by the mayor and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to hold teachers accountable by using student performance data, and a boon for the teachers’ unions, which hold enormous influence over the political process in the capital.

The new language being prepared for the state law says that for the next two years student scores will not be considered in decisions on teachers’ tenure; in the meantime, a commission is to be created to study the issue.

The move was denounced Tuesday night by the Bloomberg administration.

“I am dismayed that the State Legislature would even consider tying the hands of principals and school districts as they decide who gets lifetime job security,” said Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. “This is unconscionable. Lawmakers should do all they can to ensure every student has a good teacher. I urge our lawmakers to vote no tomorrow. Our children deserve better.”

The development was another sign that the fledgling administration of Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, could be a rocky one for the mayor. The new governor was unable to rally support for the mayor’s congestion pricing plan, which would have charged drivers to enter Manhattan below 60th Street. While Mr. Paterson supported the measure, he could not persuade Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver or other Assembly Democrats to bring the measure to the floor, and it was pronounced dead without a vote on Monday.

The mayor and his staff members were seething when it became known on Tuesday that the teacher accountability measure in state law was being revised. Lawmakers and legislative aides said they expected to return to work Wednesday morning and vote on the final piece of the budget — education financing and taxes — and it was the tenure issue, they said, that held it up.

“That is the last piece,” Mr. Silver said. “And I think there’s, you know, some good compromise language we’re considering right now.” He added, “I think everybody will be comfortable with it.”

He did not discuss details of the compromise, but a draft of the relevant portion of the budget obtained by The New York Times changes language added to state law last year while Mr. Spitzer was governor.

That section said teachers would be evaluated for tenure based on, among other things, an “evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data.”

The newer language says that “the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data.”

The matter is to be turned over to a study commission for further review.

“They’re just reviewing final language on the tenure bill, new language that the school boards have signed off on,” said John McArdle, a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, the state’s top Republican. “I think it works. Once that’s resolved, they’ll print the bills.”

Pressure from unions weighed heavily in the process, and particularly with Senate Republicans.

“From very early on, the Assembly and the governor understood what was at issue here,” said Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. “It may have taken us a little bit longer to get the Senate to understand, but I think they do.”

He added, “Student assessments are designed to assess students, not teachers.”

Though the bills were still being drafted, the last unresolved pieces of the state’s budget seemed in place by Tuesday night. Legislative officials said that agreements had been reached about increases to various state taxes and fees, one of the issues that had stymied budget negotiations over the last several weeks.

Overall, officials said, spending of all funds in the roughly $122 billion budget would increase by 4.9 percent, nearly twice the rate of inflation, assuming that the final budget materializes as expected Wednesday morning. While the increase would be less than what Mr. Spitzer originally proposed in January, many budget critics and the governor himself have said the budget is bloated.

The state’s $1.50 cigarette tax will go up $1.25 more, but many of the taxes and fees that were first proposed by Mr. Spitzer will not be included. The proposal to quadruple the state’s motor vehicle insurance fee to $20 has been dropped, as has the plan mockingly called the “crack tax,” which would have taxed drug dealers on drugs confiscated by the authorities, and a plan to eliminate the tax cap on fuel purchases.

In a victory for Senate Republicans, some of the tax increases will expire after three years, Mr. McArdle said. Mr. Paterson had fought to make the new tax and fee increases permanent because he said the state’s debt rating with credit agencies would suffer if they were only temporary.

The likelihood that coming financial estimates from the state comptroller will show a further deterioration of the state’s financial picture put more pressure on the Legislature to avoid last-minute spending increases.

On April 15, the comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, is to update state revenue collections through the end of March, and most experts predict a drop from previous revenue estimates.

Moreover, in the next day or two, the comptroller will also issue a separate report detailing actual revenues and spending over the last fiscal year, a measure of how closely the state followed its own financial plan. If actual spending was lower than planned, as has been the case previously, that would in effect magnify proposed spending increases for the coming fiscal year, putting further pressure on budget negotiators to avoid last-minute spending increases.

“I do think that the revenue picture is deteriorating, and it’s going to be very important to keep an eye on those revenue updates,” said Elizabeth Lynam, the deputy research director for the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit group that favors fiscal discipline.

Nicholas Confessore and Trymaine Lee contributed reporting.