Thursday, January 31, 2008

Budget Cuts

Jeff Utecht suggests that a school schedule teachers for "google time". I know the city is cutting budgets, but imagine a world where classrooms and schools were linked via 2.0 technology. Schools show what is important by what fills lines in their budget. The Queens High School of Teaching values DEAR and ADVISORY. What might a school which values social networking look like? Here is an excerpt from his blog.

I found myself wanting to be involved in helping schools define their future. I have a passion for sharing and teaching others and love to watch teachers and students alike get excited and hear that passion spark in them around new ideas they can use in their schools and classrooms. That was ‘different’, that was exciting.

The only issue then was how do you continue to affect change in a school and have time to explore a niche that is just starting to emerge (or that you hope emerges)?

You need time, time to explore, to think, to reflect. That time can not be added onto what you already do, it has to be part of what you do. It should be part of what we do in education. So I set out to explore schools that would challenge me professionally within the system and at the same time allow me to explore options and learning outside the system. This explore time would come to be known as “Google Time.” As I talked to schools, I pitched the idea of allowing me 20% of my time to explore other options outside of my regular duties. My thinking was twofold, not only did I want 20% time, but I also wanted to be a part of a school that I felt was heading in a positive direction, and that I was excited about. After all, 80% of my time is still working within the system affecting change in that organization and with students and teachers. That school, then, needed to understand who I was and what I could offer.

Google Time

How do you sell Google Time to a school? How do you help administrators understand that this time would not only benefit oneself as an educator but would then also benefit the school?

Google Time allows an employee time to explore, take risks, learn, network, and create opportunities. Some, if not most of these opportunities, will affect the employee in deep and meaningful ways. Whether it is taking time to create networks, write, play with new software, read about new theories, or just explore the world around them, this time adds value to employees and the time they spend on the other 80% of their job. Add to that the opportunity for those employees to build a social presence within networks on the web, this also brings something back to the school (think free marketing, too).

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Tracks of My Fears

Sorry for the awful attempt at humor in the title.

I'm a little bugged by a buzz that's going through my school right now, centering on our math classes.

As I'm sure in many schools, in a single math class, there are extremely wide disparities in student performance, ability, grasp of concepts, etc. More proficient students are complaining when the pace is too slow, and less proficient students shut down when faced with things they can't handle. To that end, there is talk of grouping students based on math ability. Proponents of this idea say that it will allow the students to be taught at an ability-appropriate level.

My fear is that this will turn into full blown tracking.

Any thoughts, suggestions, alternatives?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

“How far is the moon from the Earth?”

Today a colleague whom I have come to regard very highly told me a story. They spoke of a friend who, upon interviewing for a position in a District Attorney’s Office, was asked the question, “How far is the moon from the Earth?”

What skill would an aspiring assistant district attorney need to answer this question?

Those of you who know me are well aware of my feelings toward the NYS REGENTS exams. The best argument I have heard defending the test is that its not a test of content but of basic skills.

With this in mind I entertained the idea that I may be wrong. So I now look at the test as on of basic skills. Skills these students will need to be successful.

On the global history exam students were asked to analyze a political cartoon depicting the cultural reform of Peter the Great. Is it more likely for our students to be asked to analyze a political cartoon or to create and edit a video using movie maker? Is the skill of writing a thematic essay more highly regarded in our society or are creations like collaborative web 2.0 or a more valuable asset to have? Should students be able to explain the difference between relative and exact location or should we teach them how to use "Google Earth", or program a "Magellan".

Having a test of skills isn't a bad idea, but our current exam system might be obsolete, giving false hope to those who "do well" and discouraging our future leaders with low standardized test grades.

I overheard a teacher comment, “They make these tests easier and easier, but the kids keep getting dumber and dumber.” Is this true? Or are the skills being tested further and further from those valued by our students and society?

The answer the interviewers for the assistant district attorney’s position were looking for wasn’t, “Gosh I don’t know.” It was, “Can you give me a minute?”, as they pulled out their Blackberry. (which teachers confiscate upon entry into exams).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

Can teachers only request to teach the good test takers?


"New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.

While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”"


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Finally Some Accountability ????

After reading the following article I began to ask myself what problem is this new DOE policy going to address? and what is the solution? If the change in policy is meant to help the HS system by filtering out reading an writing problems then I believe he is on to something. Freshmen classes would be more academically sound for the first year. I suspect however that sophomore reading and writing skills would be about the same.

However if the change is being put in place to genuinely help the struggling students I question this practice. With the advent of the smaller HS should not they be better equipped to handle the struggling student rather than the overcrowded middle school. Holding students accountable for failed instructional practices upon hearing strikes an awkward tone in my ears.

Imagine if a doctor punished patients for not getting better with the hope that they would not return for more medical care.

It sounds like the we are almost literally throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Excerpted from the NYTIMES:

"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Thursday unveiled strict new criteria for promotion to high school that could, if current testing patterns hold, put nearly a quarter of New York City’s eighth graders in danger of spending an extra year in middle school.

The new policy, which Mr. Bloomberg announced in his State of the City address, would require next year’s eighth graders to score at a basic level on standardized English and math exams, and to pass their classes in core subject areas in order to be promoted. It is stricter than similar policies that the mayor has put in place in the third, fifth and seventh grades, all in an effort to end the practice of social promotion, in which students are moved ahead despite academic problems."


Monday, January 07, 2008

Professional Development is Coming!

In order to maintain our smallness we must first get to know one another. I hope the atmosphere at QHST can remain positive the way it has for the past 5 years.

I'm genuinely looking forward to PD on the 29th. We need to refocus our attention back onto the things we are doing right. What separates us from other schools? I hope we can rediscover the unique school culture that drew us all to this school. There are so many talented professionals that work at QHST and its time we celebrate our successes rather than vent about the mundane problems all schools face.

I personally have grown further than I would have at the school I used to work at. Never have I been held back or asked to conform to anything I didn't think was just. I applaud the effort my colleagues display everyday. I am consistently impressed by the amazing new ideas students share.

I am still learning. I need to listen better. But within the last four years my career has flourished within the walls of QHST.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Whole Child

The following clip was posted on Superfly's blog.

Friday, January 04, 2008

School Commendations Come With a Critique

Published: January 4, 2008

It was supposed to be a day to celebrate the city’s best schools. The schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, trekked to Public School 46 in Bayside, Queens, to announce that the schools that had received the highest marks on the city’s new school report card were to receive a windfall of extra money.

But when he invited Assemblyman Mark Weprin to the microphone, Mr. Weprin, a Queens Democrat, seized nearly five minutes of the news conference to lambaste the grading system and the Bloomberg administration’s focus on standardized testing to measure achievement.

“Our schools have turned — I know the chancellor is standing here, but — to Stanley Kaplan courses in a lot of ways,” Mr. Weprin said, referring to a large test preparation company.

Lacing his comments with apologies for being “impolite,” Mr. Weprin said, “Too much focus is trying to get the right answers on tests and not enough focus on, in my opinion, on learning. And a good teacher doesn’t just teach how to get the right answers, a good teacher inspires, and a lot of that is being lost in our schools.”

entire article

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It’s Guns, Not School Size

Published Online: December 26, 2007


By Judith Kafka

In the spring of 1999, when two male students went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., killing 13 others before turning the guns on themselves, it didn’t take long for politicians, journalists, and advocates of small-school-centered reform to point to the large size of Columbine as a key factor in the tragedy. The sheer size of the facility, they argued, and the fact that the school enrolled close to 2,000 students, created an alienating environment, one in which troubled youths like the two shooters were allowed to drift unknown, becoming increasingly angry and isolated.

Hillary Clinton, while campaigning for the U.S. Senate in New York, noted that the principal of Columbine High School had never heard of the “trench coat mafia,” a group to which the two students responsible for the shootings were said to have belonged, and faulted the school’s size in part for what had occurred there. Educational researchers and activists who supported small-school reform made similar claims—often in the pages of Education Week. They ominously warned that shootings were likely to happen in other large schools where students lacked a sense of community and belonging. Their words seemed prophetic when, nearly two years later, a male student at a large high school in suburban Southern California opened fire, killing two and injuring 13.

Blaming the size of schools for acts of gun violence is at best naive, and at worst opportunistic and disingenuous.

By then, the specter of Columbine had been used to promote small-school reform nationwide. The Clinton administration cited the need to prevent similar tragedies as it set aside $120 million for a “Small, Safe, and Successful High Schools” initiative in 2000. An oft-cited report on small-school reform in Chicago referred to Columbine as a “reminder” of what could happen in large schools in which students and teachers failed to form strong relationships. Advocates of small schools have continued to blame the large, “factory model” high school for school shootings in the years since, arguing that acts of gun violence are unlikely to occur in small schools—where everyone is known, students have a sense of belonging, and personal relationships exist between young people and caring adults.

Yet as the school shooting this past October at SuccessTech, a 250-student school in Cleveland, demonstrated, blaming the size of schools for acts of gun violence is at best naive, and at worst opportunistic and disingenuous. There may be other good reasons for reconfiguring large urban high schools into smaller ones, but preventing school shootings is not one of them.

The gun violence at SuccessTech, in which a 14-year-old boy shot and injured two students and two teachers before killing himself, was not the first such incident to occur in a small school. Westside Middle School, near Jonesboro, Ark., for example, enrolled only 250 students in 1998, when two boys shot and killed four students and a teacher there and wounded many others. Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., had an enrollment of around 550 when a 14-year-old boy opened fire at a group of students in 1997, killing three girls and wounding five others.

Unlike these other schools, however, SuccessTech is one of the many small schools of choice opened in urban districts across the country since Columbine—schools often promoted, at least in part, as a solution to school violence and student alienation. In fact, SuccessTech is precisely the kind of small school that reform advocates recommend. Funded in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is a highly selective school of choice, intentionally small, and has been successful by many measures—including a 94 percent graduation rate in a school system with an average rate of just 55 percent. Yet despite SuccessTech’s smallness and selectivity, on Oct. 10, 2007, a boycame to school with a gun and opened fire.

Predictably, in the days immediately following the shooting, questions were raised about what the school could have done to prevent it from occurring. Why hadn’t more guards been assigned to SuccessTech? Why weren’t students required to go through metal detectors as they entered school? Of course, one of the rationales for schools like SuccessTech is that such security measures are unnecessary in small settings where everyone is known and feels safe. And by most accounts students at SuccessTech were known, and did feel safe. Indeed, being known was not the problem for the shooter. He was known. But he was also troubled, regularly teased, and, most importantly, he had access to a gun.

In fact, what draws all the school shootings together, and what accounts for all of the gun violence in schools across the country, is that a troubled male youth had access to a gun. Certainly school leaders want to take whatever actions they can to prevent such horrors from occurring, but blaming the organizational structure or size of schools for acts of gun violence creates an expedient scapegoat and avoids targeting the real problem: guns themselves. Using tragedies like Columbine or SuccessTech to promote specific school reforms shifts attention away from the issue of gun control, and mutes what should be national outrage directed at those who oppose even the mildest measures intended to limit access to firearms.

There may be good reasons for reconfiguring large urban high schools into smaller ones, but preventing school shootings is not one of them.

Without guns, the shooters at Columbine and SuccessTech would still have been angry, even violent, boys, but they would not have been able to harm so many others so quickly—nor would they have been able to end their own lives so easily once they were done.

There are other solutions to consider beyond gun control, of course. One would be to bar all troubled boys from school, and the increased focus on psychological profiling since the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech last spring seems to point in this direction. Yet even if we could correctly identify all troubled young men, most do not open fire on their classmates and teachers, and they should be allowed to benefit from an education.

Another solution would be to eradicate all teasing and “bullying” in school, and in fact anti-bullying programs have become increasingly popular, and are even mandated in many districts—as are so-called “zero tolerance” discipline policies for bullying. But while they should never be condoned, teasing and bullying are somewhat nebulous acts. It is often difficult to distinguish the bully from the bullied, the students lashing out in self-defense from the instigators of the conflict. Nor is it clear that bullying itself is the cause of student alienation and malaise. We know that most youths who are bullied do not show up at school with a gun. Would the SuccessTech gunman not have opened fire on his classmates and teachers if he hadn’t been teased in school? We don’t know. We do know that he would not have been able to do so without a gun.

Blaming schools and school size for the gun violence that occurs within them is not only unfair and unreasonable, but it also distracts attention from the cause that those who care about school safety and youth violence should be fighting for: getting guns off our nation’s streets and out of the hands of our nation’s youths.

Judith Kafka is an assistant professor of educational policy, history, and leadership at Baruch College, in New York City.

Vol. 27


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