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 []:

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.