Monday, October 31, 2005

Blaming Ilegal Immigrants

I got a hold of this survey that the Republican National Congressional Committee is sending out. It's awful and dehumanizing, and resorts to scare tactics (see words like "flood", "uncontrolled illegal immigration", etc). This is discouraging when some Republicans are currently sponsoring good bills that begin to deal with the problem, and I think it also shows that the vocal extremists will continue to define Republican policy in areas other than Supreme Court nominations. I hope this means that they will lose the votes of moderates and the business community, because the ideas put forth in this survey are ridiculous and will do nothing to solve the problems in our immigration system.

The mayoral debate

"Look, I'm not running to be the mayor of the fourth grade. I'm running to be the mayor of all the grades."

- Freddy Ferrer, in the debate with Bloomy last night. Apparently it was one of the only good jabs he had at Bloomy.

Bonus observation: Has anyone else noticed that both Bloomy and Freddy strikingly resemble woodland creatures?


Not signing up for SES

The NY Post reported on Saturday that more than 84 percent of poor students in NYC have not signed up for free SES tutoring. This number is astounding, but it doesn't really surprise me after what I've seen at my school. Even though the school has actually done a decent job of distributing materials and providing information sessions this year, I have talked to a number of parents that still have no idea what SES is (this probably occurs either because a lot of parents never visit the school, or because immigrant parents receive almost no information in their native language). So schools and the DOE have to do a better job of explaining SES, particularly to immigrant parents. Bloomy's new translation office is up and running, and it seems to be doing some good work, but it needs to get moving on big projects like this. For instance, the school provided a Spanish translator at the SES fair, but the DOE really should have had translators for several Asian languages.

The other problem with SES is that when parents do understand and come in to sign their kids up, they are immediately attacked by the for-profit company that has set up shop in and around the school. It's a confusing process anyway, and I think it is being made worse by the cutthroat competition among providers. The word may be getting out more because of the resources from the for-profit companies, but it's obviously not sinking in. Maybe all the providers should take a deep breath and remember that the kids really need the extra help with all the focus on testing. But parents have to be involved in the decision, not just hit up for their signature on the provider form, in order for the kids to get the help.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Maple Syrup!

Last night, everywhere I went I smelled maple syrup. I thought someone had spilled some on the subway and I had sat in it, but I couldn't find the source.

Then, in today's New York Post, I read this:


A peculiar and mysterious smell enveloped lower Manhattan for several hours last night, sparking dozens of 311 calls, authorities said.

Pedestrians around City Hall claimed there was an overpowering smell reminiscent of pancakes or maple syrup.

"A significant number of calls came in to the 311 system," said Jared Bernstein, a spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management. "We are taking it very seriously — in this day and age we take everything seriously."

Bernstein said city officials were working — with a variety of state and federal officials — to determine where the smell originated.

Update: Gothamist is on the case. (Check out all the comments!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ravitching and moaning

You would think I'd had enough of education historian Diane Ravitch in my social studies education classes (she usually plays the role of villain). But no! Ravitch opines today on religious freedom in the NY Post and on NY State tests/NAEP discrepancies in the NY Daily News.

Business AND goverment facing a crisis of confidence?


The public's view of the government has eroded over the past year and its view of business corporations is now at the lowest level in two decades. The public's rating for the federal government has fallen from 59% favorable last year to 45% now, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The favorable view of business corporations is also at 45%.

- Associated Press
Emphasis added. This is a big, big deal. Public confidence in business is waning (things like this don't help) AND public confidence in goverment is waning (things like this certainly don't help).

What does this mean? Organized labor may be due for a comeback ...

It's ........

Carnival time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The School of Bloggers are on the map!

The education-related blogging map, that is. We thought it was pretty cool when we became a slithering reptile in the blogging ecosystem, and were also very excited to learn that we were the number 23 education-related blog in the world*, but making it onto This Week in Education's BlogMap** was truly memorable. Now, go put yourselves on the map!

*Out of 26
**Which we did by signing ourselves up here.

interesting charter development

"UFT willing to barter on charters." NY Daily News reports.

Friday, October 21, 2005

NYU Grad students to strike?

Dear NYU Student –

By now many of you are aware that the United Auto Workers is publicly discussing a job action involving graduate assistants (GAs) at NYU in the near future.

In our opinion, the Auto Workers union is embarking on a regrettable and unfortunate course: regrettable because it fails to respect the significance of your efforts to pursue your education, and unfortunate because such an action will not result in recognition of the UAW to represent our graduate assistants.

We understand that the possibility of a job action is the last thing you need at this point in the school year. We want to reassure you that the University will maintain your academic progress.


The United Auto Workers union has been publicly discussing the prospects of engaging in a job action for quite some time; accordingly, the University has been planning for this possibility. Regardless of whether or not some GAs strike, the University will remain open, and you should plan on attending your classes and participating in your regularly scheduled activities. We have been faculty members and administrators at NYU for decades, and we believe that our faculty colleagues, recognizing the professional responsibility that accompanies the trust you have placed in NYU to educate you, will hold classes, and ensure your academic progress.

If there is a disruption, you will promptly hear from your school’s dean, who will provide you with further information and give you contact information should you have any concerns or questions.

We cannot promise you there will be no disruptions, but we are working hard to ensure that they are minimal. We believe that a large majority of GAs will continue to fulfill their teaching responsibilities. The University and its deans, faculty, and administrators will do whatever is necessary to guarantee that your hard work this semester is not put at risk, that your academic program and course work will be completed, and that those of you who are scheduled to graduate will do so.


John Sexton David McLaughlin
President Provost

Thursday, October 20, 2005

blame the immigrants!

It's bad enough that they're bringing perversion into New York City. Now they're responsible for flagging NAEP progress too!:
In an interview, Ms. Spellings called attention to the improvement in math by fourth graders. She said the less robust increases and outright declines in some reading scores were understandable in part, because the nations schools are assimilating huge numbers of immigrants.
"We have more non-native speakers, there are lots of so-called at-risk, hard-to-educate students, and in spite of that, steady progress is being made," she said. "We're on the right track with No Child Left Behind."
When the program isn't educating the "hard-to-educate" students, maybe you need to rethink the program.

Steven Sanders resigning

Education committee chairman and charter school roadblock-thrower Steven Sanders is leaving the legislature:

Longest Tenured Assembly Education Chairman Retires
Associated Press
October 20, 2005

ALBANY, N.Y. - The state assembly education committee chairman, Steven Sanders, announced yesterday he will retire from the chamber after 28 years.

Mr. Sanders, a Manhattan Democrat, was the influential chairman of the committee for 11 years. He was the longest tenured chairman for that post.

Mr. Sanders, 54, said he is resigning effective January 1 for "personal and family considerations."

"My time in the state Assembly has been incredibly rewarding, and I thank Speaker Silver for his leadership and personal friendship," Mr. Sanders said yesterday. Mr. Sanders helped lead the state to historic increases in state school aid since 1995, exceeding the increased aid often proposed in Governor Pataki's executive budgets. Education has become the largest percentage of the budget, and more state funds are now directed to the neediest schools.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Principal Skinner speaks

Harry Shearer, voice of Principal Skinner on the Simpsons, discusses his favorite teachers in Edutopia.

(Be sure to scroll down to the end.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Superheroes in Brooklyn?

A friend in London sent me this wonderful article. Why haven't I been reading the Guardian's Education section all along?

The article describes 826 Valencia, a pirate shop in San Francisco that is a front for a mysterious drop-in tutoring center. There is one in Brooklyn too -- in my backyard all this time and I never knew about it! The storefront is, apparently, a superhero supply store, but education goes on within.

The creator of 826 Valencia, David Eggers, has taken on teacher pay as a cause. He wrote another piece for the Guardian on teacher pay in the U.S., and at the end of the article there's this table comparing the average salaries of teachers in the U.S. and England:

Comparative study
Starting salary for primary teacher
England: $28,608 USA: $30,339
Salary after 15 years for primary teacher
England: $41,807 USA: $ 43,999
Number of students per teacher primary
England: 20 USA: 15.5
Number of students per teacher secondary
England: 14.8 USA: 15.5
Contracted hours, full-time teacher primary
England: 1,265 USA: 1,353
Contracted hours, full-time teacher secondary
England: 1,265 USA: 1,371

Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2005. 2003 figures.
At first glance, U.S. teachers seem to be doing okay, at least comparatively. Their starting salaries are higher, and they have a smaller average class size in the early grades. But look at the number of contracted hours (even though it is safe to assume that teachers in both countries are working far more than that).

Bottom line is that in neither country are teachers paid what they should be. In Japan, average teacher salary is about $52,500 a year.

Anyway, if you haven't already, spend some time with the Guardian. There's just loads of stuff, from basic skills to the naked chef.

Pushing Kids out of High School

Just as Bloomy and Freddy are arguing over New York City's high school graduation rate and what the rate, if anyone could actually figure out what it is, means (NY Times article here), a high school in Brooklyn has been accused of forcing students out of school. It's pretty disturbing to hear how these kids were forced out and how their parents were kept in the dark the entire time by school officials, but it's almost worse to see the response of DOE officials.

Michael Best, the Education Department's top lawyer, issued a statement that did not address the allegations in the suit but said the parents should have asked school officials for help.

Can he possibly be serious that parents were expected to get help from the same school officials that were illegally pushing their kids out of school?

And how about the response of the school's former principal? He basically blamed the kids.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Mickens complained that large schools were being forced to take all of the city's special education students and students with behavior problems while the small schools being created by the mayor were not admitting these children. "I am not going to sit there as principal and welcome a student who threatens me or my staff," he said. "I stand by my record."

So there you have it - this high school wasn't pushing students out of school despite all the evidence compiled by Advocates for Children, but even if it was, it is the students' and parents' fault anyway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bloomy Cans Cap and Charter Misinformation

I'm starting to feel like the New York Post with my cap-related headlines (maybe I should go all out and start calling it the New York Po$t?), but anyway. Here's what Bloomy has to say about charter schools in an election year. Here's what Freddy had to say:

"We should do more charter schools," Ferrer said, "but we have a dropout crisis in our public schools."
It is dismaying to me that someone running for mayor in this city is falling prey to the most common misconception about charter schools. Charter schools ARE public schools.

I come across this misconception all the time, and many people are shocked to learn that charters receive public funds (if not an equal proportion), kids can go there for free, and they are required to take all city and state-mandated assessments. They must comply with No Child Left Behind if they receive Title I funding, which I would venture to guess that most of them do.

Charter schools are public schools. I bet if we did a better job at informing people of this fact, it wouldn't be as hard a struggle to lift the cap.

P.S. Something else the public should know about charter schools -- a recent study shows that they don't serve a proportionate number of special ed students.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I'm Depressed

This week, I was talking to a kid from Honduras in my after-school program about choosing a high school for next year. I brought up a high school in Queens for new immigrants, which generally do a great job teaching English to immigrant students quickly, since he arrived in the U.S. only a few months ago and speaks no English, and was surprised when he declared that he was not an immigrant because he had residency (i.e. he was here legally).

So this is where the immigration debate in this country is going - all immigrants are seen as law-breakers, and even a newly arrived kid who is not listening to the fanatics in the media and spends all his time (at school and in his neighborhood in New York City of all places) around immigrants from all over the world can pick up on this association.

Get off your ath let's do some math

Not in some classes at my school. A parent came in last week to complain that her son's class had been without a math teacher since the first week of school. She didn't speak much English, so the front office blew her off and told her to wait for a month until they found a new teacher.

It would have been great if the office had tried to communicate with the parent and listen to her concerns (or at least explain what was going on), but the real problem here, and it is a big one, is that some 7th graders are going without math teachers when they are required to pass a math exam in order to be promoted. Can we take Bloomy's and Klein's "no social promotion" policy seriously when they obviously are not putting enough resources towards retaining and hiring qualified teachers in high-need schools? Not having math teachers at this school shouldn't take anyone by surprise - apparently one class didn't have a teacher for several months last year.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Todo Mundo Quiere a Ramon??

The LA Times has a really interesting editorial (in Spanglish!) about the value of watching TV shows in another language after some cable viewers in Los Angeles had their favorite shows switched into Spanish this week.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cap Attack

Battle is brewing on charter schools

Forty-two charter school applications were submitted across New York by last week's deadline, setting up a potential showdown over the state's decision to limit the number of charter schools. State law allows just 100 charters - public schools operated independently of the local school system - to be set up. Eighty-four already have been granted.

New applications include 18 submitted to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who last month called the state cap "irrational and unfair."

One new application - for a high school - came from the city teachers union, which has fought against lifting the cap. The United Federation of Teachers already runs a charter school in Brooklyn.

Joe Williams, NY Daily News

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The other other mayoral election

Remember the other mayoral election? Well, there's ANOTHER other mayoral election, this one on Buffalo, and charter schools are making a showing. The Republican candidate, Kevin Helfer, is taking a Bloomy-like stance on charter schools and centralized school management.

Buffalo's school system is having major financial problems, as evidenced by their health insurance woes. Charter schools may be partly to blame. The candidates are straddling the choice issue.

P.S., is this a direct dig at Bloomy by Democratic candidate Byron Brown?:
"While I'm going to be a hands-on manager, I don't believe the mayor should
micromanage things," Brown said.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Why can't we live in a Jeb Bartlett world?

On last night's West Wing, a reporter asks Josh if he had a comment on the New York Post. Josh says he's against it. And that remark is off the record.

I appreciated that comment even more so today after reading the NY Post's "INVESTIGATION" on "Teacher Brain Drain" in New York City.

Of course, being the NY Post, they try to play the blame game with the brain drain and blame it on seniority rules. They give a couple of lines to the UFT's argument, which is that "seniority transfers are a negligible factor in pay disparity, claiming just 118 veteran teachers fled low-performing schools for better ones last year. Seventy-six seasoned teachers did the opposite, the union said."

At last ...

There is a (tentative) contract!

Where are all the teachers?

Last week the school where my after-school program is had "Meet the Teacher Night" for all the parents. I've been told by a number of teachers that this is the only event that parents actually come to, so all the SES (aggressive and reasonable alike) providers and the PTA were running around setting up for it. Parent involvement is a big problem at the school and the turnout that night was pretty light, but I was amazed to hear that a lot of teachers didn't come. If there is only one night to connect with parents, how is it possible that the school didn't put everything it had into making the night great for the parents that bothered to show up.

The problem here is not the teachers, of course. It's the system. I heard complaints from the teachers that were here about the lack of parents showing up. I'm sure teachers are frustrated about the lack of parent involvement over the years (I know I am in the after-school program, and we tend to have the more involved ones), so it's hard to criticize them for not wanting to spend another night at school while parents don't bother to come and meet them.

And of course there is the language problem - the school makes very little effort to provide translators (the orientation course for parents of English Language Learners was staffed by a teacher who spoke no Spanish, despite the fact that all the parents in the room were Spanish-speakers and spoke less English than their kids), so many teachers can't communicate with the mostly immigrant parent population even if both parents and teachers showed up.

I wonder how we can begin to break out of cycles like these. Translators would be a big step - a lot of immigrant parents probably come once and are blown off because they don't understand English. But the problem is bigger than just dealing with the language barrier - parents need to feel like partners in their kids education, and I don't feel like that is happening here.