Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

More thoughts

I have only just now read this NYSUT report on NY charter schools (and I still haven't read this), but I have to concur that their methodology is truly bizarre. I can vouch for a couple of the schools on that list and tell you that the "comparison" school is not comparable. I am mentally throwing this report into the already large pile of studies about charter schools, both pro- and anti-, that are untrustworthy and bogus.

Early morning thoughts

Too tired to really do this justice right now, but this meeting of "experts" on education, including Rod Paige, Richard Riley, and Joel Klein, is an interesting new data point in the ongoing story of the role of business in shaping American education, and the ongoing struggle to define the purpose of American education. Expect responses from business leaders. Compare to G.H.W. Bush's America 2000 plan and the response of business leaders to it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An important challenge or just too hard?

How do you know when something is just too hard for a kid?

This week the 8th graders are doing independent projects on the Civil War, doing nonfiction reading in order to answer questions that they chose. I ended up going with these questions:

Why did Lincoln free the slaves?
Was Lincoln "the great emancipator"?
Did the South have a chance?
What was it like to be a soldier?
What was the role of women in the war?
What was the role of African Americans in the war?

One kid, a kid I really like whose IEP says he has ADD, picked "Did the South have a chance?" Even though he was one of the kids we identified as needing a more straightforward question, I let him go with that question because he seemed really interested in it.

Yesterday he was reading a really cool Cobblestone article about submarines in the Civil War, but when I went over to him he was feeling really frustrated. He wasn't alone -- many kids felt overwhelmed by the task and confused about how to use the readings to answer the questions.

Anyway, with this kid, A.J., I could tell he was interested in the topic but felt like it was too hard. I said something like, "you know, A.J., this is a really tough question, but I think you can handle it." At first he protested, saying he wanted to switch to an easier question, but I persuaded him against it. I started asking him some scaffolding questions, like "what would it mean if the South had a chance?" He came up right away with, "they would have a better army, they would have more people, they would have more land," etc. He totally got the question. I said, "what about generals?" He said he didn't know. So I gave him an article about Civil War generals to read. He seemed better.

Today when we were working on the project again, he said "can you give me a different article? I'm switching over to 'what was it like to be a soldier.'" I felt defeated because 1) he still wanted to take the easy way out, and 2) he now expected me to choose the reading for him, which was contrary to the whole point of the exercise. I told him, "A.J., I know this is difficult for you and that you're feeling frustrated. But I wouldn't have encouraged you to do this if I didn't think you could." I reminded him of all the smart things he said yesterday. He seemed encouraged and grudgingly started work again on his original question.

I do believe he can do it, but he will probably have a much more difficult task than most of the other students. Is that fair? Am I wrong to keep pushing him toward that, when kids with much more experience with this kind of thing are getting away with easier questions? And what if I'm wrong and he can't do it? What kind of effect will that have on his confidence?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Maybe if the mice spent more time in class ...

The AFT, my alma mater, has a new initiative on building conditions. New York City has a famously old stock of school buildings, and I've heard of some pretty nasty conditions that are, shall we say, not conducive to student concentration. A new report by the AFT exposes facilities problems around the country and how they affect teaching and learning.

The building in which I am doing my student teaching is one of these big, old buildings, but it is in relatively good condition. Its only real quirk is a large community of rodents. (Like the kind that inhabits most NYC schools.) I haven't actually seen any myself, but I've heard they can be seen scampering through the halls like confused sixth graders, and I have certainly seen ample evidence of their existence. The seventh grade science teacher has taken to catching the mice and keeping them as classroom pets. How does she catch the little dudes? "These mice are slow and dumb," she says.

Other than the mice, the school doesn't have problems like ceilings falling in or mushrooms growing in the corners. An active parent body makes sure things are pretty well kept up, and once a year the parents have a "work day" in which they do things like build benches and bookcases in classrooms. Adequate facilities, however, does not necessarily translate into high student achievement -- at least as measured by state tests. Word on the street is that the school might not make AYP based on last year's scores. Of course, as the AFT will also tell you, and they are right, barely any schools will be making AYP for very long.

AYP aside, I do believe the students at this school are getting a great education, one that is not hampered by distracting facilities problems.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Juan is one of my favorite kids in the class. When I first got there, he was one of a handful of children for whom it was a challenge for me to find something to really like about them. His behavior in the beginning of the year tended to be disruptive and a little bit mean toward a tablemate who had recently immigrated from Georgia.

After a while, however, I realized that these behaviors were his way of doing anything in his power to avoid writing. He HATES writing! I also realized that underneath it all he is a truly sensitive and nice kid. One day Juan walked into class and it was as if he was a different kid -- his attitude toward school was that radically different. He still asks to go to the bathroom anytime it's time to write, but as soon as I tell him 'no' he sits down and really tries.

Yesterday, as part of an ELA test bootcamp strategy, one of my cooperating teachers was having students practice listening comprehension strategies on a read-aloud. The story was a really sad one about a kid whose mom leaves her and the imaginary friend she invents to help deal with it. At the end of the story, one kid looked up and noticed Juan wiping his eyes. Seconds later the entire class was having uncontrollable laughing fits at Juan's expense -- not in a mean way, just out of sheer shock. They didn't blame him for crying, but of all the kids in the class, Juan was definitely not the one you'd expect to do it. One kid was working so hard to contain his laughter that he looked like he was about to throw up, until the teacher made him leave the room. Juan took it well. I wanted to go up and hug him, but of course that would have made it worse.

But it still warms my heart to think about it. And it makes me really appreciate the truly excellent job my cooperating teachers have done in creating not just an atmosphere in which kids can get emotionally that involved in a read-aloud, but also one in which students care enough about each other, and about the work that's going on in class, to let something like that slide. It gives me something to aspire to.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sometimes things are just too seminal to read

Nearly all my friends and relations have sent me Sundays NYT Magazine article about schools, and I still haven't read it. Eduwonk sums it up here. The Chalkboard goes into a little more detail here. Someday I'll get around to reading it but for now I'm frantically trying to read The Cold War and the Color Line for my curriculum class, and every edition of Cobblestone relating to the Civil War that I can get my hands on.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Calling all fairy blogparents

So, now that the slavery unit is over I'm working on planning the next unit, which is going to be on the Civil War. We're going to spend three 45-minute lessons on it next week, and I was having a hard time deciding what I thought the most important things are that students should take away from such a short unit. So my solution was not to decide -- I'll let them choose from among a list of questions relating to the Civil War, and then divide them into mixed-ability groups, and each group will have to come up with an answer to their question by the end of the week with evidence to back up their answer.

The unit coincides with the ELA unit on nonfiction reading, so their responses to their questions will come from nonfiction texts on various topics and reading levels. At the end of the week each group will present its answer and evidence to the class.

With a setup like this, the questions are going to be what really drives the unit, and I thought I came up with some great questions that kids could approach at different levels. Some of the questions I thought would work:
  • Was the Civil War inevitable?
  • Was Lincoln "the great emancipator"?
  • Did the South have a chance?
  • Could the war have happened without women?
  • Would the Union have won without African Americans?
My cooperating teachers thought these questions would be above some kids' heads, and suggested I give some kids these tough questions and other kids more straightforward questions, such as:
  • What was it like to be a soldier?
  • What was it like to be a soldier's family?
  • What were some of the important battles of the Civil War?
To me, those kinds of questions are less compelling; it's hard for me to imagine a kid really trying to answer those questions because they really care about finding the answer. But I trust their judgement and realize I'm just going to have to try this out and see how the kids respond.

Anyway, if anyone out there has some good ideas for questions, or some good sources of short nonfiction texts on the Civil War, please let me know!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


So, the slavery unit is over.

I got my first taste today of what kids are like right before a break ... it was truly bizarre. At some point I looked around and one kid was rocking back and forth in his chair, another was doing something weird with his lips, a third was putting stickers on her tablemate's face, and a fourth was tugging on the braid of the nearest female. (Of course, the latter is a kid whom I've often caught fondling girls' hair ... Ah eighth graders.)

Looking back on the slavery unit, I have mixed feelings. There are some things I'm proud of and some things I know I'll do differently next time. Most of the kids seemed to get a lot out of it. Most, but not all, of them liked having one question that we kept coming back to each lesson (why did slavery exist). In their end-of-unit evaluations, one student wrote this:
I liked the fact that we weren't just explaining that there was slavery and it was so horrible it should have never happened. We actually spoke and thought about how and why did it happen who started it ect.
And I think most of them really came to a deeper understanding of that question over the course of the unit. When we first asked them to respond to the question "why did slavery exist" at the beginning of the unit, a majority of students responded "because white people were lazy" or "because white people were racist." While there is a level of truth to these answers, they reflect the kind of thinking that novice students of history use. Over time their responses became more complex (although I still had one student at the end of the unit say "because white people hated them").

It was a challenge for them and it was definitely a challenge for me! Glad it's over. Now on to the next challenge ...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fun with documents

Thanks, Peter Pappas, for responding to my last post! I'm exhausted but you have inspired me to post about the lesson I did today with documents. (I found Pappas' blog while trying to figure out how to do this lesson.)

So, the main skill we've been trying to teach in this slavery unit is how to approach primary source documents. I was sort of making it up as I went along, but I started out having them practice asking simple questions of the documents (who created it? when? why?).

So the aim of today's lesson, which was the last lesson in the unit, was "why did slavery end?" First I modeled how to approach the document with this document:

Then they looked at several documents (each kid got a different document according to reading level) including a speech by Frederick Douglass and this one:

Then came the hard part. They got into their social studies groups -- four kids in each mixed-level group, and each kid had a different document -- and had to come up with a topic sentence for a paragraph answering the question "why did slavery end?" I had no idea how they would do with this task. Some groups did really well, and other groups were totally lost. I'm not sure how I would have done it differently to scaffold better for the groups that were having a harder time.

This whole lesson was to prepare them for the final project for the unit. The unit question was "why did slavery exist?" So for the final project, they each have to pick a document (but I ended up giving documents to most kids) and writing an analytic paragraph about what that document teaches them about why slavery existed. On Monday, when the final project is due, they'll all bring in their documents and their paragraphs, and we'll hang them around the room like a gallery that is our class's answer to the unit question. I found some really great documents and I'm excited to see what they do with them, but I'm not sure I have really prepared them to succeed. Some of them will do fine because they are smart, and others might just be lost.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Peter Pappas

So much to write about! I'd like to write about some of the cool things my kids had to say today about slavery, or about the midterm elections, or about midterms in general. But it's 8:30 p.m., I'm at work, and I'd rather go home and poop out.

So instead I thought I'd point you in the direction of a really cool blog I found recently about social studies, literacy, and learning from documents: the blog of a Mr. Peter Pappas. Mr. Pappas, you are my new social studies fairy blogfather.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Unaccountable comments

While planning a discussion-based lesson, I just googled "accountable talk," and a post by Ms. Frizzle came up. It was such a thoughtful discussion/explanation of accountable talk, and so helpful. It also made me so happy to read that Ms. Frizzle, one of my teacher blog-idols, felt intimidated and overwhelmed when she first tried it. I felt inspired and also calmed.

Then I scrolled down to the comments.


Teachers to Share 'Trade Secrets' for Better Schools
WNYC Newsroom

NEW YORK, NY October 30, 2006 —Schools in New York City and across the country will be able to access tips from successful schools over the Internet. The program will encourage promising charter schools and regular public schools to share their so-called trade secrets says Jon Schnur, chief executive officer of New Leaders for New Schools - which is working with the schools.

SCHNUR: If you're a 4th grade teacher in math in the Bronx, there's no place for you to go to see what are the best 4th grade math teachers in NY and across the country doing? And this initiative will provide a way for you to watch videotape, see lesson plans, best practices from some of the best fourth grade teachers anywhere.

REPORTER: The program will cost $27 million over 5 years, with money from the US Department of Education and private grants. The first round of funds announced today in Brooklyn is directed at charter schools - but other schools will also be included, and they'll be selected next year based on test scores and classroom practices.

UPDATE: What I wanted to say about this earlier, but didn't have time, was that I love this idea. It combines so many great ideas. One, the idea of charter schools (or any schools) sharing what works with other schools. Two, I'm really drawn to the whole video idea. It reminds me of Japanese lesson-study, which I can't wait to try when I become a real teacher. (I've been trying to get my classmates to try it with me now, but they don't share my enthusiasm.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

What we can learn from New Jersey

From NY Times, political pressure to rethink one of the most progressive school funding systems in the country.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I take comfort in knowing that there are adults that know less history than I do

So, I collected the students' social studies notebooks this week (week 2 of our slavery unit), and of course I had one student who wrote about how Martin Luther King, Jr. freed the slaves. (At least he didn't say that MLK Jr. also ended racism, which some of Chris's kids were known to have said last year.)

That MLK Jr. freed the slaves is, apparently, a very common misconception. Why? Chris says: "it shows how poor the teaching on race issues is. Teachers don't really talk about race in the present, and it creates major problems for talking about the past."

I think that's probably true, but I think there's also a simpler explanation. I was watching my tivoed episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip tonight, and at some point two of the main characters go out to see a black stand-up comedian. They think he's so funny and smart that they hire him on the spot as a writer. Here's an approximate paraphrase of one of his jokes:
"I think about African American slaves, and about how we stacked up against other slaves. Look at the pyramids -- those were built by slaves. No one ever told us we could use geometry!

And those slaves, they got Moses. Now, I'm a big fan of the Emancipation Proclamation and all. But they got a burning bush. We got a memo: 'Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"

This coming from what's supposed to be the pinnacle of network TV show writing. If they think MLK freed the slaves, what chance is there for my kids?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Unions and Charters, part 34

I haven't read this study in full yet (and at the rate I'm going I never will), but the abstract makes it look like good reading. Findings included:
  • Each side (often incorrectly) defines the other by views of its most extreme members;
  • Moderate members from each group share many of the same ideas about good schooling, but each side thinks the other insists on something that will interfere with quality teaching;
  • Even though some large urban districts have viewed chartering as a reform tool, the politics of school districts make them unlikely partners in scale-up;
  • Both sides acknowledge the costs of their conflict, but few leaders are willing to take the first step; and
  • Thin evidence about the work life of charter school teachers or how unionized charter schools operate exacerbates conflicting beliefs
I don't know too much about the National Charter School Research Project, and its list of funders shows a sort of right wing pedigree (anyone funded by the Walton Family Foundation makes me suspicious. And that includes the organization I work for ...). All that means is that while research like this is really important, the people described in the study on the union side might be unwilling to take something like this seriously until it comes from within the fold. (From here, perhaps.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Check out the fall edition of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, which is focusing on evaluating how well privatization has worked for Philly's neediest schools.

The Notebook reports that privatization has not had the effect the Philadelphia School Reform Commission intended when it handed the keys to the worst-performing schools over to a handful of private organizations ranging from for-profit (i.e. Edison) to universities:
This summer’s announcement of 2006 results on the PSSA exam and of whether schools met their performance targets for adequate yearly progress reinforced a prior trend. As measured by test scores, the gap is widening between most District schools and the low-performing schools singled out for reform in 2002 that are now under private management.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or better on both reading and math is now 19 points lower in the privately managed schools than the rest of the District’s schools, compared to 16 points in 2002 (see test score gains).

Implications for New York and this story: Bloomy should be keeping a close eye on Philly. It makes total sense, when you think about the mayor as the very model of a modern neoliberal, that he would want to centralize control over schools and then use that control to hand the keys to private companies. But New Yorkers are very savvy about numbers. Will they be as patient as Philadelphians with private companies who don't perform as promised?

Heckuva job, Brownie

Take a look at this story about this group of parents who are in a dither over a test item on the 2006 ELA test.

Legitimate critique of high-stakes testing? Or a bunch of over-involved parents upset about their kids' not succeeding on a test item? You be the judge.

Something to consider: the 8th graders I work with (among whom the very best readers, admittedly, are not reading at grade level) probably could not answer this question. Analyzing character change over time is something they are only now beginning to study.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006


Chris promised that I'd have something interesting to say about this, but my brain is fried. It's 6:30 and I'm still at work, and it's been a really long week.

What's really, really exciting, though, is that we're finally starting to plan our first social studies unit. Here's what I'm thinking -- if you have any suggestions, let me know:

So, the eighth grade social studies teachers decided that they would have a yearlong focus on labor, dividing the year into three long units: slavery, industrialization, and 20th century social movements. My thought was that the "essential question" for the year could be "Why do we work?"

For the slavery unit, that could translate into "What were slaves working for?" This is a question that has a lot of answers -- slaves were obviously working because they were forced to, but on a different level they were also working as part of a bigger economic system. On a different level, some slaves were able to work to save up money to buy their own freedom.

To me, the most important things for students to understand about slavery, when looking at it from a labor perspective, are a) that part of what made slavery so bad was that your labor belonged to someone else; b) that slavery was part of a bigger economy that united the North and the South and also reached across the Atlantic; c) that some of the ways slaves resisted oppression was by denying their labor to the slave masters.

How will we know if students understand these things? At the end of the unit, they will have to complete a project in which they pick one individual who we've discussed in the unit, and answer the question, "what was this person working for?" The final product must include a written piece (maybe a narrative?) and some kind of visual (map, illustration, etc).

Now what I have to do is lay out the structure of the unit -- what exactly will we do to get students to the point that they can complete the final project? A lot of resources and ideas come to mind for use in lessons: the cotton gin (maybe a lesson where students look at graphs comparing the number of slaves used in the south before and after the invention of the cotton gin?); work songs; maps of the triangle trade routes; narratives recalling examples of foot-dragging; looking at black soldiers during the Civil War -- how was their labor different?; auction posters; looking at what whites were saying about labor at the time (I've been reading a lot -- too much -- about yeomen farmers recently).

I would love to hear any feedback, suggestions, resources, etc. you may have. It's the first unit I've ever planned that will actually be carried out by students, so don't hold back, please!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Privatizing NYC Public Schools

Julie will have plenty to say about this article in the NY Times today about the possibility of New York hiring private firms to run a number of public schools in the city. It goes without saying of course, but this is neo-liberalism in fine form. I particularly liked this quote from the DOE:

Kristen Kane, Mr. Klein’s chief of staff, said the department considered the groups crucial to the early success of the new schools. “What happens to that success when there is no more private money?” she asked. “Will there be more private money or will we need to explore other ways to continue this partnership if we believe that is a critical success factor?”

Apparently, private money is the only way to have success in low-performing public schools. I agree that the current situation in NYC isn't serving a lot of poor kids and I'm in favor of new soluations, but the idea that education technocrats with no accountability to the public are going to drastically improve things doesn't add up for me. How can Bloomy be the education mayor while he passes off responsibility for improving schools to private firms?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Radicalism, neoliberalism, and other words I wish I never had to use

Last night I went to a panel put on by NYCoRE, the New York Collective of Radical Educators. The keynote speaker was a CA teacher who, without going into detail about his particular radical educational practice, roused all of us teachers and teachers-to-be into a radical dither.

The teacher, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, talked about how his first three years teaching, each year he would get the "March 15th letter" saying he would "not be invited back next year," and each year in June he would get the "Teacher of the Year" award from the students. He posited that since urban schools are not set up to educate poor and minority children, for teachers to succeed in teaching them, they must fail at their jobs.

He said that for the first 15 years of teaching, he fought the system, and in the 16th year he started his own school -- the East Oakland Community High School. It came home and tried to figure out if it was a charter school, and it doesn't look like it is. I wondered why they would choose not to open such a school as a charter school. Is it just because the charter movement is associated with conservative, free-market, anti-"radical" ideas? Or is there something else?

Any thoughts? Chris has been submerged in reading about neoliberalism with barely enough time to come up for air, and has been talking to me about how charter schools are a good example of neoliberalism. (But so is everything, apparently.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Test score update

Test scores came out today. NY Daily News got the jump on the story -- article here.

The charter schools I work with did well. But some charter schools did REALLY well -- particularly the KIPP schools and Renaissance. Renaissance doesn't get that much glory, but it's a really great, progressive school. I'm glad it's doing well, and not just because I don't want anyone to get the idea that we all have to KIPP-ify.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

D-Day ....

... tomorrow. The ELA scores come out in New York.

I realize now that I'm working in a non-charter public school how insanely much more test scores matter to charter schools than they do to other schools. At the school where I'm student teaching, to the teachers tomorrow's ELA scores just mean they can decide which kids have to stay for an extra 37.5 minutes a day and which ones don't.

At one of the charter schools I work with, however, to the teachers tomorrow's scores literally mean whether or not they have a job next year. (And I do not use the word 'literally' lightly.)

UPDATE: The test scores were not released today. They will be released tomorrow to Albany's finest UPS couriers.

The Results are in

Last night David Yassky lost the Democratic primary to Yvette Clarke in New York's 11th congressional district. I don't know much about Clarke (she had the support of the major unions), but it's too bad that Congress won't have a strong immigrant rights supporter in Yassky (he won my allegiance with his support of translation services for immigrant parents in NYC).

But Minneapolis elected a great candidate last night. Keith Ellison, who will likely become the first Muslim congressperson and the first black person elected to Congress from Minnesota, is a very progressive guy and is great on immigrant rights. He helped push for the passage of the DREAM Act here in Minnesota, which was later pulled at the last minute after the Republican Gov. threatened a vote.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's 9:30 p.m. ...

... and there are still no returns for the congressional race in the 11th C.D. When I voted this morning, you could hear crickets chirping in the school gym. (You could also hear the crickets chirping outside because it was so freaking early.) But I bet there was a pretty good turnout. I will keep you posted!

Nice Kids

I went to the Twins game on Sunday to watch Santana dismantle the Tigers, and I noticed (another) big difference between kids in Minnesota and in New York City. The Twins had a pre-game run the bases race for two kids, and one kid was way out in front of the other. The mascots kept tripping and knocking him down to let the other kid catch up, so much so that the other kid got to home plate first. But instead of winning the race, the second kid waits for the first kid to get up so they can step on home plate together.

There was a crazy spirit of un-competitiveness going on all game. One Tiger threw a ball to a little girl in our section early on in the game, but she missed it and it wound up going to another kid. I couldn't believe it when this kid passes up on the chance to take the ball home and gives it back to the girl. The niceness doesn't stop at the Metrodome, which feels kind of like Scandinavia with all the blond people. The kids in my building (mostly Somali and Ethopian kids) are extremely friendly - they hold the elevator door open for everyone, they help me lock my bike up most days, they don't beat up their little brothers. In New York, by the time kids get to middle school they are defensive and while some are friendly, there is a edge of toughness around everyone. I had a few immigrant kids who had just gotten to the US before 8th grade, and I noticed big changes in how they acted by the end of the year (some of their new characteristics were directly attributable to prevailing attitudes in the school, especially on the racial divides between black and Mexican kids, and these kids became very good at looking after themselves). I'm going to try and volunteer in an after-school program with Latino kids here in Minneapolis, so I'll see if my initial impressions of these differences are really there. It just seems like a whole other world.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

This ...

... SUCKS.

Preparing Latino Immigrants for School

Interesting article in the NY Times today about the Long Island Children's Museum, which holds programs for immigrant parents and kids to prepare kindergartners for school in the U.S. The population of Latino immigrants is booming in Long Island, and this program seeks to ease the transition into school for both kids and parents. The article focuses primarily on the issue of parent involvement, with a number of advocates arguing that programs like these are necessary to get Spanish-speaking parents involved. From my experiences working with Latino parents of middle schoolers in Queens, having programs for parents in Spanish makes all the difference in terms of parent involvement. My after-school program got a lot more parents to events once we started having bilingual programs, and the primary schools in the area with Spanish-speaking parent coordinators had amazing parent involvement.

It seems to me that programs specifically for new immigrants can be really helpful for parents and kids. The school system is confusing, particularly for parents new to the country. Starting school in a new language is really tough for kids, so any help with the transition should go a long way. Opponents of the program are worried that it isolates immigrant kids:

For all its benefits, some critics have said the program promotes the isolation of Hispanic children. It causes them to cluster together even before they arrive in kindergarten, and so immigrant youngsters unwittingly hold themselves back, said the Rev. Allan B. Ramirez of the Brookville Reformed Church in Glen Head.

Obviously, it's important for immigrant kids to interact with native speakers - it helps them adjust to the U.S. and learn English faster. But I'm not sure I agree with the argument that promoting group identity among Latino kids is a bad thing. I don't know Long Island, but I imagine that immigrant kids there experience some of the same intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiment I witnessed in Queens. Having friends from the same background helps kids deal with these issues, and I also think that immigrant kids learn faster by comparing things they are learning in the U.S. to what they know from back home.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Second day

So, I'm student teaching in an inclusion class, which means that the students are blessed with both a regular teacher and a special ed teacher who are both there part time. I serve as the third adult body in the room, and so I've spent the past two days doing things like signing hall passes, answering questions, and stopping kids from putting tape on each others' backs. These kids have three grownups in the room and they're having the least fun they've ever had in their lives! It's awesome.

The class is a humanities class, which is a model that some middle schools around here use. While in some schools "humanities" means English language arts (ELA) and social studies are blended together, in this school it just means that the same teacher(s) teaches both subjects. Which ultimately means that social studies gets the shaft. (I've been told that our class won't start learning any social studies until at least the end of September.)

In New York, some of the blame (for the shaft) falls on the fact that students and teachers are held accountable for their scores on the ELA test, and that the 8th grade social studies test is a totally meaningless test. It's a no-stakes test. Eighth graders take it in June, so it has absolutely no bearing on what high school they get into. No one ever really looks at it. The state and city don't even bother to publish statewide and citywide averages. (Despite all that I actually do think it's a pretty good test and not a bad thing to spend time preparing kids for.)

I think there's something else to blame as well -- I don't think too many middle school teachers like teaching social studies (particularly if your certification is in ELA). Social studies is boring, kids don't like it, they stop paying attention and it's just harder.

Anyway, despite the fact that I will probably get very little practice actually teaching social studies, I really like the school, the teachers, and the kids. I'm totally exhausted after a day at school and then an evening of class, but I'm not dreading getting up at the crack tomorrow, which I think is a good sign.

Striking Teachers in Bolivia - Part II

A quick update on the teacher's strike in Bolivia - union leaders are beginning a hunger strike today (sorry, Spanish article only) despite continuing negotiations with the government. Teachers are demanding a new education law and the dismissal of the minister of Education (see this previous post for more on the strike). Meanwhile, civic committees and opposition politicians in four departments (similar to states) are going on strike this Friday to protest recent actions in the constituent assembly (specifically when Evo Morales' party pushed through a resolution that would permit a majority of votes to approve any changes during the assembly). Evo's party has an absolute majority of assembly delegates, and opposition members are worried that he will use to push through radical changes to the Bolivian constitution, similar to the law teachers are protesting. No word yet on the reaction of Bolivians to the teacher's strike and the union's stance against the compulsory teaching of indigenous languages. I don't think it will be resolved any time soon, since this current conflict over education policy is a vital part in the construction of a "new" Bolivian national identity (and we'll see how new the identity ends up being), as well as for future relations between indigenous and non-indigenous South Americans.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back to school

Tomorrow is my first day of middle school. Specifically, eighth grade. I'm nervous -- what am I going to wear?? Will the kids like me? What about the huge zit I can feel brewing on my chin?

I spent all day Thursday and Friday at the school where I will be doing my student teaching -- a very cool non-charter public school of choice in Brooklyn -- absorbing information about the way it works and how the first few days of school will go. Also sitting in on meetings -- lots and lots of meetings. And covering bulletin boards with butcher paper.

It felt a lot like the first day of school -- lots of people around me I didn't know, and I had the awkward feeling of not really knowing what my place was in this bunch.

So stay tuned, I will be sure to keep you posted. Meanwhile I will be reading this like this.

PS, Chris is also going back to school. Have I mentioned he's in Minnesota? And may I brag? He is there with a fellowship from this really awesome program.

Charters and unions part n

Eduwonk guestblogger Steve Barr of Green Dot Public Schools posts about the partnership between Green Dot's charter schools and teachers unions.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Striking Teachers in Bolivia

Strikes are fairly common in Bolivia. When I was in Cochabamba two year ago my host brother had a lot of "vacation" because of extended strikes during year, mostly because the government would periodically stop paying teachers - especially in rural areas, and the urban teachers would strike in solidarity or for other reasons such as not being provided school supplies. But the current strike by the urban teacher's union is much more interesting. Evo Morales' government is trying to make the teaching of indigenous languages compulsory in primary schools (read about various other problems facing Morales in this Washington Post article). From what I've read in the Bolivian papers, the teachers are complaining that such a policy will put non-indigenous students at a disadvantage and that the government didn't consult with the union. The central government started having bilingual instruction (after decades of Spanish-only teaching in indigenous communities) in the mid-1990s, but the idea of teaching non-Indians indigenous languages is likely too much for some Bolivians, particularly the elite sector.

The fight over language instruction is another front in the battle for Bolivia's identity. Last night, a prominent peasant leader from Evo's party was almost killed in a fight over the ongoing constituent assembly, where the question of ethnic identity is a big point of conflict. Evo promised to place more value on indigenous cultures, which obviously got a lot of support during the election in a country where indigenous people make up 60 percent of the population. It will be interesting to see if the teacher's union will have to back down if the people support the new education policy. It's not clear that indigenous people actually support bilingual education, for the same reasons that immigrants in this country don't always support it - parents want their kids to be successful, and learning the language of power quickly is the best way to go about that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New CS in Rochester

The Chalkboard posts about a new charter school opening in Rochester, a city that has not had the state's best track record in terms of charter school performance. The new school, True North, will face some unique challenges. From the Democrat and Chronicle article:
The 78-student school, at 630 Brooks Ave., is a college prep middle school
designed to teach character as well as the ABC's.
These middle schoolers are so far behind they don't even know the alphabet! No wonder these snapshot studies show charter schools falling behind other schools -- look what they have to work with!

NY Times endorses Yassky

Read it here.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Myths and facts

Good for the NY Times, not backing down from the stance they took two years ago on the NAEP charter school data.

Boo NY Times, getting involved in this silly, pointless argument.

But I agree with their point: that converting a school to a charter school should not be used as a cure-all for failing schools under NCLB. That the solution should address the real problem: inadequate teachers. Of course failing schools have more problems than just inadequate teachers, so it's sort of a simplistic argument. But I agree with the gist of it.

Best line in the editorial:
These studies argue for a more nuanced federal policy that does not just advocate wholesale charter conversion but instead defines and supports successful models only.
On a (barely) related note, Chris went to the Minnesota State Fair yesterday, where, amidst the livestock shows and stands selling fried food on a stick, the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools had a table. He picked up a bunch of info on charter schools to help me with my job search, and also picked up their "myths and facts about charter schools." Later when he told me about it, I realized that I've written the myths and facts about charter schools one-pager so very many times -- from both sides of the issue! -- that it's a little scary. I am the myths and facts about charter schools!

But it sort of comes back to the bigger issue, which is that it's all "myths and facts about charter schools." Meaning, maybe the problem with the charter school movement is it's too politicized. It's about quantity, not quality. (i.e., "Lift the Cap!" "Moratorium!") Maybe that's why this silly argument about whether charter schools are better or worse than non-charter schools persists, and why charter leaders and teachers unions can't seem to get together on the issue. I'm afraid that the fact that it's so politicized means it will never be used as a meaningful tool to effect widespread change in public school systems.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Congrats ...

... to The Quick and the Ed's new blogger!


When I came back from vacation, I had three pieces of direct mail from Yassky. Yesterday I got a fourth. The fact that I haven't received any mail from anyone else leads me to rethink my original idea about the campaign, which was that the race issue would make Yassky such a distasteful candidate that there was no way he could win. Now I realize he has some serious money -- and smart campaign advisors -- behind him. Yassky could pull it off!

Here's what he said in the latest mailing about his action on education:

Int 316-2002 "Junk Food Free Schools Act" led to the removal of candy, soda, and other unhealthy snacks from City schools.

Int 464-A-2005 Translating report cards and other school documents for non-English speaking parents of city schoolchildren.

Int 188-2004 Prohibiting harrassment at schools

Int 261-2004 Requiring the Dept. of Education to provide voter registration forms to students.

Int 559-2003 Requiring the Dept. of Education to test children in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten who are at high risk for lead poisoning

Aside from the second one, none of these are too groundbreaking. Yassky really stuck his neck out, though, to support the second one -- the Education Equity Act. Lots of city councilpeople in districts with high percentages of immigrants didn't support it. It's unclear to me why Yassky did support it, but it earned him major points with Chris.

No record on city council relating to charter schools, but he did visit one of the schools I work with, which some pols would shy away from. Not that there's too much someone who supported charter schools could to in U.S. Congress. Or on city council, for that matter.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


The worst part of vacation is coming back, especially when you're coming back to this charter school study. I feel like the edublogging titans have done a titanic job with it, so I won't bother to get into the fray, except to say (once again) that I really think these kinds of studies are useless, and that it's a total waste of everyone's time and money to come up with facts that prove that one kind of school is better than another.

Why can't we just live in a world where lefties and righties work together toward the common goal of improving education? Where the emphasis is on what works rather than which side are you on?

Because then we'd be in Minnesota.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Short hiatus

After a two-day journey (that included our first taste of cheese curds), the School of Bloggers are now at Chris's new place in Minneapolis. I'll be back and blogging in New York on August 24. Chris will continue posting about the new and wonderful things he discovers in the Twin Cities, where he'll probably spend some of his free time (whatever the PhD program doesn't consume) volunteering in after-school programs or coaching soccer.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Manatee at the Tappan Zee

I think that I shall never see
A Manatee
At the Tappan Zee

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

School of Blogger weighs in

I'm sure Chris will have much more to say about this article later (as well as responses by the Chalkboard, Alexander Russo, and Kevin Carey at the Quick and the Ed). I'll just leave it at wondering if any of the responders, the last one in particular, has actually read Rothstein's Class and Schools. Carey uses the same reductionist logic to indict Rothstein as he accuses Schemo of using.

Look, Chalkboard, Russo, Carey, Schemo: we all care about kids. We've all spent "even a little time in one of the deeply dysfunctional schools that many urban students are forced to attend," so stop accusing each other of not having done so. (Anyone who's read Kozol, for instance, could not possibly make that accusation of him.) It's obvious to all of us that schools can do better. However, it is also obvious to all of us that we can eliminate a good chunk of that achievement gap if we start talking about the real problems, the ones that are even harder to fix than poor schools and inadequate teachers. I'm getting bored with people trying to frame someone else as the enemy just because they feel the need to have an enemy. Nobody is the enemy.

Except for those voucher people -- they really don't care about kids!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Teacher professionalism vs. appreciation

I started to write all this in the comments section of this post, responding to comments by NYC Educator and Ed at AFT, but it got too long, so here we are.

I guess I wasn't referring so much to the massages and the gyms as to the stuff like what Explore Charter School is doing (see original Chalkboard post here). I agree that the massage idea is paternalistic and really isn't much different from traditional teacher appreciation efforts, which are often eerily similar to Secretary's Day and reveal how unprofessionally teachers are viewed in many schools. That's the kind of thing that really makes me think that these charter school operators are terrified of having another Williamsburg Charter situation.

I guess I was thinkking more along the lines of this book (which I posted about here). I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in both social justice and charter schools. Anyway, one of the schools profiled in the book (can't remember the name, but I think it's in Boston) is practicing real, true teacher professionalism -- massages and gyms aren't needed, because teachers are viewed as the professionals they really are. The entire faculty are teacher-researchers -- everything is about constantly examining your own teaching practice to make sure students are really learning, and then sharing your findings with others.

That's the kind of school where I hope to someday teach. That's the kind of teaching experience I want to have, and that's really why I want to be a teacher. Ed and Educator are right, no massage is going to replace that.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

You can't dis Dewey!

New Old School Teacher making the bigtime as a guest blogger on Eduwonk. I have to say I've long thought of her as my blogging nemesis -- she, like I, is a candidate for a Masters/certification in social studies education at an unnamed education school in New York City. However, she, unlike I, is a bit of a right-winger. I admit to sitting in my classes, listening for tell-tale rightwinginess among my classmates, wondering if my one of them was my nemesis. (At some point I concluded that she must be a student at TC, not NYU, my unnamed school.)

Nemesis that she may be, I can't say that I am overly pleased with the program I'm in at my unnamed education school in New York City. (As I've expressed before here and here.) But at least I don't dis Dewey.

I'm not worthy

Joe Williams at the Chalkboard has some really great examples of how charter schools are working "to bring respect to the teaching profession other than old-school collective bargaining."

Worth wondering, however, how many of these schools would be working so far if it weren't for the threat of old-school collective bargaining.

Also worth noting that there are a lot of charter schools that do not treat their teachers this way. And finally, worth wondering if there's a correlation between how professionally a school treats its teachers and those test scores. (State ELA scores coming out on Monday.)

And even finally-er, worth wondering if I'm worthy of posting when my brain is fried by 100 degree heat.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The AFT on ELLs

I'm also a little late getting to this, but I really like the new AFT resolution about teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). I have a lot of problems with how ELLs are taught at my school, and the resolution addresses some of them directly. My after-school program has a higher percentage of ELLs than the general school population (which makes sense), and this year I was able to see how isolated these kids are. The kids are around other ELLs all day, and have very little interaction with native English speakers. This can be good - for instance, a lot of the kids make friends with immigrants from a different part of the world, and have to speak English to communicate. But from what I've seen, their English grammar isn't improving as much as it could be. That's why I like this part of the resolution:

frequent teacher-led, structured opportunities for ELLs to discuss topics that are directly relevant to their lives and for them to interact in the classroom with native English speakers;

The first part of that is also important - I helped a lot of ELLs this year on project after project about famous people and events they had trouble relating to. Obviously, they need to learn a lot of general American history to catch up with their classmates, but every time I was to compare a historical event to something from their country, their eyes would light up and they seemed to really understand. I think it is important not to treat ELLs like they are so hopelessly behind that teachers can never explain things in the kids' native language or relate lessons to something from a student's home country. One of the ESL teachers at the school does a really good job working with her kids to individually explain the lessons, but it isn't the case throughout the school.

Finally, this part of the resolution really makes me happy"

prescreening and ongoing assessment programs that determine students’ levels of English language proficiency separate from students’ content knowledge and that have the appropriate tools to distinguish between lack of linguistic abilities in English and learning disabilities;

I posted a while ago about a Dominican kid who should be in special education but ended up in ESL (and didn't get the help he needed until a teacher that worked with us took it upon herself to give him extra help) because the test the kid took confused his learning disability with a lack of English ability. This happens because the evaluations of immigrant kids aren't good, and it's great the AFT is going to be pushing for better tests and assessments.

Monday, July 24, 2006

So much blogging to do ...

So little time. In the next day or so I hope to have time to post about this, this (maybe Chris can tackle that one), this (scroll down to the bottom), and maybe a little more about this. Keep me honest, readers.


Saw David Yassky in the Grand Army Plaza subway station this morning. Over the weekend his campaign posters were taken down on my block. There's an AP story out today on his campaign for a historically black seat in Congress.

Previous post about Yassky here. There's another one, I think, but I can't find it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Charters in NYC

The NY Post printed a big story about a "bombshell state report obtained by the post":
The just-released study by state Education Department found students in 11 of 16 city charter schools outscored kids in nearby public schools on the state's fourth-grade English and math exams in 2005.
I'm trying to figure out what this report is. Anyone know?

Monday, July 10, 2006

For the bad idea files

One of the worst ideas I've ever heard. Holding families accountable for students' school attendance, fine. Increasing their risk of homelessness, really stupid.

UPDATE: Chris says, 'why not just give families a reduction in their rent if the students make it to school every day?'

Friday, July 07, 2006

Drama in the Bronx

Or, Why Teachers Need Unions, Cont'd

Almost better than "don't be evil" ...

I just learned about this really cool search engine called
GoodSearch smaller logo .

I've been using it today to support Doctors Without Borders, but I also signed up the schools I work with so that people can start supporting them. Any nonprofit or school that has an EIN can sign up.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I'm a little late getting to this, but I had a few thoughts about my kids' graduation from 8th grade two weeks ago. As Julie knows well, I'm not a big fan of making a huge deal out of graduating 8th grade (or any of the other big celebrations, particularly prom). Almost all of my 8th graders in the after-school program graduated, and I'm really proud of some of the kids that worked hard all year. I'll always remember a Dominican kid who told me that his teachers always told him that he wouldn't graduate and that he loved proving them wrong (he was held back last year but came to the program almost every day this year and worked harder than anyone else to get his homework and projects done, despite the fact that he really should be receiving extra help in school). There were a lot of similar stories this year, and I think the kids that exceed the low expectations that are too common in the school should be rewarded and made to feel like they accomplished something.

However, I have always thought that making a big deal out of graduation sends the wrong message to the kids. I know that a lot of my kids aren't going to graduate from high school (a really sad thought) and that it is nice to give them a ceremony, but it always seemed like the graduation confirmed the low expectations that we have of the school system and of the kids. In my middle class school, high school graduation wasn't a big deal because we were all expected to graduate from college. In my rather limited view of the school from the after-school program (I don't work with many high achieving kids), it has always seemed like low expectations are the standard (see a previous post on college).

Even with all my reservations, I enjoyed graduation. It was nice to see the parents all dressed up to support their children (a nice answer to those who say that low-income parents don't care about their children's education), and the principal focused on the future (and college!), which made the event seem more like a starting point than an ending. What really made it special were the big grins on the kids' faces throughout the ceremony. After a stressful year filled with tests and middle school angst, it was really nice to have an evening to make the kids feel good about themselves. I know it doesn't solve any of the problems the kids will face in high school, but we really should do more for their self-esteem.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Marky Markowitz and the funky bunch

Anyone else see Marky's fireworks last night? It was a celebration of the end of the school year, apparently. Anyone else get Marky's little newspaper in their mailbox today?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Drama in Williamsburg part II

Chris and I discussed this, and we concluded that the incident doesn't just show why charter schools need unions -- it shows why people need unions. Disclosure: both Chris and I have worked for unions. But the point is, when you have a union contract, there are clear and fair channels for being fired.

The Chalkboard doesn't think that "all charters need unions just because of one dude who seems to be on an ego trip." I disagree. Charter school leaders tend to be very strong personalities who decide to open schools because they think they know how best to run a school. For a lot of these leaders, not wanting to have unionized teachers is as much about cost saving as it is about not having another entity that teachers can report to. I know people like this, and my sources tell me that the WCS school leaders are of that type.

Chris says that this incident is why mandatory unions in charter schools are necessary. He says that unless businesses (like schools) are forced to have unions, you are always going to have things like this that are just not reported. The state should say you have to have unions, and if the teachers in a charter school want to negotiate their own contract they should be able to do that.

If the school's charter is revoked, it's going to be really bad for a lot of kids. I know that's what everyone says whenever this happens, but still. Also, there is a serious dearth of charter high schools in New York City. There are a lot of other good options for high schoolers here, but at this late date these kids are going to end up at their crappy neighborhood schools.

UPDATE: Ed at the AFT makes a good point here. Scroll down to the Update.

Williamsburg charter drama

A big story (I think) at Williamsburg Charter High School. Here's the NY Sun story; commentary later today.
The head of the city's teachers union is latching onto a recent spate of firings at a Brooklyn charter school to push Albany to make it easier for teachers at charter schools to join the union.

After the Williamsburg Charter School fired three teachers, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, stepped in. She fired off letters yesterday to the school's CEO, to the city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, and to the state Department of Education.

In a letter to the school, Ms. Weingarten said that she was "appalled" that administrators would terminate the teachers' contracts after they attempted to organize to seek better wages and benefits.

Run as independent schools, charters are free of many of the rules, regulations, and union contracts that govern regular public schools. In New York City, eight of the 47 charter schools operate under union contracts. That includes a school run by the UFT, which opened its own elementary charter school in September and plans to open a middle school in the fall.

An English teacher at the Williamsburg Charter School, Nichole Byrne Lau, contacted the UFT when she was fired earlier this month. A few months earlier she had circulated a copy of the city's pay scale for teachers. While her $50,000 a year salary was on par with teachers at other public schools, several of her colleagues' salaries were not, even though they worked longer days and a longer school year than teachers at regular public schools, Ms. Lau said.

Ms. Lau formed a loose association with the other teachers to discuss how to advocate for higher salaries and benefits like maternity leave.

"When I gave them that scale, they could not believe that they were so underpaid," Ms. Lau said.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hess speaks the truth

I never thought I'd be saying this about Rick Hess, but Amen to this.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Juvenile offenders in CA

Here's one group of kids that are not going to be the next frontier in No Child Left Behind, even though they are being seriously harmed by a system that is supposed to be helping them.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Last minute cap action

It's a fight to the finish as Pataki tries to slip in a last minute charter school cap lift on the last day of the legislative session. I would feel much more excited about it if I didn't suspect that it was one of several unsavory things Pataki's trying to slip in at the last minute for his own personal gain. I sort of agree with this sentiment:
Before a decision is made either way on the charter schools, more public debate is needed, one good-government lobbyist said.

"Trying to jam this through as part of a budget bill is a reprehensible way to do public policy," said Barbara Bartoletti of the state League of Women Voters.

UPDATE: Lest we think education is the most important item on the legislature's agenda, here's some perspective.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Too Dangerous for Soccer

Yesterday I took my kids over to nearby school for a soccer game. The kids were really excited to play against another team and had been talking strategy all week. A lot of the younger kids came to watch, and it was a great atmosphere. But after about 5 minutes we had to stop the game because of a potential gang fight in the park. Apparently some high school kids had gotten into it just before we got to the field and had gone to get a gun. The kids handled it really well and didn't complain at all. In fact, only a couple remarked about how awful it was that gangs would bring a gun to a playground with little kids (there was also a tennis program in the park). It was a sad day, and it reminded me again about how much these kids have to deal with on a daily basis.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

El Jogo Bonito

I've been showing World Cup games all week after almost all the boys (and some of the girls too) in the after-school program told me they wanted to go home to watch. The Brazil game on Tuesday reminded me why I love soccer and the World Cup - all the kids sat together in front of the TV cheered loudly for Brazil the whole game, even though we don't have any Brazilians and the kids are from all over the world. The game was in Spanish (no cable at school), but it didn't stop the kids from North Africa and South Asia from really getting into the game.

The Mexico game on Friday was much more typical of the racial/ethnic tensions present in the school. All the Mexican kids stood up proudly and sang the national anthem (complete with the salute over the chest). Almost immediately after the game started, the kids divided themselves up into a Mexican table and mostly South American table. All the South American kids cheered for Angola, mostly to be obnoxious, and I had to break up a number of fights between the two groups. Some of the black kids in the program came over and said some anti-Mexican things (a few actually watched the Brazil game). The divide between the Mexican kids and everyone else seems to be surfacing a lot more after the national immigration debate, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. I'm glad that the Mexican kids aren't backing down and I know that despite the portrayal in the media that soccer brings us all together, the World Cup isn't going to solve anything. It is just too bad that it takes el jogo bonito (the beautiful game in Portuguese) to bring the kids together.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

SES for English Language Learners

Interesting report over at Advocates for Children on how ELL students are doing in New York City SES programs. The good news - SES enrollment is up among ELLs since 2002-3. The bad news - SES providers don't do a good job of providing services to students and families that don't speak English. I've seen a lot of this first hand at my school, where letters from the school continue to be sent out only in English despite the fact that most parents speak Spanish or another language. Actually, most of the SES providers here do a better job than the school with outreach to Spanish-speaking parents (the report shows that my region is actually one of the better regions in terms of ELL participation in SES, although it is still below 60 percent), but I'm still not impressed with the results. A lot of the kids that signed up don't go to tutoring sessions, and I stopped seeing most of the providers after their big registration push in October.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Class size does matter, but ...

Slow on the uptake again, but here's Class Size Matters' response to last week's NY Times article on charters in Harlem. The response points to some data on the supposed effects on class size of an existing public school when a charter school moves in. (Via Chalkboard.)

I just want to point out that in at least one case, these data are a little suspect. One school, listed as having opened in 2000, is compared to its co-locating school from school year 1999-2000 on. That school, however, did not move into that building until school year 2004-05. Comparing school year 2003-04 (pre-move) to 05-06, in only two grades did average class size go up at the non-charter public school, one of which went up by only half a student. In all other cases class size went down.

The point is, these charts are weird and don't account for all the many reasons class size can go up or down in a school.

Student protests in Chile continue

According to the BBC, Chilean students rejected this government offer (which promised to improve infrastructure but notably did not include free bus passes) over the weekend and are planning a national strike for today. One interesting note about the students' demands that I missed last week is the frustration with the decentralization of the education system in Chile. Students argue that local control leads to inequalities between schools, and want a return to centralized control.

I don't know much about Chile, but this aspect of the student protests is particularly interesting to me because of the debates over education I saw in neighboring Bolivia. A number of rural villages I visited had fought for local control over schools so kids could learn the community's indigenous language and have time off to help their parents during the harvest, things that never happened under centralized control that refused to value indigenous and peasant culture. Rural Bolivians seemed satisfied with the changes that local control over schools had brought, but the schools were literally falling apart and there was a big difference between rural and urban schools. Teachers seemed to be on strike every other month over wages. Again, I don't know what the issues are in Chile (there is certainly a much smaller indigenous population there) but the protests seem to show that without adequate funding, the benefits of local control over education are neutralized.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Charter school funding

I'm a little slow on the uptake, but this Albany Times Union column from 5/23 makes a good point:
We need direct state funding of charter schools, not financing that comes from traditional aid to the districts. Charters may be public schools, but they are redundant public schools. They're an experiment. Those advocating the experiment should find a way to pay for it that doesn't cripple the local taxpayer.
Personally I'm of the opinion that all school funding should come directly from the state (outside of Title funding, etc.). But why not start with charter schools? I know there's some reason charter advocates give, I just can't remember what it is right now.

Student strikes in Chile

Interesting protests in Chile, where more than half a million high school students have been striking to demand comprehensive education reforms, including new curriculum and no exam fees. Hundreds of schools have been shut down by the strikes, and apparently hundreds of students were arrested or injured by the police.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"College isn't for everyone"

Last week my school had its Career Day, and one of the guidance counselors invited me to speak to several classes about my job in the after-school program. I had some really good discussions with kids about different kinds of jobs and the importance of knowing another language (I spoke to ESL classes and the kids really seemed to like the idea that they could get ahead by speaking and writing their language), but things got really interesting when I brought up college.

In the first class, the teacher interrupted me while I telling the kids about what they needed to do in high school to get into college to remind his class that "college isn't for everyone." I realize that the teacher was being realistic - a lot of the 7th and 8th graders who were in that classroom aren't going to make it to college (or even finish high school). I also understand that some people just don't do well in school and can excel in other areas (the teacher brought up a lot of trades that the kids might be interested in). But I was really surprised at how the teacher had already begun to lower the kids' expectations. One of the students actually tried to contradict him and said that her mother had told her about the importance of a college degree, and he just ignored her and kept telling the kids that it would be okay to settle for any job that would pay the bills. I don't disagree with the teacher for being realistic about his kids' futures, especially since he probably has seen a number of his former students fail in high school (a lot of kids from this school do), but it seems wrong to start closing off options to middle schoolers when almost all of them could turn it around in high school. I recognized a number of the "bad" or under-achieving kids in the class, and I couldn't help but wonder if rich kids or students in a high-achieving would have been told the same thing.

The extent to which a lot of people in my school (the staff in my after-school program, teachers, etc) have given up on most kids is more obvious as June is approaching, and it is particularly discouraging to me after watching a few kids in my program that everyone had written off do really well this year (one of my favorite kids came by last week to brag to everyone that he isn't going to summer school this year). All this particular kid needed was someone to believe in him, and even though that isn't going to help every student in this school (it didn't help everyone in the after-school program), it could go a long way for some.

I got a little cheered up by the next class, but it felt like it was in a completely different school. The kids asked interesting questions, and the teacher got really excited when all of her kids said they wanted to go to college. Expectations alone won't help the kids in this school overcome all the obstacles they face, and kids should know that they need to work hard to make it, but career day reminded me how important it is to let kids know that we believe they can do it.

Charter school politics in Minnesota

Eduwonk elucidates.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Immigration Debate

I complain a lot about the 8th graders' lack of interest in current events, but the immigration debate in Congress and in the streets of New York has had a big impact in my middle school. Most of it hasn't been very positive. Yesterday a group of 40 Mexican kids showed up after school ready to fight with a group of black kids after one of the kids made a nasty remark about Mexicans during school (the wonderful security guard at the school, who is also Mexican, defused the situation by telling the Mexican kids that they couldn't play soccer in the mornings if they got into a fight). There is always a lot of racial tension in the school, but recently it all seems to be directed at Mexican kids. One of my kids has been talking with me about it for the past couple of weeks, telling me that all Mexicans should go home because they are taking his jobs. I remind him every so often that there are several Mexican kids that he likes, but after allowing that maybe they shouldn't go home, he retreats into these not so suble racist one-liners we hear coming from Washington everyday.

It's interesting that the immigration debate at my school only seems to concern Mexicans since most of the school's population are immigrants and there are a lot of Latinos from South America. Occasionally some kids move beyond the "us vs. the Mexicans" debate (an Egyptian kid yesterday expressed discomfort with the term "illegal immigrant" and felt that other kids were too mean to Mexicans) and I've heard some valuable discussions taking place about what it means to be an immigrant. But every time the tensions boil over like yesterday it seems more likely that things are going to get worse here before they get better.

Angry parents

Very interesting article today in the NY Sun about the UFT's secondary charter school's lottery, which was held last night. Here's the part that's really interesting to me:
Most parents left disappointed. "I don't like the way they did this lottery system," said Yolonda Orr, whose son Karron was not chosen. "It's like putting them on an auction block." She said that she will go back to applying to the better intermediate public schools, and hopes her son be accepted into one. She said she felt that many teachers "don't care, especially in our neighborhoods - just want a paycheck."

"I'm very disappointed that he wasn't chosen," Ms. Orr said on the subway home to Brownsville. "I wanted him to go to this charter school, and get a chance to start over with something new."
It's not news that charter school lotteries are often the scene of a lot of frustration, disappointment, and bad feelings. I think what's not being talked about is that a lot of those bad feelings are directed toward charter schools themselves -- or at least toward the lottery system. A colleague of mine is doing research on students who applied for our charters but were not selected through the lottery, and has heard a lot of very negative things from parents who feel that the system was rigged.

I'm not saying charter schools should give up the lottery system. I think maybe we should rethink the way lotteries are done. It needs to be clear to parents that the system is fair. And maybe making such a big spectacle of it, while exciting for schools and the parents that get in (and the media), isn't good for charter schools in general.

On the flip side of that same argument, there are a lot of angry parents out there who desperately want a better education for their children but who were not chosen in the lottery. What is happening to those parents? If they were to get together, go to Albany, and demand that the cap be lifted, I think it would carry more weight than a bunch of people like me doing the same thing.

It's their battle.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


A colleague tipped me off to this 60 Minutes piece on Harlem Children's Zone that aired on Sunday. HCZ gets a TON of media coverage, and they deserve every bit of it. My only beef is with the teachers union bashing toward the end. It's this kind of thing that is standing in the way of a union-charter partnership.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Of all the bad arguments for vouchers ...

... this is the worst one. It goes something like this: Catholic schools are dying. We must save them! How do we save them? Vouchers!

Isn't the big idea behind vouchers to encourage free markets in education?


Interesting article in the NY Daily News about a poorly worded question on the Regents global studies exam. Especially interesting to me since I just finished up my methods course on teaching global studies (more thoughts on the Regents here), and we talked a lot about how to teach controversial issues like this. My prof's stance (and what seem to be the general NYU stance) is to teach the controversy, which sounds logical to me. I'm sure that when I actually start teaching it will quickly dawn on me that teaching the controversy won't always be the best idea.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Weird editorial in today's NY Times. The gist: weak charter school oversight makes weak charter schools. No argument there. The weird thing is that they draw from a study published a year ago by the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan, and don't even mention a more recent (albeit potentially biased) study on the same topic. (Thought I was always under the impression that the Evaluation Center was biased toward charter schools itself.)

The thing I really don't get is why the NY Times has suddenly become so frosty toward charter schools. Conventional wisdom around here is that there's someone within the organization that's pushing for a negative position.

This may be paranoid, but it almost seems like there's a coordinated effort to spread the idea that charter schools are private schools at the NY Times. Check out the last line of today's editorial:
To salvage the charter movement, the states will need to abandon the strategy, now discredited, that consists largely of giving public money to what are basically private schools and then looking the other way.
I really, really don't get it. Does anyone out there?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


My hat is off to Eduwonk for doing the impossible: I've been trying forever to figure out a way to somehow make American Idol relevant to education policy so that I could express the School of Bloggers' undying love for Elliot Yamin.

Elliot less resembles any recognizable education figure than he does a goat, hence the School of Bloggers' affectionate nickname for him: Goat Boy. Chris loves him because he is a true underdog -- afflicted with partial deafness, diabetes, allergies, among other things, he is a natural poster boy for a half dozen disease-related organizations. Also, he's a high school dropout who earned his GED after learning the value of hard work. I love him because he has a voice that makes me want to do this.

Unfortunately, if all the gambling experts are correct, this could be the last night for America to see Elliot. So if you love education, charter schools, or children, watch tonight and vote for Elliot!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Update on Amadou Ly

The NY Times ran this article yesterday about the show of support for Amadou Ly, an undocumented high school student from Senegal on an award-winning robotics team. It's great to see stories like this about the impact of the broken immigration system in this country on the lives of hard-working immigrants, and it seems like a lot of people can be moved to do something about it, at least in individual cases.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Day without Immigrants

Although it seems like the pro-immigrant rallies in NYC (NY Times article here) weren't as large as in other major cities (AP article via MSN here, LA Times article here), the impact of the "Day without Immigrants" was certainly noticeable at my school. The halls were pretty quiet all day long, and a number of teachers told me that most of their Latino students didn't attend school. A bunch of my kids (all Latinos) came to school but skipped after school to attend rallies with their parents or older siblings. They all called it a "huelga," or strike, instead of a rally or boycott, and seemed pretty excited to take part in it. One undocumented kid stayed in after school and told me a few too many times that he wasn't scared of immigration officials at the rallies. Even with the massive show of force by immigrants around the country in recent rallies, the fact that this kid was still scared shows how pervasive the fear is in some immigrant communities.

Interestingly, as the NY Times article points out, there was a real division among the different immigrant populations. Almost all of the South and East Asian students came to school, and most of the Asian kids I talked to didn't seem very interested in what was going on. This is probably a function of the organizing power of the Latino media and the fact that there are more Latino immigrants than other groups. Still, it seems like these rallies creating more of a Latino movement (and from what I can tell there are even divisions between recent immigrants from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, etc and immigrants from the Dominican Republic) and not necessarily a movement that extends to all immigrant populations.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Robot Dreams

This article in the NY Times today about an undocumented immigrant student in an East Harlem high school makes a pretty compelling case for passing the DREAM Act, which would allow many undocumented students that graduate high school in the US to attend college and get on a path to citizenship. The article focuses on Amadou Ly, an undocumented immigrant from Senegal and a member of a robotics team that made the national finals against all odds. Amadou can't fly down to Atlanta for the competition because he doesn't have an ID to get on the plane, and he is worried about not getting into the building where the competition is being held for the same reason. And while the fact that this kid might be prevented from taking part in a robotics competition because of his immigration status is ridiculous, the really crazy part of the story is that he won't be able to attend college because he does not qualify for financial aid. He also might be deported, simply because he came here "illegally" with his mother. It seems like Amadou is exactly the kind of student that we should be encouraging to go to college (read the article for glowing reports from teachers and friends).

Amadou's story also shows how ridiculous the immigration legislation passed by the House, which would make the presence of undocumented immigrants a felony. I don't think we should be punishing immigrants for wanting to work and for doing jobs that most Americans won't do, and it is certainly wrong to punish kids that came here with their parents, especially ones that are completing high school and want to go to college.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A quiet 37.5 minutes

Another update on how the 37.5 minutes of extra tutoring is working at my school: I walked around yesterday looking for a few of my kids, and noticed that most of the classrooms were either empty or had only one or two students. It was the same today, and it was a little eerie to have the halls be so quiet (next to the windows was another matter, since most of the kids were outside fighting or cursing at each other). Since I complained about how crazy the 37.5 minutes has been, I suppose I shouldn't be upset about the calm that has come with the warm weather. Except for the fact that almost no kids are taking advantage of the extra time to get help from their teachers, which is not a good sign for a school where so many kids are failing. The more motivated kids (that actually need help with their schoolwork) in my after school program don't even seem to be getting anything out of these sessions, since I am spending several hours a day with them on projects, and they leave all their materials in my office. There is still a lot that needs to be ironed out with the extra tutoring.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Visiting Columbia

I took my 8th graders to visit Columbia University last week. I thought it would be a good idea to get them thinking about the importance of college and to let them know that I expect them to go to college. So many people at school (teachers, administrators and even the staff at my after school program) expect nothing from most of the kids, so it sometimes suprises me that more kids don't give up when they are constantly told they won't amount to anything. Now I don't think college trips are going to change very much - although the way the kids reacted to a visit by a Dominican friend of mine from the South Bronx was really great to watch. He was originally going to talk mostly about college, but the kids really connected with him and seemed to understand a little more about what it takes to succeed in high school and beyond. Even after the success of that visit, I wasn't sure what the kids were going to get out of seeing Columbia.

I was pretty sure that the kids wouldn't understand how good of a school Columbia is. But I think they figured out pretty quickly that they wouldn't feel comfortable there. What they really focused on was the fact that the students there were not like them (most of the kids were Latino or black). Several of the kids asked the tour guide if everyone looked like me, white and blond, even though I thought that the student body seemed fairly diverse. The kids also zeroed in on the buildings and how different they were from Queens. One asked why there weren't any fire escapes, and wanted to know how people got out in case of a fire. They also wanted to know right away about how much it costs to attend the university, and didn't believe me or the tour guide about the possibility of financial aid.

Maybe a little exposure to a world completely different from their own will help these kids be able to think about going to college, something most of their parents never did. But it was pretty obvious that they felt like there was no way that they could ever get to a place like Columbia. It's sad that kids who are just starting to make their way in life (they'll be in high schools all over the city next year) feel like so many avenues in the future are already closed off. I couldn't tell if it was the Ivy League atmosphere that made the kids uncomfortable since we visited Queens College during spring break and the kids couldn't get a good feel of the college, but I don't like it that the 8th graders are already deciding that some colleges are too good for them.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Immigration Debate and Parent Involvement

An article from Education Week (subscription required) discussed the potential impact of proposed immigration legislation on schools. One particularly interesting point was how legislation that would give undocumented immigrants the chance to become citizens could help increase parent involvement in schools. I personally think the language barrier and the lack of translation services is a more important factor in the lack of parent involvement among immigrant parents, but there is no doubt that immigrants would feel more welcome in many parts of American society (and more likely to participate) if they had documents.

Representatives from the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said this week they support the Senate Judiciary Committee bill because it provides comprehensive immigration reform, rather than the House bill and a separate bill that has been introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., both of which focus on enforcement.
They applauded the inclusion in the Senate Judiciary Committee bill of a provision that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths who graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college or participate in military service for at least two years.
They also endorsed the part of the Senate Judiciary Committee bill that offers a way for undocumented workers to become legal.
Ms. Underwood noted that K-12 public schools are obligated under a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in Plyler v. Doe, to provide an education to children regardless of their immigration status. “From the school’s perspective of the primary mission of educating the kids, the immigration status of the parent is secondary,” she said.
Peter Zamora, a legislative lawyer for MALDEF, added that legalization for children’s parents could improve parent involvement in schools. “There’s a relationship between government and individuals in this community that is not based on trust,” he said. “Bring this population out of the shadows; have them participate in all facets of American society, including school.”