Monday, January 30, 2006

Musical Chairs

Not sure how I missed this, but the new chairman of the New York City Council's education committee is Robert Jackson. (I read it in this article.) I don't know much about him, but he appears to be quite a departure from his predecessor, Eva Moskowitz.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Thinking globally

In one of my social studies ed classes our first assignment of the semester was to take the August 2004 Global Studies Regents exam. My performance on that test was, shall we say, embarrassing to me and frightening to you whose children I'm going to teach someday.

Questions that stumped me:

7) Some historians suggest that as a result of the Mongol invasions of Russia, the Russian people were
(1) united with the Ottomans
(2) converted to Christianity
(3) freed from serfdom
(4) cut off from most of western Europe

22) One result of the Opium War was that China
(1) adopted democratic reforms
(2) gained control of Hong Kong
(3) regained control of Manchuria
(4) was divided into spheres of influence

Questions that I thought were really good questions:

39) The caste system in India and the feudal system in Europe were similar in that both
(1) provided structure for society
(2) developed concepts of natural rights
(3) established totalitarian governments
(4) promoted peace and prosperity

44) Which statement best describes an impact of the computer on the global economy?
(1) Countries can increase tariffs on imports.
(2) Companies now market more products worldwide.
(3) Wages have risen dramatically for most people in developing nations.
(4) Prices of oil and other resources have declined worldwide.

Softball question:

38 Which statement related to the recent history of Pakistan is an opinion?
(1) Pakistan gained its independence from Britain in 1947.
(2) The majority of the people who live in Pakistan are Muslims.
(3) Pakistan would be better off if it was still part of India.
(4) Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a major leader in Pakistan’s independence movement.

If you want to try the test yourself, you can get the answers here. Feel free to post your score in the comments section. I am sure it will be better than mine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Supporting Immigrant Parents

A quick update on the status Education Equity Act (in Spanish, Daily News article here), which is a bill passed by the City Council in December that would require the DOE to provide comprehensive translation services for immigrant parents in city schools. Bloomy vetoed the bill, saying that he already spends $10 million on translation through a centralized translation unit, and the City Council is expected to take up the bill again on Feb. 16. It originally passed with 35 votes and was veto-proof at the time, but the departure of 7 council members that supported the bill leaves the status of the Education Equity Act uncertain.

I strongly support this bill because much more needs to be done at schools to increase the involvement of immigrant parents. Bloomberg's translation unit is a good first step, but there needs to be a real effort to include immigrant parents in school decisions, especially since so many schools with large immigrant populations are having trouble. The immigrant parents at my middle school want to participate but are shut out of PTA meetings and other events because more often than not there are no translators present. These parents are trying to learn English (the ESL classes my program offers are full) and I really don't think this would change if the Education Equity Act passes, contrary to the arguments voiced by its opponents, but it is wrong to reject parents and endanger the educational future of their kids simply because they haven't learned English yet. Providing translation services doesn't discourage immigrants from learning English, but it is an incentive for them to participate more in American civic society and interact with their community members.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More SURR schools in NYC

The New York Post reported this weekend that more city schools were added to the state's failing list than were removed, reversing a recent positive trend. Ten city schools were added and only 3 were removed, bringing the total to 40. I haven't been able to figure out if my middle school is on the list, but most of the teachers I've talked to seem really worried. I'm just glad testing is over and the kids can calm down, because they have seemed really stressed out recently.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Media Matters takes on "Stupid" 20/20 report

I'm glad somebody did it. I did not watch the whole show*, but I did watch selected highlights of Stossel's report on American schools on The report is extremely biased and, as Media Matters reports, leaves out a whole side of the issue.

The most dismaying thing to me about the 20/20 report is that it is so mainstream. Stossel does not shy away from making very conservative statements about "government monopolies," and this is prime time network television. My worry is that this is just where the country is right now, and 20/20 is a symptom rather than a cause. Despite all the crap that's spinning madly from the fan about the lack of accountability in the private sector, and despite all my hope that the public is losing confidence in business, maybe people really do still believe that private is necessarily better than public.

*Actually I did try to watch the video of the 20/20 report since apparently the org that I work for was mentioned, but in typical Julie style I stuck the tape into the VCR only to have the VCR immediately eat the tape.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Two new blogs on the scene -- NY Daily News reporter Joe Williams is blogging over at our friends the NY Charter School Association, and the AFT has a new blog on NCLB.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Houston to get merit pay

Full story here. Don't know much about it yet, but from the looks of it, unlike some really interesting merit-pay plans, this one is based on test scores alone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ELLs and special ed

Interesting article in the NY Times today about a successful primary school in the South Bronx that was labeled as "failing" as a result of some bizarre calculations under NCLB. The state claimed that English Language Learners (ELLs) and special education kids did not make enough progress under the law, and the article really shows how crazy things can get when schools are dealing with ELL students. One problem that hurt the school in the South Bronx - putting immigrant kids that have trouble learning in ESL classes even when they speak English well - seems to happen at my middle school a lot.

Once the principal saw the names, he realized many did not belong on the list. Typically, they were Hispanics who were given bilingual services when they first
arrived. However, once they had been at P.S. 48, teachers realized their problem
was not English; it was that they were slow learners and needed special-education services. Most have not been in a language class for two to three years.

This reminds me of a very articulate Dominican kid in the after school program who was held back last year and continues to have trouble in school because he isn't getting enough help in ESL, which he really doesn't need. At least at P.S. 48 kids like these are getting moved to classes where they can get more help.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Here is a short column at the Gotham Gazette on the DREAM Act and various immigration reform bills in Congress.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Training Future CIA Agents

Yesterday Bush proposed a program to teach Arabic, Chinese and Farsi to American students. I'm all for teaching kids another language (the article says only 44 percent of high school students study another language), but the reasons behind the program - called the National Security Language Program - may be a cause for some concern. One spokesperson said the programs might involve a commitment to work for the government or military. It would be really unfortunate if programs like the Mandarin dual language program in Oregon (post here) tried to funnel kids to the CIA. But I do think the idea of teaching kids another language is a good one. Kids are often isolated in their own worlds in increasingly segregated school districts, and it's important for them to learn about other cultures and viewpoints through language, which can really make the learning stick.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Pondering a Takeover

According to the LA Times today, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa met with the superintendent of the city's schools, and they may or may not have discussed the mayor's potential takeover of the school district. I haven't heard much about Villaraigosa since he was elected (the Economist says he hasn't done much), but he seems determined to follow NYC's mayor on this one. I'm not seeing a lot of progress as a result of Bloomy's reforms, and I suspect that the upcoming middle school ELA tests will confirm at least the dismal state of the city's middle schools. Only a handful of my 8th graders have been able to write a coherent, gramatically correct article for the after-school's newsletter. And these kids are so tired of thinking and being pressured about tests all year that I think they won't even perform as well as they could.

In other voucher news...

NY Times: Florida Court Strikes Down School Voucher Program

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

National school voucher program passed

I don't know how I missed this story.

Actually, I do know how I missed it. It was attached to a defense appropriations bill and passed right before Christmas. I am disgusted.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My sentiments exactly

In his column today, Jay Mathews writes:

"In this new year for charter schools, we will be seeing more studies of average charter school results vs. average regular school results, each interpreted in a different way, each used to reach some political conclusion. I would prefer to keep visiting the schools themselves, in person when I can, or through good books like these when possible. Nearly every charter school is guided by experienced teachers' hard-won knowledge of something that works. They don't all get it right, but put the best parts together and we may get something we like."

Learning Chinese in Oregon

Very interesting article in the Washington Post today about a Mandarin dual-language program in Portland. The program, which is federally funded, starts in elementary school and eventually offers college scholarships for students to take classes in Chinese. It seems like a great idea to teach kids about another part of the world and get them ready to work in a globalized economy, and evidently the parents there agree - more and more non-Asian parents are signing up and there was a waiting list this year for the first time. It will be interesting to see if programs like these help kids do better in school.