Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reaping what you sow

In this post a few weeks ago, I talked about Platform Learning's latest attempts to bribe students to join their SES sessions and predicted its failure. More than a few of the kids in my after school program signed up for Platform for the pizza party, but after two days in SES, they refused to go back (to be fair, the attendance is also lower in my program during the days when we run SES). Platform, instead of improving programming or attempting to get feedback from these kids, went after us because we let our kids come back to the program on those days after getting the ok from their parents. One of our coordinators was yelled at by a Platform representative, and the principal had to get involved. And this is after Newton Learning pulled out of the school because they couldn't get any kids to stay in their program (after bribing them with money). It's a mess and it is too bad that a lot of kids are not going to tutoring that could help them, but I can't say that these for-profit companies don't deserve it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sonny gets sonnier day by day

Update on this story: GA Gov Sonny Perdue's gonna sign that bible thumping bill into law.

Most inadvertently disgusting headline ever

The award has to go to this story.

BTW, I have one afloat in each of my two pools.

Students walk out

Chris is going to post more about this later, but I just wanted to say how much I love this story. It appeals to the youth leader in me, it appeals to the social studies teacher in me. And I love the quotes from Villairagosa and other officials -- they're old fogey hypocrites and they know it!

Update: In their own words.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Moskowitz Moskowitz Moskowitz

Damn, this event is getting a TON of press! I wasn't surprised to see it here, but when I saw it just now in a teaser for the 11:00 news (during a really awesome episode of LOST, by the way) I couldn't believe it. Is it just the Moskowitz factor? Or do they know something about the media that I don't know?

"We're losing control"

I've been meaning to blog about the how the 37.5 minutes of extra tutoring has been going at my school since my initial reactions about how crazy it was. It hasn't gotten any better. The time between when the kids are dismissed and 37.5 minutes later is absolute chaos most days at my school. I'm not sure how many kids are actually in the tutoring sessions since there seem to be so many wandering the halls. The administrators are in the halls everyday trying to get everyone into a room, but by the time this actually happens 15 or 20 minutes have gone by with no work being done. The kids who do go to tutoring complain that they aren't being helped, and every time I walk by classrooms nothing much seems to be happening.

A really troubling aspect is how the chaos caused by the extra tutoring sessions is limiting the ability of the school to protect its students. The security guards are outside watching the students that are supposed to go home, leaving the inside of the school to the troublemakers. No suprise that there has been a big increase in fights during that time. One of my kids got punched in the face the other day when he tried to stop a bigger kid from stealing his friend's IPod. In the buildup to another fight later on that week during the 37.5 minutes, I went looking for security and couldn't find anyone. The principal has recently been coming to the cafeteria (where the after school kids meet and where most of the fights have been taking place) to get a handle on the situation.

A dean told me that she thinks the extra tutoring will be gone by next year. She seems more exhausted than normal these days and told me that the staff is losing control of the school. I know that the craziness has something to do with the state math tests and the fact that a lot of kids are tired of school around this time of year, but the connection between the chaos in the school and the start of the 37.5 minutes seems too obvious to ignore. The system clearly isn't working here - kids that need help but don't want to stay are leaving and disrupting the tutoring sessions for those that do stay. There isn't enough security to control the complicated dismissal process or to prevent fights during it. The whole thing doesn't seem very well thought out, and it is unfortunate that something that the kids really need (extra help) really isn't helping anyone at all.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Platform Learning is at it again

After the Times and Post disclosed on March 8 that some tutoring companies (notably Platform Learning and Newton Learning) were paying off principals and teachers (and in some cases kids) in some schools in NYC to increase SES attendance, there was a lot of buzz around my school. A lot of the teachers (some who worked for those companies) expressed their misgivings with programs that basically bribe kids to come to tutoring. And it seemed like the DOE wasn't happy these practices, even though they weren't technically illegal.

Anyway, Platform announced a pizza party and a raffle for an IPod yesterday for kids that actually attend the program (very few have been coming), and a bunch of kids signed up. I think it sends the wrong message when companies pay kids to come to their program. Most kids at my school need individual help, and they know it. Whenever I can sit down with a kid one-on-one to work on something after school, almost every kid responds well and works hard to understand their homework, including the kids that teachers have written off. The fact that kids need to be bribed to attend free tutoring shows that SES isn't teaching the kids anything. A number of kids in my program signed up for Newton Learning at the beginning of the year to win $100, but stopped going after a few sessions because it was so boring. And this is going to happen to Platform in a few weeks. Policymakers really need to sit down and think about changing how SES is run (more oversight of these companies would be a great start) because what is happening now just isn't working.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

We heart Bill Richardson

As part of the School of Bloggers' ongoing campaign to express our love for Bill Richardson and our hope to see him in the White House, I submit this for you to think about. He's right on early childhood education, he's right on the environment, and now he's right on charter schools.

UFT Charter High School

The "EIA" divulges more about SUNY's approval of a UFT charter high school and gives props to the union. Keep reading down to Leo Casey's response. He makes a good point at the end about Bloomy and Klein's push to lift the charter cap. (He also makes a good point about the charter schools I work with.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Buffalo blues

More "Teachers vs. Kids" language in this Buffalo News editorial on the recent movement in the health insurance quandary the Buffalo school district's in with its teachers. (Previous post, with interesting comments, here.)

Also, if you haven't had enough of Buffalo, check out this review of a new book on abortion battles in Buffalo from the most recent The Nation. I know the guy who wrote it! (The review, not the book.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A revelation

Since the School of Bloggers are facing a possible move to Minneapolis, I of course immediately went to look at the charter schools there. Warm-blooded southerner that I am, I was not expecting to find much to like about Minnesota. I was shocked to find out how COOL the charters are there! Look at this one! And this one! There are two charters for the Hmong community and at least two for American Indian students.

Why are charters so cool in Minneapolis? Turns out there's a reason.

Unscrupulous SES companies

Tutoring companies in NYC have engaged in a number of improper activities while trying to enroll poor students in Supplemental Educational Services (SES) programs, according to this NY Times article. I have no idea if some of the more aggressive companies working at my school have done anything like the examples in the article (both Newton Learning and Platform Learning are mentioned specifically in the city's report and are particularly aggressive in going after students and parents), but the atmosphere that these companies create in the school really poisons the whole process. A lot of parents have no idea what is going on and often don't know what they are signing, but they are really pressured by representatives of these companies at parent-teacher conferences and other school events to sign their kids up for SES.

Even though the recruiting efforts were stepped up this year, there hasn't been much difference in the numbers of kids enrolled in SES programs (it is still pathetically low). Most of my kids that signed up for other programs stopped going a long time ago, and it seems like the only ones that are really benefiting already have good tests scores and involved parents. If most parents don't understand the programs they are enrolling their kids in, how can schools expect struggling and disruptive kids to take it upon themselves to show up for tutoring on their own initiative? SES programs, at least at my school, are not serving the kids that need the most help.
I don't know what the solution is since the 37.5 extra minutes a day has been a nightmare so far at my school (more on this in the next post). The problems with SES can't all be blamed on tutoring companies, but I believe that a lot of them do start there.