Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Victory (Kind of) at last for Immigrant Parents

Yesterday, Bloomberg and the City Council agreed to expand translation services to immigrant parents (Newsday article here, and DOE press release on the deal here). The increase in funds ($2 million will be added to the $10 million the city already spends) to Bloomy's Translation and Interpretation Unit will allow more school documents to be translated. The deal sidesteps a threat by the City Council to override Bloomberg's recent veto of the Education Equity Act, which would have mandated more comprehensive translation services in schools.

It will be hard to tell anytime soon if the extra money will change much in the schools and as the Newsday article points out, the provision that says services will be available to "the extent practicable" is worrying because schools may simply choose not provide the services since it often isn't practical for schools without resources to provide translation services to parents in a number of languages. Still, it is encouraging that something was done to reach out to immigrant parents and not treat them as second-class citizens simply because they haven't learned English yet. If these parents can become more involved in their children's education, I think the benefits to schools and communities will outweigh the costs of increased services. Language access doesn't guarantee parent involvement, but it is a good first step.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Update on the Education Equity Act

The Daily News reported on Tuesday that council members may be working on a compromise to increase translation services for immigrant parents in NYC schools. The City Council passed the Education Equity Act late last year, and Bloomy vetoed it, saying the bill would violate state law. Let's hope they come up with something soon - I spent last Thursday translating for dozens of Spanish-speaking parents at parent-teacher conferences in an ESL class, and most of the parents told me or the teacher that it was the first time they had been able to communicate with their children's teacher. Is it any wonder that most of the school's parents didn't bother to show up for the conferences?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Charters and segregation

Meanwhile, in other charter news, a new report has come out about how charter schools do nothing to desegregate schools in Michigan. From the co-director of the study's policy center:
"Parents are moving their students from racially segregated (traditionally public) schools to racially segregated charters."

There was another big study by these people a few years ago on the same topic.

My question is, were charter schools ever intended to be forces of racial desegregation? Yes, they should (and do) integrate students economically, but is it such a bad thing if minority parents decide to send their children to schools where the other students look like them?

I keep thinking of an article by Lisa Delpit where she discusses her own daughter's move from a private school in which she is the only black student to a largely black charter school. The effect on her daughter's self esteem was significant, and startling to Delpit. Charter schools are schools of choice -- parents choose to send their children there for any number of reasons. Is that really segregation?

I'm also thinking about the two charter schools I work with -- one had a Latina founding principal, and a large proportion of the faculty and staff there are Latino. At an event last night, graduates of the school greeted many of the parents at the door in Spanish, with kisses on the cheek. Is it any wonder that Latino parents would want to send their children there, and that 60% of the students are Latino?

At the other school, a large proportion of the faculty and staff are black. The school song is an African folk tune, and the school's culture feels distinctly black. Is it any wonder that black parents would want to send their children there, and that 90% of the students are black?

Finally, being a white woman I'm not sure if I should be offended by the idea of the "peer effect" for race. The Harvard Civil Rights Project makes the case that segregation is an evil in itself, but I'm not sure if I buy it, especially in the case of charter schools.


Eduwonk's guest blogger this week gets at the one thing that irritates my conscience when I advocate for charter schools.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The good book(s)

Bible thumping in my home state. From the Economist:

Bible Study

A bill that would allow for Bible classes in public schools was approved by a 50-1 margin by state senators on February 3rd. Regina Thomas, a Democrat from Savannah, was the lone dissenter. State Republicans had been trying to pass a version of the bill since 2000. The version that passed, sponsored by Tommie Williams, the majority leader, requires the state board of education to approve two new elective high-school courses (which are not required for graduation): one on the Old Testament and one on the New. The bill also requires that the Bible be used as a textbook.

A version of the bill sponsored by three Democratic members would have created only one course and would not have required the use of the Bible, but lack of support forced the sponsors to vote for Mr Williams’s bill. Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, observed that it was better to be seen “running and hiding in the rest room” than be accused of voting against the Bible. A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, meanwhile, promised to watch the bill closely.

Meanwhile, in the "Humanities and the Social Studies" course I'm taking right now, we recently did a model lesson on the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran. (Students are required to know something about these books for the Regents.) We used literary analysis techniques to compare excerpts from the three books relating to certain topics (food, women, holy war, etc.). The lesson had its limitations, but it seemed like an interesting way to approach what is required material -- it completely steered clear from theology. (Though, even in my masters' level class of adults, it was not possible for everyone to look at the material objectively.)

The point is, holy texts do have a place in the high school classroom. But do they really need their own elective? Why single out the Old Testament and the New Testament for their own separate electives? This is a purely political bill that is meant to separate the bible-lovers from the god-haters in an election year (see the political scientist's comment).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

My unending quest to find new sources of procrastination

Check out the blogs I have recently added to the sidebar:

Your Mama's Mad Tedious indulges my love of teacher narratives and Chris's obsession with baseball.

A History Teacher is my new eGuru.

Life in the Mobile Learning Cottage is written by a history/literature teacher who shares my fear of other people's vomit.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

More on the new schedule

I talked to a lot of kids today about the extra tutoring sessions, and almost everyone hated it. I know that it's still being worked out, but too many complained about not doing anything (most were simply given a worksheet after everyone calmed down). A few other kids said that although they needed help in math, the work in the extra sessions was too easy. I originally thought that kids would be embarrassed about being required to attend tutoring, but it seems that because so many kids have to stay (I have about 5 students out of the 40 in after-school that don't have tutoring) it shouldn't be much of a problem. But it doesn't seem like the sessions are going to be an efficient way to help struggling kids.

According to this poll from Insideschools.org, parents are not happy with the new schedule either. A major problem seems to be that parents aren't getting enough information about what is going on. It doesn't seem like my school has done a good job informing parents, but it is also crazy to expect schools to successfully implement something this big in the middle of the year. Why not wait until next fall?

37.5 minutes of chaos

Yesterday the extended tutoring schedule went into effect and it was crazy at my middle school (it seems like it was a similar situation elsewhere, according to this NY Times article). Dozens of parents were calling the after-school office trying to figure out where their kids were, and it seemed like a number of students that were supposed to be in tutoring left the building early (I can usually tell by how many kids have McDonalds). Nobody at the school seemed to know what was going on. And the kids that went to tutoring were absolutely off the wall in after-school. I really hope this works itself out, but I'm not optimistic after yesterday.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A good dog.

We miss you, Ollie.