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.