Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Love lost

There's not much to say about Spitzer's budget that others (namely The Chalkboard) haven't already said, but my own little two cents are "you lost me at the v-word."

Sorry Mr. Spitzer, but vouchers (in the form of tuition tax credits) are a deal breaker for me. You are no longer my favorite new governor.

Tuition tax credits are particularly odious because they follow the Jeannie Allen-ish logic that people who send their kids to private school are paying "double" for their kids' education -- once for tuition and once when they pay their property taxes. The problem with this logic is that it suggests that rather than being a public good that benefits everyone in society equally, whether you send children there or not, public school is a service that you should only have to pay for if you use. I would almost prefer a straight-up voucher program than tuition tax credits.

Prediction: gleeful editorial from the NY Sun tomorrow.

UPDATE: Not quite the rapture I was anticipating, but here's the blurb on vouchers from the NY Sun editorial:
It's all frustrating to friends of real reform, the more so because there is so much admirable in the budget the governor is going to be trying now to get through the same Assembly he has just alienated. The most important, by our lights, is the point of principle he has crossed with his proposal for what can be called a voucher concept that would offer a $1,000 tax deduction to parents who pay tuition at "public and nonpublic schools." It's modest, but it's a start.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Business and schools, part 72

More on this story to come. Basically, it's unclear at this point how the closing of a major Williamsburg fixture, a Pfizer plant, will affect the charter school that has been its major beneficiary.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This is why HCZ rocks

I love this!
In a second-floor classroom, Charles and Camilla watched the Harlem Children’s Zone theater troupe run through a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the play it performed at the National Black Theater last month. Fittingly, it was the play-within-a-play sequence, in which the six “rude mechanicals,” or laborers, perform “Pyramus and Thisbe” for Theseus and Hippolyta, the royal couple.

The actors, who mostly ranged in age from 12 to 14, performed in modern-day workmen’s uniforms, but held close to the original dialogue. The prince and duchess sat with their hands clasped in their laps, her legs primly pressed together, his stretching wide of his shoulders and pointing wider still, horseman that he is.


Anybody recognize this little ditty?
I am a wonder, I am a whee
I am known as Peabody
What am I like? Just look and see
Then you'll know me, Peabody
If so, please email and let me know what it's from. It has something to do with a puppet, a record, kindergarten, and the 80s, but Google is failing me on this one.

UPDATE: Google eventually did lead me here, where I found this very apt description of the puppet I'm remembering:
I think it was something to do with the Peabody Reading Scheme and another puppet called Peamoonie(?) He was the one that looked like Hitler in a baseball cap, had a magic wand and an awful song which, embarrassingly, I can still remember!

UPDATE II: Further obsessive Googling (have I mentioned that there is actual work that I should be doing?) revealed that his name was actually "P. Mooney," that he is part of a language program that is still in use, and that he looks something like the dude on the left below, although the puppet from my memory is a lot more like the puppet described above, with a much more bulbous head.

So many hours down the YouTube

Instead of boning up on revolutions or studying for my upcoming CST like I should be doing, I've been spending the morning watching YouTube clips of Misha. Justification: Clips like this one (subtitled "video of misha before he deported to the USA") could be useful when teaching about the Cold War:

At the very least, it could be useful in teaching the difference between the words "deported" and "defected."

Friday, January 26, 2007

It is officially ...

… way, WAY colder in NYC today than it is in Minneapolis.

Or, as Chris put it, “30 degrees? Warm! I’m going to go for a jog.”

Meanwhile, I am wearing so many layers I’d feel comfortable taking part in any game of strip poker, even with this guy.

UPDATE: The natural balance has been restored, and all is right with the world. Speaking of restoring the natural balance, there's a great article by Michael Pollan in the NYT Magazine.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A lot more gore, a lot less verbinski

A science teacher in Washington has been disciplined for planning to show "An Inconvenient Truth" to her seventh grade class without following the appropriate protocol for "'controversial'" material, according to an article that Chris sent me today.

Teachers, let me take this opportunity that you can get a free copy of "An Inconvenient Truth" by clicking here.

(By the way, if you don't recognize the subject of this post, you should definitely click here.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I’m always interested in the search terms people use to find this site. (The most common being “Amadou Ly,” the undocumented kid Chris wrote about here; the phrase “college isn’t for everyone;” and the phrase “Dawn breaks over Marblehead.”)

The cutest one so far, though, has to be “stuff i should know for the english regents,” searched today at 11:08 a.m. Given that the second session of the English Regents exam is being given TODAY starting at 1:15, I have to say I admire the degree of this kid’s blasé-ness.

Can you imagine if they'd done that to Rod Paige?

I was too busy getting the solfege mixed up during my first choral rehearsal last night to watch the SOTU address, but my buddy Erin makes a crucial disambiguation about the coverage of the address over at the Quick and the Ed.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tell me all your secrets

I'm giving my students a questionnaire tomorrow. Never used this before, so let me know what you think ...

To help me get to know you better, and ultimately to teach you better, please answer these questions as best you can. If there is a question you do not feel comfortable answering, feel free to leave it blank.

1) What is your favorite subject in school?

2) What is your best subject?

3) Have you ever traveled outside of the state or country? If so, where?

4) Do you speak another language? If so, which one? How well do you speak it?

5) Do you work after school or during the summer? If so, where?

6) What’s something you can do better than most people can? (i.e., playing guitar, soccer, listening to friends)

7) If you had a choice, would you rather:

  • Take a test
  • Write an essay
  • Create a skit
  • Give an oral presentation
  • Make some sort of visual (poster, brochure, etc.)

8) I learn the most when

  • The teacher talks and I take notes
  • I read and take notes
  • I discuss information with other people
  • I have to do something with the information

9) Which question do you find most interesting:

  • Does money make the world go round?
  • Why are there “winners” and “losers” in history?
  • What is “civilization?”

10) Have you ever been doing something and had the feeling that you were so energized and focused, you lost track of time? If so, what were you doing?

11) Rank the following from 1-5 (1 being most interesting to you, 5 being the least)

  • Women’s history
  • Sports history
  • History of music
  • Art history
  • History of social classes

12) Anything else I should know about you?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

You say you want a ...

Also: I have about a week and a half to learn all there is to know about revolutions before I start teaching them. I checked out Hobsbawm's Age of Revolution this morning from the library, but I'm a little intimidated by him. Anyone have any other suggested reading material?

My thanks, with liberty, equality, and that other thing, to you all.

Rock and roll high school

Just finished the first week of my high school student teaching placement, and after 11 hours of sleep, I'm finally well-rested enough to post about it.

My cooperating teacher teaches three sections of mixed ninth and tenth grade Global Studies. I've never heard of doing it that way before, and it's too early for me to have any opinion on it, but it's certainly interesting: This year's ninth and tenth graders will take Global 3 and 4, and next year when they're sophomores the ninth graders will take Global 1 and 2 with the younger kids.

After Regents are over, I'll be taking over one section, team-teaching the second, and helping out with the third. This is a portfolio school, so the kids just have to take the English Regents and have vacation the rest of the time while the teachers have meetings, PD and parent-teacher conferences.

It's pretty good timing for a vacation -- apparently there has been a rash of fights recently between kids from one part of town and kids from another. Obviously that's not good news, but the way the school handled it is: they completely rescheduled classes on Friday, making room for a 45-minute advisory period at the beginning of the day during which each class talked about how they can contribute to a better school environment. It sounds hokey, but at least the way my cooperating teacher did it, it had a really positive, democratic vibe.

I think I'm going to learn a lot this semester, both from having my own class and from observing my cooperating teacher, a transplant from L.A. who has a great rapport with students.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the scandal-embroiled brother of a highly unpopular and conservative major political figure made a surprise visit to the school for which it is your job to do the publicity.

Do you publicize this event?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Taking note

The Winter 06-07 edition of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook is a really wonderful examination of the issue of parent involvement. The Notebook examines parent involvement from all angles, from charter schools to Bill Cosby.

The best part of this Notebook is an article written by two members of the Philadelphia Student Union -- an awesome organization that was a vocal opponent of the 2002 school privatization. The students surveyed and interviewed parents, analyzed their data, and presented recommendations.

Also check out this blurb on Scrabble – one of the School of Bloggers’ favorite pastimes. (Have I mentioned that I have a sister who is a nationally ranked Scrabble player?)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Merit pay

I may have missed it, but did any bloggers have anything interesting to say about this study? Or is it too bogus to blog about?

Sad day

Chris is on his way back to Minnesota right now, via Akron, OH and Atlanta, GA, and I am on my way back to the grind, via working on MLK day and starting my new student teaching placement tomorrow. I'm psyched about it, but I haven't yet met my cooperating teacher and I only have half a voice.

Meanwhile, here's a little MLK day video from your friendly local history teacher-to-be.

UPDATE: It isn't just 8th graders who think Martin Luther King Jr. freed the slaves. Apparently a good chunk of college kids think so too.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It was officially ...

... colder in NYC today than it was in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Which came first?

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the relationship between the health care crisis and education, the idea that the fate of the two entities are inextricably linked, and the idea that universal health care could assuage so many of the problems in public education – from the achievement gap to labor-management relations.

A recent issue brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education makes the corollary argument: lower drop-out rates, and you will solve the health insurance crisis.

Friday, January 05, 2007

More middle school

I kept meaning to post on this NYTimes op-ed piece from a while back about hyper-sexual middle school girls. To be honest, the dancing doesn't really bother me that much, and it just seems like more in the continuing saga of adults being offended by kids' dance moves dating back to Elvis. (I have fond memories of a high school pep rally being suddenly dismissed after the step team "simulated intercourse" on the half court line.)

What really shocked me, though, were the t-shirts that girls would come in wearing that said things like,

"Trust me, I'm legal"


"I'm even cuter online"

Needless to say, these t-shirts were teeny-tiny. It's one thing to put yourself out there as a sexual being. It's another to put yourself out there as a willing victim of an adult sexual predator. These t-shirts were most likely designed to be tongue-in-cheek, but I doubt most eighth graders really get it.

Or am I just another Elvis-basher?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Things you can do when you don't have to work

The School of Bloggers took a field trip yesterday to the new exhibit at the New York Historical Society on Slavery and the Civil War in N.Y.C. I was kicking myself the whole time that I didn’t take the eighth graders there – the whole exhibit was about how N.Y.C. profited from slavery, and one of our big questions in our slavery unit was “who profited from slavery?”

I learned a lot in particular about how much New York businesspeople benefited from cotton – something like 38 cents of every dollar on financing, trading and insuring. We did a whole lesson on “the journey of cotton,” and the kids would totally get the idea that these New Yorkers were, in some way, complicit in slavery.

Another thing the exhibit did well was connecting slavery to the treatment of American Indians in the south. Much of the land that became available for cotton farming came from expelled Cherokee and Chickasaw. We didn’t spend any time on that at all, but it would have been a good connection to make.

One last thing I thought was cool about the exhibit was an analysis of the tactics used by abolitionists. In the spring, the eighth graders will be studying 20th century social movements, and that would be another great connection to make. Abolitionists, the exhibit pointed out, used empathy to rally support, and tapped into religious organizations. Reminds me of Cesar Chavez, as well as more recent movements to organize farm workers.

Bottom line: bummed about not organizing a field trip with the kids, but totally psyched about this exhibit. Go see it!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

He Said

I've been thinking a lot about my eighth graders from last year during my first year in grad school. Even though it was probably the most frustrating year of my life, it was also one of the most rewarding. Amid all the chaos (and there certainly was a lot of it at my former school), I had a lot of wonderful kids that tried really hard to do the best they could in school. So whenever I read articles like this one in the Times, I immediately become skeptical of all the focus on middle school. While I recognize a lot of the distractions that middle school kids have to deal with mentioned in the article and I agree that they certainly have a negative impact on learning, the narrow focus obscures the larger problems. As one kid says in the article, they are not adequately prepared to succeed in middle school. I think this is a big, if not the biggest, reason so many kids in my after-school program (in 6th, 7th and 8th grade) were doing so poorly in middle school. They were so far behind that it is not realistically possible for them to catch up and then do well on the tests. This wasn't entirely the fault of the middle school or their hormones. Even though a lot of them got discouraged after continually not understanding what was going on, we had a number of kids that put in a lot of extra effort to raise their test scores.

But the point of talking about middle school "solutions" is about getting them ready to do well in high school, not just about test scores. I think there are a lot of things that could have improved the environment in my former school (a 9am start time would be a great start) that would have helped my 8th graders learn and get better prepared for 9th grade, but I don't see how any solutions that start in middle school are going to resolve the larger problems in a school system that starts leaving kids behind long before they get there. I keep thinking about a Dominican kid who had been stuck in ESL classes for years because nobody recognized or did anything about his learning disability. He worked harder than almost anyone and was one of the most charming kids I’ve ever met, but he had never really learned how to read and this of course limited everything he did in middle school. He passed 8th grade somehow, but I’m not too optimistic about his chances in high school. Even if he makes it, it’s not realistic to expect most kids to overcome so many obstacless.

She said

Very interesting article in the NYTimes, the first in a series on middle school. The big question: how do you educate kids who are still, in many ways, children, but who are beginning to deal with really grown up problems?

In one of my classes last semester we talked a lot about how school systems tend to treat middle schoolers as either big elementary students or little high schoolers. But they really are a totally different beast. And a friendly beast. Before I started my last student teaching placement (at a school which, incidentally, is mentioned in the NYTimes article), I was sure I was going to hate middle school. But now I'm thinking I may actually want to end up teaching in one.

More to come from Chris, who worked with middle schoolers at a very different school from the one where I was teaching, and still learned to love the beast.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I will take Ed at the AFT up on his suggested resolution for me, especially now that I have a couple of weeks until my next student teaching placement starts! I will be teaching at a small high school in Manhattan. Sad to leave the eighth graders, but I'm excited for high school. I'm also resolving Chris to write more, even though he is a busy grad student. He had really interesting things to say about school districts in Minnesota ...

Happy new year everyone!