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New York

TEP Charter model sparks debate among educators

Posts about The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School — that's the one where teachers will make $125,000 — brought out strong feelings from educators and advocates both at the New York Times Lesson Plans blog and here at GothamSchools. In our comments, Leonie Haimson, a leading advocate for smaller classes in the city's public schools, points out that TEP will save money partly by putting 30 students in a class (the TEP website does say this, although not in the section aimed at educators). She points to comments at the Times where teachers question the priorities of the TEP model. Alex, for example, suggests cutting the salary to $75,000 and drastically reducing class size with the extra funds. GothamSchools commenter Maria Escalan worries that dividing up administrative responsibilities among teachers will end up overburdening them: Our principal who kept experimenting with different reforms on our already successful school had the brillant idea of letting teachers assume lots more responsibility outside of the normal teaching activities. The consequence was that a lot of my colleagues expended a lot of time and energy on activities that were not instructional and the quality of their teaching suffered. I think it's worth noting that the TEP plan is to give each teacher a single clearly-defined "whole school service" role, ranging from dean of discipline to events coordinator to parent and community involvement coordinator. It's not just asking people to step up as needed, which, in my experience, usually results in a few teachers taking on way too much. And, contrary to the belief of at least one Times commenter, custodial duties are not among the listed whole school service jobs. In exchange for the higher salaries, TEP expects teachers to work a longer day,
New York

DOE: Relieving overcrowding not just about building more schools

Relieving overcrowding in New York City's schools "is going to require a change of mindset — it's not just about building new schools, it's also about reconfiguring existing schools," said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott at today's City Council hearing on school capacity and utilization. Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, testifying with Walcott on behalf of the Department of Education, said that the DOE has made significant progress towards creating 63,000 new school seats, as outlined in the current capital plan; so far, 55,000 seats have been created or are in progress. Grimm and Walcott stressed that while capital investment is one strategy the DOE uses to reduce overcrowding, equally important are using available space more strategically and changing enrollment policies to ease pressure on the most in-demand programs and schools. "We have room in the system... The challenge is making sure we have room in the right places," Walcott said, stating that the overall school utilization rate in the city is 84.5%. The new capital plan, he said, will look not just at city or district level enrollment statistics, but also at individual neighborhoods where "pockets of overcrowding" exist — or pockets of underutilized space. He and Grimm warned that resolving overcrowding on a neighborhood basis might require communities to make tough choices, such as moving one program or school from a crowded building into an underutilized one, or changing zone boundaries, as has been proposed for District 3. The grade configuration of some schools may also have to change, by combining elementary and middle schools or middle and high schools to create mixed-level buildings. Some schools are "victims of their own success," said Grimm, noting that parents understandably want to send their children to the best programs. Part of the solution must be to expand the number of excellent schools, she said, adding that the city will also look at adjusting enrollment policies. While the DOE's testimony emphasized solving localized overcrowding problems, others at the hearing questioned the methodology underlying their school capacity and utilization estimates.
New York

On-line learning helps education “nonconsumers”

Front page of a ##http://www.phschool.com/science/biology_place/labbench/lab1/intro.html##lab on diffusion and osmosis##. An article by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn at Edutopia paints a picture of computers providing modified activities to fit students' different learning styles — one student learns a sentence in Mandarin by playing a game, another through a memorization activity: Both students are learning to put together sentences that they'll use in a conversation together in front of the rest of the class -- some of whom are using the same learning tools as these two, but many of whom are learning Mandarin in other ways tailored to the way they learn. But decades of computers-in-schools efforts haven't led to this kind of transformation of teaching and learning, the article points out. Right now, the courses offered by the Florida Virtual School, a leader in on-line learning, don't seem all that different from traditional courses — while assignments offer some choice to students, and lessons link to websites with additional content, I saw no evidence of the kind of learning-style-oriented instruction described in the Edutopia article. Another purveyor of on-line courses, Apex Learning, claims to differentiate instruction through multimedia, but the site doesn't provide demonstration or description of how this works. The solution is to implement innovative technology models "where the alternative is no class at all," let them improve over time, and slowly build more widespread demand, say Christensen and Horn. Where do they envision on-line learning filling gaps in educational offerings?
New York

National Board Standards “by teachers, for teachers,” mentor says

"We need to take responsibility for professionalizing ourselves," Lorraine Scorsone told me, explaining her decision to become a candidate for National Board Certification in 1994, when few had heard of the certification. Scorsone, who now mentors the latest crop of candidates through the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Teacher Center, was a kindergarten teacher looking for a new challenge. National Board Certification seemed like a good fit. "The hook was that I read that the standards were written primarily by teachers, for teachers. When I read those standards, I got goosebumps. ...[F]or the first time, the complexities of teaching were described." This year, 53 New York City educators are starting the process of becoming board certified. Altogether, 137 National Board Certified teachers have come from New York City, 99% through the UFT National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Project, Scorsone told me. Candidates working with the UFT NBPTS Project meet twice monthly to work on their applications and get help from mentors and from each other. "The more experienced you are, the more underground, in a sense, your teaching goes," Scorsone said, explaining that the application process helps teachers "deconstruct what [they] do and why [they] do it, then put it back together through synthesis." Teachers seeking National Board Certification must submit three portfolios of classroom practice, documenting their teaching through written reflection, videos of their interactions with students, and samples of student work, plus a fourth portfolio called "documented accomplishments," which highlights the work they've done beyond the classroom — whether reaching out to parents or attending professional development programs — that has positively impacted their students.
New York

NPR: How much homework is too much?

Yesterday, NPR's Day to Day interviewed Harris M. Cooper, a professor at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents. How much homework is appropriate? they asked. Cooper provided a simple rule: Essentially what the guideline boils down to is what I refer to as the 10-minute rule, which means 10 minutes per night, per grade: first graders, 10 minutes, second graders, 20 minutes, third graders, 30 minutes, and so on. We do have research that shows that when middle school kids are doing between 60 to 90 minutes of homework a night they’re doing as well as kids who claim to be doing more. If parents feel that their children are getting too much homework, Cooper says, they should begin by observing what really happens during homework time. Are the children focused solely on homework, or are distractions like text-messaging or television getting in the way? He provides tips for talking with teachers about homework, advising parents to take a non-confrontational teamwork approach. Some homework opponents would do away with it altogether. Alfie Kohn argued in The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing and in a 2006 Q&A with Philissa at Insideschools.org that homework "dampen[s] children's curiosity about the world," and that research shows no benefit to homework. One math teacher says on his blog that he doesn't assign homework because his students who need extra practice most are least likely to complete homework. But Cooper makes a case for small amounts of homework: it helps children learn to study on their own and outside the classroom, important preparation for the demands of college, where most learning happens in the dorm room, library, or coffeehouse. As a teacher, I encountered more parents worried that their children weren't doing enough homework than that they were assigned too much.
New York

The International Baccalaureate program for more city middle schools?

Houston may not be alone in seeing an increase in schools using International Baccalaureate programs. New York's Blueprint for Middle School Success, which identifies "key elements" of successful middle school programs, briefly mentions International Baccalaureate (IB), along with America's Choice and Project Grad, as "protocols, programs, and/or school reform models" that school leaders should consider when developing a college prep curriculum. According to the IB website, few city schools use IB at the moment — Mott Hall Bronx High School, Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, Staten Island's Curtis High School, and Queens' Baccalaureate School for Global Education — and only Thurgood Marshall and the Baccalaureate School have the IB Middle Years Program. Central themes unite 8 subject areas in the Middle Years Program curriculum. What stands out about the Middle Years Program is not the range of subjects taught nor the five themes which unite the student's learning experience, as shown in the diagram above, but the personal project, an in-depth study undertaken by each child, and other innovative approaches to assessment. Teachers develop their own course assignments and assessments, ranging from projects to exams and including opportunities for self-assessment and peer-assessment. Final assessments are not standardized tests or even standardized projects. Rather, teachers administer appropriate sets of assessment tasks and rigorously apply the prescribed assessment criteria defined for each subject group. The type of assessment tools available to teachers include all forms of oral work, written work, and practical work. A school can request that the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) validate students' grades, a review process in which external moderators apply IB standards to samples of student work and compare their grades to the teachers' grades, which helps maintain standards from school to school.
New York

Challenges in assessing the effectiveness of the Core Knowledge Reading Program

Yesterday, Michael Shaughnessy of EdNews interviewed Dr. Matthew Davis, who is leading the implementation of the Core Knowledge Reading Program pilot in New York City. Much of the interview covers basics of the program which we've discussed here already, including the two-strand approach to teaching reading and comprehension and the body of research supporting this method. What the interview highlighted for me are the contradictions of researching a program while trying to decide whether to continue using it, especially when real children are the subjects. Davis says that the pilot will begin this year in kindergarten classes at 10 high-needs schools, then add grade 1 next year and grade 2 in 2010-11. But the continuation of the pilot "will be contingent on success in year one and a continuation of funding," he says. Sounds fair: a program should prove itself before people (in this case, the Fund for Public Schools) invest further. Davis describes the plan for assessing the program: Within the next several weeks, students in both sets of schools will be administered nationally standardized reading assessments in order to establish a baseline performance. These same tests will be administered again at the end of the kindergarten. In addition, there will be formal observation of all teachers in the pilot classrooms to ascertain any possible correlation between the level of implementation of the Core Knowledge program and the level of student achievement. In addition, specific case studies will be conducted by the NYCDOE in three pilot schools to provide additional qualitative information. As far as the test are concerned, we hope to see a significant difference in word attack, word reading, decoding skills, and spelling by the end of the kindergarten year -- because the program has what we think is a very strong way of teaching the mechanics of reading. Background knowledge and vocabulary take a bit longer to build, and gains don't start to show up on some tests until later, but, by the end of the three-year period, we hope to see the front end of what we think will eventually be a very significant difference in vocabulary, oral comprehension, and reading comprehension. So although the survival of the program may rest on a single year's results, the promised impact of the program — increased vocabulary and content knowledge — may take three years to show up. At least three years:
New York

How “the rich get richer” in reading for understanding

In response to yesterday's post about the Core Knowledge Reading Program, reader Smith asks, Is he saying their is a core set of content that would prepare a student to understand a randomly selected reading passage on a standardized test? Could someone explain this idea to a non-ELA teacher? I’ve always assumed those reading passages could range from “The Mysteries of Ancient Egpyt” to “Sally’s Bad Day at School” to “Roger’s Time Machine Adventure”. How is content selected? Great question. It's true that the content of test reading passages varies, and I don't think anyone believes that a child can be prepared with content knowledge specific to every possible topic. Rather, some children enter school knowing thousands more words than others, and this difference compounds over years of schooling in a "rich get richer" scenario called the "Matthew Effect" by researchers. (Don't take my word for it: this study, one of many, found that by age 3, children of parents with smaller vocabularies not only knew fewer words, used fewer words per hour, and used a smaller variety of words per hour, "but they were also adding words more slowly.") Hirsch summarized this effect in a 2006 article in American Educator: Many specialists estimate that a child (or an adult) needs to understand a minimum of 90 percent of the words in a passage in order to understand the passage and thus begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words. Moreover, it’s not just the words that the student has to grasp the meaning of—it’s also the kind of reality that the words are referring to.... When a child doesn’t understand those word meanings and those referred-to realities, being good at sounding out words is a dead end. Reading becomes a kind of Catch-22: In order to become better at reading with understanding, you already have to be able to read with understanding.