First Person

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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 ## 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.