Check out the documentary here.
During my least school year in Philadelphia (2012-2013) I was fortunate to be interviewed by a documentary filmmaker for WHYY, the local PBS affiliate, on my views and understanding of STEM education in Philadelphia. It has taken a while but the documentary is on the WHYY website for free viewing and has a lot of my colleagues as well. Shout-outs go to Susan Lee and MaryBeth Hertz for being great role-models for female STEM education!
Check out the documentary here.
Back in 2007 then-Mayor Bloomberg announced the creation of letter grades to summarize school performance across New York City. In his view, that one grade (from A as the highest to F as the lowest) would be helpful for students and parents to know where they want their child to go to school and what benefit the school would be. Almost immediately there was negative feedback, as in 2008 when articles continued to critique the use of test scores in these reviews.
When Mayor De Blasio was elected he announced there would be no more letter grades used for schools. Bloomberg released the final set in November 2013. His view (and that of now-Chancellor Farina) is that those grades simplify the situation too much and do not reflect the true nature of the school.
As Chalkbeat NY posted yesterday, the letter grades are officially gone. As you can see below, the details provided are more holistic and require parents and students to read more about schools before applying. I, for one, agree with shift and look forward to seeing its outcome.
Yesterday was my first last day of school in the New York City Department of Education. I finished packing up my room, finalized grades, met with my assistant principal, and then helped stuff envelopes to send to students with their final transcripts. As I thought back to what I'd accomplished this year I realized there was so much there that I have yet to unpack. It is likely I won't get to really dig deep until a few weeks have gone by but I wanted to begin here.
1. I successfully integrated into a new school. AGAIN.
This is not the hardest thing for me to do at this point. Unfortunately, I have been in four schools in the past five years, so getting to know new staff, administrators, and students comes easier to me than most. Still, it is nice to know that you can begin anew, learn, connect, and feel a sense of belonging at some point when in new situations. I certainly felt a bit out of place in September when I was teaching alongside an 8-year veteran of the school. But now that I know and understand my coworkers quirks more, I can understand why they do what they do and how I should help. It was truly a pleasure yesterday joking around with them as we played kickball for hours after school.
2. A learned a new curriculum that incorporates most of the ideals of what I have been trying to do for years.
College Prep Math is a program I've written about a lot over the past few months. It involves investigation, exploration, forging connections, and forcing a lot of the learning process back on the student. While I wasn't skeptical of the curriculum when I began using it, I was concerned that I wouldn't learn to do it very well. Yet, under the guidance of some very intelligent people, I am on my way to understanding what word choice I should use, what lessons I should skip, and how to use my own judgment. It's been great.
3. I can still make new technology connections even if I have to start from scratch.
Moving from one city to another certainly reset my ability to connect with local educational technology resources. Yet, in my first two months at this new school I became the webmaster; a few months later I had been awarded a grant through DonorsChoose to have a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D Printer in my classroom; and my laptop cart has been a great boon to the school community. I knew it would be a hard transition but I now have some ground to stand on when I talk about tech in NYC. I hope to only build on that in the future.
While it is hard to move from one place to another I know that I can continue on this path in a welcomed way in my school community and look forward to learning even more in the future about them and how I fit in. I look forward to blogging more about that next year.
California has been in the news a lot in the past week due to a controversial decision by their court system smacking down so-called "teacher tenure." It is interesting that a case like this can come to pass and that the rules regarding dismissal of teachers comes under such scrutiny of the mass media and public. The idea that this "tenure" provides teachers a job for life is not really true and many are portraying it that way. In essence, it provides a more stringent set of procedures that must be followed in the case a teacher needs to be investigated to determine his or her quality.
Additionally, Pedro Noguera - professor at NYU - explains in the Wall Street Journal that these protections allow teachers to bring up issues concerning them and their students. Low-income schools generally are underfunded and have fewer materials to support learning - teachers with these protections can share their experiences freely and get the resources their students really need.
One of the main issues discussed in this decision has to do with using test scores of students to evaluate teachers so that the "last in-first out" rule will not longer apply. It is interesting how California is getting on board with this idea even though New York State just postponed its use of tests for evaluation; as did Rhode Island and Washington, DC (a city that spearheaded its use under Michelle Rhee). It would seem that many states are backing away from these tests for evaluation, especially as the Gates Foundation itself suggested doing so.
There are many powers at play here and it seems there is a small shift in the tide for now.
The end of a school year can be like a roller coaster ride in that so many exciting things are happening yet at the same time students are acting crazier than ever. As much as they don't want to admit it, they are used to the routines - the ebbs and flows of a daily or weekly schedule - and when those routines stop many do not have the capability to craft some for themselves.
This past week has been a perfect example of that: our last day of academic classes is on Monday, June 16 so the last five days have been a mad scramble for help, tutoring, questions, reviewing, presenting, and administering final exams. Students who have consistently been demonstrating a lack of progress are sometimes aggressive in how they ask (read: demand) help from teachers and our time is more limited than normal due to our own end-of-year requirements.
Last week I sat on five Algebra 2 Performance Based Assessment Task panels (PBAT panels) - presentations my students have crafted (along with papers) to solve some real-life math problem using exponential functions. This is supposed to demonstrate what they have learned this year in lieu of the New York Regents exam (we are one of 31 schools with a waiver from a group called the The Consortium). They are very impressive and have proven to me the depth of knowledge our students really have. On the other hand, there are a number of students who will not be ready to share this knowledge with us and will fall behind. It is truly unfortunate that we try to emphasize time management and meeting deadlines yet a minority of our students are unable to reach them.
In my Algebra 1 classes my students sat down to a two-day final - a rigorous test asking them to explain, justify, and prove a variety of different statements about the content. For those students who have been focused, taking notes, asking questions, and ignoring distraction - they will prove to understand the material and do well. The others are the set of students that have not come for extra help or were distracted during class and unable to learn the material for their own reasons.
It is at this time of year when I always feel these mixed emotions: a sense of pride and joy for those who can demonstrate their knowledge and explain concepts they did not know the year before; as well as disappointment at those who I know would be able to understand if only they would act a certain way. Perhaps sometimes I could have said would have changed things; or one more phone call home (or one fewer phone call home!) could have gotten them organized. In reality, however, it comes down to them and them alone: certain choices lead to certain outcomes and I can't always control them.
This past year has been an amazing experience for me. I've started learning a new city's guidelines/policies, practiced a new curriculum, transitioned to a new community. I hope that I can come back after the summer with a deeper understanding of all these things and be stronger and better for my new students next year.
Over the past few weeks I have been mired in schoolwork - preparing for end-of-year exams and presentations; making sure students are still coming to class so that they can pass their math classes; and getting ready for my own busy summer of travel, reading, learning, and more. For the second time in my career, I will actually be returning to the same school. I look forward to a summer of non-transition.
In the meantime, the School District of Philadelphia has been overwhelmed by issues. Two student deaths this year and their relation to the lack of proper nursing staff in buildings across the city. For the first time in years I never have to tell my students that "the nurse is not in the building today" since we have full-time staff at my current school. It is unfortunate that schools in Philadelphia have come to this yet I am not surprised in the slightest.
And, today, perhaps a strong step forward by the School Reform Commission (SRC) - they will not approve the Doomsday II budget for next year, citing the lack of resources as not enough to properly have a school system in the city. In the meantime, the last remnants of the Recovery District in New Orleans has petered out (not all public schools are closed - six still remain). Some, like Dr. James Lytle, are pondering the similarities of what is happening in Philadelphia. Will I have to watch as my first school district falls to pieces, only to be chopped up by the large charter networks? I certainly hope not.
It is truly unfortunate when public systems are underfunded for years and then blamed for their own poor performance. I hope the School Reform Commission finally teams up with the local Union leadership and Administration to lobby the state government for a fair funding formula.
This piece appears on the Chalkbeat news source on May 13, 2014. It is the continuation of my foray into the New York media.
At the end of January, high school students are usually up in arms about their grades. There’s a good reason: transcripts have a lot of power to validate students’ work throughout the semester or become a self-fulling prophecy of failure.
If I hadn’t taught in Philadelphia for four years before moving to Brooklyn this year, I wouldn’t have given any thought to the fact that students at most high schools here, including mine, earn credits for their classes each semester. Coming from a system where students earn credit for a course only at the end of June, I’ve noticed that this seemingly small difference has a significant effect on students’ emotions and motivation throughout the school year.
In Philadelphia, my students simply kept track of the mid-year grades on their report card, but they knew those grades were not yet official. Students who weren’t happy with their grades could aim higher over the next five months in the hopes of earning full credit for the course at the end of the year.
As a teacher at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, I watched students who didn’t receive passing grades respond with disappointment and, in some cases, anger at their teachers when grades came out in January. I realized that here, failure at the end of first semester signifies the loss of a credit, one that, in most cases, students can’t make up by working harder during the second half of the year. Instead, they have to make up the credit by repeating the class, attending summer school, or participating in another credit recovery program.
There are merits to each system, and I’m not sure which makes more sense in the long term.
On the one hand, students in Philadelphia have more time to transition into a class before receiving a definitive grade, and students who struggle during first semester know their performance during the second half of the year can have a real effect. Stress around grades only peaks once rather than twice per year.
On the other hand, at my school in New York, the possibility of losing a credit first semester means that students prone to procrastination–as many are–have an incentive to make up missed work toward the end of first semester. A student here who fails a class gets a fresh start second semester, whereas a student in a similar position in Philadelphia might not have the drive to dig himself out of that hole. I’ve also noticed that when students’ fall semester grades have already cost them a credit, they approach mid-year conferences more seriously than their counterparts in Philadelphia, whose poor behavior or performance haven’t yet formally affected their credits.
It seems unlikely that this policy will ever make it to the top of the policy-making agenda in New York City, but it should be part of the conversation. Like many seemingly small decisions, when students receive credits has a real impact on their learning.
My first teaching placement was at West Philadelphia High School in September 2009. That year saw a tremendous change in the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher (PFT) contract under which I worked at the school. As a new teacher I was blissfully unaware of its implications on me until in January 2010 I was informed that my school was labeled as consistently underperforming and was becoming a "turnaround" school under the Renaissance School program implemented with the new contract. I was later informed that the vote to enact that new contract allowing the program to come forth was fairly undemocratic and unfair. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, my coworkers and I were pushed out and the school has been in a slump ever since.
Fast forward to 2014 where I am in New York City and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is negotiating a new contract for the membership. This time around I am trying to pay more attention, notice, and point out when potentially undemocratic actions are occurring and try to put a stop to them so that many people really understand what the new contract might mean for our members in the future.
Last night the Delegates Assembly (DA) voted to accept the Memorandum of Agreement but had very little time to truly understand the 47 page document. According to a blogger who attended the DA meeting, very little discussion was allowed and dissent was almost totally squelched. There was less than 15 minutes of time left to discuss before a mandatory end time of 6:15pm and the vote passed through. It is quite amazing to me how a labor organization can display such lack of democratic values.
I am noticing a pattern between the two cities and having serious qualms concerning the new contract and I think those thoughts should be voiced in a public forum where people may want to hear them. I would also like to hear from those who believe it should be passed. But I do not want to feel like opinions are not being heard in an effort to push through something that could be detrimental to me (as was in Philadelphia years ago).
I hope for more in the UFT and its membership.
The UFT has published more information regarding the upcoming contract and its content before a potential vote by the membership. This week the Delegate's Assembly (chapter leaders) will be voting on it as well.
From what I can tell this timeline is suggesting that the retroactive raises are not going to come as soon as people would have hoped. In order to earn all of the money due to you a teacher would have to stay in the system until the last paycheck in 2020.
According to the Movement of Rank-and-file Education (MORE), a caucus within the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), this contract is not on par with what the other public sector unions received and - more problematic - does not even provide raises on par with inflation and cost-of-living increases. Meanwhile, the UFT is touting its success in negotiations and is happy to share the news that health care costs will remain stable but there will somehow be $1 billion in savings realized over the course of the new contract. I wonder how that will play out.
I have been hearing some teachers say they are interested in voting NO on this new contract, but that the elementary school teachers and the retirees might out-vote them. We will see what happens soon enough.
Unless you are living under a rock in the education world by now you know that the UFT has successfully negotiated a new contract for its 115,000 members and a lot of the details have come out. There are obviously still more questions and local organizations are beginning to stake their claim on what is "good" and "bad" in the contract, but it is a win for the teachers that there even has been a new contract as the last one was from 2009.
One of the most important points is how salaries have not been raised since that time. One of the best breakdowns to help understand it comes from Chaz's School Daze blog:
While the salary schedule gets bump over the course of the upcoming years, the retroactive raises (i.e. lump sum payments of owed money) will not come in its majority until 2018-2020. For people like me who just joined the system, this is not the worst thing in the world. However, for those who have been teaching for years and could be owed $10,000+, having to wait to receive it for 4-6 years is pretty annoying.
Teacher evaluation is another sticky issue brought up in the new contract. According to the Union's proposed contract site:
The union won major changes, including a focus on eight instead of 22 Danielson components and a better system for rating teachers in non-tested subjects
According to this ICE-UFT blog post from June 2013, however, it is also considered better to have all 22 categories considered.
Which am I to believe? That UFT President Mulgrew wants more or fewer categories to have for our evaluation? It seems disingenuous to rally behind both possibilities.
I will likely share more of my thoughts concerning the contract but I wanted to get the first nuts and bolts out there.