Tag Archives | NYC DOE

if your dinner guests don’t behave, does that make you an ineffective hostess? (from the archives)

One story: this semester, I teach two sections of the same class. One class meets at 930AM and has sixteen students, all of whom are native English speakers.  The students are lively (probably stoked on the morning coffee); they seem to keep up with the reading. The second section meets at 2PM and has twenty-six students, seven of whom are non-native English speakers. It’s a less talkative class and I don’t think all the students are keeping up with the reading.  On the mid-term I gave last week, the morning class earned far more As; the afternoon class had a higher number of Cs.

Clearly I am an ineffective teacher, if I compare my afternoon with my morning test scores.

Another story: Liam’s first grade class was team-taught by a special ed teacher and a general ed teacher; the students in the class were a combination of kids who needed various types of extra help and kids who didn’t need extra help.  One student that year had some significant behavior problems and subsequently went to a school that could better serve his emotional and developmental needs. One of the two teachers was brand-new to the school and brand-new to the team-teaching concept.  And, horror of horrors, in mid-year, it happened that the brother of one of the teachers was shot and killed in the Virginia Tech massacre.

Let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of learning happening in that classroom, as the teachers struggled to figure out their partnership and their students, and then had to deal with an unimaginable tragedy.

If there had been testing done that year, I’m going to bet the scores would’ve been abysmal.

A third story: Have any of you ever had a dinner party? A real dinner party, where you carefully  invite the guests, plan the menu, spring for the fifteen-dollar bottle of wine as opposed to the Two Buck Chuck? And then the party for whatever reason fizzles?  But other times, people stop by, you order pizza or whip up some kind of soup, the Two Buck Chuck goes down easy and you have a wonderful night of laughter and conversation?

Teaching reminds me a bit of throwing a party (if you were dumb enough to throw a party two, three, five times a week). You can do all the planning and organizing and prep work in the world, but if the guests aren’t willing, you can’t force them to have fun. We’ve all been at those parties, right, where the hostess smiles maniacally and insists that you have another locally sourced organically grown whipped kudzu foam canapé, and all you can think is “jesus, for this I got off the couch?”

There’s talk afoot these days that “all” we need to do to fix public education is find effective teachers and get rid of the ineffective teachers.  So simple, right? We don’t need to worry about poverty, over-crowding, inadequate classroom supplies, or anything else. We just need better classroom managers!  At least, that seems to be the theory espoused by Michelle Rhee (glam edu-gal about town, unofficial star of “Waiting for Superman,” and free-floating reformer). In this week’s New York magazine, Rhee–ex-chancellor of the D.C. public schools–spends a lot of time talking about effective teaching, and she seems willing to let Eli Broad bankroll her ideas (click here for a less-flattering portrait of Broad than what Rhee says).

New York City has fallen with this effective teacher idea, too, with its “teacher data reports” that measure (or attempt to measure) the teacher’s value-added score. The value-added score gets compiled through some incredibly arcane formula that even its supporters admit might be both too complicated and…um…inaccurate.  So, for instance, a wonderful new teacher interviewed by Michael Winerip in The New York Times last week,  got a score that placed her in the 7th percentile—but that score could be actually as low as zero, or as high as the 52nd percentile.  And even that higher number doesn’t do justice to the glowing reports this teacher regular gets from her peers, her principal, and her students, many of whom go on to the city’s most competitive high schools.

So your dinner party flops because one couple has had a huge fight in the cab on the way over, another guest heard some disturbing news at the doctor’s office earlier and is distracted, your husband drinks too much and tells bad jokes, the scintillating new friends from your job prove to be insufferable snobs. Does that make you an ineffective hostess? Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on August 26, 2013 in Education, NaBloPoMo, NYC, Politics

My Son, the Skiing Scofflaw

Apparently my son is breaking the law.

Right now, while he’s skiing in the French Alps.

No, he’s not swigging wine with the locals (or he’d best not be, if he knows what’s good for him), and no, I don’t think he’s sneaking into girls’ rooms after curfew (we are still in the days of “girls are  yucky,” inshallah).

Nope. It’s the fact that he left the country in the first place. And actually, everyone in his grade who left the country is also in violation of the law.

I’ve talked on this blog before about the arbitrary whimsical ridiculous erratic way that government policies come into play: school holidays being announced only a week before they happen, for instance, and now I’d like to add another item to the list.

Today a letter came home announcing that ADEC (Abu Dhabi Education Council) had decided to enforce a rule from 2002 that restricts overseas travel for children in Year Seven and below. Those of you who are paying attention will remember that last year, when Liam was a year younger and at a different school, the entire grade six class went to Ephesus, and that seemed fine with the bureaucrats.  We have friends whose kids still go to that school, and sure enough, last fall, off the kids went, just like last year: no problem.

Liam’s trip left the country on Saturday; another group of students were slated to go to Nepal for a community service project, another group was going to Rome…but now? Nope. No child in Year Seven or below, from any school in Abu Dhabi, can leave the country.

Why, you ask?

Um…no one knows. And no one knows why this policy wasn’t enforced a week ago, or last fall, or last year, or the year before that. Nor is the policy anywhere to be found on the ADEC website (clearly, ADEC is taking a lesson from the NYC Department of Education, a bureaucracy so opaque it makes Mao look transparent).

Me? I suspect some functionary didn’t want to bother processing more school-travel permission forms.  I also suspect that some time in the next few weeks, the law will change.

In the meantime, I’m hoping they’ll let Liam and his friends back into the country.

Of course, if they don’t, maybe I’d have to move to the French Alps.

Continue Reading · on February 20, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, Kids, NYC, Travel, UAE

My Kid Isn’t A Microchip. Is Yours?

Wouldn’t it be cool if kids were like microchips? If we could just program them with a few whisks of copper wire, or a cleverly inserted tweezer?

Just think: No socks on the floor. Homework finished promptly, and before turning on the television, computer, DS, phone.  “Please” and “thank you” would happen automatically. Bickering would be eradicated and family board games would no longer be blood sports.

Bliss, right?

If kids were microchips, they would master new information in sequence and on schedule; struggles over long division or how to use a semi-colon would go the way of vinyl records or typewriters.

If kids were microchips, we could bundle them tightly into big rooms and beam information at them using video, or maybe lasers.  We could remove people (with their pesky needs for a respectable salary, safe working conditions, and reasonable job expectations) from the equation.

If kids were microchips, we would know exactly when information has been mastered and we would know precisely when the process is complete. The finished batches of microchips could be slotted carefully into the machinery of the world, a new generation of microcogs.

A long time ago—1974, to be exact—a college kid with a bad haircut looked at an article about a new thing called a microprocessor, a tiny chip that only cost about $200.  The college kid and his buddy “looked past the limits of that new chip and saw a different kind of computer…our original vision glimpsed what lay beyond that Intel 8080 chip and then [we] acted on it.”

That bad haircut kid was, of course, Bill Gates, who with his friend Paul Allen, were able to see beyond what was in front of them and imagine something that hadn’t ever existed.

And yet, now Bill Gates—our generation’s answer to Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison, and a man whose educational path is not exactly standard, whose very success came from his ability to make intuitive leaps over conventional knowledge—now he’s decided that standardized testing is the cure-all for public education.  The Gates Foundation—which, don’t get me wrong, does many, many good things with its money—has offered millions of dollars in grant money in support of yoking teacher merit pay to student test scores, and using test scores as a measure of teacher “effectiveness.”  Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on February 8, 2011 in Children, Education, NYC, Politics

Cathie’s Challenge, the City’s Future

photo: Michael Appleton, New York Times

It’s not the hat, although really, that hat? I’m not going to be one of those women who disses people on the basis of their fashion choices. Besides, there are so many other reasons to diss Cathie Black; we don’t have to pay any attention to that hat.

Did you see the article about Cathie in today’s Times? It made me want to like her because of her work with Ms. magazine, back in the day, and because Oprah’s magazine was her idea, apparently. But ultimately? Reading the article was sort of like watching Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee: I wanted to like her, really I did, but I just can’t get GOOP out of my mind. Cathie Black doesn’t have anything to do with GOOP, obviously, but she also doesn’t have anything to do with public education, either.

Cathie is a woman who thinks “the common touch” means riding in taxis instead of limos.

Um, Cath? For the record? Most of us ride the bus. Or the subway. It’s the taxi that’s the splurge.

This article says that Cathie is a gal with a “suffer no fools” attitude, which is great–when you can fire the fools who piss you off. What’s she going to do with an organization that talks about the “zone of proximal development”  to describe students’ intellectual growth? Can’t fire those fools–the union won’t let you.  And the union isn’t all bad–the union makes sure that teachers don’t get fired just because the principal is pissed; the union ensures that there are limits on the grueling hours faced by classroom teachers (what’s that you say? they get the “whole summer” off? Well…teachers are off for all of July and some of August, that’s true. But let me ask you this question: would you like to deal with 28, 32, 35, 36 10 year olds for eight hours a day, five days a week, ten months a year? Wouldn’t  you need a vacation, too? And maybe a prescription for Valium?)

Does Cathie know that reality? The reality of a jammed public school on a sweaty day in late June?  Does she know the reality of a PTA frantically trying to earn a few extra thousand bucks selling wrapping paper, in order to pay for instruments for a school band?  Somehow I think that the kids at the Kent School, where Cathie’s kids went to school, have not only instruments but several lovely music rooms in which to play those instruments.

Cathie loaned her Bulgari bracelet to a Manhattan museum exhibit. Wasn’t that civic minded of her? She’s not done much else that demonstrates “community spirit,” if by community spirit you mean things that people do for the good of the community and not for the good of their own bottom line. She sits on several boards–and is paid handsomely to do so, and I’m sure she gives money to charities – and she’s occasionally donated to political candidates, mostly conservative Republicans, including Dan Burton of Indiana, who has a “zero” rating from Naral Pro-Choice America.

She perhaps met Burton because she’s friends with the Quayles, Maureen and Dan. Remember them? VEEP under Bush I?  Dan’s most memorable moment as Vice-President came when he corrected a student at a spelling bee, telling her that “potato” was spelled “potatoe.”  You may not be surprised to learn that Quayle is the product of Indiana public schools. Yep, public.

I’m sure that at the Kent School, kids get drilled on the proper spelling of various vegetables.

Cathie’s sister is quoted in the article as saying that her sister loves a challenge. Which is probably why Cathie has risen to the uppermost ranks of US business–and I don’t begrudge her that success for a minute. She can have the fancy educations, the multiple houses, the birthday parties for 75 of her best friends at a villa in Tuscany (probably my invitation was lost in the mail, don’t you think?) — that’s all great. She can be a role model to women who want to steamroll to the highest echelons of corporate culture.

But as a friend pointed out (thanks Stephanie), what to Cathie Black is just “a challenge” is for millions of New York kids, the future. She can quit, if the challenge gets to be too great, and go lick her wounds in Southampton. But what about the millions of kids left behind in New York’s public schools? Will she be taking them to Southampton too?

So no, it’s not hat she’s wearing in that picture that matters. It’s what’s under the hat that’s the problem.

Continue Reading · on November 19, 2010 in Education, NYC, Politics

Why I’m Not the New Chancellor of NYC Schools

I know why Mayor Bloomberg didn’t tap me to take over from Joel Klein.

I’m overqualified.

I taught public high school for four years, have a doctorate in literature and have been teaching college students for longer than I care to remember.  Both of my kids go to public schools; I went to public schools until I got to college.  But apparently the best qualification to run the NYC schools is to be…completely uninvolved with education.

Joel Klein resigned earlier this week (do we break into a chorus of “ding dong the witch is dead…”? ) and Bloomberg has appointed Cathie Black to replace him. Cathie is a former chairperson of Hearst Magazines and, according to Bloomberg, is a “superstar manager.” The fact that she sent her own kids to private boarding schools in Conneticut, or that she herself went to parochial school in Chicago, or that she has absolutely no experience with education at all–none of that matters.

According to Bloomberg, what matters is that Black knows about “jobs, jobs, jobs… what our students need.”  Well, yes, they need jobs–but we’re talking about kids coming out of high school, not college. What they need before they get a job is how write and read and add; they need to be in buildings that are not jammed to the rafters and falling apart; they need the arts and gym; they need fewer bureaucrats and better teachers who are paid better salaries…the list is endless. Do the schools really need to be headed up by someone who was the publisher of USA Today? Really, the best we can do is the publisher of the McPaper? That’s the standard to which we aspire?

Magazines and newspapers are things, widgets that can be stacked up and counted. There’s a schedule of production, the content is generated, the pages are compiled, and voila, there’s your magazine. And you sell it for a certain price (or download it or steal it from the airplane or whatever) and you get a certain amount of profit. Granted, the world of paper publishing has been rocky the last few years, but still, basically, a magazine is a widget.

News flash (hey, Cathie, yep, talking to you): a kid is not a widget and learning (alas) does not happen on a set production schedule. If it did, I never would have come so close to failing Trigonometry (Mrs. Orr, wherever you are, I wish you well: you tried, you really did). So if kids aren’t widgets, then why hire someone whose expertise is in widget-sales?

I guess, though, that she is very very, very good at selling magazines. Maybe that does qualify her to run the largest school district in the country. I mean, some NYC schools sell magazine subscriptions as fundraisers, so right there her expertise is going to be very helpful.

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Continue Reading · on November 10, 2010 in Education, NYC

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