Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Department Of Education Claims The Regents Is 33% Of A Student's Classroom Grade - Really???

The principal of Lafayette high school has reduced student Earth Science classroom grades 10 to 15 points if they failed the Earth Science Regents. While I question the principal's wisdom in changing student grades without teacher discussion and input, I'm more concerned with DOE's response to the event. According to DOE, the policy is that the Regents should be 33% of the classroom grade. I have been teaching a decade and have never heard of this. In fact the Regents was not part of the classroom grade at all!

Granted if a student tanked on the Regents (less than 50%), our policy was to reverse any passing grade to a failure since the student did not possess an adequate knowledge of the subject.
Further, some students who passed the Regents had their failing grade reversed if they were close to passing. However, I have never read or was verbally informed that the DOE had a policy that the Regents is 33% of the classroom grade! In fact, final grades must be bubbled in days before the Regents is given and maybe more than a week before the Regents is marked! Just imagine the chaos if teachers were required to incorporate the Regents scores into the classroom grade.

Lets take an example of how DOE's policy works. First, you give student X a classroom grade of 75%. A week later after you finished marking the Regents, Student X received a 52%. How do you deterimine the final grade? Easy if you are a math and science teacher.

Final Grade = 75(.67) + 52(.33) = 67%

Student X passed but now do this for 125 students at the end of the Regents week and then have to bubble in the grades. Rush, rush, rush, mistakes are very likely and the stress on the classroom teachers trying to complete the paperwork for the year is greatly increased.

Finally, all teachers should know that a principal can change a grade but they first must consult with the teachers and must justify, in writing to the teacher, why the grade was changed. A principal cannot just change a grade because they want to.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Advantages Of Going To A Large Traditional High School

The large traditional high schools have been attacked as a relic of the past and not serving the needs of today's students. Instead the Kleinberg administration is gun ho on developing small schools and fighting tooth and nail to increase Charter Schools. To try to prove they are right the DOE dumps the "not ready for promotion 8th graders", discipline problems, and children with disabilities on the large traditional high schools. To their surprise and disappointment there has been no net improvement for students who go to the small or charter schools, when compared to the large traditional high schools The reason for this is not evident. However, I do have some theories on why the large traditional high school can still do better on an uneven playing field.

First, the large traditional high school gives a student a wide variety of Honors and Advanced Placement courses as well as electives such as forensics, computer courses, finance courses, and law courses. By contrast, the small and charter usually don't have the ability to offer anything but courses associated with the school's theme (example the school of Law Enforcement only have courses associated with law). The lack of a varied and challenging curriculum limits student choice and therefore student achievement.

Second, the large traditional high school has many extracurricular activities an area that motivates student school participation. Sports programs, clubs, and academic teams. In particular the sports programs of the large high schools are usually split by gender. For example my school has football (Varsity and JV), soccer, track, basketball (Varsity and JV) swimming, volleyball, golf, handball, bowling, fencing,and baseball for the male students. The female students have swimming, volleyball, track, soccer, softball, basketball, bowling, golf, handball, and fencing. Students that join sports and other extracurricular activity do not get themselves in trouble and do well in class. By contrast the small and charter schools have very limited extracurricular activities and little or no sports teams.

Third, and I believe most importantly, the large traditional high schools have a higher percentage of experienced quality teachers. The flexibility of the course selection, and the chance of teaching highly motivated students in Honors and Avanced Placement courses attract teachers to the school. Case in point, my principal informed me that he received ten applications for two openings. All were experienced teachers with good references. I'm sure the small and charter schools do not receive the same quality teachers. In fact, based upon discussions with various teachers, it seems the small schools are looking for young, inexperienced teachers they can mold. As for the Charter schools? They are lucky if the teacher is certified and lasts for more than a year. Quality teachers? Give me a break!

In my overcrowded Queens high school not one teacher is uncertified and the average school experience is eight years! Are all of them quality? Of course not! However, many of them are
quality teachers and the students benefit from being exposed to them.

In conclusion, send your child to the large traditional high school if you want a well-rounded student that colleges will be happy to have on their campus.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reflections of Summer School

Well, summer school is over and it is time to reflect back on my summer school experience. For the many of you that don't do summer school, I suggest you do it once so you can appreciate how lucky you are that you don't need the money and have a relaxing summer. However, enough of this and lets get on with what its like to teach summer school.

First, and most important are the students. Summer school students are not your regular year students. The summer school students are there for various reasons, all bad. Some of them are there because of poor work habits, others because of behavior problems, many are there due to academic dificencies, and a few due to attendance issues. In other words these students are the unmotivated bottom layer of the school system. To motivate them is a real challenge since if they were motivated, they wouldn't be in summer school in the first place!

Second, class size. While my three classes stabilized at 30, 32, and 32 students, there were some Math and Living Environment (Biology) classes with up to 48 students in a class. Some of the students were standing, sitting on the window sills, and shared chairs. What an environment for learning with already "at risk" students!

Third, many of the summer schools are not air conditioned and the average heat index in the summer is 92 degrees (temperature plus humidity). Even motivated students would have a problem with learning in these hot and humid classrooms, can you imagine what is like for the unmotivated student? What's interesting is that the Department of Education (DOE) claims that these old schools cannot handle air conditioners. However, all of these schools upgraded the wiring for the administrative offices and are air conditioned. Children first? Yeah right, if you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you.

Fourth, Teachers are paid on a per session basis ($37.96/hr) and are required to work five straight hours with only two 5 minute breaks in between the first and second period classes.Teaching three straight classes in less than ideal conditions is not condusive for good learning.

Fifth, school supplies and textbooks are usually inadequate since many of the summer school teachers come from other schools and the administrators don't like to give up precious resources to the summer school program. The result is that the school gives the summer school teachers outdated and poorly conditioned textbooks, little, if any photocopying services, and no technology. Pencils, paperclips, staples, and chalk are usually in short supply.

Finally, the DOE starves the summer school program of money. There is no money for test prep courses, tutoring, or allocation of extra hours for test scoring. The result is a "bare bones" program that meets the minimum requirements for summer school students who really need a maximum effort by DOE to educate the neediest of students.

Over the years the summer school program has changed, and not for the better. Once a student missed three days (summer school is 30 days long) the student was automatically discharged. Now a student can go on a two week vacation (10 days) and still demand to pass. Misbehaving students were discharged at a teacher's request, Now the administrator puts the student back into the class after a lecture. Finally, the lack of enforcement by administrators have seen an increase in cell phones, sidekicks, blackberries, and ipods in the summer school classrooms. A teacher can do little but threaten to fail the student but without administrative muscle teacher threats are not taken seriously since the student does not believe that they will fail until it's too late. (urban myth: There is a mistaken belief by high school students that if you show up enough the teacher can't fail you - wrong).

In conclusion, summer school is for the student misfits and the teachers that need the money. In our profession its called "blood money".

Postcript. My students had a 85% passing rate and a surprising 52% passed the New York State Earth Science Regents. Not bad considering the roadblocks in their way.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

DOE Erodes Teacher Authority With It's Revised Student Disciplinary Code

The New York City Department of Education has decided to further erode the classroom teacher's authorty by proposing to revise the student disciplinary code in allowing a parent to appeal the removal of their child from the classroom. Presently, the classroom teacher has the right to remove a disruptive student for three days from his/her classroom. Most administrators don't like this regulation and try to pressure the teacher from enforcing the regulation. The reason they don't like this regulation is that the disruptive student is usually assigned to the assistant principal's office and the AP must oversee the student.

In my school, the administration tried to set up a procedure to limit the removal of the disruptive student, First, you had to talk to the child at least twice about his/her behavior. Second, you contacted the parent (trying to contact the parent was not good enough) and let the parent know about their child's behavior. Third, if the first two fail you send the student to the AP for a lecture and is sent back to class. Finally, only after the three procedures failed to change the student's behavior can the teacher issue a 3-day "do not admit" order for the student. The result was a teacher outcry and the Administrators backed down. However, they still try to discourage teachers from removing the disruptive student.

The proposed DOE regulation allows the parent to appeal to the Regional administrators, who don't care about the classroom, and will, in many cases, allow these disruptive students to return to the classroom so they can cause more damage.

This propsed revision is another attack on the classroom teacher's authority. First, it was micromanagement, then it was the one-size-fits-all curriculum, and now limiting the rght of a teacher to have a peaceful classroom. What's next?

To the union's credit the president Randi Weingarten has objected to this change. However, objecting is one thing doing something about it is another. The union must be pro-active on this issue and take whatever action that is necessary to ensure the revised student disciplinary code is not implemented. Talk is cheap, we classroom teaches expect action from our union representatives.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The UFT Questionnaire - What It Didn't Include

Today I received the UFT questionnaire on what we should ask for in the next contract. Of course most teachers want more money, better health benefits, low class sizes, and enforceable student discipline codes. However, I was more interested in what the UFT questionnaire did not include.

First, a priority for many teachers is getting back the two days before Labor Day. All the teachers I spoke to bring this up as a top priority, on par with a competitive salary. Why doesn't the UFT questionnaire include this?

Second, the reinstatement of the grievance procedure that protected teachers from overzeolous administrators who, if not kept in check, can give teachers Letters-To-The-File (LIF) at their leisure.

Third, the elimination of the 90 day unpaid suspension based upon a student accusation. Already teachers have been subject to these false accusations. Why didn't the UFT include it in the questionnaire?

Fourth, How come the UFT questionnaire didn't include changing the 1.67% factor for teachers who are vested to 2% in the pension plan. Instead they only seem to care for the 30 year teacher.

Fifth, why wasen't a limit of 183 school days, as is done in the suburbs, included in the questionnaire?

Finally, The UFT questionnaire should have had a question that read "should Randi and her lawyer friends negotiate the next contract rather than the classroom teachers?" I guess we all know the answer to that.

I know there are other items left out of the UFT questionnaire. However, I believe these are the most important.

I would like to hear what other teachers think.