Through the NYCDOE Looking Glass

04/03/2012
A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop

A positive-edge-triggered D flip-flop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First the NYCDOE says it is going to close 33 schools because they are low performing.

But, for no apparent reason, it changes its mind about closing seven of them, but not the other 26, even though some of those 26 perform better than the seven on a variety of measures.

Then the NYCDOE says it is going to ban about 50 words from standardized exams because those words might upset students. After all, students who daily face dangers in their neighborhoods that most of us cannot imagine might get distressed if the word ‘dinosaur’ appears on an exam.

Once again, it changes its mind – this time after a public outcry – and says it is okay to use those words after all.

So either it is all right to damage students or the words were banned  for no reason. Take your pick.

Tonight the NYCDOE is conducting a public hearing to discuss whether to shoehorn a new K-5 elementary school into the building that currently houses the middle school where I work, as well as the pre-K and kindergarten classes there’s no room for in the elementary school across the street.

Most of my colleagues think that no matter how many parents come and say it is a bad idea because almost all of the classes in the school already have more than 30 students and putting the new school in will mean the middle school will have about 50% fewer classes, the NYCDOE has made up its mind and the new elementary school will take precedence. I suspect that is the case.

If the girdling occurs, it will have some major, perhaps fatal, impact on our library’s existence and my job as librarian, but I am not worried.

The NYCDOE has a very bad record of sticking to its decisions, most likely because the decisions appear to be made on a whim, and whatever they decide is like – pardon the phrase – pissing in the wind. Everyone gets wet, but especially them.

Meanwhile, after making such a big case about the public’s right to know about those teacher ratings, you know, the ones filled with errors and based on spurious information, our mayor is refusing to make public a report critical of the City’s 911 system, particularly the revamp done during his administration because it failed during a snowstorm.

Which is your position, Mr. Mayor? Does the public have a right to know or doesn’t it? Or is this just one more case of a flip-flop, a particularly self-serving one at that?

No, don’t answer. What you say doesn’t mean what it appears to, and it is all rather confusing.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? Keep everyone confused and pretty soon they’ll just give up trying to understand.

That’s when it really gets dangerous for us.

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Paranoia in Education Strikes Again!

03/26/2012
cover shot of Children of Paranoia

cover shot of Children of Paranoia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work for a paranoid school district.

It doesn’t trust students.

It doesn’t trust teachers.

It doesn’t trust administrators.

It doesn’t trust parents.

It doesn’t trust the public.

It is afraid that students will learn things that aren’t in the curriculum.

It is afraid that students will learn things that haven’t been approved in advance.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of the internet.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of social media.

There is a lot of good educational content on YouTube and YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let students access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let teachers access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let school administrators access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let principals override the filters that prevent access to those and other useful websites.

This can only be because it does not trust us. Any of us.

It does not let students, teachers or school administrators access Facebook in school, even though there is a lot of educational content on Facebook.

Even though we are required to teach students how to use social media responsibly.

Soon we won’t even be able model social media use for students.

The City is going to ban teachers and students from interacting over Facebook.

It doesn’t trust us.

Not at all. I bet the City would love to figure out how to stop teachers and students from interacting in the supermarket, the Laundromat, the shopping mall.

Heck, they’d probably even like to find a way to keep us from interacting in the classroom. Everyone knows how much trouble we can get into there.

There is an old adage that says you should treat people the way you want them to be. If you want young people to act like adults, treat them that way. That’s what I try to do in my library.

But the NYCDOE treats me and my colleagues like little children.

They are illogical.

They are insulting.

Or am I being paranoid?


Public Education: Start Again?

05/04/2010

My Twitter friend Stephen Diil in his blog Public Education: Start Again wrote:

I pose that question again to you. Everyone is either  an investor, client or an employee of one or more public education systems. If you could start from scratch, with no idea how it should look, who would it serve? How would it serve that audience? When and where would it serve it?What a lovely notion, the idea of starting all over.

Stephen challenged me to respond. I did. Here’s what I said:

It is a stimulating intellectual exercise that, I’m deeply afraid, has little or no relationship to reality.

Oh, some district somewhere will take the plunge and try to start fresh without any of the old assumptions. Let’s even assume that they can convince the teachers to go along with, better yet, be part of planning the renaissance. Imagine that, administrators, teachers, and maybe even some entrepreneurs working together and moving in a common direction; I can almost see the sun shining through brilliant rainbows and bluebirds chirping the good news.

Double Supernumerary Rainbow

Image by Proggie via Flickr

But wait! We still have to convince the parents.

Parents, it turns out, are deeply suspicious of any major fundamental re-imagining of school. This is the main reason that charter schools, for the most part, are just more intense, sometimes more focused versions of your everyday public school.

It seems parents like the 10-hour schooldays because it provides that much more free childcare coverage for working moms and dads, but as soon as ideas like student choice and child-directed education start flying about the parents fly off the handle and out the door.

Okay, but this is an intellectual exercise, not a pragmatic one, right.

I repeat that because if it were a discussion of pragmatic reformations of education we’d have to account for all those pesky poverty-stricken inner-city kids who, while desperately in need of open space and access to nature, have little safe access to it.

It is, in fact, in the inner cities and, paradoxically perhaps, the rural areas where all discussions of education reform trip over themselves and fall.

In inner cities there are just too many kids to scrap the current system and start over. No one in their right mind is going to put the million or so school children in NYC out onto the streets whilst the school buildings are torn down to create new educational open spaces.

Farmland in the Catskill country, in New York ...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

The rural areas have lots of space but not the concentration of students to make use of it the way it might be used elsewhere. That students who live in open space will need to be bussed to other open spaces for educational purposes is mind-boggling.

So, if it won’t work in inner cities and won’t work in rural areas, who will benefit from this re-imagination of education? Why, it’s the wealthier suburban kids whose schools, for the most part, are not the real problems we think about when we think about the problems of or caused by public education.

One can no more restart the education system than one could restart fire service, policing, sanitation services, the military or any of the other similar major social-service agencies.

Change in education, like in most aspects of life and public policy, is and will remain far more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Tis a pity, for sure.

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Snow Day! A Reprise

02/10/2010
Tweed Courthouse, New York City - The headquar...
Image via Wikipedia

Why is it that when the New York City Department of Education seems to do the right thing for what seem to be noble reasons, the cynic in me rises to the surface and speaks.

Last year in early March there was a weather forecast very similar to today’s: snow beginning overnight and becoming heavier as the day progresses with near blizzard conditions due to 45mph winds.

NYCDOE memos say they’ll announce school closings, a very rare event, before 6AM and last year they waited until the very last moment, finally announcing the shutdown after many dedicated teachers had left early to get to work on time and far too late for parents to make alternate arrangements for childcare.

I wrote about that little bureaucratic snafu that morning.

I don’t know if Chancellor Klein or someone with his ear read that post, or the hundreds of other excoriations online, but things were done a little differently yesterday.

New York City is finally moving into the modern era when it comes to communicating with citizens and other people interested in changes in routine. The City offers a notification system similar to the ones introduced to college campuses after the Virginia Tech shooting.

This system allows people to sign-up for text message, email and telephone notification of things like changes in parking regulations, school closings and public health emergencies. I signed up early yesterday morning

Shortly after 11:30 yesterday morning the NYCDOE posted a message on their homepage in the Spotlight section below and to the left of the link teachers click to get to their curriculum information, teaching resources and DOE email.

The email link is significant. My principal and, I’m sure, many others in the system are trying – for budgetary if not environmental reasons – to reduce the volume of paper memos by distributing information via email.

We are told to check our email frequently.

We are never told to check the DOE homepage and most teachers I know don’t spend much time, if any, looking at it.

At about 1:30 in the afternoon I recieved a text message, an email and a phone call from Notify NYC telling me that Alternate Side of the Street Parking Regulations were suspended on the next day due to the impending snow.

Nothing about school closings.

On its homepage, the DOE said it was announcing the school closing so early to give parents time to make childcare arrangements for the snow day.

Still, it was not until more than three hours later, 3:03PM to be precise, that Notify NYC texted, called and emailed to announce the planned school closing.

snow covered cars
Image by dgphilli via Flickr

Apparently knowing that you would not have to move your car to the other side of the street in the morning was more important to NYC residents than knowing you would need to arrange alternative childcare.

Admittedly, its not always easy to find legal parking in NYC, but its got to be easier than finding emergency childcare.

Lots of teachers live in the suburbs and lots of teachers have young children.

Suburban schools close due to snow because it is difficult and dangerous to try driving school busses on slippery streets. Just after noon I received three notifications that my son’s school would be closed.

NYC schools rarely close because only special education students travel to school and home on what they call the “cheese bus.” All the others walk, are driven by parents or ride public transportation.

NYC teachers with school-age children also need to make childcare arrangements so they can go to work even when the suburban schools are closed.

But it was not until 4:30PM that the DOE finally got around to emailing its employees about the decision to close the schools.

The NYCDOE did make the right decision and they made it in a much, much more timely fashion this time. They get a well-deserved pat on the back for that.

But the NYCDOE needs to learn something from the difficulties they seemed to have communicating that decision.

They could realize that having high expectations, like mine for them, is not enough to produce desired learning; that learning requires teaching and time for repeated attempts to err, try again and, eventually, get things right.

Maybe they’ll understand that learning does not happen on a steady, smooth upward incline on a graph.

The NYCDOE went from an F to a C, or in the terms we use, from a low one to a high two, in a little less than a year. They are approaching the standard for school closing.

Eventually there will be another major snow storm, another opportunity to do better.

But chances are they’ll have a lot of time to reflect on their performance this time, to think about how they could do better when the next performance exam comes, and to practice the procedures involved.

I wish they’d give my students that kind of time.

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