Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Column in Star-Ledger

I wrote a column this week for NJ Spotlight on the NJEA's shift in rhetoric on charter schools, which is a reflection of NEA and AFT's increasingly militant posture on school reform issues. The piece is reprinted today in the Star-Ledger. A shortened version is on news stands.

A Math Teacher Describes the Impact of Common Core on Her Classroom

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher.  I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not.  I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget.  I moved to Kentucky the year that KCAS (Kentucky’s Common Core) was adopted and thought “how different could it be?”  The answer to that question can be answered easily with a quick peak inside my classroom today. 
Today, my classroom is cognitively busy and alive with excitement about numbers.  We no longer focus on skills, timed tests, facts, or catchy phrases to make students remember things that have no meaning to them.  Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction.  We take the time to understand numbers and their meanings rather than memorizing facts.  I don’t drill random formulas and information into students heads so that they can remember it long enough to pass a test rather than understanding it to a depth that can be applied to real life.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New NJ Spotlight Column: N.J.'s Teacher Unions: Implosion, Irrelevance, or Evolution?

It starts here:
Last Thursday, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer and as he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of NJ’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters. 
Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For over a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did Thursday, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.
Read the rest here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Neuromyths" in Education

Paul A. Howard Jones in ”Neuroscience and Education: Myths and Messages”  describes the neuromyths that have leaked into teacher education schools and the teaching corps.. (Neuromyth: “a misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading or a misquoting of facts scientifically established [by brain research] to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contexts.”) Dr. Howard further describes neuromyths as stemming from “uninformed interpretations of genuine scientific facts [that] are promoted by victims of their own wishful thinking.”

The paper gets pretty technical, but relevant here is the prevalence of neuromyths among teachers. The paper includes a chart of the percentage of teachers from the U.K., the Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, and China who believe in these misconceptions of the way students learn. It’s a pretty fair guess that these that many U.S. teachers, as well as much of the public, fall for these myths too.

Here’s a few education neuromyths:

  • We mostly only use 10% of our brain.
  • Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic).
  • Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function.
  • Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain or right) can explain individual differences among learners.
  • Children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Leftovers

The number of students in Paterson Public Schools deemed “college-ready” fell from 26 in 2013 to 19 this year, according to the benchmark set by the organization that runs the SAT tests… 
The 19 students represented just under 3.2 percent of the district students who took the test, which is used by many universities as part of their admissions evaluation. Last year, 4.3 percent of Paterson students taking the SATs were deemed college ready. 
“That’s a problem,” veteran Paterson school board member Jonathan Hodges said of the college-readiness numbers. (The Record)
Also from The Record: "Montclair Public Schools has formed an “ 'Achievement Gap Advisory Panel',” in order to “slice through the tangle of racial and socio-economic inequalities that have long existed in Montclair's public schools.”

NJ Spotlight covers Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s two-hour presentation “On the Move: Newark Public Schools – Looking Back and Planning Ahead.” From the article: “Much of the morning program sounded like a pep talk, with nothing but good news about Newark’s schools – even if the claims of improvement and progress were not always accompanied by actual data.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote a 4-page letter to Pres. Obama pleading for "presidential intervention" into the "disruptive and illegal education reforms" being implemented by Cami Anderson.

Trenton Superintendent Francisco Duran comments on the SDA’s decision to not preserve historical features of Trenton High School but to build from scratch: “This is not about the adult issues in the room,” Superintendent Francisco Duran said before the vote, adding people could debate all night about preservation versus new construction. “This is about what our students deserve, need and have long awaited for.” (The Trentonian)

NJ Spotlight reports on Thursday’s Senate hearing on Sen. Ruiz’s charter school bill.

Art Imitating Life Dept.: Luna Stage in West Orange is featuring a new play about school residency fraud in N.J. schools. The Star Ledger:Lines in the Dust tells the story of a Newark woman who lies about where she lives so that her daughter can attend Millburn schools, and her friendship with a Millburn school administrator who previously sent her son to Newark schools.”

Dave D’Allessandro of the Star Ledger says, in the context of the Sayreville hazing coverage,  that the “same school funded by taxpayers who would be within their rights to ask – right now, today – whether it’s time to discuss the elimination of high school football.” (ICYMI: here's my Newsworks column this week.)

The Star-Ledger reviews school districts’ scores on the state’s anti-bullying rubric.

David Cruz of NJTV writes about Assemblywoman Donna Simon’s call “for the establishment of a task force to study school consolidation and ease the way — with incentives — for more districts to join hands. Recent studies point to New Jersey as a state where a lack of consolidation of school districts is costing over $100 million in savings. But if it’s such a good idea, why isn’t everyone doing it? 
“People have an emotional attachment to the town that they live in and they want the best for their kids and sometimes they don’t want to share that with their next door neighbors, whether it makes sense or not,” he said. “There are two questions to ask here. Is it fiscally smart or educationally smart? If it works in both cases, it’s perfect.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Newsworks column: Is it time to reevaluate the preeminence of high school sports?

It starts here:
Last week seven high school football players from Sayreville War Memorial High School were charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact through a series of brutal hazing rituals. This wrenching news made headlines in the New York Times, CNN, London's Daily Mail, and Australia's International Business Times. If you google "Sayreville War Memorial High School + hazing" you'll get over one million hits. 
The plethora of news reports describes the details of the Sayreville assaults that occur every year in the beginning of the football season. First a senior player howls and turns out the lights in the locker room. Then, according to a parent of a player who requested anonymity, "in the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen." After that, the victim would be hauled to his feet and one of the perpetrators would force his finger into the victim's rectum and then stick that finger in the victim's mouth. 
In the aftermath, some New Jersey legislators, parents, teachers, and administrators are wondering if our cult of Friday Night Lights has gone too far.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PA Education Sec'y to Philly Schoolchildren: "Let Them Eat Cake"

From this morning’s New York Times:
According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit policy research group, Mr. Corbett has cut close to $1 billion from the state’s education budget. But an administration spokesman said that such an analysis counted some federal stimulus money and that state funding has increased since 2011. 
“Is anything ever enough?” said Carolyn C. Dumaresq, acting secretary of education in Pennsylvania and an appointee of Mr. Corbett. “I really think $1.3 billion is a lot of money,” she said, referring to the state’s allocation to Philadelphia, a district of about 131,360 students and close to 60,800 in charter schools. As a former district superintendent, she said, “I could have always found more ways to spend more money, but at some point in time you have to balance that against the taxpayers’ ability to pay.”
Really? $1.3 billion for over 131,000 students is “a lot of money”? For a school district that is 87% minority and impoverished?  Where 58% of the students who  entered the ninth grade in 2004 graduated four years later?

Ms. Dumaresq should take a gander across the river to New Jersey, polish her spectacles,  and get a little context.

According to her numbers, the state of Pennsylvania allocates $9,923 per child in the Philadelphia Public School District . That’s less than almost any district in New Jersey. For school districts that echo the  educational needs of Philadelphia students –  let’s take Camden, Newark and Trenton  – the state of New Jersey kicks in, respectively, $18,656, $17,495, and $17,616 (2014-2015 DOE data).

That’s about twice as much state aid per pupil than Philly. (These numbers don’t reflect other sources of revenue like local taxes, federal grants, IDEA money, Title I money, etc.)

One could, of course, argue that N.J.’s poorest districts get too much money.  But it’s really hard to justify Pennsylvania’s miserly allocation to its neediest schoolchildren. And let's not forget Philadelphia’s School District’s $81 million deficit, only partially ameliorated by the School Reform Commission’s  mandate that staff members begin contributing to health care premiums.

From the Times article: “Money is so short at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school here, that a nurse works only three afternoons a week, leaving the principal to oversee the daily medication of 10 children, including a diabetic who needs insulin shots. On the third floor filled with 200 seventh and eighth graders, one of two restrooms remains locked because there are not enough hall monitors. And in a sixth-grade math class of 33 students with only 11 textbooks to go around, the teacher rations paper used to print out homework equations.”

Ms. Dumaresq needs to get out more.