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Teaching & Classroom
July 14, 2016
Expert at Black Expo tells teachers: Start by looking in the mirror to better help students cope with violence
Consultant and former IPS teacher at Indiana's Black Expo leads conversation on how teachers talk about trauma — their students and their own.
November 25, 2013
Students wade into testing debate on a field trip to City Hall
Fourth graders from the Brooklyn Charter School stop by the City Council and catch some of an education committee hearing For one class of fourth graders, a tour of City Hall turned into a chance to add their voices to the fierce public debate over standardized testing today. Teachers from the Brooklyn Charter School scheduled the city government field trip after finding that few of their students knew much about the city elections that took place earlier this fall. But they didn't realize they were going to be walking into a City Council hearing featuring Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who was getting peppered with questions from lawmakers about how testing policies were affecting schools. Any possibility that the students would see some of the heated sparring between education officials and council members, a common sight at previous hearings, seemed dashed by the timing of the visit. The election season is over, and both Walcott and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson are just a few weeks from leaving office, so there were no theatrics and little new information offered up in the Department of Education's testimony. The hearing framed many of the issues that have been raised more contentiously at forums, state legislative hearings and protests around the state this fall. Some of the issues, like an increased pressure to perform well and the shifting standards that define proficiency, were ones that the visiting students and teachers said they've seen and experienced first-hand. "I've been in testing grades for six years and it's definitely more pressure," said Gina Zaccaria, one of the teachers from the Bedford-Stuyvesant school. "They feel it more."
October 3, 2013
Undisclosed UFT robocalls raise new campaign questions
City Councilman Robert Jackson pictured with Speaker Christine Quinn and UFT President Michael Mulgrew in 2011 on the first day of school. The super PAC for the city teachers union may have violated campaign finance rules by not disclosing spending details for a robocall sent to voters during the 2013 primary elections, GothamSchools has found. A Sept. 8 phone message touting Robert Jackson's education credentials was paid for by the union's independent expenditure group, called United for the Future, according to a recording of the call obtained by GothamSchools from a Manhattan voter who received the message. Jackson, who at the time was enmeshed in a tight primary for Manhattan Borough President, had received the United Federation of Teachers' endorsement. But the union failed to disclose the call to the city's Campaign Finance Board, a requirement designed to improve transparency around spending by outside interest groups. The union reported spending only $12,234 on Jackson for a mailer sent on Sept. 6, filings show. “I think it raises serious questions,” said Alex Camarda, director of public policy at Citizens Union, a good government organization. "What about all the other candidates that the UFT endorsed?" Camarda added. "This might not be limited to just Robert Jackson."
October 2, 2013
As terms end, council members push to curb school closures
The City Council was host to a fresh round of familiar debates today, as education committee members sparred with Chancellor Dennis Walcott about central Bloomberg-era education policies: school closures and co-locations. The committee proposed three resolutions, all curtailing aspects of the process that allows the city to change what schools operate in what buildings. One would require school closures or phase-outs to be approved by the local Community Education Council before being voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy, requiring a change in state law and amounting to a reversal of mayoral control. Another resolution calls for a moratorium on school closures and co-locations for a year, something that mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has said he supports. The third calls for additional communication with parents about school closures and co-locations. The calendar took center stage at the hearing, given the little time Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg have left in office. Councilman Stephen Levin, who called for an even broader moratorium on all charter school openings in June, pushed Walcott about the proposed co-locations that wouldn't take effect until a new mayor is in office — which he said would put schools and the city "on a collision course." "Isn't it time to leave well enough alone?" Levin asked. "I am chancellor until December 31 and I have a responsibility to our 1.1 million students," Walcott responded.
June 4, 2013
Walcott refuses to speak under oath at council's budget hearing
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and education officials testify at a hearing on the 2013-2014. budget Chancellor Dennis Walcott's testy budget hearing with the City Council on Tuesday got confrontational before it even started. The hearing was delayed by nearly an hour as Walcott huddled with city lawyers to discuss whether he should agree to get sworn in under oath before answering questions about the city's $24.9 billion education spending plan for the 2013-2014 school year. The unprecedented request was made because council members believed he had not answered questions truthfully earlier this year. Under advisement from lawyers, Walcott refused. After the hearing, Walcott said he didn't want to complicate city lawsuits about issues that were likely to come up at the hearing. He also said that the department wasn't notified until Tuesday morning when he arrived at City Hall. "I would never hide from anything," Walcott said. "I'm always accessible. I always respond to everything. But I have a responsibility with pending litigation to make sure I know what the legal implications are."
May 21, 2013
City Council officially petitions state to bar in-school field testing
The New York City Council is calling on state officials to do away "immediately" with standalone field tests, just weeks before thousands of city students are scheduled to take the tests. Speaker Christine Quinn and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson made the demand in a letter today to State Education Commissioner John King, and the full council is expected to pass a resolution Wednesday calling for the same change. Test-makers use field testing to try out questions before they count, to see whether they are likely to provide useful results about student achievement in the future. Last month's state reading and math tests, which were aligned to new standards known as the Common Core for the first time, included some field questions that did not factor into students' scores. Now, 3,300 schools across the state are being told to administer hourlong, standalone field tests to some students next month. That requirement has elicited consternation from families and educators who believe that students have already spent enough time taking tests for the year. Some of them plan to boycott the field tests, as a number did last year when field tests were given for the first time.
April 16, 2013
Advocates ask candidates for school discipline climate change
At a rally Monday, junior Benia Darius said the next mayor needs to take a different approach to school discipline. After years of pressing Mayor Bloomberg to make school discipline fairer, students and advocates are turning their attention to the candidates seeking to replace him. At a rally outside City Hall just before a City Council hearing on school climate Monday, students and advocates from the Dignity in Schools Campaign called on the next mayor to take a different approach to school discipline. They want a model that relies less on suspensions and other punitive measures, and also ensures that black and Latino students are not disproportionately affected by school discipline. “We need a mayor that is going to implement and fund restorative justice in our schools,” said Benia Darius, a junior at Bushwick School for Social Justice. “I am soon going to start my training as a peer mediator, and I’m going to be part of the change in my school. But what I want to know today as a student is what you as mayoral candidates are going to do to change these issues in our schools?”
February 26, 2013
Four months after Sandy, education department waits on FEMA
Chancellor Walcott testifies at a City Council hearing on Hurricane Sandy recovery. Like many of the New York residents whose homes were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Education is waiting on the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Before the department can apply for FEMA funds to make repairs at a given Sandy-affected school, or to reimburse the department for funds already expended to carry out repairs, FEMA representatives must first make a site visit to the school. But in over four months since the hurricane hit, FEMA has visited only eight out of 50 schools. “We have the money to work on the schools,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, referring to the $200 million in emergency capital funds Mayor Bloomberg announced in November would go towards paying for repairs on schools damaged during the hurricane.
February 8, 2013
At bus driver strike hearing, Walcott bats away council criticism
Chancellor Dennis Walcott takes questions from Robert Jackson during a City Council hearing on the school bus strike. Agitated City Council members spent more than two hours today grilling Chancellor Dennis Walcott about the city's refusal to restore job protections for school bus drivers or intervene in their nearly monthlong strike. The hearing took place more than three weeks into the strike on a day when many families' tenuous transportation plans were complicated by the start of a snowstorm. Attendance in schools for students with disabilities, which have been hardest-hit by the strike, fell from 76 percent on Thursday to just 50 percent today. Maria Uruchima, whose nightmarish commute includes 8 buses and 4 trains, said her son wasn't feeling well, "so I just kept him home because it's going to be crazy out anyways." Even before the inclement weather, at least 2,500 students who attend schools in District 75, which serve special education students with the highest needs, "were still home," Maggie Moroff, Special Education Policy Coordinator at Advocates for Children, said in her prepared remarks. For students that made it to school, Moroff said parents sacrificed hours of their work days to get them there and many students arrived late anyway.
October 4, 2012
For the first time, guidance counselors join ATR rotation system
Most teachers without permanent positions are looking forward to a greater chance of stability after the city and teachers union last month agreed to place them in long-term substitute slots before rotating them to different schools weekly, as happened last year. But the 300 guidance counselors and social workers in the Absent Teacher Reserve are gearing up to begin cycling from school to school for the first time. Last year, even as other members of the ATR pool, the group of educators whose positions have been eliminated, began the rotation system, the counselors were assigned to a single school so they could work with individual students for extended periods of time. But starting next week, they will be assigned to different schools each week, dramatically changing their roles and responsibilities. Instead of working with students one on one, the counselors will take on shorter-term tasks, city officials said. The tasks could include making classroom presentations on graduation requirements, conflict management, and the college or high school application process; organizing records; supporting the school's college counselors; and reviewing student schedules at the start of the semester. Coming at a time when many schools have trimmed support services because of budget cuts, the change has some educators and researchers raising their eyebrows.
September 21, 2012
Harlem leaders champion new school run by Teachers College
Principal Worrell-Breeden looked on as first graders from the Teachers College Community School sang "What a Wonderful World" and recited the song in sign language. West Harlem community leaders heralded the coming of the year-old Teachers College Community School yesterday as a new district school option for a neighborhood packed with charter schools. The elementary school, which opened in East Harlem last year and moved to Manhattanville this fall, is managed by Columbia University's school of education. In recent years, many new schools have come to West Harlem in the form of high-profile charter school networks that have brought both educational opportunities and controversy to the neighborhood. Like those schools, the fledgling elementary school admits students randomly through a lottery process, and it relies on a mix of public and private funding to operate. But it also has the widespread support of political leaders who have served as some of the most vocal critics of the city's charter school policies, among them State Assemblyman Keith Wright. Wright has proposed legislation to give parent councils veto power over city plans to require district and charter schools to share space. A range of Harlem community leaders, including City Councilman Robert Jackson and Donald Notice, president of the West Harlem Development Corporation, turned out to the school's opening ceremony yesterday to laud the effort Columbia has made to support the school and help renovate its new, permanent home on Manhattanville's Morningside Avenue.
September 5, 2012
Candidates to skip first day of school for Democratic convention
Last year, Robert Jackson (l.) and Speaker Christine Quinn, candidates for higher office im 2013, joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew on the first day of school. Visiting schools to shake hands with students and pose with parents on the first day of school is a time-honored stop on elected officials' public schedules. But few of them will be pounding the pavement on Thursday. That’s because their presence is required at a different kind of political event: the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. All of the leading contenders in next year’s mayoral race have made first-day-of-school stops in the recent past. Last year, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn appeared in Inwood with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew to celebrate their budget victory that prevented thousands of teacher layoffs. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer handed out "Back 2 Basics Guides" at several schools, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was in Fort Greene calling on parents to get more involved in their children’s education. As comptroller in 2009, Bill Thompson used the first day of school to criticize the city for increasing class sizes. This year, all four are part of the roughly 450-member New York State delegation that will help nominate President Barack Obama for a second term Thursday evening. On Tuesday, the delegates approved the party platform, presented by Newark mayor Cory Booker, which included a hefty slate of education policy positions.
August 28, 2012
Disciplinary code revisions could reduce student suspensions
The Department of Education has revised portions of its disciplinary code to make consequences for poor behavior less strict for the youngest students. The revisions were made after a heated public hearing and several months of lobbying from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Councilman Robert Jackson, the chair of the council's education committee. They include the elimination of a type of suspension known as the "superintendent's suspension," which requires students to miss six to ten days of school, for students in Kindergarten through third grade who have committed low to mid-level disciplinary infractions. The second change heralded by the council members was the addition of a strategy for teachers to use to deal with early behavioral problems that calls for a conference with the student, his or her parents, and a social worker. During the conference, the adults would help the student develop an "individual behavior contract" where they will lay out goals for improved behavior and tasks the student should meet to reach those goals. Jackson said in a statement that he and Quinn pushed for the changes because young elementary school students who miss school are at risk of struggling academically in later years. "Providing guidance based interventions and eliminating overly harsh punishments for children in the critical grades of K-3, will foster positive behavior and encourage the developmental growth of our students," he said.
August 21, 2012
Mayoral hopefuls mum, other politicians shun StudentsFirstNY
Most of the 2013 mayoral contenders are still keeping an arm's length from a union-backed campaign to tie StudentsFirstNY's agenda to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. But that hasn't stopped a slew of other political hopefuls from throwing their support behind the effort. New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition of public unions, community-based organizations and liberal advocacy groups, has released a list of 33 elected officials and candidates who have signed on to a pledge to refuse support from StudentsFirstNY, which is seeking to advance the education polices started by the Bloomberg administration. The list includes candidates for Manhattan and Brooklyn Borough President, Public Advocate and a slew of City Council members and state legislators. Noticeably absent are frontrunners in the one race that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and StudentsFirstNY hope to influence the most: the 2013 mayoral election. Only one prospective candidate, John Liu, has said he'd reject StudentsFirstNY's support. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week she'd be fine accepting their support, as did long-shot Tom Allon. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson was non-committal in his response and one other candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has stayed mum on the subject.
May 23, 2012
Sensing new political possibility, parent leaders prep campaigns
Parent leaders, from left: Sam Pirozzolo, Jesse Mojica, of the DOE; Juan Pagan, Noah Gotbaum, and Ocynthia Williams (Credits: samforassembly.com; Facebook) A handful of parent leaders are exploring their political viability for the upcoming election cycles, hoping to tap into a growing dissatisfaction with the city's handling of the school system. Previously, the parents have held seats on their school's parent-teacher association or served top posts on their district's Community Education Councils. Some are seasoned organizers and have family histories steeped in New York City politics. Still others are looking beyond the five boroughs as a way to influence education policy. Two have declared for State Assembly races this fall, but most at the city level have yet to open campaign chests or secure any key endorsements. Few have connections to the political organizations that frequently power candidates into office. But they are testing the waters and, in interviews, they share a common gripe when speaking about their pursuit of a higher office. "We've been completely marginalized by the current administration," said Noah Gotbaum, who said he is considering a run in the already crowded race for public advocate, a position his stepmother, Betsy Gotbaum, occupied from 2001 to 2009. (His father, Victor Gotbaum, headed DC-37, one of the city's largest unions, for two decades until 1987.) "The DOE flat out ignores parents across the board," said Sam Pirozzolo, a parent council president from Staten Island who is actively campaigning for State Assembly this year. It's just one part of a larger, if uncoordinated, organizing effort by groups seeking greater influence over policy decisions once Mayor Bloomberg departs after 12 years in office. Last week, a coalition of unions and advocacy groups announced it would work to galvanize opposition to Bloomberg's least popular policies, which include closing troubled schools and expanding the number of charter schools, in the mayoral race.
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