New York

At PS 8, families cry foul on year's first progress report grade

With their schools' 2007-2008 progress report grades due out next week, principals are likely to spend their weekend planning either a victory celebration or damage control. PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights At PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, families are trying to figure out what to think about their school's failing grade, especially because it earned a C last year and accolades this summer from Chancellor Klein, who held a conference at the school to announce that the school would expand to meet community demand, the Times reports today. Since the arrival of the current principal, Seth Phillips, in 2003, families in the zone have increasingly decided to stay put and enroll at PS 8 once their children reach school age. But according to the DOE's progress report formula, upper-grade students' test scores did not improve as much last year as they might have (and did at other schools), even though a majority of them scored at grade level or higher on state math and reading tests. Asked about the chancellor's July comments, DOE spokesman David Cantor told the Times, “Now that he has additional information about the school, his view has changed. The most important things about a school are student progress and performance, and in those areas this school isn’t measuring up.” Cantor also said parents and teachers noted "significant concerns" when responding to last year's Learning Environment Survey — but those concerns aren't apparent in the composite survey results, which put PS 8 in the top half of schools citywide in three of the four main categories and well above average on the fourth, "engagement."
New York

NPR: How much homework is too much?

Yesterday, NPR's Day to Day interviewed Harris M. Cooper, a professor at Duke University and author of The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents. How much homework is appropriate? they asked. Cooper provided a simple rule: Essentially what the guideline boils down to is what I refer to as the 10-minute rule, which means 10 minutes per night, per grade: first graders, 10 minutes, second graders, 20 minutes, third graders, 30 minutes, and so on. We do have research that shows that when middle school kids are doing between 60 to 90 minutes of homework a night they’re doing as well as kids who claim to be doing more. If parents feel that their children are getting too much homework, Cooper says, they should begin by observing what really happens during homework time. Are the children focused solely on homework, or are distractions like text-messaging or television getting in the way? He provides tips for talking with teachers about homework, advising parents to take a non-confrontational teamwork approach. Some homework opponents would do away with it altogether. Alfie Kohn argued in The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing and in a 2006 Q&A with Philissa at Insideschools.org that homework "dampen[s] children's curiosity about the world," and that research shows no benefit to homework. One math teacher says on his blog that he doesn't assign homework because his students who need extra practice most are least likely to complete homework. But Cooper makes a case for small amounts of homework: it helps children learn to study on their own and outside the classroom, important preparation for the demands of college, where most learning happens in the dorm room, library, or coffeehouse. As a teacher, I encountered more parents worried that their children weren't doing enough homework than that they were assigned too much.
New York

Should teachers trade tenure for extra pay?

Merit pay, also known as performance pay, keeps turning up on the ed blogs and in the news. How do merit pay plans work? And, coming soon, how does the merit pay debate affect New York City schools? The gist of performance pay is that districts offer teachers increased pay on the basis of student achievement and other measures of success, often in return for weakened job security. Plans vary: some reward individual teachers, others reward schools, some are based largely on test scores, some include peer and administrator evaluations, and some offer pay increases for taking on extra responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers, or for teaching in a high-needs school or subject area. A 2007 New York Times article noted teachers' increasing openness to merit pay programs, especially those involving teacher input and collaboration with their unions. Still, the Times pointed out, many teachers in Texas and Florida rejected merit pay plans, citing concerns about divisiveness, unfairness to teachers of high-needs students, and simplistic evaluations. Educators often say they are insulted by the idea that a little extra cash will increase their motivation to help struggling students. Paul Tough has written extensively about teacher pay-for-performance plans on his Schoolhouse Rock blog at Slate. He launched last week with a look at political pressure on Barack Obama to push increased teacher pay but decreased job security, then spent the rest of the week examining existing performance pay programs. Tough summarized Michelle Rhee's proposed salary plan for DC teachers, which would increase salaries across the board, do away with tenure rights, and create an opt-in performance pay program while phasing out the traditional pay scale. Rhee has warned that if teachers reject her plan, she will turn, instead, to tougher evaluations and licensing requirements, making it easier to fire teachers.
New York

The International Baccalaureate program for more city middle schools?

Houston may not be alone in seeing an increase in schools using International Baccalaureate programs. New York's Blueprint for Middle School Success, which identifies "key elements" of successful middle school programs, briefly mentions International Baccalaureate (IB), along with America's Choice and Project Grad, as "protocols, programs, and/or school reform models" that school leaders should consider when developing a college prep curriculum. According to the IB website, few city schools use IB at the moment — Mott Hall Bronx High School, Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, Staten Island's Curtis High School, and Queens' Baccalaureate School for Global Education — and only Thurgood Marshall and the Baccalaureate School have the IB Middle Years Program. Central themes unite 8 subject areas in the Middle Years Program curriculum. What stands out about the Middle Years Program is not the range of subjects taught nor the five themes which unite the student's learning experience, as shown in the diagram above, but the personal project, an in-depth study undertaken by each child, and other innovative approaches to assessment. Teachers develop their own course assignments and assessments, ranging from projects to exams and including opportunities for self-assessment and peer-assessment. Final assessments are not standardized tests or even standardized projects. Rather, teachers administer appropriate sets of assessment tasks and rigorously apply the prescribed assessment criteria defined for each subject group. The type of assessment tools available to teachers include all forms of oral work, written work, and practical work. A school can request that the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) validate students' grades, a review process in which external moderators apply IB standards to samples of student work and compare their grades to the teachers' grades, which helps maintain standards from school to school.