POV: We are not failing

This Point of View was submitted by Michelle Adalian, a fourth grade teacher at Schalmont Central School District.

Points_viewWhen I was a child, I loved to line my bed with every stuffed animal and doll I owned. I read books, sang songs, wrote stories, had calendar time, and modeled math. Because of the wonder and joy of learning I encountered in my first public education experience in Kindergarten, I knew at the age of five that teaching was what I wanted to do when I grew up. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Smith, made learning fun and inviting. I never questioned my early decision to be just like her and I anxiously waited for the day I would have my very own classroom.

Years later when I walked into my own classroom I came to understand that every fall represents a new beginning. Every year is a chance for teachers to make an unforgettable first impression, create an inviting environment, set up routines, and establish reward systems. Most importantly, we prepare our hearts to grow to include each new face that will call our classroom home five days a week for the next 10 months.

My first year of teaching was hard work but rewarding. I was happy to come early and stay late to prep and plan, collaborate and create. The students’ excitement fueled my excitement. My fourth graders were filled with curiosity, a natural thirst for knowledge, and willingness to grow. We conducted experiments. We formed literature circles and looked in depth at literature. We wrote for a purpose. We “adopted” a soldier who was serving in Afghanistan and sent numerous letters and care packages to his unit. We used manipulatives to solve math problems and worked together to resolve real-life conflicts. We developed social skills and practiced compassion. We celebrated our successes and our hiccups along the way. We found that making mistakes lead to new discoveries. We went outside to run, play, or enjoy the fresh air. We’d come back refreshed, ready to work hard.

Fourteen years later, I am lucky enough to be able to work with a tremendously dedicated faculty and administration that is focused on meeting the needs of each individual student. We plan lessons together, bounce ideas off of one another, and rely on our administration for advice and guidance. Still, it rarely feels like enough. My 4th grade class of 2015 has a different feel than my class of 2001. There aren’t many spur of the moment discoveries or quick games of tag. It feels as if time has been sucked away and it is implied that every second spent in the classroom should focus on “increasing rigor” and preparing for the test. Many kids are stressed, worried, anxious, and nervous. These children are stressed. They ask about the test. When is the test? What will be on the test? What if I fail the test? They get stomachaches and headaches. They put their heads down. They cry. They shut down.

These tests that are becoming the end-all-be-all of student and teacher assessment are killing the teaching profession. They’re squashing creativity. These tests are not informing our instruction as proper assessments should. They tell us nothing of our students or our ability to teach. Please, look at a portfolio of work we’ve completed. Observe students engaged in an activity. Watch the “light bulb” click for a student who’s been working his tail off! But, to be judged solely based off of a test score, especially a test score taken from an assessment requiring students to comprehend material well above their level is unfair. Why is this considered valid?

I hate to drop a bomb, but here’s a little secret: some kids in New York state or around the nation for that matter, don’t care about the test. Why? Because she was taken by Child Protective Services and had the most frightening night of her life. Because his parents are alcoholics. Because her mom leaves when things get hard. Because he lives in a shelter. Because his mother has cancer. Because he is abused. Because she is used as a pawn in a nasty divorce. Because his father is incarcerated. Because, because, because….

Maybe many of those “becauses” seem to apply to a limited number of students, but children are affected by so many events that we, as adults may think are insignificant. In reality, these small moments impact a student’s ability to focus and their ability to try their best, even on a “test day.” A child may not perform well because he missed the bus, because she got into an argument with her sister, because her best friend sat on the bus with someone else, because there is a new baby at home that gets all the attention, because his grandmother is ill, because he is thinking about the next level of his video game, because she overslept. Because, because, because… After months of teaching and learning, it is an injustice to be represented as a number. To be labeled as a 4, 3, 2, or 1 based off of a single assessment is a tiny and unfair piece of a very large puzzle.

I encourage “the powers that be” to walk just an inch in our shoes. We do much more than what a bubble sheet might reveal. It doesn’t show the amount of hugs given to little ones who feel broken, the coats bought for children who wear nothing more than a thin shirt on a below-freezing day. It doesn’t properly depict the teacher who gives up her lunch to provide extra support. It will never show the tears shed and the sleepless nights wondering if one of your students is being abused. It doesn’t total the amount of money spent on snacks passed out to those who rarely have a meal waiting for them at home, or the toiletries given away so hygiene can be properly tended to. I could go on… and on…we all could.

We are not a “special interest group” as Governor Cuomo likes to paint us. We are public servants who proudly perform our jobs each day. We are educators trying our best to lead the next generation to make this world a better place. We need to be supported, not attacked. We need to be encouraged, not degraded. We are loving. Compassionate. Creative. Flexible. Innovative. We carry our students in our hearts long after we exit our school each day. Every child deserves to be tended to with grace, care, respect, patience, and love. Each student has a story that deserves to be heard. I fear for the educational future of my four daughters. My kindergartner enthusiastically announced that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. I wonder, when she gathers her dolls to play school, will they be sitting in rows with a bubble sheet and pencil in hand?

We are not failing. In fact, we are quite the contrary. There is no such thing as failing when you serve in a school district. We do not allow ourselves to fail. We keep trying, we keep learning, we keep coming back for more. We learn new ways to reach students. We attend workshops, seminars, and conferences. We take advantage of professional development. We seek the advice of others, we serve on committees, we read the latest research, and we assess and analyze data. We have open lines of communication with parents. We are involved in the community. We spend early mornings and late nights preparing, grading, planning and thinking.

No, we are not failing. We are far from failing. We are giving it everything we’ve got and then some.

POV: Parents should decide children’s participation in exams after thoughtful and informed consideration

This Point of View was submitted by Glenn Niles, superintendent of the Arkport Central School District.

Points_viewA growing number of parents and caregivers statewide are planning to opt their children out of participating in standardized tests administered in public schools across the country this spring.

We in the Arkport Central School District understand parents have questions and concerns about the tests, which are scheduled to take place in April for students in grades 3-8. And while we understand some parents’ wish to have their children refuse to take the upcoming state assessments, we’re also concerned about the incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate information about test refusal that is being promoted across social media channels and elsewhere — namely that the tests have no value, that they are overly punitive to teachers and that the information they provide is not used.

We urge parents to decide about their children’s participation in the upcoming exams only after thoughtful and informed consideration.

After 20 years working in New York public schools, I know first-hand the essential role that testing plays in the learning cycle; good teaching and learning depend on understanding what students know. But in the opt-out storm now raging around New York and across the nation, I fear the primary purpose — and ultimate value — of student assessment is being clouded by politics and the misdirected frustration of some well-meaning groups. Test refusal has become the latest political football in a game that ultimately sidelines local school districts and the students entrusted to their care.

I understand the impulse to rage against the machine. But the local school district is not the machine. For those who don’t know, school superintendents and Boards of Education have no say in the administration of standardized state tests to students in grades 3-8 in English language arts and math. The testing is a national mandate as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. Furthermore, here in New York, all schools are required to have a 95 percent participation rate in state testing, as noted in a January 2013 memo to school districts from the New York Education Department (NYSED).

When the opt-out movement gained momentum last year and many districts’ participation dropped below the 95 percent mark, the state education department calculated the weighted average of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 participation rates for those schools. In Arkport, for example, the 2013-14 rate of 87 percent was offset by 2012-13’s rate of 96 percent. But that was a one-time fix. Last year’s rate will not help us this year.

For those that fail to reach this minimum threshold, consequences can include a loss of control over how federal Title I funds can be spent and/or the imposition of state intervention measures, such as the mandated preparation of new curricular and academic intervention plans; data analysis followed by strategic plans to address identified problems; implementation plans; mid-year plan reviews, final reports, etc. It goes on and on. I’ve done it all before, and it’s an enormous drain of time and other resources.

Specifically, if Arkport fails to reach a 95 percent participation rate in the state tests, we’ll likely have to re-do our District Comprehensive Education Plan (DCEP) and School Comprehensive Education Plan (SCEP), which will siphon away instruction time from teachers. We will also be required to participate in mandatory trainings in Albany; shift the focus of our professional development; and be required to set aside significant local, state and federal funds for “parent engagement.”

In short, we’ll lose a lot of local control and valuable time that would be better spent in the classroom with our students and teachers.

As important as it is for us to have the last word on how we spend the tax dollars set aside for the education of Arkport children, the real value in state testing is what it accomplishes in the teaching-learning relationship.

Standardized tests serve as an objective assessment of all students at a particular grade level and as a measuring stick of students’ understanding of the skills and knowledge embodied in the New York State Learning Standards. Without standardized testing, there is no way to compare students in one school or district with students in other schools and other locations, or against any objective measure of achievement.

All tests are meant to identify and help bridge the gaps that exist between what people know and what they should know in order to move to the next grade, be accepted in a college or vocational school, get a license, or earn a promotion at work. Schools use standardized test results to shine a light on skill and knowledge gaps — generally by grade level and specifically by student — so teachers can plan how best to fill them.

In addition, districts use state assessment results as one measure in determining what services or supports a student may need in school, such as academic intervention services in reading and math.

Some opposition to state testing stems from the state’s use of the test results in New York’s Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) ratings system used to evaluate teachers and principals. Currently, 20 percent of a teacher’s or a principal’s evaluation is derived from “student growth,” which can be based on state test results, depending on which grade level/subject they teach or oversee. “Growth scores” are based on how students perform on state exams compared to similar students across the state. Teachers are assigned growth scores based on demonstrated student growth as measured by these standardized assessments. Interestingly, and ultimately, it is not students’ individual achievement scores that matter for the purpose of teacher evaluations. It does not matter how many 1s , 2s, 3s or 4s any single teacher’s students achieve. What matters, and has always mattered, is whether or not a teacher’s students have demonstrated growth, from one year to the next.

Education law states that parents have the primary responsibility for their children’s education, and the decisions they make for their children should be respected. And I don’t dispute that. But as an educator, I understand the value in measurement and the penalties for non-compliance. At Arkport, each one of us is committed to ensuring our students are learning, growing and preparing as best they can during every one of the 182 instructional days in the school year. We accomplish this through a daily cycle of teaching, learning and assessing. We ask students to show us what they know every day, using a wide variety of assessment tools.

For us, the state exams are no more or less important than any other assessment we give our students at any time during the school year — all of which are used to help us support our students by planning appropriate instruction for them. If you sincerely wish to support teachers, consider providing them with all the tools they need to provide your children with all the services they need.

POV: At the expense of a child

This Point of View – a poem –  was submitted by Jade Vangorder, a fourth grade teacher at Harry Hoag Elementary in the Fort Plain Central School District.

Points_viewHow can our leaders support high-stakes tests,
That supposedly measure a teacher’s success?
Ignoring innocent little minds that naturally run wild,
His satisfaction comes at the expense of a child.

Project-based, meaningful, hands-on learning is fun,
Those amazing experiences should be number one.
Yet test data will determine the score that is filed,
As his wishes are fulfilled, at the expense of a child.

My heart hurts to see our youngsters in distress,
But I feel the pressure, I must confess.
Our kids’ levels of anxiety are far from mild,
We can’t let this happen, at the expense of a child.

So moving forward, let’s do our best,
To try and ignore the high stakes of these tests.
Let’s continue to encourage inquiry and deep thought,
So the children flourish from what we have taught.

Cuomo is playing a game that isn’t right,
If we sit back and do nothing, he will win this fight!
A note to our legislators, or their numbers dialed,
We need to speak up, to save a child!!

No more political gain at the EXPENSE OF A CHILD!!

POV: “Let me learn – and enjoy the process”

Today’s “Point of View” was submitted by William Schmidt, a student from Schalmont High School. It is the transcript of his remarks given at the “Save Our Schools” advocacy event that took place at South Colonie High School on February 26, 2015.

Points_viewTonight, I’ve been asked to speak of my experience with the changes in testing policies in my school and in New York state, but first, I’d like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Billy Schmitt and I enjoy school. For me, education helps feed my love of learning and intellectual curiosity for the world. I relish the insights on humanity, science, and history that occur as we discuss sociology, human biology, and politics. I’m not the only one who has noticed the value and excitement of discussion and learning- I have several peers who commented on how thrilling and enjoyable a past class dialogue on social inequality was. However, this environment is increasingly being threatened by the number of tests I take and believe me, I’ve never heard “enjoyable” and “test” in the same sentence.

I’d like to highlight the evolution of testing I’ve seen in my school. When I began high school as a 9th grader in 2011, there were only two major assessments to take for each class: the midterm and final exam. Let’s look at a theoretical freshman entering high school today. If he’s lucky, he has six, maybe seven classes. Over the course of one year, he must take a pre-test, a mid-term, a post-test, and a local assessment or final exam. That’s approximately four major exams per class, over 20 tests in total, all of which, except the pretests, weigh significantly into his grade. Keep in mind this doesn’t include the smaller tests, quizzes, papers, and projects to check his learning on plate tectonics, polynomials, or Ancient China that are taken several times throughout the year. Clearly, tests dominate education.

What is the purpose of tests? To gauge how much students have learned? If this is the case, then how we can learn when we are drowning in a flood of assessments? When an English pre-test takes two days to administer, that’s two less days I have to learn the intricacies of how to craft a strong argument or to understand how to properly format a formal research paper- skills I’ll clearly need later in college and my career. Remember, those two days lost are the result of just one test out of the dozens that will have to be taken throughout the year.

Furthermore, the pre-test in particular seems superfluous. Why must I take a test to understand what I don’t know? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to take that time to learn that information I don’t know? In addition, it’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously. We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A’s on our Scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked “A”.

Yet, the pretest isn’t the only test that detracts from my education. At the end of the year, we spend many days in review for the post-test and final we must take- tests that not always, but sometimes look very similar. Some of this study time, while imperative to make sure we get good grades, could otherwise be used to further our learning and to hone our college and career readiness skills. I don’t blame my teachers – I’d want to spend as much time as I could reviewing if it determined my future. As a student, I’m thankful for these days of review because I also want a good grade, but think for a minute of the lessons that could be taught and learned in that time.

I’m asking here today for lawmakers and educators to work together to take another look at these testing policies so that I can experience more epiphanies that come from a fruitful class discussion, so that I can learn the mathematical formulas, psychological theories, and writing techniques that will help me navigate college and the workforce. Please, let me learn – and enjoy the process – instead of stressing over the tests I must take.

POV: Is end of GEA near? Could be, if we act now!

This Point of View was submitted by Dr. Lori Caplan, superintendent of the Watervliet City School District.

Points_viewThe Legislature has a real opportunity this year to fully end the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure initiated by the state that has diverted more than $9 billion in aid from schools across New York since it was first introduced in 2010.

Since that time, the GEA has essentially siphoned more than $4 million in aid from our school district—leaving us with significant budget deficits to overcome, but more importantly, cheating our students of the educational opportunities they deserve.

Both of our elected state representatives are on board with recently proposed bi-partisan legislation (Assembly bill A.2271 and Senate bill S.2743) that, if approved by both houses, would bring about a permanent end to the GEA. I commend Assemblyman John McDonald and Senator Neil Breslin for taking action and co-sponsoring this important legislation and have written letters to both encouraging them to continue fighting the good fight for our schools and for public education, in general.

Now I am asking the community to keep this momentum to end the GEA moving forward. Please send a letter, an email or even call Assemblyman McDonald and Senator Breslin and urge them to continue working diligently for the passage of Assembly bill A.2271 and Senate bill S.2743 during the 2015 Legislative Session. Their contact information can be found here.

The more legislators hear from us – their constituents – the better the chances they will make the GEA a priority issue this legislative session!

From ending the GEA to beginning the school budget process

This is typically the time of year when we begin in earnest to crunch the numbers and develop a school budget proposal to present for a public vote in May. Only this year, for the first time that anyone in education can recall, district leaders and boards of education are beginning this important process without having all the necessary numbers.

Historically, the state issues what are known as “state aid runs” or projections for the amount of state funding that school districts should reasonably expect to receive. The aid runs are traditionally provided soon after the governor presents his Executive Budget proposal in January. In an unprecedented move, however, the state’s Division of Budget announced that it will not release aid projections until the Legislature passes the education reform agenda outlined in the governor’s budget presentation. This unfairly places school districts in the cross hairs of a political power struggle and further complicates the already challenging process of developing a balanced and responsible budget.

Not only does withholding this critical information create an impediment to crafting a sound fiscal plan, but it is also a disservice to our communities as it hinders the open communication and transparency that needs to occur throughout the budget development process.

WHS student to speak at regional forum on public education

Finally, I encourage teachers, staff members, parents, students and community members—anyone invested in the future of public education—to attend the upcoming regional forum “SAVE OUR SCHOOLS: Quality Opportunities for Public School Children” on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at Colonie Central High School.

View a copy of the Feb. 26 event agenda.

I have been asked to discuss school funding at this event and Watervliet High School senior Theresa DeChiaro also has been invited to serve as a panelist speaking on behalf of public school students about the undeniable effects inequitable and inadequate state funding have made on educational opportunities in our schools.

I am extremely proud of Theresa for serving on this panel and being a voice for students here and throughout the Capital Region, and I look forward to having Watervliet community members attend the forum and help support our message.

Dr. Lori Caplan is the superintendent of the Watervliet City School District. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University and her master’s from The College of Saint Rose. In 2010, she received her doctorate in educational leadership from Sage College and was appointed the Watervliet Superintendent of Schools in January 2012. You can read more from Dr. Caplan by visiting her blog.

POV: Teacher Evaluation vs. Student Achievement: Minimal Correlation

Points_viewMany would believe that the state mandated evaluation system is a fair and appropriate method for evaluating teachers and principals and that teacher evaluations are linked directly and solely to New York state assessment results. Recent news reports have attempted to draw a direct comparison between New York state assessment results and teacher evaluation ratings. However, these misleading commentaries have been based on a lack of understanding of how assessment scores are used in teacher evaluations.

A recent article serves as a good example, comparing teacher and principal evaluation ratings to NYS assessment results from the 2013-2014 school year. Included was that (not counting New York City) about 39% of teachers and 61% of principals received “effective” ratings while 58% of teachers and 33% of principals earned the top rating of “highly effective.” This was contrasted with the 2014 NYS assessment results, where approximately 40% of students in grades three to eight scored at the proficient level or higher on the NYS math and ELA assessments.

Teacher effectiveness is so much more than results on one annual test. In fact, state assessment results are only mandated to be included in the evaluations of math and English teachers, grades 4-8, and in the evaluations of elementary, middle school and junior high building principals. In my school (Shaker Junior High School) that is a total of 16 teachers out of my total faculty of about 75 teachers.

Yes, such comparisons are clearly misleading. The truth is that NYS assessment results are included in the evaluations of only 21% of the teachers in my building, which is probably consistent with every other school in New York state.

To further underscore how misleading such comparisons are, let’s take a closer look at the evaluations of math and English teachers in grades 3-8 and determine how the NYS assessment results are included in them. NYS assessment results constitute 20 of the 100 points that comprise a teacher’s (or a principal’s) evaluation; these point totals are computed and provided by the NYS Education Department. That’s right, only 20% of a math or English teacher’s (or a building principal’s) evaluation is based on state assessment results.

Think about that. NYS assessment results account for 20% of about 21% of NYS teachers’ and principals’ evaluations state wide. If you just use these two percentages to calculate a rough, non-mathematical effect, (i.e. multiply 20% by 21%), you get an effect range of about 4%. Yes, NYS assessment results constitute about 4% of NYS teachers’ and principals’ evaluations. Interesting, as news reports (and politicians) would have you believe something very different. Not even being considered are the many other aspects of teaching that are included in an evaluation, the comparisons would have you believe that assessment data and evaluations are one and the same.

Let’s at least include the pertinent information about evaluations in news reporting and give readers the true data to fully comprehend the numbers. Let’s make sure that readers understand that there exists no significant connection between the state wide evaluation ratings and NYS assessment results. But, that doesn’t provoke readers nor is it of interest to politicians. No, the real story behind the sound bites is often quite un-newsworthy.

This Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in his 27th year as a principal. You can read more from him at his blog “Moore Perspective.”

POV: Opportunities in a moment of decision

This Point of View was submitted by Dr. Patrick Michel, District Superintendent for the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES

Points_viewWe are at a moment of decision, not just because it is the beginning of a new year, but because the opportunity now exists to embrace a path that insures a bright educational future for all our children.

I recently sat through a presentation from the College Board, the not-for-profit organization that produces the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). They have established a college and career-ready benchmark and are measuring states to see if high schools are producing seniors who are truly college and career ready. They calculated both a national average as well as state-by-state and school district-by-school district breakdowns. This presentation offered the report of their findings.

I will make two observations based on this report.

First, what we are doing now is evidently not working. The current SAT report sadly echoes the same tale that groups such as the ACT achievement test and the New York State Education Department have been telling for years, that students coming out of high school are not adequately prepared for success at college or in a career.

The data presented is shocking to this educator’s conscience. While the United States spends more than most industrialized countries on public education, our results are abysmal. According to the College Board, barely more than 39 percent of students taking the SAT in New York State are equipped to succeed in college or in a career. Nationally, the number is 43 percent, still less than half of the students taking the test.

The numbers for African-Americans and Hispanics are even more discouraging. According to the SAT, only 14.1 percent of New York’s African-American students are prepared to succeed in college or start a new job. Our Hispanic students perform a little better at 19.3 percent.

So, here comes the College Board with their benchmark on college and career readiness. Here is yet another organization—outside of public education—stating essentially that the Emperor has no clothes.

I would like to believe that with all the money we invest in New York State public education, that our students could excel on a test measuring college and career readiness; at least do better than the national average!

How unfortunate. More than half of the high school students looking forward to a college education (more like two-thirds of New York students) do not reach the benchmark indicating they are prepared to succeed at college or at a job.

My second observation is that the SAT has clearly embraced Common Core. Like it or not, if your school district is not using Common Core-aligned curriculum to prepare students, most will not get the SAT scores needed for admission to the college of their choice.

We presently have a public education system conceived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much teaching still is done with students aligned in rows of desks, and many schools still run as if they are operating in the 1950s and 60s. This report, and others, illustrates the result of such thinking.

For more than a year, I have listened to the steady rant of people and groups objecting to the Common Core and any other attempt to reform public education.

As much as those leading the anti-common core charge would like us to think we should just do it like we used to do it, today’s reality demands change. Technology and progress are redefining the face of business and community life everywhere, and despite the nostalgia, the ways of the “good ol’ days” will not get our students where they need to go to succeed in today’s world.

Granted, the Common Core is not a panacea and, frankly, is already being outpaced by innovative educational reform around the world. However, Common Core is a step toward the goal, and those objecting have yet to produce a viable alternative.

So why is this important?

If you are fair-minded and look at the data coming in from all over the political spectrum and from both the SAT and the ACT, we can draw only one conclusion.

Because the existing public education system in New York State and the United States is not getting us to where we need to be, an effort to raise the standards so more students can be college and career ready is necessary. A coalition of states chose the Common Core as the strategy to achieve that end.

What is also important to point out is that both the SAT and the ACT have embraced the Common Core and that soon all children who take these gateway exams will be exposed to the standards that the Common Core represents.

So, here is the conundrum. The military, industry, higher education, government and now the SAT and the ACT are all saying we must raise standards and we need to teach differently. It is a matter of our standing in the world economy.

However, the only people not listening are the special interest groups in public education. What solution do they offer in the face of overwhelming evidence that the current system is failing?

Where is the comprehensive curriculum and reform ideas that will give our children a fighting chance in today’s global economy? Do the special interests actually believe that going backward to the good old days will better prepare children for the challenges of today’s world?

I see many groups putting an enormous amount of effort into getting more money to maintain their position in the pile. I wonder how much public education would improve if that same level of effort were applied to the real needs of students instead of the needs of adults protecting their turf.

What is most heartrending in this latest report is the fact that minority communities, those that are traditionally most underserved, are being manipulated by special interest groups to protect the status quo. Those most in need of a robust and successful public education system by all data indicators are the least served.

Most people in the education community will agree with me and say, “There’s nothing new in what you say, but what can be done?”

The difference now is that New York State’s Board of Regents is poised to select a new Commissioner of Education. The special interest groups, characterized by the Governor as “the Education Monopoly”, are lobbying hard for a pawn who will bog down forward-thinking change to protect their interests over what benefits the children.

Today is a significant moment of decision, and my sincere hope is that the Board of Regents will have the courage to choose a leader who will move us forward in the best interests of all students and their futures.

To read more from Dr. Michel, click here.

POV: The pivotal middle school years

Points_viewThis Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in the 26th year as principal. He attended SUNY Potsdam, and graduated with a BA in mathematics and education (1976) and a MA in mathematic (1983). Dr. Moore received his MEd. in ed. administration from St. Lawrence University in 1986 and his PhD. in ed. admin. and policy studies from the University at Albany in 1993.

School years end – which is a good thing for students and adults. Courses are developed in yearly format, so there is a defined beginning and a defined end. We finish off one year and look forward to the next. We end the school year, everybody takes a break, we start another one.

At least that’s what it looks like to people outside of education.

Those of us who work in schools, however, know that is not the case.

Within individual school districts there is a lot of work that goes into transitioning students from one grade level to the next. Some considerations for doing so include determining course of level placement for each student, meeting the new year’s teachers, recognizing the accomplishments of the year ending, working with parents as needed to clarify what’s taking place, planning students’ inclusion in summer programs, and several other annual tasks that are geared to help students be prepared for the coming year.

The transition process it even more involved when you consider students who are entering your school for the first time. In my school’s case, we have students entering from six different district elementary schools, in addition to several new entrants from area private schools. Transitioning these students is an important task, as each year our entire seventh grade is new to our school. In addition, working to transition parents is almost as important, as there is a fairly high level of anxiety with many parents, mostly those with their first child entering the junior high. The move from the neighborhood elementary school, which the student has been a part of for the past seven years, to a much larger, differently structured secondary school creates angst.

Schools should not wait until the end of one school year to begin the transition process to the next. Schools need to demonstrate to parents that that they understand their unease and will be working to help them and their incoming kids to get a little more comfortable with their new environment. Kids’ feelings are different; they’re nervous but in an excited, eager to move on to the next level way. Parents are just plain nervous.

One way to begin easing parents into your school is to reach out to them about courses offered. In most middle schools, there aren’t many options for 6th and 7th grade students, but providing a description of all the courses offered in the initial school year is informative and helpful. It’s a plus if your guidance counselors visit each of the elementary schools to meet with the fifth or sixth grade teachers about the incoming kids.

Another way to inform and transition is to post information about your school on your web page. Most schools hold an evening orientation program for parents in early June, at which parents hear information provided by representatives of each department, each teacher team, guidance counselors, perhaps a PTA rep, and building administrators. Many schools also have the kids visit their school sometime in June during the day. At this program the kids can have lunch, hear from some of their specific teachers, guidance counselor and/or building administrators, and see the school.

Yet another outreach is to mail important information to parents during the summer, early enough for parents and kids to read and understand it. It’s very helpful if this mailing includes each child’s class schedule for the year. You may even consider holding an Open School Day before school starts. Such a day is very helpful to students because you can provide students with their schedules and have them try out their lockers to insure they open. Kids also get to see a lot of their future classmates on this day.

A final step in the transition can be a school’s Back to School Night. At this program, parents can walk through their kids’ schedule and hear specific information about each class from their child’s teachers. The information provided during this evening program can be much more content and class focused than the information given at the orientation program in June.

These are just some ideas that can help transition students and parents to a new school. Much of the communication should take place between individual parents and counselors as well, probably in June and July. Some of these conversations would be about specific course options, while others more general in content. Schools should work to insure that parents have a better understanding of the school, how it is structured, how issues are addressed (which may or may not be done differently than was experienced in elementary school), and what they can expect from building leaders.

Parents won’t be completely comfortable until their kids have been at their new school for a period of time and they have experienced how the building regularly functions. Effective transitions do not happen overnight. They take planning, evaluation, revision as needed and adequate attention to all involved parties. Done right, transitioning between schools can work quite well.

You can read more from Dr. Moore by visiting his blog: Moore Perspective.

POV: Finishing strong

Points_viewThis Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in the 26th year as principal. He attended SUNY Potsdam, and graduated with a BA in mathematics and education (1976) and a MA in mathematic (1983). Dr. Moore received his MEd. in ed. administration from St. Lawrence University in 1986 and his PhD. in ed. admin. and policy studies from the University at Albany in 1993.

Baseball players, on average, make a lot of money. Power hitters and ace pitchers tend to be the players who pull down the largest contracts, but another position that merits serious pay is that of the closer. The closer is the pitcher who comes out of the bullpen late in the game, usually the ninth inning, to get the final outs to preserve a win. Closers mostly don’t pitch in other situations; they are paid to finish off a victory. They play a very important role in baseball as the need to “close” games is paramount.

Similar to baseball, authors work to begin a story or a book strong, wanting to hook the readers. By doing so interest is piqued and each reader will progress through the story, book or essay anticipating resolution. Good books must have a strong finish as well. The ending is almost more important than the beginning as it resolves whatever issues or events were detailed throughout the piece of writing. If your reading experiences have been like mine, then you’ve read some books that pulled you along but that ultimately fell apart. You were left feeling disappointed because the ending was weak, the author didn’t “close” the narrative effectively.

I’m writing this blog in May, which means the end of our school year is just around the corner. The idea of finishing strong is just as present in schools as it is in baseball and in writing. We want to conclude the school year on a positive note; no one wants to limp into summer break with black clouds hanging over us. We want to feel that we’ve worked hard and deserve the break, not that we need the summer to separate us from a negative experience, to wipe the slate clean so we can start anew in the fall.

Of course this desire to finish strong applies to our students. We work to help students understand that ending the year on a positive note is a goal to strive for. Kids at this age, especially, smell summer break; they are eagerly anticipating days of sun and fun, and they have trouble grasping and attending to the work that needs to be done to end the year on a high note. We need them to stay focused on the many tasks at hand, to not disregard the review and continued preparation that leads to success on final exams and, ultimately for them, their success for the year.

This won’t happen, however, unless the administrators and teachers finish strong as well. Kids, in general, will not stay focused on their own, they need the adults, the professionals, to keep them on task and productive. So it’s imperative that the adults in our school, or in any school, not cut corners, not lessen expectations, not give a different message to students now than was given throughout the first thirty weeks of the year. This is easy for a lot of us, but not so easy for some. Just like with students, some adults can’t wait for summer and they lose the attention to detail that was imperative to get students to this point.

We need to be our own closers, and that hinges entirely on our professionalism. We shouldn’t need a boss looking over our shoulder to insure that we do what needs to be done. Each of us has to maintain high, yet appropriate standards, insist on kids (and staff) meeting them, and not accept less than our best effort. We can’t relax on the little things, shift into summer mode early, because doing so send the wrong message to our students.

To me there’s nothing quite like the feeling experienced when you can reflect on the past year and realize it was a good year and that the year ended well. Having such a sense of accomplishment, and that we did our best effort, makes you forget the struggles that may have occurred. It’s finishing strong that allows us to truly experience the year’s accomplishments…at least that’s my perspective.

You can read more from Dr. Moore by visiting his blog: Moore Perspective.

POV: Students are fighting for our future

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Today’s POV comes to us from Dan Adamek, a senior at Herkimer Junior-Senior High School.  Dan serves as president of the student council, the founder of Students for Fair Funding – New York, and organizes with the Alliance for Quality Education. This article originally appeared in the Utica Observer-Dispatch on April 21, 2014.

I am a high school senior. On April 10, I should have been eating lunch in my school’s cafeteria worrying about my next test. Instead, I found myself with more than 100 of my peers marching in a mock funeral that symbolized the death of the Herkimer Central School District.

This action was initiated and led by students in a collective effort to end the epidemic of what activists across the state have dubbed as “Cuomo cuts.”

Throughout my high school career, I have not once heard of the introduction of new programs that will enhance my educational experience, nor have I had the opportunity to take classes that will give me an advantage in the globalized, 21st century job market. In fact, I have seen my school district in a constant state of attrition.

This is not because of my community, teachers or school administration. It is not because I have failed to make a conscious effort to self-educate and work diligently. It is, however, because of the systematic orchestration of the failure of schools all around New York state by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Students at Herkimer High School took action because before austerity hit the education system, our elementary school offered character education. In those character education classes we learned about the golden rule. We learned that we should treat others the way we want to be treated.

It is evident that our governor has yet to fully grasp this idea. If he did, he would clearly be fulfilling his duty to provide students with a quality education as outlined in the New York state Constitution. He would certainly not be balancing the state budget on the back of young children through the Gap Elimination Adjustment — a policy that has stolen more than $8.4 billion from schools around New York state since its inception. Nor would he continually fail to put New York back on track with its commitment to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court order.

Herkimer students acted because in our history classes — the few that are still offered — we have been taught that in the face of adversity, change will not happen with inaction and apathy. Herkimer students realize that the pages of history books are plastered with the struggles of oppressed peoples.

We, the students, are being oppressed by your lack of equitable education funding that thereby deprives us of our right to a quality education, Mr. Governor, and we do not plan on quieting down anytime soon. Each of us is filled with rage, and that rage will not go away until our demands are met and our rights are upheld.