According to the most recent  audit to the Department of Education  by City Comptroller John C. Lui, although state regents tests, and graduation rates may demonstrate progress, they are difficult to understand. As told by Lui, because the method the grades are calculated has changes multiple times, it is difficult to use those reports to look at a school’s performance from year to year or to determine whether or not those numbers accurately the shift in performance. This is very problematic, because officials decide whether a school stays opened or closed based on the results of  those progress reports. How do they know they are accurate? Not implying that tests are the best way to check performance but can that assert that these measure are accurate? How about not changing the method every year. This flawed method may be the reason why so many schools have had failing grades and have ended up closing. If they have found a system that works, why not just stick to it?

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There is a warehouse in Long Island City, a wonderful, wonderful warehouse that hold three ring binders, paint and even mannequins for public schools to use for free. Yes, free. The article titled For Schools, Free Art Supplies, and Much More in the New York Times tells us all about this magical place in Queens. The Materials for the Arts warehouse has been around for 32 years and has now opened its doors to public schools. There is a variety of items up for grabs at the warehouse. Some regular things like filing cabinets and benches along with other items that may not have a clear use like battery operated candles or clear buttons. Many have gone to the warehouse with the mentality that what they are able to base their projects about what they find in the warehouse. It seems to be almost like a treasure hunt. All of the stock in the warehouse is donation based from companies like Macy’s and Coach, even Columbia Pictures. Materials for the Arts is run by the Department of Cultural Affairs along with the Sanitation Department.
This is a wonderful resource for teachers and school officials. This is actually the first I have heard about anything like this in the city and everything is free! The Materials for the Arts warehouse helps teachers get out of the humdrum way of teaching and has them incorporate creativity into their lessons by having to be creative themselves with the finds they have chosen. I hope that this is around when I have a classroom!

The current education crisis doesn’t seem to be getting any better. We have seen various forms of civic mobilization  from the public to to show their dismay for decisions that elites have made.  The public has engaged in protests, sit- ins, and even rallies but what if the public takes an unconventional approach to civic mobilization?  What if the public  used social media as a mean for activism? Experts imply that using Social media in this form can be two things-good or bad!

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article Small Change, using social media as a form of activism is weak. there often tends to be a type of disconnect between the activist and the actual “cause”, “where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools” (Gladwell 3). With this being said, it might be safe to assume that engaging in activism just got easier. He continues by stating that the apparent disconnect between the two, actually sparks more “activism”. “social networks are effective at increasing participation by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires”  (Gladwell 5). With just a click of a button an individual can join a group of their interest and virtually sign petitions that support the groups’ interest.   Is it fair to call social medias revolutionary?

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At least he thinks he’s amusing. President Obama responded to the ever-increasing criticism he has received recently, with opening remarks at the White House Correspondents Dinner (See video above).  In the first two minutes, he took quite a jab at Matt Damon-FYI Obama, the “Adjustment Bureau” was pretty good. Damon went on Piers Morgan’s show (see post below, for video) and spoke about his frustration with Obama, particularly his “education plan.” Now instead of productively responding to Damon’s valid criticism that students are not learning, but rather being taught to memorize-which is highly problematic- Obama decided to insult Damon’s newest film. I personally did not find this amusing, and think that Obama should take Damon’s criticism seriously and respond to it, for it is an incredibly valid concern, that is felt by many, but voiced publically by one successful actor. I was not amused by this, and think that Obama needs to take this criticism seriously, and DEAL with the crisis at hand, instead of taking jabs at Damon. On a side note, the bashing of Donald Trump was actually HYSTERICAL! Matt Damon, your up next…. take your best shot. Team Damon or Team Obama?

Unfortunately for Mayor Bloomberg, the departure of controversial- anyone remember her birth control quip? – former school Chancellor Cathleen Black has done nothing to help his approval ratings regarding education. Wait a minute, you mean in the midst of an education crisis, where nothing seems to be done by officials, people aren’t thrilled with Bloomberg? SHOCKING! According to Quinnipiac University’s survey 64 percent of registered voters are unhappy with how the Mayor is handling the school system, while 25 percent approve. However, it is not all bad news for Bloomberg; public support is sky high for Bloomberg’s initiative to lay teachers off based on performance NOT seniority. Finally, the same poll also shows that half of registered voters and more than 50 percent of parents with children in public schools said they expected Walcott to “make substantial improvements.” I’m all for optimism, but my question is HOW? What will Walcott do that will be so different? Should we just wish him to do wonderful things and then sit around waiting for them to happen? OR should parents mobilize and make their demands heard? I vote for the latter… Optimism is great, but I will not hold my breath on this one.

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While this is a little dated- Damon was on Piers Morgan’s show in March- he has a valid point. This constant testing is highly problematic, and I worry that Damon could in fact be right, that instead of teaching children, we are “training them.” Obama are you listening? DO SOMETHING. Thoughts?

Finally there is someone who is actually doing some good for the education system, and her name is Cami Anderson.  She is a new superintendent in Newark, New Jersey and so far she has been a great boost for the community.  Her credentials include: working as a teacher for ten years, being the executive director for Teach for America, and the chief program officer for New Leaders for New Schools.  She believes the entire community needs to work together in order to improve education.  She said: “I don’t believe in lonely heroes winning the day.  I actually believe in teams, I think it’s the athlete in me … Education is not an individual sport.”

She does face many problems going into a state with a failing K-12 education system (Being one of many in the United States today).  Of Newark’s 40,000 public schools only 50% of them have an adequate graduation rate.  This achievement gap is not the only issue; its average spending rate is about $25,000 per student.  Pedro Noguera, a New York University education professor, emphasizes how Anderson needs to “put out some goals … [The people of the community] need to see that Newark can start to move forward in the right direction.”  So far she has laid out some possible reforms to help the disjointed system of education—and has made serious efforts to work with disconnected youth.  Her view on the role of charter schools is that they should only close failing schools when “children and literally their lives were at stake.”  Although, she does believe that “multiple pathways” for education is a necessity for success.  The most immediate decisions that she faces is: what to do with the $100 million gift from Facebook’s Zuckerberg and to make budget negotiations that include layoffs for up to 400 school employees.  Hopefully, these decisions will result in bettering the Newark community and not make me regret this post.

Further Reading:

With working out, and surprises! On Tuesday, students at Harlem’s PS 161 were working out to a Beyonce song, and got quite the surprise, when the singer herself appeared!!! The students were participating in a national simulcast of “Let’s Move Flash Workout,” an initiative that is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s fitness campaign. It is really wonderful that Beyonce made an appearance at this public school to advocate for fitness. It is also clear that the kids had the best time, and may think of working out differently now, which is also wonderful. However, since Beyonce was in a public school, I wonder why she- and many other celebrities- for that matter have not been vocal about the education crisis? There have definitely been a few advocates, but overall, celebrities have not made their voices heard regarding the education crisis- both in New York and statewide. Now this normally wouldn’t be a problem, but the education crisis is just picking up momentum especially in the form of civic activism, and having a ‘celebrity spokesperson’ would most certainly draw plenty of attention to this serious issue! I would like to nominate Jennifer Garner to take on this position. She is a very hands on mom, who is already incredibly active in Save The Children, and has advocated for more schools in her hometown of West Virginia. I think she would be the perfect person to draw people in to this fundamental issue…THINK about it Jen!

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As a result of the recent  national civics examination released on Wednesday, it was reported that only fewer than half of  American eighth graders knew the purpose of the bill of rights. It was also reported that only about 10 percent of them had knowledge of the checks and balances among  the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. Is it just me or does something  seem off here? Of course it isn’t just me, because there is something off. Students  today do not know their civics!

Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools tend to focus more  on reading and mathematics and in the attempt neglect other subjects, such as the arts, gym, and in this case civics. Questions on the exam covers themes referring to government such as, how government is financed, what rights are protected by the constitution and how laws are passed.  It was reported that the scores seem slightly better than in 2006. In 2006, on average fourth graders scored 154 on the 300 point scale. This year, that score rose to a measly 157 points. Eighth graders, on the other hand acquired the previous  score, which was 151 points. High school seniors were the biggest losers. The previous score in 2006 was of 151  and has dropped 3 points this year  to 148 points out of the 300 point scale.

The results of the test are disheartening. It seems that it is a national trend; students nowadays are being taught nonsense rather than important things. It seemed to be only a New York state issue, to be teaching the test and strictly focusing on subjects such as math and reading, but t it can be that it has gone national. Most of these state test are not in synch with the curriculum that students are accustomed to at school. Most of the test are so far from the curriculum at school, that teachers have to “rehearse” them as an individual unit. The fact of the matter is, is that students are being taught fluff  rather than the important things. Obviously state test do NOT matter. Yes ,they are important because they establish types of grade appropriate principles, but obviously, students today aren’t learning what they should be learning. What’s wrong with this picture America?

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I would like to take a break from what we’ve been talking about on our blog and highlight something that I have found to be a real help in keeping children willing and excited to learn. And that would be Children’s museums. Children’s museums have always been really close to my heart. They enable children to learn and play, without really thinking that they are learning. It gives them a space to create another life by pretending to be apart of the world that has been built around them. That is invaluable and sometimes difficult to create in a classroom. I found this in the New York Times article Classroom and Playground, All Rolled Into One by John Swartz. The article talks about how children’s museums are “mixing learning and fun — a neat trick that the best of the museums pull off seemingly without effort.”

One great part about museums is that they are not only expanding in size, but also in the topics of exhibits that are displayed in size. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has incorporated more challenging issues in their museum, such as “The Power of Children: Making a Difference” which tell the stories of Anne Frank, and Ruby Bridges one of the first children to be integrated into the New Orleans school system, among others. Having museums down the path of “tougher issues” is incredible because everyone learns in different ways and having these important lessons, and even regular issues as well, in museums allows students who might have trouble grasping the concepts in the classroom to do it here.