School Stories '11 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11 Education reporting in NYC Tue, 22 Nov 2011 09:11:12 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.1.2 For Immigrants, Understanding American History Takes More than Facts and Figures http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2309 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2309#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 17:45:04 +0000 Miranda Neubauer http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2309 When ninth-grade history teacher Kevin Connell found out that the curriculum he was supposed to teach on the encounter between Europeans and the native population of the New World focused on the Incas, he quickly realized that he would have to shift emphasis to the Dominican Republic and its native population of Toinos.

This past semester, Connell has been a student teacher at a small public school on the West Side of Manhattan. In both of his classes, 85 percent of his students are Dominican-American, and about half are recent immigrants.

Understanding the foundations of American civilization can be difficult evenf or students who are born here. A recent report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress stated that a majority of U.S. students did not understand basic concepts of their country’s government and history. But teachers of immigrant students face particular challenges. Language is often a barrier, as is unfamiliarity with American culture in general. Teachers like Connell try to connect with their students by going beyond facts and figures and focusing on different cultural and national backgrounds.

“I didn’t know I would be working with immigrants,” Connell said, but his Spanish skills have been an asset. “I teach in Spanish and English basically, which I wasn’t expecting to do, but have sort of had to do,” he explained. He translates all the written materials and provides bilingual instruction without any special training in that area. His school is one of a few that has an exemption to use portfolio-based assessments instead of standardized test to evaluate its students.

But Connell does not just seek to engage his students by speaking their language. He also tries to reach them through relevant subject matter such as the criminal justice system or immigration. “Maybe they’re not as interested in the history of New York City as they are in the history of Santo Domingo, and to me it’s less important that they get a body of facts and more important that they get a set of skills and understanding,” he said. “If those skills can be reached by modifying the content, then I’m totally willing to modify the content….That’s a message that’s important for immigrant students but also important for the way we should be thinking of education as a whole…which is starting with students and not conceiving them as people who need to receive knowledge from teachers.”

Connell explained how he could not take background knowledge about the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence for granted among his students because it is not part of the version of American culture that they see in their communities. “It’s interesting to think about what knowledge base they need to have as citizen of our country.”

Much of that has involved finding ways for the students to relate to history through their own experiences. In discussing how the Tainos felt when Columbus first showed up with his men and were speaking a language the natives had never heard, the class explored how you would have communicated in that situation.

Class discussions take place in English and Spanish, he said. But that doesn’t work for everyone. Although almost all his students are Spanish speakers, he also has  a Japanese-American student who does not speak Spanish. “He definitely gets tired of the fact that we’re speaking Spanish all the time, but you can also see that he’s totally picked up Spanish,” Connell said. He added that he himself has gotten better at understanding his students, while also encouraging them to translate for each other. “Translating is good because …to translate something you have to understand it…they’re invested in hearing each other because they’re like, wait can somebody please translate what that person said.”

Connell said that he uses primary sources, video and a lot of images rather than textbooks. “Images are crucial because they speak to everybody,” he said. “One can talk about them in different languages.” He says his students really appreciate that they can understand what’s going on in class.” In a recent class about slavery in the Domincan Republic, he showed students a 16th-century engraving of Spanish colonists severely injuring native Tainos. “That image is really powerful even though it’s 400 years old,” he said. “I can tell you that Columbus treatment of the Tainos is flagrantly violating their human rights and that sentence doesn’t carry a lot of emotional weight…but show someone a picture and it’s different and students are immediately engaged.” It’s powerful way to start discussion, he said. “If the first thing they see when they walk in is an image, they can be part of that discussion, [compared to] if the first thing they see is like a reading in English.”

The important of emotional engagement is echoed by Anand Marri, an assistant professor of social studies and education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He has studied successful social studies teachers in four classrooms in public schools in the Bronx and Brooklyn, paying particular attention to the situation of the immigrant students.

“The students had a clear idea about who they were and their identity, when you asked them what they are, they always say their Dominican, Puerto Rican,” he said. ”They have a strong sense of identity, very much see themselves as living two cultures, but in a good way. They recognize that there huge amount of racism in this country, but they know that other people have survived as well.”

He emphasized that the teachers allowed the students to express both parts of their identity. For example, he said they responded to the students’ love of hip-hop by allowing them to incorporate music into the classroom. “They allowed the kids to talk in Spanish, which is a huge thing,” he added.

“When they were talking about immigration, and early 19th-century immigration, they didn’t just focus on the traditional groups that were part of the first wave,” Marri said. “They started with reasons for immigration for their own families, bring out the concept of push/pull forces through their own experiences.”

But that did not mean that the students were not involved in American society or their own communities. “A lot of these kids, their parents didn’t vote, but all the kids said, yeah, we’re going to vote,” he said. In discussion after Hurricane Katrina, some students examined environmental problems and pollution as causes of asthma in their neighborhoods in the Bronx, some of the poorest congressional districts.

One teacher who particularly stuck out in the study taught U.S. entirely through Supreme Court cases, yet he still managed to achieve an 80 percent pass rate on the Regents. “Rather than focusing on constitutional issues, he talked about issues that are there like justice, fairness, who has a right to do what, who determines labor issues, those issues that they can get fired up about, like can a police officer pat you down, which they can relate to,” he said. “When they talk about search-and-seizure cases, they start a dialogue, much more important than trying to say, let’s learn about the Fourth Amendment.”

He was representative of other teachers in the study who didn’t use textbooks but a lot of multimedia and web resources. “They don’t necessarily need to read the book and answer questions on page 79,” Marri said. “That’s not how these kids are going to learn how to be a U.S. citizens.” The teachers had to reconcile the need to be engaging with the need to follow a curriculum. But rather than focusing on dates and figures to pass tests, he said, these teachers argue that “that if you know how to analyze the documents and make an argument, you can pass.”

While the experience of learning how to adjust his teaching to a classroom of immigrant students has been valuable, Connell said it is not a permanent solution. “My students do fine in my class but my classroom is not where they need to be. My school is bending over backwards for them and doing all they can, but we have limited time and limited resources. Ultimately we’re not a school that’s set up to accommodate people who just arrived in this country.”

Students get more focused help at the 11 public international schools in the city which are supported by a non-profit Internationals Network of Public Schools. The heterogeneous make-up of the student body is the greatest challenge for the schools, says Liliana Vargas, the director of school development for the Internationals Network. While the school does not group students by language ability, each class has a language development component, she said. And in each subject area, she said, a guiding principle is allowing students time and opportunities to use their experiences either from their native countries or in the U.S. and then moving into the class content.

Steven Dawson has been an American history teacher at the International High School at LaGuardia Community College, teaching in the American Dream cluster.

For a current unit on foreign policy, he had asked the students to explore what the U.S. did for their home countries and what their home countries did for the U.S. The students ran into unexpected difficulties. A student from El Salvador couldn’t even find El Salvador’s government website, while a student from Burma realized that her country and the U.S. did not have any relations because of the political disagreements between the two countries.

He has also found other ways in which American history can be more relevant to his students. “One of the main things that does get them motivated are laws in the U.S, whenever we approach American history, it’s good to approach it through laws — what the colonists could or couldn’t do, what we right now can or can’t do, what African Americans couldn’t do,” he said. “Exploring that though primary sources, such as people who’ve experienced discrimination –that hooks them in.” But a timeline of American history doesn’t mean anything to them, he says.

He said he uses a lot of multimedia and other visual resources, such as a graphic novel version of the 9/11 commission report. While many of his students have been in the country a couple of years, some are also recent immigrants. Sometimes, he said, he speaks to students in Spanish, to get them to pay attention. For the newest students, he has their classmates translate for them and also allows them to complete some of their work in their native language. “I really enjoy teaching American revolution — what I focus on the most is the things they kind of already know,” said Dawson. “Like they know Independence Day but they don’t know exactly what Independence Day is.”

This past week, the students have not only been learning about American history but living it as they reacted to the death of Osama bin Laden. “What came up for my students, and what we’ve talked about a lot in class is how Muslim Americans are perceived and how they might be dealing with the issue and how separating bin Laden from Muslims as a whole is important, since they have also been stigmatized or lumped into a group,” said Connell. “My students were critical of the patriotic response,” he said. ”I don’t think my students feel that invested in the fact that we needed to catch bin Laden….[though] they picked out motivations for why people might choose to go out and be patriotic and wave their flag.”A unit on the Holocaust was a core introductory history class at the school so the students were drawing connections to Nazi Germany.  “They found it kind of strange that people were celebrating the fact that somebody was dead,” he said.

Dawson said that his semester curriculum had already been exploring the roots of the Sept. 11. attacks. “[The students] were happy, they were confused and they were curious,” he said. “We have a Pakistani student who doesn’t believe that he’s dead at all, the Middle Eastern students are a little cautious, most of the Latin American students are happy, and the Asian students are curious.”

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Dual-Language Programs Benefit Parents, Too http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2326 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2326#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 17:33:09 +0000 Jason Alcorn http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2326 Each morning, red, yellow and green strollers roll up 38th Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The train of mothers, all Hispanic, arrives at P.S. 24, an equally colorful building across from sunken subway tracks the D train uses as it rumbles toward Coney Island.

From her seat behind a small desk just through the main entrance, Anna Collado, the school safety agent, smiles broadly and greets each one of the arrivals in Spanish. It’s a job she’s had for 17 years, the last four at this school, and it’s a job she loves.

“I welcome them, make them feel comfortable,” Collado says.

Each afternoon, Magdalena Gutierrez picks up her daughter Brianna from P.S. 24. Petite and stylish, she often stops to talk with the parent coordinator, the principal, other parents or a teacher. Gutierrez is chatty and outgoing by nature and regularly volunteers at school events. Two years ago, Collado was the first to say hello when Gutierrez, new to the neighborhood, walked through the school door for the first time.

“I came in and I saw Anna, and she said, “Hola, cómo estás?” Gutierrez remembers. “‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘she speaks Spanish!’”

The same surprise came again when the receptionist in the main office greeted her in Spanish, too, and again when she first spoke with a teacher. Gutierrez speaks a bit of English, but is much more comfortable in her native Spanish. To her, a school that was operated fluently in both languages was a revelation, especially compared to the school in Bedford-Stuyvesant that her daughter used to attend.

“I didn’t know what this school was,” she says. “I knew, well, it had a lot of culture, that’s all. But when they explained it was dual-language, bilingual, all I could do was say, ‘I’m staying right here.”

Spread across the five boroughs, New York’s 90 or so dual-language programs teach public school students in their native language, or immerse them in an adopted one. Nearly all are Spanish-language like P.S. 24, which has English classrooms as well, but a handful of dual-language programs operate in French, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Korean.

These programs aim to give non-English speakers mastery of their native language before or alongside English-language instruction. Scientists studying the brain and human learning believe that students learn more quickly and have more success is school if they have mastery of at least one language rather than an incomplete grasp of two. It’s a very different approach than was taken by school administrators in previous generations. Critics of the dual-language approach, particularly for students starting elementary school, still argue that English immersion is the fastest way for young children to become fluent. They understand differences in language acquisition in emergent bilingual speakers to be signs of problems rather than a normal development pattern, a notion that most education researchers dismiss as a myth.

Comparing the change in conventional wisdom to how safety labels evolve, Dr. Evelyn Castro says, “It used to be: this may be harmful to your health. Now it says: this is harmful to your health.” Castro is director of the Brooklyn/Queens Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Center at Long Island University, an institute that helps the city and its schools better serve non-English speakers.

“The whole notion before was for people to learn English,” she says, “It needs to be mediated with them continuing their cognitive development.” In other words, children can’t simply put the rest of their education on hold to learn English.

Often overlooked is the role of people like Anna Collado. Nearly 4 in 10 students in the New York City public schools are Hispanic. Roughly the same number speak a language other than English at home. Compared to English-only schools, dual-language programs are better positioned to get parents who don’t speak English involved in the school and in the education of their children.

“When they come in for the first time, they’re a little shy,” Collado says of the parents at P.S. 24. A logbook filled with the names of visitors and a big roll of yellow nametag stickers sits on her desk. “Like they don’t want to come because sometimes they don’t speak the language, they’re not able to explain what they want. They feel a little shy because this has happened too many times.”

“I say, ‘Come on, how you doin’, this is this, this is that, here’s the main office, this is the teacher,’” she adds.

Collado knows all the parents by name, she says. She’s the one they ask when they have questions. And when they forget to send lunch, it’s her desk where they drop it off, trusting that it’ll find its way into the right hands.

Gutierrez remains a convert to the system. Her sister’s children go to a school that got an “A” on its latest report card, while P.S. 24 earned just a “C”, and her sister asks why Gutierrez stays. “She still doesn’t understand dual language,” Gutierrez says with wonder. “A child is learning two languages. She is learning to speak both, write both and read both.” Watching Gutierrez buzz around the parent room after dismissal, it’s clear the benefits of dual language can go well beyond the children.

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An International Approach To Raising the Stature of the Teaching Profession http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2306 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2306#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 17:31:08 +0000 Miranda Neubauer http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2306 Overshadowed somewhat by the ongoing national discussion about school reform, testing and No Child Left Behind, a first-of -a-kind event took place last month at the Hilton in New York City : the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession, sponsored by the Department of Education, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Education International, the global federation of teachers’ unions.

The U.S. delegation, headed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Chief State School Officers, joined delegations from 14 countries that the international educational assessment test PISA designated as high-performing and rapidly improving.

On the agenda: different countries’ approaches to ensuring that teachers are held to a higher standard – a very current issue in this country.

The jumping-off point for the summit was an OECD background report that recommended better teacher recruitment, increased professional development for teachers, making the teaching career more attractive, improved feedback and compensation for teachers and more cooperation between government and unions.

During the closing session of the panel, the country delegations shared their insights from the two-day session.

“We must have teacher education at master level,” said Anders Bondo Christensen, the President of the Danish Teachers Union, speaking for the Danish delegation. “Professional development must be a duty for all teachers.” He also said that teachers’ unions and the ministry had worked together to strengthen the position of the teaching professional. “The image of the teachers promoted by the media scares away young people; that has to change.”

Speaking for the Hong Kong delegation, Kenneth Chen, Under Secretary for Education, explained that Hong Kong had begun its education reform 11 years ago and made its education system work more effectively by moving from a top-town to a bottom-up system. “To attract the right people, we need to replenish the reservoir of the great teachers we already have,” he said. “We need not just soldiers, but generals, proud professionals.” He added that professional autonomy goes with accountability. Accountability should not just be built on extrinsic measures like evaluations and test scores. “We need more intrinsic levels that include our giving respect, trust, more space for teachers to exercise professional autonomy,” he said.

“What we learned here is that it’s important when you have large autonomy that there is also large accountability,” said Halbe Zijlstra, State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, representing the Dutch delegation. Zijlstra noted that many of the effective countries had instituted peer reviews for teachers, an idea they hoped to take back to the Netherlands, in addition to setting a goal for all teachers to have masters’ degrees.

From Singapore, S Israwan, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Education, noted that a focus on students and learning outcomes had to be key in any discussion on education systems, explaining that “it is difficult to reconcile a quality teaching workforce with suboptimal outcomes in learning.” He also warned that “the leaders in any education system have to be able to allow sufficient time for change to have its effect and then assess it – the instinct for quick gains equals bad results.”

Wilhoit summarized the takeaway for the United States. He noted that American education operated in the context of a confederated system. “That brings tremendous richness, but also responsibility for extended cooperation.” He praised the fact that 44 states had adopted the new common core set of standards. “We must be clearer about our definition of what a professional is, what it takes to enter that profession and to increase the rigor of our preparation programs, whether those individuals enter the profession through our traditional programs or through what are now alternative pathways,” Wilhoit said. “All of them must pass this gateway of what a professional is according to our agreed upon definition and we must clearly articulate that definition to our teachers, prospective teachers.”

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Reacting to Bin Laden Without Any Memory of 9/11 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2313 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2313#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 17:24:13 +0000 Miranda Neubauer http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2313 The fifth graders at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, are all too young to have any memories pf the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But the news about the death of bin Laden moved them as much as everyone else, temporarily interrupting their preoccupation with the English Language Arts state tests that were to begin the next day.

“As soon as I came in, they were asking me about it,” teacher Aracely Camacho said on the Monday after the news broke. Like some other teachers, she chose to address the topic in morning meeting, a time she sets aside about once a week for the students to discuss issues that are on their mind.

While most of the students had already seen the news on TV, a few didn’t yet know and also didn’t know the details of when most were just babies. She  briefly went over the history of the attacks.

She said she thought that most of the students were happy that bin Laden died. “They heard that men might want revenge,” she said. She added that she told them that some people would have preferred if he had had a trial.

“We’re very proud of them even if we may never know their names,” she said in response to students who asked about the Navy Seals. She encouraged the children to keep up with the news and watch the evening newscasts but added that “Channel 5 is sometimes more one-sided.” And she reminded them that this was a major historic event. “Someday you will say, I remember where I was when that happened, I was in fifth grade,” she said.

Maria Diaz, another fifth-grade teacher, also discussed the news with her students during the morning meeting, and added that it was necessary to provide an outlet so the students could go on and focus on their work. In moderating the conversation, she said it was important to her to keep in mind that P.S. 24 is a school devoted to conflict resolution with an emphasis on not responding to disagreements with violence and that she wanted the boys and girls to think about other positive ways that they could make the world a better place.

She added that her class had a new paraprofessional from Egypt, but that some of the students thought that he looked like he was from Pakistan and asked “does he know [bin Laden]?” For Diaz, that was a sign that “I need to teach more about stereotypes.”

In general, Diaz said, she tried to incorporate news content into the regular teaching curriculum and teaching preparation when she could, but noted that the standardized state social studies test had been discontinued last year.

In the conversation, she said she emphasized that all the students are entitled to their opinion but was also honest about her own conflicted point of view as she tried to reconcile personal experiences with violence, patriotism and a wish for more peaceful solutions. “Boys that age, they hear killing and it’s like a big celebration,” she said, in part because of video games, adding that she wanted to encourage her students to be more thoughtful.

“We do not glorify a killing,” she told them, speaking for herself and her co-teacher. “Though his ideas are bad, we don’t feel that killing makes killing right.”

She then encouraged the students to talk in small groups about their feelings and then share their thoughts with the class.

“I feel like it was right and wrong at the same time,” one boy said. “I feel good that he died…[but] I feel bad that he had to be killed. It’s a wrong thing because his people are going to be angry — they want revenge — but it was right because he would have kept on going.” He added though that if bin Laden had been in jail, his followers might also have revenged him by attacking the prison. “He very likely has a right-hand man.”

“He should have had the death sentence,” another student said. “I think that he should have been in jail for the rest of his life,” a classmate echoed.

Another student worried that bin Laden’s “next generation” or another member of his family could be dangerous. Diaz and her coteacher pointed out that bin Laden was different from many members of his family. “People don’t always agree with their parents.”

As the conversation drew to a close, Diaz urged the students to think about the bigger picture. And just before the class was about to return to the routine of test preparation, a boy had one last comment. “There are so many bad people in the world. What are we supposed to do, kill all of them?”

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Teaching the First Draft of History http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1147 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1147#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 16:32:30 +0000 Miranda Neubauer http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1147

When the news about Osama Bin Laden broke Sunday night, it didn’t just send seasoned reporters scrambling. Immediately the staff who work on the New York Times Learning Network blog also began posting and proposing resources from the Times that teachers could use in their classrooms on Monday. By Monday afternoon, over 300 students had answered a student question about their reaction to the news.

The Learning Network began as a website in 1998 in response to a survey that indicated two factors that had influenced loyal Times readers to pick up the newspaper reading habit. “The first answer was, my parents, and the second answer was, my teacher,” said Katherine Schulten, Learning Network editor. It was relaunched as a more interactive blog in October 2009. The audience is very broad, Schulten said, ranging from high school students and students in community college to fifth graders and English language learners from around the world. The Learning Network staff — Schulten and two-part-time and freelance staff members –  try to curate New York Times content for that wide audience using student opinion questions, brief Q & As on breaking news events as well as more extensive lessons on the topic. “The Times will publish 75 articles on Japan in a week and a half on and teachers can’t use all that stuff so we can go and find the best multimedia, the articles that are the most accessible, and an overview for kids who are just coming to the topic, ” Schulten said.

Over the summer, the staff asked students each week what interested them in the Times. “We were shocked because we thought it would be all be Jersey Shore and it was summer so kids were doing it on their own,” she said. “What really astonished us was how much was international news.” All of the staff have education backgrounds, Schulten explained. While many of the lessons fit well with social studies classes, “I think our biggest audience is English teachers,” she said. “There’s all kinds of different pressures for every teacher now because of No Child Left Behind…and the national standards…that have narrowed the curriculum, many people think, so we just try to find ways to make it easy and quick.”

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Small Victories http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2316 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2316#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 21:41:17 +0000 Miranda Neubauer http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2316

Last spring, I read a New York Times article about a study done by a professor at Brooklyn College about the state of high school newspapers. The study concluded that their circulation had slowed and the publications were slow to adopt the web. The article was meaningful to me. Although the German schools I went to did not really have student newspapers, I know that the constant exposure to newspapers in my home and to the kids section of our local daily paper played a significant role in awakening my own interest in the news.

But I had put the details of the story out of my mind when I began reading Small Victories by Samuel Freedman. The title was in many respects what had attracted me to the book because it promised some emphasis on positive educational experiences rather than just bemoaning the hopelessness of the school system. In the book, Freedman successfully manages to strike a balance between honestly reflecting the challenges of inner city education while also portraying the possibility of hope.

Freedman’s recounting a year in young teacher Jessica Siegel’s classroom at Seward Park High School is not just a collection of inspiring anecdotes at a particular point in time. By placing the story of Jessica in context, he is able to offer a succinct yet comprehensive history of the New York City school system and how it paved the way for the challenges of today.

He notes how neighborhoods with a significant population of immigrants, such as the on the Lower East Side where Seward Park High School was located, were simply seen as breeding grounds for rabble. The area around Seward Park in particular, due to its proximity to marshland und an unappetizing pond “was undesirable for a good class of population.” In the late 19th century, a New York City superintendent promised a high school education for any primary school graduate at a time when most city high schools were located far away from the immigrant population .

But then Freedman expertly points out the unpredictability of historical events. The superintendent had not taken into account the development of the New York City subway, which suddenly made those out-of-the-way schools accessible to immigrant students, an influx the system was never able ever to handle. He details how the battle of segregated schools erupted in New York in the 1960s and the constant struggle between the ideal of school as the great equalizer and the reality of racial and class discord.

“Beneath the venom lay not only the disillusion and recriminations of the former civil rights coalition, but the myth of which Diane Ravitch wrote, the myth of New York’s extraordinary public schools. Because blacks believed that the schools had raised the European immigrants, they asked why the schools were failing them. Because Jews believed that European immigrants had thrived in public schools, they asked why blacks faltered so badly. Neither side recognized an important truth. Jewish immigrants had arrived in America with urban backgrounds and industrial skills, as well as a tradition of community-supported religious scholarship. Blacks from the rural South shared more with the Irish and Italian tenant farmers, whose children dropped out of New York’s schools in droves. Beyond all that, as former slaves, blacks faced discrimination more pernicious and more complete than that known by any ethnic white group….But the various antagonists in Ocean Hill chose to ignore such factors. It was simpler to bow to the myth and to rail against its broken promise.”

The story of Siegel and her students is a story of making that dream a reality against overwhelming odds. Siegel is a consistently overworked, taking on her extra newspaper teaching class without much compensation. She also struggles to work with the city bureaucracy. These challenges take a toll on her non-existent social life as well as her relationships with her colleagues.

But for every setback, there moments when Siegel through her teaching is able to give her students, predominantly English language learners, a voice both as journalists and as Americans. More than once I thought of the movie The King’s Speech and the key scene where King George VI emphatically insists that, “I have a voice.”

See-Wai, who escaped extreme poverty in China with his family, can relate to the simplicity that Henry Thoreau seeks in Walden. Later in the year, many of the students can both identify with and question the visions of American identity offered by Gatsby and Martin Luther King Jr. The dream is not always realized. Ricardo, a quiet boy from El Salvador, really begins to thrive in his classes and by writing for the newspaper, tackles a challenging subject like gentrification. But when his self-discovery goes hand-in-hand with the awakening of his homosexuality, he is not able to reconcile those two identities, leading to his tragic death. And there’s also Darnell, who consistently lives with his family in transitional housing and cannot be convinced to attend school.

But it is the “small victories” that leave the most powerful impression, such as Carlos from the Dominican Republic, writing about influence of the ROTC, a fate he intends to avoid. And Lun Cheung writing about the Chinese gang environment he intends to separate from.

The book is not only about the students’ self-realization, but also about Jessica’s growing understanding that there is more than way to reach self-fulfillment. Today, while no longer a school teacher, she is a professor of journalism and education at Brooklyn College and director of the New York High School Newspaper Program.

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A Night At The Lottery http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2093 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2093#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 19:38:13 +0000 Dewi Cooke http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2093 I’d watched the movies so I thought I knew what to expect. The lottery for the 250 places at two, about-to-open New Visions charter schools in the Bronx was going to be emotional. But when I made it to the auditorium inside the enormous John F. Kennedy Educational Campus on the evening of April 15, it was all a bit, well, anti-climactic.

Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, two films that tracked the progress of families trying to get their children into charter schools, had shown that for those who throw their hats into the ring for such things, everything – their children’s futures, their personal ambitions – was riding on a winning outcome. In those films, we see tear-stained mothers clinging to their kids, stoic fathers sitting quietly as their numbers never get called and little ones looking up at their mommies and daddies, apparently wondering what they’d done to get them so upset.

But in the Kennedy auditorium that April evening, the scene was one of patient curiosity, perhaps even occasional boredom. A brightly laid table of snacks greeted parents as they walked in to the vast space. New Visions staff milled about answering questions and along the walls were lists of student names next to their corresponding lottery numbers. On stage, staff cranked the handles on bingo barrels of paper and out of these came the names and numbers of those students who’d been picked at random to attend the New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities and the New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science, due to open in the fall. One hundred and twenty-five students were called first, then a further 34 were placed on the waitlist. More still were waitlisted from neighborhoods outside of school district 10.

Jose Perez was among those whose names were not called out in that first round. His older sister seemed more concerned about this than he did – she went to another school in the north of the borough and didn’t want to see her little brother on the same campus every day. When his name was eventually drawn in the second lottery for the school of Advanced Math and Science, it was his sister who whooped for joy.

“He likes math,” his mother said, clearly pleased. Not sure what else was expected of them as more names were called and her son’s name was pushed up and off the projected screen, she then asked, “Can we leave now?”.  They made their way out the row of seats and over to a school official. After they left a few more shrieks could be heard from the audience as families celebrated their lottery wins, their laughter punctuated by the flash of a professional photographer on hand to record the moment. But for the most part there were few open displays of happiness or heartbreak. Just the voices of the two new principals as they quickly read through the hundreds of names of prospective and waitlisted students.

Within two hours it was over and many in the auditorium had left. Toni-Naki Miller had missed out on a place in both schools but both she and her mother were nonplussed. Miller had got in to another specialized math and science school that had been her first preference and the mother and daughter had come to the lottery mostly out of curiosity.

“It’s not like we are left out in the cold now,” the older woman said.

No, it seems not.

 

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As the Job Changes, Tensions Grow and Teachers Seek Refuge in Classroom http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1925 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1925#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 14:15:42 +0000 Jason Tomassini http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1925

Tara O'Callaghan, a seventh- and eighth-grade literacy teacher at P.S./I.S. 187 in Washington Heights, teaches a recent class. O'Callaghan, who has taught for six years, is worried she may lose her job under the "last in, first out" lay-off policy.

The subject of Tara O’Callaghan’s recent eighth-grade reading class is doubt. Specifically, students are reading “All of the Above,” Shelley Pearsall’s tale of a ragtag middle school math class that is counted out but defies the odds to build the world’s largest tetrahedron. Most of the students in O’Callaghan’s class can’t pronounce tetrahedron, but this particular book strikes a cord nonetheless.

When O’Callaghan asks students if they have ever been doubted in life, called a “dead end,” like the school in the book, most of the 25 students raise their hand. This school, P.S./I.S. 187 in Washington Heights, is not a dead end school, but that’s because many of its students, parents and faculty have worked hard to make it that way.

So what if someone called their entire school a “dead end,” O’Callaghan asks. In their response, they shift the focus away from themselves, and onto the teachers.

“That means the teachers as well,” says one female student sitting near the front of the class of the hypothetical school. “They are teaching because they want to get paid. They teach for the money not because they want to.”

O’Callaghan responds, “We all know that’s not my situation, right?” and lets out a loud cackle. Next, a male student points out that at such a school, “if the students don’t care about being educated, why would the teachers care?”

“Good point,” O’Callaghan responds, before offering another question that in the course of this class is innocuous, but when applied to the broader education system could actually sum up all that is right and wrong with modern teachers.

“I’m gonna flip it,” she says to the student. “If the teachers aren’t interested, why would the students be interested?”

It doesn’t appear as though the students need to worry about that with O’Callaghan. But by the eighth grade, it’s not surprising to students that a teacher may not be interested in teaching. The question is left rhetorical, and the class continues.

With New York City facing significant teacher lay-offs, accompanied by a fierce debate over how to handle those lay-offs, many within the education system are trying to determine how to ensure that every teacher is interested, so every student is interested. But no one can agree on the fairest way to do it.

On the one hand, the Department of Education and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg think the current lay-off policy, known colloquially as “last in, first out” because it targets younger teachers, is protecting some older teachers who simply aren’t effective anymore. Conversely, the United Federation of Teachers, finds LIFO, as its called in shorthand, weeds out inexperienced teachers. Similar party lines have been drawn around teacher tenure, which Bloomberg is aggressively trying to abolish and U.F.T. is so far managing to secure.

Caught in between are teachers like O’Callaghan, who is tenured with six years experience but whose teaching style suggests she still has a lot to prove. She conducts class as though any drop in energy below a certain threshold will signal its end. Every student comment is met with an animated response, every hand raise is acknowledged. When it’s time to read excerpts from the book, she not only encourages students to act out the different characters by using different voices, she seems intent on topping their theatrics when it’s her turn to read.

“I feel it’s a vocation, and that might be too strong of a word, but it’s like a calling to do it,” she says.

At P.S./I.S. 187, the staff is divided mostly between teachers with decades of experience and many with less than seven years experience, like O’Callaghan, says the school’s principal, Cynthia Chory.

The school has a selective hiring process, an extremely supportive parent community and a low turnover rate. It received an A on its most recent progress report. But the debate over the value of teacher experience is playing out within the halls of P.S./I.S. 187, where, as is common through the system, a rift is forming between some older teachers and some younger teachers as both groups try to prove their worth.

For O’Callaghan, her classroom enthusiasm if often dismissed by older teachers who say, “‘Please, she’ll get tired, he’ll get tired, they all do. And here we’ll still be truckin 20 years in, tried and true,’” O’Callaghan says.

“In the same respect,” she continues, “I think there’s a lot of younger teachers that come in and say ‘These old fogies. They don’t know what’s new in education. They don’t know what’s hot. They’re so jaded. And I’m never gonna be like that.’ That’s not true either.”

Beyond generational differences, O’Callaghan has other distractions. When the Department of Education released a list in February of the estimated teacher lay-offs under the current LIFO policy, P.S./I.S. 187 was slated to lose five of its 51 teachers. As the least experienced of three teachers in the school’s literacy department, a department O’Callaghan headed before the position was granted to a senior teacher, she fears she could be at risk.

Her fate, and that of thousands of other teachers in the city, is now dependent on the outcome of the political debate being waged in Albany and city hall.

“I’m dreading what’s to come,” Chory, the principal says. “I don’t know how New York City is going to do it, but I’m going to fight tooth and nail for my teachers.”

Before Chory began her tenure as principal, P.S./I.S. 187 was run by an ex-nun and known as the “school on the hill” because it appeared to look down on Hudson Cliffs from its perch on Cabrini Boulevard. Chory both attended the school as a child and taught there, beginning in 1988. Many other teachers date back to that administration, which took an old-school approach to education.

“As intimidated as the children were by the administration, the teachers were as well,” says Viki Manolas, a literacy teacher with 14 years experience at the school, interrupted by four years of maternity leave. “We knew the sound of the principal’s heels coming down the hallway.”

Manolas recalls the terror of her first year teaching at the school and how the administration would not allow teachers to be seen leaving the school by students.

“You can never be friends with the kids,” she now recalls as a philosophy from those days. “Do you want to be friends, or do you want to survive? I wanted to survive.”

Once, she challenged herself to not smile for an entire school year, but Manolas, a tough but excitable woman, only lasted until October. The school maintains some of its structure from those days; students walk in single-file lines in the hallway and an imperative is placed on manners. But parents, once kept mostly out of the school, have a large presence at P.S./I.S. 187 now, and teachers are offered far more autonomy to ease up on students.

The changes have proponents and detractors, Manolas says. “Older teachers talk about the good old days, but newer teachers say, ‘I could never work that way,’” she says.

If Manolas represents the old guard at the school, O’Callaghan and eight-year teacher Mike Palmieri, her other colleague in the literacy department, represent the newer trends in teaching.

O’Callaghan uses a more relaxed classroom environment, where students often read while laying on pillows on the floor. Palmieri is known for his use of technology. Both teachers lean toward the Teachers’ College approach to teaching, which stresses discussion and critical thinking over tests. Manolas says tests are a key way to prevent some students from falling too far behind in the reading.

“How is that going to make me a lifelong reader if, at the end of reading something, I’m then rewarded with an examination?” says Palmieri, an outspoken teacher known for his humor.

On a recent Thursday afternoon class, Palmieri taught a lesson on John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” by giving students a screenplay of the pilot episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” With the message, “What does it mean to watch a TV show?” posted on the smart board, Palmieri’s lesson was meant to show students how TV and movies, things they watch in their free time, are based on written screenplays, which can be just like books.

As the students watched a scene with Buffy and a male suitor bantering back and forth, they all flipped the pages of their screenplays in unison as they read along. Afterward, they broke into groups and filled out a Venn diagram with Buffy on one side and the John Steinbeck classic on the other. Palmieri made his way around the room to meet with each group.

Manolas did not allow reporters into her classroom, but both she and Palmieri, whom she calls “Mr. Tech-y,” for his smart board prowerss, acknowledged a major difference in teaching style, due in large part to their age and experience.

“I think that Ms. Manolas has more of this attitude that ‘OK, you’re in my classroom. Shut up! I’m gonna teach you,’” Palmieri says. “Where I kinda have this relationship of like, ‘I’m a waiter. What do you need? What can I bring to you?’”

The criteria for granting teacher tenure have changed since Palmieri was granted his, after three years of teaching. In 2009, Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein, then the schools chancellor, made student test scores and performance data bases for tenure decisions, which are made by school principals.

The move was seen as a major triumph for Bloomberg, who has been trying to rid the system of tenure since he took control of it in 2002. It was also viewed as a play at the federal Race to the Top funds announced by President Barack Obama at the time, which disqualified any system that did not use test data to measure teacher performance. The following summer, 3.7 percent of teachers eligible for tenure were not granted it, up from 2.3 percent the year before.

Now, Palmieri notes, a current third-year teacher at P.S./I.S. 187 must keep a binder of her performance progress. In contrast, “what I did to get it, was I breathed and I came to work and I received my tenure,” he says, using an oft-repeated line by opponents of tenure.

Currently, 56 percent of active teachers have less than 15 years of experience, and there are more than twice as many teachers with 10 to 15 years experience as those with 15 to 20 years experience.

“There are places where the most senior teacher has been there for two or three years,” says Stephanie Barile, a second-year teacher that is a member of New York Collective of Radical Educators. At her school, no teacher has more than 10 years experience, she says. “In that way the gap is real. There aren’t as many senior teachers out there.”

David Nitkin, a second-year Teach for America participant at a middle school in the Bronx, is surrounded mostly by peers, teachers of three years experience or less. “There’s camaraderie,” he says. “You share the victories and struggles.”

Part of that effect is related to long-standing policies around teacher compensation and pensions that have been slow to adapt to a newer wave of teachers abandoning careerism, says Patrick McGuinn, a professor at Drew University who has written about tenure and education policy.

In New York City, teacher salary is based mostly on the teacher’s experience and level of education. Of the teachers with 10 to 15 years experience, 76.5 percent make at least $75,000 and the climb into higher salary brackets becomes steeper. “I think they’re more interested in getting a higher salary than they are in some of these older job protections,” McGuinn says.

Bloomberg has now shifted his attention to “last in, first out,” waging a public campaign against the teachers’ union, complete with campaign-style television commercials. Some teachers say the so-called generation gap is solely a byproduct of these campaigns, which pit two generations of teachers against one another.

“The media is blowing out of proportion the argument,” says Tom Wengler, a 24-year teacher at I.S. 228 in southern Brooklyn. “The perception is that senior teachers are just incompetent, looking to get a pension, biding their time, and younger ones are energetic, full of ideas, and tech-ready.”

Many skeptics believe Bloomberg is proposed teacher lay-offs to motivate Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to reconsider the severe cuts planned for the schools’ budget, and city council to review LIFO. But as Chory and other faculty at P.S./I.S. 187 can attest, the consequences of this maneuvering are beyond political. Last year, seven teachers were laid off at the school, although all found jobs elsewhere. This year, laid-off teachers may not be as fortunate.

“I think that the politics of Bloomberg are putting schools in a very difficult situation,” Chory said last Thursday. “I think administrators and teachers are caught in a trap,” she continued. “And we’re really stuck and waiting for the answers.”

The next day, Bloomberg announced a proposal to lay off 4,100 teachers and eliminate another 2,000 positions through attrition. Chory would not comment on whether O’Callaghan’s job is in jeopardy.

For her part, Viki Manolas says she mostly stays out of the teachers’ room, where the arguments over the merits of young and old teachers are held.

“It’s touchy situation when people’s livelihoods are on the line,” she says. “And it’s not your place to judge your colleagues.”

That outlook comes with a position of security at the school. After she returned from her maternity leave, she was given her old job back, despite lay-offs elsewhere in the school. She was also reinstated as chair of the literacy department, unseating O’Callaghan and, Manolas says, drawing resentment from other teachers. O’Callaghan called the move “a generation thing” and “very troublesome.”

Now, Manolas, O’Callaghan and Palmieri are meeting once a week to develop the seventh- and eighth-grade curriculum for next year. Because developing a curriculum has little to do with in-class personality, Manolas says the process has been going smoothly.

But whereas in the previous era at P.S./I.S. 187, Manolas developed a teaching style by listening intently to her elders, O’Callaghan and Palmieri push back against some of Manolas’ more traditional opinions on which books to read.

Younger teachers “do not expect to work in isolation,” says Susan Moore Johnson, a professor at Harvard University’s School of Education who has studied the generation gap between teachers. “They are looking for expanded roles and responsibilities over time if they’re going to stay in teaching.”

Palmieri, for instance, recently taught “The Hunger Games,” a 2008, post-apocalyptic sci-fi book, to his class, and both he and O’Callaghan want to teach more young adult novels. Manolas prefers Shakespeare. She has proposed Romeo and Juliet as an all-class reading requirement next year.

Shakespeare won’t hold the attention of a teen in New York City today, Palmieri says. The students are required to read it in high school, Manolas argues, and should be exposed to it now.

It’s unclear which sentiment will win out, but Palimieri says it may not be worth fighting for. He is a tenured teacher who says his students deliver the benchmarks asked of them. While he is outspoken about how he feels the literacy curriculum should be taught, he is also wary of disrupting relationships at a school that allows him to develop a fairly unique teaching style.

“I don’t want to fight with anyone,” he says. “… If the decision is made to teach Romeo and Juliet I’m not going to fight tooth and nail not to do it.” He pauses and smiles wryly. “I think it will prove itself to be useless.”

While Palmieri and Manolas may clash, Chory stands by both as quality teachers with vastly different styles. Justin Valerio, an eighth-grader, is taking class with Manolas now and had Palmieri last year.

He enjoyed Palmieri’s laid back style and was excited to come to class and hear him act out different characters from “Of Mice and Men.” Conversely, he asked out of Manolas’ class because she gave too much homework, he says. Eventually he decided to stay with Manolas and last week, after taking the state English Language Assessment test, credited her for making it so easy.

“I thought Mr. Palmieri was the type that will have you, if you don’t something that’s fun, will make you like it,” Valerio says. “And Ms. Manolas will just make you work at it for a long time, like the next period, next period, until you finally have it in your head.”

Due to lay-offs, restructuring, or both, none of the literacy teachers at P.S./I.S. 187 are guaranteed to be teaching the curriculum they develop for next year. O’Callaghan says she’s “definitely on the chopping block.”

The parents at the school hope that scenario is avoidable. They are attempting to raise $200,000 to save up to three teachers from being laid off; so far they have raised $40,000.

But as she continues on about the subject, the usually indefatigably chipper O’Callaghan grows more frustrated.

“I might be out of a job in September, and other teachers who are literally riding it out for retirement and to collect their pension are sitting here in a classroom,” she says. “And that’s a generation gap our union has—a principal can’t just get rid of a teacher because they’re not performing the way that they have to.”

Chory is doing her best to put any looming lay-offs, or the politics associated with it, out of her mind. “When I was becoming a principal, I thought I would be an instructional leader, but it’s become much bigger,” she says.

At least in the classroom, O’Callaghan seems to put her future out of mind as well. During a recent class, she stomped around the room while reading “All of the Above,” acting out several different characters, emphatically finishing a particularly inspired passage by slamming the blackboard and then watching as her students tried to mimic her characters. This 50-minute class required no pillows, or bean bags, or reading on the floor. Just teaching.

“With the union, with maybe not having a job, with the red tape, with the generation gaps with colleagues and discussions about curriculum,” she says. “when you close your door, and it’s you and that group, it’s a real sense of, like, something really great could happen today in this classroom.”

Taryn Hartman and Stacey McEvoy contributed to this story

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Learning English Through World Events http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2047 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2047#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 14:13:13 +0000 Clara Martinez Turco http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=2047

Painting a map of their country of origin is one of the first activities ninth graders do in global studies at Manhattan International

Inside room 520 at Manhattan International High School, ninth grade students discussed the meaning of the word stereotype. “It is when you make a picture of someone you don’t know based on their skin color or race,” said a boy.

“An example is when the French say Americans are fat,” added another student. “But this is not true. It’s stupid to consider a stereotype true. Everyone is different,” said the girl.

As students continued the debate, global studies teacher Nina Kogut-Akkun used the discussion to introduce Judaism, one of the religions nine-graders have to learn according to the social studies curriculum set by the New York State Department of Education.

As a teacher at Manhattan International, a public school for immigrants who have been in the U.S. for less than four years, Kogut-Akkun has to teach both academic content and English language. The school follows the principles of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, an educational organization that serves newly arrived immigrants through 14 schools in New York City and San Francisco.

“Global studies should also focus on skill development, not just on dates and facts,” said Moses Ahn, who with Kogut-Akkun teaches 9th grade global studies at Manhattan International. Through each class unit, which covers world ancient history starting with hunters and gatherers passing through the Chinese dynasties, teachers help students to develop their critical thinking and to analyze and interpret events.

Recently, while studying Buddhism, the ninth graders had their first approach to taking notes and writing essay outlines. The starting point was a lengthy review of the mandalas, the artwork used by Tibetan monks to represent the universe.

“You need to start learning how to structure an essay,” said Kogut-Akkun while instructing her class to write a three-paragraph composition on the religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama and the used of mandalas to teach people about the impermanence of worldly things.

Although the lesson was complemented with an art project, in which students painted their own mandalas, the teacher’s goal remained to enrich their vocabulary and build upon their English proficiency. “Our students need the English tools to then work the content,” insisted Ahn.

In the first weeks of the school year, when students learned about gatherers and hunters, the global studies class also focused on grammar and the past tense. “We teach them past tense so teens can then speak about the events that happened in the past,” said Ahn, explaining they rely on basic ESL techniques like the usage of visuals elements and repetition of words.

Carmen Colon, a professor of curricular development and bilingual education at Bank Street College of Education, explained the challenge in these cases is to balance the language development without “watering down the curriculum.”

Since Manhattan International divides students into heterogeneous classrooms—to make sure they are evenly distributed by gender, country of origin, skills and language proficiency—educators have to go back and forth between those who have an advanced English level and the newcomers who, in many cases, do not speak a word.

Although there are several global studies textbooks available in the market, none are created for the population that attends Manhattan International. Over the years, both Ahn and Kogut-Akkun, as well as tenth-grade teacher Sophie Balcoff, have developed hundreds of handouts that make the global studies content accessible to English language learners.

Despite challenges, educators believe there are advantages in teaching global studies to immigrant students. “What it’s really interesting to me, when we talk in class about peasants and poverty, is that the students can relate to it because the history or the situation in their country,” said Balcoff. “I don’t think an all American class would have this.”

Teachers also see students as valuable resources to get background information on some of the topics the class covers. Depending on the country or region or origin of most of the students, teachers will add or eliminate units that appeal to the majority of student body. In this way they ensure the participation and interest of their pupils.

As Kogut-Akkun continued to discuss stereotypes in room 520, a student wondered what was the Spanish translation of Judaism. “This is my favorite class,” he said while flipping through the pages of an English dictionary. “I like its freedom but, most importantly, I like learning about things I didn’t know.”

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“Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t listen to parents like me.” http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1481 http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1481#comments Tue, 10 May 2011 14:12:20 +0000 Stacey McEvoy http://coveringeducation.org/schoolstories11/?p=1481
The mayor and his education adversaries have spent what is estimated to be nearly $3 million on competing TV ads–and it’s not even an election year. The ads are part of an advertising campaign between the United Federation of Teachers and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg centered on changing the hiring and firing practices of NYC teachers. The issue at hand? LIFO–the last-in-first-out policy that has younger and older teachers pitted against one another. Even Education Reform Now, an advocacy organization run by Joel Klein who left the post of NYC schools chancellor  at the end of 2010, joined in the fray from the sidelines with TV ads touting its position on the state’s policy for laying off public school teachers.

The mayor said that 4,166 teachers will lose their jobs as a result of cuts in state aid to education. Another 2,000 would be lost through attrition.Bloomberg is trying to get LIFO, which protects teachers with seniority regardless of job performance, repealed—to initiate a merit-based evaluation system instead.

The UFT and the AFL-CIO spent millions of dollars on two television and radio advertising campaigns in less than a month chastising the mayor for his push to end LIFO and for not supporting the extension of the millionaire’s tax due to expire at the end of the year. The union hasn’t confirmed the number but the mayor’s office contends that the February and March ad campaigns cost $2.7 million.

In the first round of ads called “Blizzard” that ran Feb. 12-22, the spot opened with Mayor Bloomberg’s face next to a snow globe with the city inside of it—which made a dig at his handling this year of one of the city’s biggest snowstorms. The voice in the ad said that schools were short of money, that the mayor wasn’t asking millionaires to pay their fair share and that he said class size didn’t matter. The voice said that the mayor talked about who would get laid off rather than trying to stop teacher layoffs altogether and concluded with telling the mayor that it was about “our kids’ future and that’s a lot bigger than any snow storm.”

In the UFT’s second round of television ads called “Listen to Us” that ran from March 7-14, the union hammered the mayor for threatening to lay off teachers because the city was sitting on a budget surplus of $3 billion. In the 30-second spot, Harlem resident Candace Frazer said, “Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t listen to parents like me. Losing 5,000 teachers will make classes even more overcrowded.” The spot closed with Frazer saying, “I don’t know what Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda is. But he should stop playing politics with our kids, and start listening to us.”

Fighting back, Mayor Michael Bloomberg retaliated paying almost $1 million of his own money to run a week of television advertising that started March 23 on network and cable TV in the New York City market—a week after a Quinnipiac University poll found that his approval ratings dropped to its lowest rate in eight years. But the mayor’s administration has said that the ad campaign was primarily a response to the negative advertising by unions representing the city’s teachers and municipal workers. The third-term mayor’s 30-second campaign-style spot featured the mayor with schoolchildren and workers. It focused on the mayor’s city budget plan and his push to repeal LIFO. The voice in the ad blamed Albany’s budget cuts for the threat of laying off teachers. The voice said, “Bloomberg is working for reforms that help keep the best teachers in the classroom educating our kids. Independence, not for the special interests, but for all New Yorkers.”

Howard Wolfson, a deputy mayor, was quoted in The New York Times saying that it was the first time that Mayor Bloomberg has paid for a commercial related to a policy or budget issue.

In a statement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the ads were a response to the mayor’s sagging poll numbers.

The mayor followed up his TV spot with a batch of mailers on April 4 explaining the LIFO law and why he was fighting to end it. “Layoff decisions should not be about how long a teacher has served, but rather how effective they are in the classroom,” the mailer stated. They hit mailboxes after Albany approved a $132.5 billion budget at the end of March with huge cuts to education aid. Bloomberg’s office did not return calls or email requests for how many mailers went out or what they cost.

Education Reform Now (ERN), whose chairman Joel Klein is a former New York City Schools chancellor, also broadcast ads starting in March that ran for a month in the New York and Albany markets. The spot, which reportedly cost in the seven-figure bracket, backed Mayor Bloomberg’s position on the issue.

ERN was the only organization that actually used teachers to speak on camera about LIFO. Three teachers with four to 21 years of teaching experience said that teachers should keep their jobs on merit not seniority. They talked about protecting New York City public school children by guaranteeing the best teachers in the classroom. “That means changing Albany’s outdated law so we can keep teachers based on merit, not seniority.”

“The way the media is portraying it is that experienced teachers are old windbags who are just sitting and reading the newspapers and the newer teachers are wonderful,” said Jacqueline Ancess, co-director of NCRES, a research and development organization. “The whole idea that somebody can come in and in two years provide kids with the kind of learning experience that somebody who’s a ten year teacher who’s really good could provide is ridiculous.”

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