Wednesday, October 19, 2011

‘F’ Grade Shocks a School Whose Popularity Was Rising

Oct. 14, 2011, 6:08 p.m.

It seemed to Virgil de Voldere that with each passing year his son attended the P.S. 84 Lillian Weber School, it only became more popular.

On the tours he organized for prospective parents, numbers swelled from a few dozen to several hundred. Families who lived in other districts began to apply, preferring the school on 92nd Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West to their zoned option.

A school that middle class parents once kept their distance from was now attracting them with French and Spanish dual-language classes, after-school programs and an increasingly active Parent Teacher Association.

“There was a renaissance,” Mr. de Voldere said. And then came the city Education Department’s report card on the school’s progress from 2010 to 2011: A grade of “F.”

Described by the city as a public information tool, the annual A-through-F grading system has left some parents mystified since its introduction in 2007. And every year there are a few cases like P.S. 84's — a school parents insist is on the up, and city data analysts’ couldn’t agree less.

Confusion set in, and even after the grade was explained to them, many parents barely understood its origin. They wondered how they would win over new families who would comb through the city’s reports and discover the big, red F.

“I just thought how can this be?” said Talcott Camp, the mother of two P.S. 84 students. “Is there room for improvement? Yes. But is the school overall a failing school? It’s absurd.”

The city bases grades for elementary and middle schools largely on one year’s movement in test scores — progress counts for 60 percent, performance for 25 percent — and parent and teachers’ responses on an annual survey are worth 15 percent. It compares schools’ scores with those of peer schools, using a formula to determine which schools have similar types of students.

As principal Robin Sundick, 59, understands it, the comparison to peer schools explains much of her school’s grade. P.S. 84's student body is undergoing a radical change, she said. While her third through fifth graders are predominantly black and Latino and many meet the city’s measure of poverty, their younger, untested schoolmates are increasingly white and middle class.

Last school year, there were 123 white students in a school of 518. In 2004, when Ms. Sundick became principal, 32 students out of 570 were white.

Now that P.S. 84 has fewer minority and low-income students, the city has altered the group of schools to which it is compared. But the principal and parents say they are being unfairly judged against schools where students who take the test are better off than their own.

“The testing grades don’t match the statistics that you see in the peer index,” Ms. Sundick said. “On average, 73 percent of her students are black or Hispanic and about 54 percent are eligible for free lunch. Among the students in the tested grades, those percentages are higher,” she said.

“That’s where the disconnect lies,” she said.

But there’s also the hard truth of the school’s test scores, which show less than half of students testing as proficient on the state math and English exams. Those scores are an increase over its performance in 2010, but they remain below the citywide average.

And the school didn’t score any bonus points with the city, which awards extra credit to schools that excel with special education students, English language learners, and black and Latino boys. According to city Education Department officials, P.S. 84 hasn’t done that.

And while parents who filled out the city’s survey raved about the school, its teachers had a mixed response.

“While the school has a longstanding dual language program and a committed staff and parent community, student achievement — especially for its most vulnerable students — is lagging,” said Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott in a statement. “We need the school community to pull together around the common goal of improving the quality of classroom instruction instead of debating the mechanics of the progress report.”

Unable to reconcile the failing grade with the visible signs of improvement, P.S. 84's PTA responded last week by distributing individually wrapped roses to the school’s staff. Pinned on the flowers was a note.

“Dear PS84 Teachers and Staff,” it began, “In light of the recent city progress reports, the PTA Executive Board and families at PS84 want our teachers, staff, and administrators to know that we find this grade label to be arbitrary and inaccurate.”

Anna M. Phillips is a member of the SchoolBook staff. Follow her on Twitter @annamphillips.

This is absurd. School test scores cannot increase year after year into infinity. At some point increases will stop. Before anyone does this sort of nonsense they need to do … Read More »

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Network of Strong Supporters in Milwaukee

Many senior staffers at the Department of Education hit the road last week as part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour. On Thursday, ED’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, visited Brown Street Academy, a designated Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to accompany Weiss and several members of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on a tour of this facility. Later we met with educational stakeholders who are deeply invested in Brown Street’s success.
Walking into the school quickly took me back to my own elementary schools days some 35 years ago. Bright sunshine streamed in through the tall windows as the sound of our shoes echoed on the polished wood floors. I peeked in through open classroom doors to see butterflies on bulletin boards, desks in neat rows, and students peeking back out at me. I began to wonder, “What is so special about this school?”
At the conclusion of the tour, we were led to a room where fifteen individuals were eagerly waiting to share the ways they are engaged in improving reading proficiency at Brown Street Academy. Representatives from non-profit and business groups, parent organizations, teachers and others described their contributions to the i3 Milwaukee Community Literacy Project–now located in seven elementary schools. Students identified as struggling readers are assigned to an AmeriCorps tutor. The tutor is trained by and works closely with the site teacher and University of Milwaukee facilitators. Parent liaisons open up and maintain the lines of communications with parents. Business partners and non-profits augment grants with additional funds to keep everything running smoothly.
Weiss seemed impressed by combined efforts and commented, “I challenge you to continue to promote community connections…and scale up and share what you’re doing with other communities.”
Yes, community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools are working together to increase reading proficiency, but they are also promoting a sense of ownership in the process. As Tom Devine, Executive Director of Wisconsin AmeriCorps said, “We are interested in the test scores but we are also really interested to see if these kids volunteer at a later date. When we see neighbors helping neighbors, that’s a success story.”
View the original article here

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Khan Academy: Virtual Education at Its Best

Welcome to one of the greatest innovations in modern American/World education. This beautiful gem is called, "The Khan Academy".  The Khan academy is a helpful tool that is changing the way our youth are learning.  Salmon Khan, has created a tool that broadens minds well beyond the traditional classroom setting.  Here are some of the reasons why it is worth taking a look at this wonderful website.

Easily Accessible

This website is very accessible as long as you have a computer and an internet connection.  There are well over 2000 videos that are easily accessible for anyone who can access the url directly,, or google the keyword, 'Khan Academy'.  Once you are there, you will see background information videos.  Toward the bottom of the page, you will then see the links for the actual educational video content offered on this website.

Easy to Use Format

Using the course content couldn't be any easier than using it on this website.  The video links, actually link to videos that are stored on YouTube.  When you click on a link, you are routed to the YouTube video.  With the video, you have the standard video controls that allow you to pause, play and fast-forward/rewind through the video content.  With each video, there is a section below where you can leave a comment on the educational video content. Overall, it's a very simple format that is easy for everyone to use.

Education for All Ages

One of the best aspects of this website is that it is not only for school age children and young adults. Anyone can benefit from the informative course content.  This can be beneficial for a non-traditional student who is trying to refresh on subjects learned many years prior.  There is such a wide range of topics covered on the site.  Anyone who accesses the site will find something useful to enlighten their mind.

Go Use It

Hopefully the reasons I have provided to you above will spark your curiosity to try this great and free resource.  There have been several newscast and articles written about this innovative approach to educating our youth, our nation and our world.  So go check it out, you will not be disappointed. Here is the url:  As always, support free speech and God bless.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Superman Comeback and Teach Me Something

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, my educational experience has shaped my views and opinions of the fantastically complicated world that we humans seem to dominate. Books not only save lives, they spark the dreams that have fueled the creative rocket ship called "The United States of America".  

Our educational system is what created a level of prosperity that mankind never fathomed until the last two hundred and thirty-five years of recent history.  So accordingly, it was heartbreaking for me to see the documentary, "Waiting for Superman". This is a powerful movie that slaps our nation to attention and makes it's citizens wake up to the reality that the "American dream" is slowly turning into a nightmare.  

 With the statement of , "No child left behind", the reality is that many children are being left behind. How can a nation of so many free, industrious and "out-of-the-box" thinkers have an educational system that promotes failure for the next generation's minds?  I was shocked and outraged at what I saw. What is most disturbing about the documentary, is that our system has been flawed for almost three decades now!! OMG!! That means I am included in the "mentally lost" new America!! Luckily for me, I had great parents that taught me the value of a good education.  Therefore, my educational experience was not only in a school building, it was in our home.  Although this was good for me, what happens to the children who do not have an extension of the school day into their homes? What about the children whose parents are tired from working two jobs to put food on the table and can't help their children with their homework? Our youth need a "superhero" of education. 

 Luckily for our nation, the documentary showcases two brilliant educators that fit this description: Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada.  These "game changers" are challenging the status quo and are coming up with alternatives to our currently broken educational system.  Metaphorically, they are the "Superman" that the American Educational System needs to save this nation's youth. I will not ruin the movie for you by giving up further details of this movie, so go out , rent it and watch it.  This movie will change your view of our current American educational system reality.  In closing, live free, be positive and support free speech. God bless!!