New School Year Preview

Friday, August 31, 2012

Beth Fertig, WNYC's education reporter and contributor to SchoolBook, and Yasmeen Khan, WNYC associate news producer covering education and politics, talk about some of the issues facing New York City's public schools as they get ready for teachers and students next week.


Beth Fertig and Yasmeen Khan

Comments [17]

Sarah from Brooklyn

Here comes the Common Core. Instituted to counteract sad low test performance of some of our students, (mainly poor students in low income urban and rural schools). Supposed to test critical thinking skills...

However, in classes of 30, with high poverty students who may have many needs, how are teachers supposed to be effective? Instead of hundreds of millions of dollars spent instituting common core standards (training, materials, testing, grading, reporting etc), why not put those untold millions into lowering class sizes throughout all high needs districts. Let teachers teach by putting them in classes with sizes that work.

Brian, Beth, your glib response--oh, there are limits to class size and schools can grieve them if too large--ignores the real problem here--it is difficult to learn in large classes with high poverty students (as opposed to wealthier homogeneous suburban schools.) And students of low income districts won the NYS Campaign for Fiscal Equity law suit in 2007 that stated that class sizes in high poverty districts had to be reduced to be equitable. Reduced to 20 students K-3 and 23 grades 4-6 in high poverty districts like NYC. Unfortunately the $2 Billion set aside for this was gutted by first David Patterson, and then mostly by Gov Cuomo--and now class sizes in NYC are higher than ever! Oh yeah, I forgot, Cuomo is "the students' lobbyist."

At my son's Title 1 elementary school in Brooklyn, diverse population, 80% free lunch, with 25 kids in his kindergarten class, he was called on once a day. As a 5-6 yr old, don't you want to be recognized and part of the learning conversation more than once in a 6 hour day? Can anyone say that reducing the size of class wouldn't have a huge impact on all students' ability to learn and learn how to critically think? Now he is entering 4th grade and most 4th grade classes will have over 30. How will children be able to learn in this environment --especially if they have trouble paying attention, listening, etc etc..

Lowering actual class sizes, building more schools to accommodate this will have real tangible effects. Instituting a new set of standards like the Common Core without addressing reasons why the previous standards weren't effective is fool hardy and a disaster for the future of our children and our society.

Aug. 31 2012 11:51 AM
maria from brooklyn

Yes, thank you for putting on the nine-year-old boy from PS 102. Kids aren't allowed to run during their very limited recess? That's deplorable! My dd (entering 4th grade) is in much the same situation. She has a nearly 7 hr. day, a commute, recess is 20 mins., and lunch is 20 mins. She has P.E. and a Yoga class for half an hour, once per week. In inclement weather (even the minor threat of rain), they watch a program in the auditorium (during which they are not allowed to talk or move around). During winter months, she often returns home jittery and unable to focus (with a full load of homework awaiting). To me, this issue is just a big as the problems with standardized testing (time taken away from important curricula, etc.). Lack of movement affects health (bone development and the cardiovascular system) and results in diminished returns. "Down-time" is necessary for mental well-being. It's a cruel system, and many NYC public schools (including my daughter's) are meeting neither the state requirements for P.E., nor the city guidelines for recess. Assuring that there is the space and time to accommodate PE and recess should be a prerequisite for having a school. I would love it if you would have a show on this.

Aug. 31 2012 11:48 AM

We just moved to NYC area from a suburb of San Diego where the best high school's class size will be up to 40 with 4 counselors for 3600 students. Parents are expected to contribute to foundations to pay for basics like music, science and art in the face of CA's prop 13 which gutted property tax support of public schools. Obviously, this exaggerates the income gap between schools in different neighborhoods. We have seen first hand what happens when tax support is withdrawn from the public school system- a great state went from top to near the bottom in 20 years.

Aug. 31 2012 11:36 AM
Amy from Brooklyn

In response to Brian's question about why essay writing would not be fun or creative, essay writing for test prep is often taught as a formula. Instead of developing ideas about things they are naturally interested, or experimenting with writing, students are taught a set series of steps and parameters. They learn that essays have a set number of paragraphs, each with a set number of sentences, and that each paragraph must begin in a set way (often, 'my first reason that this is true is...). Teachers often believe that if their students do not write essays in such a structured way that their students will score poorly on state tests, although this is not necessarily dictated by the test rubrics.

As a high school teacher in NYC (and a formal middle school teacher who instructed students on essay-writing for state tests) I spend much of freshman year helping students understand that how many sentences their paragraphs have or how many paragraphs they write will depend on what they want to say. This makes writing a more challenging process, but also one that is far more enjoyable! They are often resistant to the removal of parameters, but ultimately, if students are to meet the requirements of common core, that kind of exploration is necessary.

Aug. 31 2012 11:33 AM
Guy from NYC

Thank gosh for that last caller who punctured the preposterous idea and lazy reporting that there are co-teachers available in every class where integration is mandated.
THis is the problem with so much commentary on education--they take spoon fed claims without researching whether or how this plays out in actual school sites, and then they just repeat it as fact. One wonders if mainstream reporters' curiosity isn't compromised by the demonization of teachers and teachers' unions. Ask a teacher!

Aug. 31 2012 11:31 AM
Henry from Manhattan

No running in school… That’s a bummer.

Recess was all about running around like a manic when I was in elementary school.

The doors would open to the playground and we would run out of them and keep running until recess was over.

I grew up in the suburbs though, maybe there's not enough space for running around in the city schools.

Aug. 31 2012 11:31 AM
Laurie Murphy from Newark, NJ

Critical thinking is important but basic skills are even more imperative, including hand writing. I have been discovering this summer that many kids do not know how to read or write script. A lot of schools and states are not requiring teachers to teach writing anymore. Such a basic skill. My nephew couldn't read the letter his grandmother sent him at Boy Scout camp and had his counselor read it to him. How is this acceptable? How will they know how to sign their name on documents?

Aug. 31 2012 11:30 AM
Joe from Manhattan

I was a 5th grade teacher until 2009.

I think that the 9-year-old's point was that his classroom is very work focused. There is no restriction in the public schools that says students can't run while at recess.

To the question of essays, an essay is certainly a part of test prep. Writing essays helps develop the construction of ideas: Making an argument with a main idea, and providing supporting evidence. It's less a focus on spelling or rote memorization but rather on the students abilities to read a text and identify relevant information to answer a question. They are not necessarily designed for students to be creative. Instead, they are usually given a specific question the will require an evidence-based answer. This evidence is derived from primary and secondary sources that are given to the student.

Aug. 31 2012 11:30 AM
Chris from Queens

I went to school in Florida, so experiences might be very different here. However, when I had to do standardized tests, the essays were strictly held to a rote regurgitation of the passage presented with the essay question. While essays can be great for critical thinking (my AP English classes had many many essays, and they were incredibly engaging), the essays in standardized tests are an active exercise in suppressing independent thought. We got penalized for throwing in any idea that wasn't straight out of the reading material.

Aug. 31 2012 11:29 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

Ram, you heard right - and you are right, it is beyond idiotic and counterproductive.

Aug. 31 2012 11:26 AM
Henry from Manhattan

Um, Texas GOP, in the state that dictates textbooks, are opposed to critical thinking.

Republican Party of Texas 2012 Platform --
“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Aug. 31 2012 11:26 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

When I was in school, we DID learn math sequentially. Then they started mixing it all up together. Now they're going back to the old way. It's the inevitable BS where whoever is in charge feels the need to change the whole system just to justify their existence. And, as the teacher, pointed out, no one is prepared and everyone suffers. How I WISH I could afford to send my son to private school.

Aug. 31 2012 11:25 AM
Ram from New York

Kids aren't allowed to run around at recess? Did I hear that right? If that's true can we fire all the adults who advocated this?

Aug. 31 2012 11:24 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

I found out when my son was in first grade that they were not ALLOWED to run at recess. You know why? Because the principal was afraid of liability. And then the parents heard about how their kids were fidgety and couldn't pay attention. I wonder why.

Aug. 31 2012 11:23 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

I LOVE this kid! Thank you for putting him on! My son is also nine years old, and he could be speaking for him almost to the letter!

Aug. 31 2012 11:22 AM
pliny from soho

I saw a report that said that special ed students families
got some monetary benefits
and this was a factor in applying for the status.
Is this true?

Aug. 31 2012 11:16 AM
Nancy from Manhattan

Great, if our students are FINALLY taught critical thinking, we won't end up with idiots like Michelle Bachmann and Todd Akin in Congress! In fact, the GOP (Greedy Old Patricians) could itself be endangered!

Aug. 31 2012 11:13 AM

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