Communication Tools That Can Lead to Trouble

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The comments began pouring in shortly after an article by Jennifer Preston was posted on this weekend about one of the thornier teaching issues of the day: the use of social media.

Many educators, school boards and districts -- including the city's Department of Education -- are struggling to find a balance to protect students from inappropriate behavior by the grown-ups in their lives using Facebook, Twitter and texting, while also allowing teachers enough freedom to take advantage of the social media tools that, after all, are how children communicate nowadays.

It's a tough one -- much like the one involving the cellphone ban in city schools.

The city's Education Department, in fact, is months behind on formulating a policy to help guide teachers and administrators, though it promises to have one in place in the spring. Meanwhile, complaints involving social media are on the rise:

Richard J. Condon, special commissioner of investigation for New York City schools, said there had been a steady increase in the number of complaints of inappropriate communications involving Facebook alone in recent years -- 85 complaints from October 2010 through September 2011, compared with only eight from September 2008 through October 2009.

New York is hardly alone. The article cites incidents from around the country about student abuse, which often begins with or involves texting, "friending" or private Twitter messages.

Later today SchoolBook will publish a post by Charol Shakeshaft, chairwoman of the department of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 15 years. She will offer some advice on how teachers can navigate this treacherous terrain.

In The Times article, Professor Shakeshaft sums up the dilemma: “My concern is that it makes it very easy for teachers to form intimate and boundary-crossing relationships with students. I am all for using this technology. Some school districts have tried to ban it entirely. I am against that. But I think there’s a middle ground that would allow teachers to take advantage of the electronic technology and keep kids safe.”

To be continued ...

On Monday, The Times's Richard Perez-Pena reported that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg would announce that Cornell University was the winner of the yearlong competition to create a new science graduate school on Roosevelt Island, his ambitious bid to spur a boom in New York City’s high-tech sector.

The Daily News reports that the city's Education Department is investigating Metropolitan Diploma Plus High School, a transfer school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, for cheating on Regents exams last year. The school showed remarkable gains over the previous year, The News reports.

Marta Valle High School on the Lower East Side was deemed “persistently dangerous” by the state in 2008, but improved in 2009. The New York Post reports that students are complaining about lawlessness and violence there now -- something that the principal, Mimi Fortunato, who oversaw the improvements that started in 2009, denies.

Picking up on an Associated Press report, Gotham Schools said on Friday that New York State was not one of the nine states that the federal government had chosen to share $500 million for early childhood programs. The state had been eligible to receive as much as $100 million to help develop a "kindergarten readiness measurement tool" to assess children before entering school. Instead, the federal money was awarded to California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

And two New York Times articles this Monday morning are definitely worth your time: Michael Winerip's On Education column, which looks back on a decade of New York's march to school accountability, and Jenny Anderson's fun profile of Elisabeth Krents, also known as Babby, who has been the admissions director at the private Dalton School since 1996.

The Local in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill reported last week on innovation at Public School 20. Because of budget cuts and the school's desire for a more hands-on life science program, the elementary school started its own farming program. Students could be seen planting bulbs for the spring.

On Friday The Choice blog reported on an erroneous "past due invoice" from the College Board that raised anxiety among already-edgy college applicants. The e-mail to an untold number of counselors and students solicited credit card information, warning that failure to provide it could result in having SAT scores placed on hold. The message did come from the College Board, officials said, but it should not have been sent.

And there are only two weeks left of 2011. The Learning Network now has up its News Quiz of the major events of this year, "with 52 blanks in it, each of which is hyperlinked to the Times source from which the item came," writes Katherine Schulten, who oversees the site, which is run by The Times. Also, she writes, there is "at the top of the post, the awesome, just-released 'Year in Rap' video from Flocabulary, with whom we're collaborating to run a rap contest for kids right now."

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine post has a more complete roundup of news this weekend and on Monday.

On Monday the City Council will vote on requiring the Department of Education to notify parents of students and employees in New York City public schools of the results of testing or inspection for PCB contamination. The department would also be required to inform parents and employees of its plans for clean-up, and to submit "an annual report to the Council detailing the agency’s progress on PCB removal and remediation plans, including an updated list of schools affected." The vote will be taken in the Council Committee Room, City Hall, at 2:30 p.m.

The hip hop artist Common will visit the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the South Bronx at 10 a.m. According to a news release, "Common will speak with students and tour the school with the school's founding principal, David C. Banks." The Eagle Academy is at 4143 Third Avenue.