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Principals' Rebellion Against Evaluations Grows

Monday, November 28, 2011 - 08:31 AM

This month, Newsday and other news media outlets began reporting on a rebellion by principals, largely from Long Island, who object to the new state system to evaluate teachers and principals based on student testing. In The New York Times on Monday, Michael Winerip, in his On Education column, reports that the revolt by principals is growing, and as of Sunday night, 658 principals from around the state had signed a letter to object to the new test-based evaluation system.

Only 18 of the signers are principals from New York City, Gotham Schools reports. But the rebellion continues to grow.

The principals do not object only to the use of student tests as a significant portion of teacher evaluations — the fulfillment of a pledge the state made to acquire $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants. They also object to the willy-nilly way that they say the evaluation system is being devised, with consultants figuring it out even as they are already training principals in the new ways.

Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County, said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”

She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the State Education Department.

As for the State Education Department, the commissioner, John B. King Jr., responded in writing to questions posed by Mr. Winerip, and explained the rebellion as the inevitable outgrowth of anxiety over a new system.

In his responses, Dr. King wrote, “The principals do raise some legitimate concerns that we are carefully addressing.” But he also wrote, “The structure of the evaluation system — including the use of data on the growth in student learning — is set in state statute.” (Translation: Testing full speed ahead.)

Long Island recently birthed another rebellion that led to a major change in policy in New York State that could have enormous impact on education: the imposition of a property tax cap that will restrict the growth of school and municipal budgets. And as in that earlier rebellion, Westchester County is the second locus of activity, with 31 principals signing the letter.

The Times also reported on another growing, though less intense, movement: the renewed popularity of building blocks.

Proving that in education, as in so much else, everything old is new again, those wooden staples of the lower school classroom are hot, Kyle Spencer reports.

While many progressive private and public schools have long sworn by blocks, more traditional institutions are now refocusing on block centers amid worries that academic pressure and technology are squeezing play out of young children’s lives.

Schools are building them into curriculums. Manufacturers are gearing up with more products. And the new private school, Avenues, coming to Greenwich Village next year, is devoting ample space on its kindergarten floor to a block center.

“If you talk about block program with parents these days,” said Libby Hixson, director of Avenues’ lower school, “they just light up.”

The interest in blocks has a lot to do with parents' and educators' concerns that young students do not get enough free time — and that they spend too much time in front of screens.

Sara Wilford, director of the “Art of Teaching” graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College, sees it as an obvious backlash. “There are so many schools where children are seeing less and less play,” she said. “And I think parents are getting that that is not going to help them.”

And last Wednesday came the awful news of the arrest of a teacher at Middle School 35 Stephen Decatur, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in the rape of a sixth-grade student, The Daily News reported:

Sixth-grade humanities teacher Claudia Tillery, 42, was collared by cops at her home on Rogers Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

She was charged with rape, unlawful dealing of drugs and alcohol to a child, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse and acting in a manner injurious to a child.

Prosecutors said she had sex with the boy in her home and at a Brooklyn motel.

And Reuters reported this interesting development in the city:

A judge on Wednesday ordered New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office to release e-mails between mayoral officials and former Schools Chancellor Cathleen Black, who resigned last April after a controversial three months in office.

City officials expressed disappointment in the ruling, and hinted that they may appeal. SchoolBook will be following developments in the case.

A more complete roundup of news reports can be found in Gotham Schools' Rise and Shine morning post.

Coming up on Monday, the first day back after the long Thanksgiving weekend (only a month to go until Christmas!):

The community education council meeting for District 2 in Manhattan was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Public School 130 Hernando de Soto, 143 Baxter Street. The topic (again): rezoning. Two deputy chancellors, Marc Sternberg and Kathleen Grimm, are supposed to attend.

Parents at P.S. 116 Mary Lindley Murray in Manhattan have been waging their own battle in District 2 to ease crowding. Follow developments on the school's page on SchoolBook, where parents have been reporting on the school's needs and their efforts to get relief from the Education Department.

Students at P.S. 19 Judith K. Weiss in the Bronx will unveil their newly renovated playground with the help of Curtis Granderson, center fielder for the New York Yankees. The event, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at 4318 Katonah Avenue, is also meant to promote a healthy lifestyle, and will include a Home Run Derby contest.

Have news, questions, information or suggestions about or for your school? Go to your school's page on SchoolBook, where you can use the Join the Conversation tool to easily post relevant information that will be of interest — and of use — to other members of your school's community.

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