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Hypothetically, What Would Your Ideal School System Look Like?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - 08:03 AM

Just when furor over the mayor's remarks about culling teachers and doubling class sizes had seemed to die down, Michael Powell of The New York Times presses two electrical paddles to the heart of the hypothetical beast.

In his Gotham political column on Tuesday, he interviews Serge Avery, a teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, and asks: if you survived Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's hypothetical teaching staff cuts, would you accept a salary in the low six figures in exchange for teaching classes of 62 kids each?

Mr. Avery, an archaeologist turned social studies teacher, was not enamored. He and his colleagues teach five classes totaling 170 students. Nights are often spent reading essays, grading and preparing lessons. They write 30 to 50 college recommendations a year.

“Six figures is a lot of money for a teacher, so some would say, ‘Sure, I will teach 300 kids,’ ” he said. “But most teachers who care about what they deliver in the classroom would be against it.”

The column's main point is that class size does make a difference in student learning, especially in the lower grades — though, to the mayor's point, teacher quality is an enormous factor in students' annual progress, and a series of high-quality teachers can push a child far ahead of his or her less-lucky peers, studies have shown.

Still, the column says, no one has studied the impact of doubling class sizes. And, it says, "Among the so-called meritocratic elite, low teacher-to-child ratios are beloved. The mayor’s daughters went to Spence, where classes hover from 10 to 15. Trinity, Dalton, Riverdale, Horace Mann: All charge $35,000 or more per year, and classes rarely exceed 12 in the lower grades."

To his credit, after his remarks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the mayor went out of his way to praise the city's teachers, and he has insisted that he was speaking entirely hypothetically about what he might do if he had the opportunity to start fresh to design a new school system.

If you had a clean slate, how would you set up the educational system in the city? Answer the query below.

Speaking of fresh starts: What's in a name? A chance to "rebrand" and to better reflect intentions, a school in the East Village is hoping, according to The Local East Village on Monday.

Public School 63 William McKinley at 121 East Third Street is tired of being associated with an ex-president many people overlook, and is now hoping to officially change its name to P.S. 63 S.T.A.R. Academy.

“The name William McKinley doesn’t denote anything about our school culture, community or the families we serve,” Darlene Despeignes, the principal, told Jessica Bell. “We’re more progressive than we were in the past and we really want to show off who we are through our name.”

The new name stands for Students Taking Active Roles, a behavioral management and character education program that encourages students to be active participants in school culture, The Local says. That translates into something that Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential hopeful, could get behind: the kindergarten through fifth-grade students are given "jobs" and help out at the school.

The school has to go through a number of steps to formally make the name change, but bright signs with the new name are all over the building.

The Local East Village also has an early look at the expansion of the 115-year-old Grace Church School into Cooper Square. The school is adding a new high school division next fall, Jessica Bell also reports, and has been accepting applications to its first ninth-grade class, which will have up to 80 students. The deadline for applicants is Dec. 15.

The post has a slide show of renderings of the new school, which looks bright, airy and colorful — and will be another newcomer to the rapidly transforming mini-neighborhood of Cooper Square.

In a third Local East Village post on Monday, Mark Federman, the principal of East Side Community School, has been battling over a park that is adjacent to the 600-student high school on East 12th Street, between Avenue A and First Avenue. Open Road Park is popular with skateboarders, but Mr. Federman has been concerned about general disregard for the park, as well as drug use on the premises, including the smoking and selling of marijuana.

“At this point, it’s not really a safe space to keep open,” he told Chelsia Rose Marcius, a SchoolBook intern who also writes for The Local. “We decided that we’re just going to keep it closed until we figure out a way to resolve these issues.”

The park was also closed temporarily over the summer because of concerns about drugs. Skaters lament the loss of the space, but Mr. Federman said it would remain closed until after the holidays.

“It’s not a skate park; skating is something we offer,” he said. “It’s a school park; there are more and more skaters in there, but it is very much a school park.”

More schools have been posting their news on their school's page on SchoolBook — one of the main functions for which the pages were created.

On Monday, Brandon Thomas wrote on the East Fordham Academy for the Arts SchoolBook page about the adventure that 15 students had last week when they traveled to Downtown Music Studios in Manhattan to "lay down some tracks." The sixth- to eighth-grade students participated in a Pencil partnership program with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers that made their recording dream come true.

Brandon wrote:

They recorded a Christmas song last year, but this year, they are bringing it to a whole new level. They will publish and market this song with the hope of being played in a TV show, commercial or some other similar opportunity.

Congratulations, East Fordham Academy for the Arts students.

The Choice blog has excerpts of an interview that Jacques Steinberg had with Ray Nicosia, the head of security for the Educational Testing Service, about the SAT. High school students and their parents may want to check out the post — and add their own comments.

And an op-ed article in The Times by Linda Darling-Hammond and Frederick M. Hess on "How to Rescue Education Reform" is worth your time.

A more complete roundup of what is in the news on Tuesday about education can be found in Gotham Schools' Rise and Shine post.

Here is what is coming up on Tuesday:

Bus drivers are planning to rally at City Hall at noon. Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union says it wants to "set the record straight" on the facts surrounding a looming school bus strike.

Pre-K parents can attend the first in a series of boroughwide information sessions about starting your preschooler off on the path to college. The Education Department says, "These sessions are intended to help parents understand what children are learning in pre-K, how they can engage in their child’s learning at home, and how to start navigating DOE systems and processes."

And it is a big day for high school sports in New York: Abraham Lincoln High School and Erasmus Hall Campus will battle for the city football championship of the Public School Athletic League at 5 p.m. at Yankee Stadium. Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott plans to be there.

On the Learning Network, the story of how a high school newspaper covered the press conference and protests at the University of California, Davis, after the pepper-spray episode.

And only three more days until the first SchoolBook community event, "School Choice: Too Much of a Good Thing?," at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The event is free, but you need a ticket. Register at http://www.wnyc.org/events/.

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