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To Track or Not to Track: The Question Resurfaces

Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - 07:58 AM

How can educators provide top students with the education that best serves their needs? And how can schools get students to eat food that best serves their health? Those two questions are in the news on Tuesday.

Room for Debate, The Times's discussion of news and timely issues, asks six experts this provocative question: Are top students getting short shrift?

Yes, it is the old and familiar issue of tracking, a debate that has re-emerged after the Thomas B. Fordham Institute followed more than 100,000 high-achieving students and found that one-third to half of them drifted toward the middle as they made their way through school.

According to the institute's Web site, the study:

... finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented 10th” — and America’s future international competitiveness?

Most of Room for Debate's experts favor some differentiated learning — but with caveats and twists. You can find the experts' opinions and responses to them here. And you can add your own thoughts in response to the query at the bottom of this post.

From feeding the mind to feeding the stomach. The question today is: pineapple chunks or chips? The decision faced students all over the country as they returned to schools where new, healthy choices in vending machines are now competing against buttered and salted staples.

So far, the competition is going as you might expect. That is: junk food reigns. At one Long Island high school, where Winnie Hu of The New York Times watched the effect of a vending machine with healthful foods on students' snack choices, there were no takers, and the machine had made less than one-third of the sales of a nearby machine that offered less nutritious food.

Nationally, health-promoting vending machines are coming into schools in response to concern about childhood obesity, and 14 of those machines are in New York City public schools.

Perhaps the city's most controversial effort to regulate what students eat was in the spring of 2010, when the city cracked down on what parents and students were allowed to sell at bake sales. In an attempt to balance a push for healthier food with schools' growing need to raise money, the regulation born of that compromise allows for the sale of junk food like chips and Pop-Tarts, but it bans homemade items like cupcakes and brownies.

A year later, Maura Walz, then a GothamSchools reporter, found that items the city sells in school cafeterias did not always comply with the bake sale strictures.

In other news:

The former treasurer of the PTA at Public School 29 John M. Harrigan in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, admitted to having stolen $82,000, but said she could not pay the $40,000 that was due as part of an offered plea deal. Justice Suzanne Mondo of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn rejected the revised plea deal with the former treasurer, Providence Hogan, which would have her pay $30,000 immediately and the rest in installments over three years.

The Daily News reports that Wall Street protesters may join union leaders and school employees, who are gathering on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse on Tuesday night to protest coming layoffs of school aides, parent coordinators and other staff members.

And for more school news, see the GothamSchools morning roundup.

Coming up today:

If you have a child in prekindergarten, there is no school. The non-attendance day that was scheduled for Thursday was recently moved back to today so that the children could participate in Jumpstart’s Read for the Record, a program to promote an end to the early education achievement gap by having millions of children read “Llama Llama Red Pajama” by Anna Dewdney. Teachers are to report to professional development.

At 10 a.m., officials will cut a ribbon in the Bronx for the Hyde Leadership Charter School, which is reported to be the first new school to open in Hunts Point in more than 30 years. The school, at 830 Hunts Point Avenue, is a “state of the art, custom designed 31,500 square foot” building, the school’s sponsors say.

And Tuesday night, there is a debate about teacher accountability between Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer and senior deputy chancellor for the city’s Department of Education, and Pedro Noguera, the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University and a trustee of the State University of New York. The event, “Accountability in the Classroom: A Debate on Hot Topics Making Headlines in N.Y.C. Schools,” is sponsored by the Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century’s Education Committee. It takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Professor Thom's Bar, 219 Second Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. Moderating will be Philissa Cramer, managing editor of GothamSchools. There is a $5 charge for nonmembers.

On the Learning Network, the question today is off Sam Dillon’s article in Monday’s New York Times about a successful school bonus program in Massachusetts: “Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores?"

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