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New Race to the Top Money Will Support Individualized Teaching

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 08:13 AM

The federal government is expanding its Race to the Top competition, announcing on Tuesday the rules for districts to apply for $400 million in grants to support innovation.

The focus of this latest piece of the Race to the Top incentive program is individualized instruction, writes Richard Perez-Pena in The New York Times on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the department said it would look for programs that provide ways to tailor instruction to individual students.

“We need to take classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all model and bring it into the 21st century,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said in a statement.

The rules require districts to show how they will focus resources on “students facing significant challenges, such as students with disabilities, English learners and students affected by impacts of poverty or family instability.”

Race to the Top has so far given out about $4 billion to states, in support of innovation in public education. But it is coming under growing criticism from some parents and teachers' unions, for its emphasis on "accountability" based on student testing and teacher evaluations. This latest grant competition also calls for student and teacher assessments.

Also in the news on Tuesday, NY1 reports that Eddie Calderon-Melendez may not be as severed from the Williamsburg Charter High School as a lawyer for the school would have you believe.

Mr. Calderon-Melendez was the founder and operator of the charter, which city officials now want to close because of financial irregularities and poor management. The lawyer, Ellen Eagen, has insisted that the problems were all the doings of Mr. Calderon-Melendez, who now has nothing to do with the school.

As SchoolBook reported on Monday, Ms. Eagen is now in court, trying to get an order to stop the city from closing the school, which still has nearly 900 students. She is arguing that the closing order was the result of Education Department bias and is unnecessary now that Mr. Calderon-Melendez, who has been indicted by the office the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has been pushed out.

But NY1 said it obtained documents that indicated otherwise:

The station received an email, written on May 3 by the school's attorney, addressed to "faculty, staff and administration," sent by an assistant principal. The email was forwarded to NY1 from Calderon-Melendez, three months after the attorney and board claimed his involvement with the school had been completely severed.

Calderon-Melendez sent the message from a school email account under his name. The email says it was sent from his iPhone.

Not just that, but in his email he mentions details about the case that hadn't been made public.

What's more, as of Monday Calderon-Melendez's email account at the school still appeared to work, although he did not respond to NY1's requests for comment.

After she was asked about the matter by NY1, Ms. Eagen promised to look into the matter. She said he would be cut off from access to any school mail. She is back in court on Tuesday to again face off against city lawyers, in pursuit of that order to block the city's closing order.

On the good news front, Staten Island Technical High School has received money to renovate its school athletic fields. Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott took a trip out to the borough on Monday to announce the $7 million renovation, which includes money from the City Council and the Staten Island borough president's office for a new turf baseball and football field, surrounded by a track.

The gift was welcomed at the high-performing school of 1,000 students, the Staten Island Advance reports:

There was no shortage of horror stories about the current field, which the school leadership team, PTA and athletic department have been lobbying to be upgraded to turf since 2004.

"It's rough. It's a pretty bad field," said Michael Deddo, 18, captain of the football team. "All our away-games are on fields that are nicer than ours."

Deddo, who will attend West Point in the fall, said the sod field has holes in it, and finding glass or nails here and there isn't uncommon. The players have taken to looking on the bright side about the hazards.

"We like to think it gives us a home field advantage," he said.

James Sinodinos, baseball captain, said the problems are just as bad on the baseball field. After rain, it can take days to get the field in playing condition. "It's just hours of work for us, for our coaches," he said.

And teachers and others are buzzing about the lawsuit filed against the United Federation of Teachers, charging that it granted concessions to the city to help cover up a liaison by the union's president, Michael Mulgrew, with a fellow teacher in a shop room at William E. Grady Technical Education High School.

The suit has been criticized as "frivolous" by union officials -- an accusation that was seized upon by none other than Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Monday, who noted that the teachers' and principals' unions recently filed suit against the city to stop the closing of 24 schools that the city has deemed failing.

According to The Daily News, Mr. Bloomberg:

... sarcastically suggested that the United Federation of Teachers, which has called the sex lawsuit filed by one of its members “false and absurd," is turning over a new leaf.

"Well, I was glad to read this weekend that the UFT suddenly opposes lawsuits that are full of quote 'absurd false charges,' unquote." Bloomberg said.

"And I'll take them at their word. That means they'll be dropping their absurd and false charges against us and get back to helping us improve the schools for our city kids."

Forget the rain, which continues through most of this week as part of an unrelentingly wet and cool spring. Union Square Park will have something on Tuesday to brighten the forecast: an array of student art work at the south end of the park that is all part of LeAP's Public Art Program.

Mr. Walcott will be there at 11:30 a.m. to kick off the display of art from 10 public middle schools from all five boroughs. According to the Learning through Expanded Arts Program (LeAP), the works are "lunchroom tables transformed into colorful works of art that address major social issues in their communities and the world (including bullying, gay rights, environmental awareness, gang violence, etc.)."

The event is appropriately called, “A View From the Lunchroom: Students Bringing Issues to the Table,” and, according to a LeAP news release, "the 10 large-scale artworks will then be installed in 10 community parks citywide (two in each boroughs) and will be on display from June through August."

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