On Halloween, Scary Repercussions of No Child Left Behind

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If you are a reader of Principal's Office, a regular feature of SchoolBook, or of most posts written by educators on the site, you know that one of the biggest concerns teachers and administrators have is how to offer a child a rich and varied education while ensuring that he or she measures up in standardized tests.

That is a major concern of Rose Kerr, principal of the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership, who is the subject of this week's Principal's Office. Her school was rated No. 1 on the city's progress report this year, but in an interview she said it is "every principal and every teacher's challenge" to remember that "a child is not just a test taker."

In his column on Monday, Michael Winerip finds a school of educators who are confronting the challenge to provide an enriched, hands-on curriculum for students while meeting the standards of No Child Left Behind.

In this case, the school, Oyster River Middle School, is in Durham, N.H., and despite its high level of performance and success at preparing students for high school, it was deemed "failing" last year because it did not make enough strides toward the 100 percent proficiency that the federal law mandates.

If you are an educator and you can relate to Linda Rief, who is in her 25th year of teaching English at Oyster River Middle School and is the protagonist of the Winerip column, raise your hand.

Closer to home, the city's Department of Education said it has taken some of the most graphic elements out of the HealthSmart curriculum for middle schoolers. According to the Daily News:

"We thought it was not age-appropriate for 11- and 12-year-olds," said Education Department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz, adding that the edited texts have been voluntarily used by city schools since 2007.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ms. Ravitz later disputed The Daily News's account:

The risk cards activity referenced in this story was never a part of our recommended curriculum for middle schools. In 2007 when we were working to select a curriculum to recommend for our schools, we worked with the publisher to remove the risk cards activity from the middle school curriculum as we thought it was not age appropriate. Any implication that the DOE ever recommended a middle school curriculum including these cards is without basis in fact.

Starting in January, the city will require one semester of sex education for sixth or seventh graders, and one for ninth or 10th graders. HealthSmart is one of two recommended curriculums.

According to The Daily News report:

An advocacy group called NYC Parents Choice is pushing the city to offer an option for sex ed that focuses solely on abstinence and leaves out explicit lessons entirely. By its count, the high school version of HealthSmart mentions abstinence just 90 times and birth control, including condoms, 230 times.

"The same way they're offering charter schools and traditional public schools — we're only asking something similar — parent choice," said NYC Parents Choice executive director Michael Benjamin.

GothamSchools' Rise and Shine post has a fuller roundup of education news from the weekend and Monday.

And congratulations to all the eighth graders who braved the you've-got-to-be-kidding weather on Saturday, or the temptation to stay home and roll in the snow on Sunday, to take the exam for entry to the city's specialized high schools.

Despite the wild weather weekend, and the snow that remains on the ground in many parts of the metropolitan area, it is really Halloween. Schools will be bursting with warlocks and princesses, and many children will then head to after-school parades, including the one sponsored by New York University and Community Board 2 in Washington Square Park, Manhattan; one in Jackson Heights, Queens; and one in Park Slope, Brooklyn, among many others.

And, according to a news release: "In celebration of Halloween, more than 200 students from prekindergarten to grade 2 will learn about anatomy and bone health (using life-size skeleton models), Halloween candy safety, pharmaceutical literacy, and healthy holiday recipes at a special program hosted by Touro College’s Project Aspire at P.S. 197 in Harlem."

You can post photos from your school's Halloween parade and other festivities to your SchoolBook page, so the entire school community can enjoy them. Or join our Flickr group, and share your photos there.