Mayor de Blasio’s Ban on K-2nd Grade Suspensions

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio plans to ban suspensions for students in kindergarten to second grade, according to the New York Daily News

The New York Daily News also outlines that, of the 801 K-2nd grade students who were suspended during the 2015-2016 school year, 487 students were suspended for either being physically aggressive towards another student or teacher/staff members. It is clear that at least some of these students, especially the ones who bring violence into the classroom, were suspended for good reason (this is not to say that suspension is the right direction to improve the education of both the violent student and the students surrounding him). But, it is crucial that suspensions are not simply banned for these young children; remedies that try to fix the reason why they would be suspended to begin with must also be put in place.

For example, six-year old Jimmy cannot hit his teacher, not be removed from the classroom, and all who is negatively impacted by his actions just hope and pray it does not happen again. If he is to stay in school, there needs to be some kind of action put in place to ensure that both he and his classmates get every second of education they can possibly recieve.

Fortunately, Mayor de Blasio’s administration released “Maintaining the Momentum: A Plan for Safety and Fairness In Schools,” a report that includes findings, reccomendations and next-step efforts to make the NYC public school system a safer place. The most impressive effort in this report is the inclusion of mental health-related support in the 2017 school year budget. The budget, which will include the expansion of support for teacher training in mental health and dealing with students who have social-emotional issues, as well as the addition of about 100 mental health consultants, will still be limited in how much it can achieve.

Because the ban is effective in just a few days (9/8/16) and most of the $45 million funding won’t be seen until next school year, teachers, parents and union leaders are wondering if this is being implemented too soon– the training just is not there. One teacher, interviewed by ChalkBeat, made the following comment:

“When you just ban all suspensions, my next question would be: If I have a child who’s acting out and I’m not getting cooperation from home at all — they don’t come to meetings, they don’t take the child to screenings — what’s my next step then?” Ranieri asked. “None of us have received that support yet.”

Mayor de Blasio’s suspension policy may be too premature: some teachers are seemingly unprepared for such a policy, thus making the policy unfair to students and teachers who have to brook, and are impacted by, some serverly disruptive students. One would think Mayor de Blasio is aware of this issue students and teachers face as a result of a premature no suspension ban. One could only assume that his main reason for acting now, if not his only reason, is that suspensions tend to make the suspended student disengaged from the learning enironment. In other words, suspensions harm the student being suspended by making him less willing to learn. And, since we know suspensions have more of an insidious effect, we should not do it.

Boy, if it were that easy. 

If some schools are unprepared for such a plan, despite the plan’s goals and assume rationale, the plan should not be implemented until schools feel ready and supported. This is a lose-lose dilemma: continue to suspend students and risk those students continuing being unsuccessful. Require misbehaved students to stay in school without appurtanent, and risk other students not learing as a result. There is, however, data that suggests that it is worth delaying the suspension plan (or at least slowly implementing it across schools, starting with the most equipped to the least equipped) unil schools feel confident enough to implement such a plan. Accodring to the New York State Department of Education, 4% of all students are suspended and less than 2% of all elementary level students are suspended. In other words , more students would be distracted by another student’s misbehaving, should the misbehaved student remain in the school without adequate support. Taking this into consideration, Mayor de Blasio should countermand or, at the very least, modify his K-2 suspension ban.

Hoping to Start a Book Club with High School Students

I’m hoping to work with New York Cares, a non-profit volunteer organization, to lead a small book club with high school students. Ideally, I would pick the first book and then the students would work together to choose each book after that. This is something I tried getting off the ground during the previous school year but was unsuccessful in finding the right community partner.

Last year, I was not strategic about when I started my search for a school/community partner. I waited until after the school year began, but at that point, schools and community organizations have already finalized their programming for the year–rookie mistake on my part. I’ve been doing my out reach sense the end of July, so I’m feeling optimistic.

2015 NYU Study on NYC School Closures

I just reread this NYU study that explores the impact of former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg’s highly contentious decision to close some the city’s largest, failing high schools. While most of the findings confirm findings of other studies, one discovery that fascinates me is the positive impact a school closing has on its no-longer-potential student body. The study is sure to acknowledge that, of course, if a student no longer has the option to attend a failing school, whatever school they end up at would be inherently better (as the city removed the worst schools, one should only go up from there, generally speaking,). But this does not also take into consideration the uproar that the Bloomberg/Klein administration faced during the school closure process. More specifically, anti-school closure advocates were concerned about student disruption and integral fixture in the community.

Though the study answered the disruption issue (impacted students are “exponentially insignificantly impacted by the disruption), it also showed that there is a long term positive effect of closing persistently failing schools. Middle school students seem to be thinking and attending better schools than the recently closed down school in their community. Those middle schoolers are more likely to graduate from high school now that the poor school is no longer an option. My guess is that the local school closing serves as a clear point of reference for younger students. My other guess is that the closings of low-performing schools put parents on high alert on how well schools are doing, rather than unquestionably going to the local school. This is just an assumption, but by doing something as touchy as closing the most severely under performing high schools in communities, enough noise was made to make students and parents pay additional attention to school selection.

“No Student Learns Best Under Conditions That Make Then Feel Uncared For”

They should be prepared to teach to each student’s unique needs, and to recognize that no student learns best under conditions that make him feel uncared for.

This quote from on an NYT article on why black men leave the teaching profession should apply to tecahers in general, but espescailly those in no-excuse charter schools, though public schools are certainly gguilty of this too.

Read more here:

NYT Article Review: “To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti”

Here’s a good piece about the emphasis on commnuinity and social involvement as a criteria to getting into elite colleges and universities may affect the genuines of that engagment. In particular, the article dicusses the urge for wealthier families to send their student to a third world country to partake in some quick missionary activity or to engage in an entreprenurial pursuit, which is funded my wealthy families, for the sake of getting into an ivt league school.

Two aspects of this piece stood out to me as important to the admissions process as a whole and our understanding of how diversity, income and self-awareness play a role into inspiring and admitting a well-rounded class of students.

Harvard, and schools like them, are engaged in research and rasing awareness on the impact of some of their suggested admissions criteria on some students. An essential element to the growth of any entity is the awareness of such criteria and asking how can we make this better. I think it’s easier for some people to simply brush the criteria of community involvement as a bullet-proof criteria that everyone can be apart in, without questioning what that criteria is supposed to do for and mean to the student.

The second element that stood out to me has to do with how te article starts off and whose voice is heard in the introduction. The intro comes from the perspective of a student who doesn’t have as much money as some of his classmates but who still chooses to give back at the local level because he cares. More inspiring is the fact that he cares enough to know that his community could be made better if only his wealthier classmates also gave back to their disadvantaged, not-a-plane-ride-away-neighbors. It was powerful to have the view point of someone whose local community activies could have been “outshined” by some of his wealthier counterparts. The very act of starting off with this student ackowledges that his efforts are just as important to admissions officers as his some of his classmates international excusions.

Read more here. 

The BackPack Index is Out

Last month, Huntington Bank and Communities in Schools released their annual BackPack Index. The report’s research, though limited to six mid-western states, show the increase in supplies and after-school activity costs and fees. The report, neatly summarized by Huntington in the screenshot below, begs the question of how parents in low-income communities are keeping up with these expenses. And what about schools that serve mostly low-income students? How are they coping? It’s one thing to have a few students in a school who cannot afford the rising expenses, and it’s another thing to have an entire school community that can’t match or come close to matching these demands.

Presumably, some schools eat the cost so that parents do not have to contribute little to no money. Another likely option is that while schools increase spending for all-things-related-to-standardized-testing, they further decrease spending and limit opportunites in the arts and extra-curriucalr activities. As for school supplies, poor districts are probably also limiting how creative their teachers can be with their lessons, making it difficult for students to get a rich a experience.
The point is: if there are parents and schools that are trying to keep up with the cost of quality, much needed afterschool experiences, imagine the schools, teachers, parents, and students who do not have a cent to offer to stay in the race?

Don’t get me wrong. There are parents and schools who are genuinely financially struggling to have their students partake in social activities. Their are parents who are barely making payments in on time for theit child to qualify to play her school’s first basketball game of the year. Their are parents who will go into their savings this fall to ensure their child has these opportunites. But I’m just shedding light on the students who can’t join their school’s ballet team or practice the guitar at home because there are no savings to dip into. Just a parent(s) working paycheck to paycheck. 

Read the full report here.   


Students Public Speaking in Front of Community

I was thinking of different ways to both introduce students to members of their community, so that their is more community engagement, and public speaking. The idea that stood out the most is one that placed emphasis on involvement from all members of a school community.

Students, starting at a young age, would present in front of their teacher(s), classmates, members of the school’s parent/family community, and members of the school’s external business and working class communites. But it wouldn’t stop there. Students would then conduct both Question-and-Answer and Roundtable style discussions on the presentation topic. This would provide students an opportunity to engage in a more deeper conversation about their presentation topic, while it simutaneously lets them know that other people want to engage in that conversation as well. 
To be clear, the non-teaching community members would not be critiquing students nor would they provide public speaking or academic feedback. The non-teaching community members role would be to help instill a since of engagement and provide students with different perspectives through the comments they make and questions they ask. At some point, the roles would reverse. There would be a chance for the more traditional scenario of ublic speaking in schools: non-teaching members of the commnuity would present something to students. The teaching community would be their to provide feedback after the presentation but also to facilitate the presentation. 

Some might think that allowing people, who are not trained to provide constructive criticism to children, would do more harm than good. Afterall, the community grocery owner or accountant may only think in numbers or may not know how to be more sensitive to young children’s feelings when providing qualitative feedback.

This is a valid concern and one possible solution would be to have a trained public speaking teacher work with each participating community member who is not a part of the professional teaching community. they’d go over best practices and responses to students, tone, face expression and a brief interview to determine their overall fit for such an activity. 

I know. This sounds like a lot of time and money spent on training. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of weeks that I’m trying now putting to paper/post. 

But, one thing is for sure: we need to start students engaging and caring about quality public speaking at a young age and continue the engagment throughout their academic careers. One key attribute is tapping into the wide community net that surrounds the school community. This makes room for different perspectives and the exchange of ideas that goes into talking to someone outside of the school community. Another key attribute is high quality teacher training. Though it may be expensive, if  we want our students to be strong, confident speakers, we as a community need to invest time and money. Period.

The idea behind all of this is to have both students and members of the overall community interact, challenge and learn from each other, while giving students the platform to express themselves. Hopefully, along the way, students pickup on softskills, in addtion to their ability to spot faulty and sound arguments, as well as thinking about some worthwhile feedback, questions and comments they received throughout the years. 

More to come.

Spaced Learning & My GRE Prep

After battling mini math sections and losing to most of them, I need to rethink how I study. Though I have been studying for a couple of months and my exam date is a little more than eight weeks away, I have been making little progress in the quantative section. As some one who managed to evade math my senior year of high school and all throughout college, I have to re-teach myself most of the material on the GRE. I started to feel overwhelemed by this task and had no clue where to start. My plan has been to complete a practice math section and review the answers I got wrong (which, as I’ve mentioned previously, have been most of them). An obstacle I’m encountering is that because the math section contains problems from various categories (algebra, geometry),  I find myself quickly swinging from category to category and not sticking to a category and the in and outs to that category to actually retain any of the information. I’m going over each incorrect answer and reviewing the correct answer just to learn it in the moment and not make any real effort to actually know and understand it and problems like it. I have come to realize that I need to spend more time on focusing on one category at a time, slowly transitioning into a new category, and intergrating the previously reviewed categories, if I want to do well on the GRE. 

Education Nation Tip: Writing Skills and Social Media

When my 21 year old neice was in high school and started actively using Facebook, I constantly sent her private messages discouraging the use of shorthand text. I worried that it took away from her ability to effectively write and communicate. It’s okay to take your time and express your thoughts. Not everything has to have hashtags, abbreviations and fragmented responses. 

But we live in a society where shorthand and social media go hand-in-hand. This NBC News’ Education Nation tip is timely, educational and require’s a challenge that can involve family members and friends (though I wasn’t aware that fifth graders used social media–boy am I getting old!).