NYC Department of Education Releases a Social Media Guide for Students That Says…Nothing?

A lot of local media press is swirling around the new social media guide put out by the NYC Department of Education this week.  At first glance that sounds great.  Administration is stepping in to help kids navigate social media, provide tips and guidance and empower kids to make smarter choices online – or so you’d think.

But in fact if you read it, it is not a guide – it is a set of cliché ridden guidelines.  Complete with links to multiple Chancellor’s Regulations – because there’s nothing kids won’t enjoy more than reading the A-831 regulation to understand peer sexual harassment.

This guide contains such gems as this advice if you are cyber-bullied and would like to report it to the adult in charge at your school,”If you are not sure who your school’s Respect for All Liaison is, please look for their name on the RFA posters.”

And this warning about crossing the personal-school life boundary, “Sometimes, personal social media use, including off-hours use, may result in disruption at school and the school may need to get involved. This could include disciplinary action such as a parent conference or suspension.”

In other words, this is NOT a social media guide, it is a set of regulatory guidelines, and we shouldn’t be giving the NYC Department of Ed a big hurrah for publishing them.  They are not curriculum or actual teaching tools.

The good news is that there is a media literacy bill right now in the New York Legislature that would mandates the Department of Ed will develop standards and provide resources for incorporating media and social media literacy in K-12 curriculum.  And, it will make teacher training available for media literacy as well.
https://www.facebook.com/rebeccalevey/posts/10202911221120416?stream_ref=10

THIS is worth your time in sharing and talking about so we can actually create media savvy kids.

Twitter is NOT for 1st Graders – and other things teachers should know

no twitter allowedToday I read an article in Education Week summarizing some of the “mind-blowing” professional development tips given to elementary school principals at The National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference.  These lessons in how to integrate and open up their classrooms to tech were dished out from a professional developer named Alan November of November Learning.  One nugget of tech advice that made my head spin was this gem:

There are so many things wrong with this that I had to read on to see if this was actually what he was suggesting to principals.  And, yes, it was.

First and foremost what is upsetting about his advice – being given under the auspices of a tech “expert” – is that kids under 13 are not LEGALLY allowed to have Twitter accounts.  Or Facebook accounts.  Or Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat – the list goes on. Why can’t they?  Because there is a privacy law, which I’ve talked about endlessly on this blog and elsewhere, called COPPA.  That law is meant to protect kids, their personal information and their data.  (I don’t even know if I could possibly write about it more than I already do!)

To not let that little fact be known to principals who are now going to go back to their teachers – their employees – and say,

“Hey, we should be using Twitter, it’s a great (free) tool!  Now we’re using tech in the classroom, woohoo!”

is malpractice.

I don’t know what the full agenda was at this conference, but ANY conversation with principals and teachers looking to integrate tech into their school has to begin with a discussion about privacy.  Just as parents need to understand it, so do teachers.  You cannot introduce apps and websites into a classroom without knowing what kind of data is being collected and why.  You most certainly cannot introduce children – 1st graders! – to a website that specifically bans them as users!  Maybe they should learn to mix cocktails as a science project – that would be some good real world job skill training!

He also told principals they should use Khan Academy to teach math.  Just this past year I did just that with my daughters when we were preparing for a middle school exam based on math one grade level above their own.  It was truly awful.  AWFUL.  And my daughters are crazy smart math girls.  But watching Khan Academy math videos and then trying to fully grasp the concepts and then execute them on their own?  That was a huge waste of time that made us all frustrated.

I’m sure some people have had success using the online math tutorials, but the majority of stories I’ve heard have been similar to my own.  I can’t imagine if a bunch of kids had to watch on math on a screen every day.

Young kids need to be hands on – with math, with writing, with creating.  They also need to learn how to be safe online since that is where a good part of their life will be lived.

There are so many wonderful tech tools, apps and sites that can engage and excite kids in interesting and new ways.  We have many wonderful teachers using KidzVuz in the classroom as a tool for getting kids to write and produce video book reviews – but our site is built FOR KIDS!  Just using tech because it’s novel is a waste of time and money – and that slapdash approach won’t help a teacher with their ultimate goal – producing true thinkers and innovators, and kids who want to learn.

I hope this article was just a snippet of what was presented to those principals.  And I really hope that NONE of them go back to their schools and get their 1st graders on Twitter.  Most of all, I hope the people in charge of teaching the teachers do a responsible job.  There’s a lot of money being tossed around to so-called experts, but I’m not sure who is truly vetting them.

It’s Testing Time in NYC!

I found this card in my 5th Grade daughter’s backpack yesterday.  It’s a good luck card from her kindergarten book buddy wishing her well on the New York State standardized tests – all 6 days of them.  It’s so sweet, but also so sad to me that even the kindergarteners know that testing is happening and feel the stress in the school.

good luck card

 

Supporting Art in Schools with Blick Art Room Aid

Blick Logo

As someone who has invested way too many hours in my daughters’ NYC public school and education issues beyond those four walls, I have come to realize that the worst thing educators and administrators can do is look at various subjects – math, literacy, science, art, music, gym, social studies – as isolated fields of study.  But, unfortunately that does happen, and more often than not the arts are deemed “extras” instead of integral to bringing alive math, science, literacy and the other “core” subjects.

In my daughters’ school the parents pay tens of thousands of dollars to supplement the meager art budget in the school.  We cover supplies for the art teacher, a separate art program through Studio in a School for the 4th and 5th Grades since they don’t get a dedicated art class, art supplies for the classroom teachers so they can do curriculum based art projects, and fund the school art show, chimes music program, dance programs, and more.  We are lucky.  Our parents have the means, time and know-how to fundraise this kind of money.  Most schools are not this lucky.  So, I was thrilled to participate in the Blick Art Materials Art Room Aid program.

Art Room Aid was created in 2009 by Blick Art Materials. As a company focused on educational and professional art supplies, Blick has also consistently supported arts education in diverse ways. Whether sponsoring art scholarships or creating lesson plans that address national standards of learning while easing the burden on busy educators, we at Blick understand just how important collaboration is. And we know that big dreams start small- after all, Blick is a family-owned company that began at Mr. and Mrs. Blick’s kitchen table in Galesburg, Illinois, 100 years ago.

Today, we’re continuing to nurture that deeply rooted investment in the arts and in educational communities with Art Room Aid. As the world becomes increasingly linked, skills like visual communication and creative problem-solving are more important than ever.

I knew I wanted to find a teacher who worked at a school that didn’t have the kind of support that my daughters’ school has and fortunately, my sister connected me with Laura Pawson, a Visual Arts and Special Education teacher at Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Brooklyn.  The school’s population made up of  low-income students, including many homeless children, and almost 25% English Language Learners.

Ms. Pawson immediately jumped at the opportunity to stock up on supplies for a mosaic project she has been developing for her students.  She created a wish list through Blick Art Materials Art Room Aid that you can now help fund and fulfill!  In addition, she will be given $100 by Blick Art Materials to help kickstart this campaign and get these kids creating amazing art!

So, please click on over and help fund this fabulous project.  You can click here: Juan Morel Campos Mosaic Project and give as little as $10 to bring art into a child’s life.

My Daughters are Film Makers – Take Two Film Academy and What Makes a Great After School Class

As New York City 10 year-olds my girls have taken a huge range of after school classes.  From sports to cooking, arts to performing, we’ve covered pretty much every venue on the Upper West Side.  I’ve found that some classes are harder to do well than others, cooking for example is often nothing more than baking, often involving Pillsbury Crescent Rolls or assembling of ingredients rather than real cooking.  And I won’t even discuss the disastrous swim class we took where they put kids back in the pool after another kid had thrown up in it. So, I was definitely skeptical of Take Two Film Academy, kid focused film program, since most of our experience has been a “film” class that consists of a non-film teacher making videos on iMovie and the kids merely actors in the teacher’s script or ideas.  But, Take Two Academy seemed a lot more professional and worth a shot.

The first thing that impressed me about Take Two and their fabulous teachers was that they use real professional equipment. The cameras, boom mikes, and Final Cut Pro editing software challenged the students to make higher quality and richer movies.  But what I really loved was how they focused on the process and on collaboration – two things that are essential to good filmmaking.  The kids range in age from 8-15, not an easy group to get to work together, but they did.  They broke down into smaller groups, but each took bigger or smaller roles within each group – from writing, to acting, from directing to editing.  In just 5 days they produced 3 short films – each of them unique, interesting, and completely from their own voices.  And, they were all really proud of each other, the teachers took a total backseat to the students at the final viewing.

Here’s what one of their students (and star KidzVuz Reviewer) has to say about Take Two Film Academy:

And here is sample of one of the films my girls made:

It’s not cheap – but classes of this quality rarely are in Manhattan. I highly recommend checking it out for your budding film maker, actor, writer or performer.

Disclosure: I received a discount on the one-week film class in exchange for a review.  All opinions (and those of the kids) are unbiased and our own!

Support the Arts in Schools with Blick- an Artsy Twitter Party

Blick Logo
As most of my readers know I am deeply involved in education advocacy and issues.  One of my favorite topics is the importance and role of arts education in our schools.  I actually think that art can and should be integrated into all curriculum areas – and that art can help illuminate concepts from math and science to make it more interesting and engaging for all students.
So, I’m thrilled to be a part of the Blick Art Room Aid campaign, and we’re kicking it off with a very hands-on event:  A Twitter Party!
#BlickARA Twitter party detailsWhat: Do you believe art is an essential part of your child’s education? Then you already know how important art education is — and how schools are struggling to keep their art programs alive. That’s where Art Room Aid can help! A program of Blick Art Materials, Art Room Aid is helping teachers across the country enlist the aid of parents, families, friends, and other art advocates to fund their art projects and keep creative learning going.Want to learn more? Join this Twitter Party to find out how you can support art education, make sure art continues to play a role in your children’s lives, and spread the word about Art Room Aid in your community. We’ll be discussing projects you can do with your own kids, and sharing sources of inspiration.

When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2 p.m. ET

Where: We’ll be on Twitter – follow the #BlickARA hashtag to track the conversation. See this Twtvite for more info and to RSVP: http://twtvite.com/BlickARA

Hashtag: #BlickARA

Prizes: We will give away five total prizes – two $25 Blick gift coupons, two $50 Blick gift coupons, and one $75 Blick gift coupon.

Hosts: @theMotherhood, @CooperMunroe, @EmilyMcKhann

Check out Art Room Aid here: http://www.dickblick.com/ara

Blick Art Materials website: http://www.dickblick.com/
Hope you can join the conversation!

Won’t Back Down Movie Review: My (ex) PTA President’s Point of View

This week I went to a screening of Won’t Back Down starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The movie is about a mom and a teacher who band together and use the Parent Trigger law (which is never mentioned by name) to take over and turn around a failing elementary school in Pittsburgh.  The film is loosely based on real events (though in my research I couldn’t find anything other than the Los Angeles based parent trigger law, which was backed by a big charter school organization), and produced by the same man who produced Waiting for Superman. As someone who has been deeply embroiled in the discussion and reality of parents advocating for better schools, for student and parent rights, and as a PA C0-President who has worked closely with many teachers and administrators, this movie got to me on many levels. So, I have decided to break it down in two parts: As a movie and then as a propaganda film.

The Merits of the Movie:

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal are wonderful.  The acting is spot on and engaging.  The script however, is full of holes and clichés and desperate to create dramatic tension because just trying to get names on petitions isn’t all that interesting.  It could be interesting, of course, but the writer and director chose not to show any other parents other than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s plucky, positive, uneducated, but so endearing single mom on a mission.  They also gave Viola Davis a horrible back story having to do with being a mom who couldn’t deal with a colicky baby, rather than the more difficult story I think of how a once great teacher could lose her passion and desire and become completely mediocre.  Holly Hunter had the worst task of the movie playing the Pennsylvania Teachers Union boss – her role was so thinly written that people at my screening giggled when she gave her over the top pro-union scare speeches.  I wondered how members of the Screen Actors Guild (or the screenwriters for that matter that just went on strike not that long ago) could play a part that so demonized another union.   And that brings me to…

The Movie as Propaganda:

OK.  I get it.  There are terrible teachers out there and no one does a thing about it.  They really don’t. They cross their fingers and hope they’ll retire.  But, there are also a ton of great teachers, and a lot of average teachers.  In this school, they pretty much all sucked except of course the young, hot, Teach for America Teacher!  Though he toted a ukulele, not a Superman cape, he was clearly the hero.  For the sake of romantic conflict they also made him pro-labor so he and Maggie Gyllenhaal could argue.  But, don’t worry, once he saw the inhumanity of Holly Hunter he quickly realized the teachers union was the ogre and the cause of all public education woes and joined the turnaround crusade.

Here’s what never happened in the movie:  A discussion by the teachers about how much their principal obviously sucked and how they could push him out and start to collaborate to have the school they envisioned.  OR a discussion with their union leaders that they were unhappy about certain union policies and make themselves heard.  Also – parents and teachers NEVER came together during this process except at the end in the council meeting.  Seriously?  If all you have is a bunch of parent signatures on petitions but no parents showing up for meetings or in classrooms you do not actually have parent involvement.

There was one moment in the film where I thought for sure Viola Davis’s character was going to have a true conflict.  Her awful principal, who knew she was organizing this attempt to take over the school, suspended Viola Davis because of attendance tampering that she did at his directive.  Here we go, I thought, now she will need the union.  This is why teachers formed unions right?  To protect them against petty personal administrators (particularly when admins were dominantly men and teachers were women.)  But, no.  That would have taken away from the union as devil storyline.  So, instead of a real meaningful discussion between Viola Davis and Holly Hunter about what is right and wrong about the union – the two never meet.  I won’t go into the ridiculous scene where Holly Hunter tries to buy off Maggie Gyllenhaal with free private school tuition for her daughter.  Seriously.

I am all for parent power.  I am all for getting rid of the crappy, demoralizing teachers who should not be allowed to step foot in a classroom.  But, this movie made me sad.  I was really hopeful in the beginning of the film because it was about teachers and parents working together – not something you usually see in movies.  This wasn’t some public school movie where the wide-eyed liberal white teacher swoops in to the minority student school and teaches them violin and magically makes their lives better.  We don’t need any more of those either.  But, this was really a giant anti-union propaganda film that missed the mark.  And that’s too bad because it had the chance to really say something about how parents and teachers can make change – and how hard it really is to find great leadership, and what can happen if we put kids first.  There was NO mention of lack of funding at the school by the way, or lack of professional development for teachers, after school programs, etc.  Seems if you just hang lots of butterflies in the hallway and paint the halls you make a great new school.  That’s an insult to all the parents and teachers who really do work their butts off to make their schools better everyday.

Million Dollar PTAs – It’s Not All About the Money

This past Sunday The New York Times published an article, Way Beyond Bakesales: The $1 Million Dollar PTA, and my Co-President and I were featured in front of the PS 87 mural.  We’ve been waiting to see how this article would shape up since we gave Kyle Spencer a tour of our school a few weeks ago.  It’s not an easy decision to talk to the press about our PA fundraising because it’s so easily taken out of context and on the surface it looks absurd.  Since Kyle herself is a public school parent at a fairly affluent public school, and the articles she’s written before on the subject seem fair enough, we figured we should show her our absurdly run down, crowded school and be able to explain how and why we use the money we raise as we do.  But, as with anything, it’s incredibly hard to really get a full picture from a brief article – especially one that is meant to attract as much buzz and comments as possible.  Luckily for me, I have my own platform to write about what really goes on and why we raise this money.

First, the issue that bothered every parent at PS 87 – we don’t raise $1.57 million dollars.  We raise about $700K.  An enormous number to be sure, but no where near $1.57 million.  That other $800K or so, that’s our after school program.  It’s pretty amazing, was started over 30 years ago by a group of PS 87 parents, and has about 450 students enrolled across the 5 days.  Parents pay for the classes just like they would any after school program and the program runs on those fees.  No fundraising, no profit.  But we report our income as one to the IRS.  Hence, the total reported on GuideStar.

Second, as I tell all reporters who call us about this issue, I really wish they would look at the official DOE budgets for the schools in question.  Believe it or not the budgets are fairly transparent.  (Though don’t even try to ask a DOE official to explain the budget – they can’t.) No reporter EVER does this!!! Click on over to the budget.  It’s fun!  It’s actually awful, but since my Co-President and I have spent the last 2 years pouring over it, it passes as a good time for us.  Let’s take that bottom number, heck, I’ll even round up to an even $6 Million.  Now let’s divide that by the number of kids in our school:  A super comfy 963.  What does that leave you? $6,230/student.  Take that Horace Mann!   Now, for extra credit go ahead and plug in another school – any school, maybe one that doesn’t raise the kind of money we raise, and see what their per student funding looks like.  Told you this was fun.  Almost as much fun as charting the budget cuts over the last 5 years.  25% but who’s counting.  (Oh yeah, that would be me)

Third – We pay the full price for every program we bring in.  That sounds perfectly normal right?  Well, no.  Many schools in the city and beyond qualify for arts, chess, music, wellness and other programs for free.  And they should.  These foundations raise money from outside sources so they can provide enrichment in our public schools where it’s desperately needed, especially since these are the first programs to go in budget cuts.  But, these programs charge schools like ours full price.  What does that mean?  If we want the Wellness In the Schools healthy lunch program we pay $25K for it.  If we want a coach at recess we pay $30K for it.  If we want chess we pay $30K for it (for only 2 grades, I should add.)  And we are happy to do it, because we can and because our parent body and school have decided it’s a priority.  But if we don’t raise the money we don’t get those programs.

What else wouldn’t we have?  Books, paper, cafeteria tables, most of our chairs and desks, text books, art supplies, substitute teachers (what a luxury), and an endless litany of other things that once upon a time were the responsibility of a government to provide in the name of public education.

So what is the real problem here?  As I’ve written before, raising this kind of money comes with all sorts of problems.  Does it let the city and state off the hook?  I hope not.  And that’s the other bone I have to pick – not with the article but with many of the comments.  If there’s one thing our parent body can’t be accused of it’s being politically apathetic.  Sometimes my Co-President is the ONLY one at all of those ridiculous meetings that the DOE holds at night, where they pretend to care what parents think.  And we are so in the face of the Chancellor, our elected officials, Albany, hell, we’ve even been to DC on more than one occasion, that one fine DOE official sent an email to someone high up I won’t name and told them to tell my Co-Prez to “back the fuck off.” Only he cc’d my Co-Prez by mistake.  OOPS!

The reason we raise so much money is not because people can write a check.  If it were that easy we’d have no fundraising committee and wouldn’t have hundreds of volunteers spending ridiculous amounts of energy and time planning, recruiting for and executing events all year long.  Parental engagement at this level is exhausting and most of our parents work full-time.  One of the most insulting aspects to the ignorant comments was this assumption that the vast majority of parents at our school can afford private school and expect the same experience at their public school.  How being able to make a donation of $1K or even $5K to a school is the same as affording $40K to a private school is beyond me.  But, aside from that – it’s absurd that parents wanting art, gym and text books is somehow akin to privilege.  Everyone should be outraged that this is a reality, not that parents expect this for their children.

I could go on.  And in person, trust me, I do.  But what I want in the end is for everyone to realize that issues like PTA fundraising are NOT the real issue when it comes to inequality in our schools.  Not by a long shot.  Start with the incredibly shameful lack of commitment to quality public early education and Pre-K – that is the big division that is the hardest to ever make up.  You would have thousands of kids entering Kindergarten ready and able to learn and start to recognize letters and numbers – imagine that.  And then take it from there – to the lack of teacher training, kids living in poverty, lack of healthcare, on and on.  Looking to a handful of PTAs to figure out a way to share their fundraising instead of asking Cuomo to pass the millionaire tax to fund our schools at adequate levels is absurd.  And what a gift this whole “debate” has been to those powers-that-be.  When is the New York Times going to do that story?  That’s the real million dollar question.

Educate to Eradicate Poverty – ONE.org 12 Days of Change Campaign

The education reform debate in the US focuses on testing, achievement measurements, teacher evaluations and data driven discussions that often miss the one major point – our education “problem” is a class and equality problem.  If we dig down deeper into the causes and obstacles facing many of our students poverty is more often than not the deciding factor in whether or not a child will succeed in school.  But, imagine if you had to dig down even deeper than that – to the point where not even having a school or access to education was the issue – and then you start to understand the challenges facing developing nations in Africa.  How can you possibly tackle the greater issue of poverty without taking on the issue of education?

According to ONE, The Advocacy Non-Profit founded by Bono and his wife, education not only provides children and families with a pathway out of poverty, but it can also yield even bigger returns for the world’s poorest countries through its impact on areas such as health and the economy. Educated mothers, for example, are more likely to have smaller families, and have their children immunized and send them to school. Education can also provide families and countries with more economic opportunities and help promote the civic participation that is critical to building democracies.

Less than 1 percent of the US budget goes towards foreign aid.  But look at this infographic, which shows the effect that small amount of money has on an area like education according to the US Aid website:

What ONE small thing can you do today to make change happen?  Watch the video below by ONE member Katie Meyler, about a young African girl named Abigail.  It’s a story about how education is the most powerful change agent there is.  Abigail is now in school and at the top of her class because of More Than Me.  The video was produced by the What Took You So Long foundation.

Watch it and share it – on Facebook, twitter and beyond.

Cheating on the SATs? I’m Shocked – NOT!

This week’s revelations that students in Long Island paid other students to take the SATs for them has the media all lathered up.  Is it a result of high stakes testing?  Is it a sign of our now hyper competitive world?  And of course they want to know how could this happen?  Well it happens pretty easily, and like all massive test cheating, it’s been happening forever.

When I was in high school – ahem, 20 some years ago – I knew kids that took the SATs for other kids.  At one private school in Brooklyn it was well-known that one boy took the SAT for his friend – for free because he was terrified of not doing well.  His dad figured it out and turned him in.  Nothing happened.  Cheating on the SATs was and is easy because you’re dealing with kids who don’t necessarily have real government issued IDs.  In NYC so few kids get a driver’s license by 17 that you end up using a school ID.  Getting a fake school ID was easy back then before Photoshop, I can only imagine how easy it would be now.  Then the kids sign up to take the SAT at a different high school where no one would know them anyway and that’s it.  There’s no way the College Board hasn’t known this has been going on for years and years.

There were a lot of cheating scandals when I was in high school in NYC in the late 80’s.  I had a friend whose mother was a guidance counselor at another high school and rumor was she used to give her daughter the science Regents exams beforehand to study and learn.  The more infamous of the Regent Exam cheating was the local Yeshiva where teachers gave the students the tests and answers beforehand since they put little stock in state exams, and then those kids sold them to the public school kids.  Really.  The year of my Chemistry Regents Exam in 1989 the New York Post published the answers on the front page to expose the scandal.  Imagine walking on to the subway at 6:45 am to go to school and take the test you’ve been studying for five weeks and see the answers staring you in the face as people read the morning paper.  And they still made us sit and take the test, while pulling kids out one by one for suspected cheating.  So bizarre.

We can all pretend we’re shocked by these new allegations of cheating, or we can admit that as long as these tests matter while at the same time not mattering much at all, kids will find a way around it and chances are there will be adults helping them along the way.  Don’t you wonder how the kids with fake scores fared at the college they attended under false pretenses?  Isn’t the whole joke about Harvard that the hardest part is just getting in?

I don’t condone cheating at all, but I also detest the hypocrisy around this latest scandal.  Until they figure out a way to really measure a student’s abilities and academic promise – and stop putting so much importance on these giant one-off exams, kids and grown-ups will be looking for a way to game the system.  If this puts focus on the College Board and why they are allowed to wield such power in the this space all the better.  Our testing culture is only going to get worse as standardized tests become more prevalent and cover more and more subjects all in the name of “measuring” teacher effectiveness and ranking schools.  And more and more parents and school districts will pour money into test prep classes and workshops.  How many times have you heard that kids need to not just learn the material for the test but learn how to take the test in the first place.  It’s what the Princeton Review started 20 years ago and they fostered an entire industry around it.

Ideally, parents, teachers, administrators and students will stand up and say this one day of sitting at a desk with a number 2 pencil is just a tiny piece of the puzzle instead of 90%.  Until then, we will have to live with these tests and teach our kids that while the results may not accurately reflect their abilities and potential by cheating they are doing more damage to their character than any score ever could.