Vox populi

Comments of the week: On technology, retention, and dentistry

GothamSchools commenters didn’t take much of a vacation this year. This week, they were already back in action, releasing some steam and sparking a few debates worth highlighting in our regular weekly roundup.

(As a reminder, each Friday we highlight a sampling of our favorite comments from the week. Review our commenting policy to find out more about what we like.)

Our story describing the report out this week from Governor Cuomo’s education reform commission sparked a discussion of education technology. Digging into the report, readers picked up on one of the recommendations we’d given less attention — the suggestion to create “innovation zones” to spark novel uses of technology in the classroom.

A technology teacher named Steve Kinney who said he works at a school involved in city’s iLearn pilot applauded the recommendation. “I can only imagine,” he wrote, that the “innovation zone” idea “is based on the similarly named program in New York City,” which he applauded for improving on itself each year.

The program has allowed us to offer courses to our juniors and seniors that we would not have been able to offer otherwise (most notably: AP courses). It allows us to be more flexible with our scheduling and use the time students spend with their teachers having rich discussions about the content they were introduced to outside of the classroom. Additionally, as part of the program, we now have access to a wide number of instructional media like NBC Learn and Discovery—not to mention the equipment we’ve received as part of the program, which has been a tremendous blessing.

Basically, it’s saved us money and allowed us to do a better job serving our students and I’d like to see something similar at the state level and based on what’s happening in New York City.

“I noticed that…” replied skeptically, pointing Steve to a dispatch by Diane Ravitch about the Rocketship program’s blended-learning model, which Ravitch described as a way to cut costs by replacing teachers with computers. The commenter wrote:

I strongly feel that everyone should look, with the an overt sense of leeriness, into the fervent push for too much technology in schools at the cost of human decapitalization.

Pogue chimed in, saying, “I think children in front of computers is a poor and lonely way to learn.”Kinney replied by explaining how the blended learning model works at his school:

I don’t think I ever said anything about sitting students in front of a computer and passing that off as learning. In fact, I said the opposite. Students have been doing work at alone at home (outside the classroom) for years—it’s called homework and—in my experience—it’s a pretty lonely ordeal.

At my school, we roll with a blended model. The online learning piece allows students to collaborate when they’re not sitting in the same room together. It’s the opposite of lonely. In addition, students have had the chance to review the material and familiarize themselves with it. When they come in to class, the teacher can skip the boring chalk and talk and dig in to interesting projects that let students apply what they’ve learned to the real world.

Another reader, “celt,” revived a discussion from before the holiday about the role of alternative certification programs in rising teacher retention challenges.

Commenter “mg,” who identified himself as a member of an alternative certification program, had argued in a comment that funding for the program should be redirected to supporting veteran teachers.

Celt replied by describing how most of the alternative-certification cohort celt attended, from CUNY’s Teaching Opportunity Program, had actually stayed in the classroom for the past decade. But celt endorsed mg’s broader point that certification programs should make long-term retention a goal:

I agree with mg; the only point of any alternate track program is to put quality teachers in the classroom. I reject the idea that since jobs are hard to find, it’s OK to teach for a few years and then abandon the students who’ve begun to rely on you. Other careers, OK, but you shouldn’t even think about teaching if the students are not your first priority. DO SOMETHING ELSE!

Another story this week, about a trip by United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and several mayoral hopefuls to look at a program in Cleveland, raised a discussion about community schools.
Mary Conway-Spiegel commented that bringing nonacademic services to schools would return the city to its roots:

As a former public school student I saw a dentist at my local community elementary school in Manhattan when I was 7 years old.  Many of us who went through the system and now have children in Traditional Public Schools remember the days of being able to walk to and from school, then a center of the community and we wish the same for our children today – in fact we’ve begged for it.  Our begging has been for naught.

It’s common sense: return to the Community School model and the Community becomes a stakeholder, becomes part of the circle of accountability.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.