Thursday, December 30, 2010

Race to Nowhere- New Documentary on Education in the USA

Nationally, this film is playing as a quiet counterpoint to the better-known "Waiting for 'Superman,' " which focuses on failing urban schools. "Race to Nowhere" explores a different problem, the strains of competing in a pressure-packed academic culture that is highly test-driven and pushes some students to the edge.

The film is attracting notice from New York to California, where mom-turned-filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, a 48-year-old lawyer, launched the documentary project as she set out to understand the stresses her children, now ages 16, 14 and 11, were experiencing.

I would encourage all those interested in an informed and well made counter-point to the recent wave of educational documentaries about our so-called "failing" public school system to watch, rent, send for or sponsor a showing of this movie.

See what the NY Times, the Washington Post, and Oprah Winfrey, among others has to say about this new film.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

State Denies Proposed Toback Contract

The New Jersey Department of Education did not approve Dr. Mark Toback's contract to become the new superintendent of schools in Hoboken. Read full story on Hoboken Patch: HERE.

On June 17, 2009 the Hoboken Board of Education was informed by Board Secretary Mr. David Anthony about the resignation of the then Superintendent of Schools. On June 18, 2009 in an article by Denise Gibson of The Jersey Journal we read "The Hoboken Board of Education will now begin to search for a replacement." The Kids First Board of Education majority complained at the time that they were given "only 2 months" to find a new Superintendent. Well....

Monday, December 27, 2010

International Summit On The Teaching Profession: Education Leaders Set To Convene In March

Education leaders from around the world will convene in New York City this March to share strategies and ideas with teachers and administrators at the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession, according to The New York TImes.

Hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and several other education organizations, the meeting is the first of its kind. U.S. education leaders will hear teachers and reformers from the world's highest-performing educational systems speak about effective teaching practices and methods.

According to the U.S. Department of Education:

The summit will convene education ministers, national union leaders, education organization leaders and accomplished teachers from countries with high performing and rapidly improving educational systems to identify best practices worldwide that effectively strengthen the teaching profession in ways designed to enhance student achievement.
Picture: Record snowstorm hits Hoboken and the entire Atlantic Northeast---

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Trail of Legal Documents and Letters Surrounding Hoboken's Permanent Superintendent Hire

This posts contains the Hoboken Board of Education's petition against the State of NJ (December 9, 2010); a letter from the Mayor of Hoboken to the Governor of New Jersey seeking intervention December 9, 2010); and the NJ Attorney General's Response to the Board of Education's emergent application.

All documents are worth reading and will be used eventually as professional development material by me but the core of what is going on is the Hoboken Board of Education is saying that there are extenuating circumstances that make a ruling necessary on the hiring of a permanent Superintendent because there is, in essence, an emergency (the potential of having no superintendent come the end of January, 2011). The Attorney General for the State of New Jersey argues that permission to file an emergent motion should be denied by the judge since there is not a genuine emergency. In fact, the Attorney General states that the Hoboken Board of Education can appoint another interim Superintendent without Executive County Superintendent review. The Attorney General also points out that the Hoboken BoE can appoint their choice of permanent Superintendent (Dr. Toback) as interim as first mentioned here a few posts ago.

There is also included a letter that the Mayor of Hoboken sent to the Governor of New Jersey concerning this issue. There has been some issue surrounding the letter. For an excellent reporting of specifics, interested readers should click HERE to read a story on Hoboken Patch:

Picture: First baseball game, Hoboken, NJ

District High School Math Test Scores Drop Over 23% Under "Kids First" BoE Leadership in 2009-2010 - What Can Be Done and What Should Not Be Done

Recall the bravado about

"assuring a rise in test scores" from the Kids First Board of Education majority in late 2009 and again around election time in Spring 2010. This was when Kids First Board members were "disgusted" by "horrible" state tests scores students were receiving at the high schools.

Well the 2009-2010 school year was the first full year that Kids First was in full control of the Hoboken Public Schools and during that time, they made a number of instructional and curricula decisions including the strategy of escorting award winning high school Principal Dr. Lorraine Cella out of the high school and not effectively overseeing the implementation of a nearly 2 year effort of curriculum and professional development well documented throughout the district. It was also a year that saw the addition of over a dozen additional administrators to the Hoboken School District..."specialists" tasked with improving curriculum and instruction (although they often complained of the "bloated" number of district administrators less than one year before).

The "guaranteed" results?

Not so good.


2009 2010

State Criteria 74 74

HHS 53.2

Demarest 46.2

District 52.5 40.3

Mathematics scores in the high school are down over 23% from 2008-2009. The responsibility is not with the expert teachers. All are highly qualified as defined by the State of New Jersey. All are exceptional. Rather, given the recent one year drop of over 23% in the Mathematics portion of the NJASK scores during the 2009-2010 school year, it might be time to begin paying attention to the curricula, staffing, and instructional decisions the Hoboken Board majority is making concerning children's education in the high school.

For instance, during the Spring of 2010, at the same time Kids First suspended Adult Education, and essentially eliminated the Saturday U program for gifted and talented students, they also decided to adopt the use of Advanced Placement (AP) courses in the high school. Supposedly at the "parents request". Unfortunately, parents, and Board of Education members are not educational professionals. Here are some independent quotes about AP courses in Mathematics- just like those the Kids First Board of Education wants implemented at Hoboken High School:

1) David E. Mills, an economics professor at Virginia believes that AP courses are tailored to the exams, and that high-school instructors impart test-taking strategies at the expense of writing and critical-thinking skills.

2) Similarly, the president of Bard College in New York believes "AP is a second-rate alternative to advanced teaching. It's a test-driven curriculum, and that's completely anathema to anything a university does." Consequently, Bard is not accepting AP credit. Two related criticisms of AP programs are noted in a New York Times article (High School Drops It's A.P. Courses, and Colleges Don't Seem to Mind):

  • AP courses restrict teacher creativity and the ability to probe enticing themes.
  • AP syllabi cover so much ground that “there is very little liberty for the teachers” to extend discussions.

3) Finally, a National Academies of Sciences report summarizes a critique of AP math and science programs:

  • Accelerated classes that cover a smorgasbord of topics and final examinations that devote insufficient attention to the integration of important ideas cannot produce superior learners, says the report, which concentrates on biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics in Advanced Placement (AP) programs in U.S. secondary schools.

Test taking mathematics strategy as a pedagogical means of delivery for mathematics instruction will always be a dead end. While accountability tests are a reality--how to deliver effective, motivating and meaningful math instruction is also a well known reality. Yet, the Kids First Board of Education majority insists they know better when it comes to curricula and pedagogical matters.

Education is about more than political "spin" and elections. It's about effective and meaningful leadership and professional expertise.

What is an alternative? Well, the curriculum that was overseen by myself and in collaboration with the expert help and assistance of the Hoboken Curriculum Committee would be a start. A similar approach would be one that is advocated for by Conrad Wolfram, founder of Mathematica.

Conrad Wolfram says the part of math we teach -- calculation by hand -- isn't just tedious, it's mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world. He presents his radical idea: teaching kids math through computer programming. Spend a few minutes and take a look at this video and ask why this approach to mathematics is not being taught in your child's school. The result would be more engaged and motivated students, more relevant curriculum, AND higher test scores.

Please spend a few moments and watch the video and see what you think:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Teacher Effectiveness: More Than a Number By Cindi Rigsbee

A wonderful article on Teacher Effectiveness recently published in Education Week.

There’s been so much talk recently about "the effective teacher" that those of us out here in the schools are a head-spinning mess of contemplation and reflection. Am I this kind of teacher or that? Did I do that well according to the so-and-so group, or was I effective at least in the eyes of the such-and-such commission?

Everyone from scholars to clerks in the local convenience mart are weighing in on what makes a teacher effective. And now that the idea of linking teacher evaluation to test scores is all the buzz, there’s even more of a need to determine what is meant by that somewhat inhospitable "e" word.

Let me begin by saying that although I understand this movement, I would like to share the joy and see it spread to other professions. I can’t say that recently I’ve heard anyone muse over the "effective doctor" or "effective lawyer" or "effective plumber." Yet again, teachers are swimming for their lives down in the petri dishes of society with all the world peering into microscopes at our work.

There are some researchers who have determined that good teaching is relative to high SAT scores and/or high IQ only—and that characteristics of personality do not play a role in teacher effectiveness. I would like to propose that there are, in fact, dispositions of great teaching that are unrelated to scholarly aptitude, that are based more on the heart of a teacher as opposed to the brain.

An effective teacher is committed

Being an effective teacher begins with commitment. Obviously, teachers have to be committed to student learning and all that’s involved in developing and planning lessons that are engaging and purposeful. But teachers must also be committed to the profession. Once a teacher shared with me: "This job is just that—a job. It’s a paycheck. I don’t think about it after I leave." Those who don’t honor their students, their staff, and their profession by engaging in reflective thought and meaningful action at and away from school do themselves and others a disservice.

Committed, caring individuals ensure that teaching does not become a profession that is "done to us" by others who are far removed from the work. Instead, effective teachers are partners who work with students who need extra instruction, who communicate with parents and the community about what’s best for their children, and who collaborate with colleagues to provide the best education possible for every child.

Committed teachers may:

• Work with students in an after-school program for remediation or enrichment purposes. • Serve on a committee or task force in an effort to make a difference in a school or district. • Follow education blog posts, articles, and newsworthy items to stay abreast of trends. • Engage in meaningful conversations about the profession in an effort to be sure the "teacher voice" is heard.

To be effective is to be committed to children and to the profession, regardless of our SAT scores.

Effective teachers make relationships a priority

Being an effective teacher continues with the development ofrelationships. If you really want to know which teachers are making a difference, ask the kids. They are aware of the adults in the building who display genuine concern and care for them every day. These are the teachers who can sense a life-altering family trauma that occurred the night before at forty paces down a school hallway. These are educators who notice loose teeth and boo-boos as well as college rejections and post-prom break-ups and handle them with sensitivity and compassion. These are the individuals who treat all children with the same unconditional concern, while at the same time holding high expectations for all.

Effective teachers don’t only care for kids, though. These are the educators who also understand the plight of the parent—that they are sending their very best to us, their dreams-come-true, and they may feel that there is no one who can do enough for their children.

Once I had a conversation about a student with a colleague; it was a behavioral play-by-play, complete with color commentary. The student’s mother walked up behind us and overheard the conversation. Later she said to me, "You may have 800 students in this school, but I have only one. I need you to care about my ‘one.’" That parent changed my thinking about the students I teach. Now when they’re pushing my buttons, I picture them almost asleep, getting tucked in by these same parents. With the picture of that parent-student bond in my head, my "buttons" are a little more difficult to push than they once were.

Effective teachers are also sensitive to the needs of their colleagues, including teachers and other staff, like administrators. They are able to "walk the mile" in many others’ shoes, while offering assistance whenever necessary. These are the educators who are willing to share time and resources with those side-by-side with them in this most noble profession; they do not hide behind the closed classroom door and work in isolation. In addition, they recognize the plight of the administrators who work in the "big picture" of the school every day and sometimes miss the "details" that concern teachers.

At the end of the last school year, an opening became available in my school. Instead of filling that particular opening, my principal moved a teacher from another grade level to fill it. Then he moved a teacher from yet another grade level to fill that position left open. Teachers were scrambling to move entire classrooms of books and materials just before school started. I spoke with my principal, explaining that "Mrs. K. has already decorated her walls with student work and would now have to take everything down and start over. Wouldn’t it be easier to hire a teacher for that one slot left open?"

I’ll never forget standing in the hallway listening to my principal’s vision for the entire school—how this teacher would bring this strength to this grade level and that one would bring these leadership skills to that grade level. I realized during that moment that our administrators have a different perspective, one that is an integral part of the school as a whole. And effective teachers are able to understand these different viewpoints, not just the one from Room 123.

Effective teachers demonstrate their passion for learning

Also, contrary to the belief of some researchers I’ve read about recently, effective teachers do have an energetic personality that exudes excitement and passion once they step in front of a room full of children. Yes, I have seen some of the best teachers in the land drag themselves into the school and almost fall asleep on the sign-in sheet. But once those students hit the halls, it’s ON! Adults are welcoming students, calling names up and down the hallways, sharing jokes and stories, and engaging them as soon as their big and little feet carry them into the building. Effective teachers are fun, and students want to be near them. They make work seem like, well, play. And don’t we all learn more when we’re having fun?

Effective teachers are passionate for their profession and their content area. I once rode in a car with a science teacher who made a three-hour drive bearable by identifying and describing the clouds in the sky. Somewhere after "cumulus" I was hooked. Learning is a cinch when teachers love their jobs and love sharing what they know with others.

Effective teachers are always reinventing themselves

And last, effective teachers embrace change by reinventing themselves as cutting-edge pedagogy is introduced into the schools. Seeking out professional development opportunities that enable teachers to throw out old ideas and teach in new and innovative ways is the trademark of effectiveness. The Madonnas of education are ready and willing to let go of "but that’s the way we’ve always done it" and seek out better and smarter ways to teach.

Being an effective teacher means being able to change from year to year, from day to day, or from minute to minute, depending on the needs of the school, the class, and the students.

And just as teaching is an endeavor that changes constantly, the definition of effective teaching changes also. We’ll never be able to pinpoint exactly which score or behavioral trait makes a teacher effective, but anyone can tell you—it’s a job that takes a lot of heart. Let’s make sure we put that in any "value-added" formula we employ to measure the worthiness of the people who teach our kids.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Guidelines Make Teacher Tenure Less Automatic in New York City

In an article from the New York Times published on December 13, 2010 by Fernanda Santos we read that in most schools across the country, tenure is not something to be gained, but something to be lost. Virtually every new teacher earns it, including in New York City, where all a principal has had to do to give a teacher guaranteed lifetime employment is to check a box on a computer program.

No longer. Under guidelines released Monday, principals are directed to base their decisions on an elaborate system that measures teachers’ success in and outside the classroom, including student performance on standardized tests. The principals then have to explain their recommendation in three paragraphs. The goal, education officials said, is to change the longstanding culture in which tenure is virtually automatic, a default next step after a teacher’s first three years on the job. “The current system of awarding tenure devalues great teachers by treating teachers as if they are widgets on an assembly line,” said John White, a deputy chancellor for strategy. “If we’re going to professionalize teaching, we have to reward teachers, evaluate teachers and develop teachers like the 21st-century professionals that they are.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the broad outlines of the tenure plan last year. The guidelines released on Monday provided more specifics on how tenure decisions should be made. The guidelines ask principals to give new teachers one of four ratings — highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective — in each of three categories: “instructional practice,” “professional contributions” and “impact on student learning.” To be considered for tenure, teachers must receive a rating of effective or highly effective for at least two consecutive years in all three categories. Teachers who earn “developing” ratings can have their probations extended, and those deemed “ineffective” will be denied tenure. Full Story: Please click HERE

In New Jersey, Governor Christie recently commented about the NJEA's attempts at tenure reform.

Picture: People's Photo Store on Washington St (near East LA's current location)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

NATIONAL NEWS: Hoboken School Board Told State Will Review Contract for Hiring New Superintendent

Published: Saturday, December 11, 2010, 2:30 PM

The state of "unending limbo" is over.

The Hoboken Board of Education received word yesterday that state Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks will allow county Executive Superintendent Tim Brennan to "review" the proposed contract for proposed Hoboken superintendent Dr. Mark Toback.

A letter arrived shortly after 3 p.m. at the law office of the board's attorney, Vito Gagliardi, who filed a motion with Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Perillo asking for
"emergent relief" of the situation.

Perillo denied the motion just minutes before the letter from Hendricks' office arrived.

Gagliardi could not be reached for comment.

The board voted to appoint Toback on Nov. 24, but was unable to officially hire him due to a "blanket edict" from the state that prohibited all county superintendents from approving any superintendent contracts.

In response, the board voted to file an appeal, asking a judge to order Hendricks to lift the ban for Hoboken which, they said, was in danger of having no school chief at the end of January when Interim Superintendent Peter Carter's contract is up.

According to Hendricks' letter, Brennan must review the contract within 14 business days

© 2010 All rights reserved.

note: This means some sort of decision will be made no later than around Tuesday January 11, 2011 because of the holiday vacation. Given the current interim superintendent's contract expires on January 31, 2011 and the possibility that the Board's choice of a permanent superintendent still needs to give his employer 60 days notice--- it appears no matter what the decision by the County Executive, the district is indeed in "danger" of having no school chief at the end of January. Of course, that can be addressed in any number of ways including granting another extension, appointing a different interim (including Dr. Toback), or appointing any number of well qualified and deserving individuals within the Hoboken School District to be an "interim" until the permanent superintendent is able to assume the position. Here is an earlier story on the OPRA request.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stevens Institute of Technology Awarded $11.5 Million NSF Math-Science Partnership (MSP) Grant with 12 School District Partners Across NJ

Program Aims to Enhance Grade 3-8 Science, Engineering Education and Foster Innovation, Creativity

Congratulations to my friends and colleagues at Stevens Institute of Technology on their recent funding award from the National Science Foundation. Stevens has had a long and meaningful relationship with students and teachers from the Hoboken public schools as well as schools and students throughout the city and across the State of New Jersey. Stevens now joins Purdue University and The University of Texas-Austin as the three institutions of high learning awarded grants from the National Science Foundation under their Mathematics and Sciences Partnership (MSP) Program. -Dr. Petrosino

HOBOKEN, N.J. - The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at Stevens Institute of Technology has been awarded a highly competitive, five-year, $11.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation whose goal is to enhance teaching and learning of physical and earth science in Grades 3-8 in 12 diverse districts across New Jersey. The PISA 2 (Partnership to Improve Student Achievement in Physical Sciences: Integrating STEM Approaches) program will employ contemporary societal challenges, such as climate change and energy consumption, as vehicles to engage and motivate teachers and their students in science and engineering learning, and to foster 21 st century skills such as creativity, innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Participating districts include: the districts of Bayonne, West New York, Jersey City, Hoboken, Morris, Lakewood, Margate, Red Bank, Saddle Brook, Princeton, Camden, and Mustard Seed School in Hoboken. Other key partners include: St. Peter’s College, Columbia University/Teachers College, the NJ Department of Education, the National Science Resources Center (NSRC), and Nyre & Associates education research consultants.

“CIESE has been a national leader in K-12 STEM education and this grant will have a significant impact in shaping the technical and innovation capacity of the next generation of teachers and students,” said George P. Korfiatis, Stevens Provost and University Vice President.

Click here for FULL STORY

For more information about Stevens’ Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education please visit

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

John Lennon Remembered---

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Kids First Board of Education to Sue County, State by Week's End

Ray Smith of the Hoboken Reporter filed this story on Dec 8, 2010 -Board of Education Vice President Theresa Minutillo said on Tuesday night that she expects a lawsuit against the county superintendent and the state to be filed by the end of the week. The board hopes the legal action will force the hand of the county superintendent and state to make a decision either approving or disapproving a proposed contract for the final candidate for Hoboken's superintendent position, Dr. Mark Toback.

The Hoboken Board of Education would like to hire a superintendent before Interim Superintendent Peter Carter current contract expires at the end of January.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Governor Christie: November 30th Talk on Superintendents Pay and Boards of Education Like 'Kids First' Tying to Sue Him

Here is a video of a speech Governor Chis Chistie gave to the Foundation for Excellence in Education on November 30, 2010, just 7 days after the Hoboken Board of Education authorized their outside attorney to take "any and all" legal action to pursue the review and approval of a contract for their candidate for permanent superintendent of schools. He speaks about the fact that 70% of Superintendents in NJ make more than he does. He also talks about districts trying to sign contracts before the February deadline. The Governor takes shots at elected schools boards (like the Kids First Board of Education Majority in Hoboken) trying to sue him. Many of these New Jersey districts are suing the Governor over the right to go over the cap that he created. This is essential viewing....especially given the current litigation that the Hoboken Board of Education has decided to enter into against the Governor.

What do I envision? I envision contracts that will eventually be at the cap and will incorporate a few fairly easy "merit targets" to get the superintendents salary tens of thousands above the cap. But, you will see that the Governor also envisions that and will not buy it. I watched the whole video of this speech on CSPAN today--- it ended with a standing ovation. This is going to be an interesting battle... -Dr. Petrosino

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Jersey Loses Out on $14M in Federal Aid for Charter Schools

The Christie administration has lost out on a bid for a $14 million federal grant that would have provided every new charter school in New Jersey with $150,000, and Democratic legislators are charging the setback shows that education is not a priority for the governor.

While Gov. Chris Christie has maintained the expansion of charter schools are a priority, especially as a way to give inner city children a potentially better education, federal officials who reviewed the state's application contended that, among other flaws, the administration did not have an adequate plan for measuring the success of charters.

The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story.

Assembly Education Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) said, "Regrettably, one can only conclude that Governor Christie does not consider the education of our children to be a top priority. This administration has raided school surplus funds, cut state aid for schools, botched the $400 million Race to the Top application, attempted to vilify teachers, failed to name a new education commissioner and failed to fill the statutorily mandated position of secretary of education."

Governor Christie spoke on the night of December 1 and discussed his reform efforts in New Jersey.

Picture: Demarest High School students at Stevens Point- circa 1953.