Saturday, May 28, 2011

Too Young for Kindergarten? Tide Turning Against 4-Year-Olds - By WINNIE HU

Should we start our child in kindergarten at 4 years old? 5 years old? Later? Earlier? This is perhaps the first major question many parents face about their child's education. And, to be sure, it is a big decision. Many factors go into such a decision including the parent's own professional goals, family economics, socialization, and sometimes just wanting a break from the kids during the day. Guilt clashes with responsibility, constraints interact with possibilities and peer pressure combines with traditional values. After nearly 3 decades of a trend toward younger and younger schooling of children, there appears to be increasing consideration for a later start date for kindergarten. This recent article by Winnie Wu of the New York Times captures well what is going on nationally and especially in the New York Metropolitan area. The cutoff date in New Jersey is an individual district's responsibility.

One of my proudest legacies during my time in the Hoboken School District was working with then Early Childhood Director Ms. Jessica Peters in bringing the Tools of the Mind preschool and kindergarten program to the City of Hoboken. That program has been universally accepted and has created a wonderful bridge between preschool and kindergarten for all the families in Hoboken. -Dr. Petrosino

The policy debate among lawmakers, educators and children’s advocates echoes the playground discussions in well-off neighborhoods, where parents have long weighed the advantages of delaying kindergarten on an individual basis — particularly for boys — a practice known as redshirting.

Supporters of the earlier cutoff dates say it would level an unequal kindergarten playground in which the youngest are often poor black and Hispanic children whose parents cannot afford to give them this so-called gift of time. Others worry that the change could leave thousands of 4-year-olds in a holding pattern, perhaps worsening the readiness of those without access to high-quality preschools.

Kindergarten began to flourish in the United States in the late 19th century to teach children as young as 2 and 3 through play. It has become increasingly academic amid an emphasis on standardized testing throughout public education. That has spurred a movement to limit the “children’s garden” to 5-year-olds.

Today, 38 states and the District of Columbia have established or are phasing in birthday cutoffs by Oct. 1, according to the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan agency, with California the most recent. Only Connecticut still has a year-end cutoff; New York and New Jersey are among eight states that leave the decision to local districts. For most New Jersey districts, that date is Oct. 1; for most in New York, it is in December. (New York City’s is Dec. 31.)

“It’s a glaring weakness that we should have fixed long ago,” said Mark McQuillan, Connecticut’s previous education commissioner. “Many of the wealthy parents enroll their children at 6 or 6 ½, and other families — particularly poor families — enroll their children as early as 4 ½ because they need the school support. It’s a huge developmental span.”

Some research suggests that children who enter kindergarten later perform better on standardized tests, but critics contend that family background and preschool experience often have a bigger influence on academic success than age. In any case, they say, such academic benefits disappear by middle school. Children who start school later appear to have a decidedly distinct athletic advantage throughout middle school and possibly later.

Indeed some point to research linking a later start to higher dropout rates down the road, and to lower lifetime earnings because they begin their careers later. Some parents and teachers say redshirting — a term borrowed from college athletics, in which students are pulled from participation to prolong their eligibility — can compound problems like bullying and low self-esteem among teenagers.

The Connecticut Education Department has not studied the effects of age differences on achievement, but some kindergarten teachers have reported that their youngest pupils are more likely to miss class, have difficulty focusing and generally require more handholding.

Jennifer Dominguez, a kindergarten teacher in Hartford, said she felt so strongly that 4-year-olds were at a disadvantage that she held back her own son, Kobe, until he was 5; he will turn 9 on Dec. 30. “The January birthdays are so much more mature and able to handle the curriculum,” she said. “The October, November and December birthdays, they’re just learning about what school is.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
First published on May 28, 2011 at 12:01 am

Picture: Hoboken Journal website

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amy Poehler’s Harvard's Commencement Address

Recently, Amy Poehler spoke to Harvard's graduating class of 2011 in a speech that was filled with personal life lessons, with Boston accents thrown in for good measure.

Here's some of her choice advice, transcribed for your reading pleasure:

"Take your risks now, as you grow older you become more fearful and less flexible — and I mean that literally. I hurt my knee on the treadmill this week — and it wasn't even on."

"I cannot stress enough that the answer to life's questions is often in people's faces. Try putting your iPhones down once in a while, and look in people's faces. People's faces will tell you amazing things. Like if they are angry, or nauseous, or asleep."

"I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and I studied improvisation there. I learned some rules that I try to apply still today: Listen. Say yes. Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often. Don't start a scene where two people are talking about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene having already jumped. If you're scared, look into your partner's eyes — you will feel better."

"As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people's ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life."

"Try to keep your mind open to possibilities and your mouth closed on matters that you don't know about. Limit your 'always' and your 'nevers.' Continue to share your heart with people even if it has been broken. Don't treat your heart like an action figure wrapped in plastic and never used. And don't try to give me that nerd argument that your heart is a Batman with a limited-edition silver bat-erang and therefore if it stays in its original packing it increases in value."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

NJ Supreme Court Awards $500 Million more to Abbott Districts for FY2012; Hoboken to Get $1.7 million

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled this morning that the state must increase funding to the 31 struggling cities formerly known as Abbott districts by an estimated $500 million. The state's former Abbott districts include Hoboken, Newark, Paterson, Garfield, Jersey City, Passaic, Camden and Trenton.

Union City is the biggest winner in Hudson County as a result of today's court ruling on school funding, according to preliminary figures from the state Office of Legislative Services. According to these figures, the Union City school district is in line to receive $32.8 million in extra state aid. Jersey City, which has more than double the number of students as Union City, is slated to receive $21.5 million, according to the figures. Jersey City has roughly 29,000 students.

Harrison is to receive roughly $6 million; Hoboken, $1.7 million; and West New York, $14.7 million. Jersey City has roughly 29,000 students. Harrison is to receive roughly $6 million; Hoboken, $1.7 million; and West New York, $14.7 million.

The ruling confined itself to the state 31 so-called Abbott districts:

“The funding to the Abbott districts in FY 2012 must be calculated and provided in accordance with the School Funding Reform Act of 2008,” the court said in its decision written by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia. “Relief is limited to the plaintiff class of children from Abbott districts for whom the Court has a historical finding of constitutional violation.”
More excerpts from court decision.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Frustration with leadership drives teacher from HISD By JENNIFER MATHIEU BLESSINGTON HOUSTON CHRONICLE

This letter to the editor has been getting a great deal of attention across the country as it goes "viral" on many Facebook sites and educational blogs. A fascinating story--

I started working for the Houston Independent School District in 2005. Teaching was not my first career, but almost instantly, I knew I had found the job I would do for the rest of my life. The best part? Connecting with kids during those awkward years of early adolescence and helping them learn to think and read critically and write well and creatively. Six years later, my desk at home is covered in earnestly penned, sweet thank-you notes from former students. ("Ever since I started grade 7 English I thought you were the nicest teacher and you were.")

But now, six years later, I am planning to leave HISD and start a new job next year teaching at a private school.

By any measure, I think I am a teacher HISD would want to keep. I've won a few awards, volunteered to participate in district initiatives, and am generally well liked by students, parents and colleagues. I don't put any weight in the Education Value-Added Assessment System, which uses student test data to measure teachers' effectiveness, but EVAAS rates me a highly effective teacher. I've regularly received some of the highest achievement-related bonus payouts on my campus since the program began. My students who fail the state assessments can often be counted on one hand, and the majority earn commended status. I've tried my best to follow the procedures and policies of the district without making waves. While I support some of the union's views, I've never been a member. But under Superintendent Terry Grier, I have seen the culture of HISD change, and not for the better.

In my opinion, morale is sinking, and if the state budget crisis hadn't squashed hiring by other school systems, I believe even more good teachers and administrators would be leaving. Schools are losing autonomy and are being micromanaged. Focus on testing is unyielding, and new programs and policies are implemented with little warning. Certainly any attempt to gain input from those who will be affected by the changes is window dressing at best. Above all, the district's rhetoric has created an environment where good teachers feel that we're never trusted.

The district's focus on standardized test scores has become so intense, I dream about bubble sheets. In years past, my colleagues and I were allowed to create our own tests to see how our students were doing. After all, we knew our kids best. But this year, despite the consistently strong records of the teachers at my exemplary-rated school, we were mandated to give district-created tests every month. This cut into instruction time with our kids. Sadly, this focusing-on-the-test trend shows little sign of ending. For teachers, EVAAS scores and other end-of-course test data now carry more weight than ever before: In the evaluation system recently passed by the school board, they make up half of each teacher's rating.

We teachers should be held accountable, and I believe student growth on standardized tests should be part of that accountability. Parents should be able to know whether their child's teacher has demonstrated good instruction. Taxpayers should be able to know whether their dollars are being well spent.

But the public also needs to know that EVAAS figures are misleading for many reasons, and including them in the teacher evaluation system could lead to good teachers being punished. First of all, many teachers earn their EVAAS scores based on a complicated formula that reflects a combination of growth not just on the state test but also on the Stanford Achievement Test. Unfortunately, Texas' state curriculum — which HISD teachers are required to teach, and which our textbooks cover - is not aligned with the Stanford. For example, eighth-grade U.S. history teachers earn their EVAAS scores strictly from the Stanford, which includes questions on world history, anthropology, and sociology - none of which are included in the eighth-grade state curriculum. So what's a teacher supposed to teach?

Even worse, EVAAS data does not help us become better teachers. I challenge you to find one single teacher in the district who can clearly explain how his or her EVAAS scores will help improve what happens in the classroom. I've pored over my EVAAS data and can find little to take away - except for that magic, seemingly random final score that determines my bonus.

Grier has repeatedly said that there is no time to wait, that Houston's children need reform now. But a sense of urgency cannot be used as an excuse to dismantle and demand without reflecting on the impact of major changes. Schools and parents are still frustrated with his mandatory breakfast-in-the-classroom program, one of several new initiatives implemented with little warning or input from campuses. And don't get me started about Grier's rushed, poorly received audit of the magnet-school program.

A successful superintendent creates a culture that hires innovative, free-thinking principals who are rewarded for taking risks instead of toeing a party line. Bad teachers need to be fired without making good teachers feel endangered and abused. If schools and teachers are successful, ask them what help they need instead of forcing them to change. Train principals to support good teachers and to give them real power in the schools. Most importantly, if you are going to hold teachers accountable for the value added to student achievement, do it with data that we can use to help our kids improve.

I don't envy anyone who tries to lead a large urban school district. The problems are many and complex - the kind of problems that require thoughtful individual solutions, not one-size-fits-all proclamations. My campus, like much of HISD, is full of hard-working, wonderful children and adults, and it desperately needs thoughtful, careful leadership from its school superintendent.

I thought I would retire from this district, and it's still strange to think I won't be returning next year. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Terry Grier.

Blessington is a middle school English teacher in HISD.

Read more:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Medium Sized School District Budget Analysis Over Time: A Case History of the Hoboken School District 2006-2012

As part of an article I am writing for publication, I have done some historical analysis of the budgets for the Hoboken School District in Hoboken, NJ. I was the Assistant Superintendent there for a few years. To make the analysis a little more informative, I ran two separate sets of graphs. One for "current dollars" (current at the time of the budget proposal) and another set on "inflation adjusted dollars" (I used a government website and calculated to 2010 dollars, the most current available). I believe the graphs are informative and give a clear view of a small/medium size district's budget over the course of a number of years, administrations, and economic conditions.

Analysis: When you look at the "Six Years of Budgets for Hoboken Board of Education- Adjusted for Inflation" graph one thing that strikes most people is how fairly stable and unchanging the budget has been over the past years. Make particular note of the "Hoboken Levy" (
RED) as well as the "Total Operating Budget" (GREEN) and "Total Hoboken BoE Budget" (BLUE). Notice when you look at the graph titled "Six Years of Budgets for Hoboken Board of Education- Not-Adjusted for Inflation" there appears to be much more of an increase in the budgets. There certainly is an increase in real dollars but we always need to remember dollars are situated in a time period. Even these days with fairly low inflation, over the course of 6 years, inflation does contribute to "real dollar increases" for similar type services.

There are other complex relationships I will be looking at for the article and will share them on this blog as they are available. I will also be using some of these graphs for a graduate class I am planning on teaching this summer.


Picture: The Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her final flight as seen by Stefanie Gordon (credit: Stefanie Gordon via Twitpic)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System - By Chris Hedges

The following is a thoughtful and provocative essay by Chris Hedges. You can read this and other interesting essays on Truthdigs. -Dr. Petrosino

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class—an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love—love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

Click here for original post

Community shows strong support for Ohaus - Local Television Media adds coverage

The Board of Education election cycle started on Tuesday evening when a packed crowd showed its support for two popular teachers fighting to keep their jobs. Regardless, the Hoboken Board of Education approved a measure that could cost theater director Paula Ohaus and Johns Hopkins Program head Cheng Yen Hillenbrand their positions.

According to Hoboken Patch, the board extended the deadline for School Superintendent Mark Toback to notify non-tenured teachers that their contracts will not be renewed, from April 30 to May 15. Otherwise, it would be too late legally for him to give the required notice to Ohaus, Hillenbrand and four other unidentified teachers who may also lose their jobs.

The Board voted 5-4 to change the notification date, during a heated and emotional School Board meeting. The meeting was literally out of control.

As part of the reorganization, R. Markle and R. McAllister were elected President and Vice-President respectively.

Read how the local blogs reported the evening as well as New York City television:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hoboken Board of Education Meeting: May 10, 2011 7 PM 1115 Clinton Street- Swearing in/Reorganization/Non-Renewals

This month's meeting of the Hoboken Board of Education will include the swearing in of three recently elected members to the Board. In addition, a number of online blogs including Hoboken 411 and Hoboken Patch are reporting that the Hoboken Board of Education is planning to change the notification date for non-tenure teacher renewal (from April 30 to May 15) as well as not to renew the contracts of six non-tenured employees. Generally, this is also a meeting of reorganization where Board Members will be selected by their peers to serve on a number of committees, subcommittees, and general Board of Education leadership.

There is also a grass roots campaign to save the jobs of a few specific teachers that is being spearheaded by Hoboken Republicans. Click here for more information:
To save these teachers—and their respective centers of excellence—please attend Tuesday's 7 PM meeting, located on 1115 Clinton Street. For more information, please contact us via
This meeting promises to be a well attended meeting so best to get there early.

May 10 2011 Public Notice of Meeting

Stated Session May 10 2011 Hoboken BOE Agenda

picture: Wordle taken from War on Excellence letter by Hoboken Republicans.