Sunday, June 26, 2011

Special Hoboken Board of Education Meeting Tuesday June 28, 2011: "Donaldson hearing" for Ohaus, Hillenbrand, others...

There will be a rare second Hoboken Board of Education Meeting for the month of June. The meeting is schedule for June 28th at 7pm. Among items scheduled to be discussed is the tenure decision on a number of teachers. Most notably is the tenure decision on Ms. Paula Ohaus (Theater Arts Program) and Ms.Cheng-Yen Hillenbrand (Johns Hopkins Program). Each teacher has been in the district for a number of years over the usual "3 years and a day" requirement and each have brought local, city, state, and even national attention to the Hoboken Public Schools. Each have decided to have their tenure case heard in an open public Board of Education Meeting (often, issues of employment are done in "closed session").

So, this is a rare opportunity to witness how decisions are made concerning tenure and promotion at the K-12 level. Commonly referred to as a "Donaldson Hearing", this portion of the Meeting will be substantially different than most Board of Education meetings as it will have some specific procedural issues that will be followed:

The non-renewed employee also has the right to an informal appearance before the board in order to convince the board to offer re-employment despite the superintendent’s decision to non-renew. This informal appearance, known as a “Donaldson Hearing,” is a right that was established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Donaldson v. North Wildwood Bd. of Ed., 65 N.J. 236 (1974). The employee has 10 days from the receipt of the statement of reasons for non-renewal to request a Donaldson Hearing, which must then be scheduled within 30 days. The employee may be represented by counsel at the hearing and may present witnesses. However, because the Donaldson Hearing is an informal hearing, the witnesses need not be sworn in and the board may not cross-examine any witnesses that appear. While the hearing may be conducted in executive session, the employee also has the right to a public discussion according to Rice v. Union County Reg. H.S. Bd. of Ed. 155 N.J. Super. 64 (App. Div. 1977), unlike tenure certification determinations, which must not take place during a public meeting. After the Donaldson hearing has been conducted, the board then has three days in which to notify the employee of the board’s decision. -NJSBA.ORG

The meeting promises to be well attended and, if past meetings concerning the tenure decisions on these teachers is any indication, controversial. Note- the actual decision does not necessarily have to be made at this meeting. But the Board must inform the employee 3 days after the meeting and the employee can request the individual votes of the Board members.

You can read a good summary of the antecedents leading to this meeting by
reading an article from the Hoboken Reporter.

A nice article on Paul Ohaus and her program while I was still in the Hoboken School District:

A local blog, Hoboken 411 has also kept track of the events surrounding the tenure decision on Paula Ohaus and others:

While Hoboken has traditionally been a Democratic town, a local political group known as Hoboken Republicans have come out against the Hoboken Board of Education majority and their so called "war on excellence" as it applies to these teachers. Interesting reading. CLICK HERE

For those interested in the legal ramifications for denying tenure,
take a look at this description by Carl Tanksley, ESQ. from the New Jersey School Board Administrators website.

The decision has also sparked a number of "letters to the editor"--for an especially articulate and passionate letter by Perry Lin, please CLICK HERE

For a video of the current Superintendent's view of the situation CLICK HERE.

Announcement of Public Meeting June 28 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Schieffer: A History Lesson on Education

(CBS News) Here's an item that caused hardly a ripple in last week's news cycle, but I wish it had: A national test showed only 12 per cent of our high school seniors had a solid grasp of American history.

Tested on seven subjects, including math and science, America's high school seniors scored lowest on American history.

Experts cited various reasons, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it best: We are failing to give our children a well-rounded education, which may be the understatement of the year.

Our schools are a mess, and have been since the days when we got good teachers on the cheap, because teaching was one of the few professions open to women.

When other opportunities opened to women, they took them, but teacher pay stayed low. There were some wonderful exceptions, but for the most part we got what we paid for.

We've never really faced up to that. We give education lip service, but with every budget crunch it is education that suffers.

These latest tests underline just how wrong and dangerous our priorities are.

We keep talking about American exceptionalism and how our core strength is American values. But if our students don't know enough history to understand HOW our values were shaped and WHO shaped them, don't we risk losing though ignorance what those who came before us fought and died for?

Education is - among other things - our real first line of defense.

Why don't we have a presidential campaign about THAT?

Education: Learning Styles Debunked

One of the most consistent misconceptions in popular professional development of teachers and in the informal "folklore" of teaching is the idea of "learning styles." In my teaching and my research, I have often explained that there has never been any empirical support for the idea of learning styles yet--the idea resonates with educators, administrators, teachers, and ignorant teacher educators involved with teacher training programs around the country. In fact, some people in our nationally recognized UTeach Natural Sciences Program have used learning styles regularly in their teaching of our UTeach pre-service students. Regardless, here is a definitive article on the topic. I am presenting the official press release as well as the original full published peer review article. -Dr. Petrosino

Are you a verbal learner or a visual learner? Chances are, you've pegged yourself or your children as either one or the other and rely on study techniques that suit your individual learning needs. And you're not alone -- for more than 30 years, the notion that teaching methods should match a student's particular learning style has exerted a powerful influence on education. The long-standing popularity of the learning styles movement has in turn created a thriving commercial market amongst researchers, educators, and the general public.

The wide appeal of the idea that some students will learn better when material is presented visually and that others will learn better when the material is presented verbally, or even in some other way, is evident in the vast number of learning-style tests and teaching guides available for purchase and used in schools. But does scientific research really support the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style?

Unfortunately, the answer is no, according to a major new report published this month in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The report, authored by a team of eminent researchers in the psychology of learning -- Hal Pashler (University of San Diego), Mark McDaniel (Washington University in St. Louis), Doug Rohrer (University of South Florida), and Robert Bjork (University of California, Los Angeles) -- reviews the existing literature on learning styles and finds that although numerous studies have purported to show the existence of different kinds of learners (such as "auditory learners" and "visual learners"), those studies have not used the type of randomized research designs that would make their findings credible.

Nearly all of the studies that purport to provide evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy key criteria for scientific validity. Any experiment designed to test the learning-styles hypothesis would need to classify learners into categories and then randomly assign the learners to use one of several different learning methods, and the participants would need to take the same test at the end of the experiment. If there is truth to the idea that learning styles and teaching styles should mesh, then learners with a given style, say visual-spatial, should learn better with instruction that meshes with that style. The authors found that of the very large number of studies claiming to support the learning-styles hypothesis, very few used this type of research design. Of those that did, some provided evidence flatly contradictory to this meshing hypothesis, and the few findings in line with the meshing idea did not assess popular learning-style schemes.

No less than 71 different models of learning styles have been proposed over the years. Most have no doubt been created with students' best interests in mind, and to create more suitable environments for learning. But psychological research has not found that people learn differently, at least not in the ways learning-styles proponents claim. Given the lack of scientific evidence, the authors argue that the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources.

Learning Styles- Concepts and Evidence

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hoboken Board of Education Meeting Agenda: 7 PM June 14, 2011

Highlights of this month's meeting may include the announcement of an Assistant Superintendent of Schools and a number of summer hires, tutors, and various scholarships.

Stated Session June 14 2011 BOE Agenda

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Percent of Hoboken Children Attending a Public School that Did Not Make AYP Increases from 14.5% to 90.5% Under Local BoE Political Group

Some of you will recall that from 2007-2009 I was the Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools in Hoboken, New Jersey. Since leaving in August of 2009, the district has faced some challenges. One of those challenges has been a politically charged atmosphere. For many reasons it has been politically expedient to characterize the public schools as being in disrepair and floundering when the Kids First political group took over control of the public schools but that is largely political rhetoric. In Fall 2009, test scores were announced and hailed as "disappointing" and "guarantees" were made that scores would improve the next year. This data indicates some of the challenges of making promises, especially in light of the systemic nature that reform generally needs to take in order to be successful. Here is some data analysis and source material/data from the New Jersey Department of Education which I conducted recently as part of a course I am teaching. Some of this data was first reported in a local newspaper, the Hoboken Reporter. -Dr. Petrosino

On November 3, 2010 the New Jersey Department of Education released the annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report , part of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that aims to have all students achieving at grade level by 2014. Based primarily on the results of the New Jersey state assessments given to students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11, AYP is a measuring tool with many components that accesses the quality and progress district level leadership is making toward educating the children it serves.

The recent AYP report, like QSAC, by the New Jersey Department of Education provides objective data concerning the results to date for the Kids First Board of Education majority and their stewardship of the Hoboken Public Schools.

Recall, in August of 2009 the current Board majority inherited a district with only 1 school that failed to make AYP. After almost 2 years in full control of the Hoboken Public Schools, we now learn 3 of the 4 public schools in Hoboken have failed to make AYP.

In Hoboken, the following schools did not make AYP for the 2010-2011 school year:










While, the following schools did not make AYP for the 2009-2010 school year (last year of the previous administration):


Under the previous administration and Board of Education leadership, Hoboken High School was a 2 time Bronze Medal awardee by US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT and was recognized by NEW JERSEY MONTHLY as the second most improved high school in the State of New Jersey for 2008. Concurrently, Wallace School was the informal K-8 flagshipschool in the district. Now, both Hoboken High School and Wallace have failed to make adequate yearly progress for the current school year.

But, the picture is more complicated. Since the additional 2 schools have the highest district enrollment, the impact factor on the entire district student population is magnified. Having the district's 3 largest schools fail to meet AYP plus the consolidation of the Demarest Alternative High School into the existing Hoboken High School-- plus the moving of all district 8th graders into Hoboken High School-- has had surprising and possibly disconcerting results.

Let us look at the data a little differently:

In August of 2009 roughly 14.5% of Hoboken Public School children attended a school that failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). But by November of 2010, after 18+ months of Kids First leadership, roughly 90.5% of Hoboken Public School children now attend a school which has failed to make adequate yearly progress as determined by the State of New Jersey

(see Calculations at end of this post).

The recent results are more concerning when one considers that the criteria needed for reaching AYP (i.e. student scores) will significantly increase very soon. In other words, the State is raising the bar for making AYP by about 33% at the same time 2 additional schools in the district have not reached the current bar or expectations.

As for what AYP actually IS--- here is a description from the New Jersey Department of Education website as presented by the current Acting Commissioner of Education:

“Like a ‘check engine’ light in a car, the AYP data indicates that something in a school district may not be working properly,” Acting Commissioner Hendricks said. “It could mean that only one small group of students in a school did not meet standards. Or it could be the first evidence of a systemic problem requiring sweeping change. Though these results are part of a broader picture, the Department takes this indicator very seriouslyand will work with the local leadership in these districts to examine the data, flag any underlying issues, and take action wherever it is appropriate to ensure our children are being properly served.”

“The report provides an early warning signal about student learning in New Jersey’s school districts and, whatever the reason, demands the attention of stakeholders at all levels to explore how our schools can do better,” added Acting Commissioner Hendricks. “If your school is on the list of those that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, I would encourage you to contact your local school to find out more about the specific challenges and reasons for having fallen short of this marker. Just as the Department will continue to do, we encourage parents, taxpayers, students and administrators to work together to understand and assist in addressing the problems that are highlighted as a result of this report.”

School and district accountability documents are posted here:

For background of what AYP means and how it is part of the No Child Left Behind, visit:

Calculation #1: Basically the student population of Connors divided by total district enrollment.
300/2029 = 14.50%

Calculation #2: Basically, the October 2010 populations of Hoboken High School, Wallace, and Connors divided by the total estimated district enrollment.
1900/2100 = 90.50%

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hoboken HS IB History Teacher Recognized by Princeton University for Extraordinary Efforts

The following post highlights Ms. Rachel Grygiel, a teacher in the International Baccalaureate Program and general history teacher in Hoboken, New Jersey. Ms. Grygiel was recently recognized by Princeton University in their Program in Teacher Preparation. A very prestigious award recognizing excellence in teaching and community involvement. Ms. Grygiel has been recognized previously for her incredible accomplishments including her Japanese Fulbright Memorial Fellow and the RIAS Berlin Kommission Fellow which was a German/American Journalist Exchange Program and part of the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation. -Dr. Petrosino

Princeton University honored four exceptional New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2011 Commencement on Tuesday, May 31.

This year's honorees are Kathleen Chesmel, New Egypt High School, New Egypt; Robert Downes, Mountain Lakes High School, Mountain Lakes;
Rachel Grygiel, Hoboken High School, Hoboken; and Donata Nicholas, East Orange Campus High School, East Orange.

The teachers were selected for the award from 64 nominations from public and private schools around the state. Each teacher will receive $5,000, as well as $3,000 for his or her school library.

"What distinguishes this year's winners is their intellectual leadership among their colleagues and in their communities," said Christopher Campisano, director of
Princeton's Program in Teacher Preparation. "These four outstanding teachers are among the most highly respected members of their respective faculties and administrations -- serving as role models, coaches and mentors. Their absence would be a tremendous loss to the life of each institution. They are a constant and indelible source of inspiration for their students, and they hold fast to the belief that all students can learn to high levels of understanding. They truly represent what is best in the teaching profession, and we have much to learn from their wisdom."

The staff of the Program in Teacher Preparation selected 11 finalists, each of whom was visited at work by an observer. Finalists were selected by a committee that was chaired by Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel and included Campisano, two Princeton professors and two external education professionals.

Princeton has honored secondary school teachers since 1959. The University received an anonymous gift from an alumnus to establish the program.

click here for detailed descriptions on all awardees. I will include the detailed description of Hoboken High School's Ms. Rachel Grygiel below:

Rachel Grygiel
Teaching in an urban school district, Rachel Grygiel faces challenges that go above and beyond getting students to perform well on tests -- and the Hoboken High School social studies teacher has exceeded expectations.

"In essence, Ms. Grygiel does more with less," Daniel Loughran, Hoboken's supervisor of curriculum and instruction, said. "The respect and admiration she has garnered from students, along with her colleagues and the community at large, comes as a direct result of Ms. Grygiel's insistence that students work hard and that they live up to their potential. A student in Ms. Grygiel's class is always challenged to be his or her best."

Hoboken senior Francis Howitt said Grygiel pushes students with academic rigor as well as entertaining lesson plans and assignments, such as one that involved making interactive family trees that had each student exploring his or her ancestry.

"Ms. Grygiel is a very rare teacher. She understands what needs to be done to excite students about their work," said Howitt. "She always seems to find new ways to implement her lesson plans through fun and interesting activities."

One example of such an activity is Grygiel's "Veteran's Project," in which students are assigned to interview World War II veterans who live in Hoboken, edit the interview footage and then send the mini-documentaries to the Library of Congress.

"It's one thing to read in textbooks what happens during war, but to hear the stories that these veterans told with raw emotions truly touched the hearts of everyone involved," recalled former student Samantha Rotondi. "Ms. Grygiel teaches more than history; she teaches life lessons that will never be forgotten. She teaches you how to become a better person."

Since joining the Hoboken faculty in 2001, Grygiel has excelled at teaching U.S. history and International Baccalaureate history of the Americas, and also has become involved with several initiatives designed to better the school and its surrounding community. For example, she helped establish the International Baccalaureate program at Hoboken and has included the school in an exchange program in which journalists from Europe visit to see what life is like for American high school students.

Grygiel also is coach of the girls' soccer team, adviser for the Hoboken High School Excellence Awards, adviser for the Harvard Model Congress Club, and co-founder and adviser of the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings outreach program at the school.

"Over my 10 years of being an educator, I have learned that the best lessons are the ones that the kids lead," said Grygiel, who earned her bachelor's degree in history from Georgetown University in 1998 and her master's degree in administration and supervision from St. Peter's College in 2005.

"Whether it's a writing assignment, video documentary or group discussion, you have to put the power in their hands," she said. "Some days I accomplish this by feigning ignorance; other days it is done genuinely by sharing my curiosity, while on others it is done by learning right alongside my students in order to hook them. And there's nothing quite like the energy of a classroom when the students are running the progra

Picture: Provost Christopher Eisgruber recognizes the outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers during the ceremony (from left): Robert Downes, Mountain Lakes High School, Mountain Lakes; Donata Nicholas, East Orange Campus High School, East Orange; Kathleen Chesmel, New Egypt High School, New Egypt; and Rachel Grygiel, Hoboken High School, Hoboken. Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite (2011)

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Film "American Teacher": An Answer to "Waiting for Superman"

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible. A new film attempts to address this issue and a few others

Film Depicts Hardships, Dedication of the 'American Teacher'- By Anthony Rebora

Researchers, policymakers, and parents tend to agree that effective teachers are the key to high-quality schools—and, by implication, to maintaining an educated and thriving citizenry. So why are teachers in the United States so undervalued and lately even disparaged?

That's the question at the heart of "American Teacher," a new documentary produced by author Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, a former teacher who helped Eggers create the 826 National tutoring centers. The film was shown last night at an advance screening in Washington attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and assorted other government officials and policy mavens.

Narrated by Matt Damon, "American Teacher" seeks to counteract popular misconceptions about the teaching profession by showing, in a style of close-up realism, what teachers actually do and what their lives are really like—and how continued neglect of the profession may be jeopardizing the nation's future. The film interweaves portrayals of five stellar K-12 educators from different parts of the country as they navigate daily challenges and try to manage the "logistics" of their lives. Examples of the teachers' obvious professionalism and skill are set against, sometimes to comic effect, the near-Dickensian nature of their working conditions. They are forced to buy their own supplies, work impossible hours, and endure sundry deflating injustices. There is a memorable scene in which one of the teachers, trying to get information about maternity leave, is forced to spend 18 minutes of her sole 20-minute free period on hold with the central office HR department. (Later, after a mere six weeks' leave, she is shown frantically scrambling around her school trying to find a place to pump breast milk.)

But the film's central theme is money. For all of the teachers profiled, the problem of how to make ends meet on their minimal-growth salaries is a grueling, intractable reality. Indeed, the film's most moving sequence follows an award-winning Texas history teacher and coach named Erik Benner who, to provide adequately for his family, is forced to take a second job as a loader at Circuit City (and subsequently, when he is laid off from there, at Floor & Decor). At one point, Benner quietly admits to the sense of shame he feels when customers at the store recognize him and say, "I thought you were a teacher."

The film intersperses the teachers' stories with a host of troubling commentaries and statistics—some familiar—on teacher pay and workloads, rising attrition, falling student achievement, and the (apparently extreme) differences in the ways teachers are treated and supported in academically high-achieving countries like Finland, Singapore, and South Korea.

The combined effect is powerful—"How long can we let this go on?," you wonder—and could generate some important conversations when the documentary is publicly released (expected this fall). As one of the teachers featured in the film said in a panel discussion after the preview, "I think it's about time there's a film like this."

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries (NY Times op ed piece 4/30/11): CLICK HERE
Send a letter to your legislator: CLICK HERE