April 2004
Guest Editorial:
Music Education May Be "Left Behind" Under New Federal Requirements
By Rob Walker

No matter when they were born, most adults view contemporary childhood through their own memories of youth. For example, there was a time when music was a natural part of the school day—and many people would be surprised to learn that's no longer the case. A recent
federal study showed only 25 percent of eighth graders nationwide had the opportunity to take a music class.

As the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation takes effect at the local level, music in schools faces additional challenges.

It's not the federal package itself that threatens to erode school music; indeed, Title IX of the law identifies the arts as a "core academic subject." It is the potential interpretation of the law at the local level that threatens students' access to music. The law requires stringent adherence to tested standards in literacy and math—with science soon to follow. You've likely heard the debate over these testing programs and whether they'll have the desired effect. An undesired effect, however, is that local educators are taking this as a cue to shift resources away from music and other subject areas to ensure focus on those that will be tested.

In some cases, it's class time that's thrown out of balance. In others, it's funding or teacher assignments. In all cases, it's a potential problem for music.

According to San Diego-area music educator Anne Fennell, "People think of literacy as reading and writing the printed word, but literacy is how we make meaning in our world, and how we encode and decode information. Music is a part of that. But I've heard of kids who were pulled out of arts classes to get help in one of the tested subjects.

"NCLB says to focus on what works—to use effective practices," Fennell adds. "Well, we know arts programs work. But because they're not included in the formulas for funding and testing benchmarks, they're the first to be zapped."

The irony is that music instruction can actually help kids do better in the very math and literacy pursuits that "No Child Left Behind" is designed to promote:

A study led by Dr. Agnes S. Chan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, published in July 2003 in the journal Neuropsychology, found that school-age students who had participated in music scored significantly higher on verbal memory tests than their classmates who had not.

A 1999 UCLA study showed that students who participated in music programs three times a week scored an average of 40 percent higher in math, reading, history and geography than those who did not.

Benjamin Franklin said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Strapping kids into rote math and English classes, at the expense of other pursuits, isn't an innovation; it's more of the same. If local school officials want to realize the aims of the lawmakers who crafted "No Child Left Behind"—and give their kids the best possible future—they need to concentrate on educating the whole child, and that includes music making.

Or, as Paul Young, principal of West Elementary School in Lancaster, OH and a former president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, notes, "I certainly believe everybody needs to be able to read and do math, but they also need to know how to think. What we're doing now is creating kids who are able to pass tests."#

Rob Walker is Executive Director of the American Music Conference, a non-profit music advocacy group based in Carlsbad, CA.

February 2004
Guest Editorial:
Black History Month: Lincoln’s Unfinished Work
by Matilda Raffa Cuomo
Black History Month is designed to focus attention on how far we have come in correcting the grotesque damage done in our nation by our early years of slavery. (more)
January 2004
Productivity in the Public Schools
by Stuart Dunn

Economists tell us that the recent recovery in the nation's economy has been spurred by increased productivity. How is productivity defined and why is it so important? Productivity is similar to what we think of as efficiency. More specifically, productivity is defined as the ratio of what is produced (output) to what it takes to produce it (input). When productivity increases, more goods and services are available at no increase in their production cost, or the same quantity is produced at a reduced cost. This can translate into lower prices, improved products or services at the same price, and/or increased profit.

While the concept is simple, productivity is difficult to measure. If a factory produces more widgets (of the same type) this year than it did last year for the same production cost, productivity has increased proportionally. But suppose the factory produces computers, and this year's computers are capable of working twice as fast as last years, what is the measure of productivity? You can see how the simple concept can become complicated in application.

When it comes to services, productivity is even more difficult to measure. This is certainly true in education, where the input in the productivity ratio may be thought of as the cost per pupil, and the output, the quality of the education the students receive. While the input here is measurable, how is the output to be determined? A quality education consists of a complex combination of quantifiable and non-quantifiable factors. Academic achievement might be measured by performance on standardized tests. (Some people question this.) But, how is creativity, intellectual curiosity or emotional development to be assessed? How are language skills to be evaluated, particularly for students for whom English is a second language? What weight should be put on each factor? How are the differing ability, skills and backgrounds students bring to their school experience to be factored into the equation?

Despite the difficulties, it is important to evaluate, and to improve, the productivity of the public school system. While it is possible that as a result of recent court rulings additional funding may become available to the schools, it is imperative that the schools make the best use of whatever funds are provided. They owe this to the taxpayers and the students. Productivity of the school system may be difficult to measure, but, like pornography, we know it when we see it. At an annual cost of approximately $11,000 per student (input), and with the poor quality of education so many students seem to come away with (output), it seems to this observer that the productivity of NYC's public schools is abysmally low.

What can be done to improve the productivity of the public schools? This is a challenge that the mayor, chancellor, and educators face. The current contract negotiation stalemate is very much a result of the administration's desire to make changes which they feel would improve productivity, but which the union sees as coming at unacceptable costs to member job protection, working conditions and prerogatives.

I shall be offering my suggestions on how to improve educational productivity in follow-on articles during the coming months. Meanwhile, I invite you, our readers, to submit your ideas and comments. Perhaps together we can help raise the productivity of our schools to an acceptable level.#

December 2003
Global Education in Our Schools

Recently, Dr. John Brademas, former Congressman and President Emeritus of NYU, addressed The Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. His lecture marked the centennial of the birth of Ralph Bunche whom he called, "...a brilliant international statesman and a significant figure in the history of the United States."

While his remarks about the role of Ralph Bunche in the early days of the UN were significant, as was his review of his own role in the US Congress for 22 years, of particular interest here are his more recent activities in extending the global reach of NYU and the role of educators in world affairs. Following his career in Congress, he served as President of NYU. During his Presidency he established numerous centers for international study, brought thousands of foreign students to study at NYU, and fostered centers of study in Florence, Madrid, Prague, London and Paris. More NYU students studied abroad last year, nearly 2000, than from any other institution in the country.

After a long and successful career he continues to travel, meet with world leaders and to speak in the causes of democracy, peace and international cooperation. He is currently, "proposing to establish, in consultation with our Department of State, a Center for Public Diplomacy and Dialogue, for the purpose of building bridges to the Arab and Muslim World. "Our plan," he said, "is to forge a university-based center that will serve both as a public policy think tank and sponsor of a program of international fellowships and exchanges to encourage dialogue and engagement between individuals rather than states."

He is simultaneously working to establish a center for discussing the decision making for the security of the United States. "Universities," he asserted, "because of their wealth of knowledge across academic disciplines, are...uniquely equipped to contribute to the debate on these great issues."              

[This issue of Education Update illustrates the importance of global studies and the cultural interchange of ideas. At PS 77 in Brooklyn, students celebrated the International Year of  Freshwater, showing efforts from Zimbabwe to Holland. A 26-year-old student exchange program between Israel and the US is quoted by participants as being "great!"  And at UN-USA, global studies curricula have been initiated in public schools across the land. The movement to encourage international understanding and peace has begun in our elementary schools. ED.]

November 2003
Cameras in Schools: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
by Stuart Dunn

No one argues with the general objective of the No Child Left Behind Act—raising American children’s proficiency in reading and math. However, details, such as funding levels, progress measurement and remedial action are sources of significant disagreement. Student transfers from failing schools have proven to be illusory because of space limitations in the higher performing schools. This is not likely to change, and it would be far better to concentrate on upgrading the schools then to count on widespread student transfers. Many things would contribute to this: smaller classes; new books, equipment and supplies; counseling for troubled students; tutoring for slower students, and an extended school day. However, two areas stand out. The first concerns the improvement of safety and order—teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn if the schools are mired in discipline problems. The second involves raising the standards, qualifications and performance for teachers and teacher aides.

In both of these areas Chancellor Klein has made a good start. The introduction of a new student discipline code is encouraging, but monitoring and enforcement will be required if it is to be effective. Certification and training are important components of improving teacher performance. However, there needs to be a better means of evaluating performance, coupled with a program of accountability and reward.

A recent article in the New York Times identifies a way to improve both of these areas.
The article noted that schools across the country are installing ceiling mounted cameras. It reports that Biloxi, Mississippi has installed video cameras in all of its schools, including its classrooms, recording both teacher and student activities. An official is quoted as saying, “This has made virtually everything that happens in Biloxi’s public schools subject to instant replay…”

The use of cameras in the schools raises the issue of government intrusion into private lives. But, with few exceptions, public education does not involve private spaces or private activities. Cameras already monitor many public places such as stores, building entrances, elevators and hallways; airports and rail terminals. Cameras in schools can help to provide increased safety by identifying threatening situations. Cameras and recorders in the classrooms would permit supervisors to observe and document regular activities. Disruptive or bullying students could be identified. Teachers could be randomly observed and evaluated; coached where necessary and held accountable for their performance.

NYC should follow Biloxi’s example and install cameras and recording devices in all of its schools. Installation has actually already begun. In the same Times article, Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the NYC Department of Education was quoted as saying, “There are already cameras in 150 schools.” It was not clear whether this includes classrooms. It should. Installation should continue, first in schools with poor safety or academic records, and then in all of the schools. The expense of installing cameras would be offset by the need for fewer security personnel. But, even more important, the cost and intrusion are justified by the potential for reducing violence and disorder; and, improving the school learning environment and teaching quality.#

October 2003
School Reorganization
by Stuart Dunn

When the NYS Legislature eliminated the Board of Education and made the school system into a Mayoralty Agency, they handed Mayor Bloomberg a once in a lifetime opportunity to address the long-term failure of the NYC public schools. Yes, there are many factors outside of the schools that contribute to the problem of educating the inner city children. But if we continue to blame these, and wait for them to change rather than fix the school system itself, we are never going to bring about improvement. The schools are the only agency that by law gets the children five days a week, six hours a day, nine months year. (This can, and ought to be extended, but that’s another subject.) So, it is within the school system that the problem must be addressed.

Some people have criticized the Mayor for moving too fast and going to far in reorganizing the schools. I think they are wrong. I think he has not gone far enough. He may already have missed his opportunity. By next year he will be busy running for reelection, and that is a notoriously difficult time to initiate change. More immediate, he is now negotiating a new contract with the UFT. This contract should incorporate the necessary changes to permit sweeping changes in work rules and compensation methodology.

The mayor has been too concerned about maintaining strong centralized control. His biggest mistake was failing to institute school-based management, which would make the principal, the teachers and the parents responsible for the success of their school. Had he done this, the rule changes suggested by UFT President Weingarten would be an excellent starting point in simplifying the contract and introducing the flexibility needed by the schools and their principals. He could then have coupled this with a pay-for-performance plan in which the principals would be responsible for evaluating teacher performance and allocating salary increases to the best performers. The union role would become one of negotiating fringe benefits and a percentage increase package, to be allocated on the basis of merit by the school administration.

Well, maybe it is not too late. The mayor should eliminate the instructional superintendents that stand in between the regional superintendents and the principals. These people water down the role of the principals. He should assign additional assistant principals to the schools that need them to help with administration and supervision. He should delegate the running of the schools to the principals making them responsible for all personnel working within their schools, for their supervision, evaluation, hiring, firing and salary. He should make the principals directly responsible for parent involvement. And then he should hold the principals responsible for the performance of their schools as measured by student performance.

Mayor Bloomberg’s plans have been bold. But, he needs to be even more courageous if he is to bring about a significant change where it counts—in the performance of the schools and the children.#

September 2003
A Gay High School is Not a Good Idea
by Stuart Dunn

According to a recent NY Post article, “the city is opening a high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students—the first in the nation.” The school, to be called the Harvey Milk HS, is named after the slain San Francisco politician and leader in the gay community.

While the motivation for opening such a HS is understandable (gay kids are often picked on in school), you don’t have to be a conservative to believe the idea is a bad one. Segregating students by sexual preference establishes a poor precedent and could lead to a move to segregate the schools in other ways. (We already have accepted the idea that some girls will do better in an all-girls school. Segregating girls is an equally bad idea.) The argument that gay students may be more relaxed and therefore learn better in an all-gay school has merit, but it is insufficient to justify a segregated school. One could equally make the argument that some Black students might do better in an all-Black school, or Korean students in an all-Korean school, or Muslim students in an all-Muslim school.

Our society is made up of many groups, men and women, people of different races, religions, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. It is an important part of the education of our children that they learn to live in the real world of diversity, to accept those who are different from themselves, and indeed, to learn from them. A recent Supreme Court ruling on the use of race as one criterion in the admission of college students was largely based on the argument that diversity is a worthwhile educational objective.
Here we have a move away from diversity toward segregation.

In the conduct of our private lives we should be free to associate with whomever we choose. In the public arena this is not an acceptable objective. It is not too late to undo this decision before the school is formally opened. The gay community may look at the establishment of this school as a victory. It is not. What would be a victory would be that gay students, as all students, be accepted on their individual merit. The public school system should make a serious effort to eliminate discrimination and bullying of gay students as it should all students. From a point of view of government and law we should be striving for a color-blind, gender-neutral, and orientation-free society. The segregation of our schools for any reason is antithetical to this objective.#

Experiencing Power of School Volunteerism Firsthand
by Digna Sánchez, President, Learning Leaders

In my first months as president of Learning Leaders, the largest volunteer organization solely dedicated to helping New York City’s public school children, I have already seen the caring, determination and talents that our 11,600 volunteers bring to the City’s schools. With over 30 years of experience working in the education field in New York City, I know there is an acute need for community members and parents to come together in support of their local schools. One of the best ways to help our children is through hands-on school volunteering.

As we look to the beginning of a new school year (one that promises to be more tumultuous then ever), the role of volunteers has never been more important. Mayor Bloomberg and School Chancellor Klein have identified parent involvement as one of the three top priorities for the newly structured New York City Department of Education. This is a welcome confirmation of what Learning Leaders has practiced for years, “Parents must be equal partners in education.”

But, that is just the beginning. As we look to increase the numbers and quality of volunteers in our schools, we will begin to explore ways to engage working parents as well as immigrant parents.

As someone who as a small child came to New York City from Puerto Rico and started elementary school speaking only Spanish, I know first hand how difficult it can be to fit in. My parents spoke no English and didn’t understand how the schools worked and yet they wanted me to succeed and highly valued my getting an education. My father was very strict with me when I was growing up, but when it came to my participating in anything having to do with my education he always said “yes”. Like most immigrant families today, mine wanted to do whatever they could to help me succeed but language, miscommunication and cultural differences kept them from becoming involved.

I’m proud to say that Learning Leaders is a port of entry for thousands of parents who want to be involved in their children’s education. I look forward to the time when corporate employees, senior citizens, college students and others are welcome in their neighborhood schools as we work together to create communities in which entire neighborhoods come together to support their local public schools.

We’re always looking for people and organizations to help our schools. If you’re interested in volunteering through Learning Leaders, please visit our website at www.learningleaders.org or call 212-213-3370.#

Digna Sánchez is the former VP for Educational Services at United Way of NYC, VP of Community Education Services at Children’s Television Workshop, Asst. Commissioner for Policy & Program Development at the NYC Community Development Agency, Borough President Ruth Messinger’s Senior Policy Analyst for Education.

August 2003
Decisions, Decisions
by Stuart Dunn

A great many decisions have been made recently which will have enormous impact on education for years to come. The Supreme Court has decided that race may be a consideration in college admission, but that it may not be given a fixed weight. I support these decisions, although I believe the emphasis on diversity is excessive. My view is that until the inner city public schools improve, some form of affirmative action in admissions is justified. The debate is now moot, although the discussion will continue and the issue will undoubtedly be revisited many times.

The Appellate Court of New York has ruled that public schools in New York City have been under funded by the State. Congratulations to those who have pressed the suit. It is to the shame of the Governor and the courts that it has taken ten years to adjudicate this issue. Further delay will be encountered as the legislature and/or the lower court develops a new, fairer funding formula, but it is now clear that it will happen.

The widespread failure on the State’s Math A Regents exam has given those who oppose standardized testing new ammunition. It would be unfortunate if as a result the Regents backed down on the requirements to pass statewide tests to qualify for a high school diploma or so diluted the tests as to make them meaningless. The Regents removal of Ms. DeFabio, the assistant commissioner for curriculum, assessment and testing, is a bad sign. The fact that nearly two out of three students failed the test raises questions and it is reasonable that the results were set aside while a study is conducted. But, it is not clear that the problem was basically with the test. Many questions must be answered. How was the test prepared and evaluated? The test has been characterized as faulty, but just what this means is not clear. Was it too difficult? Was it poorly worded? Was it confusing? If so, why did a large majority of freshman that took the test pass while a large majority of seniors failed? Does it have to do with a difference in the preparation or the ability of the student groups?

One thing the result shows is that you cannot raise the standards for the students without raising the quality of the teaching. You cannot hold students accountable without holding the education establishment equally accountable. The accountability of educators should be a primary concern of the mayor and chancellor during the next few years. They have the opportunity to codify this in the next round of contract negotiations. Teachers must have the necessary credentials and training to teach assigned courses. Teachers and principals must be held accountable—achievement should be rewarded and failure punished. The requirement that all teachers be certified has been delayed; it should not be eliminated. Teacher aides should be required to have an associate degree, with training in the subject areas they work in.

We are getting ready to begin the first school year under the new governance. The district offices are being reorganized. The chancellor will now have to live with the decisions and compromises he has made. Let’s hope that the schools can now really operate to the benefit of the children.#

July 2003
Money the Root of Regent Problems?
by Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier

Two recent events making education headline news seem to be unrelated but, in fact, are quite closely related. The New York State Regents examination for Math A was deemed to be flawed. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled that education in New York City was under funded.

It is clear that the Math A examination had some items that were ambiguous, some were unnecessarily tricky, while others were simply inappropriate. The newspapers boldly reported the drastically low passing results, blaming the test writers for the dilemma. Yet a closer look at the test and the results reveal that there were enough items to allow a reasonably competent student to pass the test. Getting a high score would have been considerably more challenging. Yet, passing the test is the issue of concern here, since failure prevented high school seniors from graduating with a Regents diploma. The truth be told, those students who are “on-track,” taking the test at the time at which it was designed to be taken (after the first year and a half of high school math) did relatively well on the test. Seniors taking this test typically have had a long history of failure in mathematics, hence are taking the test much later in their high school career. These weaker math students were just not properly prepared to pass this test.

Not all of the blame for the high failure rate of this latter group should be placed on the poorly written exam. And not all of the blame for failure should be placed on the backs of these weaker math students. The real problem lies in the relatively weak math teaching force in our schools today. It is well known that there is a severe shortage of math teachers. (New York City will need to hire 1,000 new math teachers this fall.) Shortages of any commodity result in a diminution of quality. When the Court ruled last week that New York City was being short-changed in its State funding, it stated that “the quality of New York City schoolteachers is inadequate.” For the subgroup of math teachers the situation is more severe.

Specifically where might these inadequacies be seen? From its inception, the Math A exam was distinguished from its predecessor in its emphasis on problem solving. I contend that most math teachers today are not adequately prepared to incorporate genuine problem-solving skills into their regular instructional program. That is where many of the failures might have been avoided. Had students been provided with problem-solving skills, they would have fared considerably better. Hopefully with increased State funding, teacher salaries will become more attractive and we will experience the elimination of the math teacher shortage, resulting in the recruitment of better teachers to staff our classrooms. In the meantime, this new funding source can be used to better train our current math teachers in the art of problem- solving.#

Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier is the Dean of the School of Education at The City College of New York

June 2003
Graduation: A Time to Rejoice, A Time to Reflect
by Pola Rosen, Ed.D.

June is a month of many emotions. For college graduates, it’s a time to discover if academic accomplishments can be translated into meaningful jobs and balancing personal budgets. For high school graduates, the excitement of college, new friends and mastery of college level courses lie ahead. For graduating mature adults, the promise of a new career, particularly in these difficult economic times, is eagerly anticipated. For little pre-kindergarten children, the applause and cheers from family members ensures that the graduation ritual will be equated with the flush of success.

“Don’t forget to tell my cousins Zachary and Alexandra in California that I graduated,” said my bubbly granddaughter Emily, as she ended her first pre-school graduation processional at the age of five.

As a teacher and former college professor, June was a time of reflection for me. I thought of all the students that had been in my classes during the year and the knowledge I had transmitted to them. Had I transmitted a love of learning and a passion for the subject matter? Would the students lead a richer life as a result of having passed through my classes? Knowledge alone was not enough.

I recall with a tinge of sadness, the words of a law school professor who once said to us, “We will probably never meet again after this class. I truly hope you learn a great deal and enjoy our time together.” Sharing a class with a group of students is a very special and memorable experience. I can remember vividly several gifted teachers, from elementary school to high school to whom I can directly trace my love of literature and music, poetry and biology. While we never met again, their lessons lingered far beyond the time we spent together.

In June we are honoring, for the first time in the hundred-year history of the New York City Department of Education, teachers from all parts of New York City, who have been mentors and leaders, who have inspired generations of students to have a love of knowledge. We pay homage to them at an awards ceremony at the Harvard Club in June and will feature them in two full pages next month. Politicians, academics, philanthropists and many others will acknowledge their work.

June would not be complete without a tribute to my father who is 93 years old, my first and foremost teacher, who shared his love of botany, astronomy, music and literature with me and my sister. He is still an active teacher, much beloved by his students who are senior citizens and enjoy the thrill of learning with him.#

May 2003
The Next Battle in the War Over School Reform

The sniping has begun. Both sides are rolling out their think tanks and their big guns. Coalitions are forming. The next war in the Middle East? No, the next battle in the war over control of New York City’s public schools. You thought that war was over—that Mayor Bloomberg won when he got the New York State Legislature to give him control of the schools. Hardly. What the lords have given, the lords can take away.

Last year, the Mayor succeeded in persuading the State Legislature to eliminate the Board of Education and make the schools into a mayoralty agency. The support of the UFT was crucial in gaining the necessary votes in Albany. The UFT went along because the Mayor would not grant them the contract they needed to bring home to their rank-and-file (with significant salary increases) unless the UFT supported his takeover. This resulted in a temporary truce between the Union and the Mayor. Inevitably that truce was doomed to end when the new contract negotiation started, and, when the pressure of a huge budget deficit required layoffs and Union givebacks.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. No one believed the Mayor was really going to take charge so completely, that he was going to shake up the system so thoroughly. When Bloomberg announced his reorganization plan everything changed. Local school boürds were relieved of authority—soon to be superseded by ten instructional districts. District Superintendents would either be moved up or phased out at the will of the Schools Chancellor. Administrative staffs were downsized. Curriculum changes were to be instituted and plans for restructuring the Special Education program announced. Long entrenched bureaucracies were threatened, jobs were at stake. The new organization deprived the State Legislators and the City Council Members of influence over local education policy, and even worse, eliminated political patronage jobs at the local school boards. The members of the local school boards were largely silenced, and the opportunity for local politicians to use these boards as power bases gone.

So now the next battle of the war begins. Will the Mayor succeed in consolidating his gains? Will the local politicians, allied with the teachers and supervisors unions, regain control? You won’t see this war on CNN, but it will be just as hard fought as the War in Iraq. And, as usual, the real danger is to the children and their parents. In the long run the battle will be for public support, and the public will have to choose sides. I don’t know whether the mayor’s reorganization will work, but it’s worth a try. I do know that a return to the status quo would be a disaster. The mayor’s plans need some revision. He needs to provide greater mechanism for dissent and the opportunity for real parental input. He needs to offer transparency to the City Council so they can exercise some oversight. With these exceptions, I support the Mayor’s reorganization plans.

If Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t learned yet that being the CEO of New York City is a lot different from being the CEO of a large corporation he is about to receive an education. The budget will be held as ransom. Whispering campaigns will begin about senior stýff members. Demonstrations will be organized. The Mayor will have to show that he can be as tough as his opponents and that he cares enough about the schools to risk his political career. If it wasn’t for the collateral damage this battle might be worth watching. #

January 2003
Is There One Way to Teach Reading? Phonics? Whole Language?
By Sandra Priest Rose

Is there one way to teach reading? Phonics? Whole Language? Yes, there is! And this is where all points of view can converge. Everybody can be right. What is at issue is only WHEN you do what. So, let’s sweep away the conflicts and proceed to what we can all agree on: Teaching the sounds of the language with their appropriate letter symbols from the beginning is essential. Helping students to understand what they are reading is essential. Teaching students to write clear sentences, paragraphs, compositions is essential. Now we can proceed to the best order in which to do things, as supported by vast federal research of educational studies and as based on current neurological studies.

Teach letter sounds and letter symbols from the very beginning. As soon as the child learns a few letter sounds, he or she can immediately put them into words. Simultaneously writing and sounding out simple words at first, and more complicated ones later, helps the child fix in his mind what is being taught, while reinforcing eye training. Children’s eyes have to be trained to go in the direction in which we read and write in English. This careful training helps prevent reading, writing and spelling reversals. Accurate spelling is important both for good comprehension and because inaccurate spelling imprints itself on the brain and is hard to correct.

Once the students understand the idea that letters stand for sounds and these sounds make up most of the words in our language in a predictable way, and they are at ease sounding out words independently, then directing them to comprehend what they are reading in a thoughtful way is appropriate. Here all the elements of different types of writing (fiction, non-fiction), elements of stories (character, plot, conflict) and appreciation of beautiful writing all have an important place in a reading program.

A good writing program can also be started early by beginning with writing simple declarative sentences, moving to paragraphs and then to compositions teaching the structural elements of each. Writing helps clarify thought in subject matter which might be of great interest to the student or can allow expressions of deepest feelings and concerns.

This is a well-rounded reading program that will equip students to explore the entire universe of myths, fairy tales, history, science, human thought for the rest of their lives and give them that which gives all of us our humanity, an understanding of times past, of other countries, of other peoples, and of one another.

References: The Writing Road to Reading. New York: William Morrow, 1990; Report of the National Reading Panel: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature and its Implications for Reading Instruction, 2000.#

Sandra Priest-Rose is a founding trustee of the Reading Reform Foundation, www.readingreformny.org, and Chair, Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education.

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July 2002
Vouchers, the Incomplete Solution

Solutions to perceived problems at our nation’s public schools evoke “The World Turned Upside Down,” the march the British band played as Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown. Rather than tackle the real issues–teacher shortages, uncompetitive salaries, lack of cohesion in teacher training, super-sized teacher-to-student ratios, and most importantly, changing our school-age students’ preference from entertaining over training—society prefers Mickey Mouse fixes to real cost-effective long-term solutions. Indeed subsidizing private- and religious-school education with vouchers will inject much needed competition into our lowest-performing standardized test-givers. However, schools that pass this testing game do not and will not always provide the quality of education our world needs. Schools need to make sure that each student has learned the 3 Rs well, and provide support for those students who need the extra help. Schools must not graduate students who cannot read, write, and perform to established academic standards. It is their job to identify these students and to offer them help. For high-school students who have not acquired the basic skills, it is their responsibility to seek the help they need to catch up to their peers. As taxpayers, we must overcome our hebetude and make sure that our education system has the funding necessary to do its job. We need to ensure that our money is not misspent. Furthermore, we might need to increase taxes to funnel more money into education, to show administrators, teachers, and students that we are serious about supporting them. Education is our society’s great equalizer. We must not capitulate in our goal to providing a quality education to all, despite the tempting allure of vouchers.

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April 2002
Standardized Tests Redux

Despite the enactment of a national education bill calling for annual reading and math tests for grades 3 - 8, the battle over the use of standardized tests to evaluate student performance continues. It is as if the idea of testing was just invented. Critics argue that tests are not a good mechanism to evaluate student performance. (Not that they propose any other realistic way to evaluate performance). Some claim the tests are biased, others point to the fact that standardized testing leads to teaching to the tests. The real issue, however, is not the inability of the tests to evaluate student performance, but the potential use of the test results to evaluate teacher, school and system performance.

If some tests are biased, this can, and should, be fixed. It is surely no reason to eliminate testing. It is up to those who feel that such bias exists, to identify the bias, and work with those who prepare the tests to eliminate it.

Probably, the most widespread criticism of the use of so-called “high stakes” standardized testing, is that it leads to teaching to the tests. The question is who is responsible for this? This practice could be stopped if everyone, from the chancellor on down, made it clear that teaching to the test is unacceptable, and then supervised those who report to them to insure that this directive is carried out. The problem is that almost everyone sees a gain in improving test scores, if not necessarily student performance. Politicians campaign on improved results, administrators advance their careers, schools and teachers receive bonuses, and parents content themselves that their children are doing better. Some however, who fear the use of standardized tests, say that teaching to the test is inherent in the use of standardized tests, and thus, call for the elimination of the tests rather than elimination of the practice of teaching to the test. In a few shameful cases, the school children are being used as pawns to attempt to press their viewpoint.

Perhaps the most egregious result of emphasizing test scores is the temptation to cheat. With a great deal at stake, students, teachers and administrators may feel that cheating is justified. Cheating on the part of the students is bad enough – cheating by teachers and/or administrators is intolerable. This practice can be minimized by careful supervision and review, followed by rapid and severe punishment for those found guilty of this practice. Again, it is up to the chancellor and the school administration to set the tone, define expectations, initiate compliance review procedures and strengthen the organizations which monitor compliance.

Good tests can measure student performance and provide feedback on the effectiveness of the curriculum and the teaching. Where the tests are inadequate, let’s improve them. Where teaching needs improvement, let’s fix it. Where cheating exists, let’s root it out. But let’s not kill the messenger because we don’t like the message.

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March 2002

Over the years, I have held fast to the values I cherish dearly: public schools can provide an outstanding education for all our children. My own children attended public schools in New York and Los Angeles. Their education was successful if we look at the outcomes: one is a editorial director at a publishing company, one is a physician, and one is a medical student. More importantly, all are contributing members of society and have achieved inner satisfaction in their careers.

My values haven’t changed; unfortunately, neither have some of our failing schools. We talk about technology initiatives, the digital divide and computers in every classroom. My recent conversations with Irving Hamer, Board of Education member and with a Microsoft executive have clarified the powerful directions we are going in, backed by federal and local government monies. Personally, I think computers and technology are great. I can email colleagues all over the world and exchange thoughts at any hour, in my robe with my coffee at my side. I have seen 4th and 5th graders at the Marymount School in New York exploring the treasures of museums in foreign cities; I have seen young children learning what parts of the orchestra are producing the crescendos in Dvorak’s New World Symphony from Carnegie Hall’s new online programming. My adorable four-year-old granddaughter can point and click a mouse, learning about animals and ABCs from new software. Computers are complementary to the essential ingredients of great teachers, principals and books.

Can we improve our schools by vesting control of our schools in the mayor? The controversy has experts divided. Ninfa Segarra, Chair of the Board of Education, believes the Board should be abolished; Steven Sanders, Chair of the Education Committee in the State Assembly, believes in a balance of power. Proponents talk about the importance of vesting accountability in one person– the mayor. Adversaries believe that this is all a smokescreen to divert attention away from the real issues of better educating our children.

I have held fast to the value of having master teachers in schools to help inexperienced teachers also become master teachers. I believe in the value of universal prekindergarten education so that working parents can have a safe, nurturing haven for their children to learn and play, so instrumental in their later development. I believe in early reading initiatives so every child can be an excellent reader by the third grade. I believe in a spirit of community where children can work in groups within the school as well as outside its walls, whether they are in elementary school or college.

I believe in the value of great leadership leaving its impact on teachers and students alike. Recently I visited two such leaders, Superintendents Carmen Farina in Brooklyn and Superintendent Shelley Harwayne in Manhattan. They are hands-on administrators who focus on teacher training, principal leadership, and the delivery of exquisite education to children. Both are first generation Americans as I am.

These educators and many others I have visited over the last quarter century are the catalysts that will ultimately make education work. I am proud to know them. They give me faith in the future of our children and grandchildren — yours and mine.

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February 2002
Where Are Our Future Leaders?
By Dr. Geraldine Chapey

In a society in which the basic tenet is dramatic social, business and technological change, there are significant signs of crises in the leadership of every institution. Educational leadership is no exception.

The School Administrators Association of New York State reports the sobering information that over 50 percent of New York State Principals and over 45 percent of New York State Superintendents will retire within five years; it is also anticipated that in New York City almost half of its school leaders will leave the system within a short time. Further, the number of candidates responding to leader vacancies has dwindled precipitously. Questions that emerge are: “Where are our future leaders?” “What factors can help identify adaptive, effective school leaders?”

Acknowledging that school leaders are a key component in educational reform, the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education set in motion a sequence of actions to address the challenge. In 1998, a Blue Ribbon Panel on Leadership composed of representatives from public and nonpublic schools, higher education, unions, professional and community organizations was charged with exploring national, state and local leadership issues.

As a result of its deliberations, the Panel presented a series of recommendations for consideration by the Regents Task Force on School Leadership. These were approved by the full Board of Regents who directed the State Education Department (SED) to launch plans for implementation.

The project to strengthen school leadership in New York State is in line with the Board of Regents strategic plan to raise educational standards for all New Yorkers, which began in 1996 with new graduation requirements and expanded in 1998 with revised teacher certification standards and reregistration procedures for every teacher education college and university program in New York State.

The current SED leadership project, of course, recognizes, embraces and will integrate the successful practices and wise tradecraft stories of excellent educational leaders whose students have demonstrated spectacular achievements and accomplishments in academic, cultural and sports competition, as well as in higher education and in the world of work. During the year 2000 the State Education Department applied for and received a 3.9 million dollar three-year grant from the Dewitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund to engage all sectors of the University of the State of New York in setting standards for educational leaders. Activities developed as a result of the grant will address the following priority areas:

• A new vision for quality preparation programs for school leaders that will reset the balance between theory and practice and establish new relationships between higher education faculty and our most distinguished practitioners.

• A new certification and credentialing structure with new titles and new procedures for program validation.

• Innovative recruitment initiatives to attract a broader pool of candidates for Principalship and the Superintendency.

• A series of strategies and actions to involve the media, business and the community in raising the public image of administrators and teachers and leading to a creation of an environment where leaders can succeed in improving student achievement.

• Development of a school succession plan.

• A legislative agenda to raise the salaries of educators, improve pension benefits and pension portability.

With the Dewitt Wallace-Readers Digest funding, the Commissioner has created a New York Center for Educational Leadership and appointed Dr. Kevin McGuire, former Superintendent of Half Hallows Central School District, as its Executive Director. The Center will sponsor six Leadership Academies in the Big Five cities: two in New York City and one each in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.

The SED is moving ahead with a number of additional supportive leadership grants made possible by federal funds and grants from private foundations.

With the spotlight on a powerful education agenda at the federal, state and local levels and the resources to support that effort future leaders can look forward collaboratively to meeting the challenges of educational change in the 21st century.

Dr. Chapey is a member of the New York State Board of Regents.

 Restructuring Public School Governance
By Stuart Dunn

With Mike Bloomberg assuming the office of Mayor of the City of New York, there is once again a drumbeat for eliminating the school board and placing the city schools directly under the mayor. The new mayor, like Rudy Giuliani before him, has indicated his desire for this change. This time, there is a real danger that it may happen.

It is not surprising that the mayor would like this change. Past disagreements between the mayor and the school board, and between the mayor and the chancellor (a school board appointee) have led to considerable acrimony. The school board is highly politicized, with the borough presidents each appointing one member and the mayor two members. The recent comment by three of the borough presidents that they might appoint themselves to the school board only makes this more patent. It is clear that something must be done, but turning the public school system over to the mayor is not the answer.

A primary argument for making the schools a mayoralty agency is that there should be an elected official whom the public can hold accountable for school performance. I agree, but the mayor is responsible for so many things that it would be impossible to separate his responsibility for school performance from the rest of his job. In addition, a system of checks and balances is essential.

A viable alternative would be dividing the system into five borough-wide school systems, under the authority of the borough presidents. These elected officials have little responsibility under the current charter and could focus on the schools. They have a better understanding of the needs of the children in their boroughs than the mayor. Most important, they could be held directly accountable for the schools with no conflicting considerations in evaluating their performance. Funding should continue to come from the state and the city. Since the city would be responsible for a large portion of funds for the schools, the mayor would still have adequate oversight opportunity. At the same time, the local school boards, which have proven to be mainly a vehicle for local politics, should be eliminated. Placing the schools under the borough presidents would provide an ample means for local input and would save the cost of the operation and elections of the local school boards.

We need a change in school governance, but let’s not move from the frying pan into the fire.#

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January 2002
Mentoring: Then, Now & In the Future
Mentoring Month
By Matilda Raffa Cuomo

In the mid-1980s I began to explore, at my husband’s behest, [Mario Cuomo was the governor of NYS] vehicles for improving the appalling rate of school drop-out among New York State’s youth. A bi-partisan panel of educators, corporate leaders and child advocates was convened to research a variety of programs which could supplement the work of parents and schools to help our young people stay in school and avoid the risks that might cut off opportunities for them at a young age, such as drugs, crime, and teen pregnancy.

Our committee concluded that one-to-one mentoring relationships between volunteer adults and youth held enormous promise for addressing the issues of low self esteem, values and guidance that many young people were lacking. We launched the New York State Mentoring Program in 1987, and it was the first statewide, state-sponsored, one-to-one after-school mentoring program in the nation. In 1994 the New York State Mentoring Program was eliminated by the new administration. However, the manuals and resources of the New York State Mentoring Program were shared with Governor Wilson’s (CA) office to begin the planning of statewide mentoring models. California, North Carolina and many other states have seen both the value of mentoring and the need for providing financial and/or programmatic support to mentoring efforts.

Increasingly, over the 15 years since the New York program was founded, mentoring has been recognized across the country as a powerful tool for assisting youth, not only in reducing school drop-out and risky behaviors but also in developing positive goals and the skills needed to achieve them. Just this past month, Congress passed the Mentoring Programs grant program as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (the legislation was originally introduced as the aptly-named Mentoring for Success Act) through which $ 17.5 million will be disbursed to local mentoring programs throughout the country.

The acknowledgement of mentoring and its contribution to the support of youth must, though, go hand in hand with a recognition that at the heart of any successful program are volunteer mentors who dedicate themselves on a consistent and caring basis to the child with whom they work.

As someone deeply involved with mentoring programs and policy over two decades, I am pleased that we will celebrate the first-ever National Mentoring Month in January 2002. This is a great opportunity to celebrate the many volunteer mentors who “make it happen” for children and the dedicated advocates, such as the National Mentoring Partnership, who have led the struggle for mentoring awareness to gain the funding and recognition they deserve

Mentoring USA (MUSA), with the outstanding efforts of two coordinators, has expanded mentoring to youth in foster care in New York City who are in great need of support and hope for their future. MUSA currently has more than 100 youth matched with mentors in its Foster Care Initiative.

On September 11, the horrible tragedy and loss of loved ones taught us many bitter lessons. Our very freedom and security were impaired. Advocates for childrens’ well-being know that we must help heal differences and teach our youth to appreciate cultural diversity (here in the USA and around the world). Mentoring USA for some years has utilized our BRAVE (Bias-Related Anti-Violence Education) component to feature positive role models of all ethnic backgrounds so that children can relate with pride to their own heroes. Mentors are trained to utilize our many resources to strengthen their mentees’ perspective for harmony and future peace in the world.

Mentoring will continue to be a strong positive force for our youth to remain stable and secure at this crucial juncture in our history.#

Matilda Cuomo is the Founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA.

Scandal Need Not Be Permanent
By Stuart Dunn

There are two sides to “human nature.” One is the socially conscious, caring side, as illustrated by the outpouring of concern and contributions for the families of the victims of the September 11 attack. The other is the isolated, self-seeking side as illustrated by all too many examples of cheating, political manipulation and, even, dishonesty among public officials and employees.

In Washington, the response of the Congress and the President to the need for economic stimulation has been both partisan and belated. Both parties have proposed stimulus packages larded with fat for their constituencies. The failure to live up to the commitment to provide timely and sufficient federal aid to New York City in the wake of the cowardly attack on the World Trade Center is another example of political perfidy.

Is it any wonder that individuals interpret this kind of message to mean that everyone is on their own? The recent report of 11 school custodians having taken kickbacks to give illegal contracts for window washing is only the latest

in a series of scandals in which school employees have resorted to cheating and dishonesty to protect their jobs and enhance their
income. This kind of behavior cannot be dismissed as human nature, although it ought to be anticipated. The Chancellor has been lax in recognizing this and in providing safeguards. Contracting for new school buildings and for repair is another area, which needs careful review. Taxpayers must be confident that their dollars are not used to line the pockets of the dishonest.

With the coming of standardized tests, it is crucial to put into place a review process that will prevent teaching to the test, or even worse, helping the students through prompting and false grading. It is crucial to review the process by which students who should be held back are promoted, students who are not disabled, but those who merely because of behavior problems or failing in their school work are falsely assigned to special education.

The office of the commissioner of investigation, Edward F. Stancik, should be expanded and strengthened to achieve these objectives, and watchdog citizen organizations given access to process and records.

There is nothing more demoralizing than to learn that school employees, the guardians of our children, are corrupt, even if it is a small number of individuals who are involved. Today, as much as ever, freedom requires constant vigilance. Scandal need not be permanent — the system can change. It is to be hoped that our new mayor will make the restoration of confidence in the integrity of the school system an early priority. #

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December 2001
Small Schools Offer Real Hope For Communities of Color
By Dr. Augusta Souza Kappner

Not long ago, I traveled to Seattle to join a group of multicultural scholars and practitioners and the nation’s leading small schools (K-12) scholars. We were meeting to discuss the potential benefits of small schools reform for minority communities. On at least one point we were unanimous: for urban centers and communities of color, most high schools are failing. The news out of our high schools is bleak:

• High dropout rates continue to plague communities of color.

• African-American and Latino students are retained (required to repeat a grade) at alarming rates.

• Students of color continue to trail their peers on achievement indicators.

Leaders, both within and outside minority communities, have been searching desperately for answers. But surprisingly–at least from my perspective–few have embraced a strategy that offers a tremendous amount of promise: small schools reform.

Small schools work. And they appear to work particularly well with disadvantaged students. Last year, Bank Street College of Education’s study, Small Schools: Great Strides, chronicled the success of small schools reform in numerous Chicago public schools. The average school size nationwide is 741 students, and it is not uncommon for urban children to attend elementary schools with more than 1,000 students and high schools with 3,000 students. By contrast, small schools in the Bank Street study enrolled between 200 to 400 students. The difference between the small schools we examined and their larger counterparts was striking.

We found that smaller learning communities diminish school violence, raise academic engagement and performance, and increase attendance and graduation rates–the very issues with which minority communities across the nation are grappling. Our research affirms the mounting mass of evidence of those who have studied small schools over the past decade. Most promising, small schools reform works within a public school framework–an important fact for leaders of color given that approximately 95 percent of African American and 91 per cent of Latino students currently attend public schools.

Why are there not more leaders from communities of color championing small schools efforts? Why do we allow communities to continue to build the sort of gigantic schools that breed alienation and low expectations? I believe that information about the value of small schools has simply not reached a broad enough audience. A just-released survey from Public Agenda confirms that the majority of America’s parents and teachers do not place school size high on their lists of educational concerns. Small school reformers are now recognizing the need to reach out to leaders in communities of color and welcome them into small schools efforts.

I recognize the honest concerns some have about small schools. Many fear small schools may be prohibitively expensive. Some others– many from African-American or other underserved communities–worry that overly sympathetic teachers in highly personalized learning environments, in recognizing the disadvantages faced by their students, may not hold students to sufficiently high standards of achievement.

The evidence gives us confidence that these concerns can be surmounted by a thoughtful, coherent and diligent approach to the creation of small schools. We have seen that small schools can be affordable for even the poorest communities. (Research by Fruchter, Stiefel et al. shows that the cost per graduate is actually lower in small schools than in large.) We have found that most small schools hold high expectations for their students. Small school populations, like large school populations, generally reflect the ethnic makeup of the communities they serve; where integration is the goal, small schools are often more likely to be able to achieve diverse populations. In systems that establish clear, progressive guidelines, small schools are actually less likely to be segregated than are larger schools.

Interestingly, some minority leaders have recently spoken out in favor of charter schools and voucher plans. Their explanation has been not so much an embrace of these strategies as a rejection of the status quo. The frustration they feel with the ongoing failure of our urban public schools to adequately serve students of color is certainly understandable. But what is needed now is not an abandonment of public schools but rather a commitment to establishing more effective–and smaller– learning communities.

Leaders of color should endorse the small schools movement within public school systems, because small schools offer the potential for quality education, provide educational opportunities, and foster academic and social success. Small schools may well provide an answer to much of what ails today’s most difficult-to-reform educational systems. Consequently, now is the time for leaders of color to propel this movement forward.

Dr. Augusta Souza Kappner has been president of Bank Street College in New York City since 1995, and was the assistant secretary for Vocational and Adult Education for the U.S. Department of Education from 1993 to 1995.

Prayer for September 11
By Lucy Friedland

Will the sun ever shine there again?
Will the sky ever be blue there again?
Will the grass ever grow green there again?
There where people worked with purpose—
Will laughter be heard there again?

The giant towers were the redwoods in the
forests of steel and glass
In the great city called NewYork.

They were the pride of those who built them,
Of those who worked there,
And of those who visited there.

Men built them,
Other men destroyed them.

Now there’s talk of debris.
Hey! my brothers and sisters lie in that debris.
Move that debris ever so gently,
Aborted lives are to be discovered there,
This is the Pompeii of the 21st century.

We will never forget those heroes, these patriots,
Oh say can you see,
It’s still the land of the free.

Lucy Friedland is a retired NYC high school teacher who is now living in Los Angeles.

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November 2001
NYS Board of Regents Acts in Recent Crisis
By Dr. Geraldine Chapey

Have you ever been victimized by a professional? Have you ever had the wrong tooth extracted or the wrong kidney removed? How do you know the professionals you are using are not practicing without a license? Who is protecting you from these fraudulent professionals?

You might be surprised.

When most people think of the Board of Regents, they are reminded of standards, curriculum and student testing. But the Regents, as the most comprehensive and unified educational system in the nation, are responsible for so much more.

A case in point was the way the Regents and the State Education Department immediately reached out to help the overwhelming call for volunteers to assist in the extraordinary challenge of the rescue and recovery operation following the World Trade Center tragedy. Under the leadership of Commissioner Richard Mills and Deputy Commission Johanna Portier, the State Education Department’s Office of The Professions:

• Responded to over 600 calls from professionals, out of state, licensed or retired, asking whether they could volunteer their professional services in this emergency if they are licensed in another state or licensed but not currently registered in New York State.

• Advised the field, through information on our Web page, and communications with the Department of Health, the American Red Cross, the NYS Emergency Management Office, the Governor’s Office, and many others that the Education Law allows the provision of medical assistance in an emergency by individuals who are competent but may not be licensed in NYS. This has been a critical message to many health care workers to enter ground zero and assist in the crisis.

• Nurses and physicians who offered to provide emergency services on Tuesday night were not permitted to enter the secured perimeter without proof of licensure; they were able to obtain a record of their licensure by printing out our web page.

• The attack destroyed 33 pharmacies in the area and a number of databases with information about patients and current prescriptions. Working with the Department of Health and the Bureau of Controlled Substances, we issued Emergency Guidelines for Pharmacy Services related to the crisis that enabled pharmacies to dispense supplies of needed medication to patients who could not otherwise obtain prescriptions.

• Permitted pharmacists and pharmacies to transfer needed stock between and among pharmacies without a wholesale license during this emergency.

• Expedited the processing of licenses to open replacement pharmacies in alternate locations for pharmacies that were closed during the emergency.

• Communicated to the NYS Emergency Management Office and the Governor’s Office that architects and engineers needed at the emergency site who may not be currently registered in NYS or licensed in other states can contribute their services as consultants as long as their work is endorsed by NYS licensed design professional.

At the request of the SEMO for help with identifying individuals who could serve as translators, the State Education Department provided:

a) a print of all colleges offering degrees in foreign languages and

b) a printout of the location of all certified teachers in languages other than English.

The Works of the Office of the Professions: What Made Them Ready To Respond In A Crisis

Established over 125 years ago to protect the public and professionals, the Office of the Professions is a major force in maintaining and enhancing the health and well being of all New Yorkers. They are responsible for overseeing that every child and adult in New York State is served by qualified, ethical professionals who remain current in their field.

About 640,000 licensed professionals practice under the regulations of the Board of Regents who regulate, license and carry out disciplinary proceedings for 38 professions including accounting, dentistry, nursing, architecture, pharmacy, physical therapy, and speech pathology.

Representing the legitimate interests of consumers, professional associations, individual practitioners, employers, colleges offering professional education and the general public, the Regents and the Office of the Professions, in partnership with 25 State Board of professionals and lay people, work hard to protect and benefit both professionals and the public who require professional services.

Within that last two years the Office of the Professions has launched a major public information campaign: Consumers, businesses and other interested parties can now access a searchable online data base of the 4,500 registered pharmacists and 700 firms registered to manufacture or sell wholesale prescription drugs in New York State.

Patients and other citizens can turn to the Office of the Professions’ Web site for instantaneous registration information and assurance that those who manufacture, transport or disperse prescription drugs are properly authorized and registered (www.regents.nysed.gov)

Over two million consumers used the Web site last year to obtain license verification to determine whether an individual was licensed and currently registered in the 38 professions.

For two years in a row the National Council on Licensure Enforcement and Regulations presented their annual award to the Office of the Professions, New York State Education Department.

And now you know why the Board of Regents and the State Education Department were ready to assist in the challenging and tragic World Trade Center rescue and recovery operation.#

The author is a member of the NYS Board of Regents.

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October 2001
No Man Is An Island

It was a beautiful, spring-like day in New York City. My husband and I voted in the mayoral primary and then walked to Park Avenue. Incredulously, I looked at the billows of black smoke filling the sky 80 blocks away. Shortly thereafter, our office building at 30th and Fifth Avenue was evacuated. Thousands of people, as if on a death march, serious and silent, streamed north up Third and Lexington Avenues for hours, many not arriving home that evening.

Some would never return home.

I think about our office at Education Update, a diverse group of people coming from Brazil, Ireland, Greece, Argentina and China, practicing various religions–Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism–and speaking various languages. How well we get along! How we enjoy an intellectual comraderie as well as sharing the goal of strengthening and improving education in our nation. We respect each other’s religious beliefs, we learn from each other, we celebrate each other, we enjoy sharing knowledge about each other’s customs without seeking to convert anyone.

We must infuse our children in their early years with a love and acceptance of different cultures. To learn is to understand. To understand is to accept. To accept is a step in eliminating aggression based on differences.

We live in a global society, what happens in one part of the world affects another. John Donne recognized that in his poetry in the 17th century. Indeed, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main...”

What kept echoing in my mind as the death toll numbers rose had also been said by Donne centuries ago: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Each and every global citizen has been diminished by those who died on September 11, 2001.

Schools Surrounding Tragedy
By Jerry Cammarata

The morning walk to school. A time for parents and children to enjoy the fresh air and carry on conversation about the day, school work, or even random chit chat.

On September 11th at PS 234, two blocks from the World Trade Center (WTC), dozens of parents and children were approaching the school at 8:48 AM. Suddenly, they witnessed a plane crash directly into the Twin Towers! The rest of their lives will never be the same!

Within five minutes of the first crash, I was on the scene and rushed to PS 234, only to find chaos. Young and old, teachers and cafeteria workers tried to keep order in an event which had no disaster plan. Parents wanted to get out of the building and go home with their children; a sound idea to walk north, away from the twin towers.

As many of the parents and children were leaving the building and looking up at the towers, they again saw a plan crash into the WTC. Beyond belief! What to do? Where can you go for safety?

This story for the most part, played out in all the schools surrounding the WTC: PS/IS 89, PS 150, PS 234, PS 721M, Stuyvesant HS, HS of Economics and Finance, and the Murry Bergtraum HS. With all the devastation, to my knowledge, all our children, parents, teachers and staff, left safely.

Today, it gives us pause. Should we be doing a risk assessment about where are schools are and what potential dangers could take place? Clearly, the Chancellor has indicated he will be reviewing the security of our schools.

With the Board of Education intact, however and soot-covered school buildings around the WTC remaining, the bigger challenge for us now is to engage in those conversations that address the what, where, why and how of it all. The grief counselors in our schools have been consuming volumes of time each and every day since the tragedy to provide help to those who cannot cope and even to those who think they are coping, yet still need the shoulder of a professional.

At a time like this, the New York City Board of Education will serve a very important role in preserving the human dignity and psychological welfare of its students. President Bush has praised our system for staying open and said Chancellor Levy proved tQat America’s, “most important domestic priority”Ðeducation–could not be halted.

The WTC tragedy reached beyond the schools of NYC. As reported by the New York State School Board Association, Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills issued an advisory indicating he thought it was unwise to send children home to empty homes; many firefighters, police officers and commuters working in NYC live in Orange County and on Long Island. And, in the Locust School District of Nassau County, a teacher was assigned to each school bus to assure adult supervision was available in the homes.

What took place on September 11th is a part of our lives in real time. Next year it will be a part of our textbooks and a chapter in American history.

Jerry Cammarata is the Commissioner of Youth Services and a member of the NYC Board of Education.

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September 2001
The Education of Our Children Is At Stake: Parents Must Unite
By Ernest T. Clayton, President


United Parents Associations of NYC, Inc.

Parents all across the country will be embarking on a new school year in a couple of weeks. New York City public school parents will be facing many changes and challenges in this upcoming school year. There are over 250 low performing schools throughout the educational system that are depriving children of a sound-basic education. Higher Standards are in full practice throughout the city schools. Today 69% of students in grades 4 through 8 are below achievement standards in math and 43% below achievement standards in reading. The best teachers are being lured out of NYC for better working conditions, parking privileges and higher competitive wages. Over 500 principals, assistant principals and administrators will be needed come September 6, 2001 citywide. Chancellor Levy, has ordered superintendents to cut their District budgets in order to meet the Board of Education’s fiscal woes that have been imposed by the state and city leadership.

“Project Save,”[Safe Schools Against Violence Act] is now making it easy for students to be removed from classrooms by teachers for what they consider “disruptive behavior.” Where are the resources for the detention classrooms that these students will be moved into, so they can continue their learning?

Should parents start to be concerned?

Speaker Sheldon Silver is heading a task force on School Governance, should the educational system fall under the control of the Mayor?

A new Mayor will lead the city in January, possibly four new Borough Presidents will take office and all of this translates into an entirely new seven-member Board of Education governing body. Should parents start to be concerned?

In January 2000, New York State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrass, ruled that the NYS funding formula was discriminatory and unconstitutional. He further stated that NYC public school children were not receiving a sound, basic education. Just when parents were celebrating this landmark victory, Governor Pataki has decided to appeal the ruling, delaying badly needed funds even longer. Should parents start to be concerned? Will there be enough space and teachers for the increase in student population coming to the schools on September 6, 2001. There is a new Special Education policy called the “New Continuum” which mainstreams special needs students back into regular classrooms. When was the training given to teachers? Where will the resources come from in order to bring these students up to pace with the class? Should parents be concerned?

Parents must unite for effective change that will command the resources that must be available in order to enable learning [a sound, basic education] to take place in every classroom citywide. This is the year parents must come together in light of a new leadership in our City Government and City Council. Can we do it? Yes we can. Can we win? You bet we can.

Reflections on School Days

As the first day of school approaches, anticipation fills the air. The promise of new courses, great teachers, friends old and new, and leaving the relaxed pace of summer to enter the familiar rhythm of learning. Anxiety is part of the anticipation too. Grades, tests, rankings, SATs, LSATs, MCATs and a host of other acronyms hover over us.

My thoughts turn to two very important students in my life: my 92-year-old father, looking forward to a new crop of students as he continues to teach Hebrew while he studies himself, and my three-year-old granddaughter, starting nursery school.

Opposite ends of the age spectrum, sharing the same excitement and anticipation of new friends and learning adventures that lie ahead. I wish them great success in the challenges of 2001-2002! I wish to you, our readers, students, parents, teachers and administrators: may education guide you to achieve mighty goals!

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August 2001
School Governance

The tides are changing in the school system. With the election of a new mayor, New York City will see sweeping revisions in school governance. Control of schools will be vested either in the Mayor, the Board of Education, or a balance of the two. The operant word is “control” of schools, but it should be substituted by “leadership.” As Chris Whittle recently pointed out to Education Update, if you have outstanding leadership in a principal, you will have a good school.

I propose an 11-member board of elected individuals who have experience in education, business, the arts and sciences. That board can choose a Chancellor of Education, who will be accountable to the board and to the people. To make education-related decisions, each board member will have one vote, along with the chancellor, and the mayor.

Another aspect of school governance is the input of students. This concept has successfully been implemented by the Governor of the Virgin Islands who has several high school students, chosen by their schools, meet with the mayor each month to provide feedback about their schools and communities. When I suggested this idea to some of the mayoral candidates, they were enthusiastic.

The bottom line is the children. My children are my best friends, my advisors, the ones I love dearly and the future of my family. We live in the greatest city in the world. Let’s try to make education for our children, the best in the nation.

Education Update says farewell to a wonderful assistant editor, Sarah Elzas. Sarah began with us as an intern in her freshman year at Columbia University and came to us upon graduation with ways to improve coverage of events, creativity in assignments and oranizing the office. She has been indispensable to all of us, and we will miss her. The good news is that she will continue as a freelance writer.

This summer we welcomed three dynamic interns: Rachel Mittelman from Columbia University, Kahdeidra Martin from Stanford University and Katarzyna Kozanecka from Stuyvesant High School. We hope they have learned a great deal and welcome their return next summer.

Finally, we extend a welcome aboard to our new assistant editor, Marylena Mantas, who has just graduated from Columbia University and brings extensive experience as a features editor at the Columbia Spectator. We’re looking forward to a great and wonderful collaboration.

Quality in Higher Education and Open Admissions: An Oxymoron?

How does one judge the worth of a college? Traditionally, quality is equated with selectivity. Acceptance into a distinguished college or university provides students with the opportunity to obtain a better life. It also validates the parental experience of 18 years and is considered the “Cinderella slipper” in our meritocracy.

So why would anyone attend a college that accepts everybody? Is a selective admission process a necessary ingredient for a quality education?

For over 20 years, American educators have been debating over these issues. As the President of a community college that operates under open admissions, I subscribe to the principle that we can maintain high academic standards while admitting everyone. We just need to take a different approach.

Under an open admissions policy, anyone with a high school degree is welcome to matriculate in a program of study.

All matriculated students are given a battery of basic skills placement examinations. These exams provide the college and the student with information necessary for appropriate course placement. Students who do not demonstrate the required competence must enroll in a developmental or “remedial” course designed to provide concentrated assistance and to bring them quickly up to college level work. In most cases this occurs in one semester, but it may take longer.

Some colleges and universities require an “exit from remediation exam” of their students before they can enter a “college-level course.” Developmental courses serve as the foundation for academic quality in a community college. Without a strong remedial program, community colleges cannot expect students who has been out of school for ten years or who have demonstrable academic deficiencies to immediately enroll in college-level courses and do well.

Remediation is neither recognition of failure, nor a waste of resources. Instead, it is as important to an open admissions college as a strong curriculum, equipment and buildings. The alternative to an effective remedial program is to become selective and/or lower academic standards.

Students who graduate from a community college and transfer to a baccalaureate-granting institution typically have a grade point average equal to or better than those students at the baccalaureate-granting institution. Clearly, this proves that those who graduate from a community college are prepared to meet the rigors of a baccalaureate-granting junior and senior year.

Thus, it makes sense for families to consider community colleges. A well-prepared high school student can save up to $25,000 or more in tuition alone by attending a community college and then transferring to the baccalaureate-granting institution of his or her choice. Low tuition and the savings in room and board make a significant difference in the financing of a baccalaureate education.

When measuring the quality of community colleges one should not look at the admission process, but in the result of the experience. Community colleges offer an opportunity to everyone, but only those who are successful at college-level work will graduate or transfer. Our students are well prepared for employment or for baccalaureate-level work. We must do everything within our power to help them realize their dreams.

The author is the President of Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York

July 2001

Think Out of the Box:
Addressing Math and Science Teacher Shortages
by Alfred S. Posamentier

The recent issuance of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein’s task force on mathematics education is yet another cry for improving mathematics instruction in New York. This can be translated into a quest to improve the competence of the teachers, which is closely related to the ever-increasing shortage of these teachers. Of the 1,500 acceptances for the next phase of the Teaching Fellows program, one of the Board of Education’s efforts to solve the teacher shortage, only ten are qualified to teach mathematics. This does not bode well for the future of the teaching staff in New York City.

But things have not always been this way. During the Depression of the 1930s, scientists were attracted to the teaching profession, and it was one of the few professions open to women and minorities before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These early waves of professionals buoyed the school system through the beginning part of the 1960s, until another national crisis, the Vietnam War, again channeled high-quality personnel into the teaching profession; this time through draft deferments, issued to those teaching in hard-to-staff schools and in the critical areas such as mathematics and science.

After 1968, job opportunities for women increased significantly, providing them with viable alternatives to the teaching profession, which heretofore was their profession of choice. Similarly, minorities who once would have chosen teaching as their profession, are now being actively recruited into the business world. It is clear that teacher shortages are at crisis proportions today because we are not adequately competing with the economic pull of the private sector.

One temporary solution is the importation of foreign teachers to fill the immediate vacancies until permanent local replacements can be found. I initiated this idea, inviting visiting Austrian math and science teachers. Now in its third year, some teachers are staying on longer than the initial two- or three-year period. This concept for meeting immediate shortages has now been replicated in many American cities and in numerous countries throughout the world.

An extension of the Teaching Fellows program might meet the most severe shortages in mathematics teaching. The Board needs to survey the 1,500 accepted applicants to determine which ones have some interest and experience in mathematics. Those who pass an aptitude test could then be given a series of mathematics courses to build their knowledge of the underlying mathematics concepts of the middle school curriculum. Coupled with preparation in appropriate pedagogy and methods of teaching mathematics, these Fellows could be “converted” into reasonably well-trained math teachers.

We need to begin to think “out of the box”: offer signing incentives to qualified teachers who can teach in areas of need; offer competitive salaries and working conditions, and recruit aggressively from business industries where qualified people may be found. Many excellent math and science teachers have recently retired or are about to retire. Allowing them to earn tax-levy money on top of their pension for part-time teaching could help fill the void. Conduct an aggressive recruitment program outside of New York City, offering such incentives as housing allowances and reimbursement for moving-expenses. Woo current college majors in math and science who have outstanding academic records into the teaching profession with rewards that could include loan repayments, paid summer internships as math and science tutors in summer school, and scholarships. These are just a few of the ways that we can begin to address the crisis.

It is clear that this crisis has resulted in a decline of the teacher caliber in the schools, and has been reflected in overall weaker school supervisors and administrators. Although Universities do not like to admit it, we too find it much more difficult to recruit high quality teacher educators than several decades ago, which in turn affects the quality of teachers we turn out. This vicious circle must be stopped.

Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy, coming from the private sector, knows that you get what you pay for. Society has to respect the role of the teacher, something long out of fashion. Free public education is the cornerstone of the American democratic system. It must be preserved and cherished!

The author is Dean of the School of Education, The City College of the City University of New York.

June 2001

Meeting the Newcomer

by Matilda Raffa Cuomo and Deborah E. Lans

Fifty-three percent of New York City students come from immigrant families. At least 17 percent of New York City students—170,000 children—are English Language Learners (ELLs), students who have entered the school system in the last three years for whom English is not a native language. More than half of these children speak Spanish, ten percent speak Chinese and the balance speak approximately 140 other languages.

ELLs, particularly those who first enter the school system in middle or high school, have a particularly difficult time meeting the standards necessary to exit ESL or bilingual programs or for passing Regents exams. In 2000, two-thirds of the fourth-grade ELLs in New York City failed the English language arts test, as compared with 50 percent statewide. ELLs require longer to graduate high school and, particularly faced with new Regents requirements, they are showing increasing dropout rates. Just in the last two years, the rate has increased from 17 to 24 percent.

What should be done? It is apparent that the State and the Board of Education need to invest substantially more money in bilingual and ESL teaching to recruit and train teachers; acquire and disseminate curriculum materials; hire translators and take other steps to facilitate effective parent outreach and education; assure the availability of summer school classes; and to promptly place ELLs in classes meeting their needs.

After-school programming needs to be made available to ELLs in order to provide them additional support with language arts skills. ELLs need to be placed in mentoring programs. Mentors—particularly those who have experienced acculturation themselves—can be particularly helpful for children who may be having difficulty adapting to our culture and whose families may not have the knowledge of the school system, college application and selection process or career paths that their children may need to reach their full potential.

At Mentoring USA we are attempting to address the special obstacles faced by ELLs in several ways. First, this Fall we will introduce an ESL Mentoring program. Bilingual mentors will receive special training and, working under the guidance of skilled teachers, will link one-to-one with ELLs to work with them on an individual mentoring plan designed to meet that child’s needs, as identified by the child’s ESL teacher and parent(s) and by the child. The child will benefit from individual attention to language arts skills.

In addition, Mentoring USA’s BRAVE program (Bias Related Anti-Violence Education) offers all youth in our programs the opportunity to explore their ethnic, racial and cultural heritage, through the reading of books about their countries of origin, heroes from their cultures and special holidays and celebrations observed in their lands. Activities linked to the readings allow the youth and mentors to share these materials with one another and to elaborate on the messages of tolerance and the value of diversity which underpin the BRAVE program.

The continued strength and vitality of our city depends on our providing assistance to our immigrant youth— to assure that they receive a sound and strong education and feel fully welcomed in and connected to our culture, as well as their own.

Mrs. Cuomo is the founder and Chairperson of Mentoring USA. Ms. Lans is the Executive Director.


In Memoriam: Hank Ketcham

Hank Ketcham, 81, died in Pebble Beach, California. The noted cartoonist was famous for his Dennis the Menace cartoon character which appeared in thousands of publications worldwide.

Dennis was modeled after Hank’s four-year old son who never aged over the years that the cartoon appeared.

Several years ago, Hank Ketcham stopped drawing the cartoon; production was done by a staff of cartoonists who will continue even after Ketcham’s death.

Education Update was fortunate to be able to interview Hank Ketcham for the February 2000 issue, featuring him and his protegé on the front page. When discussing the career of cartoonist, Ketcham said, “Besides talent, cartoon drawing is all about discipline. It is a regimented occupation that you must somehow keep fresh in your mind in order to remain creative.”

We all will miss Hank Ketcham who brought chuckles into our daily lives.

May 2001
Mother’s Day

May is a month of remembrance, of soldiers who perished fighting valiantly for our country, and of mothers who fought for us and were our staunchest defenders. Mothers nurture, comfort, advise and help us and can be our best friends. I remember my mother’s kindness and wisdom and the pain of losing her while I was in high school. I can only imagine how she would have enjoyed the ensuing years of celebrating milestones together: marriage, grandchildren, career successes, and simply sharing in our daily lives. She missed a great deal and I miss her so much.

This issue celebrates mothers and daughters, their impact on each other’s lives, their unique relationship. Our interviews with Erica Jong and Molly Jong Fast, and Matilda Cuomo and Maria Cuomo Cole are filled with the love, warmth and tenderness that uniquely characterize mother-daughter dyads. And, as Matilda Cuomo said, no matter how intense the arguments between mothers and daughters, they will always forgive each other.

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

President Bush says yes, test the children more. New York State Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills says yes, test the children more. The Chancellor agrees but allows for certain schools to continue to use alternative methods such as portfolio evaluations. Now, the Alliance for Childhood, a national partnership of educators, health professionals, researchers and other child advocates, is raising questions about the health implications of President Bush’s proposal to increase standardized testing of public-school students.

Standardized tests enable us to have benchmarks: how much has a student learned in a subject area; how much knowledge did a student gain from one year to another; how do students compare in performance to each other. Standardized tests like the SAT, LSAT and MCAT have been used for decades to help colleges, law schools and medical schools decide on their choice of future student bodies. However, standardized tests cannot pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses or help teachers decide on the best teaching modes for certain students. That goal is best served by individualized testing of students by teachers or portfolio evaluation.

If standardized tests are increased with the rigor that federal and state governments are mandating, teachers will be under pressure to statistically prove their students are high performers. The end result will be teaching to the test.

The true test should be given to teachers to ensure they are the best and brightest for our children. The Bank Street College of Education currently prepares future principals by choosing the best through rigorous testing. The Chancellor’s Teaching Fellows Program also screens future teachers for excellence.

The true test is how to revise the curriculum to ensure students are learning. At Weill Medical College of Cornell University the curriculum was revised from lecture based learning to problem based learning. The new group took the National Board examinations, given after completion of the first two years of medical school, and achieved the highest scores in the history of Cornell.

What is the true challenge? It is to instill in students, a joy of learning that will lead not only to higher test scores but will build an enlightened citizenry.

April 2001

Poetry, throughout the ages, has stirred our emotions. From Petrarch’s love sonnets about Laura to John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud,” from Masefield’s “Sea Fever” to the poignant poems of Maya Angelou, poets have shared their lives and perceptions and thus enriched our own. April is National Poetry Month, a time to interview state poet laureates around the nation. Unfortunately, our own New York State poet laureate was unavailable for interview but each one we contacted (south, north and west) was most interested in sharing personal experiences and poetry with you, our readers.

Two of our associate editors have also shared their writings below. One, an editor and linguist has written about the mighty Hudson River in Portuguese; the other, a medical student, has written a moving piece about her cadaver in gross anatomy class.


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