Friday, December 30, 2005

Today I was reading the Olive Press, and I came across this editorial. This sentence really set me off: "Secondly, the Middle School model — which we could only eschew completely knowing that it would then set our students apart from a shared national and state experience — suggests that mid-grade students learn best when in their own school, yet with access to the sports and classroom facilities of junior and senior high schoolers."

What? So I couldn't resist, and I fired off another letter to the editor on the subject. It is similar to what I wrote here, with a few changes and deletions. I sure hope it doesn't cause some jerk to attack me - although I doubt this issue is of as much interest as the large parcel.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It was really bugging me, so I kept at it and got it to work. The little I remember from that HTML course I took years ago (in the days when I knew something about computers, before Microsoft absorbed everything) does come in handy sometimes.
Trying this one more time.
I think the problem with comments probably has to do with my using an old template. I don't get error messages when I republish, but I suspect that is what is going on. It would take too much time for me to switch to a new one, so I guess when I feel like devoting the energy to it, I will find another commenting system to use.
I made the switch yesterday but for some reason the comment link doesn't appear. Great, since I already deleted the YACCS code. I had tried to change once before a while ago, and it didn't work then, either. I thought maybe I had to get rid of YACCS, which is why I deleted it this time. How irritating Blogger can be, I just don't have the patience to fool around with this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I decided to switch to Blogger comments from YACCS. Not that it makes a big difference since I don't get many comments, but I have been told that a lot of the time the comment link didn't work, and that has been my experience, too.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Finished my grading yesterday with 6 hours to spare, and now I am reading neither my campus nor my online class email account until Tuesday. (So if I have to justify, or made a mistake, it will have to wait.)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In the recent Olive Press, I read this article, which (as usual) irritated me. (What's with the snarky remark from unidentified Woodstock and West Hurley parents and teachers that any "attempt to close Bennett School would see Olive voters ganging up on us again"?) It said that school board discussions on this issue have not been well-attended. Well, I can't routinely go to board meetings (and I am taxed without representation anyway), but I have some thoughts on the issues addressed by the article.

It alarmed me to read in the article "Combined with strong suggestions from the state and federal government that all school districts institute some form of separate Middle School facility, big changes are afoot." I am aware that special education students at the junior high were below State accountability standards (if memory serves, for two years in a row?) because they failed to make adequate progress in mathematics and English, but it surprises me that the solution to this would be establishing a separate middle school?

Onteora is already a very well-funded district. It seems to me that the creation of a middle school is a very expensive 1960s solution to the education of pre-teens and young teens, even if it is in response to declining enrollment at the elementary schools. If research is any indictor, it is also an approach that is not likely to work.

A newer idea is moving to a K-8 model. Aside from the obvious advantage of leaving grades 7 and 8 in a more nurturing, closer to home neighborhood school, it also would solve the problem of decreasing enrollments in the elementary buildings, and it would eliminate the disruption and annoyance that would no doubt be caused by shifting students and closing schools.

So I emailed the board my concerns, with this brief literature review attached:

The idea of special middle schools to serve adolescents became popular in the 1960s. Schools vary in how they define a middle student, but generally the middle grades can include grades 5 through 8. Although there is no exact definition, middle schools usually serve students in either grades 5 or 6 through grade 8. Some districts have junior high schools instead of middle schools. Junior high school most often focuses on grades 7 and 8.

The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development published Turning Points (Report of the Task Force on Education and Youth Adolescents, New York) in 1989, which highlighted the importance of children's transition during the middle grades. It has sparked debate and additional research on the middle school years, including Great Transitions: Preparing Adolescents for a New Century (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, New York, 1995). These publications and other research pointed out that the organization and curriculum of middle and junior high schools are often inconsistent with students' intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal needs. For many young people, this change means leaving the neighborhood elementary school to be thrust into a much larger, possibly more impersonal environment some distance from home.

The Carnegie Council concluded that the middle school curriculum does not encourage critical, complex thinking. They advocated the creation of learning teams, a core academic curriculum, the elimination of tracking (sorting students according to their ability level into homogeneous classes, rather than placing them in classes containing a mixture of ability levels), and the hiring of teachers who have been specifically trained to teach in the middle grades. In 1998, the Center for Collaborative Education in Boston (CCE) began to develop a school reform design that would be based on the research and work of the preceding nine years. In 1999 the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to seven organizations to develop models of school reform. This support, along with funding from private foundations, meant research continued on the issue. In Turning Points 2000 (Teacher's College Press, New York, 2000), Anthony Jackson and Gayle Davis examined the progress being made and the experiences of middle school teachers and administrators. Turning Points 2000 builds on the original Turning Points, with added emphasis on improving curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

The Turning Points model includes seven points for middle-grades school reform: rigorous standards and curriculum, equitable and excellent instruction, preparation and support of expert teachers, schools organized into small units and instructional teams, democratic governance, a healthy learning environment, and schools linked with parents and communities. According to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, in 2005, 71 schools in 13 states (California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin) were implementing the Turning Points model.
According to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle School Reform, in Illinois, there was a rise in student achievement and fewer student behavior problems, and in Massachusetts’ middle schools, the Turning Points schools had gains in the Massachusetts Educational Assessment Program.

According to the RAND corporation (Rand Education, Problems and Promise of the American Middle School, Rand Research Brief, Santa Monica, California, 2004), in spite of these reform efforts, middle schools continue to have challenges. The transitions required by a separate middle school may cause problems that affect students’ development and academic achievement. RAND recommends that states and school districts consider alternatives to the 6-8 structure.

According to Education World (Sharon Cromwell, K-8 Schools: An Idea for the New Millenium?, 1999) Colorado Education Commissioner William Moloney reported that adding two grades to K-6 schools is less costly than building new middle schools, and in Higley, Arizona, a growing town near Phoenix, the school board decided to build five new K-8 schools rather than elementary and middle or junior high schools. A school board member stated that it makes sense to keep adolescents in the elementary school setting. School officials reported that older students in K-8 schools are less likely to be influenced by negative peer pressure than they are in middle schools and junior high schools.

According to Programs and Practices in K-8 Schools: Do They Meet the Educational Needs of Young Adolescents? (C. Kenneth McEwin, Thomas S. Dickinson, and Michael G. Jacobson, National Middle School Association, Westerville, Ohio, 2004), Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Memphis, Tennessee; Baltimore, Maryland and Milwaukee, Wisconsin have plans to transition students from middle schools to K-8 schools. According to the author, there is no data available yet on whether young students in K-8 schools perform better than they do in middle schools.

On a different topic...two vet visits in just over a week. First, Sam was acting very subdued, his little ears were all back - he didn't want to play, or chase Edna, or annoy Sophie, or eat! All checked out fine, and he bounced back. I guess he ate too much, too fast, and he had a stomach ache; he is a very sensitive puppy. Then today we had to take Sophie to the vet, because she has blood in her urine. She seems OK, and I have antibiotics, as well as a pill to make her pee more acid. I wouldn't be so worried if this wasn't how Rudy's troubles started, almost a year ago. So have a good thought for Sophie.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I got through class last night and it went OK. I am relieved the class is over, but I can't get the student who died off my mind. He was one of the students who waited after class to shake my hand and introduce himself on the first day. He was the only student to choose to write on the more difficult question about John Locke on the midterm (the majority chose the easier questions that were drawn from the text book). He made a cute cover page with color pictures of John Locke for the paper. I know all the students in class remember him because before Thanksgiving he gave a very heartfelt presentation about his football injury from high school.

For the first time in a long time I was nervous about teaching as I walked to class last night. I started class by having a moment of silence in his memory. Then I gave them a handout I made with contact information and hours for university counseling services and a peer counseling hotline run by students, the religious organization on campus, the university police department and the local psychiatric center. I gave them the information about the memorial service so they could attend. I encouraged them to seek help for this or any other pressure they may have. I told them to approach professors if they are having trouble or need extensions etc. I told them I understood completely what they are going through because I had a friend who killed himself in college. And I gave them some personal advice, of the "what seems to be important now will not be all that important in a year or five years or twenty years" and "getting a C is not the end of the world" and "hindsight is 20-20; it is easy to look back and think that you should have noticed he was depressed and maybe you could have helped, but the truth is it probably would not have changed anything, and even if it could have, there was no way you could have read his mind" and "take care of yourself during finals, get rest and be sure to eat." I shared a positive story about the student and his excellent midterm. I also told them that if at any point they want to talk to someone they can always call or email me, even down the road.

Then I asked them if they wanted to share anything. Three or four students did. One was his dorm neighbor, and two worked with him in group. All shared positive anecdotes. Several others were silent but had teary eyes.

Wednesday night we saw the musical Chicago at Proctor's in Schenectady. I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and then that day I was concerned because I was preoccupied. But in the end, it was a good diversion, and the show was great.

In other news, we are having the first major snow storm of the season.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I found out today that one of the students in my 100-level class committed suicide in his dorm yesterday. He was a first year student, and seemed like a very nice young man. He was also doing perfectly well in my class. We have our last class tomorrow, and I have to find some way to address the incident. How awful, to think that is the only way he knew how to deal with whatever pressures he was under.