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Common Core emphasis on nonfiction rubs some educators the wrong way

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

What should be the proper balance between fiction and nonfiction reading in English language arts? That's a hotly debated question now that the Common Core State Standards require a shift in emphasis from literacy to informational texts as students advance through grades.

The standards call for a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction texts in grade four. By grade eight, 55 percent of reading must focus on informational texts, increasing to 70 percent by grade 12. These guidelines apply to students' exposure to reading material during the entire school day and cover all subjects, not just ELA classes.

But there is a perception that the responsibility for making sure that students learn techniques to understand difficult texts and summarize key points will fall disproportionately on English teachers.

"The reality is that we only have ELA and math standards at this point, and we have testing tied to teacher evaluations," said Daniel Katz, an assistant professor of education at Seton Hall University and a former high school English teacher. "I think it is very clear that, for the foreseeable future, this is going to fall on the English teachers."

Tuxedo's charter school proposal impresses, worries nearby district

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

In search of a way forward amid enrollment declines and a growing financial squeeze, a small Orange County school district is seeking state approval to turn its high school into a charter school emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

"I think it's innovative and creative, and I compliment my board for being courageous enough to say 'Let's try this,'" said Carol Lomascolo, superintendent of the Tuxedo school district, located in a lakeside community near Harriman State Park, a few miles from New York's border with New Jersey.

By using the charter school model, Tuxedo hopes to draw many new students from outside the district to an enhanced STEM curriculum offered in a small-school environment.

But leaders in a neighboring district, Greenwood Lake, worry that the innovative charter conversion plan also could deal a huge financial hit to their school community - and perhaps others.

Literature or nonfiction: Who should decide?

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

Lynne L. Lenhart
NYSSBA President

I support the Common Core Learning Standards. But I have to admit, a specific English/Language Arts standard has left me feeling a bit unsettled.

As Senior Research Analyst Paul Heiser writes in this issue of On Board, one of the ELA Common Core Learning Standards calls for 70 percent of a student’s reading in grade 12 to be informational text (i.e., literary nonfiction), as opposed to works of literature, or fiction.

The move is intended to align instruction in our schools with the content on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website.

While I do not challenge the argument that, overall, students need to read more nonfiction in order to be better prepared for the type of material they will encounter in college and on the job, I still have trouble with the 70 percent requirement - even if it does represent reading across all subject matters, rather than English/Language Arts classes alone.

NYSUT, others blast field test regulations

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The Regents this month advanced a regulation that would clarify a state requirement that school districts give stand-alone "field tests" that help vet the quality of questions before they appear on actual state exams.

There was an increase in the number of school districts declining to administer field tests last spring amid complaints that the exams contribute to a culture of excessive testing.

On social media, a vigorous campaign against the measure gained momentum as the Regents met. Critics using the Twitter hashtag #NOFIELDTESTING urged people to call a number at the State Education Department to complain.

A statement released by New York State United Teachers blasted the regulation as a favor to commercial testing companies that would erode learning time.

Ten more P-TECHs authorized

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Ten more P-TECH schools will join the 16 that were launched around the state at the start of this school year.

The additional programs announced this month by the governor's office bring the estimated number of New York students who will receive six-year P-TECH educations by the end of the next seven years to 9,000.

"By reimagining how our schools educate, train and guide our students, we're unlocking the door to tremendous opportunities for some of the youngest New Yorkers, not just today but well into the future," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a written statement about the expanding P-TECH program.

P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. The programs feature close collaborations among colleges, local businesses and school districts. They offer students the opportunity to develop technical knowledge and skills useful for careers while they also earn high school diplomas and college associate degrees, tuition-free.

ECB calls for aid increase of $1.9B

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The Educational Conference Board - a coalition of seven statewide educational organizations including NYSSBA - is calling for an additional $1.9 billion in annual state support for schools and a fair distribution plan designed to heal a "fractured funding system."

The bulk of the proposed increase, an estimated $1.2 billion, is necessary for school districts to simply continue current programs and services, the ECB calculates. The additional $700 million would help districts shoulder growing responsibilities and costs for critical initiatives, including reforms for English language learners, expanding career and technical education, and implementation of full-day pre-kindergarten, according to the group.

"We believe that this year can be a turning point after a series of tough years for schools," said John Yagielski, chair of the board and interim superintendent for the Niskayuna school district. A surplus of at least $4.8 billion now projected by the Cuomo administration, fueled by a series of settlements with banks and financial institutions, could help, he said.

Yagielski noted that 51 percent of New York's school districts still receive less state aid than they did in 2008-09, due to a series of state budget-balancing steps reacting to the national economic recession. Meanwhile, he said the state continues to divert more than a billion dollars a year from school aid through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was created to help balance the state budget five years ago.

Citing GEA, judge rules state aid lawsuit stands

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

by Eric D. Randall

A state Supreme Court has issued an order that rejected the state's attempt to lawsuit that seeks a remedy for the effects of the Gap Elimination Adjustment and other actions that have reduced state aid to schools below levels consistent with wording in the state Constitution.

NYSSBA is a plaintiff in the litigation by New Yorkers for Students Educational Rights (NYSER). The litigation seeks to enforce the funding and other constitutional mandates established in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision by the state's highest court.

"This is an encouraging ruling for the plaintiff and for the schoolchildren of New York State," said NYSSBA General Counsel Jay Worona.

Referring specifically to Gap Elimination Adjustment, Court Justice Manuel Mendez also said it and other actions "could potentially be found irrational, arbitrary or capricious and capable of preventing a sound basic education."

Should school district policy stop teachers from 'friending' students on Facebook?

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Courtney Sanik
Policy Consultant

"We want to stop teachers from being friends with students on Facebook. Do you have a sample policy on that?"

Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg. Ever since you created your social network, things have been pretty busy in the NYSSBA Policy Services Department.

Our department regularly receives requests related to "social media" - an umbrella term for a set of websites and apps that enable people to connect with each other and is expanding every day.

Lawmakers debate whether school nurses should stock antidote to heroin overdose

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Connie McKinney
Special Correspondent

To date, there have been no reported cases of heroin overdoses taking place in New York State schools. But legislators have been debating whether schools are adequately prepared to deal with that possibility.

Legislation that would allow schools to stock a heroin overdose antidote failed to pass the state Legislature last spring. Notably, a bill that passed the Senate in the last session, S.7661, would have authorized "any person employed" by a school district to administer an opioid antagonist such as Narcan.

Also known as naloxone hydrochloride, Narcan can reverse the effect of an overdose from heroin and other opioids, a class of drugs derived from opium and used as painkillers. Some emergency medical teams have carried and used Narcan for years, and police departments across the state have begun to do so recently in response to the current heroin problem.

Current state law and regulations do not allow schools or BOCES to stock Narcan, according to Martha Morrissey, an associate in nursing for NYSED's Office of Student Support Services.

As state's heroin problem grows, schools focus on prevention

On Board Online • November 24, 2014

By Connie McKinney
Special Correspondent

Linda Ventura was on the train commuting to work in New York City from her home on Long Island when she heard the worst news a parent can hear: Her 21-year-old, Thomas, had died of a heroin overdose.

"Heroin became his best friend and his boss," she said. "That disease takes your loved one hostage. They don't really care what goes on. They just need what they need for their addiction."

Heroin abuse is on the rise in the nation and in New York State, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to launch a Combat Heroin campaign ( ) in September. Two sessions at NYSSBA's Annual Convention in October also called attention to the problem.

Last year, 89,269 people throughout the state were admitted to treatment for heroin and prescription opioids, an increase from 63,793 in 2004.

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