The Reds Tale
February 2, 2017
From the Desk of Mr. Roote
Like the producers of the show, my parents often presented to me differing perspectives of our family situation. There were days I was convinced I was the luckiest kid in the world. Those days usually included a trek along the edge of our property ending with a big buck for the wall. Other days things seemed dismal. Those days usually corresponded with the start of tax season. Mom and dad held steady full time jobs (my dad bounced around a touch) that kept our heads above water. Overall, the typical tone in the house was that we were living on a financial razors edge. Tip one way and you would hear nothing but the check-book opening and closing for a muffler repair for the Chevy Nova or payment for a school trip. Tip the other way and things got loud, intense and sounded grim. During not so great times I recall stretching a ridiculously snug pair of sneakers through the summer just so we could get to new shoe shopping season which was August of every year. Toughskins brand jeans were often worn with a patch or two. I now wonder, "Why didn't my mom sew the patch to the inside?" We drank powdered milk for weeks on end. I even got good at sewing up holes in my own socks! We raised livestock in cows, chickens, turkeys and pigs. We had kind of a one for us and one to sell approach to our livestock. Ask me sometime about the family days spent castrating a wily calf or two...uggh! We harvested lumber from our property and heated the house with a pair of mostly functional wood stoves. I could go on and on!
"When I was in high school I did my homework. Well, sort of." In high school I was a compliant and quiet kid. Not one to be recognized by teachers. I laid pretty low. Among my peers I functioned in the middle of my social circle. I was never the first one to be called to hang out, but was not the last one. Girls made no notice of me. As I grew more confident and headed out of my sophomore year some of my time spent laying low was replaced with hi-jinks. I was the spit wad guy for a short time. At least until I hit Janalee Walczak in the lip with one and she scratched my neck so hard that I suffered ridicule for weeks for what looked like a hickey. I became the guy that added details to an experience or embellished a story in a way that produced a good laugh.
"When I was in high school I did my homework. Well, sort of." I think I was the last of a generation that fell victim to the hands on approach from teachers. I recall Tom McInroy, my Afro-American Studies teacher squeezing my trapezoid muscle and stepping on my toes with his heel when I was chatting during class. I recall Mr. Tamarro throwing a dictionary across the room once. Mr. Woichechowski threw erasers and even hit a kid with a piece of chalk once. Back then we were told to sit in the corner. Homework typically consisted of a crossword puzzle, fill-in worksheet or a series of multiple choice questions. Sure I did my homework (when I remembered), I was the compliant kid! I was savvy, for instead of using my passing time to socialize, I used the four minutes between classes to fill in the blanks, spaces etc.
I share the preceding because some things are very different now, yet some things stay the same. Most of you that assign regular homework approach it as a meaningful practice task designed to promote content understanding. Some of you use it to save time on content coverage. Take for example vocabulary that is critical to a new unit. Why burn forty four minutes covering it when you can send it home? For the most part, I will say that the approach today to homework is vastly different than the approach my teachers took. My feeling is that the days of completing homework between the get to class and start class bell are long gone. What hasn't changed a lot is the notion that homework just does not seem to get done. As a science guy I need to point out that there are dozens of variables at play leading teenagers to reject the concept of homework completion. For the sake of adding some clarity to this weeks entry into the Reds Tale lets focus on the article Does Homework Help? from my ASCD Education Update: Volume 59 #1. Alexandria Neason writes: Homework is an age-old tradition, but could inequitably penalize students in poverty: Some educators are weighing whether to redesign it or stop assigning it. When Christina Torres started teaching in 2009, she handed out nightly homework assignments—just as her own teachers had done. Her policy was not unlike those used in other classrooms in her school at the time or in classrooms all over the country. But her students at Animo Ralph Bunche Charter High School in Los Angeles, about 95 percent of whom received free or reduced lunch, often didn't do the assignments. In the first semester, she estimates that just 20 to 30 percent completed their homework. Many said they had simply forgotten about it. The struggle to get kids to do their homework is not new. But while punchlines about the excuses students use to explain their incomplete homework are many, the reasons why they don't complete an assignment are much more complex. And so is understanding the effects that punitive homework policies have on them. With rising poverty rates among the nation's public school students, educators are reconsidering how homework might hurt the very students it is expected to help.
What We Don't Know About Homework: A robust body of research on the efficacy of homework exists, though the results are mixed. Education researcher Harris Cooper and his colleagues analyzed studies on homework conducted between 1987 and 2003. In some studies, they found, students who completed homework scored higher on unit tests than their peers who didn't do homework, but the correlation was weak at the elementary level. In other studies, the researchers identified no strong evidence between homework completion and higher grades. "We've had doubts about whether homework was good or not for a long time," says Cathy Vatterott, education professor and author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs (ASCD, 2009). "We still can't prove it's effective. The research is flawed and idiosyncratic." At the same time, there is a renewed focus on the impact school practices like homework have on students in poverty. In her book The End of Homework, Etta Kralovec writes about her study on 45 former high school dropouts attending an alternative school in Maine. When asked why they wanted to drop out, the students mentioned crowded, chaotic home lives and overworked parents. An inability to complete homework was also among their top reasons for leaving school. "That was about as powerful an indictment that you can get in terms of the effect homework has on kids in poverty," says Vatterott.
How Can Homework Hurt Kids in Poverty?: Although some classrooms and schools have eliminated homework, most students will have to contend with it throughout their education careers. But at what cost? "One of the most serious [consequences of homework] is the exacerbation of social and economic inequities that already exist," says Myron Dueck, ASCD author and vice principal at Summerland Secondary School in British Columbia, Canada. While most students struggle with the everyday pressures and stresses of adolescence, Dueck says students who lack income security, food security, or housing may find a small thing like homework an insurmountable task.
As a result of these barriers, students may experience worse educational outcomes, including not graduating from high school, completing college, or obtaining steady employment. Throughout his lengthy career as both a classroom teacher and administrator, Dueck came across many students who did not have the luxury of free time, a quiet space to work, reliable computer access, or even working electricity. All of that makes completing assignments at home difficult. [...] Even when students don't have part-time jobs, their household responsibilities can resemble one. For these students, after-school activities might include picking up and caring for younger siblings and, ironically, making sure their homework gets done, even if it means their own goes untouched. "Very often both parents are working and the kids have to come home and clean the house and cook," says Thorn. A student from El Salvador who takes care of his younger siblings recently asked Thorn to assign him to in-school suspension, so he'd have time to catch up on his work. "He just felt so far behind," says Thorn. "He couldn't get caught up." And often, students are too ashamed or embarrassed to explain their home situations to their teachers. [...]
What Homework Is Good Homework? For teachers looking to maximize its benefits, experts say the best homework is carefully thought out and assigned strategically. Vatterott recommends assigning homework only after students have mastered a skill. "The most effective homework is used for practice or to check for understanding," she says. "We want [homework] to give feedback to the teacher." Homework should reinforce a student's confidence in their abilities, not shatter it. Avoid assigning a new concept as homework, even if it's an attempt to make up for lost time in class, advises Vatterott. Also, consider why you're assigning homework: Associating homework with learning responsibility, for instance, unfairly "assumes that our kids who are not doing homework aren't already responsible," says Torres.
Furthermore, try not to assign homework merely to give students something to do. When Torres began to reevaluate her classroom policies toward the end of her first year teaching, she looked at each homework assignment and asked herself, "Why did I assign this?" She found a host of assignments with no real learning objective attached to them. Today, she rarely assigns homework, instead making time for students to practice skills in class, with supervision. It helps that at University Lab School, a charter school in Hawaii where she now teaches 7th and 9th grade English, middle schoolers have a study hall built into their schedule. When Torres does give homework, the assignments are short and students have ample opportunity to complete all or most of it in school, where fast Internet and resources are available to everyone.
Should We Grade Homework?: While the mere assignment of homework can cause problems for some students, the lasting damage is done in the grade book. For students who can't complete homework because, for example, they don't have working Internet, losing points (or a social activity such as recess) can be stigmatizing and counterproductive. "We are basically punishing them for their poverty," says Vatterott. "We make it worse in terms of how kids feel about school and about themselves as learners when you put a point value on it," she explains. Dueck describes the penchant to grade homework as a focus on "process" instead of "product." In other words, if the goal is to teach skills, then grades should reflect how well students perform them, not how many assignments they complete. He suggests avoiding traditional grading scales for homework, opting instead for a standards-based grading system. The study skills homework helps teach are important, he says, but should be evaluated separately. In his own classroom (Dueck spends one-quarter of his time teaching), he ditched the typical 100-point, A–F system (which leaves large gaps between failing and passing grades). Instead, he grades on a scale of zero to six, making the number of points between a failing and passing grade equidistant. This prevents a zero from becoming so punitive that students can't recover from it. In some classrooms, teachers might make homework completely optional. If you go that route, Dueck suggests following Torres's lead and working in enough time for supervised practice of new skills during class. Teachers can opt to give short, graded quizzes the morning after an ungraded homework assignment that will not only help check for understanding, but will also encourage students to do the homework as a strategy to perform better on the quiz. It's not entirely failsafe, notes Dueck, but even kids who can't complete the homework have an opportunity to do well on the quiz.
A few schools and districts have eliminated homework altogether or at least minimized its impact on the grade book. In 2015, administrators at P.S. 116, an elementary school in New York City, announced they would no longer assign traditional homework such as worksheets, citing research that says such assignments are ineffective for young students. Instead, the school encourages students to play after school and spend time reading independently.
In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools limits homework to 10 percent of a student's grade. At Kelly Elementary in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Principal Jackie Glasheen put a moratorium on homework for the school's K–8 students—many of whom live in poverty. Longer school days allow teachers there to work in more instruction and extra help. Schools in Massachusetts, Maryland, and elsewhere have enacted similar policies.
How Can Homework Work for All Kids?: For teachers not yet ready to abandon homework, adjusting the volume and the structure of class time can lessen its potentially harmful effects on vulnerable students. Torres assigns homework about every two weeks and tries to restrict it to finishing essays or projects students have already started in class. Other types of homework assignments are rare and are only graded for completion (no more than 10 points). "You could probably do no homework in my class and still get a B," she says. Vatterott cautions that assignments which require students to purchase materials, like poster board, should never be graded. A better plan, says Torres, is to collect suggestions from students and parents about what kind of homework assignments they think are most useful. Teachers can also adjust their policies. In the Wood River-Hartford School District in Illinois, a "Zeroes Aren't Permitted" program prevents students from earning zeroes on work, instead giving them time to finish assignments during lunch. In Fairfax County, students can earn no less than 50 percent for reasonably attempting to finish an assignment, and can retake exams they score less than 80 percent on. Torres does deduct points for late work (10 percent for 7th graders and 20 percent for 9th graders), but she stresses to her kids that some points are better than none—and she never refuses late homework.
Getting to the Root of It: Above all, Torres says teachers must acknowledge the struggle of students in poverty and respect their time. After repeated conversations with one of her students, who had a failing grade and couldn't stay awake during class, she discovered he worked in a meatpacking plant late into the night. For Torres, that meant changing her practices to better accommodate students' home lives. "I came up with a strategy which included telling my kids, 'I'm not going to give you [homework] if I don't think it's going to be useful,'" says Torres. "'I want you guys to know that I'm invested in your education and not just grades.'"
I think the article makes many powerful points that don't require any more insight from me. However, I will close with one final piece of information specific to Newark High School. I recently gained access to the homework completion rate of one of our freshman groups. In looking at one assignment in one class, I crunched some numbers that revealed that 70% of the students that failed to complete the assignment were also collecting a free or reduced lunch. Think about it!
From the Desk of Mr. Wagner
In Cultivating Curiosity, Wendy Ostroff cites, “To make curiosity a priority, we must slow down, and make space for the true spirit of inquiry”. With the pressures from the Regents exams and Common Core, it often feels like teachers must push content or skill development at a rapid pace in order to get everything in by June.
Speaking from experience as a former U.S. History and Global teacher, I remember flying through the last two or three units in May in attempt to get all the content covered. Ostroff writes, “…. curiosity requires some idling. It takes us from our tasks and goals, making us abandon what we are supposed to be doing to follow the mysteries that spontaneously present themselves.” Further, Ostroff suggests that another reason educators schedule every second of the class, without leaving time for curiosity, is to prevent student management issues. She states, “But if we can create a culture of exploration, intrinsic motivation will be high, which effectively removes the problem of misbehavior.”
To summarize her argument, creating curiosity and inquiry in the classroom is about time. It could mean scheduling blocks of time during your class that are designated for metacognition to take place. Or, allowing for flexibility in your lesson to accommodate student questions or interests that may throw off the next activity. Or possibly slowing the pace or adjusting an activity to respond to engagement taking place. I think one question we can ask ourselves when designing a lesson is, where is there opportunity for curiosity to take place?
From K Jorgensen, "Our maintenance department is now able to receive maintenance requests through SchoolDude. Please submit ALL maintenance and custodial requests through SchoolDude. This will help our maintenance department organize and track requests, as well as create work orders in order to respond to your needs in a timely manner. To submit a request (1) Click on the HelpDesk Request link in your Newark Apps folder (2) Login to SchoolDude (your email and the password you created) (3) Select the first tab that says Maint Request (4) Complete the form" This system will replace the web based cleaning request I created. Also, a reminder that your password to login to SchoolDude is not the password that is requested on the HelpDesk request form...that password is redfox.
This is a reminder we allow very limited vehicle access to the west edge of the building. Typically, we support your parking and driving along the access road to temporarily reduce or eliminate a significant inconvenience. As a rule, I collaborate with Mr. Steve and Mr. Corey to determine your usage plan.
Robin Uvegas notes, "We wanted to let you know that you have access to hundreds of professional books online from our school’s library page through BOCES. You can access it from the district’s website or from the link below. The password for the databases is 'look'. The GALE Professional Development Collection and the EBRARY collection have some awesome resources. The EBRARY database even has Connie Moss & Susan Brookhart’s Learning Targets book available to read online as well! There are also many different items you can access to use with students such as age-appropriate magazines, interactive ebooks, etc.
Friday, February 3 Merry Go Round Theater assembly schedule (no change to morning routine):
- Lunch 5 10:44-11:14 AM (PM BOCES kids to stay in cafe partway into lunch 7)
- Period 6/7 11:18-11:48 AM
- Period 8/9 11:52-12:22 PM
- Period 5/6 10:44-11:14:00 AM
- Lunch 7 11:18-11:48 AM
- Period 8/9 11:52-12:22 PM (AM BOCES kids arrive late)
- Period 5/6 10:44-11:14 AM
- Period 7/8 11:18-11:48 AM
- Lunch 9 11:52-12:22 PM
Period 10 12:26-12:56 PM
Assembly 1:00-2:00 PM
Period 11 2:05-2:30 PM
From Kyra, "The main office copier has gotten a lot of use lately. We please ask that you send large jobs to the D.O. (anything over 250 sheets). It inhibits our work when the copier is overheating due to too much use. Copy requests can be found in the main office."
Please redirect the hand gesture pictured in the photo below. Produce a disciplinary referral as needed. "The shocker, also known colloquially as 'two in the xxx, one in the xxx' is a hand gesture with a sexual connotation. The ring finger and thumb are curled or bent down while the other fingers are extended."
Wednesday, February 1 to Friday, February 3 in grade 10 and 12 social studies classes. Evalumetrics Youth Survey. Contact: T Roote.
Friday, February 3 from 1:00-2:00 pm in our auditorium. Merry Go Round Theater. Contact: A Lannon
Tuesday, February 7 from 2:30-3:00 pm. Staff Meeting. Contact: T Roote.
Friday, February 10 from, 7:15-7:40 am in the LGI. Script N Ceremony. Contact: T Roote.
Friday February 17 and March 3 in the AM at BOCES. Regional Principals-Tom Out. Contact: T Roote.
By 3:00 pm on February 14, March 22 and May 2. ↓65 Infinite Campus Grade Reports. Contact: T Roote.
Monday, April 3 and Wednesday, April 5-6. Tom and/or Ryan Out for Teacher Recruitment Road Trip. Contact: T Roote.
Tuesday, April 4 in the afternoon. Capstone Presentations. Contact: K Ganter.
Thursday, April 13 from ~2:00-2:30 pm. Interact Club Assembly. Contact K Lockwood or T Gilligan.
Friday, May 12 at NRW. Special Olympics.
The Newark High School Mission, Vision and Values
The Newark High School Mission: We are a school community with deeply held hometown pride, committed to readying young people to be life-long learners with experiences aimed at continuously motivating us to hone our skills in the complex tasks of teaching and learning. Our community is devoted to providing supports for the aspirations of our adolescents as they mature into adults with ambitious plans for college and careers.
The Newark High School Vision: Staff embody the school values and impart confidence while providing an inviting classroom environment with clear expectations and specific academic and behavioral goals. Students embody the school values through intellectual and emotional perseverance. Families embody the school values while remaining actively involved as advocates for their children and supporters of the school programs and staff.
The Newark High School Values: Safe, Responsible, Trustworthy, and Respectful.