Program for failing Schenectady students gets an ‘F’

Spring seeking to end contract for self-paced study

Saturday, April 20, 2013
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— The longstanding effort to help students redo a year of school through at-your-own-pace computer study isn’t working, Superintendent Laurence Spring said.

He has proposed canceling a software contract in the new budget and instead offering other programs to help students catch up after they fail a grade.

Currently, students who fail seventh or eighth grade use a system called Plato, in which they study on their own, in addition to attending standard classes. If they focus and study hard, they can complete their failed year by January and then race through the next year of courses in six months. That way, they can rejoin their peers in September and potentially graduate on time.

But that doesn’t happen very often, Spring said. The typical student who failed seventh grade ends up in the program for two years, going into high school at least a year behind their peers.

At the high school, students who fail ninth grade can also catch up with Plato. There, they usually must take a Regents exam to prove they’ve mastered the material.

Those results are also disappointing, Spring said. The best result among high school students last year was in global studies, where students using Plato had a 38 percent pass rate. The worst result last year was in English, where none of the students who used Plato managed to pass the exam.

But there were some successes, according to school officials. Among the middle-school students using Plato, 13 of 21 eighth-graders passed the ninth-grade math Regents exam, giving them high school credits toward graduation.

Spring said the trouble isn’t with the software.

“There are some kids who can do it,” he said.

But generally, he said, learning alone is hard for students who couldn’t pass a course when it was taught by a teacher.

“Putting them in a place where they’re going to be working in an environment that allows them a little less structure doesn’t increase the likelihood that they’ll develop those skills to be successful,” he said.

Now, administrators are creating new programs for those students. Schenectady High School Principal Diane Wilkinson wants to find a way for her repeat-freshmen to still finish ninth grade in a half-year, and then race through 10th grade in the remaining six months.

“That remediation can still happen,” she said. “Great teaching can take place in that timing.”

Next year, there may be more emphasis placed on the fundamentals course. In that, teachers analyze exactly what students got wrong on their Regents exams and focus on those areas. That’s an effective program, Wilkinson said.

“We’re actually looking at the data,” she said.

But she’s not sure what will be offered to the seventh and eighth graders.

“That’s a model we’re still investigating,” she admitted.

Spring said that program might need two options: one for highly-motivated students who failed because they “made a bad decision” — like skipping school regularly — and the other for students who have done poorly for years but were passed through to middle school, where their failures finally counted.

Those students need to be taught that they are intelligent, capable people.

“Smart is not something you are, it’s something you get,” Spring said. “We need to get them to re-invest.”

He said students would also be able to choose a program in which they could finish middle school in one year. At the high school, though, he wants to develop a new program to intervene as soon as a student fails one quarter, rather than waiting until the end of the year.

“Can we recover second quarter before the end of third quarter?” he asked. “There’s a better chance of passing the year and the exam.”

But it’s a scheduling nightmare. Spring said he could add a remedial class to the student’s schedule — but generally only by removing other classes, like gym. He doesn’t want to do that.

“We would supplant something else in really extreme cases,” he said.

But for most students, he’s envisioning an afterschool program. Of course, that would cost money. And therein lies the problem: He doesn’t have any extra money.

He started analyzing the results of the Plato program while he was looking for places to save money, and he cut the $171,500 program out of his proposed budget. He didn’t add money for a new, afterschool program, though.

“That’s what we’re problem-solving right now,” he said.

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April 20, 2013
6:45 a.m.
wmarincic says...

I think we should cut the school year and give everyone in the district a raise, obviously with one of the highest school budgets and best paid teachers in the U.S. backed up by multiple unions, we should be graduating in the 90% not 50%.

April 20, 2013
6:56 a.m.
FlyPTi says...

Yes scrap the tests and issue pay checks based on last years graduation rates. So 50 per cent Grads 50 per cent pay.

April 20, 2013
7:33 a.m.
rjk1915 says...

When are we going to accept the fact that some "students" are unteachable, and that it makes no sense to spend the most resources on the least promising ?

April 20, 2013
7:57 a.m.
birmy says...

I understand why there is teacher bashing in part. Here are only 2 reasons. 1 - school taxes could be 50% higher than County so you are looking at a bill of $4,500 for school and $3,000 for County in some localities for a $275,000 home. In Schenectady the taxes on a 275,000 assessed home would be much higher I believe. 2 - I also believe the bashing comes in droves in part because there are many uninformed people who are simply jumping on the bandwagon.

Are all the suburban teachers great and the city teachers bad? None of us are complaining about suburban teachers? Why? Therein lies the rub. Poverty is a great indicator of school success or lack thereof. The curriculum in school is challenging and unless the student is naturally gifted you absolutely need the child and parent(s) fully invested in the education. PERIOD. Students need to bring work home and do a "ton" of it just to stay on grade level. Students need to be motivated to come to school consistently and then pay attention and be an active learner in class. Parents need to stay on top of their kids to make sure the student is fulfilling their end of the bargain. If none of that occurs, the student falls behind and they end up not on grade level for multiple subjects. Then everyone states it is the teacher's fault which in reality is the "city teacher's fault."

Teachers start at $38,000-$45,000 depending on the school district you are in and after 25-30 years can make $78,000-$95,000 depending on the district. Teachers are required to have a Master Degree which can run you another $25,000-$30,000 at a private college and maybe half that at a public college. 8.1% of state workforce makes $100,000. Over 9% of Albany Research Foundation makes over $100,000.

Teachers do not get overtime and as I stated do not make over $100,000 in Capital Region. So their pensions in the Capital Region will fall in the low to high 40's and low to high 50's for 30 years of service. Check the newspaper to see how other state workers fair with their pensions. 8.1% of the state workforce based on their base salaries alone will have a HIGHER PENSION!

We all want teachers to be better and now we have an evaluation system in place for them. But the students and parents must do their part. Any ideas for making the students and parents do their part?

April 20, 2013
8:22 a.m.
safny says...

Birmy is more on track here - I say over and over we have so many kids in this city whose parents are not taking care of them and have no help to offer. A child who is read to daily undoubtedly will fare better than a child who never sees a printed word EVER at home. Children who sit endlessly in front of a tv set are not learning a whole lot. Kids who don't eat properly, stay up half the night and run the streets are hardly candidates for a high school diploma. I know many people in the school district and they care about the kids, but if you get nothing at home, school cannot make miracles for every kid.

April 20, 2013
9:30 a.m.
wmarincic says...

birmy, that is great but also remember they have not only summers off but two other week long vacations per year plus every federal holiday, not a bad deal, I have been in my line of business 27 years and the only pension I'm gonna get is the one that I saved.

April 20, 2013
3:06 p.m.
riverrat346531 says...

Poverty is no reason to fail or not graduate. I lived in extreme poverty and graduated high school and college. My 26 year old has a college degree, my 17 year old has her first year of college completed and my 16 year old is also on track to have a college degree. I don't care how much or how little money you have if you raise your kids right they won't be running the streets and will graduate. It doesn't cost anything to raise a child with basic respect and morals. That is what many of these kids are missing today.

April 20, 2013
4:47 p.m.

Teachers do not get overtime and as I stated do not make over $100,000 in Capital Region. So their pensions in the Capital Region will fall in the low to high 40's and low to high 50's for 30 years of service.......1st...Bill stated it right...this is a job that doesn't work 52 weeks a year...and expect to be paid as such...and 2nd..Proof is in the numbers...$300,000, $200,000/year pensions....go through the list....we can not afford and drink the Kool Aid that is being forced down our throats with this propaganda....Teacher's salaries and pensions are way out of line...just as the State Workers that they are being compared to....and to get back to this article...who in their right mind though a "work at your own pace" computer program would work with these students at risk...another waste of taxpayers dollars on that one....Today every teacher has an aide...the system is broke as with all public sector jobs bankrupting our cities, states and our nation....nothing knew here..just our elected officials bowing down to the union support and dollars in their campaign is not the teachers fault for getting all they can..or for that matter any public is the people allowing this to go on..every election year.

April 21, 2013
7:31 a.m.
ehogan002 says...

Oh, please. So would you prefer a teacher that makes 25,000 a year teaching your kid? You won't get qualified teachers at that salary. You obviously have no idea what it takes to teach.

April 21, 2013
8:09 a.m.
birmy says...

I have never commented twice on one article but I like a healthy debate. Some may not know this. Tier 3 and 4, the latter of which has been around since 1983 had a provision that did not allow teachers to boost their final average salary (FAS) by more than 10% of their base salary by doing extracurricular activities. For example, if a teacher in their last 3 years of service were making $80,000 and coached a sport, ran chess club, ran MasterMinds, ran this and ran that and earned $9,000 doing all those activities ONLY $8,000 would be counted towards boosting their FAS. So abuse of pensions with regard to teachers was never a possibility in addition to fact that they get no overtime. Tier 6 was created under Cuomo and now other public sector workers can only "boost" their FAS by up to 15% with overtime (while teachers remain at 10%). Abuse of pensions by teachers is not possible. Tier 6, which requires public servants (excluding police officers) to work until age 63, makes it so NYS pays 51% and employees 49% of costs associates with retirement and the rub against this is NYS will not see tens of billions of savings for 30 years until Tier 6 employees outnumber the former tiers. Whether you are in a cubicle, high flyer political patronage job or work in an inner city classroom right out of college you will not collect a pension until 41 years later at age 63. As far as teacher aides in schools go... when public school districts stopped using BOCES services to the extent they were, they created in district classrooms for emotionally disturbed and life skill students both of whom receive special education services. These aides which are mandated under many federal disabilities laws are generally hourly employees making $11,000-$14,000 a year not including health insurance. 60% of teachers quit the profession within the first 5 years even though as many of you pointed out there is summers off. And if you teach summer school that does not count whatsoever towards your FAS as only the regular school year does. If anyone thinks all teachers are able to grade their papers during the day and do all their lessons too I believe they would be mistaken. There is no doubt the teaching profession is under fire more so than state workers or other public sector professions.

April 21, 2013
3:35 p.m.

Who cares?....obviously there is self interest involved here. You can keep arguing this point till we are all dead and gone and all the public sector moves out of the state to retire in less taxed areas if they are still available to ride out into the sunset...keep The Teachers Unions in strength and numbers...The biggest monuments to these are the Teacher's Credit Union buildings the their monument to all our downfalls on Rt. is like a castle...God bless you and your family on their prosperous lifestyles...You have made great life choices in this profession.

April 21, 2013
4:12 p.m.

"The education BLOB – that immovable jelly-like ball of teachers' and janitors' unions, school board bureaucrats, PTAs, etc. – just keeps growing. The number of students has increased 96%, but administrative staff increased 702%!"

April 21, 2013
5:44 p.m.
MikeJSilvestri says...

Wmarincic- we already established that you incorreclty believe that teachers 23.7% more than they actually do (see comments re: the article about SCSD SPED Study)

April 21, 2013
6:54 p.m.
MikeJSilvestri says...

***sorry: "that teachers make 23.7%"

April 22, 2013
8:42 a.m.
wmarincic says...

Why don't you look at the education that most private religious schools provide and take a look at the pay scale, you will most likely see that they make about 60% less than public school teachers, they work longer years and they have a much higher graduation rate. I understand that we are talking about a different type of parent that is probably involved in their child's life, but to what cost? I have no problem with teachers getting paid, I have a problem with the multi million dollar union jobs and the millions that are given to political parties. I'm paying that money in my school taxes, the schools are being forced to drop programs yet the teachers union gave how much to politicians?

April 22, 2013
1:46 p.m.
MikeJSilvestri says...

NYSUT's President makes roughly $250,000 which equates to what former NY State Education Commisioner Dr. Steiner was making when he stepped down.
As for the huge political contributions they come out to less than $17 per member last year. This money does not come from union dues but through voluntary contributions members make to our PAC. Mayor Bloomberg on his own could write a check that could match all political contributions NYSUT can make.

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