Unions and the education system

This past week there has been breaking news about contingent faculty at Ithaca College attempting to unionize on campus. The push was denied by the college, but it’s not the first movement of education professionals to unionize in the education system.

History of the unions

In 1857, the National Education Association was founded in order to create a group of educators. The group would collaborate about social education issues as well as work to progress the education system and its providers.

Since the NEA’s recognition as a teachers’ union, many others have been formed across the country. In fact, teachers’ unions are considered to be one of the most powerful union sectors in the nation.

This however does not mean that they have not been criticized through the years as well.

In an article for the Public School Review, Grace Chen lists out the pros and cons of teacher unions, and their effect on the education system. While she says that unionized areas of teachers tend to have better student performance, unions have become a hinderance to reform in the education system.

The Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, published an article in 2010 that also looked at the effects of teacher unions in America.

Andrew Coulson, author of the research article, took a deeper glimpse into how the unions have been effected educational policy reform since its induction into our society. 

Unions still in the news

It seems like everyday in the media, viewers are hearing about some school district talking about going on strike because of lack of negotiation in contracts. Many times, unions are involved in these negotiations, and therefore make it more difficult for terms to be agreed upon.

At the end of March of this year, the United States Supreme Court reached a split decision in a case about collective bargaining and unions. The determination of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, made it so that regardless of membership teachers would still be required to pay dues in part of the negotiating that a union might complete at their school district.

Many have said that the split court decision would have been ruled differently if not for the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, but the court’s decision will pave the path for union to continue to keep their foot in the educational doorway.


Social media experts video conference into class

On Friday in our Mobile and Social Media Journalism course, several employees at Syracuse.com video conferenced in to talk to a class full of aspiring journalists about the practices the company has developed over the digital platforms.

Lead web and mobile producer, Katie Kramer, and social lead, Christine Loman, answered questions raised by the class about all social media practices inside of the company, including what platforms they think work best and using social media as a platform for journalism.

  • Kramer said it’s important to understand the type of voice a journalist should have on social media sites — even if it’s a personal profile, there should be a professional undertone to what it posted.
  • The Director of Digital Operations at Syracause.com, Trish LaMonte, also reminded the college students in the room to remember this when posting photos on social media platforms. “We expect college students to be having fun but that doesn’t mean you need to be posting idiotic photos of you being out of control,” she said.
  • The advisors also recommended using social media management tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck while working with multiple platforms to publish material in order to manage the constant need for updates.

The guest speakers also spoke about how they have personally used, and how their journalists are using social media to complete normal journalism duties.

More and more often, social platforms are conducive in finding story ideas and sources. The social media managers are also using online analytics provided from these social sites to determine which stories to push more on their website.

Since Syracuse.com’s transition to “digital-first news” was fairly recent, the employees also spoke to the class about the differences they have seen in the newsroom.

“It was different and difficult for the writers,” Kramer said. “It was hard to change the print journalism mindset of constant editing to the push of getting information out quickly over the social platforms.”

Kramer and Loman continued that where Syracuse.com is at now, most workers are barely even thinking about the physical paper.

Embracing social media will be the change in the news world they said, and it is important to master the skills in order to be successful in the ever-changing field.

A news-ranking app based off social media

This past Monday I presented to my Mobile and Social Media Journalism class about a new-ish mobile app on the market: BriefMe.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 12.03.37 PM

This is what the BriefMe app icon looks like in the Apple Store.

The app, released on the Apple Store in March 2015, presented a new algorithm to how news would be organized and presented to its users.

It was a trio of Harvard and Yale students who created the app just a few years ago, and have since worked together in the Harvard Innovation Lab to build the app to idea to a functioning prototype to a tangible product available to the public.

How does it work?

The purpose of this app is to provide users with the most relevant, updated news from multiple sources all aggregated onto one platform. The news is arranged based on its “virality” score, a number compiled based on how popular the article is on the Internet in real-time.

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This is what the basic interface of the app would look like on an iPhone.

The top ten stories with the highest score, which ranges from 0 to 100, are then placed on the app’s home page interface complete with a little summary and the ability to read the complete article on the app, without having to go to another news site.

The virality score is also attached to each article, and if the user wishes to view it, all they need to do is click down and how the score was tallied is listed for their viewing pleasure.

What does this mean for the world of journalism?

We’ve been seeing the trend for a while of different articles, and even different news outlets, being more internet savvy.

With apps like BriefMe that run off of algorithms solely based on Internet popularity, users run the risk of only seeing the “click-baity” articles that are often thrown around and shared on social media sites. BriefMe, however, at least prevents the news users see on their phone from only being what their friends have shared.

One writer for TechCrunch believes that apps like BriefMe, and the social media trend in general, have given way to a “front-page” approach to news where editors no longer have the power to point audiences toward the best stories, but just the most relevant stories.

The writer also believes that this app follows social media in what he calls the “stability problem,” or the fact that on the Internet something is only going to “hot” for so long.

I believe that this app, like any other news source that the public uses, is never going to be a complete grasp of the news world. As it was once important to read more than one newspaper, it remains important to follow the news from more than one source or news-aggregation app.

Local school takes part in Farm to School movement

Inside of St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Ithaca, high school students surround a food prep counter, watching as their teacher explains how to properly mix the ingredients for doughnuts.


These students are all taking part in the culinary arts course taught at the New Roots Charter School, where they have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while also helping prepare lunches for the school’s cafeteria.  

Allyn Rosenbaum, teacher and “lunch lady” for New Roots, said the food that is used in the kitchen is all natural and locally grown.

“More than half the students eat lunch and breakfast here everyday,” she said. “Our change to using locally grown products came out of the desire to serve food that is as real as possible [to our students].”

New Roots is one of 1,453 individuals schools in New York State that is participating in the Farm to School movement, according to the state’s Farm to School website. But Rosenbaum said finding the funding to distribute solely locally grown food to the school was a difficult process.

“New Roots is a part of the National School Lunch Program so we have to operate within the financial rules,” Rosenbaum said. “Natural foods are more expensive, so we had to jump through a lot of hoops to get funding, and we had to counteract the costs by being fast and efficient in the kitchen.”

Rosenbaum is also Farm to School coordinator for New Roots, where she has worked to create a collaborative relationship with local farms.

“We have a Farm to School tract at the school and some of our students participate in the Youth Farm Project as well. This year our students are also going to be using a garden plot at the Ithaca Community Gardens to grow some of the produce we will use in our food,” Rosenbaum said.

The Farm to School movement has been sweeping across the country for the past several years. According to the network’s national website, 42 percent of schools in the United States are participating in some kind of Farm to School program.

In 2015, the national network pushed for the introduction of the Farm to School Act in Congress. Their goal is to have the act be included as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package, which would allot an additional $100 million to farm to school programs across the country.

The federal funds would help to meet the demands for assistance in implementing the programs into schools, as well as improving accessibility across the spectrum, from farms to schools.

The bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress in February 2015, and is currently being heard and voted on by the federal government, but the movement has also gained support through state governments.

New York State is among 40 states that have policies in support of the Farm to School movement.

In a 2015 press conference, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “The Farm to School initiative encourages thoughtfulness about what we eat and leads to better choices when it comes to nutrition. This program simultaneously educates our youth, promotes locally grown foods, and strengthens the connection between farms and schools across the state.”

But for now, supporters of the movement like Rosenbaum are thrilled just with the changes the federal government is making its lunch program.

“They recently mandated that only whole grains be used in schools, and if more schools are purchasing these products, the prices are going to go down for all of us. It’s important that students are eating nutritionally balanced meals, and at least they are making changes in the policy to promote this.”

The value of teacher evaluations

As it comes to the end of the semester, and the (foreseeable) end of my educational career, I thought I would take a look at one of the tools that it often used in the academic world.

Teacher performance evaluations/assessments are used across the schooling spectrum as a tool to determine whether or not their instruction is successful in communicating their subject matter. There has been many controversies over how an assessment should be completed, and how well it can actually calculate the value of a teacher.

A little history

The teacher assessment has been a part of the educational system since the mid-1800s, according to the book “Effective Supervision,” by Robert J. Marzano, Tony Frontier and David Livingston.

Soon, appraisals were being created using two different streams of measurement: Frederick Taylor’s scientific management and John Dewey’s educational theory of pragmatism. Taylor’s scientific theory tended to give way to more numerical and measurable data, and therefore was used to shape the earliest versions of teacher assessments in the early 1900s.

The tool continued to develop throughout time, moving more into individual measurements of a specific teacher to clinical supervision, the Hunter Model, reflective models, and the list goes on in terms of what models administrations have used to create a teacher performance evaluation system.

The controversy of teacher evaluations

In 2013, PBS published a comprehensive overview of recent controversies that have surrounded the use of performance evaluations in the school systems. Journalists Simone Pathe and Jaywon Choe wrote, “Why is it so hard to determine what makes a good teacher? The answer is both complicated and polarizing. In recent education reform history, judging teacher evaluations has become as much an issue as how to evaluate student achievement.”

Teacher and blogger for The Huffington Post’s Education section Shanna Peeples wrote that evaluations are as much testing the teacher on their performance as it is evaluating, and “Where, what, and who you teach will show similar patterns of “successful” and “failing” schools and teachers across your district.”

What the country is doing about the debate

And the concerns have increasingly been heard by school districts and different levels of government.

A school district in Oregon recently changed their pay scale so that it wasn’t solely performance based. The change was made after funding from The Chalkboard Project had depleted in the school district.

Senate Bill 364 was introduced to Congress in the 2015-2016 session. A major part of the bill would be to decrease the scale a teacher’s performance would be based on their students’ success.


Technology in the classroom

Children and teenagers in school right now, and young adults that are attending college, are often referred to as the “digital generation”; a generation that has grown up with the development of technology and has continually had access to the technology throughout their lives.

There is no doubt that technology has become a part of everyday life for many people, but how has it been integrated into education? And what are the impacts of technology inside of the classrooms?

Synthesis of Technology Into The Classroom


Accessed via Creative Commons.

I can remember in middle school when technology was first becoming a big tool inside of the classroom. Besides the teachers having their computers to enter grades and to print, they were using their computers to project onto the board instead of the old school laminate projectors.

In the fifth grade, there was a mobile laptop cart that all of the classrooms had access to, although it only had 25 computers for the 60 students in the grade. In 2009, the National Center for Education Statistics released a study that found that 97 percent of classrooms had access to one or more computers in the classroom everyday. StatisticBrain released findings in 2015 that revealed approximately 77 percent of teachers use their computers for instruction in the classroom.

Educators have also been finding ways to successfully integrate the use of technology into their students education. Edutopia suggested a list of different ways that students can learn through and with technology in their educations like,

  • Project-based Activities Incorporating Technology
  • Game-based learning and assessment
  • Learning with Mobile and Handheld Devices (Shoutout to #ICParkSM for being ahead of this trend)
  • Web-Based Projects, Explorations, and Research, and the list goes on.

There have also been frameworks (SAMR and TPACK) published by education experts to explain the successful integration of technology into classrooms so that the technology is seen as much as a learning tool as a dictionary or graphing calculator.

Positive Impacts Made By Technology in Classrooms

“A Look at Recent Findings on Technology in the Classroom,” published in The Huffington Post in 2013, reported that 78 percent of teachers found technology had been a beneficial tool in their classrooms.


Accessed via Creative Commons.

The United States Department of Education also found several positive effects of the use of technology in their classrooms, including:

  • Increased motivation and self-esteem,
  • An impressive apprehension level of technical skills,
  • Accomplishment of more complex tasks,
  • More collaboration with peers,
  • Increased use of outside resources, and
  • Improved design skills

But, with the good comes the bad…

Technology undoubtedly provides students with more access to materials and learning tools than they’ve ever had before, but there has also been several negative thoughts of use of technology in the classroom.

In 2015, Edudemic published a post, “The Four Negative Sides of Technology,” citing technology

  • Changes the way children think,
  • Changes the way children feel,
  • Puts our safety and privacy at risk, and
  • Can lead to less physical activity.

Psychology Today has published studies saying that the technology does change the way that children are wired to think, and that there are being multiple studies completed to look at the short and long-term effects of the usage.

With great “power” comes great responsibility, and seeing as technology is becoming a necessary tool in life, it’s important for teachers and individuals to learn of the effects that come with the integration of the tech.

Our #ICParkSM class and myself will be live blogging #EdTech16 on Thursday, 3/24. Check out our site to see some of the technologies that are being introduced into classrooms!

Warmer winter weather impacts local ski mountain

It’s a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in the beginning of March. The sun is bright, the air is warm and there’s a gentle wind blowing across the ski mountain in Truxton, New York. And a girl of about seven years of age is skiing in gym shorts.

Surprisingly, Labrador Mountain is still open for skiers and snowboarders despite the lack of measurable snowfall in the past month. But the one running chair lift at the resort, that has had less than twenty unique users per day this past week, reflects the overall season the mountain has had.

“It’s just been a light season this year. Many less skiers than our usual,” Kevin Smith said. Smith has been a ski lift attendant at Labrador for the past 46 winters.

“Mother Nature doesn’t tell us what she’s bringing every winter, you just have to see how the winter goes. Unfortunately this winter brought us more rain than snow, and that really affects the conditions on the mountain,” he said.

The light snow and warm temperatures of the 2015-2016 winter season has taken a toll on ski resorts across the country. Thomas Franklin, an avid skier since 1970, said this ski season has been particularly slower on the mountains.

“I’ve been all over the East Coast this winter skiing and empty, every place is empty,” Franklin said.

The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester  published an article on March 8 reporting that ski resorts in New York State lost a third of their average annual revenue this season, or about $330 million.

Ski resorts in states like Michigan and Vermont have also felt the challenge of the unusual winter, having their mountains open less days than usual and having to use snow-blowing machines to make snow.

But just how unusual was this winter weather?

This winter was almost 5 degrees warmer than average, according to data published by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.

“This winter, the months of December, January and February, had an average temperature of 30.7 degrees fahrenheit [in the area],” Jessica Spaccio, one of the center’s climatologists, said. “Normal is a 30-year average based on 1981-2010; the normal winter temperature [in Ithaca] is 25.8.”

Spaccio said this year’s winter could also have been affected by a natural phenomenon known as the El Nino, which she believes was particularly strong this winter.

The El Nino is a phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During this phase, the ocean and the atmosphere interact in a climate interaction that produce a periodic warming of the ocean. The warm water then continues to impact other variables of the weather, like the temperatures and precipitation, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.

Typically, El Nino “episodes”, and their effects, can last anywhere from nine months to about a year, but Spaccio believes warmer winters could become a trend in New York and surrounding areas.

“We have seen winters warming in the Northeast, due to climate change, and expect this trend to continue,” she said.

And these changes in the climate could lead to more changes in the environment, Spaccio said.

“With the warm temperatures and less snow, the mild winter made survival easier for some animals. This is also true for pests, like ticks.  The lack of snow also means the lack of spring snowmelt, this can change the timing of peak streamflow and soil moisture conditions. There was less lake ice and lake temperature will also be affected. Some winter crops were able to be harvested later than usual,” Spaccio said.  “[Even] allergies [will be] more of an issue.”

Indebted to education


For the past few years, the public has made it clear that the cost of education is a problem in the country that needs to be addressed, with multiple news outlets and politicians like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) calling it a crisis. 

The cries aren’t far-fetched. To break it down, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, in the United States,

  • 69 percent of college students graduated with student debt in 2014
  • The average amount of debt, per student, was $28, 950.
  • According to Statistic Brain, there are currently 17,487,475 students enrolled in a higher education institution.
  • Equating these statistics together, that would mean the total amount of student debt in the U.S. would be three hundred forty-nine billion, three hundred twenty-one million, fifty-six thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two dollars and fifty cents. $349,321,056,862.50.

The numbers are there, and there is no denying the amounts. But why is it so newsworthy?

The Huffington Post published three analytical charts about a month ago to show “just how dire the student debt crisis has become”.

According to the charts, the real problem stems from the fact that while the amount of debt has stayed relatively the same, keeping in mind the effects of inflation, the average income has not moved with the times. In the first chart of the article on HuffPost, it is stated that “median wages have increased 1.6 percent over the last 25 years while median debt has risen 163.8 percent.

The student debt could also have lifelong effects also, or that’s what Mark Kantrowitz said in Time.

In his article “Why the Student Loan Crisis is Even Worse Than People Think,” Kantrowtiz said,

“students who graduate with excessive debt are about 10% more likely to say that it caused delays in major life events, such a buying a home, getting married, or having children. They are also about 20% more likely to say that their debt influenced their employment plans, causing them to take a job outside their field, to work more than they desired, or to work more than one job.”

Photo courtesy of Donkey Hotey on Flickr, part of Creative Commons.




The value of a later start time

In a blog post on EdWeek from last Friday, contributing writer Marva Hinton wrote about several school districts around the country switching to a later start time for students in their schools.

On my Twitter, I said I related to this blog post, and thought it would be important to bring to light. In 2009 (when I was a sophomore in high school) our district decided to change our high school’s start time from 7:20 in the morning to 8:30. (Elementary schools had always started at this time, the times had been staggered for transportation purposes.)

The reason my school made the time change was due to safety concerns: many of the students walked to the bus stop, and in the winter months it was often below zero out and very dark. Administrators, after a fatal accident from a car striking students in a local district in the dark, decided a later start would be better for everyone.

The reasoning for the changes in these schools according to Hinton are based off the research the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released claiming a later start time would “align with the natural sleep rhythms of adolescents” (i.e., letting them sleep later).

The National Sleep Foundation had also published results from a poll they took in 2014 called “Sleep In America”. In the survey they noted several findings including:

  • 69 percent of parents believe sleep has an effect on their child’s performance in school
  • 25 percent of parents think their children get at least an hour less of sleep then they need on school nights

The NSF also paired their findings with a study published by doctors at the University of Minnesota which found later starting times at schools also had a correlation with

  • an improvement in attendance
  • increased daytime alertness
  • decreased student-reported depression

This movement has been noticed by the state government in Washington;  a Senate committee in the state has recently proposed a form of legislation called the Sandman Act which proposes a study on the academic achievement of the students in the later-starting schools.

The movement has also been noted nationally.

In 2015, the Atlantic covered a Center for Disease Control and Prevention movement to encourage schools to switch to a later start time. In “Why School Should Start Later in the Morning” by Emily Richmond, she talks about the AAP study as well as the UMinn study, where both have parallel findings that a later start time provided students with the opportunity to actually sleep the recommended amount of hours.

The CDC that year had issued a press release statement that called for action: 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the country started at their recommended 8:30 morning start. The federal government organization since their findings in the recent years have continued a push for a later start time in all schools.


Local middle school team encourages community to be #allweatheractive

On a Wednesday afternoon, seven middle schoolers are in a classroom at DeWitt Middle School using arts and crafts tools to create a set for their presentation, and creatively thinking about solutions to challenges their team leader gives them.

These students are members of the local Destination Imagination team, known as “The Flaming Fries”.

Destination Imagination is an international non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage students to be innovative thinkers, through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Fine Arts and Mathematics) activities.

“We encourage the teams to use the creative process in their problem solving,” Abby Goldman, regional director of Central NY DI, said. “Once the team has decided on a solution and begins to work on it, they inevitably hit some stumbling blocks and have to figure out how to modify their plans and accommodate changes to their original plans.”

The idea of encouraging students to actively make choices, make mistakes and learn from them, is one of the reasons mom and team manager Lauren Loiacono decided to start up “The Flaming Fries”.

After learning about the organization at a local STEM night presentation from DI, Loiacono decided to ask around at Dewitt Middle School and Caroline Elementary to see if students would be interested in joining.

Currently the team is working on a service learning challenge for their regional showcase in which they are inspiring the community through social media to be “all weather active”.

Emma Loiacono, a sixth grader from Dewitt and member of “The Flaming Fries”, said the group came up with their idea after meeting with the mayor of Ithaca, Svante Myrick, and the superintendent of the school district, Dr. Luvelle Brown.

“We asked them about a problem a problem that was specific to Ithaca,” Loiacono said. “We decided that people are less active in the winter or when it’s rainy outside, so we met up with people from around the community and filmed videos with them being active.

Starting on February 22, the team has been posting these videos on their social media platforms, encouraging their followers to share videos of themselves using the #allweatheractive.

“It’s #allweatheractive because no matter what the weather is, you can find a way to move around,” Loiacono said.

Loiacono has the right idea according to President and CEO of the Medical Fitness Association, Bob Boone.

Any movement is beneficial, even just standing up from time to time is good for the circulation,” Boone said. “And, exercise should be fun, so whatever people like to do and video [like what The Flaming Fries have produced] should be a great motivator to others who watch it.”

“The Flaming Fries” aren’t the first to endeavor into using technology to encourage physical activity in people. Since the 1990s the MFA has been try to incorporate technology into their campaigns for exercise and Boone said recent technologies like FitBits and mobile phone pedometer apps are making it easier for people to be more conscious of their physical activity.

“The mobile technology now available has 2 primary motivation purposes in my opinion: The device provides instant feedback so the individual gets immediate reinforcement,” he said. “Many of the devices also allow what once many people saw as mundane exercise to be gamified… We have found this to be highly motivational as well as these types of activity add fun to the otherwise routine activities of exercise – particularly in the winter months.”

After the regional showcase in March, the team will advance to a state competition in April and potentially make another appearance at the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee.