Friday, March 13, 2015

Norm in The Wave this week: Opt-out, robotics, running for chapter leader Plus Rockway Theatre Co.

Published Friday, March 13, 2015,

Useful Information – Or Not
By Norm Scott

Someone told me they actually understood my last column – for once. I wish I can remember what it was about. So for this week I have accumulated a batch of useful information – or not.

The Testing Opt-Out movement grows
Not long ago the very idea of opting kids out of the yearly tests was frightening to parents, teachers and especially principals and the higher ups beyond them. But nationwide, parents, seeing the negative impact on kids as young as 7 and 8 of testing, have started pulling their kids from the tests. In NY State, the movement began on Long Island where 30,000 people opted out last year and that A Long Island forum a few days later featuring my friend Jia Lee is at
number is expected to grow this year by leaps and bounds through the growth of opt-out rallies and forums. Here in NYC there is more repression and fear but I have been working with an amazing group of parents from Change the Stakes, which has been in the forefront of the opt-out here in the city. I taped a wonderful forum at a school in Brooklyn which included 2 principals (one from Long Island and one from Brooklyn, a NYC teacher and a parent from the Bronx. Video at

There is somewhat of a war going on, and as often does, race enters into it. The leaders and profiteers of the testing movement, the instrument used to undermine the public school system, have begun a concerted attack on opt-outers as being white, middle class liberals who are soft on their own kids. Some in the black community, where young kids are even more damaged by tests through their sorting and branding mechanism, have fallen for this line. But Change the Stakes and other groups have been making small inroads into these communities with information on how their kids are damaged when they are told they have to prepare for the SATs when they are in grades 1-3 and even kindergarten. Check the CTS web site for more info: https: And you can order a NYC Opt-Out tee-shirt at . I just ordered mine.

Howie Schwach remembers former District 27 Superintendent Beverly Hall
Hall, who was considered the mastermind behind the massive Atlanta test cheating scandal, died recently. Former Wave editor and columnist Schwach, who preceded me at School Scope, was the reason I began to read the Wave due to his coverage of education issues, wrote about Hall’s history in our district in the early 90s at his web site: And note that the Atlanta testing scandal is a tip of the iceberg and it is only due to the lack of vigilance and cover-ups that we haven’t seen the same story here in NYC. A good lesson for people who think the testing culture is good for kids and education in general.

This weekend I’ll be at the Javits Convention Center all day on Saturday, March 14 for the NYCFIRST Robotics events (admission is FREE). This is my 13th year working with NYCFIRST with the FIRST LEGO League (ages 9-14). I manage the pit area where the 80 teams, many from NYC public and private schools, with some home schooled too, display their research projects and work on programming their robots. In the morning, teams meet with judges to discuss their work and after noon compete on 8x4 game boards with their robots made out of LEGO and programed to complete a bunch of tasks related to this year’s theme as described in this promo: What is the future of learning? FLL teams will find the answers. In the 2014 FLL WORLD CLASS℠ Challenge, over 265,000 children from 80 countries will redesign how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Teams will teach adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn. Get ready for a whole new class – FLL WORLD CLASS! - See more at: There is also a 3-day high school tournament (Friday-Sunday), known as FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) where teams come from not only the metropolitan area but from other parts of the nation and even the world. Six robots (3 against 3) on a giant field with a complex formula of shifting team alliances – where your former competitors become your allies. And a Junior FLL (ages 6-9) exhibition in the morning.

Hey, bud, are you interested in running for chapter leader at your school?
MORE, the caucus opposing the Mike Mulgrew-led UFT Unity Caucus, is offering workshops and advice. There is one this weekend on Saturday but also MORE reps will meet with candidates to share advice and support. Contact

Norm blogs daily at You don’t have to wait for Norm’s column to not understand what he writes.

Here is my short piece from last week (Mar. 6) on the RTC teen production of Legally Blonde, Jr.

Memo from the RTC: Legally Blonde is So Good it Should Be Illegal

By Norm Scott

It was opening night at the Rockaway Theatre Company and I expected jitters and a few flubs but saw a perfectly smooth running show as if it were the hundredth performance of “Legally Blonde, Jr., The Musical”. After all, the entire cast is made of up of teens and maybe even a few tweens. Aren’t any of these kids nervous? How come they can remember complex lines while I have to look at the page if I have to remember more than 3 words? How did the sets get changed between scenes without a glitch? How can so many kids (34 of them) sing and dance and perform with such aplomb in front of their parents, families and friends?

Of course they did not do all this by themselves. A few adults from the RTC Teen Workshop, led by Peggy Press, have been working with them since September (when it was actually warm). Such smiles of satisfaction from directors Susan Corning and John Gilleece, the choral and musical directors Jodee Timpone and Richard Louis-Pierre and choreographer Gabrielle Mangano. And oh those looks on the faces of the parents to see their children do so well in a full-fledged Broadway-like production.

There are still a few performances this weekend: Evenings March 6, 7 at 7PM and a matinees Sunday Mar. 8 at 2PM. Call the hotline at 718-374-6400.

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