Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Thursday, December 07, 2006
This week the 8th graders are doing independent projects on the Civil War, doing nonfiction reading in order to answer questions that they chose. I ended up going with these questions:
Why did Lincoln free the slaves?
Was Lincoln "the great emancipator"?
Did the South have a chance?
What was it like to be a soldier?
What was the role of women in the war?
What was the role of African Americans in the war?
One kid, a kid I really like whose IEP says he has ADD, picked "Did the South have a chance?" Even though he was one of the kids we identified as needing a more straightforward question, I let him go with that question because he seemed really interested in it.
Yesterday he was reading a really cool Cobblestone article about submarines in the Civil War, but when I went over to him he was feeling really frustrated. He wasn't alone -- many kids felt overwhelmed by the task and confused about how to use the readings to answer the questions.
Anyway, with this kid, A.J., I could tell he was interested in the topic but felt like it was too hard. I said something like, "you know, A.J., this is a really tough question, but I think you can handle it." At first he protested, saying he wanted to switch to an easier question, but I persuaded him against it. I started asking him some scaffolding questions, like "what would it mean if the South had a chance?" He came up right away with, "they would have a better army, they would have more people, they would have more land," etc. He totally got the question. I said, "what about generals?" He said he didn't know. So I gave him an article about Civil War generals to read. He seemed better.
Today when we were working on the project again, he said "can you give me a different article? I'm switching over to 'what was it like to be a soldier.'" I felt defeated because 1) he still wanted to take the easy way out, and 2) he now expected me to choose the reading for him, which was contrary to the whole point of the exercise. I told him, "A.J., I know this is difficult for you and that you're feeling frustrated. But I wouldn't have encouraged you to do this if I didn't think you could." I reminded him of all the smart things he said yesterday. He seemed encouraged and grudgingly started work again on his original question.
I do believe he can do it, but he will probably have a much more difficult task than most of the other students. Is that fair? Am I wrong to keep pushing him toward that, when kids with much more experience with this kind of thing are getting away with easier questions? And what if I'm wrong and he can't do it? What kind of effect will that have on his confidence?
Monday, December 04, 2006
The building in which I am doing my student teaching is one of these big, old buildings, but it is in relatively good condition. Its only real quirk is a large community of rodents. (Like the kind that inhabits most NYC schools.) I haven't actually seen any myself, but I've heard they can be seen scampering through the halls like confused sixth graders, and I have certainly seen ample evidence of their existence. The seventh grade science teacher has taken to catching the mice and keeping them as classroom pets. How does she catch the little dudes? "These mice are slow and dumb," she says.
Other than the mice, the school doesn't have problems like ceilings falling in or mushrooms growing in the corners. An active parent body makes sure things are pretty well kept up, and once a year the parents have a "work day" in which they do things like build benches and bookcases in classrooms. Adequate facilities, however, does not necessarily translate into high student achievement -- at least as measured by state tests. Word on the street is that the school might not make AYP based on last year's scores. Of course, as the AFT will also tell you, and they are right, barely any schools will be making AYP for very long.
AYP aside, I do believe the students at this school are getting a great education, one that is not hampered by distracting facilities problems.
Friday, December 01, 2006
After a while, however, I realized that these behaviors were his way of doing anything in his power to avoid writing. He HATES writing! I also realized that underneath it all he is a truly sensitive and nice kid. One day Juan walked into class and it was as if he was a different kid -- his attitude toward school was that radically different. He still asks to go to the bathroom anytime it's time to write, but as soon as I tell him 'no' he sits down and really tries.
Yesterday, as part of an ELA test bootcamp strategy, one of my cooperating teachers was having students practice listening comprehension strategies on a read-aloud. The story was a really sad one about a kid whose mom leaves her and the imaginary friend she invents to help deal with it. At the end of the story, one kid looked up and noticed Juan wiping his eyes. Seconds later the entire class was having uncontrollable laughing fits at Juan's expense -- not in a mean way, just out of sheer shock. They didn't blame him for crying, but of all the kids in the class, Juan was definitely not the one you'd expect to do it. One kid was working so hard to contain his laughter that he looked like he was about to throw up, until the teacher made him leave the room. Juan took it well. I wanted to go up and hug him, but of course that would have made it worse.
But it still warms my heart to think about it. And it makes me really appreciate the truly excellent job my cooperating teachers have done in creating not just an atmosphere in which kids can get emotionally that involved in a read-aloud, but also one in which students care enough about each other, and about the work that's going on in class, to let something like that slide. It gives me something to aspire to.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The unit coincides with the ELA unit on nonfiction reading, so their responses to their questions will come from nonfiction texts on various topics and reading levels. At the end of the week each group will present its answer and evidence to the class.
With a setup like this, the questions are going to be what really drives the unit, and I thought I came up with some great questions that kids could approach at different levels. Some of the questions I thought would work:
- Was the Civil War inevitable?
- Was Lincoln "the great emancipator"?
- Did the South have a chance?
- Could the war have happened without women?
- Would the Union have won without African Americans?
- What was it like to be a soldier?
- What was it like to be a soldier's family?
- What were some of the important battles of the Civil War?
Anyway, if anyone out there has some good ideas for questions, or some good sources of short nonfiction texts on the Civil War, please let me know!
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I got my first taste today of what kids are like right before a break ... it was truly bizarre. At some point I looked around and one kid was rocking back and forth in his chair, another was doing something weird with his lips, a third was putting stickers on her tablemate's face, and a fourth was tugging on the braid of the nearest female. (Of course, the latter is a kid whom I've often caught fondling girls' hair ... Ah eighth graders.)
Looking back on the slavery unit, I have mixed feelings. There are some things I'm proud of and some things I know I'll do differently next time. Most of the kids seemed to get a lot out of it. Most, but not all, of them liked having one question that we kept coming back to each lesson (why did slavery exist). In their end-of-unit evaluations, one student wrote this:
I liked the fact that we weren't just explaining that there was slavery and it was so horrible it should have never happened. We actually spoke and thought about how and why did it happen who started it ect.And I think most of them really came to a deeper understanding of that question over the course of the unit. When we first asked them to respond to the question "why did slavery exist" at the beginning of the unit, a majority of students responded "because white people were lazy" or "because white people were racist." While there is a level of truth to these answers, they reflect the kind of thinking that novice students of history use. Over time their responses became more complex (although I still had one student at the end of the unit say "because white people hated them").
It was a challenge for them and it was definitely a challenge for me! Glad it's over. Now on to the next challenge ...
Thursday, November 16, 2006
So, the main skill we've been trying to teach in this slavery unit is how to approach primary source documents. I was sort of making it up as I went along, but I started out having them practice asking simple questions of the documents (who created it? when? why?).
So the aim of today's lesson, which was the last lesson in the unit, was "why did slavery end?" First I modeled how to approach the document with this document:
Then they looked at several documents (each kid got a different document according to reading level) including a speech by Frederick Douglass and this one:
Then came the hard part. They got into their social studies groups -- four kids in each mixed-level group, and each kid had a different document -- and had to come up with a topic sentence for a paragraph answering the question "why did slavery end?" I had no idea how they would do with this task. Some groups did really well, and other groups were totally lost. I'm not sure how I would have done it differently to scaffold better for the groups that were having a harder time.
This whole lesson was to prepare them for the final project for the unit. The unit question was "why did slavery exist?" So for the final project, they each have to pick a document (but I ended up giving documents to most kids) and writing an analytic paragraph about what that document teaches them about why slavery existed. On Monday, when the final project is due, they'll all bring in their documents and their paragraphs, and we'll hang them around the room like a gallery that is our class's answer to the unit question. I found some really great documents and I'm excited to see what they do with them, but I'm not sure I have really prepared them to succeed. Some of them will do fine because they are smart, and others might just be lost.
Monday, November 13, 2006
So instead I thought I'd point you in the direction of a really cool blog I found recently about social studies, literacy, and learning from documents: the blog of a Mr. Peter Pappas. Mr. Pappas, you are my new social studies fairy blogfather.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Then I scrolled down to the comments.
Teachers to Share 'Trade Secrets' for Better Schools
NEW YORK, NY October 30, 2006 —Schools in New York City and across the country will be able to access tips from successful schools over the Internet. The program will encourage promising charter schools and regular public schools to share their so-called trade secrets says Jon Schnur, chief executive officer of New Leaders for New Schools - which is working with the schools.
SCHNUR: If you're a 4th grade teacher in math in the Bronx, there's no place for you to go to see what are the best 4th grade math teachers in NY and across the country doing? And this initiative will provide a way for you to watch videotape, see lesson plans, best practices from some of the best fourth grade teachers anywhere.
REPORTER: The program will cost $27 million over 5 years, with money from the US Department of Education and private grants. The first round of funds announced today in Brooklyn is directed at charter schools - but other schools will also be included, and they'll be selected next year based on test scores and classroom practices.
UPDATE: What I wanted to say about this earlier, but didn't have time, was that I love this idea. It combines so many great ideas. One, the idea of charter schools (or any schools) sharing what works with other schools. Two, I'm really drawn to the whole video idea. It reminds me of Japanese lesson-study, which I can't wait to try when I become a real teacher. (I've been trying to get my classmates to try it with me now, but they don't share my enthusiasm.)
Monday, October 30, 2006
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
That MLK Jr. freed the slaves is, apparently, a very common misconception. Why? Chris says: "it shows how poor the teaching on race issues is. Teachers don't really talk about race in the present, and it creates major problems for talking about the past."
I think that's probably true, but I think there's also a simpler explanation. I was watching my tivoed episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip tonight, and at some point two of the main characters go out to see a black stand-up comedian. They think he's so funny and smart that they hire him on the spot as a writer. Here's an approximate paraphrase of one of his jokes:
"I think about African American slaves, and about how we stacked up against other slaves. Look at the pyramids -- those were built by slaves. No one ever told us we could use geometry!What????
And those slaves, they got Moses. Now, I'm a big fan of the Emancipation Proclamation and all. But they got a burning bush. We got a memo: 'Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"
This coming from what's supposed to be the pinnacle of network TV show writing. If they think MLK freed the slaves, what chance is there for my kids?
Friday, October 20, 2006
- Each side (often incorrectly) defines the other by views of its most extreme members;
- Moderate members from each group share many of the same ideas about good schooling, but each side thinks the other insists on something that will interfere with quality teaching;
- Even though some large urban districts have viewed chartering as a reform tool, the politics of school districts make them unlikely partners in scale-up;
- Both sides acknowledge the costs of their conflict, but few leaders are willing to take the first step; and
- Thin evidence about the work life of charter school teachers or how unionized charter schools operate exacerbates conflicting beliefs
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Notebook reports that privatization has not had the effect the Philadelphia School Reform Commission intended when it handed the keys to the worst-performing schools over to a handful of private organizations ranging from for-profit (i.e. Edison) to universities:
This summer’s announcement of 2006 results on the PSSA exam and of whether schools met their performance targets for adequate yearly progress reinforced a prior trend. As measured by test scores, the gap is widening between most District schools and the low-performing schools singled out for reform in 2002 that are now under private management.
The percentage of students scoring proficient or better on both reading and math is now 19 points lower in the privately managed schools than the rest of the District’s schools, compared to 16 points in 2002 (see test score gains).
Implications for New York and this story: Bloomy should be keeping a close eye on Philly. It makes total sense, when you think about the mayor as the very model of a modern neoliberal, that he would want to centralize control over schools and then use that control to hand the keys to private companies. But New Yorkers are very savvy about numbers. Will they be as patient as Philadelphians with private companies who don't perform as promised?
Legitimate critique of high-stakes testing? Or a bunch of over-involved parents upset about their kids' not succeeding on a test item? You be the judge.
Something to consider: the 8th graders I work with (among whom the very best readers, admittedly, are not reading at grade level) probably could not answer this question. Analyzing character change over time is something they are only now beginning to study.
Friday, October 06, 2006
What's really, really exciting, though, is that we're finally starting to plan our first social studies unit. Here's what I'm thinking -- if you have any suggestions, let me know:
So, the eighth grade social studies teachers decided that they would have a yearlong focus on labor, dividing the year into three long units: slavery, industrialization, and 20th century social movements. My thought was that the "essential question" for the year could be "Why do we work?"
For the slavery unit, that could translate into "What were slaves working for?" This is a question that has a lot of answers -- slaves were obviously working because they were forced to, but on a different level they were also working as part of a bigger economic system. On a different level, some slaves were able to work to save up money to buy their own freedom.
To me, the most important things for students to understand about slavery, when looking at it from a labor perspective, are a) that part of what made slavery so bad was that your labor belonged to someone else; b) that slavery was part of a bigger economy that united the North and the South and also reached across the Atlantic; c) that some of the ways slaves resisted oppression was by denying their labor to the slave masters.
How will we know if students understand these things? At the end of the unit, they will have to complete a project in which they pick one individual who we've discussed in the unit, and answer the question, "what was this person working for?" The final product must include a written piece (maybe a narrative?) and some kind of visual (map, illustration, etc).
Now what I have to do is lay out the structure of the unit -- what exactly will we do to get students to the point that they can complete the final project? A lot of resources and ideas come to mind for use in lessons: the cotton gin (maybe a lesson where students look at graphs comparing the number of slaves used in the south before and after the invention of the cotton gin?); work songs; maps of the triangle trade routes; narratives recalling examples of foot-dragging; looking at black soldiers during the Civil War -- how was their labor different?; auction posters; looking at what whites were saying about labor at the time (I've been reading a lot -- too much -- about yeomen farmers recently).
I would love to hear any feedback, suggestions, resources, etc. you may have. It's the first unit I've ever planned that will actually be carried out by students, so don't hold back, please!
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Kristen Kane, Mr. Klein’s chief of staff, said the department considered the groups crucial to the early success of the new schools. “What happens to that success when there is no more private money?” she asked. “Will there be more private money or will we need to explore other ways to continue this partnership if we believe that is a critical success factor?”
Apparently, private money is the only way to have success in low-performing public schools. I agree that the current situation in NYC isn't serving a lot of poor kids and I'm in favor of new soluations, but the idea that education technocrats with no accountability to the public are going to drastically improve things doesn't add up for me. How can Bloomy be the education mayor while he passes off responsibility for improving schools to private firms?
Friday, September 29, 2006
The teacher, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, talked about how his first three years teaching, each year he would get the "March 15th letter" saying he would "not be invited back next year," and each year in June he would get the "Teacher of the Year" award from the students. He posited that since urban schools are not set up to educate poor and minority children, for teachers to succeed in teaching them, they must fail at their jobs.
He said that for the first 15 years of teaching, he fought the system, and in the 16th year he started his own school -- the East Oakland Community High School. It came home and tried to figure out if it was a charter school, and it doesn't look like it is. I wondered why they would choose not to open such a school as a charter school. Is it just because the charter movement is associated with conservative, free-market, anti-"radical" ideas? Or is there something else?
Any thoughts? Chris has been submerged in reading about neoliberalism with barely enough time to come up for air, and has been talking to me about how charter schools are a good example of neoliberalism. (But so is everything, apparently.)
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The charter schools I work with did well. But some charter schools did REALLY well -- particularly the KIPP schools and Renaissance. Renaissance doesn't get that much glory, but it's a really great, progressive school. I'm glad it's doing well, and not just because I don't want anyone to get the idea that we all have to KIPP-ify.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I realize now that I'm working in a non-charter public school how insanely much more test scores matter to charter schools than they do to other schools. At the school where I'm student teaching, to the teachers tomorrow's ELA scores just mean they can decide which kids have to stay for an extra 37.5 minutes a day and which ones don't.
At one of the charter schools I work with, however, to the teachers tomorrow's scores literally mean whether or not they have a job next year. (And I do not use the word 'literally' lightly.)
UPDATE: The test scores were not released today. They will be released tomorrow to Albany's finest UPS couriers.
But Minneapolis elected a great candidate last night. Keith Ellison, who will likely become the first Muslim congressperson and the first black person elected to Congress from Minnesota, is a very progressive guy and is great on immigrant rights. He helped push for the passage of the DREAM Act here in Minnesota, which was later pulled at the last minute after the Republican Gov. threatened a vote.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
There was a crazy spirit of un-competitiveness going on all game. One Tiger threw a ball to a little girl in our section early on in the game, but she missed it and it wound up going to another kid. I couldn't believe it when this kid passes up on the chance to take the ball home and gives it back to the girl. The niceness doesn't stop at the Metrodome, which feels kind of like Scandinavia with all the blond people. The kids in my building (mostly Somali and Ethopian kids) are extremely friendly - they hold the elevator door open for everyone, they help me lock my bike up most days, they don't beat up their little brothers. In New York, by the time kids get to middle school they are defensive and while some are friendly, there is a edge of toughness around everyone. I had a few immigrant kids who had just gotten to the US before 8th grade, and I noticed big changes in how they acted by the end of the year (some of their new characteristics were directly attributable to prevailing attitudes in the school, especially on the racial divides between black and Mexican kids, and these kids became very good at looking after themselves). I'm going to try and volunteer in an after-school program with Latino kids here in Minneapolis, so I'll see if my initial impressions of these differences are really there. It just seems like a whole other world.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
It seems to me that programs specifically for new immigrants can be really helpful for parents and kids. The school system is confusing, particularly for parents new to the country. Starting school in a new language is really tough for kids, so any help with the transition should go a long way. Opponents of the program are worried that it isolates immigrant kids:
For all its benefits, some critics have said the program promotes the isolation of Hispanic children. It causes them to cluster together even before they arrive in kindergarten, and so immigrant youngsters unwittingly hold themselves back, said the Rev. Allan B. Ramirez of the Brookville Reformed Church in Glen Head.
Obviously, it's important for immigrant kids to interact with native speakers - it helps them adjust to the U.S. and learn English faster. But I'm not sure I agree with the argument that promoting group identity among Latino kids is a bad thing. I don't know Long Island, but I imagine that immigrant kids there experience some of the same intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiment I witnessed in Queens. Having friends from the same background helps kids deal with these issues, and I also think that immigrant kids learn faster by comparing things they are learning in the U.S. to what they know from back home.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
The class is a humanities class, which is a model that some middle schools around here use. While in some schools "humanities" means English language arts (ELA) and social studies are blended together, in this school it just means that the same teacher(s) teaches both subjects. Which ultimately means that social studies gets the shaft. (I've been told that our class won't start learning any social studies until at least the end of September.)
In New York, some of the blame (for the shaft) falls on the fact that students and teachers are held accountable for their scores on the ELA test, and that the 8th grade social studies test is a totally meaningless test. It's a no-stakes test. Eighth graders take it in June, so it has absolutely no bearing on what high school they get into. No one ever really looks at it. The state and city don't even bother to publish statewide and citywide averages. (Despite all that I actually do think it's a pretty good test and not a bad thing to spend time preparing kids for.)
I think there's something else to blame as well -- I don't think too many middle school teachers like teaching social studies (particularly if your certification is in ELA). Social studies is boring, kids don't like it, they stop paying attention and it's just harder.
Anyway, despite the fact that I will probably get very little practice actually teaching social studies, I really like the school, the teachers, and the kids. I'm totally exhausted after a day at school and then an evening of class, but I'm not dreading getting up at the crack tomorrow, which I think is a good sign.
Monday, September 04, 2006
I spent all day Thursday and Friday at the school where I will be doing my student teaching -- a very cool non-charter public school of choice in Brooklyn -- absorbing information about the way it works and how the first few days of school will go. Also sitting in on meetings -- lots and lots of meetings. And covering bulletin boards with butcher paper.
It felt a lot like the first day of school -- lots of people around me I didn't know, and I had the awkward feeling of not really knowing what my place was in this bunch.
So stay tuned, I will be sure to keep you posted. Meanwhile I will be reading this like this.
PS, Chris is also going back to school. Have I mentioned he's in Minnesota? And may I brag? He is there with a fellowship from this really awesome program.
Friday, September 01, 2006
The fight over language instruction is another front in the battle for Bolivia's identity. Last night, a prominent peasant leader from Evo's party was almost killed in a fight over the ongoing constituent assembly, where the question of ethnic identity is a big point of conflict. Evo promised to place more value on indigenous cultures, which obviously got a lot of support during the election in a country where indigenous people make up 60 percent of the population. It will be interesting to see if the teacher's union will have to back down if the people support the new education policy. It's not clear that indigenous people actually support bilingual education, for the same reasons that immigrants in this country don't always support it - parents want their kids to be successful, and learning the language of power quickly is the best way to go about that.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The 78-student school, at 630 Brooks Ave., is a college prep middle schoolThese middle schoolers are so far behind they don't even know the alphabet! No wonder these snapshot studies show charter schools falling behind other schools -- look what they have to work with!
designed to teach character as well as the ABC's.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Boo NY Times, getting involved in this silly, pointless argument.
But I agree with their point: that converting a school to a charter school should not be used as a cure-all for failing schools under NCLB. That the solution should address the real problem: inadequate teachers. Of course failing schools have more problems than just inadequate teachers, so it's sort of a simplistic argument. But I agree with the gist of it.
Best line in the editorial:
These studies argue for a more nuanced federal policy that does not just advocate wholesale charter conversion but instead defines and supports successful models only.On a (barely) related note, Chris went to the Minnesota State Fair yesterday, where, amidst the livestock shows and stands selling fried food on a stick, the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools had a table. He picked up a bunch of info on charter schools to help me with my job search, and also picked up their "myths and facts about charter schools." Later when he told me about it, I realized that I've written the myths and facts about charter schools one-pager so very many times -- from both sides of the issue! -- that it's a little scary. I am the myths and facts about charter schools!
But it sort of comes back to the bigger issue, which is that it's all "myths and facts about charter schools." Meaning, maybe the problem with the charter school movement is it's too politicized. It's about quantity, not quality. (i.e., "Lift the Cap!" "Moratorium!") Maybe that's why this silly argument about whether charter schools are better or worse than non-charter schools persists, and why charter leaders and teachers unions can't seem to get together on the issue. I'm afraid that the fact that it's so politicized means it will never be used as a meaningful tool to effect widespread change in public school systems.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Here's what he said in the latest mailing about his action on education:
Int 316-2002 "Junk Food Free Schools Act" led to the removal of candy, soda, and other unhealthy snacks from City schools.
Int 464-A-2005 Translating report cards and other school documents for non-English speaking parents of city schoolchildren.
Int 188-2004 Prohibiting harrassment at schools
Int 261-2004 Requiring the Dept. of Education to provide voter registration forms to students.
Int 559-2003 Requiring the Dept. of Education to test children in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten who are at high risk for lead poisoning
Aside from the second one, none of these are too groundbreaking. Yassky really stuck his neck out, though, to support the second one -- the Education Equity Act. Lots of city councilpeople in districts with high percentages of immigrants didn't support it. It's unclear to me why Yassky did support it, but it earned him major points with Chris.
No record on city council relating to charter schools, but he did visit one of the schools I work with, which some pols would shy away from. Not that there's too much someone who supported charter schools could to in U.S. Congress. Or on city council, for that matter.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Why can't we just live in a world where lefties and righties work together toward the common goal of improving education? Where the emphasis is on what works rather than which side are you on?
Because then we'd be in Minnesota.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Friday, August 11, 2006
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Look, Chalkboard, Russo, Carey, Schemo: we all care about kids. We've all spent "even a little time in one of the deeply dysfunctional schools that many urban students are forced to attend," so stop accusing each other of not having done so. (Anyone who's read Kozol, for instance, could not possibly make that accusation of him.) It's obvious to all of us that schools can do better. However, it is also obvious to all of us that we can eliminate a good chunk of that achievement gap if we start talking about the real problems, the ones that are even harder to fix than poor schools and inadequate teachers. I'm getting bored with people trying to frame someone else as the enemy just because they feel the need to have an enemy. Nobody is the enemy.
Except for those voucher people -- they really don't care about kids!
Thursday, August 03, 2006
I guess I wasn't referring so much to the massages and the gyms as to the stuff like what Explore Charter School is doing (see original Chalkboard post here). I agree that the massage idea is paternalistic and really isn't much different from traditional teacher appreciation efforts, which are often eerily similar to Secretary's Day and reveal how unprofessionally teachers are viewed in many schools. That's the kind of thing that really makes me think that these charter school operators are terrified of having another Williamsburg Charter situation.
I guess I was thinkking more along the lines of this book (which I posted about here). I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in both social justice and charter schools. Anyway, one of the schools profiled in the book (can't remember the name, but I think it's in Boston) is practicing real, true teacher professionalism -- massages and gyms aren't needed, because teachers are viewed as the professionals they really are. The entire faculty are teacher-researchers -- everything is about constantly examining your own teaching practice to make sure students are really learning, and then sharing your findings with others.
That's the kind of school where I hope to someday teach. That's the kind of teaching experience I want to have, and that's really why I want to be a teacher. Ed and Educator are right, no massage is going to replace that.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Nemesis that she may be, I can't say that I am overly pleased with the program I'm in at my unnamed education school in New York City. (As I've expressed before here and here.) But at least I don't dis Dewey.
Worth wondering, however, how many of these schools would be working so far if it weren't for the threat of old-school collective bargaining.
Also worth noting that there are a lot of charter schools that do not treat their teachers this way. And finally, worth wondering if there's a correlation between how professionally a school treats its teachers and those test scores. (State ELA scores coming out on Monday.)
And even finally-er, worth wondering if I'm worthy of posting when my brain is fried by 100 degree heat.
Friday, July 28, 2006
frequent teacher-led, structured opportunities for ELLs to discuss topics that are directly relevant to their lives and for them to interact in the classroom with native English speakers;
The first part of that is also important - I helped a lot of ELLs this year on project after project about famous people and events they had trouble relating to. Obviously, they need to learn a lot of general American history to catch up with their classmates, but every time I was to compare a historical event to something from their country, their eyes would light up and they seemed to really understand. I think it is important not to treat ELLs like they are so hopelessly behind that teachers can never explain things in the kids' native language or relate lessons to something from a student's home country. One of the ESL teachers at the school does a really good job working with her kids to individually explain the lessons, but it isn't the case throughout the school.
Finally, this part of the resolution really makes me happy"
prescreening and ongoing assessment programs that determine students’ levels of English language proficiency separate from students’ content knowledge and that have the appropriate tools to distinguish between lack of linguistic abilities in English and learning disabilities;
I posted a while ago about a Dominican kid who should be in special education but ended up in ESL (and didn't get the help he needed until a teacher that worked with us took it upon herself to give him extra help) because the test the kid took confused his learning disability with a lack of English ability. This happens because the evaluations of immigrant kids aren't good, and it's great the AFT is going to be pushing for better tests and assessments.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Previous post about Yassky here. There's another one, I think, but I can't find it.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
The just-released study by state Education Department found students in 11 of 16 city charter schools outscored kids in nearby public schools on the state's fourth-grade English and math exams in 2005.I'm trying to figure out what this report is. Anyone know?
Monday, July 10, 2006
UPDATE: Chris says, 'why not just give families a reduction in their rent if the students make it to school every day?'
Friday, July 07, 2006
I've been using it today to support Doctors Without Borders, but I also signed up the schools I work with so that people can start supporting them. Any nonprofit or school that has an EIN can sign up.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
However, I have always thought that making a big deal out of graduation sends the wrong message to the kids. I know that a lot of my kids aren't going to graduate from high school (a really sad thought) and that it is nice to give them a ceremony, but it always seemed like the graduation confirmed the low expectations that we have of the school system and of the kids. In my middle class school, high school graduation wasn't a big deal because we were all expected to graduate from college. In my rather limited view of the school from the after-school program (I don't work with many high achieving kids), it has always seemed like low expectations are the standard (see a previous post on college).
Even with all my reservations, I enjoyed graduation. It was nice to see the parents all dressed up to support their children (a nice answer to those who say that low-income parents don't care about their children's education), and the principal focused on the future (and college!), which made the event seem more like a starting point than an ending. What really made it special were the big grins on the kids' faces throughout the ceremony. After a stressful year filled with tests and middle school angst, it was really nice to have an evening to make the kids feel good about themselves. I know it doesn't solve any of the problems the kids will face in high school, but we really should do more for their self-esteem.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
The Chalkboard doesn't think that "all charters need unions just because of one dude who seems to be on an ego trip." I disagree. Charter school leaders tend to be very strong personalities who decide to open schools because they think they know how best to run a school. For a lot of these leaders, not wanting to have unionized teachers is as much about cost saving as it is about not having another entity that teachers can report to. I know people like this, and my sources tell me that the WCS school leaders are of that type.
Chris says that this incident is why mandatory unions in charter schools are necessary. He says that unless businesses (like schools) are forced to have unions, you are always going to have things like this that are just not reported. The state should say you have to have unions, and if the teachers in a charter school want to negotiate their own contract they should be able to do that.
If the school's charter is revoked, it's going to be really bad for a lot of kids. I know that's what everyone says whenever this happens, but still. Also, there is a serious dearth of charter high schools in New York City. There are a lot of other good options for high schoolers here, but at this late date these kids are going to end up at their crappy neighborhood schools.
UPDATE: Ed at the AFT makes a good point here. Scroll down to the Update.
The head of the city's teachers union is latching onto a recent spate of firings at a Brooklyn charter school to push Albany to make it easier for teachers at charter schools to join the union.
After the Williamsburg Charter School fired three teachers, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, stepped in. She fired off letters yesterday to the school's CEO, to the city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, and to the state Department of Education.
In a letter to the school, Ms. Weingarten said that she was "appalled" that administrators would terminate the teachers' contracts after they attempted to organize to seek better wages and benefits.
Run as independent schools, charters are free of many of the rules, regulations, and union contracts that govern regular public schools. In New York City, eight of the 47 charter schools operate under union contracts. That includes a school run by the UFT, which opened its own elementary charter school in September and plans to open a middle school in the fall.
An English teacher at the Williamsburg Charter School, Nichole Byrne Lau, contacted the UFT when she was fired earlier this month. A few months earlier she had circulated a copy of the city's pay scale for teachers. While her $50,000 a year salary was on par with teachers at other public schools, several of her colleagues' salaries were not, even though they worked longer days and a longer school year than teachers at regular public schools, Ms. Lau said.
Ms. Lau formed a loose association with the other teachers to discuss how to advocate for higher salaries and benefits like maternity leave.
"When I gave them that scale, they could not believe that they were so underpaid," Ms. Lau said.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Friday, June 23, 2006
Before a decision is made either way on the charter schools, more public debate is needed, one good-government lobbyist said.
"Trying to jam this through as part of a budget bill is a reprehensible way to do public policy," said Barbara Bartoletti of the state League of Women Voters.
UPDATE: Lest we think education is the most important item on the legislature's agenda, here's some perspective.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Sunday, June 18, 2006
The Mexico game on Friday was much more typical of the racial/ethnic tensions present in the school. All the Mexican kids stood up proudly and sang the national anthem (complete with the salute over the chest). Almost immediately after the game started, the kids divided themselves up into a Mexican table and mostly South American table. All the South American kids cheered for Angola, mostly to be obnoxious, and I had to break up a number of fights between the two groups. Some of the black kids in the program came over and said some anti-Mexican things (a few actually watched the Brazil game). The divide between the Mexican kids and everyone else seems to be surfacing a lot more after the national immigration debate, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. I'm glad that the Mexican kids aren't backing down and I know that despite the portrayal in the media that soccer brings us all together, the World Cup isn't going to solve anything. It is just too bad that it takes el jogo bonito (the beautiful game in Portuguese) to bring the kids together.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Monday, June 05, 2006
I just want to point out that in at least one case, these data are a little suspect. One school, listed as having opened in 2000, is compared to its co-locating school from school year 1999-2000 on. That school, however, did not move into that building until school year 2004-05. Comparing school year 2003-04 (pre-move) to 05-06, in only two grades did average class size go up at the non-charter public school, one of which went up by only half a student. In all other cases class size went down.
The point is, these charts are weird and don't account for all the many reasons class size can go up or down in a school.
I don't know much about Chile, but this aspect of the student protests is particularly interesting to me because of the debates over education I saw in neighboring Bolivia. A number of rural villages I visited had fought for local control over schools so kids could learn the community's indigenous language and have time off to help their parents during the harvest, things that never happened under centralized control that refused to value indigenous and peasant culture. Rural Bolivians seemed satisfied with the changes that local control over schools had brought, but the schools were literally falling apart and there was a big difference between rural and urban schools. Teachers seemed to be on strike every other month over wages. Again, I don't know what the issues are in Chile (there is certainly a much smaller indigenous population there) but the protests seem to show that without adequate funding, the benefits of local control over education are neutralized.
Friday, June 02, 2006
We need direct state funding of charter schools, not financing that comes from traditional aid to the districts. Charters may be public schools, but they are redundant public schools. They're an experiment. Those advocating the experiment should find a way to pay for it that doesn't cripple the local taxpayer.Personally I'm of the opinion that all school funding should come directly from the state (outside of Title funding, etc.). But why not start with charter schools? I know there's some reason charter advocates give, I just can't remember what it is right now.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
In the first class, the teacher interrupted me while I telling the kids about what they needed to do in high school to get into college to remind his class that "college isn't for everyone." I realize that the teacher was being realistic - a lot of the 7th and 8th graders who were in that classroom aren't going to make it to college (or even finish high school). I also understand that some people just don't do well in school and can excel in other areas (the teacher brought up a lot of trades that the kids might be interested in). But I was really surprised at how the teacher had already begun to lower the kids' expectations. One of the students actually tried to contradict him and said that her mother had told her about the importance of a college degree, and he just ignored her and kept telling the kids that it would be okay to settle for any job that would pay the bills. I don't disagree with the teacher for being realistic about his kids' futures, especially since he probably has seen a number of his former students fail in high school (a lot of kids from this school do), but it seems wrong to start closing off options to middle schoolers when almost all of them could turn it around in high school. I recognized a number of the "bad" or under-achieving kids in the class, and I couldn't help but wonder if rich kids or students in a high-achieving would have been told the same thing.
The extent to which a lot of people in my school (the staff in my after-school program, teachers, etc) have given up on most kids is more obvious as June is approaching, and it is particularly discouraging to me after watching a few kids in my program that everyone had written off do really well this year (one of my favorite kids came by last week to brag to everyone that he isn't going to summer school this year). All this particular kid needed was someone to believe in him, and even though that isn't going to help every student in this school (it didn't help everyone in the after-school program), it could go a long way for some.
I got a little cheered up by the next class, but it felt like it was in a completely different school. The kids asked interesting questions, and the teacher got really excited when all of her kids said they wanted to go to college. Expectations alone won't help the kids in this school overcome all the obstacles they face, and kids should know that they need to work hard to make it, but career day reminded me how important it is to let kids know that we believe they can do it.
Friday, May 19, 2006
It's interesting that the immigration debate at my school only seems to concern Mexicans since most of the school's population are immigrants and there are a lot of Latinos from South America. Occasionally some kids move beyond the "us vs. the Mexicans" debate (an Egyptian kid yesterday expressed discomfort with the term "illegal immigrant" and felt that other kids were too mean to Mexicans) and I've heard some valuable discussions taking place about what it means to be an immigrant. But every time the tensions boil over like yesterday it seems more likely that things are going to get worse here before they get better.
Most parents left disappointed. "I don't like the way they did this lottery system," said Yolonda Orr, whose son Karron was not chosen. "It's like putting them on an auction block." She said that she will go back to applying to the better intermediate public schools, and hopes her son be accepted into one. She said she felt that many teachers "don't care, especially in our neighborhoods - just want a paycheck."It's not news that charter school lotteries are often the scene of a lot of frustration, disappointment, and bad feelings. I think what's not being talked about is that a lot of those bad feelings are directed toward charter schools themselves -- or at least toward the lottery system. A colleague of mine is doing research on students who applied for our charters but were not selected through the lottery, and has heard a lot of very negative things from parents who feel that the system was rigged.
"I'm very disappointed that he wasn't chosen," Ms. Orr said on the subway home to Brownsville. "I wanted him to go to this charter school, and get a chance to start over with something new."
I'm not saying charter schools should give up the lottery system. I think maybe we should rethink the way lotteries are done. It needs to be clear to parents that the system is fair. And maybe making such a big spectacle of it, while exciting for schools and the parents that get in (and the media), isn't good for charter schools in general.
On the flip side of that same argument, there are a lot of angry parents out there who desperately want a better education for their children but who were not chosen in the lottery. What is happening to those parents? If they were to get together, go to Albany, and demand that the cap be lifted, I think it would carry more weight than a bunch of people like me doing the same thing.
It's their battle.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Monday, May 15, 2006
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
The thing I really don't get is why the NY Times has suddenly become so frosty toward charter schools. Conventional wisdom around here is that there's someone within the organization that's pushing for a negative position.
This may be paranoid, but it almost seems like there's a coordinated effort to spread the idea that charter schools are private schools at the NY Times. Check out the last line of today's editorial:
To salvage the charter movement, the states will need to abandon the strategy, now discredited, that consists largely of giving public money to what are basically private schools and then looking the other way.I really, really don't get it. Does anyone out there?
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Elliot less resembles any recognizable education figure than he does a goat, hence the School of Bloggers' affectionate nickname for him: Goat Boy. Chris loves him because he is a true underdog -- afflicted with partial deafness, diabetes, allergies, among other things, he is a natural poster boy for a half dozen disease-related organizations. Also, he's a high school dropout who earned his GED after learning the value of hard work. I love him because he has a voice that makes me want to do this.
Unfortunately, if all the gambling experts are correct, this could be the last night for America to see Elliot. So if you love education, charter schools, or children, watch tonight and vote for Elliot!
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Interestingly, as the NY Times article points out, there was a real division among the different immigrant populations. Almost all of the South and East Asian students came to school, and most of the Asian kids I talked to didn't seem very interested in what was going on. This is probably a function of the organizing power of the Latino media and the fact that there are more Latino immigrants than other groups. Still, it seems like these rallies creating more of a Latino movement (and from what I can tell there are even divisions between recent immigrants from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, etc and immigrants from the Dominican Republic) and not necessarily a movement that extends to all immigrant populations.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Amadou's story also shows how ridiculous the immigration legislation passed by the House, which would make the presence of undocumented immigrants a felony. I don't think we should be punishing immigrants for wanting to work and for doing jobs that most Americans won't do, and it is certainly wrong to punish kids that came here with their parents, especially ones that are completing high school and want to go to college.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
I was pretty sure that the kids wouldn't understand how good of a school Columbia is. But I think they figured out pretty quickly that they wouldn't feel comfortable there. What they really focused on was the fact that the students there were not like them (most of the kids were Latino or black). Several of the kids asked the tour guide if everyone looked like me, white and blond, even though I thought that the student body seemed fairly diverse. The kids also zeroed in on the buildings and how different they were from Queens. One asked why there weren't any fire escapes, and wanted to know how people got out in case of a fire. They also wanted to know right away about how much it costs to attend the university, and didn't believe me or the tour guide about the possibility of financial aid.
Maybe a little exposure to a world completely different from their own will help these kids be able to think about going to college, something most of their parents never did. But it was pretty obvious that they felt like there was no way that they could ever get to a place like Columbia. It's sad that kids who are just starting to make their way in life (they'll be in high schools all over the city next year) feel like so many avenues in the future are already closed off. I couldn't tell if it was the Ivy League atmosphere that made the kids uncomfortable since we visited Queens College during spring break and the kids couldn't get a good feel of the college, but I don't like it that the 8th graders are already deciding that some colleges are too good for them.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Representatives from the National Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said this week they support the Senate Judiciary Committee bill because it provides comprehensive immigration reform, rather than the House bill and a separate bill that has been introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., both of which focus on enforcement.
They applauded the inclusion in the Senate Judiciary Committee bill of a provision that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths who graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college or participate in military service for at least two years.
They also endorsed the part of the Senate Judiciary Committee bill that offers a way for undocumented workers to become legal.
Ms. Underwood noted that K-12 public schools are obligated under a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in Plyler v. Doe, to provide an education to children regardless of their immigration status. “From the school’s perspective of the primary mission of educating the kids, the immigration status of the parent is secondary,” she said.
Peter Zamora, a legislative lawyer for MALDEF, added that legalization for children’s parents could improve parent involvement in schools. “There’s a relationship between government and individuals in this community that is not based on trust,” he said. “Bring this population out of the shadows; have them participate in all facets of American society, including school.”