Thursday, April 27, 2006

Robot Dreams

This article in the NY Times today about an undocumented immigrant student in an East Harlem high school makes a pretty compelling case for passing the DREAM Act, which would allow many undocumented students that graduate high school in the US to attend college and get on a path to citizenship. The article focuses on Amadou Ly, an undocumented immigrant from Senegal and a member of a robotics team that made the national finals against all odds. Amadou can't fly down to Atlanta for the competition because he doesn't have an ID to get on the plane, and he is worried about not getting into the building where the competition is being held for the same reason. And while the fact that this kid might be prevented from taking part in a robotics competition because of his immigration status is ridiculous, the really crazy part of the story is that he won't be able to attend college because he does not qualify for financial aid. He also might be deported, simply because he came here "illegally" with his mother. It seems like Amadou is exactly the kind of student that we should be encouraging to go to college (read the article for glowing reports from teachers and friends).

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

A quiet 37.5 minutes

Another update on how the 37.5 minutes of extra tutoring is working at my school: I walked around yesterday looking for a few of my kids, and noticed that most of the classrooms were either empty or had only one or two students. It was the same today, and it was a little eerie to have the halls be so quiet (next to the windows was another matter, since most of the kids were outside fighting or cursing at each other). Since I complained about how crazy the 37.5 minutes has been, I suppose I shouldn't be upset about the calm that has come with the warm weather. Except for the fact that almost no kids are taking advantage of the extra time to get help from their teachers, which is not a good sign for a school where so many kids are failing. The more motivated kids (that actually need help with their schoolwork) in my after school program don't even seem to be getting anything out of these sessions, since I am spending several hours a day with them on projects, and they leave all their materials in my office. There is still a lot that needs to be ironed out with the extra tutoring.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Visiting Columbia

I took my 8th graders to visit Columbia University last week. I thought it would be a good idea to get them thinking about the importance of college and to let them know that I expect them to go to college. So many people at school (teachers, administrators and even the staff at my after school program) expect nothing from most of the kids, so it sometimes suprises me that more kids don't give up when they are constantly told they won't amount to anything. Now I don't think college trips are going to change very much - although the way the kids reacted to a visit by a Dominican friend of mine from the South Bronx was really great to watch. He was originally going to talk mostly about college, but the kids really connected with him and seemed to understand a little more about what it takes to succeed in high school and beyond. Even after the success of that visit, I wasn't sure what the kids were going to get out of seeing Columbia.

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

The Immigration Debate and Parent Involvement

An article from Education Week (subscription required) discussed the potential impact of proposed immigration legislation on schools. One particularly interesting point was how legislation that would give undocumented immigrants the chance to become citizens could help increase parent involvement in schools. I personally think the language barrier and the lack of translation services is a more important factor in the lack of parent involvement among immigrant parents, but there is no doubt that immigrants would feel more welcome in many parts of American society (and more likely to participate) if they had documents.

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.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We are America

I'm back from a brief hiatus (spent visiting graduate schools and agonizing over the decision) and I'm excited about the huge pro-immigrant rallies taking place around the country. This Washington Post article seems to be pretty typical of the positive coverage that the rallies are getting in the national media. The bit about the shift on the part of organizers to include more American flags and less Mexican flags was particularly interesting to me. Even though many Americans seem to sympathize with immigrants families and reject harsh measures (the article says that three-fifths of the population wants to provide immigrants that have lived here for some time with a path to citizenship), there is still a lot of xenophobia, and the imagery of an "immigrant invasion" is all over in places like Fox News (during a 30 minute show that I saw last week, Sean Hannity showed a tape of Mexicans streaming across the border 15 or 20 times).

So although I think it is great that immigrants are standing up to the digusting and hateful bill passed in the house, I also think that a lot of commentators are going a little too far with their predictions that these rallies are the start of an immigrant/Latino political movement. Most of the immigrant parents in the night ESL classes at the school went to the rally in downtown New York yesterday (article here), but from what I can tell most of the immigrants around here are just plain scared of what is going to happen. And while the rallies are big enough that they can go without worrying about being deported, I just don't see the accompanying political consciousness that would turn these rallies into a powerful movement, at least in my little part of New York (it could be very different in a city with a more homogeneous immigrant population). I want to hear what my kids are thinking about all this (the youth movement is the most exciting part of this), and hopefully I'll report back with some interesting findings.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Grouchy on vouchers this morning

Until now I was under the impression that Margaret Spellings was staying out of the voucher fray. But apparently she has been "sent by Bush" to "up the ante" in the "school choice battle" in New York.

Voucher proponents, like the New York Sun, love to conflate vouchers with charter schools as one big "school choice" movement. (Actually, their opponents do too.) This is useful when you either want to use one to build support for the other, or use one to do away with the other. But "school choice" is an outdated concept. Vouchers and charters have become two totally different "movements." Yes, there is some overlap, but it is mainly at the extremes, as charters have become much more mainstream.

In other bad journalism news, the headline of a somewhat anti-charter school piece in today's New York Times reads "Public vs. Private Schools: A New Debate." The print version of the headline is "Public vs. Charter Schools." Not sure which is worse -- the Times thinking that charter schools are not public schools or the Times thinking that they are private schools. And "a new debate?" As a colleague pointed out, the facilities issue is hardly a new debate.