Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"College isn't for everyone"

Last week my school had its Career Day, and one of the guidance counselors invited me to speak to several classes about my job in the after-school program. I had some really good discussions with kids about different kinds of jobs and the importance of knowing another language (I spoke to ESL classes and the kids really seemed to like the idea that they could get ahead by speaking and writing their language), but things got really interesting when I brought up college.

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.

Charter school politics in Minnesota

Eduwonk elucidates.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Immigration Debate

I complain a lot about the 8th graders' lack of interest in current events, but the immigration debate in Congress and in the streets of New York has had a big impact in my middle school. Most of it hasn't been very positive. Yesterday a group of 40 Mexican kids showed up after school ready to fight with a group of black kids after one of the kids made a nasty remark about Mexicans during school (the wonderful security guard at the school, who is also Mexican, defused the situation by telling the Mexican kids that they couldn't play soccer in the mornings if they got into a fight). There is always a lot of racial tension in the school, but recently it all seems to be directed at Mexican kids. One of my kids has been talking with me about it for the past couple of weeks, telling me that all Mexicans should go home because they are taking his jobs. I remind him every so often that there are several Mexican kids that he likes, but after allowing that maybe they shouldn't go home, he retreats into these not so suble racist one-liners we hear coming from Washington everyday.

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.

Angry parents

Very interesting article today in the NY Sun about the UFT's secondary charter school's lottery, which was held last night. Here's the part that's really interesting to me:
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."

"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."
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 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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


A colleague tipped me off to this 60 Minutes piece on Harlem Children's Zone that aired on Sunday. HCZ gets a TON of media coverage, and they deserve every bit of it. My only beef is with the teachers union bashing toward the end. It's this kind of thing that is standing in the way of a union-charter partnership.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Of all the bad arguments for vouchers ...

... this is the worst one. It goes something like this: Catholic schools are dying. We must save them! How do we save them? Vouchers!

Isn't the big idea behind vouchers to encourage free markets in education?


Interesting article in the NY Daily News about a poorly worded question on the Regents global studies exam. Especially interesting to me since I just finished up my methods course on teaching global studies (more thoughts on the Regents here), and we talked a lot about how to teach controversial issues like this. My prof's stance (and what seem to be the general NYU stance) is to teach the controversy, which sounds logical to me. I'm sure that when I actually start teaching it will quickly dawn on me that teaching the controversy won't always be the best idea.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Weird editorial in today's NY Times. The gist: weak charter school oversight makes weak charter schools. No argument there. The weird thing is that they draw from a study published a year ago by the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan, and don't even mention a more recent (albeit potentially biased) study on the same topic. (Thought I was always under the impression that the Evaluation Center was biased toward charter schools itself.)

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


My hat is off to Eduwonk for doing the impossible: I've been trying forever to figure out a way to somehow make American Idol relevant to education policy so that I could express the School of Bloggers' undying love for Elliot Yamin.

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

Update on Amadou Ly

The NY Times ran this article yesterday about the show of support for Amadou Ly, an undocumented high school student from Senegal on an award-winning robotics team. It's great to see stories like this about the impact of the broken immigration system in this country on the lives of hard-working immigrants, and it seems like a lot of people can be moved to do something about it, at least in individual cases.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Day without Immigrants

Although it seems like the pro-immigrant rallies in NYC (NY Times article here) weren't as large as in other major cities (AP article via MSN here, LA Times article here), the impact of the "Day without Immigrants" was certainly noticeable at my school. The halls were pretty quiet all day long, and a number of teachers told me that most of their Latino students didn't attend school. A bunch of my kids (all Latinos) came to school but skipped after school to attend rallies with their parents or older siblings. They all called it a "huelga," or strike, instead of a rally or boycott, and seemed pretty excited to take part in it. One undocumented kid stayed in after school and told me a few too many times that he wasn't scared of immigration officials at the rallies. Even with the massive show of force by immigrants around the country in recent rallies, the fact that this kid was still scared shows how pervasive the fear is in some immigrant communities.

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.