Friday, September 29, 2006

Radicalism, neoliberalism, and other words I wish I never had to use

Last night I went to a panel put on by NYCoRE, the New York Collective of Radical Educators. The keynote speaker was a CA teacher who, without going into detail about his particular radical educational practice, roused all of us teachers and teachers-to-be into a radical dither.

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

Test score update

Test scores came out today. NY Daily News got the jump on the story -- article here.

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

D-Day ....

... tomorrow. The ELA scores come out in New York.

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.

The Results are in

Last night David Yassky lost the Democratic primary to Yvette Clarke in New York's 11th congressional district. I don't know much about Clarke (she had the support of the major unions), but it's too bad that Congress won't have a strong immigrant rights supporter in Yassky (he won my allegiance with his support of translation services for immigrant parents in NYC).

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

It's 9:30 p.m. ...

... and there are still no returns for the congressional race in the 11th C.D. When I voted this morning, you could hear crickets chirping in the school gym. (You could also hear the crickets chirping outside because it was so freaking early.) But I bet there was a pretty good turnout. I will keep you posted!

Nice Kids

I went to the Twins game on Sunday to watch Santana dismantle the Tigers, and I noticed (another) big difference between kids in Minnesota and in New York City. The Twins had a pre-game run the bases race for two kids, and one kid was way out in front of the other. The mascots kept tripping and knocking him down to let the other kid catch up, so much so that the other kid got to home plate first. But instead of winning the race, the second kid waits for the first kid to get up so they can step on home plate together.

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

This ...

... SUCKS.

Preparing Latino Immigrants for School

Interesting article in the NY Times today about the Long Island Children's Museum, which holds programs for immigrant parents and kids to prepare kindergartners for school in the U.S. The population of Latino immigrants is booming in Long Island, and this program seeks to ease the transition into school for both kids and parents. The article focuses primarily on the issue of parent involvement, with a number of advocates arguing that programs like these are necessary to get Spanish-speaking parents involved. From my experiences working with Latino parents of middle schoolers in Queens, having programs for parents in Spanish makes all the difference in terms of parent involvement. My after-school program got a lot more parents to events once we started having bilingual programs, and the primary schools in the area with Spanish-speaking parent coordinators had amazing parent involvement.

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

Second day

So, I'm student teaching in an inclusion class, which means that the students are blessed with both a regular teacher and a special ed teacher who are both there part time. I serve as the third adult body in the room, and so I've spent the past two days doing things like signing hall passes, answering questions, and stopping kids from putting tape on each others' backs. These kids have three grownups in the room and they're having the least fun they've ever had in their lives! It's awesome.

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.

Striking Teachers in Bolivia - Part II

A quick update on the teacher's strike in Bolivia - union leaders are beginning a hunger strike today (sorry, Spanish article only) despite continuing negotiations with the government. Teachers are demanding a new education law and the dismissal of the minister of Education (see this previous post for more on the strike). Meanwhile, civic committees and opposition politicians in four departments (similar to states) are going on strike this Friday to protest recent actions in the constituent assembly (specifically when Evo Morales' party pushed through a resolution that would permit a majority of votes to approve any changes during the assembly). Evo's party has an absolute majority of assembly delegates, and opposition members are worried that he will use to push through radical changes to the Bolivian constitution, similar to the law teachers are protesting. No word yet on the reaction of Bolivians to the teacher's strike and the union's stance against the compulsory teaching of indigenous languages. I don't think it will be resolved any time soon, since this current conflict over education policy is a vital part in the construction of a "new" Bolivian national identity (and we'll see how new the identity ends up being), as well as for future relations between indigenous and non-indigenous South Americans.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back to school

Tomorrow is my first day of middle school. Specifically, eighth grade. I'm nervous -- what am I going to wear?? Will the kids like me? What about the huge zit I can feel brewing on my chin?

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.

Charters and unions part n

Eduwonk guestblogger Steve Barr of Green Dot Public Schools posts about the partnership between Green Dot's charter schools and teachers unions.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Striking Teachers in Bolivia

Strikes are fairly common in Bolivia. When I was in Cochabamba two year ago my host brother had a lot of "vacation" because of extended strikes during year, mostly because the government would periodically stop paying teachers - especially in rural areas, and the urban teachers would strike in solidarity or for other reasons such as not being provided school supplies. But the current strike by the urban teacher's union is much more interesting. Evo Morales' government is trying to make the teaching of indigenous languages compulsory in primary schools (read about various other problems facing Morales in this Washington Post article). From what I've read in the Bolivian papers, the teachers are complaining that such a policy will put non-indigenous students at a disadvantage and that the government didn't consult with the union. The central government started having bilingual instruction (after decades of Spanish-only teaching in indigenous communities) in the mid-1990s, but the idea of teaching non-Indians indigenous languages is likely too much for some Bolivians, particularly the elite sector.

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.