Monday, April 30, 2007

Inclusion update

Today was Day 2 of our unintentional inclusion experiment. Day 1 didn't really count, since it was a rainy day and most of our new students didn't show up. Today they were all there, bringing our class sizes up to about 25 kids. I know some of you out there are probably saying "Cry me a river," but 25 big teenage bodies is a big difference from 20.

How did it go?

It was a challenge. The formerly-self-contained kids are used to a much different classroom environment. One reportedly commented that "our old teacher never used to make us do so much WORK!" Most are acclimating well, but others are bristling at being in a classroom where they aren't allowed to get up and walk around the classroom on impulse.

Stay tuned.

Unions and charters, part XVIII

Via Let's Get It Right, AFT President Ed McElroy's statement for National Charter Schools Week.

I'm curious to find out more about this:
To that end, the AFT also announced it is organizing a charter school teacher network – the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or ACTS – to represent the interests of AFT-represented charter school educators nationwide.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Does inclusion work?

Tonight was the last night of my "Teaching Students with Special Needs" class, and as a final assessment we had a whole-class debate on the topic of "Does inclusion work?" Starting tomorrow I'm going to find out for real.

After I subbed in a self-contained class for a week and a half for a teacher who is not coming back, the final decision was to split the kids up and send them to the gen-ed global studies classes. We're getting 4-6 new kids in each of our classes starting tomorrow.

The one important thing that this situation is missing is the push-in support that makes inclusion work. So we will see what happens. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another request for help

Does anyone know anything about the Cristo Rey Network? If so, please email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com.


I’m currently taking a class on teaching students with special needs, which is, as our professor told us the first day, an “attitudes course” rather than a content course or methods course. We are learning the correct attitudes toward special education, primarily the idea that inclusion of students with special needs, rather than putting them in a self-contained class, is morally, legally, and in all other ways the right thing to do.

We’ll leave aside for now the weirdness of being in a class that teaches you, and assesses you on, a certain set of values.

After a week of substitute teaching a self-contained class, I no longer need to drink the Kool-Aid. I am a true believer.

I was really surprised to find out that the school where I’m student teaching, a progressive high school that is affiliated with the Coalition of Essential Schools, has these self-contained classes. Into these classes goes any student who may be difficult to teach, including English language learners, students with speech and language disorders, students who can’t sit still long enough to write down their name, and students with serious behavioral issues.

Despite all of this, I would say that the students in the self-contained class (those who didn’t cut class, anyway) learned as much about the Industrial Revolution last week as the students in my “regular” class. I had to make some modifications, but the content remained the same.

Still, it was the most exhausting week I have had so far. Their regular teacher broke her arm and decided not to come back for the rest of the year. I can see why. To have all of these students with all of these very different needs in one class is not fair for anybody. The kids are aware they’re in the “special class,” which does not encourage them to work hard or be nice.

When the principal announced that the regular teacher would not be coming back, the other teachers began to freak out. If a permanent replacement could not be found, then all of those students would be coming into their classes. I’m secretly hoping that this will be the case. In the meantime, I will continue to sub, and continue to do the best I can.

Modern day slavery

Kristof delivers a disturbing but wonderful and succinct account of modern day slavery. I would really like to find some way to work this into a lesson. We are about to start a unit on imperialism, which will lead into a unit on World War I.

Any ideas?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On an unrelated note

I will admit it: every now and then I do something so stereotypically girly as to read the Weddings section of the New York Times. And I have to say, out of all of those heartwarming profiles, the best one I have ever read is this one: Laura Shoop and David Milowitz.

Rather than the usual riding-off-into-the-sunset fairy tale, Laura and David's story is one of indecision, insecurity, therapy, family conflict, doubting friends, and awkward moments.

I want to see Laura and David's love story in a romantic comedy. Working title: "All Right First Date."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mortar bored?

BusinessWeek takes a look at online charter schools. It's particularly relevant for me since I had a conference call interview for an online charter school teaching position last night. Ultimately I decided that teaching outside of bricks-and-mortar schools is not for me at this stage in my career, but it was interesting to consider an alternative. I know online schools help a lot of kids who have some sort of physical, geographical, or some other barrier to schools of their choosing. I'm just too excited about having a little pile of bricks and mortar of my own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pangaea panacea

This is why I love working with teens: On days like this, sometimes the littlest thing a kid does can cheer me up. Today I was working with one student when another student walked in and asked, “You remember when – I mean, you’re not going to remember this, but – you know when all of the continents were one big continent? What was that called?”

Just the fact that he felt the need to clarify that he knew I wasn’t on this earth before continents existed makes me smile.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"More pain ahead."

This is why I'm a little nervous about finding a teaching job in the Twin Cities.

Meanwhile ...

... this. Maybe part of the reason for the problem below is an avoidance of discussing sex in general in school.

"Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged."

Food for thought in my ongoing struggle to figure out how to respond to my students' homophobia.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Has anyone out there ever worked in an online charter school, or known anyone who has? If so, can you please email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Surprising facts I learned while in Minnesota

1) Even though MN passed the first charter law (back in 1991), there are still major tensions between school districts and charters. One school leader told me that in an effort to discourage charter schools from using district-provided tranpsortation, the Mpls school district announced that district buses will tranpsort CS kids at 10 a.m. What parent is going to wait until 10 a.m. to put their kid on the school bus? I guess it's better than this.

2) The MN system of having multiple charter authorizers, much touted by these people, creates some really interesting quirks, especially since religious organizations can "sponsor" charter schools.

3) Twin Cities area charter schools seem, on the whole, MUCH less stressed out about test scores than do their counterparts in New York. Again, a quirk I think that comes from the system of multiple authorizers.

4) There are very, very precious few secondary social studies positions available in the Twin Cities.

5) Anything you can possibly want to do in the Twin Cities, you can do at a co-op.

6) Sometimes it snows in April. Really.

On subbing the first day back from spring break

I hope it's a position I never find myself in again.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sometimes it snows in April

Writing from chilly Minneapolis. I am so excited to get involved with charter schools out here -- yesterday I visited a really interesting school called Lighthouse Academy of the Nations, where nearly all of the students have been in the U.S. for three years or less. On Monday I'll be spending a good chunk of the day on the city buses heading to schools like this one, this one, and this one.

The schools are so cool it almost makes me forget that it's April 7 and it hasn't gotten above freezing since Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Via The Essential Blog: The new NCLB logo is a little frightening. What was wrong with the old one?

Monday, April 02, 2007


Kevin at the Quick and the Ed clarifies for readers that when people say things like "There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers and Voucherziers," they should really say "three special places."

I agree with Kevin and find myself having this very conversation all the time. To be fair, though, it's not entirely true that vouchers, charter schools and school privatization are three totally distinct movements and that the only place they intersect is at Cato. I have worked with charter school supporters who see charters as "half a loaf" (with total privatization being the "whole loaf").

Even less extreme, many people in the charter movement are MBA-holders who simply believe in applying the business model to all public services. (Apparently, at some point in business school they run you through a machine that permanently wires your brain to "unions are bad.") What is privatization to some is simply efficiency and common sense to them.

However, the vast majority of people I've encountered who teach in, work for, and send their children to charter schools have no grand scheme for privatization. They are attracted to the specific mission of their school, the (typically) small size, and the (typically) high level of parent involvement.