Monday, May 28, 2007

Very exciting

I've accepted an offer for a social studies teaching position in the Twin Cities! My very first teaching job. It's at one of the project-based schools I was describing before, and I'll be teaching several seminars, including team-teaching a global studies humanities class.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Spellings and Stewart

This was surprisingly bearable. I still appreciate that she talks about "poor kids" but thought the way she and Stewart talked about teachers was weird.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

More on how people learn ...

I am so psyched about the project-based schools that are doing some really wonderful things for students in the Twin Cities. So far I have visited five of these schools, and I've been consistently impressed with the intelligence and collegiality of the staff, the high-level work and maturity of the students, and the general positive vibe at these schools.

Here's how it works: students enroll in the school (often after being unhappy or unsuccessful at a more traditional school) and are assigned an advisor. The advisor works with that student to come up with a "personalized learning plan" for how they're going to meet all the requirements for graduation. To meet those requirements, students must complete a certain number of projects that tie into specific standards and/or attend faculty-led "seminars," which are also project-based.

On a typical day, a student might come in, check in with her advisor, and then make herself a schedule for the day to indepedently work on her projects. Many of these schools also have required, structured math classes to make sure that students can pass the graduation test.

At a school I visited yesterday, one of the projects students had initiated and implemented was creating a student-run library. Global warming also seemed to be a common theme for projects this year.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Truancy court"

Via the PEN NewsBlast, a very interesting feature about Seattle's answer to truancy, and more fodder for this discussion.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Hey -- has anyone out there ever worked at, gone to, or sent a child to a Core Knowledge school? If so, please please email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com.

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The purpose of public education

Via Eduwonk, a column by Diane Ravitcb against the Khalil Gibran International Academy charter school that will focus on Arabic language and culture in Brooklyn. Ravitch writes that
Our city contains immigrants from every nation in the world, who speak many different languages. If we were to create special schools for each group that wants to preserve its cultural heritage, it would be the end of the historic ideal of public education as a common training ground for future citizens.
First of all, I think it's important to note that this is already happening, de facto, in charter schools (and probably non-charter public schools) in New York City. I've written about this before -- sometimes groups tend to flock to certain schools, and those schools end up having a distinct ethnic or cultural character.

Second, this is also happening in charter schools around the country. I worked with a group in Philadelphia that was trying to start up a charter school to meet the needs of a large African immigrant population in West Philadelphia. The kids' needs were simply not being met in the traditional public schools.

And this seems to be what charter schools in the Twin Cities are all about. I visited a school there that was, as the director kept telling me, "100% Hmong"; a school where special hand-washing stations were built to facilitate the religious needs of Somali and Ethiopian students, who were a majority; a bilingual charter school created to celebrate Latino culture.

I felt that each school was teaching kids, as Ravitch says it is public schools' job to do, "to think critically about the world they live in and at the same time to prepare them to take responsibility as American citizens." But they also do what, in my mind, charter schools are supposed to do -- they meet the educational needs of kids whose needs aren't being met in the non-charter schools, as a result of a grassroots, community effort.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dehumanizing kids

Something about this column, about a man who gets assaulted by some high school kids, makes me angry. For one thing, he could be talking about kids from the school where I'm student teaching -- we're a high school near Columbus Circle where the kids leave the building en masse around noon for lunch.

There's something about the author's portrayal of the kids that makes me angry. I would never want to blame the victim, and I'm sure what happened to him was frightening. But his characterization of the kids -- even before the attack -- makes it sound like to him, they're already junior prison inmates. His reference to them "counting chin-ups on the crossbeams" makes it sound like that activity isn't something any teenage boy would do given the proper terrain, but rather some sort of foreshadowing to the prison yard.

The image that accompanies the column shows a bunch of students with no faces, just nondescript clothing and hoodies. I walk around that same area every day and have never seen anything resembling what he describes.

That this man feels this way is one thing, but that the NY Times publishes it is another. I find it particularly disturbing following a recent conversation with a student who wasn't feeling well. I asked if he thought he'd have to go home.
"It depends on if I feel like getting picked up by Truancy."


"Truancy -- the cops that pick you up if you're not in school."

"Do they take you back to school?"

"Well, if they don't like your attitude they'll take you to the precinct and your parent will have to come get you."
I couldn't believe it when he said they take kids to the precinct for not being in school. To me this seems very, very wrong. Yes, truancy is a problem, but is the answer to give kids practice in what it feels like to be arrested? To treat them like criminals?

Meanwhile, the adults all around them treat them like they don't belong in the same vicinity as the Time Warner Center. The author of this column is so afraid he fantasizes about buying a switchblade and "gutting" the teenagers who messed with him. How could you have such a thought about a group of kids unless you barely thought they were human?

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Graffiti Hurts"

Just came across a really bizarre organization. Apparently graffiti is not only a crime, it's a moral hazard that only "quick and effective eradication" can prevent. Of course the most quick and effective method of eradication, according to the site, is using a lot of paint to cover the graffiti. Fortunately the organization receives funding from the Sherwin Williams Company.

The site even provides lesson plans for teachers to teach students "why graffiti is harmful to them, their neighborhood, and their community." Actually I would love to do one of the lessons with my students, which includes the following assignments:
  1. Students write a story, poem or essay that includes his/her feelings when seeing something defaced with graffiti.
  2. Students imagine they are a wall defaced with graffiti.
I think it would be a really interesting conversation.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What I saw on the subway this morning

Good question

AFT Ed and Quick Sara pose a question that's been weighing on me recently. There was definitely a flaw in my plan to go to a private university in New York City and then leave the New York City school system.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

NCLB assessed

The Nation came out with a useful primer this week on the issues around NCLB, including an overview by Linda Darling-Hammond and responses by Pedro Noguera, Velma L. Cobb and Deborah Meier. All respondents seem to agree on the problems with NCLB, including the lack of focus on socioeconomic barriers to student achievement and the misplaced accountability scheme. As Noguera puts it:
In the area of accountability, NCLB has opted for the path of least resistance, holding accountable the most vulnerable (students) and the least protected (principals), but not other parties--elected officials, senior school administrators, teachers and parents.
Darling-Hammond makes several recommendations for how to fix NCLB, including a "continuous improvement model," rather than the Adequate Yearly Progress model of the current legislation, and more investment in teacher education.

How people learn?

My mom's third grade class recently read a story, Roxaboxen, about a group of kids who create an imaginary community in the desert. They thought it was so cool that, without any prompt from their teachers, they created their own Roxaboxen at the end of the soccer field during recess.

Other third graders have joined in. Their teachers stand back and watch while the 50 or so kids heft logs and branches to construct their community. The actual physical space is not too complex, mostly sticks, pine cones, rocks, and found objects. But little by little the kids are creating a highly complex society, including family units, currency, the media, an airport, and even war (or at least rumors of it). There is a law enforcement agency to keep away mean fifth graders.

The teachers have done nothing but facilitate a blog on the community's happenings. Still, my mom says that they have learned more at recess about how a community operates than any of her previous classes has learned in social studies.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

No, Joe!

Just read that the blogger formerly known as the Chalkboard is making his exit from our little blogging community and his entrance into a very important organization.

I'm a Democrat for education reform, Joe! If there's anything I can do from my perch out in Minnesota, let me know.

Literacy and social studies

As part of my job hunt I’ve been frequenting the job board at the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools. Today I went on and saw a social studies opening for Paideia Academy in Apple Valley. I got really psyched because of my associations with a school of a similar name in Atlanta, where the social studies courses are inquiry-based and connected to present day issues. I visited the MN school’s website expecting something along those lines.

Then I saw it. Core Knowledge.

I’ve tried to have an open mind about Core Knowledge, and I understand the whole idea that students need to have “cultural literacy” if they’re going to achieve high levels of literal literacy. I even heard E. D. Hirsch speak once at a panel on literacy during my glory days as an intern in D.C. But try as I might, I just don’t feel comfortable with it. Maybe I would need to see it in action, but I don’t understand how Core Knowledge can possibly work. In my experience, students learn and retain concepts best when they’re really interacting with the content, rather than simply copying down pre-written notes.

The Core Knowledge website has a sample unit on Imperialism for eighth grade social studies. The content in that unit is very similar to the content we are covering in our current unit on Imperialism with the ninth and tenth graders. But there’s something very different about the two units. Take, for example, their lesson on “White Man’s Burden” versus ours. For one thing, they have the students reading the actual Kipling poem, which, due to our students' reading levels, we forewent in favor of showing them this image:

Then there’s the discussion. In the Core Knowledge unit, the “discussion” consists of guiding students to understand the full historical context of this poem. Which is appropriate and fine. But there is no opportunity for students to grapple with the text on their own, to come up with theories and really understand the context.

When I did it with my class a couple of days ago, I had students look at the image with a partner and jot down things they noticed. This led into a discussion centering on how Europeans justified Imperialism. The students came up with all kinds of wild things I would never have thought of. One student was (and still is) convinced that the meaning of the document was that the Europeans were trying to bring soap to native peoples to lighten their skin. Her theory gave me the opportunity to clarify things a bit, but conceptually she also wasn’t so far off.

The discussion tied into our essential question, “why are there ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in history?” The kids were able to think about the person who created this document and how he or she might answer that question.

At this point in my job search I don’t really feel like I can immediately discount any available social studies position. But I also have the feeling that I just wouldn’t be happy at a Core Knowledge school. If anyone has any positive things to say about CK that might change my mind, please post them!