On Flint’s Water Crisis and Education

What is happening in Flint, Mchigan is an awful example of how some elected officials treat the children they represent. It’s not just in the schools system but in other aspects of their lives, as well. Why would we expect the governor of Michigan to care about the quality of public school education when he knowingly acted against their health, of all critical aspects of a persons life.

High Graduation Rates Are Sadly Inflated; H.S. Diplomas, Meaningless

This NYT article discusses how the increase in high schoool graduation rates doesnt mean more students are graduating at grade level– the truth is students are more likely to graduate far below grade level. 

What’s so disturbing about this article is that it’s not that high school graduates aren’t just unprepared for college, they’re unprepared for life. They’re underperforming in fundamental english, math and verbal skills. It’s sad that schools are sending teenagers out into the world with a valueless diploma for the sake of graduation rates. It’s sad they can do that. It’s sad that students are passing fifth grade without writing clear, coherent sentences and graduatting high school without being able to artuculate themselves. Not everyone is made for college, but most high school students should at least have the most basic skills down pat…we’re required to go to school for TWELVE years…what do we have to show for it? 
As you know, my high school was going through the turn-around process while I was a sophmore. With a little less than 200 students in my class, I was in the top twenty and scored a 5 on the AP English exam. I got to college and was able to avoid math but certainly wasn’t ready to compete with my peers in writing. My writing was atrocious. So, you can imagine how the bottom half (or even the bottom 3/4) of my high school class faired out. How was I able to write paper after paper, complete with weak sentence structure, an inability to connect thoughts and poor grammar, and still  get a 95 in English? I tend to side with teachers when it comes to attactching exams to high-stake consequences, but teachers are blantly deceiving students like myself. More shockingly, New York state and city required exams, along with AP exams, are certainly poor indicators of academic acheivement. Are the standards that low? 

Graduates are only being scarred by this false acheivement. This, to me, only proves that Common Core, No Child Left Behind and the city and state-wide exams required to graduate are in no way accurate when it comes to evaluating life-readiness. A high school diploma, unfortunately, doesn’t represent the deep content a student has learned. Nor does it  indicate that she’s mastered foundational math, literacy, written and verbal skills. Graduating high school students is far less about prepping them for the real world and more about giving off an appearnce that students are learning. This, now an apparent fact, begs the simple question: why is public high school education prioritizing graduation rates over quality education?

I feel the answer lies in high stakes testing and our schools curriculum structure. More on that in a later post.

Finally Reading Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed”

I’m only on the first chapter, but so far I love the anecdotes, which bring the troubles some children go through to life. I’m also fascinated by economist James Heckman’s interdisciplinary work on the Perry Preschool Program and Tough’s use of the research in the book’s introduction. The reader understands what Tough is going to talk about but he provides this strong piece of research that is a catalyst in his quest to understand how children succeed. More thoughts on the book as a read!

Minorities Less Likely to be Labeled Gifted by White Teachers

Students of colors are significantly less likely to be “deemed” gifted by caucasian teachers than students of color being taught by teachers of color. This Washington Post article lists some reasons why this may be but the question is how do we rectify this? I didn’t read the study the article is based on, but it would be interesting to see what the schools studied considered to be “gifted” and what, if anything, is being done with students who are almost-gifted-but-not-there-yet? I’d like to know the answer to the latter question more so than the former simply because if some “near-gifted” colored students aren’t selected for the initial gifted program, it’s important to continue to hone and challenge their minds. According to the study, they prove to be just as academically gifted, so it would be ashamed that they are denied entry into a gifted program but remain in a less engaging environment, which would leave room for them to lose that will to learn. ughhhh. It sucks because more likely that not, this is what is happening:-/


Teachers Get One-Size-Fits-All Training

Pauline Zdonek, a Illionois teacher and math coach, wrote a blog post on Edutopia about the importance of  effective professional development. I won’t go into too much detail, but I can’t agree with the point of her post anymore: Teachers, like students, benefit from development geared towards their individualized needs more than non-applicable, repetitive information. We should want each teacher to leave a session learning something useful, rather than waste their time, as Pauline recounts in her post. The problem, she says, is that administrators apply a one size fits all technique, which ends up being so vague, no one can benefit it.

While it is hard to provide granular, one-on-one professional development for every teacher, any attempt to “meet the teacher where she is at” is a safe bet on making an actual improvement to her skill set. Pauline recounts the all too often situation is a teacher not being asked what she would like to gain from a training session but given a requirement to attend sessions, regardless if she walks away with meaningful, useful guidance or not.

Why do we expect teachers to be amazing when we don’t understand or care for how they’re being taught? Professional development needs to be a more transparent component of education as a whole. Perhaps professional development organizers could meet with a wide range of teachers and discuss what could be covered over a series of future professional development trainings. Or, if meeting is not possible, have students fill out a detailed survey that leaves plenty of room for open-ended answers, which would be sufficient to engage the teacher about how they can be accommodated. With that said, genuine professional development for teachers that takes their needs into consideration would just let teachers know that, just as students’ individual needs matter, theirs do too…because they are…students, after all.

I know reformers don’t like accommodating teachers, but I think PD accommodation is worth the investment, no?


Intrinsic Motivation and Students

Great article by Edutopia on kids and intrinsic motivation. We’re so used to telling kids/students what to do. The key item I pulled out of this read is the what kinds of choices and directions you give students. The examples they provide are clear to see the differences in style of what is traditionally done and what kids would respond to better.

I was writing in Starbucks a few weeks ago, when a mother asked her 3 year old daughter if the girl wanted to finish the apple she took one bite out of or throw it away. I was confused by the latter option, simply because I thought she could have asked the girl if she wanted save it for later or if she would like to cut it (it was a whole apple). I can see how this was the mom trying to give her daughter options, at the same time, her daughter didn’t understand the value of food, so she said shed like to throw it away. Giving the girl options to eat it at a later point would highlight that value and at the same time, allow the girl to make her own decision.

This may not quite be intrinsic motivation and could simply be a difference in value for food, but it certainly something that some parents are picking up on.

Nina Rees Misconstrued Clinton Charter Comment

I wrote a blog post last night about K-12 education policy and the presidential campaign trail. I wanted to include a  link to a Hillary Clinton  interview where she talks about charter schools. In search of that interview, I came a across a negative response article. First, I’ll use a quote to illustrate part of what Clinton said about charter schools and then show how it was misconstrued.

Hillary Clinton made a few comments about charter schools. She said,

And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

Of course, Nina Rees, the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, only pulled ‘the-hardest-to-teach’ sentence out and wrote a misguided, misconstrued article, for, of course, US News & World Report.

Rees says that Clinton ‘misses the point’, that charters mostly help low-income students from rough neighborhoods, rather than dispense them to public underfunded public schools. But, when Clinton refered to “hardest-to-teach” students, and we know this by reading the whole interview, she meant students who have behavioral problems and aren’t easily integrated in some charter schools ‘no excuses’. Clinton acknowledges that charters there are both good and bad charters. She even mentions that we should use charters for their original purpose, which is to create a place to help those students who are not interested in school/have a hard time learning and create a flexible learning environment that engages students and allows teachers to find learning styles that can be replicated in public schools.

Rees then says that public schools should do just that– Rees doesn’t seem to pickup on the fact that Clinton even said this already.

Rees seems to also ignore the fact that charters have resources that public schools simply don’t have. She in no way takes on the fact that there are multiple levels to her veiw of ‘Hard-to-Teach’ kids. She took a very surface level understanding of this comment, and she did not try to explore other, more deeper types of students who are truly troubled by their low-income upbringing.

Charters do take in a lot of kids from low-income communities but Rees assume that ALL of these kids, simply by way of their environment, are who the ‘Hard-to-Teach’, which is not true. There are some many students who, like myself, come from a poor neighborhood but love to learn and would have thrived in a charter schools. My then disrespectful, rude and highly disruptive youngest brother would be kicked out because he’d break so many of the school’s no – excuse rules.

But, and this scares me, Rees chose to miss Clinton’s point. I know she chose not to see Clinton’s point and chose to twist Clinton’s comments because Rees:

A) chose to only focus on that one sentence and
B) didn’t acknowledge that positive comments Clinton made about charters and
C) didn’t even include a link to an article with the full interview.

Rees included several links that prove that charters have helped lower-income students, which Clinton did not deny, but Rees did not include a link to Clinton’s article.

What’s even worse is that Rees included a link to findings of high – income public schools using tactics to kick kids out of their schools, but she doesn’t acknowledge that Success Academy, a charter school network in NYC, is accused of doing the same thing.

It’s not a fair practice to her readers and is an example of journalists controlling the media to fit their view.

Rees isn’t the only person who misconstrued Clinton’s comment. Some folks call her a hypocrite because, historically speaking, she’s been an advocate for charter schools. But this interview isn’t condemning charters to death.  Clinton isn’t anti-charter now. She’s just aware of some faults of some charter schools and that should be okay. 

Charters need to stop having this “you’re-either-with-me-or-against-me” mentality. At least public schools have their faults and admit to it.

No K-12 Ed Policy on the 2016 Pres. Campaign Trail

The 2016 presidential candidates, especially the democrats, are vocal on changes to college affordability. But, this Ed Week post talks about how little attention K-12 reform is getting on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. Part of the assumed reasoning behind the lack of conversation is because ESSA was just passed to replace NCLB, probably the most controversial education policy law in recent memory. One can argue that the fed is taking a lighter hand in ed reform because, traditionally, education reform is a state issue.

I appreciate Hillary’s comment on charter schools and it makes sense why John Kasich is quiet about his mess in Ohio. But I wish candidates spoke on the subject simply because they care, and not because they’ll lose political points or because it won’t heavily effect their campaign or time in office. Ed policy, especially ed policy that affects the early ages, is an American issue that each potential leader should be well versed and opinionated about.