Education Nation Tip: Writing Skills and Social Media

When my 21 year old neice was in high school and started actively using Facebook, I constantly sent her private messages discouraging the use of shorthand text. I worried that it took away from her ability to effectively write and communicate. It’s okay to take your time and express your thoughts. Not everything has to have hashtags, abbreviations and fragmented responses. 

But we live in a society where shorthand and social media go hand-in-hand. This NBC News’ Education Nation tip is timely, educational and require’s a challenge that can involve family members and friends (though I wasn’t aware that fifth graders used social media–boy am I getting old!).

  

Christie Defunding Proposal, Jersey JazzMan & Inaccurate Data on Charter Success

I think charter cheerleading keeps us from having a real conversation about the structural problems related to race and economic inequality in America.

Woah, JerseyJazzman. This and other amazing gems in his scathing post about Chris Christie‘s plan to defund already underfunded public schools and the inaccurate Christie supporter who spews inaccurate data about schools to make charters look like they simply outshine public schools fair and square. 

New Orleans Charter School Signs Collaborative Union Contract

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the largest national teachers’ union in the U.S.,  Morris Jeff Community School, a charter school in New Orleans, signed it’s first  three year union contract. What’s so amazing about this contract is that it is a collaborative effort that works to improve the lives of both students and teachers. With a student support committee, this agreement isn’t just about what teachers want, but focuses on students and their needs as well.

Most charter schools, especially no-excuse charters, don’t have unions. But I think a central part of the teaching profession is the need for some sort of protection, because there are so many factors that are not in their control. Unlike a corporate position, where one is asked to, say,  create innitiatives and execute them through tasks (that can be quanitified and  the employess direct work product can be reviewed), the teaching orofession requires a professional to impart knowledge and engagement on many other individuals at any given time. Those students that come in and out of a teacher’s classrooom have their own reason and processes, whether on concious or subconscious, that can’t be quantified but that causes them to do well or not do well in school.

This contract should be applauded and I’m excited to see what gains come of it in three years.

Chris Christie’s Unfair Fairness Formula

​Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and Donald Trump supporter (and possible his VP nominee), proposed an education funding plan that would divert funds from underfunded inner-city public schools to well off public schools.

The plan advocates for equal state funding or a flat rate funding to all students, regardless of the amount of funding the student already receives from local property and income taxes. Under his proposal, each New Jersey student would recieve a flat rate $6,599 from the state; this excludes special education students, who would receive more funds.

What exactly does this mean?

Poor school districts, where parents can only afford to rent property and not own property, will see much needed “extra” state funding removed from their school budgets and sent to districts where spending per student already far exceeds the per student spending in poor districts. I placed the word extra in quotations because even with those state funds, the inner-city schools still can’t provide students with a decent  quality education. Students in these poor districts will see a decrease in the quality of education because districts and schools will be forced to fire teachers, aides and cut back on after school programs, extracurricular activities and classroom resources.

Meanwhile parents in the well off school districts will see a decrease in property taxes (meaning they bring home more money to their families) and an increase in the amount spent per student. A Rutgers University preliminary analysis featured in the New Jersey Education Policy Forum lays out how the already well off schools and families will benefit from this proposal and how the poorest schools will evidently be the losers (This report also disproves Christie’s claim that the 31 poorest schools have not in proved under the current funding plan).

According to Christie, this proposal will help ease taxation on middle and upper class families, while forcing lower class famlies to spend (or not spend) what they simply don’t have. He said that middle and upper class families have been footing the bill for 31 of the state’s poorest schools for years, but to no avail. Christie is essentially saying “now is the time for those middle and upper class families to take their money back and these poor schools, these poor, communities, these poor parents, these poor children will simply need to fend for themselves.” 

According to Christie, for these low-income school districts “Failure is still the rule, not the exception…That is an unacceptable, immoral waste of the hard-earned money of the people of New Jersey.”

This is an attack on the beauracratic public school system. I understand that public schools are entrenched with wasteful policy spending, however, it makes no sense to decrease funding  for these students. The obvious reason is that a decrease in funding will only increase their chances of staying in poverty. The cycle continues. But that’s not governor Christie’s problem or concern. How the hell is this proposal fair when it ensures that students in these low-income schools will make due with inadequate resources?  It makes no sense. 

Summer Learning: Why Aren’t we Outraged About the Summer Slide?

It’s Independence Day weekend, and it’s quite beautiful outside. I’m sitting on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, and I see families playing in the sand, friends riding bikes and couples going for walks. This weekend, for a lot of working adults, comes as a nice and relaxing break. While I have a fun weekend scheduled, I’ll be spending Monday, July 4th, studying for the GRE. Monday night will be spent getting ready for the work week, where I’ll be working on various projects that will require me to both work independently and with colleagues. I’ll have to work through a to-do list and manage and complete unexpected projects. At any given point, I’ll be doing a combination of any of the following:

  • reading
  • writing
  • editing or
  • thinking of and suggesting solutions

 Effective employees across the world will be using similar skills, inadditon to a few others. Many young students, however, will have a two month long summer break where they won’t engage in various educational and social activites that will excercise their brains.
We know that students, especially low-income students (particularly those living in suburban or rural areas), forget what they learned the previous year. 

…how can a system that claims to educate kids claim that students are learning when we don’t try to create an environment in which learning is continuous?

I don’t mean that summer should be an extension of the school year, where you have children sitting in a classroom most of the day. The summer season is a great time for both teachers and students to enjoy the outdoors. Students should be taking class trips to museums and reading books outside. They should be engaging in discussions on current events, where they first read about an event and discuss their opinion–  whatever that may be– with a group of peers at a picnic.

Sadly, we’ve conditioned our students and families to believe that education is to be paused, for the most part, during the summer vacation. For a lot of low-income families, this is more of a default, mostly because lack of funds and vision of how to incorporate educational aspects in everyday life.

Who’s Responsible?

Should school districts continue to provide students with an enriching summer educational experience? Afterall, it’s the teachers who  have to work that much harder in the Fall to reteach content already taught the previous year

Should the parents, financially disadvantage as they may be, find a way to provide their own children with a vibrant and varied experince that will keep their young minds active and academically and socially up to speed?

Or, should some other third party, such as a children or educational non-profit organization or youth center take on this challenge?

It’s expensive to keep a school open during the school year. It’s even more so during the summer months, because the cost to maintain a minimum level of saftey for a small number of students is far too high. Youth centers, and especially parents, are available year-long (presumably). One would think that this would route would make more sense. While I think it does, non-profit organizaions and low-income parents have the same issues schools have: lack of money.

So who should step in and prevent the summer slide? I think the best answer would be a combinantion of all three sources, with parents leading the pact.

The Funding Issue 

So, of course, the next big question is how does this get funded? 

We know that this is an issue that doesn’t just impact student’s in a particular city of state. We know that millions of students in communities across the country come back to school less knowledgable and focused than before  they left school for the summer break. But as a country, we choose to ignore this problem. We continue to unfairly evaluate teachers based on students’ test scores, which attempts to gage how much a student has learned from content that ws covered rgar school year. We don’t take into consideration the time teachers spend at the begining of the year trying to catch students up to speed. 

Even more troubling is that the summer slide points to something that is even more troubling. It shows that students can pass test at the end of the year but not make any real use for them, so as along as students can continue passing a few exams, they cen get away with not retaining realinformation. The system as a whole seems to be ineffective and we need government support behind a real solution, if we want our students to truly learn.

I’m always troubled by the proverb “It takes a s village to raise a child.” Everyone seems to agree with this, but we won’t admit that we’re doing teachers and students a cruel injustice when we leave them alone for the summer with to real guidance as to how they can become multifacted learners, outside of the classroom environment.

QOTD: Paulo Freire and False Charity

“True generosity consists precisley in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.”

                                                           — Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This quote is for the folks who both: 

a) send their children to schools that provide small classroom settings, individualized attention, a plethora of academic, athletic and  social activities, and 

b) at the same time, push for public school students to follow a strict and mind numbing standardized testing agenda, at the expense of the more engaging, stiimulating and sometimes beneficial activities they insist their children receive.

Civics Education, Everyone!

How often do we engage students in the communities they live in?

How often are they given opportunities to play a role in changing local community policy?

Do educators and community leaders actively seek student involvement?

What happens to student engagement and core skills, such as writing and public speaking, when students play a role in local reform?

Jessica Lander’s recent Usable Knowledge post on the positive educational and social benefits of effective civic education outlines the ways in which the field of civics can demand that the players in the game master some of the skills that we deem most valuable in today’s society.

A friend of mine, who taught high school statistics for nine years, asked me, “What are professionals actually doing during the work day? The answer to this question may give us direction as to what students really should be learning.”

Some of the common work activities me and my friend both engaged in were drafting material, explaining next steps, and the status of projects via email, conducting and creating clear, concise and well organized research reports and giving presentations, short or long, on either our own ideas or research results.

I now often ask myself this question and have noticed that some of these daily tasks seem to have a common denominator:

communication.

This makes perfect sense, considering people don’t usually work in a bubble. But the jeey point here is we’re being asked to master various forms of communication, both written and verbal, throughout the work day. Knowing one skill, say verbal communication, isn’t good enough. We need to know how to effectively communicate with others in a concise manner. More importantly, we need to know that our written and verbal communication is to the point where we can confidently communicate with any member in or outside the organization.

So when Lander’s recalls her students rewriting and drafting emails, proposals and material for their presentations, when she recalls them going over their presentations for people who are the gatekeepers of change, it seemed to have given her students a realistic opportunity to want to put those skills to use. It gave them real reason to put those skills to use. It seemed act as an inside look to what being an active and engaged citizen looks like. Or rather, they were, in fact, being active and engaged citizens and that level of engagement opened their eyes to that democratic right.

Lander’s can clearly see the enormous potential civic education has. She notes throughout the post how what her students were doing was very hands on and practical, how it requires them to go beyond the five paragraph essay, as she says, and how it would take more than just a creative, dedicated, and passionate teacher in a classroom for students to really reap the benefits of this kind of engagement. It would take community involvement. In order for students to get the most out of civic education, they would need to leave the traditional classroom, so to speak.and actually emerge themselves in the issues of the community and then work on communicating why those are issues and how best to solve them.

What was troubling, but not surprising, was how the students had to go up against bureaucracy in their own school system:

We found, to our frustration, that our school’s administration barred us from asking for a meeting or otherwise directly contacting a number of district and state officials.

Relinquishing even small amounts of control can be difficult. But if school systems are committed to fostering civically engaged young people, they must be ready to take seriously the voices and ideas of their students.

The schools administration, in this case, proved to be stopping real education. More confusing is if district and state officials aren’t willing to speak with students in the neighborhoods they cover, who are they speaking to?…I digress.

The reality of this assignment is what makes it so successful and beneficial. Lander’s assignment is not like most assignments, wherein a student asks a teacher why an assignment needs to be done and the teacher says something along the lines of “it will make you a better writer” but there’s no real context, there’s no real vision attached to the assignment. Therefore, to some students, the purpose doesn’t seem real. As the title of the post suggests, the students’ presentations were being reviewed by real people who had the power to make real change and could really possibly take the students’ views and arguments into consideration. More than anything, the students were interacting with local leaders and business professionals in the same way those leaders and professionals would interact with one another.

Talk about preparing students for the future!

I’ll end with this well said nugget from the post:

When successful, civic education should be transformative. After all, civic engagement is about seeing needs in the community, knowing how to make change, and believing you have the power to do it. On that day, my students came away sure in their voice and confident that their voice was heard.

School Finance, Testing, Evaluations and Funding

School Finance 101 is a blog by Bruce Baker, a Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education professor. The blog’s focus is exactly what the name suggests: analysis of policy surrounding, and the impact of, school finance. 

Some students and their collective school’s academic performance is tied to wether a school gets more funding, a teacher gets a raise, bonus or gets removed from her current school. Compound this with the fact that there’s no thoroughly accurate way to calculate this link, and you have a door that opens itself to so serious flaws.

VAM, or the value added method, is said to be the closest algorithm that can determine how much impact a teacher has on her students. Some districts, states and the Department of Education (under programs, such as Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives), place heavy weight on this factor. But this is flawed for the obvious reason that there are far too qualitative factors that challenge students that can’t possibly be effectively quantified.

Some of these qualitative factors, such as a student’s personal, social, behavioral and mental issues, are different from student to student. Some of these issues can be so granular, I find it hard to believe that the data accurately can tell us something about how good or bad the teacher is.

But Bruce Baker takes this view to the next level by spelling out why high-stakes testing evaluations are untelling, troubling and ineffective.
In summaring a previous post, Baker writes:


The gist of the post was to explain that when we have estimates of student achievement growth linked to teachers, and when those estimates show that average growth is lower in schools serving more low income children, or schools with more children with disabilities, we really can’t tell the extent to which these patterns indicate that weaker teachers are sorting into higher need settings, or that teachers are receiving lower growth ratings because they are in high need settings. The reformy line of argument is that it’s 100% the former. That bad teachers are in high poverty schools, and that it’s because of bad teachers that these schools underperform. Fire those bad teachers. Hire all of the average ones waiting in line. 

There are teachers being labeled “weak” when they really aren’t weak but they’re in a weak system. Why is it so easy for people to believe that in order for a teacher to be “great” she must trascend her students issues? Why can’t people who have this view not see that we are far more complicated than that, and, our systems are far more complicated than that. A “great” teacher can be working with very troubled students, or even a small group of troubled students who interrupt the education and learning process of a larger group of students. These distractions take a way from the acquisition of knowledge (or rote memorization) time of the class as a whole. This in turn very well can make the classes average score lower than the score could have been if academically or behaviorally challenged students, who are young, inexperienced and fragile, didn’t sucumb to negative factors outside of the classroom.