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. 

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:


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.

To Math or Not to Math

Over the weekend, I listened to “Decoding the Math Myth,” a podcast hosted by American Radio Works where Andrew Hacker, retired Queens College professor and political scientist talks about his book The Math Myth and Other Stem Delusions. As someone who struggled in math and who has only used basic arithmetic as an adult, this subject appealed to me.

I especially enjoyed Hacker’s push against high school curriculum that often encourages students, who want to at least be considered by good colleges, to take pre-calculus or calculus, without other options. He argues that classes along the lines of numeracy and citizens statistics could be just as challenging, and, in Hacker’s mind, more fruitful. To a certain extent, I agree. At the outset, mastering statistics seems as if it’s not only difficult but applicable to various fields, but research in particular.

I then listened to the follow-up podcast, “Is Advanced Math Necessary?” Where Standford professor Keith Devlin argues that Hacker has a rudimentary understanding of advanced math and that Hacker does not even know the history of math and how it connects to higher order thinking. While I do t think Devlin’s response is clear in the American Radio Works podcast, his Huffington Post article on the subject seems to be a more organized and clear outline of how Hacker is uninformed on the subject of advanced math and how this lack of expertise led him to misguided views. In explaining the reason and use of the first algebra textbook, Devlin shows how Hacker’s claims actually favor algebra:

The focus was on how to think about problems, and had nothing to do with manipulating symbols. That is algebra. It is exactly the mental toolkit that Hacker says repeatedly is crucially important and should be taught in schools.

Without realizing it, Devlin argues, Hacker actually wants to change how it’s taught in classrooms and not simply so away with it. Devlin largely agrees with Hacker, especially in the idea that high school math, whether it be alegebra, calculus or statistics, needs to be taught in a way that seems practical and  not in such away that seems as if it’s being taught for math’s sake.

I’d like to take Hacker’s point of replacing algebra with classes like numeracy and citizens statistics in a slightly different direction. It would be great to see colleges favor advanced math courses that include not only calculus or statistics but also numeracy because they’re all beneficial for growth in there own ways. In his American Radio Works podcast, Hacker outlines a math class he taught that involved real world problems, which allowed students to see why they were learning that level of math and how it can be used in the world the see around them.

Infographic: Outline of ESSA Goals

Here’s an EdTrust infographic about the seven key goals of ESSA.  Thoughts on two of my favorite points are below the infographic.


Point five and six are probably the most important. Five acknowledges that while parents play a huge role in their children’s academic development, ineffective teachers, consecutive ineffective teaching in particular teaching, is a huge problem in low income, minority school communities. Now, this isn’t to say I agree that three consecutive years of “good” teaching is sufficient to close the achievement gap. Nor does it mean that I’m in favor of punishing teachers who aren’t continuosly meeting academic goals. I entirely understand that there are many factors that play into how “effective” a teacher is. A lot of that lack of effectiveness has to do with a lack of effective professional development for teachers. What point five really highlights, to me, is the importance of mending this cycle that keeps the most disadvange students with the most ineffective teachers. A good start would be to track and follow how that cycle works, where it’s most pronounced and note any identifiable causes.

This sort of leads into the importance of point six, which is continued funding to low income communties. Im not too clear on what this funding includes specifically, but hopefully there’s an emphasis on Title II funding, which supports teachers’ professional development.

DOE Denies 2 For-profit Schools Financial Aid

Computer Systems Institute and Marinelli School of Beauty, two for-profit networks, were denied financial aid funds for their gross financial misconduct.

…why are for-profit schools able to soak up federal funds to begin with? There’s no way a school can do the best for there students while trying to please miney hungry shareholders.

Click here for more.

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.

Most Likely to Succeed – The H.S./College Contradiction

Slowly reading through Most Likely to Succeed and came across a point similar to something I argued in a post I wrote two years ago. I made the argument that students should take at least one thorough economics course in high school. Thinking back on it, I think every high school student should take at least two economics courses, but I digress. Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner expand on the-necessary-courses-in-high-school-debate by saying that it is more imperative, useful and practical to take finance literacy and civics courses, than it is to take years of, say, Earth Science.

The point I was trying to make then, and the point they’re trying to make now, is that these courses actually speak to our goal of making students better citizens. We get lost in the need to make young adults “college ready” that we forget to make them informed citizens. These courses, more than me struggling my way through Spanish from 7th grade until my sophomore year of college, would prove to be far more beneficial. Without speaking Spanish, I’ve managed to become a college graduate with a great job, but I’m also trying relearn both the election process and prepare my taxes for the upcoming tax season. I was taught the election process during a couple of lesson plans in both middle school and high school but quickly forgot it after everything else I studied since then. I never learned much about taxes (except for the fact that we all must pay them!). I went to a good college in New York City and the only thing we had close to a financial literacy class was 2 hour-long financial literacy lectures at the end of my senior year, when I was working hard to graduate with a high GPA. It should have been a required course that one takes in your Junior or Senior year.

I’m reading other ed policy content and have a little less than 2/3 of the book to read. But, so far, if I’ve taken anything away from this book, it’s that high schools and colleges need to care more about economics, financial literacy and civics. These educational institutions are currently doing a gross injustice against their students.