Monday, April 28, 2014

The Wal-Marting of US Public Schools

Friday's New York Times had an article detailing the amount of money the Walton Family Foundation has given to charter schools in the last decade or so.  The Waltons inherited their money from Sam Walton who started Wal-Mart -- the store that actively seeks to sell you as much cheap junk from China as possible.

I have to admit that I felt my educator's heart sinking as I read the story. I'm not anti-charter. I hope to lead my own school one day, and I applaud American Federation of Teachers Presidnet Albert Shanker's idea of essentially creating a research and development arm of typical public schools. These teacher-led schools would be an environment to try new and innovative approaches to education with a population that was invested enough in school to leave the typical neighborhood school. Teachers at the charter could take what they learned about their interventions back to their colleagues at the neighborhood school and work together to make sure that all public schools in the US supported all students.

Thanks to the foundation run by the family behind Wal-Mart, however, charter schools have lost their original mission. They've become billed as band-aids to our current education "crisis" and replacements for the neighborhood schools that are painted as failing by virtue of test scores that were never designed to measure what we're using them to measure. They also fail to educate students in need of special education skills and one large charter chain recently sought to oust students with high needs from their home school.

The parents in the story seemed caught in between wanting to support their local schools and believing that the local schools couldn't provide what charter schools can -- including better libraries and technology.

But I'm not a parent yet; I'm just a teacher who sees kids labor in a system that works for them sometimes and doesn't work for them others. I think our public schools could use some visioning and some investment in that vision. We'll get nowhere, however, in creating public schools that educate every child in the US to the highest possible expectation if we let the same people who brought us Wal-Mart bring us the next generation of public schools.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting to the "Main Event"

Over the weekend, my mentor teacher from my first teaching job posted a link to this blog post. The teacher implores students to realize that the content learned in school is not the "main event." The teacher argues that the social and emotional learning that goes into getting up, getting to class, engaging with the material and others, and getting the work done is the main event of school.

I think I've always believed that. I nodded emphatically in graduate school when we were told we were going out into the world to teach students not content. I've embraced one-on-one conversations with students about how to change their attitude and believe in their ability to meet adversity with grace (instead of the oft used alternatives of yelling or shutting down).

But I'm not sure I've communicated to my students outside of our weekly community meetings why school's main events are about so much more than grades and sitting quietly for forty-five minute stretches. I'm going to share this blog post with them and discuss what it means to not quit and what support they need not to just make it through these last few weeks of school but to thrive in them. I'll report back on what I hear.

One of my teacher friends with whom I shared this link said she planned to edit out the "grow a pair" statement not for it's "colorful" aspect but because she doesn't want students to see success as gendered. I think Ms. C is spot on, and I'll be doing the same.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Education Reading for the Weekend

At the beginning of the year, a student told me that he didn't believe that our public schools are more segregated than they were in the years following Brown. This in-depth article in The Atlantic proves it's true. I wish they'd focus more on the ways in which de facto segregation have affected students in other parts of the country rather than assuming we have a regional problem, but it's an important read nonetheless.

I missed this important debate in the New York Times about parents opting their kids out of testing. I look forward to thinking about the implications of those choices. 

The American Statistical Association came out against the value-added method of evaluating teachers based on their students' test scores on the grounds that the data provided by standardized tests doesn't actually measure teachers' contributions to student learning.

Finally, I got to guest blog at the Curry Blog last week. Thanks, Curry folks!

Have a great weekend! Try not to grade too many papers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What's the Right Level of Parental Involvement?

In this week's Sunday New York Times, Professor Keith Robinson and Professor Angel Harris examined ways in which parental involvement had the greatest impact on student achievement. Their work defined student achievement as standardized test scores and grades. While I think that our students and policy makers both need a more nuanced understanding of achievement. I haven't figured out exactly how to quantify it (but that's a subject for another post entirely), and there is still much to learn from the data we do have.

Harris and Robinson found that "observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it." The pairs research also suggests that parents had similar levels of involvement regardless of race which can hopefully lay to rest the old canard that some racial groups care more about eduction than others.

So, how should schools engage parents in ways that will help students become successful? Students from all backgrounds often seem to struggle with seeing their thirteen years of public education as a gift and investment in their futures. Parents can provide wisdom and help students develop positive feelings toward school. Parents can also model respect for teachers and their wisdom as professionals who sometimes see sides of kids not on display at home.

Teachers, what are some of the most meaningful parent interactions you've had? Parents, what do you need from schools to be able to support your children? Do you think we'll ever be able to bridge the divide between home and school?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Costa Rica: Day 7 & 8

Hola, familias! Sorry for the radio silence. Our Wi-Fi connections haven't been as seamless as we assumed they would be. But, we have had a great couple of days to share!

Yesterday, we headed to the beach at Manuel Antonio National Park. 

We made some new friends. 

And ended the day with an amazing sunset. 

Today we set out for San Jose, but first stopped for a nature walk at another national park. 

The guys are standing in front of BIG roots. 

Can you spot the monkeys? 

After a few stops for lunch and shopping, we made it back to our original hotel in San Jose. We've seen some spectacular aspects of Costa Rican flora and fauna, met cool folks, and played a lot of cards. But we all agreed this afternoon that we're ready to be home. See you tomorrow!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Costa Rica: Days 5 & 6

Hola! I'm sorry we didn't get the chance to update y'all yesterday. We have some fun zipline pictures to share, but they're on another device. Look for them soon! 

Today we left Monteverde and headed for the Pacific. On the way we stopped for a crocodile tour. 

We motored down the T├árcoles river. 

And our crew was ready to see some crocs. 

At first we saw mostly birds -- over thirty-one types. These are some snowy egrets or las garza nibosas in Spanish. 

We eventually found a few crocs, and Captain Santiago fed them some chicken. 

When we stepped off the boat, we were greeted by some traditional musicians. 

After all the excitement on the river, we made it down to the Pacific. 

We wnt into town and peaked in some souvenir shops before returning to play in the pool and enjoy anothe delicious Costa Rican meal. Tomorrow, we'll spend most of the day playing on the beach. 

Until then, buenas noches! 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Costa Rica: Day 4

I Today was a day mostly of travel. We left La Fortuna this morning and headed west. 

For our first activity, we planted trees at a reserve intended to restore biodiversity in Costa Rica. 

Afterward, we went on a nature walk and saw lots of beautiful plants. 

Some bougainvillea with another unidentified flower. 

Our guide explained the symbiotic relationships between plants in the cloud forest. 

We climbed to the top of this tower to find an amazing view. 

Tomorrow we're off to zipline and find other adventures. The weather forecast is great for where we are. Buenas noches!