Archive for April 2010

A lesson in solidarity, brought to you by Newark City Schools' students   1 comment

Those Who Stand For Nothing, Fall For Anything” Alexander Hamilton 

Newark Public Schools students converge on City Hall. Photo by Andrew Miles/The Star-Ledger

I like this one because it is short and to the point. It is especially timely in light of yesterday’s organized protest walk-out, led by students of Newark Public Schools. Based on what I have seen, I must say that I am impressed. Not by the fact that they walked out of school, but instead by the fact that they had the maturity to recognize that the adults have, up to this point, been fiscally irresponsible with school funds and now the educational system will suffer. Teachers and students are innocent victims, as they do not control the purse strings. 

Want to know why I am really impressed by these kids? They had the guts to do something that so many ‘adults’ are afraid to do: Take a stand. They know that ‘important people’ (a.k.a. the Boogeyman and his cousin Big Brother) will not listen to them. They still hold on to that ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ school of thought. Anyone with an MBA or Ph.D. from an Ivy League school can make decisions for the poor, downtrodden kids, from broken single-parent homes, who live in the drug infested and crime ridden inner-cities (Wow, that was a lot of sarcasm for one sentence). Everyone except, of course, those kids and their single parents. Oh yeah, their teachers have very little input as well. 

So I pose this question: Who will speak for the students, parents, and teachers? Pretty soon, if certain chancellors/superintendents have their way, some teachers will be without the counsel protection of a union. Is this the only thing keeping teachers from openly speaking out? Have conditions in public schools gotten so bad that teachers literally fear losing their jobs if they disagree with the dictatorship leadership? For the opponents of unions, I suggest you take a riding tour throughout the southern states that do not have unions. Ask teachers about what really goes on in their buildings. Take notes. Take really, really descriptive and detailed notes. Ask teachers in Title I schools what those funds were used for. Chances are, the majority of them do not know. Why? Because, for the most part, teachers are never invited to participate in the decision-making process. Lastly, interview parents who say they want their kids to get a good education, to improve their options in life, and ask them why they are not more involved in school-related activities. I already know the answers to these questions, but I would be curious to see what responses others get. 

Dear teachers, parents, education ‘officials,’ and politicians: Do you know where your students are? They are making a statement, right there in the streets of Newark. 

A lesson in solidarity, brought to you by Newark City Schools’ students   1 comment

Those Who Stand For Nothing, Fall For Anything” Alexander Hamilton 

Newark Public Schools students converge on City Hall. Photo by Andrew Miles/The Star-Ledger

I like this one because it is short and to the point. It is especially timely in light of yesterday’s organized protest walk-out, led by students of Newark Public Schools. Based on what I have seen, I must say that I am impressed. Not by the fact that they walked out of school, but instead by the fact that they had the maturity to recognize that the adults have, up to this point, been fiscally irresponsible with school funds and now the educational system will suffer. Teachers and students are innocent victims, as they do not control the purse strings. 

Want to know why I am really impressed by these kids? They had the guts to do something that so many ‘adults’ are afraid to do: Take a stand. They know that ‘important people’ (a.k.a. the Boogeyman and his cousin Big Brother) will not listen to them. They still hold on to that ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ school of thought. Anyone with an MBA or Ph.D. from an Ivy League school can make decisions for the poor, downtrodden kids, from broken single-parent homes, who live in the drug infested and crime ridden inner-cities (Wow, that was a lot of sarcasm for one sentence). Everyone except, of course, those kids and their single parents. Oh yeah, their teachers have very little input as well. 

So I pose this question: Who will speak for the students, parents, and teachers? Pretty soon, if certain chancellors/superintendents have their way, some teachers will be without the counsel protection of a union. Is this the only thing keeping teachers from openly speaking out? Have conditions in public schools gotten so bad that teachers literally fear losing their jobs if they disagree with the dictatorship leadership? For the opponents of unions, I suggest you take a riding tour throughout the southern states that do not have unions. Ask teachers about what really goes on in their buildings. Take notes. Take really, really descriptive and detailed notes. Ask teachers in Title I schools what those funds were used for. Chances are, the majority of them do not know. Why? Because, for the most part, teachers are never invited to participate in the decision-making process. Lastly, interview parents who say they want their kids to get a good education, to improve their options in life, and ask them why they are not more involved in school-related activities. I already know the answers to these questions, but I would be curious to see what responses others get. 

Dear teachers, parents, education ‘officials,’ and politicians: Do you know where your students are? They are making a statement, right there in the streets of Newark. 

If reading is FUNdamental, what happened to the fun?   Leave a comment

As the school year draws to a close (for those of us in the South), I wanted to revisit something I tweeted months ago: The school’s new reading program stinks! This is not just one of my usual rants. I have witnessed first-hand my girls’ waning interest in reading for 20 and 40 minutes each night (kindergartener and 3rd grader). And I am not happy about this. More importantly, I honestly think they feel the program sucks too (no coercing from me)! DISCLAIMER: If you do not believe in rewarding kids, I suggest you stop reading NOW! Also, when you go into work tomorrow, tell your boss that you will work for free for the remainder of the year….yeah, I thought so.

Last year, as like previous school years, ‘our school’ used the well-known and highly effective Accelerated Reader program to both supplement in-class instruction and encourage/challenge the kids to read beyond required assignments. If you aren’t familiar with AR, here is a quick description: A school purchases a license based on the number of students, then purchases quizzes to match the books already on-hand in the school’s library. After students read a book, they take a computerized quiz that determines both their reading and comprehension levels. Each quiz has a point value and earned points are redeemed for various prizes throughout the school year. The major prize is a pizza party at the end of the year.

Ok, so at the start of this school year we learned that the school (i.e., principal) decided not to continue with the AR program. Instead, the students would be working with a new program. Well actually, I don’t think it’s fair to even call it a program. Students in each grade level have to read for a pre-determined number of minutes each night. Parents then record the name of the book, minutes read, and then sign. Initially, students turned in the reading logs at the end of each week. I guess this become cumbersome a waste of time at some point because now kids submit them at the end of the month. (Side note: Think of all the wasted paper involved with this new program! My kids usually filled-up one log within 2 weeks because they read beyond the required time.) Still with me? Good!

Well, one parent offered to purchase the license for the school! Yep….all 1,000 students. Out of his pocket (roughly $5,000, if not more). Guess what? Administration said no. Can you believe that? Well, if you knew this principal….you get the picture. Any way, we (mostly I) was unhappy about this new ‘program’ because: (1) AR worked. As the saying goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it;’ (2) the kids liked it; (3) this new program created more work for teachers (not to mention wasting paper); and (4) someone offered to pay to keep AR in the school. But alas, I tried to put on my happy, supportive parent face. Needless to say, that face wore off really, really fast! As the students submitted their logs and reached their goals, they were supposed to receive ‘tags’ to go on their necklaces/chains (which are dangerous for little kids any way, right?). Well, my kids have earned at least 8-9 tags apiece, but have only received three. I am certain that’s when they lost interest.

Now I am not worried about my own, per se, because we take trips to the local library and Goodwill (.50 & $1.00 books) to keep them reading, but what about the other kids? Those who struggle with reading? Yes, in a perfect world none of us would need rewards to motivate us to do things such as reading, chores, and getting up at 5 AM everyday to spend an hour or more in traffic, but we do. See, in the real world some kids need more than ‘Good job!’ or ‘I’m so proud of you!’ when they accomplish their goals. Believe it or not, a little (token) reminder goes a long way.

Let’s put the ‘fun’ back in reading!

Could homeschooling be the next 'big thing' in education?   3 comments

“An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.”
— Source Unknown

I believe that quote is perfect for the way I am feeling right now, about education in general. The good. The bad. And the b.s. that has become too much to stomach on most days. If you have been following the road to rhetoric, where everyone with an Ivy League degree, a column in a major newspaper, or tv show is an expert, then you know what I mean. One thing that is true, no matter how you dress it: Our public education system is in shambles, but it did not happen overnight. Some blame No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I think placing the blame there is taking the coward’s way out. That legislation was a symptom, disguised as a solution, to the problem. As one of the most industrialized and wealthy countries in the world, there is no justification for huge achievement (opportunity) gap that exists between White students and those racial/ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, or those eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL). Brown vs. Board of Education was supposed to eradicate separate but (un) equal educational facilities, but I think we can all agree that it did not happen as planned. And that discussion requires more than one blog post.

As important as those issues are, there is something else happening across the country: School districts are making significant budget cuts and eliminating hundreds of teaching jobs, as well as those of support staff, bus drivers, etc. Just today, the Cobb County School Board announced that it will cut 734 jobs; 579 of those are teaching positions. Just last week, the Fulton County School Board announced that it would slash $4 million from the arts budget, putting both the band and orchestra programs at risk. As I watched the news, a parent (and former educator) stated that she would have no choice but to homeschool her kids. The budget cuts will force districts to increase class sizes and her kids would not get the level of attention they need (and deserved) in order to be successful. I am still thinking about her words because I am inclined to speculate that the number of families who opt to homeschool will increase during the 2010-11 school year for that particular reason. Let’s face it: Teachers already have their hands full with current class sizes, ranging from 17 for Kindergarten to 23 for grades 6-8. Keep in mind, those are minimum class sizes required for full state funding. It is very rare for a district to maintain the smaller class sizes, especially in districts that have experienced consistent growth like Gwinnett County, because it is more cost-effective (so they say).

But here are some potential drawbacks to a mass homeschool movement:

  • Not ony will traditional schools lose kids to charters, but they will also lose a large number to individual or group homeschool programs;
  • Those students physically ‘left behind’ by the homeschool movement are the same kids being failed by the pubic education system in present day;
  • If schools begin to lose significantly large numbers of students to private, charter, and homeschool programs, how will they remain open?
  • Some states could implement tougher requirements for parents who opt to homeschool, i.e., each homeschool parent must possess a Bachelor’s degree and take certain courses to prove they are qualified (this is something I forsee).

I have spoken with a close friend about the possibility of starting a University Model School program in our community. I have researched this program and it is sound; all schools using it have grown and produced very intelligent and ambitious students. These programs also teach kids things that are considered ‘extras’ in pubic schools, e.g., arts, college readiness, and basic life skills. I also struggle with this concept because, again, a large number of students who could benefit will not be able to participate for several reasons: Either their parens are unable to stop working in  order to fulfill the commitment requirement; or they simply cannot afford the tuition.

And so begins my quest to find a way to open access to this program for those who would benefit the most. Oh yeah, homeschooling will be the next big thing for parents but not for entrepreneurs because they can’t make nearly as much money as they do operating cashcows charter schools.

Could homeschooling be the next ‘big thing’ in education?   3 comments

“An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.”
— Source Unknown

I believe that quote is perfect for the way I am feeling right now, about education in general. The good. The bad. And the b.s. that has become too much to stomach on most days. If you have been following the road to rhetoric, where everyone with an Ivy League degree, a column in a major newspaper, or tv show is an expert, then you know what I mean. One thing that is true, no matter how you dress it: Our public education system is in shambles, but it did not happen overnight. Some blame No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I think placing the blame there is taking the coward’s way out. That legislation was a symptom, disguised as a solution, to the problem. As one of the most industrialized and wealthy countries in the world, there is no justification for huge achievement (opportunity) gap that exists between White students and those racial/ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, or those eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL). Brown vs. Board of Education was supposed to eradicate separate but (un) equal educational facilities, but I think we can all agree that it did not happen as planned. And that discussion requires more than one blog post.

As important as those issues are, there is something else happening across the country: School districts are making significant budget cuts and eliminating hundreds of teaching jobs, as well as those of support staff, bus drivers, etc. Just today, the Cobb County School Board announced that it will cut 734 jobs; 579 of those are teaching positions. Just last week, the Fulton County School Board announced that it would slash $4 million from the arts budget, putting both the band and orchestra programs at risk. As I watched the news, a parent (and former educator) stated that she would have no choice but to homeschool her kids. The budget cuts will force districts to increase class sizes and her kids would not get the level of attention they need (and deserved) in order to be successful. I am still thinking about her words because I am inclined to speculate that the number of families who opt to homeschool will increase during the 2010-11 school year for that particular reason. Let’s face it: Teachers already have their hands full with current class sizes, ranging from 17 for Kindergarten to 23 for grades 6-8. Keep in mind, those are minimum class sizes required for full state funding. It is very rare for a district to maintain the smaller class sizes, especially in districts that have experienced consistent growth like Gwinnett County, because it is more cost-effective (so they say).

But here are some potential drawbacks to a mass homeschool movement:

  • Not ony will traditional schools lose kids to charters, but they will also lose a large number to individual or group homeschool programs;
  • Those students physically ‘left behind’ by the homeschool movement are the same kids being failed by the pubic education system in present day;
  • If schools begin to lose significantly large numbers of students to private, charter, and homeschool programs, how will they remain open?
  • Some states could implement tougher requirements for parents who opt to homeschool, i.e., each homeschool parent must possess a Bachelor’s degree and take certain courses to prove they are qualified (this is something I forsee).

I have spoken with a close friend about the possibility of starting a University Model School program in our community. I have researched this program and it is sound; all schools using it have grown and produced very intelligent and ambitious students. These programs also teach kids things that are considered ‘extras’ in pubic schools, e.g., arts, college readiness, and basic life skills. I also struggle with this concept because, again, a large number of students who could benefit will not be able to participate for several reasons: Either their parens are unable to stop working in  order to fulfill the commitment requirement; or they simply cannot afford the tuition.

And so begins my quest to find a way to open access to this program for those who would benefit the most. Oh yeah, homeschooling will be the next big thing for parents but not for entrepreneurs because they can’t make nearly as much money as they do operating cashcows charter schools.

And another one bites the dust!   Leave a comment

It’s official! As of this past Friday, DeKalb County Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ contract was terminated by the school board amid allegations of less-than-legitimate involvement with the district’s construction bids. I am not surprised that he was fired, just surprised that he was able to serve as the superintendent for so long. Especially considering the manner in which he came into the position.

I first started working for the DeKalb County School System in August 2002; that was my first teaching job and I was excited about leaving South Bend for Atlanta. Yep, I was wearing some big-A rose-colored glasses back then! That year also marked the first year for then-superintendent Johnny Brown. Now I will say that Brown made a lot of (incompetent and probably lazy) people uncomfortable when he started in DeKalb because he was committed to making some significant changes, e.g., those who were not qualified or worthy of district-level positions were sent back to schools. No leader will be popular with the masses; Brown was no exception. I did appreciate his desire to clean-house because there were secretaries making nearly 6-figures when he came in, while degreed teachers were barely making $36,000. I also liked his challenge of teaching Algebra to all 8th grade students. After all, if you want kids to have higher expectations for themselves we, as the adults, need to take the lead. Brown did just that. But boy oh boy did the teachers complain about that. I didn’t understand their concerns. On the one hand, we complained that people (outsiders) stereotyped urban districts and students as being ‘underperforming,’ yet we complained at the opportunity to change to perception. But I digress.

The purpose of this blog is to pose the question: What makes a good educational leader? Especially as it relates to K-12 districts. Many superintendents are required to hold a terminal degree, but there are some exceptions. For example, J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of the Gwinnett County School System, holds an Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree. Gwinnett also happens to be the largest district in Georgia, with approximately 160,000 students. By no means am I knocking the Ed.S. because I hold on myself, but I am starting to question the standards, credentials, or privilege used to select leaders of our school systems. If you read Lewis’ timeline in DeKalb County, you will see that he dedicated (for lack of a better word) 33 years of his life to the district. Some people would call that loyalty. Ok. Wilbanks has also dedicated a number of years to Gwinnett but loyalty does not always make for a good leader. What else should school boards consider when selecting superintendents?

  • Should they speak with teachers, students, parents, and community members in previous districts?
  • Should the candidate have recent experience working in districts where demographics closely mirror those of the prospective district?
  • Is a terminal degree a ‘must-have’ or a bonus?
  • Should the candidate be abreast of current educational research?
  • Should the candidate be published?
  • Have they established a presence on social media outlets? After all, everyone who’s anyone is on Twitter, right?

Out of curiosity, I have checked the web sites of a few companies that conduct superintendent searches. Many schools in the Northeast and affluent areas do not always require candidates to possess a terminal degree. Other areas are a little more stringent. But does it really make a difference? I’d be interested to know what other parents and educators think.

Forget allergy season, are your kids (and teachers) ready for testing season?   Leave a comment

Spring brings warm weather, flowers, and Spring Break. If you’re a teacher or school student, you know that spring also signals the beginning of testing season. For elementary and middle school students here in Georgia, that means the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) and End-of-Course Tests (EOCT) for high school students.

According to a recent AJC article, this year’s testing season also brings scrutiny and tighter security measures due to the suspicion of testing irregularities surrounding several schools. Schools that had a high number of erasure irregularities, as well as those that did not will see some changes this year. For example, some districts will increase the number of supervisory staff members in schools to watch students as they test. The Atlanta Public School System has received a significant amount of media attention because it had the highest number of schools under investigation, with fifty-eight. I am still upset about the allegations, as the kids’ academic improvements have been called ‘questionable’ and some teachers have been falsely accused of either changing answers or prompting students towards the correct answers. In these cheating scandals, someone has to take the fall.

My 3rd grader will start testing next week. We already have a reasonable bedtime schedule and I make sure they eat breakfast each morning. Other than those measures, I do not plan to alter our routine. It is unfortunate that one test will measure an entire year of academic growth, accomplishments, and excellent teaching.