Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Public School Insights Blog

obriena's picture

Can't We All Work Together?

Since the midterm elections last Tuesday, we have being hearing a lot about the importance of collaboration, compromise and mutual respect as we move forward in setting policy in all fields.

But I wonder if education officials in New Jersey got the memo. Last week, the state’s acting education commissioner refused an invitation to attend the New Jersey Education Association’s annual convention, claiming the union is “interested in protecting the status quo that continues to fail students” and is not cooperating with the governor’s office on school reforms.

Personally, I am not sure how this stance will help the acting commissioner (who represents New Jersey Governor Christie's administration) help children. The opportunity to present her platform to 40,000 teachers seems like a way to give her ideas a wider audience and allow her to dispel some of the myths about some of them.

And regardless of the administration’s stance on the NJEA, it would be nice if instead of only focusing on the refusal of the commissioner to attend the NJEA meeting, the media would highlight ways in which NJEA proves the commissioner’s statement wrong--the efforts of the union to improve schools.

For example, NJEA founded the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit governed by an independent board made up of leaders in education, business and philanthropy. The Center works to empower teachers to be leaders in the transformation of ...

The news has been getting me down recently. And not just the news itself (depressing enough to those who share my views on a number of issues), but what people are saying about it.

Like most people these days, I get most of my news online. And as you know, most newspapers allow comments on the articles they post. In theory, this is great. It allows those who read them to gauge public opinion on the issue at hand. But too often these comments seem counterproductive to me. So many essentially tell the author or another commenter that he or she wrong, dumb, and a terrible, awful person who (in the case of education news) cares only about adults and not about children. I miss productive conversations between people who disagree respectfully and then work to see the other’s position and find common ground.

So I was delighted to see Bill Ferriter’s post on The Tempered Radical yesterday. It appears he shares my views on the potential of this type of web-based communication. As he pointed out:

Web 2.0 tools have given us the opportunity to join together in public forums----electronic versions of the ancient Roman marketplaces----and to think across borders. We've got amazing opportunities to ...

obriena's picture

Do Believe the Hype

Now that everyone is knee-deep in post-election analysis, I want to call attention to…Tom Friedman.

Friedman’s last couple of posts have been from New Delhi, the capital of India. In one, he quotes from a piece by Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online, in the Indian magazine Businessworld:

It is the Silicon Valley revolution which enabled the massive rise in tradable services and the U.S.-built telecommunication networks that allowed creation of the virtual office. … But the US seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned. The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevent it from riding a new way to prosperity.

In another, Friedman asks:

What if – for all the hype about China, India and globalization – they’re actually underhyped? What if these sleeping giants are just finishing a 20-year process of getting the basic technological and educational infrastructure in place to become innovation hubs and that we haven’t seen anything yet?

In both of these pieces addressing America’s place in the world, Friedman mentions education. In one, America’s failing ...

We hear a lot about urban schools—their performance, the challenges they face, how we can make them better. We don’t hear nearly as much about rural schools, despite the fact that almost half of our public schools are rural and about a third of America's students attend these schools.

Rural schools face challenges similar to urban schools (such as poverty and high mobility rates), as well as unique challenges related to attracting and retaining staff, capacity to apply for large competitive grants, access (or lack thereof) to providers of supplemental educational services and more. 

But there are a number of successful schools and districts that are overcoming these challenges and helping rural students meet their potential. South Dakota’s Wagner School District is one such place. The district, located next to the Yankton Sioux Reservation, has one school that serves grades pre-K through 12. Its diverse student population is overwhelmingly poor. It has a high mobility rate.

Yet students in Wagner graduate at a higher rate than others in South Dakota. And Native American and high school students outperform their peers across the state on standardized assessments.

Critical to the district’s success is technology. By embracing initiatives ranging from a one-to-one laptop program to online AP courses to iPod touches that help differentiate instruction for kindergarteners, this district is truly using technology to enhance student learning.

Wagner Superintendent Susan Smit recently told us more about this remarkable district.

Wagner: A Rural, Diverse District

Public School Insights: Tell me about the Wagner School District.

Smit: Wagner is located in rural South Dakota, along the Missouri River at the base of the state. It’s a beautiful part of the United States.

We get federal impact aid under Title VIII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We're right next to the Yankton Sioux Reservation, which is a checkerboard reservation. It was one land mass at one time, but pieces have been sold by different entities through the years and now it's a checkerboard. One piece of land may be reservation, the piece next to it may not be.

We're a rural community with changing demographics and a diverse population. The two primary demographics are Native American and non-Indian. When I came here six years ago, we were under 50 percent Native American. Now ...

obriena's picture

I Voted!

My sticker proves it!

This experience also serves as evidence that I am not as good a photographer as I wish I were (How hard is it to take a picture of a sticker? Very, it seems). And that blue sweater fuzz immediately adhers to stickers.

Anyway, I was the 161st ballot turned in at my polling place. What number will you be at yours?

If you need any more convincing of the importance of your vote today, check out EdWeek's Election 2010 page, which goes into detail about how these elections could impact education. ...

obriena's picture

Reminder: Vote Tomorrow!

Why? Well, it’s your civic duty. But if that isn’t enough, the fact that you read this blog indicates you are interested in public education. And this election could have big consequences for education. Races for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will influence education policy at the federal level, with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act expected in the coming months. And there are real ideological debates in some of those races, with some candidates calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education while others advocate for a greater federal role, and everything in between.

But elections at the state level will also have great impacts on public education. Consider the importance of voting for each of the following roles:

Governors: There are 38 gubernatorial races this year. Particularly given the fiscal crisis in many states, these races could have enormous consequences for public education. Governors wield great influence over state budgets--and funding is scarce. Cuts must ...

A recent EdWeek article celebrated Cincinnati's Taft Information Technology High School. Less than ten years ago, this inner-city high school--where 95% of students are African-American, over half receive free or reduced price lunch and 29% (more than double the state average) have a disability—was one of the worst in the state. Just 25% of students graduated.

Today, Taft is a national Blue Ribbon School with a 95% graduation rate. How did they do it? According to EdWeek, by focusing on relationships.

When Anthony G. Smith took over as principal in 2001, he went door to door in the neighborhood surrounding the school, connecting with residents and asking for their support. He met with teachers individually, listened to them, and helped them grow. And he formed a relationship with an external partner, Cincinnati Bell. The company now wires students’ homes for high-speed internet. It provides use of a cellphone and laptop to every student who maintains a 3.3 grade point average. It also runs a tutoring program in which employees help prepare students for state tests.

Of course, the school has made other changes that have helped it thrive. It ended two-hour lunch periods, and the principal now keeps kids at school as long as he can, through sports, study clubs and more. But Smith’s success has been defined by his focus on relationships.

I was so happy to learn of Taft. We too rarely hear about high schools that have been able to make substantial changes in student outcomes.

But I was discouraged, in the article about Taft, to read ...

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Roxanna Elden. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Miami, Florida. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a practical, funny guidebook with hundreds of stories and tips from teachers around the country. “It’s the book I needed my own first year,” she says. “It’s meant to keep the great teachers of the future in the classroom long enough to become great.”

This Halloween marks the nine-year anniversary of my rookie teacher breakdown. I spent the afternoon in my car in a Burger King parking lot, crying too hard to drive. According to many of the teachers I interviewed for my book, I was right on schedule. Late October and early November are often cited as low times for rookie teachers. The “honeymoon period” of student behavior – if there ever was one – has long ended. The hours of lost sleep have added up, and many rookie teachers are feeling particularly sensitive about the trial-and-error nature of their teaching. Naturally this season sees many new teachers reaching out to colleagues for suggestions. But beware: Not all advice is created equal.

Common suggestions with potential pitfalls
“Be consistent. / “Set high expectations.” / “Stay organized.”
It is seldom helpful to redirect rookies to the general principles served up in teacher training programs. Chances are, new teachers have heard these suggestions and are struggling to put them into practice. In mid-November, a rookie teacher’s most pressing question is not likely to be, “Should I set high expectations?” It is more likely to be, “How do I set an expectation of college readiness when, despite my best efforts, only two of my students regularly turn in homework?” To be truly helpful, suggestions should be case-specific and as realistic as possible.

“Just read the books on this list / Set up a website / Do some research on educational psychology and you’ll be a better teacher in no time.”
Some simple-sounding suggestions contain hours of hidden steps, and dumping them on an overwhelmed colleague is just plain mean. Work-heavy tips are likely to sink to ...

obriena's picture

In Their Own Words

"This may not be how you see me. But this is how I see myself"

It is well-documented that low-income, minority male students leave high school at a higher rate than their peers. We as a nation must do better in preventing them from dropping out. And if we fail to do that, we must do a better job at bringing them back. But how?

Why don’t we ask the youth themselves? Ask them why they dropped out, and what brought them back? 

One group did. In 2006, CLASP surveyed nearly 200 formerly disconnected youth—young people who dropped out of high school but reconnected with career and education supports—about their experiences, including what was most useful in bringing them back. Their analysis will be released in November 2010.

But available now is In Their Own Words, a video on the CLASP website that captured the experiences of 79 formerly disconnected males of color. The video speaks specifically to Youth Opportunity programs funded by the Department of Labor, but the lessons learned apply in education as well.

We learn that these youth see themselves and their life experiences in a way much different than is typically depicted in the media. We learn why they drop out—and it’s not typically for academic reasons. We learn what ...

obriena's picture

Brilliance in a Box?

A recent Slate article asked, “What do the best classrooms in the world look like?” Their answer: Surprisingly low-tech.

To find these classrooms, the author looked to Finland and South Korea, both of which perform better than the United States on international standardized assessments without really utilizing technology in the classroom. She points to KIPP charter schools, claiming them among the most effective in the nation, and explains how one KIPP school uses technology--to make teachers' lives easier, not to engage students.

It’s not that this piece is wrong, exactly. Having never been to South Korea, Finland or the KIPP school featured here, I can’t speak to their use of technology in education. But I have problems with the assumption on which the author seems to rely: That these schools are the best in the world, and the ideal model for reform efforts.

Actually, what she claims, after mentioning how these classrooms look like those of 1989 or 1959, is that “the most innovative schools around the world do not tend to be the ones with the most innovative technology inside them.” Now, I agree that innovative doesn't need to mean technology, but ...

Syndicate content