Diane Ravitch and Geoffrey Canada on Education Nation

Diane Ravitch and Geoffrey Canada debate on Education Nation 2011.  They both bring up great points.  Check out the video below:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

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Why do I spend so much time at work?

Last night, I came home extremely tired.  I’ve been working nonstop.  I worked through my weekend and I envision that being the case this weekend as well.  I haven’t gotten in before 8:00pm this week because I’ve been spending every waking moment in DC Scholars Stanton.  I say this not because I want admiration or pity, I say this because I wholeheartedly want to do everything possible to be an effective teacher and lead my scholars to achieving their academic goals this year.

It is all I think about.  How can I teach this reading strategy better?  How can I reach my lowest students?  How can I make sure I’m creating a welcoming atmosphere?  How can I be a great school teammate?  The list of questions–much like my to-do list– is never-ending.  Whenever I think I’m ahead, I think of something else that needs to be done because we are in an educational crisis.  The stakes are too high and I refuse to be part of the problem.

Earlier today, President Obama delivered his annual Back to School speech, right here in Washington, D.C. at Benjamin Banneker High School.  Although, I could not see it delivered live, I felt compelled to watch it tonight before hitting the sack.  I was not disappointed.  I felt like he knew exactly how I felt at that moment.  It was like he was in my living room and speaking directly to me.

In one part of his speech, he talked about teachers.  Below is what he said:

Let me say something about teachers, by the way. Teachers are the men and women who might be working harder than just about anybody these days. (Applause.) Whether you go to a big school or a small one, whether you attend a public or a private or charter school –- your teachers are giving up their weekends; they’re waking up at dawn; they’re cramming their days full of classes and extra-curricular activities. And then they’re going home, eating some dinner, and then they’ve got to stay up sometimes past midnight, grading your papers and correcting your grammar, and making sure you got that algebra formula properly.

And they don’t do it for a fancy office. They don’t — they sure don’t do it for the big salary. They do it for you. They do it because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn. They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming. And they’re proud of you. And they say, I had something to do with that, that wonderful young person who is going to succeed. They have confidence in you that you will be citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow. They know you’re our future. So your teachers are pouring everything they got into you, and they’re not alone.

President Obama, you answered a question that many of my friends have asked me time and time again.  Why do you do it?  Why do you spend so many hours at work?  I do it because I want my scholars to succeed.  I know through life experiences that education is the way to a better life for the kids I teach.  I know that what I do in that classroom could set them on the path to success or to a life of poverty.  I want the best for them.  I want them to love learning, and most importantly I want them to succeed in doing what they love most.  I do not want their life’s outcomes to be dictated by their zip code or their parents income level.  I want their life’s outcomes to be controlled by their will to make the world a little better for those coming after them.
Thank you President Obama.  You just recharged my battery.

Homework Dilemmas: High expectations, no excuses

Last night, I received a phone call from one of my scholars.  I tell my students that if they ever have a question about their homework to give me a call.  I include my contact information on their homework packets.   Below is the conversation between myself and the student:

Me:  Hello!

Him:  Is this Ms. Bunting?

Me:  Yes! Hello, (students name)!

Him:  Ms. Bunting, I think I’m going to have homework hall tomorrow.

Me:  Why?

Him:  My mom doesn’t have time to sign my homework.  She has to put my little sister to bed.

Me:  Aww well is your dad home?

Him:  He’s a sleep.

Me:  Okay, ask your mom to sign your homework after she puts your sister to bed.

Him:  I don’t think she’ll remember.

Me:  Okay, ask your mom or dad to sign it in the morning.

Him:  It’s really busy in our house in the morning.

Me:  Okay, well have your mom or dad sign it before they drop you off to school.

Him:  Okay, I hope I don’t forget.

Me:  You won’t or else you will have homework hall.  Now, it’s late. You should be going to bed.

Him:  Okay, good night Ms. Bunting.

Me:  Good night (student’s name).  See you tomorrow!

In that moment, I could have told my student not to worry about it.  I could have allowed him to not get it signed and just return to school.  However, I maintained the expectation that his homework needed to be signed and helped him come up with other solutions.  As teachers, sometimes our hearts tell us to allow certain thing to slide.  It is important remember, that we must maintain high expectations because we’re building the character of our students.  I’m so glad my scholar called me and informed me of his problem.  He was being responsible and followed my directions exactly.  Nevertheless, my policy must remain the same for all my students.  I guided him in figuring out other options this time.  Hopefully, in the future, he’ll be able to critically analyze situations and come up with these solutions on his own.

I’ll be sure to give him a shout out in class tomorrow.

Systemic Change: The Secret to Success

Thanks to the Google.  I can connect with my friends on Gchat.  One of my friends recently shared an article in her status, that I just had to click.  It was Paul Tough’s recent piece published in the New York Times, What if the Secret to Success is Failure?  In this piece, Tough highlights two different schools on two different sides of the track that come to one conclusion:  character building is just as important as teaching academics.

Below is a highlight from the piece:

As Levin watched the progress of those KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class. Those skills weren’t enough on their own to earn students a B.A., Levin knew. But for young people without the benefit of a lot of family resources, without the kind of safety net that their wealthier peers enjoyed, they seemed an indispensable part of making it to graduation day.

What appealed to Levin about the list of character strengths that Seligman and Peterson compiled was that it was presented not as a finger-wagging guilt trip about good values and appropriate behavior but as a recipe for a successful and happy life. He was wary of the idea that KIPP’s aim was to instill in its students “middle-class values,” as though well-off kids had some depth of character that low-income students lacked. “The thing that I think is great about the character-strength approach,” he told me, “is it is fundamentally devoid of value judgment.”

It is this type of thinking that will fundamentally change the way we educate students in America.   It forces educators to think beyond the test and build students into critical thinkers and real world problem-solvers.  Continue to read more of this enlightening and forward thinking article over at the New York Times website.

The Power of Home Visits!

This year, in partnership with the Flamboyan Foundation, my school, DC Scholars Stanton, set a goal of 200 home visits before our early September deadline.  I am proud to say that as a school we surpassed our 200 goal and teachers completed 213 home visits!   I believe that the home visit initiative kicked off this summer propelled our school to a great start this school year.  Family engagement is higher than ever.  Our Back to School Night was filled to capacity, forms are being returned at higher rates, and teacher-parent interactions have increased tremendously.   As a teacher, home visits solidified my belief that:

1.  Parents need structured ways to be involved

Each parent or grandparent I met wanted to be involved in school.  They want to help their children with their homework.   Many just did not know how–either their educational level crippled them from assisting at a beneficial level or they forgot how to do the concept.  At my school we are implementing Academic Parent Teacher Teams this year.   Academic Parent Teacher teams will happen three times this year.  At these 1 and half hour meetings, teachers distribute and analyze  student and class-wide data, teachers instruct two major learning goals, and parents learn and receive materials of practice activities to do at home.  Our first Academic Parent Teacher Team meeting will happen in October.  Parents are already excited for it!  This is just one way that parents will be involved in school this year.

2.  Schools can serve as community hubs

A child’s school should feel welcoming to the community. A parent should not feel as though they do not have anyone to go to when their child is having a problem.   Parents should feel like they belong and have a voice.  Schools must provide parents with ways to be meaningfully involved through ways that ensure their child’s academic success.   At the end of the day, it is the schools responsibility to create the structure for parents to be involved.

Secondly, schools can serve as portals from what is to what is possible.  Many parents and grandparents want to expose their children to life beyond their communities.  In fact, this exposure is an important aspect of their child’s success.  Schools can partner with community organizations and provide opportunities both inside and outside of school that give each child a broaden perspective of the world around them.

3.  We must advocate to end poverty

I’ve done home visits in apartments and homeless shelters.  No matter where I went I was faced with the daunting reality that Americans should be angered at the high level of poverty in our country.   Children should not have to grow up in these types of conditions.

Secondly, the working poor in America was rise up and reclaim their American dream.  For too long have the wealthiest people labeled Americans working poor as lazy Americans who deserve the lives they live.  That notion is farther from the truth.  Each house I went to, parents and grandparents were working or looking for work to make a better life for their family.  The problem is that there is a lack of opportunity and resources.  We must expand welfare policies that train people to be productive members of society and ensure that the communities they live in are filled with resources that uplift their children.

I challenge schools to encourage their teachers and staff members to conduct home visits prior to and during the school year.  Home visits will give teachers more perspective in their scholars home lives as well as connect parents with families prior to the start of school.  I would love to hear your plans for implementing home visits or how your school continues to engage families after the initial home visit.

Systemic Change: Study dismisses poverty, but try telling that to the poor

Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy is spot on when he blasts the Heritage Foundation and their portrayal of America’s poor.  Here’s an excerpt:

By the researchers’ reckoning, we probably shouldn’t be too alarmed by the Census Bureau’s announcement Tuesday that thenation’s poverty rate rose from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 in 2010. And we probably shouldn’t fret that there are now more Americans living in poverty — 46.2 million — than at any other time in the past half-century.

Just numbers, they wrote dismissively of such poverty data. What the Census Bureau omits, they contended, is an accounting of the benefits that the poor receive from the “welfare state.” From what the government defines as poverty — for instance, a family of four with a household income of about $22,000 a year — a picture emerges of people who might well be regarded as rich anywhere else in the world.

I’m glad to hear so many people beginning to speak out against our nation’s dismal poverty rate.  Just because we can prove that their are exceptions who can escape poverty and be successful, does not mean that we stop fighting to end poverty.  Read more of Courtland Milloy’s piece here.

Systemic Change: Public education’s biggest problem gets worse

As part of my Systemic Change category, I’ve found yet another article that sheds light on poverty’s impact on school reform.  Valerie Strauss, from the Washington Post, recently published Public education’s biggest problem gets worse.  In her piece, she underscores that we cannot truly fix schools without also addressing our nation’s poverty crisis.  Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

But we need to face facts: Problems in schools would remain even if every teacher were magnificent (show me a profession where that is true about every practioner) because teachers are obviously enormously important, but they are not the only factor that goes into how well children succeed.

The current direction of school reform is making it even harder to fix broken schools and improve the ones that do well even if they suffer from 20th century design and resources.

Making teachers entirely responsible for a student’s academic progress — regardless of whether the child eats enough or sleeps enough or gets enough medical attention — is counterproductive. Pretending that these issues can be “factored out” in some kind of mathematical formula that can assess how much “value” a teacher has added to a student’s progress is near nutty. That’s not just me saying it. Leading mathematicians say it too.

The effects of poverty on children matter in regard to student achievement. That is not to say that efforts to improve teacher quality, modernize curriculum, infuse technology into the classroom where it makes sense and other reforms should not be pursued. But doing all of that while ignoring the conditions in which kids live is a big waste of time.

Read more of the op-ed at the Washington Post online by clicking here.

Strategies to Increase Parent-Teacher Communication

At the start of the school year, I sent home a parent contact sheet.  On the sheet parents filled out their phone numbers.  They were also asked to select which way they prefer to be contacted (i.e. phone call, text, email, letter).  Many indicated that they preferred phone calls and text messages.  In an effort to maintain contact with parents, I am rolling out two initiatives:   bi-monthly phone calling schedule and weekly mass texts.

Since my school is departmentalized, I teach two third grade classes (total of 38 students).  In an effort to split communication with both classes equally, I developed a phone calling schedule.  One week, I call families from Catholic (my homeroom).  The next week, I call families of my scholars in Georgetown.   Each day, I call 4-5 scholars and update parents on their child’s progress.  This schedule ensures that I am getting a chance to talk to all students on a consistent basis.

In addition to phone calls, many stated that they wanted to be contacted via text.  Last night, I set up a text messaging group for both classes.  Weekly, I will send out mass text messages to celebrate whole class successes and send out important reminders.  Since I’m not sure of the families’ text messaging plans (I do not want to take up too many texts per month), I will keep the texts short and sweet.  My first mass text is below:

Hi everyone!  I just created a text group for third grade.  Reminder:  Back to School Night is tomorrow at 6:30pm.  Also, remember to sign your child’s homework.  Take care, Ms. Bunting

I look forward to texting parents this year in a way to increase positive communication.

Since educators are strapped with time, creating a parent communication plan is key to ensuring consistent communication with all scholars.  I believe my phone calling schedule and weekly mass texts our two ways to help parents to feel engaged and connected.

Dr. Steve Perry is No Nonsense about Educating Our Youth

My friend and fellow University of Maryland alumnus, Joi Marie McKenzie, had the opportunity sit down the Dr. Steve Perry.  She asked him some great questions, including one I submitted.  Below is the question and response:

Loop 21: What role do you feel educators have in advocating for policies or programs that help to eradicate poverty?

Dr. Perry: I believe educators are professionally obligated to ensure that they, with all do haste, work for the betterment of children beyond just coming to work and teach somebody how to add. They must advocate for programs and policies that will enrich these children lives that means that if they see a policy that will provide a free reduced lunch for children, they have to support that. If they see a policy that will close failed schools, they have to support that. If they see a policy that will allow children to have choice, as opposed to the current system where the parent has to move the family or a parent has to win the lottery whether it be the economic lottery or the lottery of getting into a good school, then they have to support that. If teachers are truly to fulfill their obligation and represent the calling that is ours, then they have to advocate even when advocacy could lead to the loss of their own job.

What are your thoughts on what Dr. Steve Perry said?

Check out Joi’s entire interview at The Loop 21.

Systemic Change: Paul Tough’s “No, Seriously: No Excuses”

This week, I’m adding a new category to my blog:  Systemic Change.  In this category, I will post links to great articles published on the web that offer excellent insight into how we can best improve our nation’s public school system.   These articles will address one of the root causes of inequality in America:  poverty.

My first article, No, Seriously: No Excuses, was published in The New York Times earlier this summer.  It is a piece by Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.

Here’s a short excerpt:

The reformers’ policy goals are, in most cases, quite worthy. Yes, contracts should be renegotiated so that the best teachers are given incentives to teach in the poorest schools, and yes, school systems should extend the school day and school year for low-income students, as many successful charter schools have done. But these changes are not nearly sufficient. As Paul Reville, the Massachusetts secretary of education, wrote recently in Education Week, traditional reform strategies “will not, on average, enable us to overcome the barriers to student learning posed by the conditions of poverty.” Reformers also need to take concrete steps to address the whole range of factors that hold poor students back. That doesn’t mean sitting around hoping for utopian social change. It means supplementing classroom strategies with targeted, evidence-based interventions outside the classroom: working intensively with the most disadvantaged families to improve home environments for young children; providing high-quality early-childhood education to children from the neediest families; and, once school begins, providing low-income students with a robust system of emotional and psychological support, as well as academic support.

Continue to read more by clicking here.