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Friday, April 24, 2015

From the NYT: Beyond education wars, Nicholas Kristof.

NYT Thursday April 23rd.

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.
Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.
Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.
The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has dropped for the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.
K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.      
I say that for three reasons. First, there is mounting evidence that early childhood is a crucial period when the brain is most malleable, when interventions are most cost-effective for at-risk kids.
Researchers are finding that poverty can harm the brains of small children, perhaps because their brains are subjected to excessive cortisol (a stress hormone) and exposed less to conversation and reading. One study just published in Nature Neuroscience found that children in low-income families had a brain surface area on average 6 percent smaller than that of children in high-income families.
“Neuroscience tells us we’re missing a critical, time-sensitive opportunity to help the most disadvantaged kids,” notes Dr. Jack Shonkoff, an early childhood expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Growing evidence suggests what does work to break the poverty cycle: Start early in life, and coach parents to stimulate their children. Randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evidence, have shown this with programs like Nurse-Family PartnershipReach Out and Read, and high-quality preschool. These kinds of interventions typically produce cognitive gains that last a few years and then fade — but, more important, alsoproduce better life outcomes, such as less crime, fewer teenage pregnancies, higher high school graduation rates, and higher incomes.
The second reason to focus on early interventions is that the low-hanging fruit has already been picked in the K-12 world. Charter schools like KIPP showed that even in high-poverty environments, students can excel. In New York City, which under Michael Bloomberg became a center for education reform, high school graduation rates rose to 66 percent in 2013 from 47 percent in 2005.
I support education reform. Yet the brawls have left everyone battered and bloodied, from reformers to teachers unions. I’m not advising surrender. Education inequity is America’s original sin. A majority of American children in public schools are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, and they often get second-rate teachers in second-rate schools — even as privileged kids get superb teachers. This perpetuates class and racial inequity and arises in part from a failed system of local school financing.
But fixing K-12 education will be a long slog, so let’s redirect some energy to children aged 0 to 5 (including prenatal interventions, such as discouraging alcohol and drug use among pregnant women).
That leads to my third reason: Early education is where we have the greatest chance of progress because it’s not politically polarized. New York City liberals have embraced preschool, but so have Oklahoma conservatives. Teacher unions will flinch at some of what I say, but they have been great advocates for early education. Congress can’t agree on much, but Republicans and Democrats just approved new funding for home visitation for low-income toddlers.
My perspective is shaped by what I’ve seen. Helping teenagers and adults is tough when they’ve dropped out of school, had babies, joined gangs, compiled arrest records or self-medicated.
But in Oklahoma, I once met two little girls, ages 3 and 4, whose great-grandmother had her first child at 13, whose grandmother had her first at 15, whose mom had her first at 13 and now has four children by three fathers. These two little girls will break that cycle, I’m betting, because they (along with the relative caring for them) are getting help from an outstanding early childhood program called Educare. Those two little girls have a shot at opportunity.
Even within early education, there will be battles. Some advocates emphasize the first three years of life, while others focus on 4-year-olds. Some seek to target the most at-risk children, while others emphasize universal programs.
But early childhood is not a toxic space, the way K-12 education is now. So let’s redeploy some of our education passions, on all sides, to an area where we just may be able to find common ground: providing a foundation for young children aged 0 to 5.

Monday, April 13, 2015

From the NYT: Where are the teachers of color?

GROWING up in the 1970s and ’80s in the Chicago suburb of Blue Island, Ill., Gladys Marquez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, never once had a Hispanic teacher. Sometimes, when trying to explain to her parents her plans for college — or even why she wanted to play softball or try out for the cheerleading team — she wished she had a mentor who shared her background.
“It would have been nice to have a teacher in the classroom who could help you bridge over and help you become a better version of yourself,” she said in a recent interview.
Now Ms. Marquez is herself a high school teacher in Blue Island. But while nearly half of the students at the school are Hispanic, Ms. Marquez is still one of a small minority of Latino teachers in the building.
Across the country, government estimates show that minority students have become a majority in public schools. Yet the proportion of teachers who are racial minorities has not kept up: More than 80 percent of teachers are white.
In some school districts, the disparities are striking. In Boston, for example, there is just one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Latino students, and one black teacher for every 22 African-American students. The ratio of white teachers to white students: one to fewer than three.
In New York City, where more than 85 percent of the students are racial minorities, 60 percent of the teachers are white. In Washington, black teachers represent close to half of all teachers — in a district where two-thirds of the students are black — but the Latino teaching force lags behind the growing Hispanic enrollment.
Few would say that a black child needs to be taught by a black teacher or that a Latino or Asian child cannot thrive in a class with a white teacher. “Ultimately, parents are going to respect anybody who they think cares for their kids,” said Andres Antonio Alonso, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “But if there are no people who somehow mirror the parents and the kids, then I think there could be a problem.”
A few studies have suggested a link between academic performance and children being taught by a teacher of their own race, although the effects are quite small. According to Anna Jacob Egalite, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and an author of a new study, the largest improvements amounted to about one month of additional learning within a school year.
Other researchers who have found similar academic effects say more than test scores are at stake. “When minority students see someone at the blackboard that looks like you, it helps you reconceive what’s possible for you,” said Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford University.
With the population of Hispanic students exploding relatively recently, it will take some time for the population of Latino college graduates — and future teachers — to catch up.
Fewer African-Americans, particularly black men, graduate from college than whites, shrinking the pool of prospective black teachers
In college, minority students are often the first in their families to attend, and may carry significant debt and have high expectations for future salaries. “The majority of those who successfully attend college choose careers other than education, mainly because of the pay,” said Marvin Lynn, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University in South Bend, who is starting a scholarship program for minority students interested in education careers., a partnership between the Department of Education and several companies, teachers unions and other groups, is specifically targeting racial minorities for recruitment. Teach for America, the group that places high-achieving college graduates in low-income schools for two-year stints, last year sent recruiters to 100 historically black colleges and 130 colleges with predominantly Latino students, said Elisa Villanueva Beard, co-chief executive of Teach for America. Last fall, half of its incoming corps identified themselves as racial minorities.
Some school districts are also more deliberately trying to hire teachers from underrepresented racial groups. For the first time this year, the Boston Public Schools will send recruiters to Texas and Arizona in an effort to find Hispanic teachers. But Ceronne B. Daly, director of diversity, said such strategies were insufficient. “The people currently coming out of ed schools simply aren’t diverse enough,” she said.
The district recently initiated a program to train community members to become classroom assistants who might eventually go on to become teachers. It is also running a pilot program in four high schools to begin cultivating teenagers who are interested in teaching careers.
Such programs may solve only part of the problem. According to Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who has analyzed Education Department data, the number of minority teachers has actually doubled since the late 1980s. The real problem, he said, is not recruitment, but retention.
Teacher turnover is a challenge in general, but Mr. Ingersoll said nonwhite teachers were more likely to resign than their white counterparts. They are disproportionately assigned to schools with large populations of children from low-income families, and are subjected to “student discipline problems and lack of resources and lower salaries, with often more top-down and scripted curricula,” said Mr. Ingersoll. He said minority teachers frequently cited frustration with management and lack of autonomy as reasons they quit.
Arianna Howard, a doctoral candidate in education at Ohio State University, left teaching middle school after two years in Columbus. She was frustrated by the district’s rigidly enforced curriculum and said it was culturally out of sync with her mostly black students. “Oftentimes they were unable to relate to” the assigned books, said Ms. Howard, who is African-American. “A lot of the characters were white males, and a lot of the situations were based in rural locales.”
The race gap among teachers is not likely to be closed anytime soon. To help all teachers learn how to deal sensitively with diversity in their classrooms, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, runs seminars for its members. “If you are not aware of your own personal biases,” said Rocío Inclán, director of human and civil rights at the union, “then you lose the kids on a personal level and you can lose them in academics as well.”
Motoko Rich is an education reporter for The New York Times.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Wow!! It's really SPRINGTIME!

I'm just back from a walk around the lake in Denver City Park.............the first time out for me in about a week, confined, as I was, to bed because of strep - which, I hasten to add, ain't for sissies.

It might be my age or it might be because I've been ill, or a combination of both, but, this afternoon, for the first time in my life, I really sensed what spring was about.

First of all, the park was packed. That alone tells me what spring means to us humans. Kids were playing, adults walking and talking, joggers jogging, and cyclists pedaling lazily, all soaking in the bright sun and oh-so-fresh air.

As I walked, the air felt, well, like fresh, spring air. I saw so many things that quite literally made me stop and star.

I wish I were a poet, then, perhaps, I could do justice to the day, but, alas, I'm not, so I'll let my photos tell the rest of my walk in the spring story.

The Canada Geese were in fine form - swimming, flying, yakking.......

Then I saw, lying by this tree..........

this poor fella............whom, I hope, had seen several springs before sadly passing away......

A dog barked loudly and, suddenly, all the birds left the water and flew back to their nesting spots.......

I walked a bit further and came across this young lady.........

She took a look at me and said firmly 'Push off', she squawked, 'can't you see I'm busy?'

Her partner, though,  waddled across to me and asked how I was.
When I asked his name, he was so shy he hid her face.........

And, then, close to the water, I saw.......

Yellow blossom - oh, my, how beautiful!
And then beautiful pink.......

And, under my feet, the dandelions were already in flower. These English migrants sure do love it here in Colorado......they are already taking up so much space in my lawns!

More  pink blossom.........

.........filling up the sky

Just by the water edge, near then end of my walk, tucked safely close to the tree, these two mallards are REALLY taking spring-time to heart!
They looked exhausted.............:)

And this tall gentleman had already booked his place at his favorite restaurant......

The contrast between the evergreens, now in blossom, and the fir trees, was, well, I leave it to one of the firs whom I overheard saying to those around him: 'Mmm, showtime again. Here they come, these fancy skinny trees, it's that time of the year, showing off all their new colors and putting us to shame.....'

Hey, hey.............

I really did have the walk of walks.......................strep may not be for sissies, but, hey,
SPRING is for just everything and everybody!

Monday, April 6, 2015

My favorite Steinbeck writing..........

                     I've always been a Steinbeck fan since reading long ago The Grapes of Wrath'.

'Like captured fireflies' taken from his book, America and Americans, a short and BRILLIANT piece he wrote for the california Teachers Journal.

When working with teachers, either in Master's classes at university, or in teacher workshops, I often used this as an opening impetus for discussion.

I love it.
OK. Enjoy:

My eleven-year-old son came to me recently and in a tone of patient suffering, asked  “How much longer do I have to go to school?”  “About fifteen years,” I said. “Oh! Lord,” he said despondently. “Do I have to?” “I’m afraid so. It’s terrible and I’m not going to try to tell you it isn’t. But I can tell you this - - if you are very lucky, you may find a teacher and that is a wonderful thing.” “Did you find one?”  

“I found three, ” I said.

It is customary for adults to forget how hard and dull school is. The learning by memory all the basic things one must know is the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it. School is not easy and it is not for the most part very much fun, but then, if you are lucky, you may find a teacher. Three real teachers in a lifetime is the very best of luck. My first was a science and mathematics teacher in high school, my second a professor of creative writing at Stanford and my third was my friend, Ed Ricketts.

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artist. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit. My three had these things in common - They all loved what they were doing. They did not tell - they catalyzed a burning desire to know. Under their influence, the horizons sprung wide and fear went away and the unknown became knowable. But most important of all, the truth, that dangerous stuff, became beautiful and very precious.

I shall speak only of my first teacher because in addition to the other things, she brought discovery. She aroused us to shouting, book waving discussions. She had the noisiest class in school and she didn’t even seem to know it. We could never stick to the subject, geometry or the chanted recitation of the memorized phyla. Our speculation ranged the world. She breathed curiosity into us so that we brought in facts or truths shielded in our hands like captured fireflies.

She was fired and perhaps rightly so, for failing to teach the fundamentals. Such things must be learned. But she left a passion in us for the pure knowledge world and me she inflamed with a curiosity which has never left me. I could not do simple arithmetic but through her I sensed
that abstract mathematics was very like music. When she was removed, a sadness came over us but the light did not go out. She left her signature on us, the literature of the teacher who writes on minds. I have had many teachers who told me soon-forgotten facts but only three who created in me a new thing, a new attitude and a new hunger. 

I suppose that to a large extent I am the unsigned manuscript of that high school teacher. What deathless power lies in the hands of such a person.

I can tell my son who looks forward with horror to fifteen years of drudgery that somewhere in the dusty dark a magic may happen that will light up the years… if he is very lucky.
*California Teachers Association Journal, November 1955, 51,7. Copyright 1955 by John Steinbeck.