Archive for Urban Education

Protesting CPS School Closings in Suburban Winnetka

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How brave of these protesters to foray into the ritzy suburban enclave of Winnetka this morning to protest Chicago school closings right at the door of powerful CPS stakes holder Tim Cawley, the Chief Administration Officer of CPS.

What the WBEZ piece about the protesters failed to mention: Tim Cawley comes to Chicago Public Schools from the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in Chicago – this is the same nonprofit organization that will profit indeed from closed schools by receiving the funds to manage them as turnaround schools. (AUSL is a nonprofit organization that partners with Chicago Public Schools to manage and turnaround chronically failing public schools.) Read more

NCLB is Flawed

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Based on evidence collected from two years of classroom experience around the nation, FairTest documented a series of basic flaws in NCLB, such as:

- The law falsely assumes that boosting test scores should be the primary goal of schools, an approach that has not improved education when implemented by individual states;


- Widespread school “failure” is an inevitable outcome of NCLB’s one-size-fits-all design because of rigid “adequate yearly progress” provisions, which set unrealistic goals for academic gains, punish diversity, and ignore measurement error;


- NCLB’s school transfer policy undermines ongoing reform programs and disrupts the lives of students and teachers. Heavier sanctions required for schools that do not boost test scores have previously been shown to be counter-productive;

- The requirement that limited English proficient students score “proficient” on English exams is self-contradictory, as is the provision that most children with special needs demonstrate competency in the same manner as other students;

- Education is being damaged as students are coached to pass tests rather than taught a rich curriculum that will help prepare them for life in the 21st Century.

Being a classroom teacher who was fortunate enough to begin teaching four years before NCLB became law, I experienced teaching before the law was enacted.

Pre-NCLB there was much more freedom to develop lessons to meet the needs of all students, now cookie-cutter lesson plans are demanded that scientifically researched results. Pre-NCLB teaching was FUN thus learning was fun because specific ways to teach were not mandated to meet pre-determined test scores, Post-NCLB fidelity to the curriculum has trumped meeting the needs of students because students must be taught exactly what the tests required by NCLB assess.

It has pained me to use a set curriculum with pre-determined weekly tests. Previously all I ever needed to teach were exceptional fiction and nonfiction books, writing and drawing materials, and I only used worksheets for developing math drills. Every classroom or group of students I taught made extensive literacy and math gains and I never second-guessed my classroom practice because my students made significant gain in my classroom.

My students have continued to make significant gains since NCLB became law yet I have been constantly at odds with the administration at our school, which is still on probation. My admin have felt they need to emphasis fidelity to the scientifically researched curriculum prescribed at the district level as a result of NCLB law. In addition, there are specific criteria laid out by the NCLB for schools on probation and administrators must ‘follow the letter of the law’ determined by testing, which seems more important than actually teaching.

Of course this is all my opinion, yet teachers where I have taught the last four years all feel the same way. Moral is incredibly low as we near the spring season of high stakes standardized testing: fear of not measuring up to the impossible Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) of NCLB looms over all of us. Failure for our school could mean closure and if our school is closed we all loose our jobs – EVEN THOUGH OUR TESTS SCORES ARE HIGHER THAN MOST SCHOOLS IN OUR CITY! This is due to the way NCLB calculates AYP of schools and this aspect of NCLB will be addressed in a future blog.

What are the secrets of high poverty, high success schools?

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What are the secrets of high poverty, high success schools? According to Uncovering the “Secrets” of High Poverty, High Success SchoolsDouglas B Reeves in his piece “Uncovering the Secrets of High Poverty, High Success Schools” the following point provide the greatest impact:

  • A focus on academic achievement
  • Clear curriculum choices “Uncovering the Secrets Behind
  • Frequent assessment of student progress and multiple opportunities for improvement
  • An emphasis on nonfiction writing
  • Collaborative scoring of student work

Buckle up and join Matt Farmer and I as we enter the upside-down world of big-money school reform…

Buckle up and join Matt Farmer and I as we enter the upside-down world of big-money school reform…

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Taking it to the Next Level with CPS and ASUL (Academy for Urban School Leadership)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-farmer/chicago-collins-academy-turnaround_b_1159465.html?ref=chicago

Teaching as Team Effort: Parents as Players

If teaching was a team sport, the team supporting the education of each would student consist: the student, his or her parents, school administrators, local school board member, the state board of education, and all national player including politicians. So why is it the national burden for education falling solely upon the shoulders of classroom teachers when actually teachers are part of a team effort? Perhaps everyone on the ‘team’ needs ‘professional development’ not just teachers?

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Professional development of teachers now trumps students attending school and there rarely mention about the impact of parents upon test scores. Day after day public school students across this district have missed school due to the professional development of teachers and has meant students didn’t have school AGAIN yesterday! This month has been a checkerboard combo of missed school days due to holidays, in combination with non-school days where-by teachers are schooled in a plethora of duties, most of which have nothing to do with actually teaching students in front of them. One thing teachers need more than anything is more time with students and all the ‘developing’ of the teaching profession runs counter-productive interference towards this goal.

You might ask, “How can all these days off for students be deemed productive?”

Well, usually, professional development is predominantly filled with endless tasks of accountability required by the government, in cohort with local school district mandates with a focus on testing. For three hours yesterday teachers at my school analyzed test scores from the newly minted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) only to discover the test scores reflected what teachers at our school already know about our students because we mark their papers and work with them everyday. Lets get real, these test are for accountability purposes and the only ones being held accountable are teachers.

Professional development could be about becoming a better teacher and further developing skills to reach students.. However, no matter what teachers are told, above all, their endless professional development has been mandated in order to hold them individually accountable for student test scores. The laser-like focus on testing, required by the NCLB law, is blame in disguise as accountability with teachers being held solely accountable for student achievement on test scores. Yes, I will take some responsibility for low student test scores. However, what about the parents? At one time I heard a speech by Prsident Obama holding parents accountable yet rarely do journalists write about anyone but teachers.

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However, to my surprise and delight, Thomas L. Friedman recently wrote an informed piece in the NY Times addressing this conundrum titled How About Better Parents?‎ In this piece Friedman outlined how recent studies indicate parents who are more involved in their children’s education can have significant impact on student achievement.

One study cited by Friedman outlined the Program for International Assessment exams conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.C.D.E.). The PISA conducted a team study of 5,000 parents, across a wide spectrum of socioeconomic levels, about how they had raised their children and then compared these practices with PISA test scores.

In early November, the PISA team published three main findings discovered i their study about parenting practices among the highest scoring students who took the PISA exams: “on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.” Significantly, the score point difference was smallest when parental involvement simply took the form of playing with their children.

The findings of the PISA team where reinforced by the study “Back to School: How parent involvement affects student achievement” conducted by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education and written up in a recent issue of The American School Board Journal by Patti Barth, the center’s director as cited by Friedman:

“Parent involvement can take many forms, but only a few of them relate to higher student performance. Of those that work, parental actions that support children’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact on academic achievement at school.
“Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.”

Friedman has now become part of my team to improve student achievement because he addressed the fact few journalists have addressed: parental impact upon education is significant and teachers should not be held solely accountable for test scores. Parents have always been invaluable ‘team players’ in the complex, collaborative, contact ‘sport ‘ of educating their children in my classroom. In fact, all of my most successful students had parents at home working in tandem with me in the classroom to educate their children.

Parents are student’s first teachers: from the time they are born they learn from their parents and it is parents who provide the foundation for teachers who educate their children. From my view, privileged children are those who have better parents, parents who value education and who support their children’s learning from an early age.

Another Halloween Scare: Gun Fire in the Hood, Again

At the end of a long day, as I was getting ready to hand out big, creepy Halloween suckers to my students (shaped like puddles of goo with either blood, beetles, or spiders encased within) we all heard gunfire coming from the alley directly behind our school, through our open classroom window. All the excitement about the suckers ended as we all looked at each other fearfully. A particularly street smart young man in my 6th grade class stated calmly, yet ominously, what we all feared, “That sounds like gunfire.”

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Wanting to reassure them I said, “Well it could have been firecrackers.” Even though I knew that unmistakable sound “Pop – pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!”, which had echoed through the window, had indeed been gunfire, I didn’t want it to be.

Then sirens went off and minutes later an administrators voice came over the intercom “Red Alert! No one is to leave their classroom or the school until further notice.”

In response to the announcement, one student cryptically said what we were all thinking simultaneously, “At least we aren’t outside having a fire drill right now.” Everyone laughed nervously because as someone replied “True dat.”

Last year, the night of Halloween in the high-traffic, gritty, inner city neighborhood where our school is located was shattered with gunfire. That night marked the beginning of monthly spates of such gunfire within one or two blocks of our school for the entire school year. However, last year, no one working at our school knew about the Halloween shootings until the day afterward – during a school fire drill.

Fire drills are held monthly no matter the weather and all students file classroom by classroom outside. In a long line all classrooms walk completely down the nearest street perpendicular to the school, then stop at the next intersection to wait for the fire alarm to stop, when we return into school. The previous year, we had a fire drill the day after Halloween. As usual the kindergarten class was out the door of our school first and lead everyone down the street followed by my first grade classroom.

As we walked past the apartment building next to the school, my cubby cheeked, student Tiara, who lived in the building, knowingly exclaimed, while pointing to a large rust colored, puddle like stain, “Ms. Steele see that – it’s where someone got shot last night and the police came and everything and I think they died!”

Seconds later, there was gunfire less than thirty yards ahead of us, as if Tiara’s statement had foreshadowed the event. When I looked up, I saw the horrified face of the kindergarten teacher screaming from the corner intersection, “Run! Run! Run! Someone on the bus is shooting!” This began a major stampede of panicked students screaming and then crying as many of our young charges, from her kindergarten and my first grade, stumbled and fell over each other. Some were stricken by fear and paralyzed as we tried to herd them as quickly back down the block, around the corner, and into the school as possible.

All of the students surged in a huge mass quickly through the doors of the school to safety yet it seemed to take forever. The entire time there was a gaping black hole of fear in my belly about my kindergarten colleague and her students as I silently implored, “Don’t let any of them be shot!” Only once inside, as I passed her classroom while she rushed her students into their classroom could finally breath in relief – they were all safe and unharmed

My students sat in shocked silence remembering, as I was, the past year’s terror while being outside the school and running from the gunfire. I could only hope this was not a new Halloween tradition and that next year this spooky holiday wasn’t marked by the very real fear – shot through our psyches – with the sound of gunfire so close to our school and our hearts.

8th grader fathers himself

I’ve been teaching my middle school students friendly letter writing at the behest of my principal for future Santa letters. But, when I initially taught friendly letter writing today, I didn’t tell them about my ultimate Santa Letter goal. The first day of letter writing, I had students write letter telling me about their favorite genre of books and why it was their favorite genre. In addition, I asked them to write about what they previously liked best during language arts in order to use their ideas for engaging lesson plans. Why reinvent the wheel when my students can inform me how to best engage them during language arts?

As added incentive to write me a letter, I told them they could write a letter to anyone they wanted after they finished writing a letter to me. Hands shot up asking “My cousins in Puerto Rico?” “My mom who I don’t live with cause I can’t?” “Even someone in prison Ms. Wave?” Of course, I affirmed “YES ANYONE! This is your letter.”

Many wonderful letters were turned in but a profoundly touching letter was written by an 8th grade young man whom I can’t think of as a boy, or even a teenager, after reading his letter, so magnanimous and mature. Following is the letter word for word…

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Dear Father,

I want to thank you for taking care of me since I was little. I am grateful that you brought me into this world. And I have fun hanging out with you because we always telling jokes and going out places.

I’m also grateful for all my sisters and brothers, without them I wouldn’t know what to do. I like when we have family day out and we go to the movies and we all have a great time. I thank you for being me.

Sincerely,

Tyrone

The kicker in this letter is “Thank-you for being me.” Because as his teacher, who has previously read Tyrone’s reply to a prompt about taking on adult responsibilities, I know what you do not – he doesn’t have a father. He lives with his grandmother and siblings and actually is his own father because, as written in his own words: “I am the man of the house.”

When I read this letter I was felt so proud of him, such a wise young man. Then I began to cry – no 8th grader should have to be his own father and so many of my students aren’t an old soul like Tyrone, they really can’t be their own father nor write a letter to themselves in gratitude. I am so grateful I have the opportunity to work with this deep feeling young man. This is one of many reasons I teach…

NYTimes article on 90 minutes more of school per day via Dublin

A close friend from Ireland sent me an article from today’s NYTimes and her subject heading was, “ok, I know it’s not news to you, but thought you might like to read it” However, it was indeed news to me that teacher’s struggles here in Chicago were reaching the nation and the world through the NYTimes. Today’s blog is my gut reaction to the piece about how merely working 90 more minutes per day solves all our educational problems, or so says our new mayor…

Chicago’s Mayor Challenges Teachers Union

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/us/politics/rahm-emanuel-angers-teachers-union-over-longer-school-day.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha23

Greetings Alma,

OK, no it’s not news BUT I HAVE BEEN SO BUSY WORKING THIS PIECE WASN’T EVEN ON MY RADAR although the subject matter has been! Worked most of the day yesterday on school stuff including phone calls to all the homes of my 7th grade students. I had to call six homes about disruptive behavior yet decided to call all the homes to give positive feedback as well – there are so many smart, attentive students in that class I want them to be the leaders not the two fools who completely disrupt teaching and learning…

ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!! IF WE INCREASE THE SCHOOL DAY 90 MINUTES PR DAY I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I WILL COMPLETE THE OTHER 50% OF MY JOB! SINCE AUGUST I’VE BASICALLY HAD 4 – 5 HOURS OF SLEEP EACH NIGHT. LAST WEEK I WORKED 7 – 15 HOUR DAYS AND COULD HAVE EASILY WORKED MORE.

ON TOP OF THIS, OUR STUDENTS GET 10 MIIN FOR BREAKFAST – IN THE CLASSROOM WOLFING DOWN FOOD – THEN 20 MIN FOR LUNCH OFTEN TURNED TO 10 – 15 MIN DUE TO LONG LINES AND VARIOUS OTHER REASONS! TEACHERS TOO HAVE THIS MINIMAL TIME. WHEN I TAUGHT IN ANOTHER DISTRICT WE ALL HAD AN HOUR OFF AND TEACHERS WOULD HAVE TIME FOR MEETINGS, PROJECT COLLABORATION, AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY – CONVERSATIONS ABOUT STUDENTS. AND STUDENTS HAD TIME TO JUST BE KIDS PLAYING!

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I AM SICK TO DEATH OF HERDING CHILDREN FROM PLACE TO PLACE LIKE SHEEP! IT IS NOT HEALTHY AND THEY BECOME TOO HURRIED – OH BUT THAT IS WHAT WE ALL NEED TO DO IS JUST HURRY AND DO MORE TO MAKE THE WORLD BETTER. ARGH AND DOUBLE ARGH! COULD THIS BE PART OF THE REASON OUR CHILDREN SEEM TO HAVE ADHD? THEY REALLY HAVE NO TIME TO NURISH THEMSELVES BODILY LET ALONE THEIR MINDS AND SOULS. WITH NO TIME TO METABOLIZE WHAT THEY EAT HOW CAN THEY FOCUS AND REFLECT UPON WHAT THEY ARE LEARNING. MIND FOLLOWS BODY!.

SO YES, I AM ALL FOR LONGER DAYS BUT I WOULD LIKE TO B PAID PLEASE. WE WERE ASKED TO GIVE UP OUR RAISE LAST MAY AND NOW WE ARE BEING CALLED UPON TO WORK 1.5 HOURS MORE AND NOT BE PAID FOR IT! AND 15 MINUTE RECES MORNING AND AFTERNOON LIKE I HAD WHEN I WAS A KID AS WELL AS AT LEAST 30 MIN FOR LUNCH. OH! BUT THEN THERE WOULD HAVE TO BE PEOPLE PAID TO WATCH THEM! LONGR DAYS MEAN MORE MONEY AND WE’VE BEEN TOLD THERE ISNT ANY MORE MONEY TO PAY US MORE SO… HUH? This all makes very little sense to me, but little about CPS does.

OK ALma, thank-you so much for providing me the opportunity and inspiration for my blog today. Hope to have it come out SOON…

xoxoxox,

Margo

PS – HOW ARE YOU? How are things across the pond?

School inferno

Having sworn this blog would not be a place to just kvetch and complain did not take into consideration I’d be working in 100 degree plus weather lugging supplies, heavy books, and furniture! IT WAS BEYOND MERELY HOT ALL WEEK WITH TEMPERATURES EXCEEDING 100 degrees!

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It has been brutal: without air-conditioning my classroom has felt like a blast furnace with temps inside the school surpassing the heat outside – those ancient brick building sure hold in the heat! Older suburban schools without AC, which are already in session, cancelled classes calling the summer version of a snow day: HIGH HEAT DAY NO SCHOOL! However, our urban students have never been grated such a reprieve, I guess the powers that be assume most of the inner city students attending public school don’t have AC at home so they might as well be at school sweating? We teachers preparing our classrooms for students next week have had no choice – being in our classrooms has been a necessity.

To give you an idea about how hot it has felt – just sitting at a computer was a sweaty endeavor and at one point sweat was dripping onto my keyboard when I decided to take a break at my desk. If mere typing was this uncomfortable you can imagine the amount of schfitzing involved when lugging materials around a classroom as well as moving boxes from my previous classroom, on the first floor of the school, up six flights of stairs to the third floor, where my new classroom is located.

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Luckily my partner humped most the boxes up the stairs after I sprained my knee trying to move things up six flights myself earlier in the week. Needless to say he was drenched in sweat after his first trip up the stairs with a crate of books! Guess I’ll add day laborer to the long job list of rolls I play being a public school teacher in a funding-light inner city school…

Heat addled inspiration as I prepare my room for students

Went into school today – Saturday – leaving my home at 7:30 As I envisioned my room with boxes of books on all the desks and things scattered from ‘hell to breakfast’ as my late grandfather Anderson would have said. “Suck it up!” I coached myself as I lugged my body around to the front of the school to be buzzed in. (Our school is located at a heavily trafficked inner city intersection where there were many shootings this past year due to gentrification and the accompanying turf warfare. But more on this later…)

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After being ringing the buzzer, my principal met me at the locked school doors saying, albeit with a smile on her face, “I was just emailing you. Your room is a mess with boxes of books on all the desks.”

I looked at her sleepily and shot back jokingly, “Tell me something I don’t know! Why do you think I’m here?”

After I trudged up four flights of stairs to the third floor feeling exhausted I realized I felt panicked – my principal was right – I had so much left to do! As I ‘went at it like I was killing snakes’ I coached myself to prioritize and get the things done I needed to for Monday morning and let the rest go reminding myself what the only experienced principal I have ever worked with once told me “Do what you can and what you cannot do go without. Our jobs are never done.” Then I focused on what I needed to get done. Glad I have his realistic, empowering voice of experience reminding me to do what I can and let the rest go…

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As I sweatily unpacked box after box of books, files, and supplies packed away last June I ruminated upon that principal – the only experienced principal I’ve had the opportunity to work with. He was a great teacher of teachers, a wonderful manager who always supported his staff in whatever way he could. The one thing I remember most about him is the casual, early morning meetings he held once a week for whomever wanted to attend. He jokingly called them his ‘fireside chats’ because we all just sat around and talked about whatever was bothering us.

He would have a theme for each week always based upon issues he knew were on the minds of his staff – he was a great listener and always knew just what needed to be addressed with his teachers. As I have changed districts due to various moves I have yearned for another principal like him: he had over twenty years of experience as a principal, as did his assistant principal, and since that time every principal I’ve had was a newbie principal with one or two years of experience. But, unlike the newbies I have worked for, he never forgot what it was like to be a teacher and he told us he always tired to be the principal he always wished he had the opportunity to work for.

Filling shelves, I began to envision how I would teach my middle school students as I would have wanted to have been taught when I was an adolescent: to have firm boundaries but given more freedom and opportunities to work on my own with my peers. To have a sense of humor in the face of having my authority challenged, because that is what adolescents do – challenge authority in order to begin to break away and make choices for themselves; create fun, active projects to engage them in grammar and extended responses; to develop teacher-student relationships to nurture them while at the same time set high standards for them to achieve; and to fill my students with the confidence that comes from being taught where they are at, not by rote as I filled the shelves, but with insight my favorite, wise, experienced principal once did for me when I was a beginning teacher.

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