Friday, May 17, 2013

Race to the Top: The Common Core Dilemma

4 years after the start of the Race to the Top initiative, we as a country have reached a point in which we should see the fruits of the insurgence of resources schools have received. However, the benefits have yet to be reaped. This is due to a variety of reasons. 

With the money that schools received, there were stipulations put into place that forced schools to implement certain strategies. This would work if schools across the nation that were receiving this money had the same type of needs. Working in an inner city school, the students I serve need different things than students at higher performing schools even in the same state, let alone the country. Whereas the implementation of common core standards are great in theory in raising the bar of the education in this country, they are lofty and inappropriate to be implemented in every county. The common core standards that each and every school that accepted race to the top money are held to were not released until this past year. The assessment that students will be evaluated with are still not yet released with definite detail. Therefore, it would be highly irregular for success to be met at any which level in the first couple of years of the testing cycles. Would it have been a more effective way if the common core standards were released, then funding be provided and finally then hold our students accountable to testing measures? Probably, however we are now still "catching up" to meet standards that were promising for our educational system. 

It will be interesting to see what the next few years bring in terms of actual implementation of assessments that focus on common core standards and to see how students do on them, especially for those students who are still unprepared, not due to a lack of trying, but only due to a lack of not enough preparation time with resources. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teacher Certification

In my humble opinion, we will not have an effective public education system in the U.S until we, as a country, take some pride in the teaching profession. The phrase that I heard over and over after telling people that I was goign to teach in Baltimore was "Those who can, do and those who can't, teach!" The funny thing is that if I told them I was joining Teach For America the reaction was quite the opposite. I would hear soemthing along the lines of "wow, I hear that is a really selective program, congratulations."

It shouldn't matter if I became a teacher through traditional means or an alternative certification program like TFA, ultimately I had signed up for the same job as every other teacher in Baltimore. Why then was the reaction so different?

Because, as a society, we value competition and accomplishment. People are proud to say that they are a doctor or a lawyer or a neuroscientist because we accept that those fields are competitive and only the most competent individuals succeed in them. This is simply not the case for teaching. The perception throughout our society is that the most capable people stay away from teaching, and the only way it is acceptable to become a teacher if you have other options is to join a program like TFA. TFA essentially provides a stamp of approval that says, "this candidate has succeeded in school and could be doing a lot of different things, they chose to teach for at least two years as part of their growth as an individual and in hopes of helping our country's youth." Without this stamp, would TFA get the level of highly competent corps members that it is so proud to hire?

So teacher certification and training and everything else that accompanies the current practice of preparing a teacher does not matter until we make being a teacher more prestigious than being a doctor or a lawyer or a neuroscientist.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Wide Angle Youth Media

   The most exciting student group that I read and hear about this year was Wide Angle Youth Media. I first heard about the group when I went to the school board meeting, and was amazed with what the students were doing. WAYM is a program that introduces students to media production and the performing arts through various media outlets. The video they showed at the meeting was written, produced and edited by students and used to get their message out through a creative outlet.
   I think that integrating arts back into schools is one of the most important things that we can do. There is a serious lack of art programs in Baltimore and it is discouraging because it is one of the things that our students like the most. I think that giving students the opportunity to express themselves could improve not only student academics but also classroom behaviors. So much of the negative behavior we see in class is students wanting to express themselves with no outlet to do so. Therefore, I think giving them this outlet would really help them focus in class. Also, creating a piece of media art is a huge production that will help students learn how to work together, develop work ethic and simply give them something positive to put on their resume.

New Science Budget

   I read an article posted on the TFA Facebook page that discussed Baltimore City's new science budget. The funding includes $1.74 billion dollars to bolster science curriculum and give teachers much needed science supplies. The article made me think about my own situation in a Baltimore City science classroom. On the one hand, I am very supportive of the City giving school money and materials. Clearly these supplies are needed, and Baltimore is vastly under funded. In my own class I have very little materials to perform labs. This means that generally I have to purchase the supplies on my own. However, at times I feel that Baltimore City pumps money into so many new initiatives, but never follows through on anything that it starts.
   For instance, my school initiated an online reading program at the beginning of the year. Just last week they followed up on it asking "How has this worked for everyone?" Not only did they take away our planning period to try and follow up it, but they never gave us any resources to actually implement the plan or any time to do it. While in theory I am sure this was a great plan, there is no accountability in the system. Thus, in the end it was just a waste of money that could have been allocated to a different program.
   This is a point of contention for me that I don't know how to solve. I really wish that the city was much more efficient at implementing programs so that they could be more effective at helping our students. I know that there are a lot of moving parts when implementing a program, but there must be a better way of using the money that gets put into city schools, or at least a way that gets better results.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Ultimate Teacher Rant

I recently read an editorial style piece in the Huffington Post (find it here) that left nothing but a bad pessimistic taste in my mouth. The author, a veteran teacher, gave an overview of what seemed like every new piece of educational policy to go into effect in the past decade. And then proceeded to detail how each of these policy initiatives destroyed education and is currently destroying the teaching profession.

While not all of it seemed to miss the mark, I found it, on the whole, hard to swallow. Yes - it is clear that our schools have lost art programs, physical education classes and extracurricular activities in order to allow for increased test based instruction on math and reading. Yes - it is likely that teachers have lost an amount of autonomy in their classrooms as the era of high stakes testing was ushered in. But could it be true that every reform has harmed our nation's classrooms?

For example, the author takes an extremely hard stance on student survey's being integrated into teacher evaluations. Is this horrifying to me as an educator? Probably  But that does not mean it is not a valid measure of teaching success and it does not mean that this reform won't help create more positive, productive classrooms. As teachers, I think it is important that we examine reforms and new laws relating to education from not only our vantage point in the classroom but also from the perspective of educational advocates who want to see meaingful, lasting and impactful change.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Teacher Retention...?

I know we left this topic alone a while ago but I found myself thinking about it the other day while reading the New York Times. On May 4th the Times ran an article about an old factory in Philadelphia that is being converted to housing, some of which is specifically set aside for teachers.

When I read the headline, I immediately thought about Miller's Court and Union Mill, two buildings that serve a similar role in Baltimore. Sure enough, the article references the two buildings in Baltimore and the same company that oversaw the work here in Bmore is involved in Philadelphia as well. The article highlighted some of the benefits of the housing complex, it offers a discounted rate for teachers, it offers a community that people can be a part of, and it offers safe, comfortable, secure housing for people who may be moving to the city for the first time. Teach For America was mentioned in the article because of the partnership that was formed here in Baltimore, and the new complex in Philadelphia sounds almost identical to the two here.

The reason I brought this up was that the article said that the goal of the buildings was to increase teacher retention in Philadlephia. My obvious question was whether or not the housing does anything for teacher retention. I know the two buildings in Baltimore are wildly popular amongst the teaching crowd but I also know that some people who live their begin to feel like they can never get away from the teaching conversations that go on in the building. I am curious as to whether or not Teach For America in Baltimore has looked at any data on retention for people who choose to live in the subsidized housing units. In the end, do they help hold teachers in the classroom or are they just a nice idea that allows teachers to live in comfortable, affordable apartments?

Matt Gould, Teach For America's vice president for administration said that he had no data on the retention of teachers who live in the Baltimore options. If this is the case, why don't they gather some? It seems that TFA has data on everything else...