Monday, December 18, 2017

Will TFA's New Influx Accelerate Student Achievement?

This week, Teach for America Baltimore announced a $1 million donation, given by local philanthropists Mark and Patricia Joseph. Being someone who has worked at mainly small non-profits over the years, this seems like a staggering donation; that is half the operating budget of an afterschool non-profit I used to work with. Given this extremely high number, I thought that TFA would give very specific, data-driven answers to what they will do with this donation -- instead, they gave a blanket answer of "providing intensive support" for first and second year teachers, and expanding their alumni network. 

I found this answer to be disappointing; and I think my disappointment has to do with my very conflicted feelings about TFA. For years, I have felt that TFA does a dis-service to students in inner-city public schools. Sending very ill-prepared, just-out-of-college, mainly white students into extremely tough schools spells a recipe for disaster; and a recipe for students having their education stalled with a teacher who barely knows the craft of teaching. 

But my recent experience with TFA, and this article, makes me wonder more if I should be re-thinking my stance. While I still believe TFA does not provide enough training from the on-set, TFA does have a very high retention rate of teachers in Baltimore after the first year (85%) and currently has over 150 teachers in Baltimore City right now, all of whom are rated effective or ineffective. On top of this, the corps is becoming decidedly less white; over 50% of TFA Baltimore members are people of color. Last year, I attended the TFA annual summit through my organization, and learned that over 60% of TFA alum stay in education. This made me think about all of the administrators and teachers I am surrounded by that are TFA alum. Some taught for many years, and some taught for few and then quickly moved into other roles within education; but all are people who I believe are absolute change agents in education.

Currently, more than 560 alumni work within the City Schools district. Perhaps I have been too harsh on TFA over the years; I would still like to know more about what they plan to do with this new money to support students directly, but I will keep the faith that they are going to do what is best for kids.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Role of District

The community or district background of a school brings certain uniqueness to that school including student background, environment and even teachers' training. All issues we faced within a school cannot be isolated from its community. Then it comes to partnership reform. How to make the partnership program work more smoothly from a region's perspective. Auerbach believes that the production and practice of reformed policies should seek to balanced content, structure, and flexibility to promote greater reform sustainability.

A couple of two things in his article that mainly illustrated me are the attention to interaction among leaders and the flexibility of the reform, and these two things are highly related to each other. To keep the sustained interaction between leaders who are not hierarchical but collaborative and dialectical, we have to consider questions of reform flexibility. As we heard from NNPS, the local reform of partnership education does not have any power over school, family and district. After finding these districts that would like to cooperate with reform, we still need to pay attention to the flexibility. If reforms are too flexible, they may miss the base of further reform and diminish their potential to promote positive change. I read about how NNPS dwells between these two extremes by only setting up the theoretical and framework environment for real reform leaders in professional practice rather than prescribed activities with little room to accommodate differences in contexts. 

The reading also mentioned that as supporting the local leaders, reform developers and reform leaders should also consider how to cultivate the different dimensions of leadership that affect the implementation and sustainability of externally developed reforms. For example, district size, culture, and resources should be challenging the expertise of professions who support the reform and thus it should be considered in the dialogue about changing district priorities. To help with that, investigation with vivid aim could target at reform characteristics and dimensions of district leadership.

Auerbach, S. (2012). School leadership for authentic family and community partnerships: research perspectives for transforming practice. London: Routledge.

Structural effort to support collaboration and partnership in district level

I read an article addressed on the attempt and practice of school leaders and district leaders to reform the structure and how the experimental result reflected on those attempts and actions. It mentioned how contemporary leading educational scholars trying to reverse the power structure of school, family and community collaboration to make individuals and family themselves serve effectively in partnership education. Although they do not confront and traditional institutional structure of schools, they hope the system in a district level has the ability to help and serve them once the leadership or the power structure is not functioning. 

In the recent centuries the school turned to be the place with multiple disciplines and rules, especially in the area like Baltimore city where majority people believe schooling needs to be more strict. And the power classification between school, teacher and students, families are like hierarchy in military or government bureaucracy. However, while military product national defense and the bureaucratic system product civic production, the school's production, which is learning, cannot be evaluated and controlled like national defense material or GDP numbers. On the one hand, learning is self-reflected in a way that the educational outcome of students could be really independent from standard measurement. On the other hand, a strict power hierarchy system may limit the development of student by assigning them a specific role played in school. That is why Sander raised the question about the reform of school power hierarchy.

A new power hierarchy in school should base on the fact that school is not making students predictable and formatted. Such a transition is not only to increase priority onto the need of clients—students and families in the system. Also it required developing the capacity and connection of students and family in the process of educational implication. Although Sander's article has some general description, I am still wondering the specific operation they took and the organizational strategy specifically during that period of gap during the retreat of school power. 


Sanders, M. (2013). Collaborating for Change: How an Urban School District and a Community-Based Organization Support and Sustain School, Family, and Community Partnerships, 1693-1712. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fox News: Punish the Parents of Absent Students?

An article written by Fox News’s Chris Papst about the rate of absence in Baltimore City Public Schools was brought to my attention when it was posted and discussed by my neighbors on a website called NextDoor. The article discussed the findings of PROJECT BALTIMORE which, according to their website, is “an investigative reporting initiative” that “examines the unique challenges that confront the Baltimore area’s public school systems” with “significant emphasis [...] placed on investigating the Baltimore City Public School System which spends large sums of money on education, but yields sub-standard test score and low graduation rates.”

The article is a not-so-subtle attempt at fear mongering, feeding into its readers fears about the perceived inherent dangers that come with the overwhelming black and brown students in Baltimore City Public Schools by immediately drawing a correlation between poor attendance rates and increased violent juvenile crime in the city. In an attempt to further demonstrate his point about the low attendance rates in BCPSS, Papst shared the attendance rates of surrounding counties Baltimore County, Howard County, and Anne Arundel. While these districts do have attendance rates between 15 and 19 percent higher than Baltimore City’s, the article does not mention that these “surrounding districts” are considerably whiter and more affluent (MD Report Card), two advantages that make it significantly easier to be a student who’s at school every day.

Literature about the connection between poverty and absence seems prevalent enough to be assumed as public knowledge, especially by those who work in, care about, and write about public education. This makes it all the more confusing that the suggestion for improvement that the article seems to be suggesting is that BCPSS and its school police enforce the state truancy law which “hold[s] parents accountable with up to $500 in fines or jail time.” In a city whose residents are daily fighting battles against institutionalized racism, extreme poverty, and purposeful and persistent segregation, how can fining the parents of students who are obviously already struggling be the answer?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kindergarten Readiness in Baltimore City

As a kindergarten teacher, I collect a lot of data from within my classroom which demonstrates that students who attended a pre-kindergarten (or a high-quality early learning program) came into kindergarten with far more skills than their peers. These skills range from academic to social emotional skills. However, I have been wondering if there is more broad research to support what I see everyday. Additionally, I was saddened to see an article in the Baltimore Sun, which explained that across Maryland, in the 2016-2017 school year, only 43% of kindergarten students were considered “ready for school” by the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) (Bowie, 2016). In Baltimore, the data is even more saddening. In Baltimore, only 38% of students “were considered ready for school” (Bowie, 2016). The KRA assessment is conducted one-on-one with a teacher and assesses each student’s early literacy, math, social foundations, and physical well-being skills. The KRA assessment has 50 items of data which a teacher must collect about each child. To see that only 38% of students in Baltimore City are considered “ready,” shows a huge gap already in the skills of our youngest incoming students.

To understand how this readiness (or lack of) affects learning in school, I sought out some longer range data to explain the impact. In April 2017, The Washington Post presented a summary article of a much broader study called: “What do we really know about the value of prekindergarten?” (Strauss, 2017). The larger study was conducted by a group of scientists to examine “evidence on the impact of state-funded prekindergarten programs” (Strauss, 2017). In the Washington Post article there is a link to the entire text of the study, which seeks to unpack and examine larger questions such as, “How can scale-up be improved? Should pre-K be targeted or universal?” (Strauss, 2017). Check the link below to read more.

To summarize, the study found, “the uniformly positive evidence of impact on kindergarten readiness, and the nascent body of ongoing inquiry about long-term impacts lead us to conclude that continued implementation of scaled-up pre-K programs is in order”(Strauss, 2017). The research acknowledges the struggle to measure long term impact of pre-kindergarten on student success later in life. It is challenging to keep track of students for long periods of time and to account for the other factors in a student’s life, which affect their learning (Strauss, 2017).

As Baltimore City grapples with its own questions of how to fund and address early learning needs of the students within our city, this report offers substantial argument that the Kirwan Commission (and other funding sources) should consider the importance of the quality pre-kindergarten experiences for the lives of our students and the health our city.


Bowie, L. (2016, December 05). Less than half of Maryland kindergartners ready for school. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from

Strauss, V. (2017, April 24). Analysis | What do we really know about the value of
prekindergarten? Retrieved November 12, 2017, from

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Technology or Not…

NPR journalist, Barbara King, highlighted a college course that required very little of students…besides the abstinence of all technology and all verbal communication (King, 2017). The class was extremely popular, despite the mandated journaling, the need for handwritten communication and the lack of social media. This piece was written a month after King published a contrasting article about a professor that had built-in “technology breaks” for his students in hopes that these designated breaks would cause students to be more focused. King suggested that these classes were examples of how our everyday community and culture plays a significant role in creating norms for technology use.

So the question remains - what best practices should teachers be cultivating in their classrooms? It’s hard to decide whether technology is an asset or a hindrance. For teachers, technology has the potential of being an endless resource. For example, a Promethean board can enable teachers to create well-designed slides that captivate their students, while being environmentally friendly. I’ve witnessed preschool teachers use a Promethean to structure their entire day, having interactive slides prepared for each lesson and relying on it for transitions.

But when we place technology directly into the hands of our students, how beneficial is it? Does technology loose its effectiveness when it is not teacher-driven? Some researchers claim that passive technology use and screen time, especially for young children, is not beneficial and may even hinder the development of empathy (Aamodt & Wang, 20011). Yet in Baltimore County, each student has their own device that is used throughout the day. They use it during morning work and indoor recesses, and to take tests, write stories, play educational games and fill transition periods. In my experience, students want to use their devices regardless of the assignment or specified activity. Some students like to put on headphones and get into their own zone, whereas others sit in pairs and groups so they can interact with peers.

As helpful as technology can be for educators and as desirable as it may be for students, we may have to wait for more time to pass and research to be done before truly understanding its impact.

Aamodt, S. & Wang, S. (2011). Welcome to your child’s brain: How the mind grows from conception to college. New York: Bloomsbury.

King, B. J. (2017). Monks For A Month: College Kids Give Up Talking - And Technology. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from