Sunday, May 5, 2013

Reasons Why High School Students Should Stay in School

In an economy that is just barely starting to get back on its feet now more than ever people need to as much education as they can to survive. A high school diploma is the bare minimum to get any type of job. However, about a quarter of California counties have high school dropout rates of 20 percent or more, including Los Angeles (20.3 percent). This trend is very disheartening especially since many of these students come from lower income families and drop out of school out of necessity rather than a lack of desire to graduate.

The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network has come up with five reasons why high school seniors should stay in school.

Reason #1: High school dropouts are four times as likely to be unemployed as those who have completed four or more years of college.

As mentioned above finding a job is hard enough as it is. In an increasingly competitive market employers are looking for educated and skilled workers. Applying as a high school drop out significantly lowers your chances of getting a decent job.

Reason #2: Graduating from high school will determine how well you live for the next 50 years of your life. High school graduates earn $143 more per week than high school dropouts. College graduates earn $336 more per week than high school graduates ($479 more per week than high school dropouts);

That means that high school graduates make over $7,000 more a year than drops outs and college graduates make almost $25,000 more a year than drop outs. That could be the difference between putting a down payment on a home or renting for years.

Reason #3: Dropouts are more likely to apply for and receive public assistance than graduates of high school;

While welfare does help people who need it there is a certain pride that comes from living off your own labor.

Reason #4: Dropouts comprise a disproportionate percentage of the nation's prison and death row inmates. 82% of prisoners in America are high school dropouts;

Many of those who drop out end up turning to crime and gang activities to earn money. Staying in school give the student something productive to do instead of roaming the streets and getting into trouble. The school also provides a support system and advisers to help the student make good decisions.

Reason #5: School districts all over the country provide alternative programs for students who are not successful in the usual school setting. 

No matter how hard it is getting there are ways to get help. School want to see the students succeed as if they were their own child. If the student has even a little bit of motivation there are places they can go to get extra academic support.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Raising the Teaching Bar

Children are the future. They are each potential doctors, lawyers, politicians and scientists. Yet for such valuable resources it is surprising the kinds of hands we place their minds into. There is reason to believe that over the last couple of decades the quality of K-12 teachers has declined, a phenomenon that should alarm every parent in America. If our teachers are not properly prepared for their jobs why should we expect our children to be?

Recently the American Federation ofTeachers has proposed that all aspiring teachers take an entrance exam similar to the bar exam lawyers must take.

A nationwide test that examined not only the teacher’s knowledge on certain subjects but also their level of caring, competence and confidence would go a long way in separating the good teachers from the not so good teachers. Holding our teachers to a high standardized level of education, experience and emotional stability is necessary to ensure the future of our nation.

As it is now each state has a different set of criteria a person must meet before they are allowed to teach. Every state requires at least a bachelor’s degree and varying amounts of time spent in the classroom. The AFT has in the works a plan to get rid of all those different tests and evaluations and to replace them with one standardized teaching bar exam/requirements.

Is this a good idea? In many ways it is. President of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, has outlined three basic provisions of such a program. First, all parties would have to agree on the standards. This part may be difficult to coordinate as there are several current standards they must sift through and determine which are useful and which are a waste of time.

Secondly, all teachers would take the same assessments. Currently some teachers attain certification through traditional means by completing an accredited teacher education program. Others earn their certification through alternative means, usually a potpourri of course and fieldwork.  

The last provision of the exam is that the teachers and teacher educators would govern it. This is the most important change in the system that the exam provides. Weingarten argues that for too long too much of the education business has been controlled by testing companies instead of what the profession thinks is important. Medicine, law and engineering are all regulated by the profession so why not teaching?

The understanding is no one knows better than a teacher what makes a good teacher. Opponents to this exam claim that tests are not sure fire ways to determine the effectiveness of a teacher and this is true.

However, these critics are not taking into account that teachers will create this proposed exam for other teachers. When constructing the exam, and the its supporting requirements, they will know what specific traits to look for and what environments to train the future teachers in to make them as effective as possible.  

There is fear that creating too many hoops for hopefuls to jump through (especially considering the low financially return) will deter potential teachers. Yes, some college students will look at the list of requirements and opt for a career in business or medicine instead. I myself have given great thought to whether or not I’d like to make coupon clipping a serious part of my future.

As inconvenient as they may be, these hoops are necessary. Weingarten points out that the countries that out compete the U.S prepare their teachers like the U.S prepares its doctors. There should be no disgruntlement at the thought of making sure our teachers are as prepared as our doctors. Of course it would help if teachers were paid like doctors but that is another discussion.

A dangerous rebuttal to the above argument is that the U.S is doing just fine in the global market. It has the highest GDP so why is everyone worrying about education, teachers, and test scores?

Well it takes time for the effects of such neglect to become noticeable. There will come a time when the generation of children who did not learn to think critically, explore the sciences or see themselves as global citizens will emerge into the workforce. It will become difficult for the U.S to continue to compete with countries whose workforce is filled with sharp and skilled young people.

We need good teachers. Instead of punishing teachers who don’t perform well creating a universal system that gives teachers all the tools they need to help their students succeed is the right way to go. This proposed bar exam is a good starting point. There should be a high standard. We cannot afford anything else. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Interns Teaching Special Ed and English Language Learners

Recently the California Credentialing Panel has placed stricter controls on teaching interns. 
Before the panel made this adjustment young Teach for America interns had been allowed to teach students with learning disabilities and whose first language was not English after just five weeks of training. The panel will continue to allow the to teach these students but only under "only under stricter state controls over their training and supervision".  
This issue drew attention because it brought into question the rights of students with learning disabilities, English language learners and students from economically disadvantaged background as these are the student who routinely receive instruction from novice Teach for America interns. Currently LAUSD employs 199 interns, 75% of whom work with special education students. Are these students not also entitled to the best teachers the district has to offer? 
At a hearing in Sacramento parents, teachers unions and civil rights organizations alike all protested the use of poorly trained interns to teach disadvantaged students. They claim that the disproportionate use of these teachers in low income areas is a blight violation of the children's right to equal education. 
Of course several people spoke on behalf of Teach for America and the negative effect stricter controls would have on the number of applicants to the program. But is that what they should really be worried about? They shouldn't be worried about whether or not the program is difficult to get into because it is not able applicant. It is about the students and how these teachers can best educate them. 
Not surprisingly, the LA reform crew (John Deasy, Mayor Villaraigosa, and charter operators) opposed any change to the current intern teaching credentials. They argued that it would create "needless burdens". Because ensuring quality for needy students is a burden. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Technology in the Classroom

In the search for more effective teaching methods a new technique called The Blended Learning Model (BLM) seems to be showing great promise in LA schools.

In 2008 Mayor Villaraigosa created a partnership between 22 impoverished and failing schools in LAUSD and the City of Los Angeles.  This partnership, called The Partnership for LA Schools, strives to be an example for other failing LAUSD schools on how to achieve success. It is one of the largest turnaround projects in the nation.

The Partnership accredits its success to the BLM. This model redesigns the traditional classroom structure of one teacher to up to 30 students and shrinks that ratio to 16:1 or better. It accomplishes such low ratios by incorporating computer lessons into the curriculum. The students spend a portion of class time working on individualized lessons online and a portion of their time face to face with a teacher. The Partnership’s BLM focuses its students on STEM (Science, technology, engineering and Math) education.

Each individual school in The Partnership has management and budgetary independence as granted by the agreement with the LAUSD. Its action plan to fix the failing schools is to address instructional, cultural and policy issues like teacher effectiveness, targeted student intervention and family and community engagement.

Providing hardware and software for its 16,000 students is not a cheap task. The partnership has received $200,000 fromDirecTV to fund their new online math programs and incentive program.  As a part of this incentive program teachers and parents may also earn rewards if their student performs well. Students that perform well may earn iPad Minis and DirecTV service for a year.

Other schools in LA and state wide are also starting to implement more technology into their classroom routine especially after the state gave out $212 million in technology vouchers to LA public schools in 2004. The funds stem from the unclaimed portion of an $1.1 billion antitrust settlement with Microsoft. The state allocated more funds to schools that served more impoverished neighborhoods. The downside to these vouchers is school must pay for the technology first with their own funds and then apply for reimbursements. Many schools may not have the money upfront to purchase the hardware and software necessary to create their own BLM.

The time to use the vouchers is running out. One set expires in April and the rest in September.  $66 million remained unused including more than $10 million for LAUSD. Unfortunately schools that do not have the money upfront may never be able to redeem their vouchers. They may not be able to implement a BLM for a while yet.

One elementary charter school that has been able to implement the BLM is KIPP’s Empower Academy. Similarly to how The Partnership schools run their BLM this school rotates students between face to face instruction and time on the computers right there in their classroom.  Depending on the subject the class may be split in half between a teacher and the computers or between two teachers and the computers.  This allows the teachers to keep a steady 14:1 student to teacher ratio. 

KEA is unique in that each child receives individualized instruction on the computer. If they are doing well they can continue at a fast pace but if they are not understanding the material the program continues with the same material. Their system is also helpful in that it collects and reports data to teachers about what specific concepts a student is struggling with. This is beneficial to the student because in a large class setting a teacher may not be able to pick up on a student’s weakness right away. 

Another school that has taken on the BLM is Alliance Tennenbaum Family Technology High School with success is. This school is part of a charter management organization called Alliance College Ready Public Schools. Their system is unique in that they have added a third component to their rotation. Not only do students work face to face with a teacher and spend time with the computer but they also are able spend a portion of their class time working with their peers.  

Some, like managing editor at Education Sector Susan Headdean, consider schools that implement the BLM as risk takers because the effectiveness of the BLM has little research behind it. She also says that, “For technology to make a difference in student learning, it must be integral to instruction, and it must come with humans attached.”

In 2010 one research review found that students that completed part or all of their classes online did better on average than their peers who did not. However the review proposed that a mix of face to face and online instruction was better than either one alone. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

How States Can Get Their Funding Right This Time Around

For decades school reform tactics have failed to bring about the change desired by conservatives and liberals alike.  It seems to be an issue that both sides are equally clueless about. Now that Obama has re-announced his Zero toFive plan, primarily to increase funding to early childhood education efforts, it is very important that both sides take a good look at past programs and realize that their successes stemmed from their commitment to building strong families and communities.  States should take advantage of the increased funding by recreating the preschool into a center for families to gain access to services that reduce the effects of poverty on a child’s academic success.

Obama plan will allocate $10 billion year to early childhood education efforts and also will require states to match federal contribution.  This plan gives states the power to decide where and how they will spend the money. Incorporating service centers into preschools is by far the best way to go. Many families that live at or below the poverty line have a difficult time accessing programs such as WIC, Medicaid, children’s health insurance, housing assistance, family counseling and unemployment insurance.

What is stopping families from getting the assistance they need? Reliance on public transportation makes it nearly impossible for families to make it to assistance office buildings during regular office hours or around their strict work schedules. Misinformation about eligibility and purpose of the services stops many families from even applying. Long application processes leave a lot of room for confusion as to the proper steps involved in filing paper work. The stigma associated with applying for welfare also discourages many parents from walking into the office buildings in the first place.

Situating all these services in the child’s preschool would motivate parents to seek out the appropriate benefits for their child. There would be no issue getting to the offices because they are located where the parents regularly drop off and pick up their child. The teachers and staff members that work with the child and his or her family daily would be able to identify what the exact needs of the family are, prepare an individualized plan for them, and direct them to the proper office.

Any well-meaning program like this could fail due to under staffing and inadequate staff training. States should aim to keep these offices running smoothly by maintaining a high level of employee qualification. Employees should have a strong command of English as well as whichever language is dominant in the area. The staff members should receive extensive training on the use of an operating system that links all the offices and programs together so that a single family may easily traverse multiple programs at once.

Other important services states should include directly inside the preschool facilities are health and nutritional services on site for the child. Studies show that children in lower income families often times have illness that go untreated for quite some time such as ear and respiratory infections, asthma, and malnutrition (Jensen). These children have a hard time concentrating on school when they are sick and possibly in pain. The teachers should receive the proper training to be able to recognize the signs of such illness. Once they recognize the symptoms onsite medical facilities should provide the proper treatment for these children.    

A year ago I worked for AmeriCorps Jumpstart for Young Children in one of USC’s partner preschools.  Although it was a small school right across the street there was a trailer set up as a mini doctor’s office.  If a child was having breathing difficulties due to pneumonia or asthma a teacher could take them across the street to receive a nebulizer treatment. The school also invited dental students to speak to the children and parents about dental hygiene. They provided the families with free dental examines and supplies.  The parents were very grateful to receive such services in an environment they felt comfortable in.

The preschool should be a place where children and their families feel free to learn and grow. For young parents especially it is important to be a part of a caring community. By situating financial, medial, and social services in the preschool states will create the much needed community setting and help stabilize the family unit. Once the family stabilizes parent involvement increases and this is what increases a child’s success in the classroom. The positive skills they learn as a family from the preschool center will follow the child throughout their school days and well into their adulthood. This is an effort that states should be proud and willing to fund.

Jensen, Eric. "How Poverty Affects Behavior and Academic Performance." Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do about It.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Small Win for the Big Budget Reformists This Election

On March 5th the voters of Los Angles spoke and they said they wanted to keep Steve Zimmer despite the enormous effort from the big budget reformists (The Coalition for School Reform and co.) to oust him. Zimmer managed to win district 4 with 52% of the votes against Kate Anderson, the coalition’s main interest this election. Their other candidate, Monica Garcia of district 2, won with 56% of the votes. While they would have liked Antonio Sanchez to win in district 6 he will participate in a runoff come May 21 to determine his position on the board.  

For all the hoopla and attention surrounding this election nothing major actually changed. The gridlock against the two sides (Coalition vs. UTLA) may just have to continue over the next four years.

It is no surprise that Garcia was able to win in her district. She has been board president for two terms and is quite popular with the people. Although the UTLA has voiced dissatisfaction with Garcia their president Warren Fletcher stated, “We’vehad definite differences with Monica Garcia’s vision for LAUSD. But… we have,despite not seeing eye to eye, worked with her on several issues. We’re readyto work with her for the next four years.”

The big battle took place in district 4 where Zimmer held his ground against the Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of LAUSD superintendent John Deasy, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and other big names that support punitive accountability using test scores and the Charter movement such as NYC Mayor Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee. They have deep pockets and a financial stake in the Charter movement’s success. LAUSD is the second largest district in the country and therefore an essential part of their agenda. They spent more than $4 million on their three candidates this election. They spent $1 million alone on Garcia while the runner up raised a mere $20,000. The bulk of their money went towards supporting Anderson because they wanted Zimmer gone at all costs.

The Coalition took issue with Zimmer once it became clear that they could not control him. As an independent Zimmer had openly questioned the lack of oversight of charter schools which obviously threaten the Coalition. Of the seven board members about three already had intentions to get rid of Deasy. Zimmer was a wildcard. He could possibly provide the last vote to fire Deasy when the time came which would jeopardize the bulk of the Coalition’s influence over LAUSD. Zimmer had to go. In his place they offered up Kate Anderson the former congressional staffer and corporate lawyer and mother of twins.

At the end of the day their money could not save them. In fact it may have been their money that cost them the election. Vice president of the UTLA, Gregg Solkovits, postulated that, ““People don’t like it when out-of-state billionaires decide they can interfere with races when it’s a local issue.” TheCoalition received $1 million from Mayor Bloomberg, $340,000 from the California Charter Schools Assn., $250,000 from an organization led by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and $250,000 from a New York-based subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. It’s possible that voters were upset that people with no children in the schools and no ties to the community were fighting hard to make decisions in it.

Zimmer on the other hand was a man of the people from the beginning. He started out in the grassroots and people remember that. Zimmer displayed his true desire to help the children of LAUSD. He strongly supports the arts and the pursuit of an innovate curriculum. His personal connection to the community which he serves is the main reason he was able to win his district.

During the campaign there was much mudslinging from both the coalition and the UTLA. Although Zimmer has never stated outright his desire to see Deasy go some now believe he has a reason to. Zimmer announced that he will continue to cooperate with Deasy for the benefit of the children. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

John Deasy to Speak at USC

Tomorrow evening USC will host a panel discussion featuring John Legend (Grammy award-winning artist and philanthropist), John Deasy (superintendent of LAUSD), Ana Ponce (CEO of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy) and Hrag Hamalian (Founder and Head of Valor Academy).  March is national education month and tomorrow Deasy, Ponce and Hamalian plan to discuss ways in which USC students can help reduce the achievement gaps in LA and the current state of LA’s school district. 

But is John Deasy really the best person to deal out information on effective education reform? 

Deasy has been a strong force in education reform since the issue regained popularity. He has earned the support of Mayor Villaraigosa, NYC Mayor Bloomberg, and the endorsement of the five top mayoral candidates in LA (the big budget team)His big push for teacher accountability via testing data has made him a big enemy to the teacher’s union and a hero to other reformists. 

Deasy’s track record so far is not pretty. From an allegedly fake Ph.D to accusations of title I, II, III funds theft to his suspicious involvement with big corporations that run Charter schools such as the Gate’s and Board Foundations it appears that Deasy took on the role of superintendent with his own agenda in mind. His is an agenda that seeks to maximize profits by selling off public schools to private corporations (Charters). These Charters have access to federal funds but are subject to much less scrutiny as to how they handle that money. This means that while they may collect money for let’s say special needs students if they do not have any special needs students (and they more often than not do not accept these students) that money could go right into the board’s pocket. There is no oversight when it comes to Charterfunds. With this in mind it makes sense that Deasy would support such institutions. Many of these companies fund Deasy’s agenda. They support him financially and in return he dismantles poor inner city schools giving the companies access to more students.  

NCLB and other standardized test regimes gave Deasy the ammunition he needs to take out teachers and entire schools. From the beginning he made it clear that he was fueled by standardized test data and clung tightly to the belief that data should drive instruction.  He refused to spend time and money on programs that did not directly affect test scores. As a result, many children said goodbye to recess. He has gotten rid of early childhood programs, adult education, and cut art and music programs in hundreds of schools. His next goal was to get rid of ineffective teachers relying solely on test scores. However, test scores alone are not very reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness. Regardless, since his term Deasy has sent out well over 9,000 layoff notices to LA school facility members.

Those that remain are forced to adhere to the “teach to the test” method.  While this method may reflect well on the tests it severely limits the amount of knowledge a child actually absorbs. It restricts critical and creative thinking and instead focuses on teaching kids to fill in the bubble the test wants them to. This method in the long run may cause more harm than good because it is producing a generation of children that are not able to think outside the box, or in this case bubble. 

Recently his attempt to seek No Child Left Behind waivers and create a new data-based accountability system for his district and nine others did not succeed because the resistance to evaluate teachers based on test scores has started to push back.   Union members also look unfavorably towards Deasy because of his mass closing and breaking up of high schools.
It will be interesting to see what kind of policy changes Deasy speaks about at USC especially in regards to school closings. In all likelihood Deasy will remain the superintendent after the upcoming elections. Similar to what has and is happening in New York City the effects of Deasy’s reform tactics may fully emerge once extensive damage has been done.