If You Only Had Three Minutes To Tell Your Life Story, What Would You Say?

On the 22nd of every month, Larisa’s family gathers in a park under the tree where her brother was shot and killed.  There, a bow tied around the cedar’s trunk commemorates his death, along with flowers in vases, some of them battery-operated.  For Larisa, this place feels more like home than anywhere else in the world.  It’s the place she goes “to renew strength,” the place where her family once again feels whole.

Dennis’ class at Venice High reads Larisa’s story silently, then a second time with students volunteering to read passages out loud.  Other than the readers, the only sound in the room is the rain pattering against the windows.  Continue reading If You Only Had Three Minutes To Tell Your Life Story, What Would You Say?

Building an Ecosystem

“I think at a certain point we have to be honest,” says Valerie Braimah.  She’s  currently the Executive Director of City Charter Schools, but that’s not why I’m dying to talk to her.   I’m dying to talk to her because a couple of years ago she was the Vice President of Instruction at the Alliance for College Ready Public schools, the largest non-profit charter system in Los Angeles.  There, she headed up the implementation of a large-scale teacher evaluation program called The College-Ready Promise, or TCRP, funded by the Gates Foundation and rolled out over the course of several years at four charter systems: the Alliance, Aspire, PUC and Green Dot, where I taught.

The evaluation model Valerie helped develop and implement was very similar to the one in which I participated during my last two years of teaching.  To say that I am obsessed with TCRP evaluations would be an understatement. Continue reading Building an Ecosystem

Please Stop Saying Technology is the New Civil Rights Movement

People line up to speak, mostly women of color.  A Latina mother with a little girl clinging to her leg tells the crowd she volunteers at her kids’ school thirty hours a week and asks other parents to pitch in because help is desperately needed.  An African-American custodian asks for the funds to restore jobs so she can keep her school clean.

A thin white woman in cargo pants comes to the microphone, voice trembling with anger.  “You said this was a meeting to hear our input on the budget.  And then you put up a slide that showed that most of the money has already been allocated.  This year before you even asked us you’re adding twenty million dollars to put more police at schools.  Who decided that what our children needed was more police?” Continue reading Please Stop Saying Technology is the New Civil Rights Movement

At the Core of the Core

“My dad’s only now achieving his American dream,” says a girl with long blonde hair.  “He wants pursue his creative interests but he’s only just now getting to do that in his late 40’s.”

“Can you expand on that?” asks a hip-looking guy with his hair in a bun on top of his head.

“”Before, he was preoccupied with rising in the economic hierarchy,” she tells him.

Believe it or not, the above is a verbatim transcript of actual Los Angeles teenagers talking to each other in Jennifer Macon’s class at Cleveland Humanities Magnet. Continue reading At the Core of the Core

Pardon Our Dust

The National Council on Teacher Quality recently did a study that rated teacher preparation programs using a four-star system; only four out of 1,200 Ed progams earned four stars, with 163 earning less than one star, causing them to be marked with a “warning” symbol because applicants “are unlikely to obtain much return on their investment.”  Continue reading Pardon Our Dust

Crossing the Trust Line

Eureka!  I’m sitting in Laura Press’ 11th Grade AP Language class watching 44 kids dutifully spend 15 completely silent minutes taking the hardest vocabulary quiz I’ve ever seen.  Seriously.  Anyone into zeugma?  How about litote?  Chismus, anyone? Continue reading Crossing the Trust Line

Every Kid Needs to Be Heard

“It’s whack-a-mole,” says Laura Press, moments before she leads me to another realization about teaching.  We’re sitting in her empty classroom at Hamilton High School at the end of a long school day.  Her phone keeps pinging because a parent will soon be arriving to demand an explanation for why her son failed a test even though he was not present to take it because he was at the dentist.  When Laura suggested that the student schedule his dental appointments for after school, the mom fired off an email, got in her car and set her GPS for Hamilton. Continue reading Every Kid Needs to Be Heard

I Thank My Students Every Day

My head is swimming with data.  I’m trying to block from my mind the email I just received from a friend telling me that California ranks dead last in student/teacher ratios, with more students per classroom than anywhere else in the country.  Instead, I talk to Barbara, a lively woman with a warm smile who’s taught English for the last ten years at a neighborhood public high school in South Central Los Angeles.  Before that, she spent a decade at a variety of public schools in low-income neighborhoods.  (Fearing repercussions from administration, she asked that I not use her full name or the name of her school.) Continue reading I Thank My Students Every Day

When You Preach To The Choir, Your Back Is To The Rest Of Us

I’ve never been to a revival meeting, but if I had, I suspect it would feel a lot like Diane Ravitch’s speech at Occidental. “Diane has given us hope,” says L.A. School Board member Steve Zimmer, who introduces her.  “She has given us strength.  She has given us” (waving book) “our instructions!”  Nobody yells “Praise the Lord,” but many times the enthusiastic, mainly white, mainly fortysomething crowd calls back murmurs of oh yeah and uh huh and that’s right.  The central metaphors could have been pulled from Joseph Campbell: Diane is a “fighter,” a “leader,” a “sage.”  There are “forces aligned against us,” forces that are “disgusting” and “immoral.” Continue reading When You Preach To The Choir, Your Back Is To The Rest Of Us

I Don’t Think We Can Make Progress If We Don’t Listen

 I’m going to see a megastar tonight–as long as Matt Damon gets out of the way.  Look, I’m not knocking the guy.  He’s talented, super-hot and admirably willing to play marginally sympathetic, intellectual, uptight oddballs. Plus, I’m gonna be honest: I cried a little when I saw the viral video where he defended teachers because his mom has spent her professional life in the classroom.  His tireless advocacy of teachers is really inspiring to me.  That said, tonight I really hope he doesn’t block my view of Diane Ravitch.

Continue reading I Don’t Think We Can Make Progress If We Don’t Listen