There Are No Miracle Schools. But There Are Some Really Good Ones.

Over this year, as I tell people about my project visiting schools across Los Angeles to try to understand education in real time, they often ask me if I could sum up what I’ve learned in a headline or two. What do I take away? What’s really surprised me?

Here’s what I find myself saying over and over: “There are no miracle schools.” All those books I bought with titles like “Schools That Succeed” and “Education That Makes A Difference”? Forget about it. The authors either have an agenda to promote a particular form of education or they haven’t spent enough time in a school to notice the cracks in the surface. Continue reading There Are No Miracle Schools. But There Are Some Really Good Ones.

When Reform Addresses Poverty, Not Just Schools

I am out of town for a week for my son’s college graduation!  I’ll begin posting again when I return on May 27.

So I’ve been running around town for the last six years yelling “the problem isn’t bad teachers, the problem is poverty” and finally somebody did something about it. Okay, it wasn’t just because I was yelling. In the factionalized world of education, most people outside of the Ed Reform camp hold the same view: that the underlying factor causing students of color in low-income communities to fare less well than more affluent students is the trauma caused by poverty and lack of resources, which often leads to overcrowded living situations, parents in crisis, transient families, violence in the community, lack of access to medical care and sometimes lack of food, and until we improve those conditions, the achievement gap will not change (as indeed it has not despite over a decade of Education Reform and several decades of other various education crazes.) Continue reading When Reform Addresses Poverty, Not Just Schools

Lawyers Run the Legal Profession. Doctors Run the Medical Profession. Why Don’t Teachers Run Education?

I’m fed up with the inefficiency of the judicial system! I’m going to become a judge. I may not be a lawyer, but I’ve been a law-abiding citizen all my life, I mean, how hard could it be? I have 20 years of business experience in the TV industry. When I blow into the courtroom demanding accountability, I am going to shake things up! Who needs legal experience when you understand the bottom line?

Wait—no. I’m going to be Surgeon General. Sure, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen a million of them!  You should have seen the pair of “specialists” who nearly killed my grandma. It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and set some standards. Patients first, dammit!

No, you know what? I think I’m going to be a Rear Admiral in the Navy. I grew up right near Lake Michigan, a large body of water, and with my business experience…

Okay, all of these ideas are preposterous. Common sense and business savvy are no substitute for a lifetime of training and expertise. Continue reading Lawyers Run the Legal Profession. Doctors Run the Medical Profession. Why Don’t Teachers Run Education?

What’s Lost When Literature Vanishes?

Carlos Gordillo is ditching the non-fiction experiment and bringing on “The Tempest.” Earlier this year, when I spoke to Carlos, he was cautiously excited about the Common Core’s emphasis on non-fiction texts. As an experiment, he dumped his second semester literature unit for his seniors and replaced it with a series of short units that emphasized the kind of practical, real-world reading and analysis that would be more relevant, more useful in the workplace and more likely to build the reading skills students will need in non-literature college classes like social sciences or STEM courses—really almost anything they’re likely to study other than English.

When I visited him in January, students had picked from a list of high-interest topics like the relationship of video games to violence, parenting styles and their effect on children, Latinas and welfare, and the relationship between lack of education and incarceration. Once they picked a topic, they read scholarly articles on the subject, decoded data, interpreted charts, did independent research, discussed their conclusions and wrote papers. The kids loved it. One student with an older sister in college said he felt more prepared now for the work he saw her doing every day.

But for Carlos, the experiment came at a high price. Continue reading What’s Lost When Literature Vanishes?

Every Student is Somebody’s Child

After seven years of bouncing around the LAUSD, first at a middle school, then starting a pilot school, then in administration, Nicki Tiberio came home—to Theodore Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights, where she herself attended high school. She’s been here three years now and like her colleague Gene Dean, she doesn’t hold back in expressing her opinions.

Growing up in Boyle Heights, she always knew she wanted to be in education. Her mother works in Special Ed with adults. “It gave me an understanding that everyone deserves to work at their level,” Nicki tells me as we sit in the shade of one of the school’s enormous courtyard, Nicki continually answering frantic texts from teachers asking for help in administering the Common Core practice tests (“I can’t say that all of my colleagues are tech-savvy,” she says, philosophical. “There’s no way to prepare for this new assessment other than to practice resilience through patience. A lot of my colleagues aren’t ready for this.”) Continue reading Every Student is Somebody’s Child

The Elephant In the Room Is The Kids’ Low Reading Levels

Gene Dean is keeping it real. An English teacher at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights for the last nine years, he doesn’t toe anybody’s party line. “What are the stories mainstream media tells about us here in Boyle Heights?” he asks his students at the beginning of their final unit. “What do these stories focus on?” Continue reading The Elephant In the Room Is The Kids’ Low Reading Levels