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

Do Androids Dream of Computer-Graded Essay Tests?

In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, “When the Circus Descends,” David Brooks derided opponents of Common Core Standards, implying that they were clownish ideologues on the far left and far right making “hysterical claims and fevered accusations.” But as I visit classrooms across the city talking to teachers about the Common Core, I don’t hear any hysterical claims or fevered accusations. I do hear one deep concern:

That the test will be a disaster.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t talked to anybody—anybody!—who objects to the actual Common Cores Standards. The Standards are incredibly general; basically, they value the processes of analytical reasoning, reading, writing, speaking and listening. Teachers I’ve talked to are excited about pushing their students to read  thoughtfully and support their claims with evidence.  In other words, the Standards are like the education version of Peace, Love and Understanding. Who could possibly object?

The problem is that we are about to test the standards—and people do not like the tests. Continue reading Do Androids Dream of Computer-Graded Essay Tests?

Spellbound

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a really terrific teacher in a high-poverty community give a lesson that, if rated on a “College-Ready Promise” evaluation rubric, would have scored about a 1.5 out of 4. Faced with classroom of 35 students, most of them reading and writing below grade level, here’s what this energetic, enthusiastic teacher did not do:

1)   Write a measurable objective on the board and reiterate it frequently

2)   Check frequently among her students to give her a verbal or visual sign to let her know they understood what they were saying

3)   “Chunk” her lesson into short, digestible 10-minute intervals

4)   Have students “pair-share” (answer every question in partners before calling on the class in general) to make sure they all participated

5)   Call unpredictably on random students to keep everyone on their toes

6)   Insist on a response from reluctant students

7)   Demand that students who had gotten an answer wrong go back and give her the correct answer

8)   Use a powerpoint to visually reinforce what she was teaching

9)   Stop intermittently for group work practice of the day’s learning objective

10) Collect an “exit slip” at the end of class so that she could gather data about whether the students had mastered the objective.

That’s right. She did none of those things. Here’s what she did do: Continue reading Spellbound

The Learning Doesn’t Stop When You Leave the Classroom

This post is one of an occasional series profiling Los Angeles high school students across the socioeconomic spectrum.  For other student stories, click here, here, here and here.

“I chose this school because I love to read and write,” says Isabel, 16, a student in Jennifer Macon’s class at Cleveland Humanities Magnet. Self-described as “having an interesting race,” Isabel comes from a family that’s a blend of Korean, Cuban and white, with highly-educated professional parents who, she recalls, read to her throughout her childhood. “My mom is really, really into education,” she says. “My parents have very strong opinions. My dad tends to rant about politics. I feel like their unabashed interested in politics and in discussing things, that’s what definitely sparked my twin interests in politics and social justice.” Continue reading The Learning Doesn’t Stop When You Leave the Classroom

Low Tech Low

The future is here and I’m putting on my sunglasses. I’m in San Diego on my own little field trip of one, squinting into the glare and fighting amazement.

I really wanted to hate High Tech High, the famous charter system with eleven schools in San Diego.   Their reputation annoyed me when I saw it cited in books by academics about how their project-based model would give students the 21st century learning skills they needed. I’d think: yeah, wax on, tell it to TED. Right? So what if they, according to their website, used “design principles of personalization, adult world connection, common intellectual mission, and teacher as designer.” What did that even mean? Continue reading Low Tech Low

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