Tag Archives: Common Core

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?

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

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

Good-bye, Tests! Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out!

Sayonara, test score mania!  Well, for two years, anyway.  The state of California has just suspended the calculation of API scores until 2016—an index of performance based on multiple choice state tests in every subject for every grade–in order to give schools time to gear up for the Common Core tests that are still under construction.  As far as I’m concerned, that suspension is cause for celebration.  I know, I know, all over the state, people are freaking out because they believe this suspension of scores will leave schools in low-income communities free to go down the toilet for two full years while corrupt administrators and bad teachers merrily cash paychecks, accountable to no one.  Here’s why I think that logic is wrong—and why I believe this temporary suspension is a great opportunity to create a better system.

First of all, over a decade of API scores doesn’t seem to have done much to stop corrupt administrators and bad teachers.  The schools that were terrible before we started testing are still terrible.  Where schools were declared failing and taken over by the Partnership for L.A. Schools or other charter management systems, results have been underwhelming no matter who is in charge.  I have heard not a single story of a miracle takeover, but have heard many stories of schools that are as bad as before.  In any case, test scores are not the best measure of whether these takeovers have been successful; the first measure is safety, followed by attendance and student attrition rates.  Very high teacher turnover rates or large numbers of long-term subs are also serious red flags.  We don’t need test scores to measure dysfunction.  I wish it were that hard.  Continue reading Good-bye, Tests! Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out!

About This Blog

This blog, Gatsby In L.A., is my record of my sabbatical from teaching during the 2013-14 school year, during which I visited high school English classrooms across the socioeconomic spectrum in order to answer two questions:

  1. What’s a great teacher?

2. What do we mean when we say “a good education?”

Before writing this blog, I taught English and electives at a charter high school in South Los Angeles.  I embarked on this journey at my own personal expense.  Along the way, I talked to dozens of teachers, administrators and parents, sat in many, many classrooms, and connected with readers in Los Angeles and beyond.  Several of my posts went viral, picked up by other, larger blogs and shared by teachers on social media.  My most popular post, “Why Do Teachers Obsess that They’re Not Good Enough?” was viewed millions of times.

Even now, two years after I stopped posting, teachers continue to seek out this site, sometimes very late in the night. I don’t have easy answers to anything, but I hope that these posts, and my search here, can provide comfort.

If you are one of those teachers, this blog is dedicated to you, out of respect for your choice to give so much every day when our educational system does not honor, respect or prepare you for the essential work that you do.  Though your work is hard and sometimes isolating, you are not alone.  I hope that this blog can introduce you to other teachers who have also given everything they have to the dream that every child has an equal right to an education, and every teacher deserves to work in professional conditions that honor the young lives in the room.

Thank you for all that you do every day for the next generation.

The Invisible Curriculum

 “So what defines good or bad?” one boy asks.  “Motives or actions?  Everyone’s saying ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but I don’t understand what you really mean.  Are they good because of their actions or because of their motives?”

“Motives,” says a kid across the room.  There are no raised hands; he just jumps in.  “It all comes down to your motives.  I can donate all my money to a charity but if I say I want some attention, some fame, it undermines my good intention.  Your motives define whether you’re a good person.”

“I think that’s where the science experiment failed,” says another boy, indicating a science study the class has just read called “Scientists Probe Human Nature and Find We Are Basically Good.”  They are reading it today while they discuss Candide, the text they’ve been studying for this unit.  “They’re reasoning that it’s a natural thing to do but they don’t really prove what’s motivating the actions.”

“But you never really know what a person’s intention is, you never truly know their motive,” objects a girl in the corner.   “I would base it on their actions.”

I’m in Catherine Stine’s class at Animo Leadership in Lennox and we’re in the first ten minutes of one of the most abstract, intelligently articulated arguments I’ve ever heard in a class discussion.  In a class of 26 students, every person is involved and contributes at least once.  Everyone listens intently.

There is no discussion leader.  Catherine sits at a desk in the back.

I am not making this up. Continue reading The Invisible Curriculum

Technology is Not A Magic Bullet

I’m sold on technology in the classroom.  I really am.  I mean, books, paper and pens are a form of technology–they’re just a comparatively inert and messy form.  I’m not sentimental about physical books.  I’m sure when they came around, some poor slob was sitting in a corner crying because reading would never be the same without handwritten scrolls, and a few centuries before that, when the scrolls came around, some sad schmuck was tearing his hair out and wailing that you’d have to pry his stone tablets out of his cold, dead hands.

But.  I’m not ready to hand the keys over to Apple and Pearson yet.  The fact that new technology is available does not mean we know how to use it.  The really cool thing about most of these netbooks, laptops, tablets and i-readers is that they are adaptive to your needs, and if the software is smart, it’s adaptive, too.

Technology is not static. Continue reading Technology is Not A Magic Bullet

Live at CATE: Are you an Upstander, a Bystander or a Victim?

Biggest takeaway at CATE: pretty much everyone seems in agreement that the Common Core standards, though not perfect, are full of exciting possibilities (as opposed to the Common Core tests, which are almost inevitably paired with the phrase “train wreck.”) Continue reading Live at CATE: Are you an Upstander, a Bystander or a Victim?