This morning I had the opportunity to attend a Grand Rounds lecture at Jefferson University, something usually only attended by the speaker and those in the medical community therein, and it was great. It was more than just a learning experience for me (as it was for everyone around me) - it allowed me another peak into the life of someone I hold very dear: my mother.
As a Clinical Geneticist (and now Professor), my mother, Dr. Adele Schneider
, has been giving lectures for many years. I remember sitting in her room chatting with her while she prepared lecture slides (back then they were the non-computer type) for the next day. During those conversations I would learn of her curiosities, investments in her own education, and plan to prepare others. After finishing these slides she would often take a "break" for a bit of cereal while reading a medical journal (often from the American College of Medical Genetics
My point in bringing this up is that what happened in my home has influenced me not only to take my own education seriously, but to dive into it with a passion unmatched by many people across the country. I read numerous blogs, journals, and publications about education and use new research to improve my skills in the classroom. I attend lectures, classes, and workshops (like the one mentioned in my previous post) so that I am ready to put my best face forward. A lot of that came from my parents (yes, my Dad reads journals, too) modeling that for me as I was growing up.
Yesterday, Marc Vetri (head chef of Vetri, Osteria and more restaurants) wrote an article in the Huffington Pos
t arguing the need to change how meals are provided at schools across the country. He referenced the "family dinner" as a low-key way of improving self-esteem of children so that they can achieve their potential. As a benefactor of this nightly ritual I can definitely get on board with it.
The message I am writing is clear (and I have written it before): what happens when a child leaves school is critical for their development. If their parents are not home for a nightly check-in, they will not be as willing to share with others. If parents or guardians are not around to model positively, they won't mimic those behaviors. Home influence can help make or break the education system and we need to talk about how to help parents and guardians or we are doomed to repeat mistakes generation after generation.
For the past two days I have had the honor and pleasure of attending the inaugural summer workshop of the Philadelphia Area Math Teachers' Circle
, a group that "provides opportunities for professional mathematicians and middle-grades math teachers to engage in collaborative and creative mathematical problem-solving." While this group is in its nascent stages I can easily say it will be a strong force of support for any math teachers who want to improve their craft.
For any of you reading this who might be thinking, "oh great, he's writing about math - I'm done," I urge you to keep reading this blog post. One of the major things emphasized at this workshop was the idea of persistence in learning new problem-solving strategies by analyzing the simplest of situations. Only later did the complexity increase.
For example, our very first activity involved counting pennies. That's it. It went something like this:Say you have 20 pennies on a table. You and a friend are playing a game where you can remove 1, 2, or 3 pennies at a time. Determine a strategy to ensure you (or your friend) will always win.
It might seem fairly simple now (or not, depending on your starting knowledge) but it can grow in complexity to include the idea of removing only 1 or 3 pennies. Or maybe you have pennies and
dimes and you can remove one penny, one dime, or one of both. You see where I'm going with this? (If you want more games to play with counting, check out this link
My point is a simple one: workshops like this matter to math teachers (and probably to other content areas as well). According to some recent research
, the concept of Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching is growing in importance and should be considered crucial to developing strong math teachers. While I do not profess to be an expert on this subject, I would probably agree: I feel much more enthused to teach math with more useful tools today than I had last week because of this workshop.
I only hope other people take this kind of thing seriously. If you want to join us, there will be more meetings this fall. The next one is September 18. Come have fun!
Omarina Cabrera on her way to school.
"My first year here, me and my mom got evicted."
That is the first thing Omarina Cabrera said in a Frontline documentary entitled Middle School Moment
that premiered yesterday on PBS. As a child with a single mother there was little money to support her efforts in school and she became one of the numerous students across the country to struggle in her education. Luckily she was one of the few who was helped by the system her school put in place: a group of teachers and counselors who were able to craft plans to support these struggling students. But, there is an important caveat: with reduced funding, this won't be enough without help from other adults outside the school.
Percentage of married parents
A recent article in the New York Times
pointed out yet another issue plaguing parents/guardians and their children: lack of both parents. As the number of single mothers has increased over the past 30 years, the income for those families has decreased and their children have suffered because of it.
Children in wealthier families are able to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities that enrich and support their learning; children in more poverty-like situations do not have the money for those activities and the adults in their lives lack the time for it as well.
Why am I sharing these two recent examples of poverty's effects on students across the country? Mainly because the administration of the United States does not seem to pay enough attention to it. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post write a great piece yesterday
regarding poverty's effects in education and how the government is ignoring what it should be doing. She pointed out a quote from Stanford Professor of Education Linda Darling-Hammond in saying:Poverty rates make a huge difference in student achievement. Few people are aware, for example, that in 2009 U.S. schools with fewer than 10 percent of student in poverty ranked first among all nations on the Programme for International Achievement tests in reading, while those serving more than 75 percent of students in poverty scored alongside nations like Serbia, ranking about fiftieth.
So why then are President Obama and Secretary of Education faltering? Because of their blatant push for unachievable standards and lack of research-based knowledge in their proposals. Just today the Obama administration announced a core effort to provide payment bonuses for teachers who are willing to share their knowledge. While this sounds like a great idea in thought, it goes against what teachers say they want! In my previous post
, I shared a graph from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report entitled Primary Sources in which merit-pay was the last item on the list.
I appreciate the energy they are obviously putting into these ideas but they need to put in more thought before getting them off the ground. If we are to use education as a way of getting control of the cycle of poverty, we need to focus on supporting the effort every step of the way: before, during, and after school hours, with parents and community members participating, with support from social workers and non-profits across the country. Only then will we truly be able to say we are the "land of the free."
When talking to my colleagues about issues related to teaching I inevitably stumble across a large number of them who are fed up, frantic, stressed, and/or overwhelmed. Just yesterday I met a teacher from a New York City charter school who said she was thinking of leaving the profession after her first year of teaching. I do not mean to single out charter schools by any means as I know my own stress level will increase next year: my school has been rated as "high performing," meaning we will get an influx of new students, more than our building can likely handle. Oftentimes, however, the teacher voice is left out of the conversation when it comes to improving schools and learning outcomes for children.
It is for this reason that I am happy for one aspect of what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done in the realm of education. In 2009, 2011, and 2012, they have released a report called Primary Sources
that surveys teachers from across the country to get their perspective on the profession. This document illuminates a number of factors that teachers feel would keep us where we are.
A simple analysis of the graph shown here points out a few things:
• Even though Joel Klein, former Chancellor of NYC schools, supported merit pay as a method of teacher retention
, we don't really care about it.
• We want more autonomy (and less proscriptive methodology).
• We need access to each other to form personal learning networks
• We need help from outside the classroom (counselors, parents, and administrators) to make sure we can do the best job possible.
Teaching is tough - and the first few years are the roughest. That is one major reason why I get so upset when I read about how programs like Teach For American are able to "prepare" their teachers for classes they are not going to teach.
What I am trying to explore here is the idea that the teaching profession is going through a profound change because of the politics in which we live and work today. If our students are to achieve anything we as a country need to ensure the best for them. I sincerely doubt the "best" is going to be pushing our new teachers beyond their limit so that attrition rates skyrocket. Perhaps the solution is in something like the RESPECT project coming out of the US Department of Education
Whatever the solution is, I just hope those in charge are able to listen and take heed of those being directly affected by policy change: our students. For whatever happens to us teachers, you can damn well be certain it is going to affect them.
Jeremy Nowak seems to be hitting his stride as the new president of the William Penn Foundation. As the former president of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF)
, he is used to providing funding for projects of value to the commercial and communal sector. I first learned of him and TRF when I was an undergraduate studying urban development and I thought it was a great thing - now I am concerned that Mr. Nowak is losing some of the community values he purported to have before.This morning's article in the Philadelphia Inquirer
is an example of the plans he is crafting that make me wary. It mentions the fact that the William Penn Foundation was responsible for paying the Boston Consulting Group to create a reorganization plan for the School District of Philadelphia and still has not released the information (although they say they will soon). The focus, however, is on new money being given to the Philadelphia School Partnership that is supposed to support public schools, charter schools, and private schools in the city.
This seems like a good goal but I am always concerned that the money will mostly go to organizations that have time to lobby for it, and not those spread so thin doing their job educating students that they cannot put a grant application together. While I do think it is enticing to have this amount of money offered, I hope its distribution is closely monitored in order to not be used as a political tool. The more I read about Nowak's plans
in the school system the more I worry about politics getting in the way of educating our children.
Yesterday I was very fortunate to have been with a group of graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education as they visited Arise Academy Charter High School
. During an engaging hour and a half conversation I learned more about this school and its philosophy and how (I hope) what it does can transfer back to the traditional public school system.
During the conversation the CEO as well as other members of the leadership and related parties (including students) it became obvious that the philosophy of the school includes teachers as more than just masters of contact; they are the first responders to the individual and unique needs of children. Since their students often come from the foster care system or homelessness, or have been removed from other schools, teachers need to constantly understand and interact with the trauma in their backgrounds.
In their student handbook
it says, "Our culture system is predicated on 'fair isn't always equal...'" (p. 15) - a policy many across the District might not want to repeat, yet is more honest than anything else. Every student has a unique background and needs to be treated based on what is happening in their lives. Teaching the exact same thing to each student in the exact same method is the antithesis of differentiation.
The same concept brought up the name Sandra Bloom and the "Sanctuary Model,"
something Arise Academy is building towards as their focus over the next number of years. By dealing with an individual's trauma instead of ignoring it they have found success in retaining students that would normally leave the system and most likely never return. One major support for this has been their emphasis on counseling as a preferred resource. The CEO said their student-to-counselor ratio was something like 1:26. This ratio is unheard of in the regular public school system (where they might be lucky with 1:200) and should be changed.
Overall it was a very intriguing conversation and I was happy to take part in it to learn how to promote the idea that Maslow's hierarchy of needs has a lot of legitimacy and we need to take student's home lives into account when educating them. I was also happy to see that this charter school could be a model to follow in the School District. I just hope people in administration are paying attention.