The Policy-Produced Achievement Gap

One problem with a system that rewards high performing schools is that the recognition of high performing schools requires the existence of low performing schools. As we struggle with the challenge of improving public education, no matter how much higher the assessment scores, some will still out-perform others reinforcing the achievement gap.

Educators joke “ask a student” for help with technology in the classroom; this is evidence of the growing abilities of our students. As we increase the rigor and ratchet up the expectations, our students are becoming more adapt and able to meet these requirements and excel. Today’s graduation mandates far exceed the requirements when I graduated just 25 years ago. For example, today’s graduates must complete four math courses that start with Algebra I. My high school transcript includes three math courses: Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Algebra II. Currently, Algebra II is generally taken in the sophomore year of high school, while many students actually take it as a freshman.

I observed a middle school science class last year in low performing school, and the students were successfully balancing chemistry equations. I didn’t even see these until I was a junior in high school. And today’s teachers are looking for ways to take these traditional high school lessons to their elementary schools. I was astonished two weeks ago when nearly fifty elementary teachers showed up at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon for a conference presentation I gave on teaching research writing to elementary students.

Districts are looking for an edge, a way to climb to the top of the pack and be recognized for high performance. This has led to many innovative approaches in education, often improving the learning environment. However, I have also observed corruption – no, I haven’t seen any evidence of cheating on the test, but I have seen efforts to take shortcuts – shortcuts that cheat the students that rely on these schools for their future success.

These are some of the ways desperate districts, administrators, and teachers are cheating our students.

-         Spending class time on benchmarks meant to measure student growth, but rarely offer the data needed to improve class instruction.

-         Implementing curriculums that diminish the teacher’s role in the classroom and fails to differentiate for the students’ ability, interests, or diversity.

-         Focusing on test prep activities and burning students out often before they leave elementary school.

Unfortunately, these shortcuts also provide excuses when the students do not perform well. When students are unsuccessful, administrators need scapegoats: teachers didn’t use data to inform instruction or curriculums didn’t meet the guarantees provided by the publishers. Additionally, the schools most likely to cheat their students are the schools
most at-risk, so as high-performing districts implement innovative teaching strategies that provide choices and engagement for the students, some low performing districts struggle to resist what seems like the quickest way to success through these shortcuts.

Many districts resist the temptation to cheat their students in favor of improved classroom pedagogy believing that the assessments will take care of themselves with quality
instruction. These districts have the best chance at closing the achievement gap. Taking shortcuts and cheating students out of a meaningful education can only result in low achievement both in the world beyond the classroom and the mandated assessments.


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Old-school Research

It’s easy to forget how easy research has become in the information age until something doesn’t work. For the last few months ERIC databases has pulled down many of their articles for review. Apparently, there were some old articles that had been posted that included personal information of study participants including in some cases, social security numbers. Half way through this past summer, when I first discovered this, ERIC had all of their articles off-line. Now they are starting to reemerge, though many articles are still unavailable.

So this semester when it was time to do our multi-genre research project, I made sure the students knew that this resource had limited availability. “So can we use Google?” some replied.

Now I know I’m old.

Instead of using books, hard-copy journals, microfiche, and live sources, my students rely on the resources they can access on their computers for all of their research requirements. They didn’t realize that there were physical copies of the current journals in the stacks,
back copies bound by year, and books on shelves using the Library of Congress system that actually places all of the books on the same topic on one shelf where you can browse by theme – I fondly call this “shelf surfing.”

Public libraries, an important pillar of American society, have adapted with the times providing as much technical as literacy support for the communities they serve. However, the university library serves research purposes, so it’s almost like walking into a time capsule that takes me back to my undergraduate years: shelves lined with yellowing texts, the comforting smell of aging paper, and small and quiet cubicles for solitary study.

I sent my students to the library.

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10 Mini Lesson Topics for the New Texas Assessment (STAAR)

At the end of February, I was honored to join sixteen of my English teaching peers to work on the STAAR Writing Performance Standard Setting Committee. It was our job to take the English I, II, and III Writing STAAR assessments, look at the Performance Descriptors and recommend the standards for passing and advanced performance on the writing assessments students will begin taking this month. Currently, I work with pre-service teachers at the university level, but if I were in the classroom, I would definitely want to review a few things before students took this test, so I made a quick list of the 10 topics I would teach a mini-lesson on if I were still in the classroom.

10 Mini Lesson Topics for the New Texas Assessment (STAAR)

  1. Sentence Combining: A strong sentence combining lesson should include not just how to put two simple sentences together to create a compound sentence, though it would be helpful for students to be able to make this combination (See #8). The lesson should also include ways to combine sentences that remove duplicated ideas or provide a more efficient way to state the ideas that are found in two or more sentences.
  2. Transitions: Let’s help our students use transitions to increase the fluid reading of their writing. This should include both sentence-to-sentence transitions and paragraph-to-paragraph transitions.
  3. Thesis Statements/Controlling Ideas: Thanks to our school board’s overtime work on our TEKS, the 9th grade skills include both of these terms, and they are both used on the assessment. Please help your students understand that these terms are synonymous.
    Our students need to be able to not only include a clear thesis statement in their writing (and it doesn’t have to be the last sentence of the first paragraph – just present), but they should be able to recognize a thesis statement in writing and decide if can be improved considering the whole text (note: students should read the entire texts of the editing section of this assessment to answer these types of questions).
  4. Story Structure: Students in 9th grade will be required to write a story. They understand narrative structure from their years of personal narrative writing for the TAKS, but they need to be refreshed on story structure to organize their piece. Remember they have to tell a whole story in just one page. They should know the parameters of their stories before they start. Many picture books are the right length and would make great mentor texts for this mini-lesson.
  5. How to Develop a Character: We often look at characterization in the literature we teach, but for this assessment, the students will need to develop a character in their own story. Help the students make this connection. What works in literature works in our own writing as well. We are all bored by authors that rely on physical description, so we want to encourage characterization through dialogue and actions as well.
  6. Dictionary Use: The TEKS say that our students need to be able to edit using available resources including a dictionary, so the new assessment includes full availability of the dictionaries for the ENTIRE assessment. They can use them to check spelling; yes, there are spelling questions. If there’s a style guide in the dictionary, they can use that as well. Dictionaries are terribly handy and full of information. It would be worth some class time to preview the dictionaries that are provided on assessment day with the students, so they know where to find assistance during the test.
  7. Common Writing Errors: This mini lesson should appear in the editing phase of the writing process and could include a checklist for students in a peer editing setting. Connors and Lunsford created a list of the most common mistakes found in their research with freshmen compositions, and here is a checklist written in student-friendly terms. I would move apostrophes and homophones closer to the top of the list for this assessment.  Also, not on this list but still worth a really quick review is the use of apostrophes with plurals or words that end in s. Students will need to be able to both correct these mistakes in the essays provided and edit their own essays on this assessment.
  8. Punctuation in regards to sentence types (compound, complex, and compound-complex): I’ve always taught this mini lesson with sentence strips. I let the students build their own simple sentences, and then they insert the pieces of punctuation (commas, semi-colons, and periods) and conjunctions (subordinating and coordinating) with peers to help their sentences “mature.” I like to do this activity right before I have my students peer edit for comma usage. This is the only way I have ever been able to trust my students as peer editors on this skill.
  9. Supporting Evidence: This year’s 9th graders will need to write an expository essay. From what I’ve seen, students write better expository pieces if they chose one or two really well connected pieces of evidence from content they have learned in school or from their own experiences to support their thesis. The best evidence seems to be extended and specific, so I would encourage students to avoid multiple small pieces of support or listing in favor or one of two well-developed ideas.
  10. Sustaining Focus and Specificity in a Concise Essay: One of the biggest changes between TAKS and STAAR is the one-page essays. This is a concise piece of writing. There isn’t any room for students to get off topic. The student should be sure that all of their evidence supports their stated thesis and that it is focused from beginning to end on the topic at hand. Students can practice this by cutting down pieces of writing they have previously completed. This is a good revision opportunity for students to remove redundancy and empty phrases. They can also accomplish this task by replacing long drawn out sentences with more efficient sentences that have specific word and active verb choices.

These are the mini-lessons that I would teach, but it’s imperative that our students do the work of these mini-lessons in their own writing. These mini-lessons belong in the revision and editing (done separately) phases of the writing process. Any of these skills taught in isolation on a worksheet or out of a textbook would be a waste of time for everyone involved as demonstrated again and again by researchers and teachers in the field for over fifty years . These mini lessons need to be 1. Mini – no more than 15 minute lessons 2. Practiced in the students’ own writing 3. Demonstrated with models (professional, peer, and teacher), and 4. Taught in writing assignments that are purposeful – not test prep. We must hold ourselves accountable for good teaching practices and strategies under the increasing pressure to prepare our students for these assessments. Reading and writing assignments should incorporate the joy of communication that is naturally present in our students, whereas test prep destroys the love of learning and desire to question in our students. We have all seen the results of test prep education practices, and though we are required to prepare our students for success, we must trust our training and teaching abilities to assure that success will occur with students that are fully engaged in interesting and authentic literacy experiences.

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10 New Things About STAAR

Ten New Things We Have Learned About STAAR

  1. The new performance levels are called advanced, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory.
  2. Students entering the state universities must now have a college readiness certificate from their high schools.
  3. Current freshmen will have to score at the advanced level on Algebra II and English III to receive a college readiness certificate when they graduate.
  4. The reading assessment includes passages from various genres including poetry and drama.
  5. In reading – advanced students will be able to evaluate the author’s writing choices and how it impacts the reader’s understanding.
  6. In writing – 4s will probably be advanced and 3s will probably be satisfactory. 1s and 2s – unsatisfactory.
  7. Students must be able to work beyond the literal comprehension level of texts to score at the satisfactory level.
  8. Students need to read from a wide range of texts and genres.
  9. Students need to see quality models of the essay modes and have opportunities to practice following the writing process.
  10. The Texas Education Agency is posting information as soon as it is ready at

Austin – A teachers’ workgroup was assembled with representatives from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the College Readiness Board, and high school teachers from across the state to provide a description of the performance levels on the new STAAR test since there will be new performance levels to describe the academic performance of the students. Instead of commended, meets expectations, and does not meet expectations, the performance levels will be advanced, satisfactory and unsatisfactory.

The current freshmen class will come to understand college readiness in a more specific way than their older peers since 2011 legislation requires that high schools provide a certificate of college readiness to state universities. Until 2015, this will be determined by the diploma of the students (Distinguish Achievement, Recommended, Minimum). However,  after 2015, the students must score at the advanced level on their Algebra II and both parts of the English III STAAR assessments to receive the college readiness certificate from their high school.

As the group worked through the English reading and writing performance descriptors, there were several patterns. First, students need to be able to independently read moderately complex texts and understand the subtle nuances of the vocabulary and the text and evaluate the success of the authors in achieving their message to score at the advanced level. At the satisfactory level, the students will be able to recognize how the author created the text through analysis. Understanding the literal level of the text will be expected at the unsatisfactory level. It will no longer be enough for our students to only comprehend the surface meaning of the text they read.

Generally, this is also the pattern for the writing expectations. Advanced students will be able to write a focused (remember the essays are now one-pagers) essay that includes a response with deeper insights. Probably, students that score 4s will be in the advanced level with 3s in the satisfactory level, but that will be clarified when this work is finished. Students will want to spend more time prewriting, so they can get to the point quicker and plan for the depth, and they will want to spend more time in revision to improve their draft and increase the complexity of their writing.

Please read these as my understandings from a two-day interaction with the new assessment standards and this committee. We were told that we were allowed to come back and share what we learned, but the performance levels themselves will not be available until they have been completed and edited.  TEA will post them on the website as soon as they are ready to help guide teachers in their preparation for the new assessments.

It seems like the best way to prepare students for the new STAAR assessment will be to assure that students are spending a great deal of time reading a variety of texts independently. Self-selected reading across genres should work toward accomplishing the goal of helping students learn to recognize author’s style and intent. In addition, students should spend more time in class writing to various, preferably personal, purposes. Students will need explicit instruction that includes professional models and teacher modeling of the various essay formats.

Also, it’s quite clear that the packaged programs and lessons that are popular across the state are inadequate for creating the critical thinking necessary to perform at the advanced level. This should save our districts money that they could reinvest in classroom libraries to get books into our students’ hands. And though the transition will be challenging, teachers will now be able to bring their best teaching strategies back to the classroom, and attend professional development that will enhance their ability to develop the skills of academically diverse students in their classroom through differentiated instruction.

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Alterations Required

For teachers, summer is a time of reflection and creation. Thoughtfully, we examine the student interactions with our previous presentation of the material and plan for new students, children we do not know. This looking forward, toward possibility, is a gift that we bring each year to a classroom of students we have not met and do not know. The best we can do is predict and be prepared to be flexible in our plans to meet the needs of the humans that show up in our new classes.

This predictive work is valuable. Once school starts, time for planning disappears in the rush to work with students, grade papers, attend meetings, and communicate with parents. Then there’s our job within a job: completing mountains of paperwork required by administrators and the state and national government. In this atmosphere a good summer plan often makes the difference between successful instruction and useless floundering when there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish the work piled on our desks.

But as teachers we understand our summer planning is a pattern that will need alterations – it will need modification to meet the needs of each of our new students, and can only be tailored after we meet them and come to understand their needs and interests. These patterns are a good starting place for flexible and differentiated instruction that meets the needs of the humans we work with every day. To administer a curriculum in a standardized and consistent manner to all students would only be appropriate for a few students because one size cannot fit all.

If a school handed out the same size uniform to every 9th grade boy and girl in the school, the community would be outraged, yet standardized testing does just that. It expects every student to learn the same content at the same rate. And who determines the content of what Pellegrini describes as the “Royal Route to Competence?” Why are our students that are bilingual thought to be working in a deficient? They know two languages, more than required, but less than what’s valued.

Standardization is a biased, dehumanizing way to educate. Standardization leaves little room for valuing cultural variety in its attempt to create sameness in our students. Students who do not assimilate to these standards are rejected and denied an education. Their ideas, culture and humanness rejected in favor of the standard.

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Super ImPACt on Education

Looking at the anticipated lineup of media expenditures planned for the next sixteen months, one would never know that the United States was suffering from high unemployment rates and stagnate income levels. The coffers of the super PACs are quickly filling with unlimited contributions. After the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, organizations can make unlimited campaign contributions, and corporations are rubbing their hands in anticipation of their opportunity to use these PACs to determine the choices voters will have in the polls next fall.

I’m baffled by corporations that jump through hoops and lobby congress to lower their tax rates, but are willing to make such large contributions.  I’m going to make a small leap here: corporate America is greedy. They use the resources provided by our government: maintained roadways, police protection, and educated personnel, all made possible by tax dollars, but they don’t feel obligated to return the favor by paying a reasonable rate of taxes themselves. They avoid taxation to the extent that many have set up false corporate headquarters in foreign countries to avoid paying their share.

Since we agree that these corporations are greedy, I find it suspicious that they are so interested in giving their money to these super PACs. …But these calculating corporations are NOT giving; they are investing. We used to call this bribing. Because they are big contributors, they have expectations. These greedy corporate contributors will choose the candidates on our ballots, and when the new “public servants” take office, they will be indebted to the financial groups that put them there and have the power to keep them there. The super PAC contributors will have the ear of the decision-makers regarding the legislation that impacts their bottom line, whether it be lowering the taxes they pay or increasing their opportunity to make lucrative sales to government entities.

As the middle class continues to shrink, some corporations are struggling to find a profitable venue for their goods and services. A war can be good for business; three is even better. Supplying the military during for war is good for business; a privately owned militia is even better. We saw this example with Blackwater. A private businessman, recruited personnel from our own military, and sold the services of these specialists (remember they were educated and trained with public funds) at more than twice the cost of using our own resources. Why would the United States pay more for this private service? The founder of Blackwater was Erik Prince, who with his sister, school voucher advocate, Besty Prince DeVos, makes some of the largest political contributions in the country.

I’m not here to warn everyone that corporate America has its sites on our schools. I can’t because they already have their teeth deep into the flesh of public education, and the standardized testing movement has been a vehicle for their purposes. They used these poorly created tests that failed to capture even a piece of what students learn in school to start a panic. At first, the panic was only felt in schools where the administrators and teachers grasped for the promised solutions offered in neat, government approved, packages to appease the criticism. The promised results of the programs never proved accurate. Still school funding required schools to invest in these programs that promised easy solutions for teaching students that struggle to learn. Packaged systems could not solve the real problems of poor communities where most of these students lived. But these corporate packages didn’t take the responsibility when the schools still failed. Instead the teachers were blamed.

In state houses and school boards across the country, teachers and schools are under attack. Unions are losing their rights and school budgets are being stripped. The results of this year’s legislation will negatively impact students. However, the legislatures, installed with the money of corporate America, will not take the responsibility for the malicious impact of their decision-making on the students in the classroom. No, the teachers will again be blamed.

More money will be diverted to school vouchers. This money could be used to properly fund public schools. Now the struggle of public education will continue with disintegrating buildings, increased class sizes, and demoralized teachers. The specialists (publicly educated and trained) will be diverted to private schools that will charge more for less. They will not provide the expensive services that we have come to expect from public schools including: community owned buildings, services and programs for special needs, athletic programs, fine arts, extra curricular activities, and meals for poor children.

These for-profit schools will have different goals. Instead of working to provide a quality education to every child in the United States, they will serve their stock holders in the same way that the banking industry has turned its back on customers to improve their bottom line.

This year’s super PAC is the largest wave of a hundred year storm that has been brewing. Should we stand against it and beg our representatives for protection from special interests, or should we ride the wave on our own super PAC board? Decisions are being made today about who will have the power to make the decisions tomorrow. To make public schools private would put full control of our countries education in the hands of the business industry instead of the hands of the people who are committed to education.

If these business leaders are truly committed to improving education, let them go to school and get teaching credentials, so they can help children. Thousands of Americans have made this commitment to the students of our country. We call them teachers.


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10 Essentials From Dad

It has been a long time since I left my parents’ home, but some lessons still resonate in the way I conduct myself as an adult. These particular essentials can each be attributed to my dad.

  1. If I said I was going to do it, I’m going to do it.
  2. Pay the taxes owed on ALL income received – even cash payments.
  3. When it’s broken, fix it.
  4. When it’s not needed anymore, sell it to someone who can use it.
  5. Grow tomatoes each summer.
  6. Be my own best teacher.
  7. Don’t leave the door standing wide-open.
  8. Shake hands with a firm grip.
  9. “Put some elbow grease into it” for a good clean-up.
  10. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
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The Enlightening Darkness of YA Novels

Have you read a young adolescent (YA) novel lately? I challenge all of my adult peers to go to the library or bookstore and look at the amazing choices afforded to teenagers today. More than ever, YA authors are engaging teen readers with realistic plots that confront serious issues that teens face.

However, according to Meghan Cox Gudron’s “Darkness Too Visible” on June 4th in the Wall Street Journal, there is nothing to buy in the young adolescent literature section of the bookstore because of the current trends towards dark themes and obscenities.

It seems to me that there are many levels to this argument. I’m going to pull the focus back. Starting with the concerns of class and power, let’s consider our society. Currently, the decision makers in our country have turned their face away from the plight of poverty. This is unforgivable in a time of high unemployment and a recession, yet it’s true as evidenced in their refusal to close loopholes and reduce tax breaks to the wealthy while simultaneously seeking cutbacks to social programs.

Yet when we see articles like “Darkness Too Visible,” the division of our country becomes abundantly clear. I’m not talking about the division of the red and blue; I’m talking about the division of the oblivious decision makers and reality of our circumstances. If Gurdon (and the editors of the Wall Street Journal) were to read some of the YA literature questioned, they may learn empathy and cross the great divide.

Only someone living obliviously would not understand that the darkness of YA novels represents the needs of our teenagers. To be young, to be gay, to be invisible, to be poor, to be abused, to be raped, to be addicted to drugs, to be afraid… these are all themes in the very dramatic, and all too often tragic, lives of our youth.

As a secondary teacher, I have seen variations of each of these struggles in all of my students. To be a teen is to be confused about identity, power and relationships. These books provide a safe place to go to try different identities, test the waters, and understand the world. Our students come to understand themselves, but more importantly, they come to understand others from this literature. When students share books on controversial topics, they have important discussions about ever-present concerns on topics like teen rape and bullying. After these experiences in novels, the students carry a new perspective that enhances their understanding of a diverse, global society.

I am fortunate that as a parent I was able to provide an amazing collection of experiences to help my girls fully develop into intelligent and sympathetic participants in society. These books were an important part of their experiences. When I go to the bookstore as a parent, I’m always overwhelmed by the amazing choices that are available to my daughters, and I’m particularly impressed with the ability of modern authors to speak in a teen voice that is both authentic and sincere.

Some parents work diligently to “protect” their teens from these materials. Though I never put my own children in a place of physical risk, it was important to me that my children knew that there was pain in the world. Without a broad understanding of the experiences beyond our home, my children could never correctly understand their own perspectives in relation to the perspectives of others. This limited understanding would have confined their growth and had a detrimental impact on their ability to relate to diversity.

Certainly, my parents sought to censor the books I read, but as a student, I sought these types of books. Together my friends and I found books that gave us the answers to the questions we had about life. Since my mother never got around to “our little talk,” I sought the answers in the library. As a low-achieving  student from poverty and an abusive home, I found myself in the books that I read. And though I enjoyed the occasional escape of reality to a fictional world of wealth and beauty, I needed to read the stories of pain and heartache to know that I wasn’t alone.

Teens are instinctively aware of reality and to paint a pretty picture of the world in their texts is lying. Our students can see through our fabrications and recognize our insincerity. However, a constant reinforcement of a beautiful, faux world, a literary cover-up of reality, is like putting fresh coat of paint on rotten wood. It’s an invitation to the oblivious side of the divide.


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Good Instructors Help Students Make As

Educators work in a world of conflicting ideology, and in the last two weeks I have come to better understand a conflict that is unique to colleges of education. I have had a couple of encounters in meetings and in discussions with peers about grade inflation.

I hear that “most of our students expect an A for their efforts,” and that “the education department has one of the highest GPAs” at the university. In light of the arguments coming from policy makers about the quality of teachers graduating from teacher preparation programs, we must assure outsiders that we are holding the bar high enough for our students. “We need to increase the rigor,” I heard.

In my own classes I have struggled with this conflict. Most of my students are earning As, and in general I’m happy with the work the students are completing. The assignments in the course in question model effective teaching strategies that my students can use with their own students in the classroom, and the course culminates with a requirement that they develop a personal inquiry, complete extensive research and share their findings with their peers. If anything, my students often struggle with the reflection required to consider their own learning needs and address the needs in a research-based format. This type of reflection and problem solving will support their growth for years to come in the classroom.

Despite their initial struggles, my students are very successful with this assignment because I model conferencing strategies that support student learning throughout the process. If I just made the assignment and let the students struggle through it independently, there would be more failure, but what would that teach these pre-service teachers? I’m here to teach my students how to teach, not how to make assignments.

This brings me back to the initial controversy of grade inflation. I wonder why the education department is concerned about inflation based solely on the overall high GPA of our students. It seems to me that we should be concerned if we DID NOT have high GPAs. We are after all, a department of teachers teaching teachers. Our lessons and teaching strategies should be so good that our students are consistently very successful. As instructors, we should be modeling for these future teachers what it means to bring the best research on teaching to the classroom to promote universal success for all of our students. Our expectation of ourselves must be that we are the best instructors on campus, and our students’ success should be a mark of pride not concern.

Last week, I watched as my first group of students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. I’m proud of their successes. In the last year, these students completed a rigorous program put together for pre-service teachers. They met the senior-year requirement that they take four classes (12 credit hours) of coursework, complete a 120 hour internship requirement, and produce a portfolio (complete with artifacts from their internship to support their reflections) in their PDS I semester. In the PDS II semester, they were then required to complete a 15-week full-time student-teaching internship in addition to taking a night class and completing a second portfolio with artifacts from their experience. This is a very challenging program, but they put all of their personal desires and needs aside and rose to the occasion.

My own interns went above and beyond in their schools by offering extra tutorials in the evenings and on Saturdays for their struggling students, and spending their extra time combing through district, private school, and regional websites looking for an opportunity to apply for a position to teach next year. There are very few positions available for these dedicated new teachers. The schools where they interned were unanimous in their desire to keep these interns if only they had openings because of dedication they showed to the students. Like I said, I’m proud.

So when I next hear “the education department’s GPAs are one of the highest in the school,” I’m prepared. My response will be “That’s great! I’m glad that we are setting an example of successful teaching for our pre-service teachers.”




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“Rhee Gun” Brought Out To Defend Ill-Conceived Vouchers

What should parents do if they are not satisfied with neighborhood schools? Research supports parent engagement with schools to improve student achievement.  However, when the mothers in Washington D.C. ask Michelle Rhee to advise them on what to do, Rhee would like to offer them vouchers.

Instead of providing real suggestions, Rhee paints parents as helpless victims, incapable of influencing the education of their own children. But parents and teachers working together through volunteering and advocacy would make a difference in our struggling schools. Parent attendance at school functions and parent meetings not only supports student development but also creates community connections as a school often acts as the central hub for a neighborhood.

Rhee also fails to tell parents their responsibility in the education of their own children. Children need trips to the library and parents that model reading as a priority at home. Parents must hold themselves and their children to the same high standard they hold for their public schools.

Instead, Rhee suggests that public school funding be diverted to school vouchers providing parents with school choice. Parents make choices regarding their children’s education every day, and vouchers are not a real choice in poor areas where there are few private schools with openings.

We need to recognize the real purpose of vouchers. This program steals money from underfunded public schools to deliver a discount to wealthy parents for elite private schools and to religious zealots for church-based schools.

Let’s bring great educational opportunities to our students in their own communities where their parents pay taxes instead of letting special interests and wealthy families rob our schools and divide our communities.


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