Education Policy & Practice

Archive for October 2009

I contemplate these kinds of things quite often. I’ve never been a principal or a superintendent, so my perspective is not balanced. But here’s what I know about teaching: Teaching is CHALLENGING. Anyone who says that it is not, is LYING, and I’ll be bold enough to say that they were not trying HARD ENOUGH to be the best teacher they could be.

However, let’s just see where people’s thoughts are on this poll – and if you could say a little bit about what makes the role you’ve chosen the most challenging, that would be lovely!

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Finally!!

On Friday, October 23rd, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist directed superintendents to end teacher assignments based on seniority.  The rationale: The state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) requires “the continuous improvement of student learning” to be the basis for all decisionmaking, including all personnel decisions and evaluations, which makes it impossible, according to the Commissioner, for districts to comply with the BEP provision that the Board of Regents approved last June.

Read the entire news release

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Lessons From Laid Off Teachers
(Source: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dc/2009/10/lessons_from_laid_off_teachers.html)

There may never be another D.C. Council hearing quite like the 18-hour epic last Friday/Saturday that saw more than 40 public school teachers, most of them among the 266 laid off on Oct. 2, come to the witness table.

Whatever level of skill each possessed as an educator– asked by Chairman Vincent C. Gray, nearly all said they had good evaluations. Although it’s difficult to imagine anyone giving a completely candid answer under the circumstances, there was great power in the collective story they told. It was about a group of people who worked against often overwhelming odds to help the District’s schoolchildren.

As they described it, those odds include a DCPS bureaucracy that both terrorizes and infantilizes teachers. The crystallizing image conjured by the marathon roundtable was of Maurice Asuquo, a blind instructor who said he was presented a copy of the system’s new Teaching and Learning Framework in print.

There’s the odyssey of April Battle, “excessed” from her assistant principal post at Winston Education Campus last spring, fired on July 27 and told later it was a mistake. She said was reassigned to Winston before a follow up message that this also was an error. She was sent to Beers Elementary as a classroom teacher, although she is not certified as such, and later received an e-mail to report to there as a counselor. When she arrived at Beers Aug. 21, principal Gwendolyn Payton told her she’d already hired a counselor.

Robin Skulrak came to the public schools from the D.C. Teaching Fellows Program, one of the alternative recruiting organizations Rhee has looked to for fresh ground troops to execute her reforms. She left a career in tech research to be part of Rhee’s movement, and as she prepared for her fourth grade class at Stanton Elementary in Southeast, the message was that she was there to save students from the malpractice of older, ineffective instructors.

“I was told that my colleagues were not as worthy as I was and that I was the future of education,” she told the council.

But Skulrak said promises of mentoring and other support never materialized. The heating system in her classroom sometimes drove temperatures past 100 degrees, she said. Birds flew in through holes in the windows created by missing panes of glass. Because she considered herself “a part of Rhee’s gang,” she e-mailed her directly when the principal didn’t respond to complaints about the conditions. She said maintenance showed up the next day.

She believes that Principal Donald Presswood placed her on a remedial “90-day plan” as payback for going around him to Rhee. She said that after observing a history class she taught on events leading up to the American Revolution, for which she prepared a PowerPoint and excerpts from the HBO “John Adams” miniseries, Presswood told her that the lesson was “perhaps a little too middle class.” He suggested having the students develop a rap as part of their study of the period.

“I thought maybe they should get the basic facts first,” said Skulrak, who was let go in July. This time, her appeal to Rhee didn’t help.

Presswood did not return e-mail or phone messages seeking comment.

Bill Turque

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Derrion Albert

Embedded video from CNN Video

This story hurts me to the core, and it should penetrate the heart of every person who comes in contact with this tragedy. When a child does not make it home safely to his or her family, we fail. When the sparkle in a child’s eye has been extinguished, we fail. When a child is too afraid to go to the police, we fail. When a mother’s pain is a news headline, we fail. It is futile to assign individual blame here – we all fail. We have a serious set of problems to solve, and Chicago is just a popularized example of what undoubtedly occurs in countless communities across the country.

Chicago Public Schools chief proposes a controversial strategy, funded by federal stimulus dollars, to target 10,000 of Chicago’s most vulnerable and at-risk students to receive 24-hour mentoring. I appreciate the enormity of the set of circumstances ailing the City of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools; however, I am not hopeful that this reaction (not solution) will be effective. First, this program does not address the root causes that create the conditions that facilitate the erosion of our families and communities. Second, that the children are the target of this intervention, we send the wrong message loud and clear that the child is the problem, when clearly s/he represents a manifestation of the problem. Third, while the program may yield positive benefit, it is hardly sustainable. It is impossible to sustain a program with an operating budget in the tens of millions (the level of funding expected from the feds). So the obvious question is: “What happens when the money runs out?”

It is literally impossible for me to imagine what it is like to fear for my safety, my life, traveling back and forth to school each day. I’ve never lost a friend or classmate to violence. I simply cannot put myself in those shoes. And yes, we expect students to come to class cheerful, or at least without an attitude or distraction, ready to learn.

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Education Policy & Practice

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