Education Policy & Practice

Archive for the ‘Urban Education’ Category

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I couldn’t “tweet in” last night, but EducationCEO was there.  Check out her reflection on her blog.  I am fascinated by the power of technology to bring a group of people together and discuss such a critical issue as Black Education.  If you missed it or just want to go back to it, check out the transcript below.

And a big thank you goes out to Twitter’s very own @journalproject for organizing the chat.


Dear EducationCEO,

Like you, I am up at 2 in the morning!  I checked my phone and saw that I had an e-mail notification alerting me to a new post on your blog.  The title intrigued me, “Let me set the record straight …”  I couldn’t resisit!  However, please forgive my middle-of-the-night, my laptop-battery-is-low-and-I-don’t-feel-like-fetching-my-powercord-in-the-next-room brief response to one thing in particular that you wrote:   

Perhaps they could ‘color’ their respective boards to reflect the communities in which they serve, and simultaneously make millions each year, per school?

If I read correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), I understood this comment in context to mean that the boards of KIPP and TFA (among others), are not reflective of the communities they serve.  And though not explicitly stated, I understood you to be talking about the organizations’ national boards.  You’re right, names do pop up in more than one place on the national scene.  But at the local, I feel I can speak to this issue of representation from personal experience, having served a 3-year term on the KIPP Baltimore board of directors.  I believe there is real value in pursuing racial and ethnic diversity at the local level.  What does it really matter if the national board is lily white and estrogen deficient?  At the local level is where I believe board members are going to be most impactful – mobilizing local resources, involving the local community and businesses, and really being champions for our kids.     

So, I’d love to chat with you about this!  Thanks for posting your thoughts – these conversations are necessary. 

– Samantha


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The Wall Street Journal asked four policy makers to comment on four critical issues: health care, the economy and finance, energy and the environment, and an educated workforce. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius spoke about health care; Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Christina Romer, made remarks about the economy and finance; Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, Carol M. Browner, commented about energy and the environment.  Finally, Michelle Rhee, DC Public Schools Chancellor, added her take on an educated work force.  Rhee spoke about topics such as how to lead, firing employees, finances, spending, and vouchers and charter schools.

Two giant philanthropic efforts have made news this month.  On November 4, 2009, the Ford Foundation announced that it will commit $100 million over 7 years toward “transforming secondary education in urban schools across the country.”  Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will commit $335 million “to promote effective teaching and student achievement.”  Yes, that is a combined $435 million private investment in education and research in education.

The Ford Foundation plans to fund projects in 7 cities that address 4 essential elements: 1) sufficient and equitable school financing; 2) quality teaching; 3) additional and more useful learning time; and 4) meaningful accountability.  Among these districts are the some of the usual suspects, including New York City, Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Detroit.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funneling $290 million in grants to support 4 Intensive Partnership for Effective Teaching sites that have developed groundbreaking plans to improve teacher effectiveness, according to its press release.  Those sites include  Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools, Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Public Schools, and The College-Ready Promise, a coalition of five public charter school management organizations in Los Angeles.  Another $45 million will go toward the Measures of Effective Teaching project, a research initiative that seeks to define effective teaching and identify fairer and more reliable evaluative measures.

According to its website, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2 billion over 9 years in education reform efforts. I am pleased (quite pleased) to see the focus shift to teacher effectiveness investigation and to have resources committed to that end.

So I ask, what bang are we getting for these big bucks?

Other heavy-hitting foundations investing in urban education (past and present) include:


Lessons From Laid Off Teachers

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


Education Policy & Practice

March 2023

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