Oct 27, 2011

Beyond Tolerance [Or, I Will Blame Other Teachers For The Lack Of Tolerance In America, Even Though I Am A Teacher]

Scott R. Conwell teaches at an urban charter school in the metro Detroit area. He has a wife and one daughter and is motivated mostly by wanting a better world for them to live in. Scott is a passionate educator and hopes to one day see an educational system that allows a powerful and equal education for all of America's students.
Diversity is the key. When my daughter was born my wife and I decided that diversity should be part of her life. We taught her at a young age that diversity was a part of everyday life. We also taught her that tolerance was not the whole story; we taught her acceptance. As a country that touts itself proudly as the "melting pot"; this should span into every household. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.
I teach at an urban high school in the metro Detroit area. We are a "melting pot" of students. We have a high population of African-American students, we have a solid population of Hispanic-American students, and we have a small population of LGBTQ students. Our school conducts anti-bullying programs and initiatives, but they are not enough. When we teach "tolerance" of one another we are leaving out a key element of the picture. Tolerance without acceptance doesn't solve the problem. Often times, adults in our schools not only ignore the discrimination but even encourage it.
On "National Coming Out Day" several of our students chose to take the opportunity to reveal who they knew they really were. They declared over social media channels that they were LGBTQ. When they came back to school, they received the treatment that might be expected from the students; but what was worse is they also received it from the staff. These students were the main source of "copy machine" humor by the teachers, and the support that should have been there was absent. These students came to my classroom because they knew it was a safe place for them to declare who they were. They came to me seeking advice on acceptance. Unfortunately, within our school there were few places for them to go.
Every student, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation deserves an opportunity to attend a school where they feel safe to learn. How can we as teachers, administrators or counselors expect them to maintain focus on educational concepts when they are fearful of what will happen to them on the bus when no one else is around? We must have effective anti-bullying programs in schools; not just for students but for the staff. I know teachers who also live in fear that if they come out to their peers they will receive the same discrimination they see in the students. It is time for us as educators to right these wrongs.
My six-year old daughter understands diversity on all levels; why can't we understand this concept as educators? My classroom is a safety zone for acceptance; why isn't my school? Why aren't all our schools?

Oct 26, 2011

Supporting Anti-Bullying Laws Nationwide [Or, We Need To Appear Supportive, Even Though We're Fucking Jerks]

Eric Lerum is Vice President of National Policy at StudentsFirst.
We are moving in the right direction in our effort to eradicate bullying from schools. More than 20 states have taken up anti-bullying legislation in the past year. But we need to make sure that every state has strong policies in place that ensure a safe learning environment for every child.
Every child has the right to a high-quality education. This basic civil right should not be abridged by a student's zip code, the circumstances of their birth, or their sexual orientation. That is why we support policies that would expand educational choices, improve teacher quality and end bullying. It is why we supported legislation like the DREAM Act, which would ensure kids aren't punished for the actions of adults.
While almost all states have some anti-bullying law on the books, they vary greatly in form and strength. And, following several highly-publicized student suicides and a rise in cyber-bullying, officials are taking notice of the need to strengthen their laws and do more to not only protect students, but foster a safer school environment overall.
Comprehensive anti-bullying legislation should include the following key elements:
  • A clear definition of bullying and harassment of students;
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for schools, administrators, and teachers, as well as a requirement that all schools adopt anti-bullying policies;
  • Training for teachers, administrators, and students;
  • Investigation protocols for all reported incidents;
  • School-level staff teams dedicated to and focused on monitoring bullying incidents and school climate.

This year, New Jersey established what many consider the strongest anti-bullying law in the country with training for teachers and students, "safety teams" at every school, and investigation of bullying incidents within one day. Other states are also considering enhancing their ability to produce safer school environments including Washington, DC. We applaud and support those efforts.
Those of us focused on improving schools for students should view the attention given to this issue as cause for optimism -- momentum is with the state leaders and advocates who are tackling school bullying head-on. StudentsFirst is proud to stand with them.
Whether it's combatting student bullying, guaranteeing access to a great public school for any student, or ensuring that there is an effective teacher in every classroom, the goal is the same: we have to do whatever it takes to fulfill the promise of an excellent education for every student

Oct 20, 2011

IMPACT Results In Higher Teacher Pay And Improved Practice [Or, Let Me Confuse You By Referring To DFER]


Eric Lerum is Vice President of National Policy for StudentsFirst.
In 2009, under Chancellor Michelle Rhee, D.C. Public Schools implemented a new, comprehensive teacher evaluation system called IMPACT. In a recently released report, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) found that D.C.'s IMPACT evaluation system is doing what it was designed to do: reward and support teachers. Here are some findings from the report:
Teachers are earning higher pay
  • Last year, 660 teachers (17%) who were rated "Highly Effective" were eligible to receive bonuses between $3K and $25K.
  • In addition, 290 WTU members (7%) were eligible for base salary increases of up to $27,000 for being rated "Highly Effective" two years in a row.
  • Under IMPACT, a teacher can earn up to $131,340 -- 50% more than under the previous system.
Teachers are improving their practice
  • 58% of teachers who received a rating of "Minimally Effective" the first year who stayed in the district improved to a rating of "Effective" the following year.
Ineffective teachers are being dismissed so that all students have the benefit of a good teacher
  • 206 teachers who were rated "Ineffective" or were rated "Minimally Effective" for two years in a row were dismissed.
IMPACT uses multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness including student achievement growth, classroom observations, and contributions to the school and community. Where standardized test data are not available, teachers collaborate with principals to develop their own assessments of student growth. IMPACT is unique in that it involves 5 classroom observations each year, with evaluatios based on a consistent rubric.
These findings indicate that IMPACT has enabled DC to make significant progress in elevating its teachers and ensuring that every student has a great teacher in the classroom. That's great news for everyone.

Oct 19, 2011

Having Their Say: College Students Get In On Ed Reform [Or, Well, I Think Jonathan's Title Says It All]


Jonathan Wall is the StudentsFirst Campus Director at Morehouse College. He is a senior from Raleigh, NC, studying Sociology and Child Development. Jonathan is also on the board of directors for the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP and has held leadership positions in Morehouse's Pre-Law Society and Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity. In 2009, he and his best friend founded the Outstanding Community Leaders Scholarship, which provided a $1,000 scholarship to a student from his former high school. In 2011, he was one of four nationally selected as an Allstate Martin Luther King Jr. Give Back Hero for his community service and advocacy work.
As young adults not too far removed from the public school setting, college students are in a great position to call for overhauling outdated policies that keep our education system from living up to its potential. However, the voice of college students has until recently largely been excluded from the education reform debate. I’m excited to be part of the new movement to change that.
Too many of our education policies seem to reflect the wants of adults rather than the needs of students. The "Last In First Out" policy, in which teacher layoffs are based on seniority and not job performance, is probably the clearest example of this problem.
Students need great teachers, whether they are veterans or people newer to the profession. No student benefits from ineffective instructors whose employment is a bi-product of years within the system rather than effectiveness on the job, and no society benefits from a generation of under-educated youths. Yet, in many states and districts, there is a sustained effort to keep seniority as the determining factor when layoffs unfortunately arise. It's a terrible problem, yet it is just one of the many issues that make up our public education dilemma.
Far too often, we as students are generalized as being too young and inexperienced to present opinions on potential solutions to problems that have affected us and those we care about. That's why I'm so excited to be part of StudentsFirst On Campus. I believe it will be a great outlet for college students to gain a better understanding of education reform and how to affect change while advocating for policies that are in the best interest of America’s youth.

Giving College Students A Chance To Weigh In And Influence Reform Debates [Or, Well, I Think Justin's Title Says It All]


Justin Schulze is the StudentsFirst campus director at The Ohio State University. He is a senior studying International Development and Economics. He is the Vice-President of Students for Education Reform and has led numerous student organizations on campus. Justin has traveled, volunteered, and conducted research in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Following graduation, Justin hopes to continue his work in education reform.
On college campuses across the country, autumn is a time for football games, homecoming ceremonies, and beautiful weather. It's also time for new and returning students to explore their interests and find their passion both in and out of the classroom.
Every day, more and more college students are discovering that their true passion lies in reforming our broken education system. As they pass from high school graduation to their first day in a college course, students are quickly pinpointing the ways in which the K-12 education system prepared them for success and the ways in which it failed to do so. And as students meet classmates with backgrounds different from their own, they are also finding that not everyone receives an equal education; indeed, just making it to college - let alone succeeding academically - is an improbable reality for thousands of students nationwide.
That's because so many of our education policies intended to produce results for kids are actually serving the interests of adults in the system at the expense of kids. Consider the way our education system fails to identify and reward our most effective teachers. Nearly every college student can pinpoint the best teachers they had throughout their time in school, yet only a handful of states and districts across the country actually pay the best teachers for their performance and ensure they are teaching the students who need the most help.
Fortunately, college students are finding ways to take action. Newly formed campus groups are gathering students to spread the word about the problems in education. High-performing schools are using college students as tutors, mentors and after-school volunteers. These opportunities allow students to start working on behalf of kids in their immediate communities.
Now, with "StudentsFirst on Campus," college students can work on behalf of kids at the district, state, and national level. StudentsFirst knows that just as students can easily identify their most effective teachers, they can also identify the policies that make the most sense for kids. Through "StudentsFirst on Campus," StudentsFirst is committed to helping students make their voice heard - both on the quad and at the statehouse.
College students no longer have to wait until graduation to start fixing education and improving kids' lives. We are passionate, we are energetic, and now, with "StudentsFirst on Campus," we have the tools to start transforming that passion and energy into real change. Now, we are not simply college students interested in education reform; we are education reformers building a movement to transform public education. Join us.

Oct 12, 2011

ESEA -- Effective Teachers And Leaders Are Key [Or, I Am A Liar]


StudentsFirst -- along with 25 other organizations -- has signed a letter calling for the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to include measures which will drive toward effective teachers and leaders in every public school.
From the letter:
Research shows overwhelmingly that the only way to close achievement gaps – both gaps between U.S. students and those in higher-achieving countries and gaps within the U.S. between poor and minority students and those more advantaged – and transform public education is to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers and principals.
The diverse group of organizations involved includes: Center for American Progress, National Council for La Raza, Educators 4 Excellence, Connecticut Parents' Union, Students for Education Reform, Teach Plus, California Business for Education Excellence and Democrats for Education Reform.
In the letter, we recommend that all states and districts create teacher evaluation systems that are based on multiple measures including both a state-determined method for measuring teacher impact on student growth and multiple, comprehensive classroom observations every year.
The results of the evaluations must be linked to professional development specifically tailored to teachers' needs and must be used to determine personnel decisions such as hiring, tenure, compensation and dismissal.
In addition, we call for states and districts to ensure an equitable distribution of highly effective teachers and leaders across all schools so that minority and low-income kids have equal access to great teachers and school leaders.
To view the full letter and list of signatory organizations, click here:http://www.edweek.org/media/finaleseaprioritiesteacherquality-blog.pdf