Friday, June 22, 2012

Rambling: Meeting with a Mother

I'm sitting at Panera, fresh from a job interview.  I saw a posting on a local website from a mother who is looking for a tutor for her 2 boys for two months in August.  They will be in 1st and 4th grade.  I was excited about the possibility and curious to see if they were behind in class and their mother wanted to remediate them a bit, or if she simply wanted them to get a head start heading back into a school year.

It turns out that she has actually hired a full-time tutor for ALL summer, who simply can't cover those two weeks in August.  Her boys are successful in school and in fact, bored because they are not challenged.  They also attend Kumon (private tutoring company) regularly during the school year AND over the summer.  Whew!  A far cry from being behind and wanting to spend a couple weeks catching up.

It got me thinking about the effects of how parents intervene in their childrens' schooling.  These parents clearly have high expectations for their childrens' education and when it wasn't going as well as possible (aka, not being challenged), they did something about it.  They make it such a high priority that they're willing to post a job ad, interview, hire, and pay someone for those 2 weeks, rather than simply take 8 days off of learning.  That is dedication.

I wonder what inner-city education would be like if private tutors were a common feature of family life.  I was reminded of the book Home Advantage, which details how families' socioeconomic standings affect their ability to navigate (and fund) the education system.  I was also reminded of a conversation with a Peruvian friend who is concerned that American education isn't as rigorous as countries abroad.

Basically, today was an interesting window into how culture, standing, expectations, and perceptions of the parents' role all affect student achievement.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Moment: Book Club

I think starting a weekly book club with a handful of friends is one of my favorite things I've done in a while.  Yummy food, girl talk, and a really real conversation about diversity and our experiences with it (thanks to the book we're reading, The Color of Water by James McBride) = win.

Note to self: continue to seek out diverse friends.  Combining the experiences of small town America, mixed race, the south, immigration, white privilege, and a palette of cultures is way more fun than not :-)

Printed: TFA Growing

Teach for America announced today that, as of this fall, the group will have more than 10,000 first- and second-year corps members working in schools—the largest corps yet and a 10 percent increase over last year's total. The organization has also become the top employer for graduating seniors at 55 universities... including the University of California-Berkeley, Howard University, Yale University, and Arizona State University.

Other interesting factoids about the 5,800 incoming first-years, as stated in the press release, include the following:
• 38 percent identify as people of color (13 percent are African American and 10 percent are Hispanic), making this the most diverse corps yet;
• 35 percent received Pell Grants;
• 23 percent are the first in their family to get a college degree...  - EdWeek

This is really interesting, especially as the projected growth of City Year has been on all of our minds for so long.  I'd be curious to know if the quality of their program and training has changed.  I am VERY glad to hear that they're becoming more diverse as they grow, especially after Book Club's discussion tonight about the possible implications of minority children having white teachers most of their lives! However, with so many budget cuts, I'm curious to see if it's harder for them to place their teachers in districts as they get bigger...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Printed: The Reading Gap

"A 2001 study by Susan Neuman and Donna Celano found that the ratio of books to children in middle-income neighborhoods is 13 books to one child, while in low-income neighborhoods the ratio is one book to 300 children".

This is insane!  Maybe those free books in Cheerios boxes lately really are doing more good than I thought... the whole article about a teacher's "Home Library Project" is worth the read.  I especially like the part about how families started adding in their own books, too, and asking their students to read during 'family time.'  :-) 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Captured: City Year Potential

I've been meaning to post this!  City Year's new video: 

As the official blurb says, every child is born with potential -- the potential to be a writer, a doctor, a teacher, a scientist . But all that potential falls away when a child gives up on school, and right now, one million students drop out every year... this animated video introduces City Year's Long-Term Impact strategy, a plan to ensure that 80% of students in the high-need, public schools City Year serves, reach 10th grade on track and on time.

Full steam ahead!  (I am a fan of the cute little graphics in the vid)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Printed: Christians Hanging 'Obama'

Ok, so this is a detour from my usual topics, but it needs to be talked about:

The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., hung an effigy of President Barack Obama from a gallows on its front lawn, accompanied by an upside-down rainbow Pride flag.

The church’s pastor Terry Jones stated that the display was in response to the president’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, as well as his stance on abortion, adding the president’s “appeasing of radical Islam.” - Source

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  How in the world does such a portrait of hatred towards someone, on the grounds of being open-minded towards other groups of people, align with Christian views?  Or any reasonable human views?  The most basic concept I can remember from my Sunday-school upbringing is "love your neighbor as yourself," clearly not "threaten people that are different from you."  The article goes on:

The Dove Outreach Church has stirred controversy previously with a book burning of the Islamic Holy Book, the Quran last year that sparked three days of violent rioting in Afghanistan which resulted in the deaths of at least 21 people, including seven United Nations Relief Agency workers.

You really, really, really disappoint me sometimes, Americans.  Bringing it back to education, I can only imagine what the people who did this are teaching their kids.

Printed: Gang Enforcement Laws

A new Illinois law was signed yesterday:

The new law is modeled after the federal racketeering law known as RICO, which was originally designed to target mobsters but in recent years has been used repeatedly by the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago to target the top leadership of street gangs.

Now the state version will allow county prosecutors to take similar action against a street gang as a whole, instead of individual members... Different crimes can be grouped into one criminal proceeding, allowing prosecutors to paint a more complete picture of a gang's criminal activity for judges and juries.

Gang members who are convicted of criminal conspiracy under the law could face more than 30 years in prison. Fines could top $250,000. The government also would be able to seize gang assets such as drug proceeds, real estate and other holdings. - Tribune

Hmm.  Not sure how I feel about this yet... I think I can see pros and cons coming out of this.  The seizing real estate thing is what worries me the most... could they just label any household with weed in it 'connected to gang activity' and take the home?  It'll be interesting to see how this actually plays out in practice. 

Uptown Update's opinion: Not sure how it will work out, but we are happy that gangbangers are finally legally recognized as the urban blight that they are.  Not "good boys just hanging with the wrong people," but members of a well-organized, intentional criminal organization. Now let's see the States Attorney and the courts put some teeth into it.

I can see their stance, but I hope we're also putting equal amounts of energy into gang prevention programs. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Words: Parents' Frustration

I had dinner with family friends this week and the conversation turned to education.  Their daughter is 11 and the parents are very involved in her schooling.  It was really interesting to me to hear a mother's perspective on 'hot topics' right now.  She voiced:

- Frustration with having extra studying specifically for standardized tests... shouldn't they be learning what's on the test in their regular curriculum??
- Concern for which high school her daughter will attend.  Due to a lack of limited 'good' high schools in Chicago Public Schools, they're already looking into private schools.  Also, isn't it unfair how they don't allot more spaces to their district for the selective enrollment schools?
- Frustration with how teacher tenure works - there is a teacher at their school that everyone knows is not a good teacher.  He doesn't assign homework, doesn't grade, and the parents who have a child in his class even feel pressure to teach them things at home that they're not learning at school! Why should this teacher get to keep teaching when he's ineffective?
- Lower standards and less pride in work than when she went to school.  For example, her daughter's friends will turn in work with poor handwriting, incorrect capitalization, or dirty food, and when asked, respond "my teacher doesn't care."
- Doubt that they're learning as much as they should be.  She mentioned all the studying she had to do early in her schooling in Peru, a visiting child from China who called her year in U.S. schools a 'vacation,' and being unsatisfied with the fact that so many teachers shy away from 'memorization.'
- Finally, uncertainty as to where the blame belongs.  Is it the teachers? Administration? School district? Society?  Isn't this the golden question. 

Wow.  That's quite a list of things to be concerned about as a parent.  It's a reminder that all the issues that schools and districts are dealing with do affect parents daily lives in a very real way.  I feel like their voice is the least heard, they are looped in the least about how and why things work, and it shouldn't be that way.    


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Printed: Michigan Teachers

During the 2010-11 academic year, teacher preparation programs in the state recommended 6,201 people for teacher certification. But only 30% of them -- or 1,862 people -- managed to get a job in a Michigan school.

That's one of the key reasons the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) recommends extending a moratorium on allowing new teacher prep programs to open in the state.  - Freep

I remember this being a HUGE issue when I graduated a couple of years ago... I wonder how Michigan stats compare with other states.