Soul of a black/Latino teacher

José Luis Vilson, a middle-school math teacher in New York City (and a blogger), writes about race, class, and education in This Is Not A Test.

“The heart of education lies in the relationship between teacher and student,” writes Leo Casey in a review in Dissent. “This Is Not A Test bears witness to the enduring vitality of that relationship.”

Vilson grew up in a poor “drug-tainted” neighborhood in the city, earned a computer science degree and became a math teacher for black and brown students.

He faces the challenges of his students’ poverty, troubled families and violent neighborhoods. He also copes with incompetent administrators. At one point, a supervisor “threatened him with an unsatisfactory evaluation not because of his teaching, but because she disliked the aesthetics of his classroom bulletin board.”

‘Hold Fast to Dreams’

Hold Fast to Dreams was published by The New Press in April 2014.Hold Fast to Dreams follows 10 low-income students and their counselor “through the college application process and the four years that follow.

One girl wrote a personal essay about “sharing one room with three siblings, living in a two-bedroom apartment with seven people. Hearing and seeing fights, gunshots all night, yelling and screaming every day.”

Her mother’s attempted suicide forced Chiquita to ignore her own needs. “All that year, I was so focused on my mother, I forgot how to be a kid, I forgot about Chiquita, how the simplest things in life make me smile.”

Many students resisted writing about painful memories. “Why would anyone be interested in this?” some said, or “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.” For most students, maintaining their poise meant blocking out the images that reminded them of their vulnerability.

Angelica Moore, a high-achieving and charismatic student, revealed that her self-possession was “all a front” for her insecurity. “I was always told since I was younger not to show my weakness because people will take advantage of it. It’s better to walk around with my head high and make it seem like I have it together.”

Getting into college isn’t the challenge for these students. It’s succeeding once they get there.

Preschool for kids, training for moms

Low-income mothers in Tulsa are encouraged to send their children to Head Start — and train for better jobs, reports NPR’s Eric Westervelt.

WESTERVELT: Two dozen students, all women, settle into long white tables and stiff metal chairs in a classroom at Tulsa Community College’s downtown campus. . . . It’s a required monthly seminar for the program Career Advance. Topics include resume building and basic finances. This week: Workplace Etiquette 101. Be on time, eye contact, firm handshake, basic hygiene.

Career Advance, run by the nonprofit Community Action Project of Tulsa or CAP, links low-income parents with education, career training in health care fields.

Consuela Houessou came to Tulsa from Benin about a decade ago. She works weekends as a nurse’s assistant, but hopes to become a registered nurse. She compares her grades with her children. “I get A’s today, what did you get?”

Helping parents helps children, says Steven Dow, CAP Tulsa’s executive director.

WESTERVELT: It’s heading for 8:30 a.m. at a bustling headstart center in East Tulsa and 32-year-old Tiffany Contreras is late to drop off her 4-year-old daughter. The on-time kids play with blocks, puzzles and books on the carpet while a teacher prepares a cereal breakfast.

8:45, still no Tiffany Contreras. Her daily juggle is on – four kids, a commute, classes, homework and meetings. Her husband, the father of her two youngest, works the night shift coating gas pipes and airplane parts at an industrial paint shop. 8:50, she finally arrives. Adding to Tiffany’s hectic mix this week, a dinner gone wrong nearly torched her kitchen.

TIFFANY CONTRERAS: A pan of grease caught on fire. It ruined my stove a couple of my cabinets. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The story of my life. Always something.

Many women in Career Advance go from one crisis to another, says staffer Megan Oehlke. “It’s my car died. I had a house fire. We had an unexpected stabbing in our family last week. My mom is hospitalized. She does all my child care. It’s all of those things together that they’re trying to figure out how to finagle, and still be successful in school.”

Private school head hits ‘elite’ charters

In defense of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s anti-charter agenda,  Steve Nelson attacks charter schools for enrolling the children of motivated parents and taking money from wealthy donors Nelson is the headmaster of the Calhoun School, an elite private school in New York City.

. . .  the (charter) lottery is rigged in that the pool is comprised only of self-selected families with social capital and high motivation. They claim to operate with more efficiency, but their budgets are augmented by an infusion of capital from billionaire philanthropists and hedge fund managers who know a lot about PR and very little about education.

Charter schools and other “so-called” reforms  reform” will “divide us by creating pockets of relative privilege while leaving the rest of the nation’s children to languish in neglect and poverty,” writes Nelson.

So, all of the nation’s children who don’t attend charters are languishing in neglect and poverty? Or maybe it’s just the public school kids.

The Calhoun School is a “pocket of rather extraordinary privilege on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. Tuition runs from $41,700 in kindergarten to $43,580 in high school and parents are asked to donate more.

Calhoun’s board is full of wealthy financiers, points out Matthew Levey.  The chairman of the board runs a hedge fund, the vice-chair is a partner at a financial firm, the treasurer manages two investment funds, a board member is a portfolio manager and another is a broker.

In Watts, it’s easier to be a teen mom than a student

In Watts, there’s lots of support for teen mothers, but very little help for college students who’ve avoided pregnancy, writes a young community college student. She lives with her ailing grandmother in a subsidized apartment. If the grandmother dies, the childless student will be evicted.

2014: It’s time for universal proficiency!

It’s 2014:  All students will be proficient in reading and math, Mike Petrilli reminds us. It’s the law!

Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001–2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement.

– No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, section 1111(2)(F)

The next time someone talks about all students being college and career ready, a highly effective teacher in every classroom or eradicating childhood poverty, remember “universal proficiency by 2014,” Petrilli suggests.

The No Child Left Behind generation — today’s 11th graders started school after the law passed — are doing better he writes. 

NCLB kids were fourth graders in 2007:

Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for black and Hispanic students all shot up four points (almost half a grade) over 2002’s baseline and math scores went up a whopping five points for all students, for white students, and for Hispanic students over a 2003 baseline, and black scores rocketed an incredible six points.

And in 2011, as eighth graders:

Reading scores for the lowest-performing students and for black students shot up four points over 2007’s baseline, while Hispanic students gained five points, and math scores were up three points over 2007, with Hispanic students gaining five points.

Yet just a third of the NCLB Generation had become proficient readers by the eighth grade. For Blacks and Hispanics, it was 15 and 19 percent, respectively. The results for mathematics were just a few points higher.

Still, these incremental gains add up to about half a year of extra learning, on average, writes Petrilli. That’s not enough, but it’s something.

Next time around, the goals should be high but achievable, writes Petrilli. For example, in the next six years, let’s try to get the national average to the level already achieved by Massachusetts students.

Education in Indian Country

Education Week looks at Education in Indian Country, specifically the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Nation. Alcoholism is common. Even those who finish high school find few jobs on the reservation.

In California’s San Bernardino Mountains, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians is spending millions of casino revenue to build and run a K-9 school with small classes and up-to-date technology.

Twice a week, tribal elders teach native languages through traditional “bird songs,” which “tell stories, often from the perspectives of birds, of journeys that the Cahuilla people would take from their desert and mountain homes and about the creation of the natural world.”

Each tribe member gets a share of casino profits. (Adults must earn a high school diploma or GED to qualify.) Nobody is poor. The tribe hopes to reverse ” decades of low academic achievement, high dropout rates, and low rates of college attendance and graduation for its children.”

PISA: U.S. has fewer high flyers

It’s PISA Day! Once again, U.S. students score at the international average among developed nations that take the exam.

“Our economic competitors, including Japan, Korea, and Germany,” score much higher, notes Mark Schneider on The Quick and the Ed. “What should scare us is the low percentage of students in the highest levels of performance (PISA level 5 and above).”

The U.S. has concentrated on leaving no child behind. NAEP “scores of African Americans, Hispanics, and low-income fourth and eighth graders in reading and math have leaped upward,” but  “the percentage of students who score at NAEP’s advanced level has stagnated.”

Child poverty doesn’t explain U.S. mediocrity, argues Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. The U.S. does better in reading, which is far more linked to parental education, than in math, which is more school-dependent.

The U.S. is about average for child poverty for countries in the survey, adds Marc Tucker, director of the Center on Education and the Economy.  Diversity doesn’t explain it either. Five PISA countries — some with higher scores have a higher percentage of immigrant students.

Others say that the U.S. is unique because in that it educates everyone and the countries listed among the top performers only educate their elite. In fact, the dropout rate in our high schools is around 25 percent, while some of the top performers are graduating close to 90 percent of the students who enter their high schools. It is they who are educating everyone.

Top-performing countries invest heavily in teachers’ skills, says Tucker. Some let only the best students go into teaching.

International test scores show U.S. prosperity is at risk, argues Tucker in a Washington Post debate with anti-tester Valerie Strauss.

U.S. high school students have trouble applying skills to real-world problems, writes Dana Goldstein on Slate.

One math activity asked students to compare the value of four cars, using a chart showing the mileage, engine capacity, and price of each one. American kids were especially bad at problems like this, in which they were not provided with a formula, but had to figure out how to manipulate the numbers on their own.

A reading activity asked test takers to read a short play, and then write about what the characters were doing before the curtain went up. The challenge is that the question prompts students to envision and describe a scene not actually included in the text itself. These are good questions that most of our kids should be able to tackle—we want analytical, creative children, not just kids who are good at memorization.

The “Common Core is focused on greater depth and less breadth,” so it  “probably will help our kids do better on exams like PISA,” Goldstein writes. But it will take more than that.

Milwaukee is worse than Mississippi

Milwaukee is worse for black kids than Mississippi, writes Michael Holzman in Dropout Nation.

Thirteen percent of black men 18 to 64  in Wisconsin are in prison, the highest rate in any state, according to a BBC video, Why does Wisconsin send so many black people to jail?  “Over half the black men in Milwaukee County are now or have been in prison, Holzman writes.

Black families in Milwaukee are no better off financially than in Mississippi, according to Holzman.”If an average black family moved from Milwaukee to Mississippi, their children would probably have a slightly better chance of learning to read by the time they left school,” he writes. They’d be more likely to graduate from high school. In Mississippi, a black family’s young men are “less than half as likely to spend time in prison” compared to young black men in Milwaukee.

ABC’s by Halloween for all kindergarteners

Should All Kindergartners Know Their Letters by Halloween? asks Peter DeWitt in Education Week. “Even children from high-poverty and limited literacy homes” can do it, if properly taught, says Dick Allington, a University of Tennessee education professor.

What struggling readers need is more and better reading instruction not a different sort of reading lesson. In my view schools need to adopt a curriculum framework that everyone will use with all students. This includes remedial, special education and ELL teachers.

Learning disabilities are a myth, Allington believes.

I think what we have learned in the past two decades is that there are some kids teachers give up on and then largely ignore. These kids get labeled LD. So for a total of how many students have an actual disability, I’ll go with 3%. That pretty much covers all the severe disabilities (blindness, deafness, severe mental impairment, etc.).

Here’s Allington’s take on effective reading instruction.