SCOTUS nominee tutors DC kids

Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s almost-certainly-doomed Supreme Court nominee has tutored students at a Washington, D.C. elementary school for 18 years.

‘They knew I had a future … ‘


Education Secretary Arne Duncan mentored Lawanda Crayton 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, Arne Duncan was an “I Have a Dream” Foundation mentor at a Chicago elementary school. The outgoing education secretary reunited with Lawanda Crayton, when she was interviewed for NPR’s StoryCorps interview project.

The foundation helps low-income children with “tutoring in early elementary school all the way through help with college tuition,”  reports NPR.

Crayton’s  mother was “an abusive alcoholic,” she told Duncan in the intrerview. “I remember being put in the hospital, I had a broken bone in my leg, had cuts on my face — all from my mother.”

I was a very angry young woman . . . But you and I had a very dynamic relationship, because I spent a number of days being tutored by you in math, and it became one of my favorite subjects.

Crayton was motivated by the program’s rewards. “And for us it was like, hey, if we do well on this test we can go on a trip … anything that was going to get us out of the war zone that we were in. I wanted as much homework as I could get in order not to go home.”

Every year I embraced everybody a little bit more and I accepted that they wanted to be a part of my life. They knew I had a future, I had a life, and I had a purpose, because I never thought that I had that, and it took these blessings to put that in my life. If I didn’t have that support, I wouldn’t be here.

The foundation paid for Crayton to attend a Catholic school, then go on to college.

She had no family at her college graduation. But she’d called Duncan. “You were there. You came. You were just as proud of me as I was of myself.”

Crayton now works in information technology as a project manager and mentors children.

Survivor will be history teacher

Eight years ago, a Downtown College Prep senior named Luis Falcon was attacked by gang members in a San Jose park. Stabbed nine times, he lost a kidney and spent a week in a coma. He learned how to walk again. He will earn a degree in history from the University of California at Santa Cruz in May, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  A Teach for America corps member, Falcon will return to his old neighborhood to teach history at DCP.

luis falcon

Lying in the hospital for a month after the attack, Falcon started to think about his neighborhood.”Something needed to change in my neighborhood and maybe I could be that little spark,” he said.

Undocumented and ineligible for college aid, he enrolled at San Jose City College but dropped out after one semester. “I was just paranoid I was going to get attacked.”

After working in a factory for two years, Falcon returned to community college. He also tutored at a charter middle school and worked in DCP’s summer bridge program. He legalized his status and earned a scholarship to UC-Santa Cruz.

Jennifer Andaluz, DCP’s executive director, has known Falcon since he was in ninth grade. He has the “grit” teachers need to succeed, she told the Sentinel.  “It’s about developing a mindset where you can actually grow in the areas where you currently struggle, and that growth is only going to come about as a result of hard work,” Andaluz said.

I write about Downtown College Prep’s early years in Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds.

Ed student expelled for Facebook comment

A graduate education student at Syracuse University, Matthew Werenczak signed up to tutor at a predominantly black middle school. On his first day, a community leader said the school should hire teachers from historically black colleges.

“Just making sure we’re okay with racism,” wrote Werenczak on his Facebook page. “It’s not enough I’m … tutoring in the worst school in the city, I suppose I oughta be black or stay in my own side of town.”

The School of Education expelled him for “unprofessional, offensive, and insensitive” comments. When FIRE went public with the case, he was readmitted and earned his master’s degree.

ESL prof invents ‘chatbot’ to teach English

An English as a Second Language instructor’s “chatbot” is helping immigrant students practice their English.

Also on Community College Spotlight: While college presidents say online courses are as good as traditional instruction, the public is skeptical.

Duncan started as the tutor’s kid

Prospective Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s education career started in infancy: His mother Sue took him along as she tutored poor black children in churches on the South Side of Chicago.  Sue Duncan began teaching a summer Bible study class in 1961.

“We had one Bible, and I thought we could each read a few sentences and pass the Bible around the circle. And I discovered not one of the children could read,” Sue Duncan said.

The tutoring program was born, held in neighborhood churches and attended by kids who heard about it through word-of-mouth.

When her children were born, she brought the babies along. As they grew older, they became tutors.

“When you learned how to read, it was, take these 2- and 3-year-olds, and read them this book. At 7, you’re teaching kids phonics; at 8, math. At 12, you’re running the gym for 5- and 6-year-olds,” said Sarah Duncan, Arne’s younger sister.

A student at the private University of Chicago Lab School, Duncan learned to play basketball in the church gym, going on to co-captain the Harvard team.  He worked for a year in his mother’s tutoring center and wrote his senior thesis, “The Values, Aspirations and Opportunities of the Urban Underclass,” on it.

After a brief career as a professional basketball player in Australia, Duncan ran an old friend’s educational foundation in Chicago, helping to open a school.  He was hired to run magnet schools for the Chicago school district; in 2001, he became superintendent.

Teachers don’t like superintendents (or Education secretaries) who’ve never worked as teachers. But you can’t say Duncan has been isolated from the challenges of helping kids learn.

Here’s the C-Span video on Duncan’s testimony before Congress.