Saturday, January 7, 2012


After weeks of watching the Republican primary debates and cringing at both the lack of eloquence of these candidates in their colloquy as well as their attempts to defend their offensive social views, it is refreshing to hear Fareed Zakaria's sound reasoning.

Please take the time to view his GPS special, "Fixing Education." Not only do we see how the leading countries in education, South Korea and Finland, have succeeded in implementing two effective though opposite approaches to their education systems, but we also hear from three of my favorite advocates of education reform in the United States: Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and Salman Khan.

It's a welcome break from listening to the idiots vying for a chance to run our country.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thinking Critically

Here is an interesting article by John Lehrer about the need for us to teach executive function skills to students. After reading this article, particularly the following quote, I couldn't help but relate it to my own experience in the classroom, especially in my work with children from low-income communities. 
                                  Children who could better regulate their impulses and attention were 
                                             four times less likely to have a criminal record, three times less likely 
                                             to be addicted to drugs and half as likely to become single parents. 
                                             In many instances, the ability to utilize executive control was more 
                                             predictive of adult outcomes than either IQ scores or socioeconomic

Teaching self-help skills and emotion-regulation skills is so important for young learners because it challenges them to take a problem, brainstorm multiple solutions, and test out these ideas to solve it...much like one might solve a mathematical logic problem, or choose a chess move, or what an entrepreneurial software engineer would do to build a new internet company. Rather than focusing on drilling four year olds on the letters and numbers, why not ask preschoolers to build the letters out of blocks or string? This type of activity requires students to think in a new way: it allows them to learn through movement, through trial-and-error and hopefully engages them well enough so that they are determined to figure out a way. I mean, which would you rather do? What Lehrer's article really touches on, though, is that teaching these types of skills should not stop at the door to kindergarten. It all goes back to reforming what we teach and how we teach, so that students are excited about learning and creating and don't just search it online to get a quick answer. I look forward to hearing any comments you have about the article!

A connection: college readiness reform and kindergarten readiness reform don't look so different!

If you listen back at the interview in my former post, Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson, mentions a former student of his who was accepted into his charter high school after having been the top of her class in her former high school, only to be tested and placed at a grade level significantly lower than her own. Somewhere along the line, many schools are failing to prepare students for the next year to come. And, consequently, the year after...and the year after...and, well, you get the point. Suddenly you're a first year at a junior college taking remedial courses so that you can survive your first year of general education courses. That's an expensive extra year of college that a student will have to pay for and an expensive extra set of courses that colleges will have to fund for students in need.

A recent article from the Huffington Post investigates how some communities are being proactive in preventing this costly issue from occurring. Local colleges are partnering with public schools in their area to offer college-level coursework so that students will be able to enter college the following year knowing what to expect in terms of rigor and skill sets. Huh. Imagine using education reform to catch students up and help prepare them before the problem of them being behind in college is ever an issue.

Let's apply this to early childhood education: public schools partner with local preschools, especially ones that serve low-income and immigrant communities, to create a preschool-kindergarten framework so that students in their transition year of preschool will be given specific and measurable skill sets that they will be required to use once in Kindergarten. This helps lower, and hopefully even eliminate, the achievement gap that so often starts at this early age. Preschool students would be given the chance to gain the foundational math and pre-literacy skills that kindergarten standards and objectives are based on. It is an inexpensive way to reform the system, a smart way to encourage collaboration among educators and a way to bring attention to the importance of offering strong early childhood education programs to every child in our communities.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The truth about homework...

Two brothers doing their homework in a photo from around 1960.
Photo from NPR's report 
Recently, Los Angeles school district decided to limit the percentage that homework (click to see Time's article) can count for towards student grades. The idea is that students are spending far too much extracurricular time stuck in the books and homework is not an accurate indicator of a student's knowledge anyway, since there is no real means to monitor how the homework is completed (i.e. help from the internet, a parent, a sibling, etc.). In the preschool world, I have used homework given out each Friday as a way to encourage parent involvement. Families enjoy learning about what their little students are studying in school and students enjoy doing an activity that their older siblings get to do (ahhhh the pleasures of working with students who aren't yet jaded). 

Well here is another take on how we can reform our current usage of homework:

 Allow me to introduce you to Khan Academy. (While I'm at it...allow me to introduce you to TED talks where you can view presentations on every subject imaginable given by the most intelligent and insightful bunch of individuals that have helped shape one aspect or another of our world as we know it. FYI).

In this TED talk, Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, talks about his vision of education reform including how we can use technology to empower teachers and students alike. Khan Academy offers short videos on various academic topics and then offers practice quizes for students to take that increase in difficulty as students master the content. Student progress on these quizes is then tracked. Pilot classrooms that have worked with Khan Academy as a supplemental teaching tool have used the videos as homework to prep students for the topic that will be taught the following day. Data on student's scores on the quizzes is monitored by teachers who can then individualize their teaching strategies to target students who might need extra help on a subject. Students can also be connected to other peers who are working on the same material.

The first awesome part about this is that the Khan Academy helps teachers individualize learning based on trackable data of the levels of each student on specific content. Second, it connects students with peers from around the globe that can help mentor and tutor. Imagine this amazing world where students are helping students and teachers are helping teachers and technology is utilized to its fullest! Sigh. ENJOY!!!

After watching the TED talk: What are YOUR thoughts?

Friday, June 10, 2011

This scares me...

"When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of schoolchildren."

- Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, 1985

Now, I am not anti-unions by any means. I personally was very appreciative of my union in my former job. My union secured me a competitive salary in a field known for its low pay. But at some point, unions and education leaders need to make students their shared priority.

The AFT offers a plethora of benefits to its members, from travel discounts to loan forgiveness. Perhaps benefits can also include solid mentoring and professional development programs to struggling teachers that school officials would otherwise fight to get rid of, so that they are able to raise the quality of their members without compromising the goal of protecting its workers' rights?


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's about time: Reform for Early Childhood programs across the states!

*Picture from Huffington Post

Check out this article from the Department of Health & Human Services/Education websites AND the fact sheet link at the bottom of the article for more detailson expectations and the proposed grant services:

It is interesting to note that South Carolina's Education Chief is denying his early childhood programs the opportunity to improve the quality of their programs because of a political agenda, saying he does not want government money involved. I can't help but feeling that this is one of the greatest challenges standing in the way of true education reform. Do we need to go back and listen to Kevin Johnson's interview from my last post? Education reform, including Early Childhood Education reform, cannot be about politics! It has to be about the kids. Arne Duncan gets it. Hopefully others will jump on board, too!