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Endre Walls – edu|FOCUS
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Author: Endre Walls

Another Charter Management Company nightmare

The link below points to an investigation by @WFLA 8 in Florida around Newpoint Education Partners, who is accused of creating bogus loans using taxpayer dollars. The issues in Florida are an indicator of a larger issue in our country where the average charter management company puts profits first, ahead of students or even taxpayers. The issues around a lack of general accountability, transparency, and efficiency are hallmarks of charter school management organizations, which are for-profit entities determined to turn public education in a system of haves and have-nots. @WFLA's investigation actually resulted in several school districts distancing themselves from Newpoint but only after losses to the community's public schools. Read the investigation and see the video by WFLA's Mark Douglas by clicking here. When you check out the article, the one thing I think will stand out to you, that stood out to me, was the fact that the San Jose school board paid Newpoint a staggering $500,000 per year the last 3 years as an "annual fee. An annual fee...

Education should be our #1 topic in 2016

As we go into a new year new challenges will come to the forefront for our evolving American society and education should be our #1 topic in 2016. There will be a Presidential election, amongst others, and the country will enter into yet another year of toxic testing, corporate-led educational reforms, and declining school quality due to continued budget cutbacks and charter school lobbying. I for one, am hoping beyond all hope that education is at the forefront in 2016...

typewriter

An open letter from a BAT

I'm proud to support a group called the BadAss Teachers Association, known affectionately as BATs. This is a group of educators banding together from state-to-state to work on issues related to our public education system. The vast majority of people in this growing group all have one thing in common - they teach because they love sharing knowledge and want all kids to have free and equal access to a good education. I've heard stories about what led them to teach, most were influenced by a great teacher, some just truly want to make a difference and prepare the next generation for success. One of the BATs - Deb Escobar is a retired teacher of 23 years from New York. Deb is active in her community, and even though she's retired she's still trying to make a difference in education. She wrote an open letter to our President following an email she'd received asking about why she became a grassroots activist. To a Whitehouse that has generally become, thanks to the heavy-handed lobbying efforts of the for-profit education movement, out-of-touch with the realities in our schools, this short and sweet letter represents a real educator's frustrations around what's happening to a profession she used to enjoy. It doesn't need to be a long drawn-out letter, because the truth can be summed up eloquently in just a few words. Thank you Deb for sharing this with us. "I spent 23 years teaching gifted students, until budget cuts and testing mandates forced my school and many others to cut back on enrichment opportunities and many other programs. I was forced into retirement, but I have not gone peacefully into the night. I fight every day Mr. President to educate the public, politicians, and the media about what NCLB, RTTT, Common Core, and testing have done to our students and to our public schools. I fight against privatization and charters with no accountability. I know you probably won't want to hear this because you are not on my side of this fight. But it's time to tell you, I voted for you in both elections - and am so deeply disappointed in my president's leadership on education. The reformists are bankrolled by dark money - ALEC, Koch Brothers, Gates, and many other hedge fund entrepreneurs who see our children as a profit market. I hope and dream every day that you will come to understand our plight. Until then, this grassroots education activist is one busy girl." - Deb Escobar ...

parents raising hands

Champions aren’t just teachers

One of the most pervasive hashtags I've seen of late is #AllKidsNeed. A while ago I heard a moving TED talk from a woman you may or may not have heard of before named Rita Pierson. Mrs. Pierson, who still garners that respect from people she didn't even teach, said it best - all kids need a champion. Sadly, she passed away the same year she gave her talk. I agree that every child deserves a champion, but I am certain that those champions aren't just teachers. Unfortunately not everyone involved in the education reform movement agrees. The Franklin Foundation for Innovation is working to be a champion for our public schools - yet some question our ability to do so since our leader (me) is not an educator by profession. Mrs. Pierson's quote is a powerful one, and her speech was a powerful dialogue on what it means to teach, what it means to develop citizens, and why it is important to build and maintain relationships. She was an educator and passionate about the idea of spreading knowledge to change communities and build opportunity for brighter futures. I loved her message. I am seeking, through my organization, to spread that message, to fix the issues that exist in our public schools, and shutdown the massive for-profit education machine that I personally believe is choking the success out of our public education infrastructure. What has me blogging about this was a recent dialogue with a group of people who basically said that they believe an organization trying to improve education or reform education can only be credibly led by an educator. A strange belief really; since the lack of inclusion of "other voices" is a common complaint amongst those who want to see schools improve. This group also stated that schools aren't broken - and that failure statement, they feel, is perpetuated by people who just want charter schools and for-profit education. These folks, all of whom were educators, actually said that they're weary of people stressing the importance of collaboration. Seriously? Any effort to reform, fix, improve, change (or whatever other verb you want to use) anything requires collaboration, demands partnership, and ultimately thrives on teamwork. Anyone who believes otherwise is either in this for the wrong reasons, or simply part of the problem. So, is the only shot we have at REAL education reform dictated by whether or not an organization leading the charge is led by an educator? If Michelle Rhee (Students First) and Vicki Philips (Gates Education) are any indication, I certainly hope not. Those two "former educators" represent organizations that are completely derailing education reform - pushing malformed constructs like "school choice" and anti-union messages that do little more than mask the institutional and policy issues that got us to where we are today. I think Mrs. Pierson, a consummate educator, would disagree with the idea that reform efforts are best led by educators. Diverse thinking brings the kind of disruption and creativity that leads to breakthrough outcomes. Mrs. Pierson understood the importance of relationships and bringing all...

Girl making robot

Happy Maker’s Day in NJ!

If you pay attention to news related to New Jersey you'll be inundated with a wide stream of articles and newscasts related to the state's seemingly endless education issues; from overpaid superintendents, to policy makers choosing wealthy corporations over the desires of educators and parents, there has been no shortage of low-lights to cover. Until today. Today is Maker's Day in New Jersey. A day dedicated to people who make things and innovate in the state. I personally love this idea. It's an opportunity for individuals who like to make things to showcase and celebrate American innovation. It is our innovative spirit that allowed us to hold dominance over world commerce practically since our formation. The effort has, quite successfully I would add, created a culture of innovation that receives very little recognition or press. Matter of fact, it was one of our readers who told us about the existence of this day-long festival in the first place. If you like to make electronics, robots, models, or anything else - this day celebrates you and we think that's awesome! Visit them at www.njmakersday.org for more information. You can even watch the seminars at the New Jersey Institutes of Technology live via http://live.njvid.net/njit/ Do you have something similar in your state? Tell us about it, and we will spread the word with others! You can celebrate Maker's Day with your own kids at home by encouraging them to build something. Robot and microcomputer kits are available at hobby stores everywhere, and can provide a great opportunity for family time and learning time to co-exist simultaneously. Happy Maker's Day everyone!...

Changing Education Paradigms

This was just something I felt it was necessary for us to share - a great short lecture by Dr. Professor Ken Robinson, Ph.D. about changing education paradigms. The speech was illustrated beautifully by RSAnimate. Lots of good messages here. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U[/embed] Any thoughts on Dr. Robinson's speech? I personally agreed with the majority of what he had to say - we believe, as an organization, that education reform starts at the grassroots level, with people focusing on innovative ways to fix issues with our national education infrastructure without clinging to the old ways of "how we've always done it". The hard part is getting policy makers on board with new and innovative models that will change the landscape of education in the long run. What do you think? Let us know....

A valentine for our teachers

Dear Teachers, I wanted to send a valentine to our teachers, who I believe could use a little love and appreciation from the communities they serve. See I recognize that not everyone views teachers the same. Some focus on unions, vacation days, and pension plans, most focus on test scores and bureaucracy. But for now, even if just for a moment, I'd like to focus on your contributions to our nation's future. Sure, there are a small few who see teaching as just another job, but the vast majority of you teach because you care. You probably had a great teacher who inspired you, or went to a great school that encouraged you, or simply possess a desire to give back to your community by molding and shaping our collective future - OUR collective future. The fact is, today's child will need to be tomorrow's teacher, officer, paramedic, engineer, politician, doctor, lawyer, sanitation worker, soldier, mother, father, or whatever that child is destined to become; and you spend 5 days a week, over 180 days a year with those future citizens. This valentine is for you because the vast majority of you are boiled down to mere statistics by some of our elected officials and school boards who mistakenly, even after being corrected by the public for decades, believe that standardized test scores are proof of your effectiveness. Legislation has replaced the apples on your desks with standards that tell you how to teach, and instead of providing you with the support you need to deal with the social issues that often accompany your urban and rural students, you're supplied with ways to help "juke" the stats and make test scores artificially better. The focus on quality of education has been replaced with quantity, forcing you to cram information into your children's heads instead of inspiring them to use what they learn effectively. This valentine is for you because the supports you used to be able to count on have been monetized and are barely available, if present at all. I'm talking about the guidance counselors who were your partners in understanding social issues that affected children's ability to learn. Nurses, who ensured your classrooms were full of healthy students. Librarians who made it a little more convenient and easy for kids to find the information they need. I'm talking about school boards who used to be on your side, and actually paid close attention to the tools you had access to, rather than being solely focused on property taxes and budget cuts. As a parent of a school-age child and one that will be attending school in a few years, I recognize how difficult it can be to be effective when the parents of the children you are trying to mold are as disinterested in what's actually happening in your classroom as those who think those standardized tests provide anything besides a number against the median. So this valentine is the hug you should be sharing with parents on "meet the teacher night" after agreeing to strategies...

Only two issues with Standardized Testing…

A debate has raged on for decades about standardized testing. Ultimately I feel there are only two issues with standardized testing; the standards and the testing. edu|FOCUS is going to produce a series on the topic of standardized testing and its affects on achievement nation-wide. This article is the first in that series. The "Standards" One of the biggest issues with the standards used in standardized testing is that the testing takes a quantitative approach instead of a qualitative one. A child’s ability to remember facts, figures, and formulas is what's being tested, not the depth to which they understand concepts or comprehend the material they've learned. By failing to test depth and comprehension, standardized tests miss the mark on assessing whether or not a student understands a concept well enough to use it in the real world. And forcing teachers to test the memorization standard removes their ability to encourage students to think critically and challenge assumptions. Another issue that must be addressed is the standard of assumed equality. All students are not the same. They learn differently, live amongst different cultural and social realities, and process information differently. As such, standardized testing needs to assess children where they are – not where they should be, and utilize the different cultural realities that exist in our diverse country rather than ignore them. Rather than create tests for different communities, it is possible to use test answers to determine comprehension. As an example, imagine a question that required the student to match the most appropriate word with cup, and the choices included wall, table, coaster, and window. A culturally balanced test would accept both coaster and table as correct answers recognizing that certain children may have never been exposed to the use of coasters under cups, or even know what coasters are. The impact of assumed equality in standardized testing also affects children for whom English is their second learned language. Lastly, the standard of single dimension assessment is an issue. Depth and comprehension aren't part of the testing battery, meaning that students are assessed on their ability to select the most correct answer, not show their depth in a subject matter. Because of this, standardized tests often fail to provide constructive information that educators and parents can use to improve learning outcomes down the road. A good test should have layers of depth around a concept to determine a child’s mastery of that concept or subject. This can help guide educators to students who are in need of stronger support over those who are easily absorbing the knowledge being shared with them. The "Testing" I've already alluded to a major issue with the testing aspect of standardized testing. Educators are being evaluated on the performance of their students through standardized testing instead of standardized testing being leveraged to guide learning outcomes and assess the individualized needs of students. This is one of the biggest failures around standardized testing. Here you have the potential to gather a wealth of information that could easily improve the educational experience...

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