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Opinion – Page 2 – edu|FOCUS
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Opinion

Summer slide —why it matters, and how we can fight it

For most, summer brings back fond memories of school breaks— precious time spent at summer camps, having sleepovers with friends, and generally avoiding all things related to school until the inevitable trip to the store to buy school supplies in August. Many students will return to their desks this fall and never miss a beat, picking up new skills after quickly reviewing old ones and moving forward. However, not every student will have it so easy. Some children, when they return to school in the fall, will have lost some of the skills they learned in the last year. This is referred to as summer slide, when a student slides backwards academically over the summer. Summer slide creates a challenge for teachers, who assume that their students enter their grade level with a certain set of skills. If students have lost skills over the summer, this creates challenges for the teacher: how can they keep a child moving forward, if they aren't prepared for the grade they are entering? According to the National Summer Learning Association, “summer learning loss… is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate.” Summer slide is hugely significant—teachers can be superstars, intervention programs can bring up student reading level during the year, but it’s assumed that some of that gain will be lost over the summer. According to the NSLA, “Every summer, low income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains. Most youth lose about two months of math skills in the summer.” This means that a good teacher has to backtrack every August— covering grounds that students should already be familiar with. Or worse, the teacher must forge ahead, hoping that the student can catch back up now that they are back in class. One of the easiest ways to prevent summer learning loss is by encouraging summer reading. While middle and high school students might have one book to read over the summer as a class assignment, all students can benefit from a love of reading. In Dallas, the mayor supports the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, a multifaceted educational initiative that encourages reading. In addition to offering prizes for reading a certain number of books, the program offers educational programming at local library branches. For example, last year the Bachman Lake branch hosted a STEM focused hour where students were able to construct marble runs and race each other. In Dallas, the program also helps to combat hunger; free lunch is available daily at the library for children and parents who accompany them. Dallas also has created a public-private initiative called “Dallas City of Learning,” an online platform that allows students to take advantage of both in person and online learning opportunities and earn online badges to document their success. Since its launch, 34,000 student accounts have been created and over 1700 learning opportunities have been listed. The initiative is a great example...

— Success is a combination of: Chutzpah, Sisu, and Grit.

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...

The Presumptive Presidential Candidates: What’s at Stake in Education

We’re approximately five months out from the general election for the presidency, and after a long and protracted battle for the nomination, we have presumptive candidates for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Both presidential candidates have strong opinions on issues that will affect our nation for the next four years of their potential presidency and beyond. It’s important to note that thus far, education hasn’t been a big topic of discussion in the presidential primaries, with debates focusing on issues related to the economy and immigration. Trump’s campaign website minimally addresses education in the “issues” section (and not the more visible “positions" section). Clinton’s website has two sections in the issues page dedicated to education (one for K-12 and one for early childhood education). Notably, in this election, because education hasn’t yet been a big topic of conversation, it’s up to the voter to pursue information on their own to try to get a feel for the reforms their preferred candidate might make. From their campaign websites, it’s easier to decipher Clinton’s education policy platform; Trump has been more reluctant to define his opinions on education aside from his strong support of moving away from federal oversight to more local control. The table below showcases some of the “hot button” issues in education of the moment, and the current standings (as of June 2016) of the two presumptive presidential candidates. Issue Clinton Trump Common Core In Favor Opposed ECE Supports universal pre-K Unknown Federal Oversight In Favor Opposed Free Community College In Favor Opposed School Choice In Favor (in public system) In Favor In February, Trump emphasized, “We need to fix our broken education system!” and he has previously advocated for school choice, saying “Competition is why I'm very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents didn't want to enroll their kids there, they would get better. Those schools that weren't good enough to attract students would close, and that's a good thing.”* School choice is the most specific issue that Trump has recently addressed (aside from common core); it’s a fitting focus for him, given his background in business. Clinton has spoken on numerous education related issues recently. To compare their views on common core, Clinton recently said, "I know Common Core started out as a, actually non-partisan, not bi-partisan, a non-partisan effort that was endorsed very much across the political spectrum…What went wrong? I think the roll-out was disastrous…Remember a lot of states had developed their own standards and they'd been teaching to those standards. And they had a full industry that was training teachers to understand what was going to be tested. And then along comes Common Core and you're expected to turn on a dime.”* Trump strongly opposes common core and federal oversight in general. The biggest difference between the two candidates will likely come down to the struggle between local and federal control when it comes to supervising education reform and ensuring that every...

Finally into the Final Frontier

We in education were slow to face the realities of a digital world; it could have been the cost of going to scale with digital devices in classrooms and schools and districts that bogged us down. Perhaps it was a focus on tools rather than students that lessened our collective desire to link up to hyperspace. Whatever the reason we, in education, were slow and now are once again running to catch up with the increasingly shrinking world.  The question now mumbled across staff meeting is not what does it look like to have a class filled with both kids and computers; but how do we make this shift meaningful? Personalized, problem or project based learning, and flipped instruction are all over the media, Those same pop stars of educational jargon are added to those same mumbling staff meetings; Along with the classically ambiguous terms like "paradigm shift", "best practice", and "standards based". I don’t mind the jargon, every profession has it, but the attempts to clarify new paths with new terms or ideas can and must fall short of offering complete understanding. When I am asked how to use all this technology to offer our student more than what they already have, rather than simply a shinier version of it. The response needs to come with real world (real classroom) examples and absent new unfamiliar terminology.   How does technology personalize my teaching? It doesn’t...

What do young professionals think about public education?

Dallas public schools don’t have a good reputation. Significantly, it’s not just parents who are concerned with the state of public education in our city. Polling a gathering of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Young Professionals group, 65 percent said that they would not send their child to a public school in Dallas. When you think about the future of public education and the disparity that sees many students of color receiving a subpar education, this is significant. When asked “If given the opportunity, all things being equally comparable, would you send your child to a public or private school?" 83 percent said they would send their child to a public school. This speaks volumes to how the public schools in Dallas (both traditional and charter) are viewed among young professionals in Dallas (albeit a very limited and unrepresentative sample). But it brings up another challenge: if this is how the one percent feel about education in Dallas, how must the parents of the students attending these schools feel? And what are the consequences, should these young professionals have children in the next ten years and nothing in the DFW area changes? School quality is more than just a PR problem for Dallas. It’s something that needs to be addressed, aggressively and immediately. Public schools are the lifeblood of our city— they create the citizens of tomorrow. Student success in school and student opportunities beyond K-12 education will determine the future of our city. If our students are well equipped, they have a greater chance to go on to good jobs and invest back in their communities. If they are not prepared, if the opportunities for them post-high school are lacking, in large part because of the lack of preparation they received as students in our city, we will merely be continuing the cycle that currently exists— a cycle that doesn’t do enough to support low income students and help them pursue opportunities beyond the neighborhoods they grew up in. Can we fault parents for pulling their children out of public schools that are failing and placing them in private schools? No, but not every parent has those same options. We must focus on improving the public options for every student— regardless of their background and income level. We need to invest in public pre-K so that students have support from their earliest years; support rigorous teacher preparation for teachers who will be prepared to support students in these high needs schools and support those teachers so that they remain in the classroom. We must work within the communities to involve parents and families in the process. And we must take on this responsibility ourselves, rather than waiting for someone else to champion the cause. If we do this, over 83 percent of tomorrow’s students will attend public schools, leading to greater diversity and community involvement in the public school community— a win in and of itself....

The Detroit “Sick Outs” and What We Learned

What did we learn after the recent Detroit teacher strikes, or “sick outs?”  Nothing new, to be honest. After it was made public that city public schools wouldn’t be able to pay its teachers their salaries in June for work they’ve already done, it was only natural that they would hold some kind of protest.  But teacher strikes are a no-win situation since it only raises more problems, whether a solution is reached or not.  Students miss out on receiving an education, parents have to revise their schedules to care for the kids, those students to rely on free lunch programs end up going hungry, teachers get even more reduced pay from their union dues/payouts, and the list goes on. In the case in Detroit, a solution was promised but that doesn’t necessarily mean a victory, as the district will still run out of money come next month, and there was no say in where that teacher salary money was going to come from. So what did we learn here?  Well, what we should have learned is that the general media focus on this event was on the wrong things, as usual.  Rather than highlighting the problems that always come up with teacher strikes, and pointing out what all the issues that come with running a failing school district, we should have seen more coverage on those individuals actually in control: district administrators and state education legislators.  There always seems to be a lack of direct information or interviews from those at the top when it comes to solutions, and more focus on what the strikes are doing to those directly involved. If you remember, there was also a bit of news coverage on Detroit public schools a few months ago highlighting the poor physical conditions the buildings themselves were in, mold growing in the walls, no heat, rodents, vermin, falling ceilings, etc.  But once the sickouts started up, most of that coverage went on hold to “media-shame” the teachers on strike for keeping the students away from school.  It seems like every time a teacher strike happens anywhere the focus goes directly on the students missing out and the parents having to adjust, instead of what the teachers are protesting as a whole.  And once the strikes come to a conclusion, all that focus on poor student life disappears again.  It’s like there’s an automatic stigma that comes with teacher strikes that stops people from realizing that the problem is much bigger than paychecks. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="396"] You've seen this, right?[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="472"] Not okay[/caption] Seeing how something like a teacher strike can essentially shut down an urban area should lead us all to realize just how important public education really is in terms of the bigger picture.  Rather than shaming teachers, we should be shaming legislatures and administrators for not doing something to fix or prevent these issues from coming up in the first place.  This lack of open communication with those in charge can only lead to more misinformation and a skewed focus...

Hindsight on the College Experience

It's that time where soon-to-be high school grads will be picking their colleges to attend, if they haven't already.  These are just a few things I've realized about the whole college experience when I stop and look back. I recently came across an article discussing how Ivy League schools are seen as inherently better than everywhere else when it comes colleges.  Regardless of what type of profession you want to go towards, or where your interests lie, or what your skill levels are, that Ivy League school on your application list automatically rockets to the top as being the number one choice to make simply because that’s how we’ve all been led to think.  The author mentioned how this shouldn’t be the norm anymore, since seeing Harvard (and the like) as the number one place to be for college is only relevant to those who want to extract from the university everything it has to offer in terms of educational prestige; meaning Harvard shouldn’t be seen as the most aspirational school to go to for every student. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="210"] They even have a logo[/caption]   Interestingly, the comments on the article counter this point, noting that big names are idolized for a reason, and that every profession has the same type of problem.  Not all of us, but a fair majority of us will agree that having a large and potentially influential connection on a resume is what helps you get noticed more so than your skills.  Being able to say that you went to an ivy league to help you get a job is like saying you took a coffee brewing class in Italy in order to get a barista job, or you interned at MTV in order to get that production job at a local TV station.  We tend to see those experience-boosting jobs as a means to an end for something else.  College is no exception, as people tend to choose a college based on their interests, and how it can get them a job in the future. I agree with the author’s intention in saying that we need to put less emphasis on big name schools being the end-all goal for every college bound student, but I don’t think bringing down the big name schools is the way to boost the smaller name schools’ reputations.  Prestigious colleges and universities get their status from those who perpetuate them; almost any Ivy League (and near-ivy like my Alma Mater) graduate will tell you that their school’s reputation is pretty accurate due to adequate resources, positive environment, enriching classes, involved professors, etc.   These opinions tend to be biased, of course, because who better to advocate for a school than its alumni, but also because of a deep-seated need for validation when it comes to defending such a big choice (but I’m no expert on psychology).  You’ll see the same level of loyalty from alumni of state or smaller name schools for the same reason, firsthand experience from happy customers, and a need...

A Return to Education in Politics

A few months ago I mentioned that education should be the number one topic of discussion this election season since your education level affects, literally, everything in your life and the lives around you.  And I don’t mean “education level” like whether or not you went to college, but education in that you are knowledgeable and informed on things that matter; the education of the general American public. Since then there have been all sorts of interviews and debates that gave all sorts of opinions on the issues, education included, but I personally feel like the media’s biggest focus this year has been skewed away from education in favor of topics that garner more views and anger (border walls, anyone?).  And as the two main parties are still fighting amongst themselves for a nomination, we have to look at the importance of education for both from different starting points.  I can remember hearing more on the subject on the democratic side, as there are only two major players, but also because they seem to at least have education reform near the forefront of their campaign promises.  Plus they haven’t had to constantly battle for media attention from one particular outlandish and outspoken candidate by giving soundbites and quotes on other subjects, if only to keep their name in the media circuit.  I remember hearing slightly less on the subject on the republican side for that very reason – the attention continually gets placed on other more controversial issues instead. So if you really want to know what your candidates think about the future of education in this country, you’ll have to do a bit of digging around, which on the one hand is kind of good as it means taking an active interest in the political machine (increasing your education, as it were).  But on the other hand, it means that this election season is failing at putting education at the forefront of the general public interest as a whole.  While this may partially be the fault of the capital M “media,” since it’s what drives public interest in the first place, it’s also on the candidates’ shoulders for not realizing just how important education really is with regards to everything else.  Yes, there are still many other factors when it comes to running a country that deserve attention, but I still maintain that most of the issues that stem from those factors start from the education (or a lack thereof) on the matter.  Not everyone deals with the inner workings of our foreign policy or how the national budget will be balanced, so not everyone has to be fully educated on the subject, thus making its importance in media coverage less relevant.  How can we expect the entire population to know what’s the best method for dealing with something like foreign affairs when they know so little about how it works?  There are only so many topics you can cover, politically, before you start to lose attention, so why not make...

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