I learned last night that my niece, who is in the 5th grade, is currently in the middle of a social studies unit about American civics. I was practically giddy with excitement over this as I went through some flash cards of terms and concepts with her. (I think my enthusiasm confused her, but she’s more or less used to my nerdiness by now. Also, I’m glad she’s learning about impeachment from her class instead of from Monica Lewinski and CNN like I did when I was in 5th grade.) Continue reading
Charter schools are the sexiest thing going in New York City education. They are fountains of educational innovation in that city, even as charters languish in many other parts of America. Those schools are not without their own unique set of controversies beyond the typical ones regarding unions and privatization, however. As outlined by Amy Pereira and Trymaine Lee in an article titled “A Day in the Life of a Divided School,” one of the most hotly contested education issues in that city is school co-location, the practice of Continue reading
I was never in marching band, but through serendipity I’ve been surrounded by bandos for the last seven or eight years. (The shirt design was drawn by my best friend Brita Thorne for her euphonium section of the Michigan Marching Band. Even the girls end up with serious guns by the end of the season). This Huffington Post article “17 Signs You Were a Band Geek” caught my eye Continue reading
When I was a 2nd grader at a Catholic elementary school, Pope John Paul II was like a real-life Santa Claus. Everybody my age liked him so much, we didn’t even care that he was never going to pop down the chimney and leave us presents. Just like Santa Claus, he was always smiling, he wore the same iconic outfit all the time, and whenever he talked, everybody cheered. Many of my Catholic friends to this day refer to him as JP2. Continue reading
We might think of developmental education at the college level as the traditional approach to transitions services for students who may not be prepared for college-level coursework. Recent experience has shown, however, that tradition is not helping enough students graduate from college, as detailed in last week’s AP article on college developmental courses. “Only about a quarter of students nationally who take developmental—or remedial—classes ever graduate,” the article points out. That figure is staggering. Postsecondary institutions are dealing with two main problems when it comes to improving those numbers and reforming developmental education (aside from the growing need for it): how to accurately assess whether students need development, and how to best help students who do in fact need that development.
The predictive value of standardized tests has come into question at all levels of education in recent years. Assessments of college readiness, and specifically placement tests, are the latest among them. Thus, colleges’ attempts to find new ways of assessing students’ preparedness are a welcome change. However, some experimental approaches currently in use still do not take the entire student into account and may be just as one-dimensional as assessment tests like the ACCUPLACER. Allowing students to decide themselves whether or not to take remedial courses could be risky for students and institutions. Using GPA as a lone indicator gives only a narrow idea of a student’s needs.
Still, there are plenty of students who clearly are not ready for the rigor of credit-bearing courses. I saw that first-hand when I was an advisor and teacher’s aide for a college bridge program for GED recipients in 2010. The program was designed specifically to reduce the need for developmental courses once students got to college. Although the nonprofit I worked for geared the program toward non-traditional students aged 16-21, the model had the potential to help any students who needed to improve their college preparation. Indeed, most of our students were graduates of The Next Step Public Charter School, which employed an academic model that was a hybrid between a traditional high school and a GED preparation center.
The instructors for our program included actual college professors who had several years’ experience teaching developmental-level courses. To supplement those academic courses, my fellow AmeriCorps volunteer at my site taught a study skills course that was developed at a Big Ten university and had been taught at the college level for several semesters. In addition to my role as a teacher’s aide for those three courses, I also designed and implement a college advising program. Advising focused on college and career research in addition to filling out college and financial aid applications. In short, we took a holistic approach to support as many aspects of the college transition process as possible.
This model showed so much promise, but after just one cycle, the entire organization was shut down due to funding shortfalls. That lack of financial support is telling of how our academic system overlooks students’ transition needs. Solutions to student preparedness are directed at high schools or colleges, but approaches that target both and attempt to bridge that gap are rare. Of course, early intervention is best, and there is no substitute for giving a child a solid educational foundation before she reaches college. However, we can’t turn back the clock for students who are already moving on to postsecondary education. Those students need and deserve help, too.
Developmental students’ struggles to graduate also demonstrate that academic skills are not enough for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. Learning non-cognitive skills such as time management, self-motivation, and effective communication is essential. Those sorts of skills are innate in some students and must be learned by others. Study skills courses can go a long way in guiding students to success, but how often do we hear about high schools that offer those courses? Convincing college students to put some of their valuable financial aid toward a study skills class can be difficult as well. Nonetheless, equipping students with a holistic set of skills should be a priority at all levels of education.
It’s clear that postsecondary institutions, and community colleges in particular, are suffering from a lack of essential information about students’ needs and their potential for success. Grades and test scores can only communicate so much, but a student’s teachers, counselors, and coaches can communicate a wealth of information about his potential. In order to bridge this gap between high school and college for students, we as educators need to bridge that same gap among ourselves. We need to talk to each other. Colleges need to reach out to high schools more to gain a fuller understanding of what students have learned and what they are capable of, and policy makers need to give colleges the funding to maximize those human resources. K-12 schools need to be more aware of students’ postsecondary options and interests along with the expectations of colleges and universities. Further, nonprofit organizations and community college programs specifically designed to help students transition into and persist in college deserve more financial and community support.
As with every other stage in our education system, developmental education programs suffer from a lack of coherence with the stages of education both above and below it. Colleges are taking important steps to find solutions for assessing whether students need developmental courses and which approaches are most successful for students who do need extra help. For the sake of those students, reform efforts should focus on students’ needs and experiences in their entirety.
In honor of National Library Week, CNN posted this article and accompanying photos of 27 libraries from around the world. I could sit and look at those pictures all day long. The article doesn’t include these photos of the University of Michigan Law Library, but I’m posting them because that building is near and dear to my heart. The place is basically a cathedral of books. Even undergrads are allowed to spend endless stressful hours in there.
Next, I’m excited about the latest newsletter from the Family Learning Institute, an education nonprofit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I did an internship there while I was studying for my master’s degree. FLI provides one-on-one after school tutoring to low income children in Washtenaw County. Students are paired with a volunteer math or literacy coach, and they work together for just one hour a week during the school year. Despite the small time frame, FLI’s model gets big results in terms of academic improvement. The organization also offers programs to combat summer learning loss and help rising 6th graders prepare for the social and academic challenges of middle school. And new this year, FLI is expanding its reach through an Algebra Academy, college prep workshops, and a community access television show for parents and families.
There is a ton of information and discourse about schools and colleges on the internet, but there’s comparatively little that addresses nonprofit education. I want to give people an opportunity to learn more about the really important contributions that nonprofits make to education. If you’re interested in learning more about FLI, here’s a link to their website.
This article from the Huffington Post details a brilliantly simple photo and interview series for photographer Aliza Eliazarov. The series, titled “See Me After School”, captures the appearance and emotions of NY teachers during the part of the day that few people but teachers think about. This is a diverse selection of people who work teach the gamut of subjects, but there’s a common thread: Just about everybody is exhausted at the end of the school day, and these educator’s days aren’t even over yet.
And finally this week, I absolutely had to include this gem of a video, or as The Huffington Post calls it, “The High School Lib Dub to End All Lip Dubs.” Students at Avon High School in Indiana put together this massive undertaking to raise money for a local children’s hospital. If you’re interested, you can donate through this link. I promise this will make your day.
My first impression of my urban high school at the age of 16 came in my guidance counselor’s office at my orientation. My family had just moved from a very small, very white town earlier that summer. My counselor felt the need to give me some background on the student body of the school.
“You’re going to experience quite a culture shock,” he said. He went on to tell me this was a very diverse school, but he was eager to add that there was no gang activity there, citing a lone example of a group of kids that had made a habit of rolling up one pant leg. He insisted that the administration had quickly put that to rest.
“Keep your head up, look assertive, and you’ll be fine,” he added. I can only imagine what my poor mother was thinking as she sat next to me.
This man clearly thought that he was doing me a favor my telling me to be on my guard. Instead, he was perpetuating a whole slew of stereotypes. Why did he assume that he needed to say these things to me? Did he think I couldn’t deal with kids who were different from me? Who were poorer than me? Did he expect me to become a victim in this situation because I was white?
It’s hard not to see the latent racism and ignorance in his words. For all I know, this was a decent man who had spent over 30 years counseling kids. He had probably seen the school and its student body change a lot. More poor families, more immigrant families, fewer white families. But why assume that a scrawny white girl from Northern Michigan would have a hard time flourishing in a diverse urban environment?
I went on to make friends with a lot of kids who were quite different from me in many ways. My life has been much richer for it. I don’t think I was a uniquely kind or open-minded teenager. Rather, my happiness and success were thanks to the kids at that school who were kind and friendly enough to want to be friends with the new kid.
Children are so perceptive, and they pick up on so many of the thoughts and emotions of adults. However, it’s also possible that they choose not to adopt the ignorant notions of older generations.
When I think back on that moment, the most difficult part for me to deal with is the fact that I wasn’t the one who was harmed in that exchange. Instead, that mentality harmed the minority kids at my school. I was 16 years old and I was already scared to be starting at a new school anyway. His planting of that suspicion of my fellow students in my head was nothing but destructive. In a different situation, that suspicion may have turned into an ignorance to match his. I’m so thankful that the diverse student body and group of teachers were welcoming enough to dispel those suspicions.
I’ve come to understand, though, that I had no reason to expect anything other than kindness. We send kids to school so that they learn to engage with other kids and become a community of learners. Growth doesn’t come from exposure to people just like ourselves. It comes from working with people who are different. There’s no reason to lead kids to believe that they won’t be able to handle those differences. Doing so only perpetuates ignorance, fear, and self-segregation. And worse yet, minority kids are always the ones that are harmed, not the white students who are told to be cautious and vigilant.
The Confidence Code, a new book authored by ABC’s Claire Shipman and BBC’s Katty Kay, reveals new research into the differences between men’s and women’s confidence and how those differences affect important areas of life such as workplace performance. This dynamic certainly begins even earlier, in the classroom. As Shipman points out, girls of today tend to work hard and strive for perfection in their grades rather than take academic risks. When they graduate from college with impressive degrees, the skills that helped them earn those degrees don’t necessarily transfer to the workplace. In an article posted today on ABCNews.com, she notes of women, “Perhaps we’ve contemplated taking a larger step – a run for local office or a change of career – but we opt for caution over risk. For most women, such feelings are so commonplace we’ve discount[ed] them. But, in truth, they represent a profound confidence gap between men and women, especially in the workplace.” In contrast, men tend to be assertive in their contributions to discussion, decision making, and leadership. Women often take a back seat, fearing that they might make mistakes or be perceived as over-bearing.
As an educational researcher, I can’t help but wonder what educational structures and practices reinforce this confidence differential in schools. The article states that there are genetic and physiological determinants of an individual’s confidence levels, but the study also finds that individuals have agency in this. How can we teach girls the same non-cognitive skills of self-confidence and assertiveness that help boys succeed in the workplace? How can we encourage girls to take risks and view failure as a learning opportunity? Answers might be a long time coming, but the discourse generated by this research could go a long way in shifting educators’ approaches to preparing boys and girls alike for success in their careers.
Interested in taking The Confidence Quiz and contributing to this research? Click here for the link.
Dan knows everybody. When we were in college together, whenever we went anywhere on campus, people would stop us every few minutes to say hi to him. And they usually did it very enthusiastically. You’d have thought he was a local celebrity. This all seemed so odd to me because, as one of our mutual friends likes to say, “There’s quiet, and then there’s Dan.” The guy really doesn’t say much unless he really has something to say. How on Earth did he know all these people?
After knowing him for a couple of years, things started to make sense. While we were in student government, he worked his way from assembly member to the executive board in just a year. By his junior year, he was an RA and president of a state-wide residence hall student government representing dozens of colleges and universities. Throughout that time, he became fast friends with just about everybody he met. He’s always ready with a quick smile and a kind word. In short, Dan puts himself in a position where he can make an impact on people.
He did this quite literally in June of 2012, when he arrived in Liberia as a Peace Corps volunteer. His assignment was to teach high school science at a small public high school. While I knew he was undertaking an incredible commitment, I wasn’t surprised by his desire to do so. He’s all about making meaningful commitments and seeing them through.
Dan has gotten to meet some fascinating people in the last couple of years (yes, that’s Bono above, along with a US Congressional delegation and some fellow volunteers) but knowing him, I suspect that his favorite part of his volunteerism has been building relationships with his students and colleagues.
You can read a fascinating account of Dan’s work and travels through the Peace Corps in his blog The Winding Road: Twenty-seven Months as a Member of Peace Corps Liberia. Anyone interested in education, especially international education, should take some time to read his writings.
Please give us a little background about your educational experience, including any social identities that impacted you as a student or educator.
I grew up between the small towns of Williamston and Perry, in Michigan. I attended school in the Perry Public Schools system from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. I was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Michigan by the Cook Family Foundation, and so I attended the University of. Michigan from 2007 to 2011 and completed a Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology.
After a year as an intern with the Michigan Department of Community Health (working on science outreach for students) I entered the Peace Corps and came to Liberia, which is an education-only program.
Volunteers in Liberia are placed in junior and senior high schools to teach math or science. My training consisted of two weeks of technical sessions followed by two weeks of model school. I taught 11th grade chemistry during the model school, during which I was observed by experienced volunteers and staff. I wrote about that experience on my blog in this post. After the remainder of Peace Corps’ training I was sent to Gorblee Central High School to teach chemistry to the 10th-12th grades. GCHS is a small, resource-poor government high school. As time went on and teacher shortages became more pronounced, I started teaching physics and math classes as well. Somewhat ironically, I never taught a single biology class in Liberia.
After one year I became a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and was put in the role of training new volunteers to be teachers. I worked in the training of 38 new volunteers during July-August 2013.
In my role as a teacher I was definitely helped by the social identities of being white and male (I’m actually half Vietnamese but am generally perceived as white in Liberia). I was afforded respect for those identities that was greater than the respect given to a host country national of the same age.
What about your personal experience inspired you to pursue this career? If this doesn’t apply, why has a career in education been the right choice for you?
You know, I didn’t choose to pursue a career in education; I applied to the Peace Corps and it was decided that my educational profile fit what was desired to help with Liberia’s shortage of trained teachers. I enjoyed a lot about my time as a teacher – I got the opportunity to work with classes of up to 45 students (that’s small for Liberia) of very different ability. It definitely gave me a different perspective on education and the challenges that teachers can come up against. My time as a teacher and my subsequent job as volunteer leader have given me a glimpse of how the overall health of a system can impact the quality of education.
Please share a time when you were working in education and you were strongly reminded of being a student yourself. This can include memories of instructional techniques your former teachers used, teaching a favorite subject, interacting with educational institutions, etc.
The differences in ability level between the students at the high school that I attended and the one I taught at in Liberia is so vast that as a teacher I often thought back to how my favorite teachers had approached topics and wondered how they would approach a topic. Teaching physics, chemistry, and math is very different when you can be reasonably certain that the students know how to multiply and divide. I remember my friends and I breezing through assignments because foundational skills from earlier grades allowed us to focus on the concept at hand.
Tony Danza (yes, that Tony Danza) recently wrote a book entitled I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. In it, he details working as a first-year English teacher in a Philadelphia High School. Time and time again, he experiences a great deal of remorse for his behavior as a student now that he finally understands just how difficult teaching is. As an educator, have you ever experienced this sort of remorse and empathy toward your former teachers, counselors, coaches, or administrators? Please explain.
I won’t say that I ever experienced this sort of remorse, no. I like to think that I didn’t make life too tough on teachers, and I certainly spent enough time making copies for teachers! But you do definitely gain a deeper appreciation for how difficult the job is – coming up with lessons that hit different parts of the experiential learning cycle, assessing students fairly, differentiating lessons for different ability levels, and so on—so I would say that I probably never thanked the faculty at Perry Public Schools enough.
You may contact Dan with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan would like you to please note that the views expressed here and the contents of his web site are his personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.