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updates for 05.07.2011

6 new posts today

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad -- but is it true?

In response to critics that TFA teachers don't have enough long-term impact, TFA replies with the statement from their annual survey "Nearly two-thirds of Teach For America alumni work in the field of education, and half of those in education are teachers.  Teaching remains the most common profession among our alumni." Now a statement like this is pretty strong and probably shuts up those critics, though it also probably leaves them scratching their heads.  How could this statement possibly be true? I decided to investigate a bit to see how much of this was fact and how much was PR spin.  Before I get started, though, I'd like to explain something about myself to people who don't know where I'm coming from with my occasional criticisms of TFA.  It's not that I want TFA to fail.  There are two things I don't like about misleading PR:  1)  Politicians often believe it and then make policies based on it, like "those TFA teachers keep teaching so we can solve the education crisis by firing all the overpaid veterans and replacing them with these TFA teachers." and 2)  TFA seems to believe the PR themselves and don't seem to feel the need to improve their ability to get more alumni to teach beyond the two years. The first thing that you should notice when looking at a stat like "one third of alumni are still teaching" is the careful choice of words.  You're only an alum if you don't quit before  you become an alum.  And since somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of people who start in TFA do not complete their commitment and therefore become alumni, they are not considered in that stat.  That alone would move the number down to 30%, but that's just the beginning. The first report I looked at was the 2007 report.  At the bottom there was some fine print that said "The information in this report is based on self-reported data as of April 2007 and represents more than 57% of our alumni network." Well, 57% is pretty low, considering that it's self-selecting.  This is not a random sampling by any means since those who are in education are more likely, I think, to respond to the alumni survey. The 2008 report says "Percentages that reflect current data -- as opposed to cumulative data -- are drawn from our 2007 alumni survey, which received 4,097 responses, and represent 35 percent of our alumni network at the time."  This doesn't sound very reliable statistically. The 2009 report says "Except where noted, percentages that reflect current data -- as opposed to cumulative data -- are drawn from our 2008 alumni survey, which received a 57 percent response rate and went out to our alumni from corps years 1990-2006."  So now it's back to 57 percent. Finally, the recent 2010 report says "Data is self-reported and reflects 72 percent of our total alumni population."  This is quite a jump, so I wanted to examine it.  Of course the size of the new corps is rising so if they were able to get 100% of the new CMs to respond, that would help.  There were 17,000 alumni the year before and 3,000 new ones that year.  But if they kept the 57% of the original 17,000 and got all the new 3,000 to respond, that would still be only 63%.  To get the 72% they claim, they would have to not only get all the new 3000 to respond, but they'd have to get 67% of the 17,000 people who they tried to get before.  I don't think this is feasible since as the years go on, it gets harder to track people who you've lost.  I do admit that it's possible that they made a huge effort to get those numbers up to answer criticisms about the low self-reported turnout. Just under the 'two thirds in education and one third in teaching' stat in the 2010 report it also says 'Nearly half of our corps members stay in their initial low-income placement schools for more than two years.'  Now, this, I believe.  CMs do often stay for a third year.  I did, though it was mainly because I needed to make up for the damage I had done my first year.  Still, this is a true stat.  But it also skews the 'one-third of alumni are teachers' statistic.  If you take the 3,000 new 'alumni' of which 1,500 are teaching a third year, that accounts for a large percent of the alumni who are still teaching.  I think of those third-year people as part of their own category which is definitely worth reporting and even bragging about.  However, if you don't count them among the alumni who are still teachers (I know they are officially alumni, but it does cause a misleading stat), you would be down to about 25% alumni teaching, which still doesn't account for the people who quit and never became alumni. The one-third stat makes it seem like one out of every three alumni have chosen to become career teachers, while I'd say the number is more like ten or fifteen percent (of which I'm one of them.)  I think that ten or fifteen percent is actually pretty impressive considering that most of them (like me) weren't planning to become career teachers before doing TFA.  They should be proud of the people who are still teaching, but be honest about their retention rate.


Dear Grad School

By now I hope you have learned that I teach in Philadelphia. But for those of you late to the game; I teach in Philadelphia. And teaching in this longstanding and historical urban setting has awarded me many privileges and experiences that can be found no where else. I can run the art museum steps whenever I need a boost of self confidence, I can visit the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence whenever I need a reminder of my American heritage and values, and I can visit Wawa whenever I want a hoagie, hotdog, soft pretzel or chocolate milk at any hour of the day. But among my most valued privileges here in the city of brotherly love is the opportunity to receive my higher education from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania. It has provided me with inspiration, insight and intellectual stimulation. While simultaneously bestowing un to me the gift of supplemental anxiety, stress and stifling debt. As illustrated by that last sentence my relationship with said institution of education has been rather bi-polar. And tonight, on the eve of the due-date of two final papers and projects, on the week after spring break and a day past an anxiety-ridden district led evaluation of the educational atmosphere of my school, I am so consumed with my emotions in this matter that I am compelled to release them in the form of personal letter, one addressed to each of the competing sentiments of which I hold. They read as follows: Dear Grad School: Hey. I think you're pretty cool. I don't know if you've noticed me but I'm the little public school boy from out of state that sits in the back corner and pretends not to be intimidated by your elite level of academic reverence. I know you might not really know (or care) about me, but I think you're pretty swell. I've seen the way your name is mentioned among the upper echelons of scholastic achievement, you're number and quality of publications highly regarded, your status historical and proud. You're also real pretty. I have never seen a campus with such classic beauty. The red brick really suits your green lawns and accentuates the color of the leaves on your trees in the autumn. The first time I stepped foot within your bounds it made me feel special. I've never felt that way about a school before. I hope you don't think this is weird, but sometime, when I'm feeling down, I like to think about you. Just to give me a little inspiration. The thought that one day, I could have a credential with both our names on it, well, I get pretty excited about that. I know you're real busy, and you probably have a ton of other students asking you this all the time, but I'm almost done with my first year and I figured, you know, maybe I'll just take a shot and see what happens. Anyway, you don't have to if you don't want to, no pressure, but I sure would be happy if you said yes! Either way I just want you to know that I think you're awesome. Will you share a diploma with me?  (circle one) YES       NO       MAYBE Sincerely, Me. The second: Dear Grad School: Thanks. Thanks for the added work, like being a first year teacher wasn't hard enough. I really appreciate the additional time and energy I spend on reading (or pretending to read) things that won't really help me keep "Cisco" from piercing his ear in the corner of Social Studies using a lapel pin and hand sanitizer. The really long classes on the weekends and talking about things I didn't read with people who either have a lot more time or are way more smart than me is cool to. Thanks for pushing me to think deeper about topics that make me more discouraged about myself as an educator and social empowerer and my job. Winter in an urban Philly school was such an uplifting and rejuvenating experience that I needed some more complicated viewpoints and disheartening social theories just to keep me grounded and to put my light-hearted life back in perspective. Thanks for taking away one weekend a month. It was a close one. For a minute there I thought as a first year teacher I was going to have too much free time on my hands. You really bailed me out of that one. Thanks for adding just enough work that it was doable, but in conjunction with all my other expectations and responsibilities, it became overwhelming. Thanks for the price. I owe you one. Or like 40,000. Thanks for the nights I didn't sleep because I was pretending to do your assignments. When instead I was really just observing my brain as it fizzled... or I was writing this post. But most of all, thanks for constantly inspiring me to question my intellectual ability. I have been know to be one confident (some would contend cocky) badasmofu, but you seem to have this supernatural ability to drain that all out of me. I have never questioned my worthiness more than while sitting in some of your classes listening to my peers display their superior commitment to education. You have shaken my ego down to it's core, making me a more vulnerable, meek and insecure person. And for that, I thank you.



TFA believes in data (as in "data-driven instruction").  So does the charter school I currently work for.  Teachers give four interim assessments spread out over the year to prepare students for the DC-CAS.  They are supposed to track progress on certain objectives and develop reteaches and strategies/plans to address students who are not on track. I think the emphasis on data, overall, is a good thing.  But I wonder if it can go overboard. I see parallels between the new emphasis on data in ed reform and the "Moneyball" strategies of Billy Beane in baseball and Darryl Morey in basketball.  Note: if you haven't read Moneyball, you should.  It's a good book.  You might like it even if you don't like baseball.  (I wouldn't know, because I like baseball).  Data can tell you many things that are difficult to see with the naked eye. I think the problems start when you rely completely, or very heavily, on data.  In the same way that statistics can not tell you everything about a basketball player (they might lead you to believe Stephon Marbury was a fantastic player rather than a ballhog, a poor defender, and a team cancer), they cannot provide the complete picture of the effectiveness of a teacher or the progress of student learning.


don't you remember

by Adele  US American catharsis is weird. Whatever - I think Lupe Fiasco speaks truth when he wrote in the immediate aftermath of the OBL assassination: "Now kill poverty, wack schools, and US imperialism…" For once, no analysis, no pontification - imma just leave it at that and move on to fighting some battles that are important to me and mine.  Yesterday, I was driving in LA (which is one hell of an adventure, I'd encourage the daring to give it a try) and a LAUSD bus drove right past me. Immediately I was pumped - I want to yell to the kids "I'M TEACHING AT YOUR SCHOOL THIS SUMMER!" but instead I just motioned to some girl so she could tell how much I liked her hair. She smiled, I was elated and I'm so excited. I also have a tentative placement - don't want to jinx it, so I'll just say I hope it works out :). Still, none of this feels real - I even bought white boards for my students last week I but can't imagine that I'm not only becoming a teacher, but I'm becoming an education professional - am I really entering my forever profession? I've spent my years since college living all over the world and working at and developing really awesome anti-violence programs (and earning a MA somewhere in there). I've packed up and moved to avoid violence before, I've moved two new countries, so preparation for change is part of my daily life. Preparing to stay is a new thing, I don't think it'll feel real until I've taught for a couple of years and been accepted into a grad program - or maybe until a new(er) teacher asks me for advice.  In the meantime, it just feels sexy and exciting and I wish I could bottle my feelings and drink 'em when the going gets rough. You know how in a relationship you just know? Well I know I've found the thing I should be doing and the thing I'll continue to do even when it's terribly difficult. I know I want to make sure every single student I encounter receives and excellent education in mathematics. I know I want to be that weird teacher-cum-math-coordinator who rides her bike to school and has the crazy hair. I'm all about it. I'm just trying to remember that this is a new kind of change - and I'll fail a million and one times, but the sweet successes will make up for it (or I'll have to fire myself - if I can't get it done in the classroom). Anyway - 2nd CSET tomorrow to make sure I can speak Spanish, know Latin American history and know bilingual education theory. Good times.


Sleeping On The Couch: Stories of Community

Last year, teachers gathered together to discuss What It Takes To Begin. This year, my students have been working toward the goal of telling their story. This spring, teachers from the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations will gather again to share our ideas on Community in the collection: Sleeping On The Couch: Stories of Community. We've received twenty submissions from teachers in all grades and subject areas reflecting what Community means to them and how they see it manifesting in their lives and classrooms. The reading will be this evening at my house in Mission beginning at 8:00pm - poetry, prose and song will drive our discussion.

Below is the introduction to the 'Zine:

I think it was when the second air mattress slowly deflated under his resting bodyweight that he moved to the couch. At that time, we had a floral three-seater in the living room named ‘Rachel’ that he began to utilize. I never knew why he didn’t just go buy a bed – or at least another air mattress. Moreover, I can’t explain what drove me out of my big boy room with a space heater, coordinated bed linens and framed pictures to the cavernous rectangle of our living room. But, there I slept – a few nights a week. Gradually, the two of us would ready for bed, brush our teeth, finish an email and commence the nightly march with blankets and pillows in tow to our communal sleeping space. Deep into the winter, the blankets and pillows just stayed. This is where we slept. We never talked about it – there was never an organized effort to bring this behavior into existence, it just found its way into our lives. From the couches, we’d rise before dawn and wordlessly make coffee, open up the laptops and get back to work. About the time the sun starts to burn in the tree across the street, we’d be dressed, packed and, shoulder-to-shoulder, finish the last sips of our coffee while looking out the window - with this burgeoning brotherhood between us. This was community - two grown men doing life together while engaged in some sort of perpetual slumber party. And I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that’s what kept me alive for two years on the prairie. We’ve all got them – a community we are replenished by, challenged by, indebted to. Mine is rooted deep in the cushions of two couches in a blue house in Mission, South Dakota. In the following pages poetry, prose and song reveal what others believe and feel about the unnamable connection we tap into in order to be human, in order to stay alive - in order to Tell Our Story.

April 2011


Ghosts of Myself

Every once in a while, I look at pieces of my everyday life and have to do a double-take. It might happen while I’m looking in my closet at the clothes I bought in Houston during Institute, or when I smell a bit of summer coming back, or when I’m running the same old route around Trinity University but in reverse. It’s as if I experience things for a split second through my July/August/September self, and have to stare for a moment at how different they look through my eyes now. Suddenly this glacial change looks sudden. Tonight, due to another one of my somewhat manic episodes, I ran around Trinity at midnight. There’s an intersection we used to come to at the top of a long hill on our runs at Induction; I remember pausing there once to breathe with my new corps member friends I was halfway trying to figure out and halfway trying to impress. Then I realized it was the same intersection I paused at on Thursday night rides during the winter—40, 50 bicyclists, all shapes and sizes, all spandex and flashing lights, waiting at the top of this hill for the back of the group to catch up. Then I realized it was the same intersection I was stuck at for what felt like a 15-minute red light, in my 15-passenger van picking up some band kids for a robotics competition this spring. My imagination let me think for a moment about what it might be like if all of these selves were to materialize at this place at the same time. Who would be the most surprised? Who would be asking and who would give answers? Would bike-riding me be ashamed or upset by running-at-midnight me? It’s not that I measure my success by the way I think past self would view it—but in a way, I guess it is, right? Isn’t that what having a goal means? Don’t we strive to keep a consistent vision from beginning to end, and shouldn’t I wonder whether that vision has morphed and qualified itself over time? Something to think about. Maybe something to think about when it’s not 2am on a week night!


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