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updates for 01.09.2012

7 new posts today

In My Defense

After  being sarcastically baited by blogger on this site and reading a post that (I believe) referenced a comment of mine, I'm feeling the need to defend myself. I've made, apparently, some controversial comments about Diane Ravitch and Twitter. My comments are as follows: "TMB’s tweets and post aside, I have yet to see DR offer a single solution via Twitter. She certainly offers a million criticisms. To be fair, I have not yet read her book, though I do own it. She also phrases questions in a way that makes them seem rhetorical when they actually are not, which I think might be a large part of TMB’s problems with her." "She certainly manages to criticize (repeatedly) in 140 characters or less. I would like to see her put forth one tiny little idea over a medium she clearly finds so useful for getting a message across (or she wouldn’t be spending inordinate amounts of time tweeting and retweeting)." Based on peoples' responses, it seems as though I am somehow grievously insulting the scholarship of Diane Ravitch by asking that she proffer some solutions to our education problems via what seems to be her favorite medium for public communication. I've been following her on Twitter for about 6 months, and I have not seen her offer her ideas on what can be done, only her ideas on what shouldn't be done. If I didn't know better, I'd be thinking that the status quo suits her because all she seems to do is criticize those who are trying something different. I'm not arguing that ed reform is going in the right direction. I'm not arguing that TFA is the answer. I'm not arguing anything on the basis that I'm a savior teacher (FAR FROM IT!). I'm just saying that I would like to see more positive ideas in her tweets. I value the perspective she brings. People in any movement should listen to their most ardent critics. And in many respects, her criticisms of TFA are on the money. I'm eager to read and hear what she has to say about what we can do better for our students. I just wish she made it as easy as reading and hearing what she has to say about how we are damaging them. And yes, I should read her book, but in my first year of teaching I don't have a ton of leisure time.


Second Semester Progress

[gallery columns="1"] What you see above are a series of before and during construction pictures from Roosevelt High School science labs 013 and 108.  Due to the generous support of the citizens of the city of Saint Louis, a bond issue was passed in August of 2010 called Proposistion S .  The Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) district received a large sum of money it could then use for capital (read:  remodeling, renovating, and redevelopment) projects throughout its' schools.  Major projects have since been undertaken including adding Early Childhood Education Centers (ECE) to all of the comprehensive high schools, ensuring every elementary school has a new playground, completing asbestos abatement at all schools, updating cafeterias across the district to ensure more nutritious food is served, in addition to many other critical items chosen by the superintendent and his cabinet for attention. The part of the Prop S (as it is commonly referred to around the city) package of projects that most appealed to me was the line item to outfit every high school with a fully functioning multi-purpose science laboratory.  Large high schools, like Roosevelt, were to receive two labs!  This sent me through the roof with happiness as there was nothing more frustrating then trying to teach chemistry and AP chemistry in a classroom that did not have functioning gas, water, HVAC or electric systems, not to mention a lack of the required safety equipment (e.g. safety shower, fume hood, eye wash) the National Science Teachers Association and state Board of Education recommend in all science labs. Throughout last year I watched as multiple architecture firms were called into schools to take measurements and get designs together for submission to the Special Administrative Board, the governing body of the district, for approval.  I was even asked to attend the charett (read:  design meeting where architects ask for input on their designs, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charrette) the district held for all the different science lab designs for the multiple high schools in SLPS.  It was awe-inspiring to see blueprints covering the walls of the main board room at the district headquarters and speak to designers and district officials about what my school needed and how this new lab would be integrated into the teaching and learning of science at the high school level. At the end of last school year, the science teachers and I spent time cleaning out the chosen rooms in an effort to prepare them for construction.  We even held a community clean-up day at Roosevelt to help get them ready.    Then, in early November, the demolition began!  It has been so wonderful to see how hard the construction teams are working!  As you can see in the pictures, plumbing, gas, HVAC and electrical work  is completed or in progress.  Science labs have many different systems to prepare!  Most recently, workers have completed putting up drywall and are working on painting (pictures forthcoming).  They will be installing fume hoods, a necessary safety feature for chemical storage, and new lab benches in the future.  The contractors work second shift, so as I am leaving work, they are just getting started.  Project completion I've been told is sometime in March, just in time for a final science unit potentially integrating a science fair for the school.  I'll let you know the dates for public viewing, keep reading! The ECE Center has been slightly delayed at Roosevelt for reasons unknown but after seeing how quickly the science labs project has progressed, I'm confident that by the start of next school year it will be ready to support our student parents.  I have since learned about ECE requirements and Head Start certification and I am impressed with their complexity.  I didn't think any other type of classroom could have more requirements and regulations than a science lab!  (different post about how ECE is key to solving achievement gap also forthcoming) Overall, seeing this one piece of the larger Proposition S package come to fruition has been very inspiring for me.  It gives me hope that the district does know what our schools need and it is willing to work deliberately and diligently to ensure those needs are met.  Knowing plans are in motion for an on-site mental and physical community-based health clinic sometimes gives me chills.  The Saint Louis Public Schools can make a dramatic impact in the lives of children in the city, the outcomes of Proposition S will be the vehicle for that impact!   As always, Yours in education,   The former Dean, now Assistant Principal   PS.  School-based update coming soon.


"But I Did Stay At a Holiday Inn Express Last Night!"

Is TFA analogous to a Holiday Inn Express? I don't think so personally, but we have to be cognizant of those who do believe that. One of the reasons I like blogging on Teach For Us is that in a small way, I get to participate in the larger conversation about education reform. At the same time, I’ve found myself in the midst of growing tensions between factions in the “movement.” We’ve made progress in the sense that there is consensus for the need to improve American achievement, but at the same time, the public has become increasingly fractured about how we can get there. Through engaging in this dialogue, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with “gadflies” such as Diane Ravitch and Gary Rubinstein. I enjoy hearing their perspectives but then I see posts like Ravitch Blocked Me on Twitter!  Hmm… c’mon guys. Like Wess, I would have blocked you too. Don’t perpetuate the stereotype of TFA corps members being over-privileged, entitled know-it-alls. Some of the commenters get that, which is awesome. You truly have to understand that a 70-year-old with half-a-century of educational scholarship is going to come down hard on an organization gaining as much clout and cash as TFA. She’s not alone. She likely views CM's like a Holiday Inn Express customer. "I didn't go to Ed School, but I know more than those regular teachers." Diane Ravitch is a celebrated historian whose level of scholarship is likely underrated by those who only interact with her through Twitter. That said, her seemingly unprecedented level of interaction with her followers likely stems from a deep dissatisfaction with balance in the education reform debate.  I first learned about Ravitch’s story in college, when I learned about her dramatic turnaround regarding NCLB. I admired her for principled stand based on experience and research, but I also knew that she was positioning herself on the other side of the movement I was about to join… Fast forward 12 months and I found myself being retweeted when I echoed her sentiment that kids were being asked to “pick the right answer when they should be asking, ‘is this the right question?’” The only issue was that Ravitch said this in a debate with Wendy Kopp.  I often joke about losing my job and being a "TFApologist,"  but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with constructive commentary. At the same time, I wonder if Ravitch realizes that I share the same Ivy League, TFA background that she so often rails against. Honestly, though, she’s not thinking about me like that. I’m a newcomer to all this and need to focus on teaching. Yes, I think she can develop a more nuanced view of Teach for America, but there are likely a greater number of people who need to develop a better understanding of he views. TFA has it's flaws as does every organization. The issue is that it's not very upfront about them. Honestly, it doesn't really have an imperative to be upfront. I think TFA has a lot going for it, obviously, and can take simple steps to improve its image amongst the Ravtich/Teacher's Union crowd. It is all about priorities and choices. Going forward, I hope we can at least prioritize keeping the dialogue open and find some way to work together to advance the achievement of children across America.


Or, the reason why I've tried plátanos con salami

Taking a break from my usual blogging pattern of circumstance-reflection-revelation, here's a humorous little list that most of you teachers out there should be able to relate to. You know you're a teacher when... ... you have to resist introducing yourself by your last name when meeting someone new. ... your hands are perpetually covered in dry-erase ink or chalk dust. ... your pockets contain an endless supply of pencils, pens, and markers. ... you can smell an attempt to get the class off-topic from a mile away. ... the cashiers at Staples know you by name. ... waking up while it's still dark outside is perfectly normal—encouraged, even. ... you walk into Walmart and instinctly head toward the school supplies section. ... 99% of your Facebook posts are about education and/or your students. ... you watch TED talks and mentally take note of pedagogical techniques to try. ... the only reason you've tried [insert ethnic food] is because a student recommended it. ... parents begin asking you for parenting advice. (Anyone who knows me will see the irony in a student's mother asking me how to keep her son from staying up late and drinking Monster.) ... you realize that, deep down, every student—no matter how indifferent or "hard" or "ghetto"—is really just a little kid striving for your approval.


In other news, forcing myself to create a lesson plan daily, even when I don't need one the next day, has taken a huge burden off my shoulders. Quality lesson plans they are not, but at least I'm finally somewhat ahead on planning, which gives me the freedom to tweak other aspects of my classroom or just take a break once in a while. Here's to a not-so-exhausting second semester!

Bringing the Joy Back, a Teacher's Resolution for the New Year

Hello, all. It's been a while. My first day back teaching kiddos was this past Wednesday. The week went well, but was very exhausting. My school chose to focus solely on re-culturing our students, and I think that was a very good choice, but it was also very intensive. Anyhow, my new year's resolution as a teacher is to bring the joy back into my classroom. It's not a completely joyless place to be, but there are several moments I can remember where I glossed over opportunities to laugh with my students or basically ignored some of my more rambunctious students' desires to giggle a little. While I'm not trying to say I should let those behaviors interrupt class, and it is a fine line to keep those sorts of things from spilling into valuable educational time, this year I am trying to focus on just enjoying the little people I teach more. Part of that is having a Fun Friday every Friday that we are in school. The students get to go  if their behavior stays at a B or better. The first was this past Friday. We just had chips and juice and a little bit of music but it was so fun seeing my kids relax and be happy and not stressed. Several of my goofiest little ones got up to dance for me and it still amuses me just thinking about it. There are so many things our school lacks - so many things that I feel are basic to their growth as students and as people - but for right now, there's not a lot I can do to change that. I can, however, try my best to give them the space within our classroom to find their own ways to grow and to meet their own challenges. I was really reinvigorated by our first week back. There are definitely still some students who present challenging behaviors, and I don't think that's all going to go away, but we're working on it and I can tell they are settling into their roles as scholars. It really excites me! I am nervous but ambitious about the semester. I cannot wait to see what it brings.


I would have blocked you, too

I was sad I couldn't comment on your doozy of a first post! Can't wait to read more (that sounds sarcastic, but it's not. Welcome). So first let me say that THIS is sole reason I can't quiiite get on board with DR and her crowd: @DianeRavitch@TomBurr When you start teaching, let me know how you feel about being judged by changes in your students’ scores, esp those absent. I feel damn good about it, considering that's, you know, my job. I love realism, but "if nobody's learnin', ain't nobody teachin."   That said, if you'd said things like "RTFM" and "why are you so lazy?" to me, I would have blocked you, too. That's just rude, and not something I'd like to see on my feed. Public figure or not, she has the right to block churlishness from anyone.


Diane Ravitch Blocked Me on Twitter

ETA: Can't figure out how to get comments working.   There are 23,909 people following Diane Ravitch on Twitter. I am no longer one of them, and not by choice. Has anyone ever heard of a public figure doing this? The background: Ravitch went on a Twitter rampage yesterday railing against a study showing a highly significant (economically and statistically) relationship between having high Value-Added teachers and a variety of QOL factors ranging from earnings to teen pregnancy.  More accurately, Diane Ravitch railed against the NYT-reported version of the study without reading the actual paper. I'm all for healthy debate, but if you are going to take potshots at 3 elite economists on twitter, you better do your research first. It started with this: @DianeRavitch: How could economists review 20 years of value-added scores when there were none 20 years ago? tinyurl.com/7urcrtk @DianeRavitch: How did economists gather personal information about so many individuals and know which teachers taught them? @Diane Ravitch: Still left with puzzle about how they got test scores over 20 years when NCLB testing started only in 2003. Now, I will admit, perhaps I was a bit rude in my first general response to her questioning. @tomburr: @DianeRavitch All of your questions are answered here.obs.rc.fas.harvard.edu/chetty/value_a… As they say, RTFM. What got me so frustrated was that that these questions are so easy to find in the paper itself. I will admit, it would probably take me a full week to digest this 70 some-odd page paper. That being said, the amount of effort it would have taken ravitch to simply cntrl-f for the answers to her questions is minimal. As an academic, she has no plausible excuse for not doing this first. While asking questions that can easily be googled/found on one's own has always bothered me personally, when it is done by a public figure it takes it to a whole other level. What happens is that Twitter acts as an echo-chamber for Diane Ravitch's followers, where she comes off as the white knight taking down these harvard fraudsters. Well, Ravitch kept asking questions, so I tried to answer a few. @TomBurr: @DianeRavitch data are from "administrative records of a large urban school district", I would guess due to privacy issues. Most likely NYC And then, in a significant moment for myself, a public figure finally responded to my heckling on twitter. @DianeRavitch:@TomBurr NYC sometimes changed annual tests and scores not strictly comparable from year to year. So, I answered her question TomBurr@DianeRavitch Thats why each year is standardized (mean 0, SD of 1). The fact that the test changed doesnt really matter. Now, having answered her statistical question in <140 characters, I'm feeling pretty good. Any moment, she's going to acknowledge my response as any respectable public figure would. 15 minutes pass and nothing. So, I got angry. Ravitch reminded me of a very interesting article from The Economist a couple of weeks ago about how great blogging has been for the economics community while for others it largely just functions as a virtual yes-man. @TomBurr:@DianeRavitch is prime example of spreading misinformation and cheapening debate via twitter. See: economist.com/node/21542193 That got her attention. @DianeRavitch:@TomBurr So, no one is allowed to ask questions about non-peer-reviewed study reported on p. 1 of NY Times? @DianeRavitch@TomBurr When you start teaching, let me know how you feel about being judged by changes in your students' scores, esp those absent. Cool, not only was DR responding to my tweets, she was finding out a little about me, too! @TomBurr@DianeRavitch You asked a question, I answered it, you refused to acknowledge. People are being misled by you whether you mean it or not. @TomBurr: @DianeRavitch Nearly all of the questions you ask can be found in the paper that you ave(sic) not read. Fits my definition of cheapening debate. And that is the real point of my story. Were some anonymous rando(myself, for example) asking questions like Diane Ravitch was, there would be no problem. Yes, they could find these things themselves, but its just annoying and not harmful. Diane Ravitch, however, has a greater responsibility as an academic and as a public figure.  I'm repeating myself, but for her to rapid-fire off seemingly incriminating questions without bothering to read the actual paper the article is based on is disgusting. Furthermore, when her questions are answered, refusing to acknowledge them is out and out dishonesty.   Finally, when I woke up this morning, I found that she had blocked me.  In my opinion, she is a fraud.   With great power(or Klout in the parlance of our times) comes great responsibility.   *For a more reasonable critique of the actual concerns about this study (e.g., mistakes will happen when firing based on VAM, potentially no supply of better teachers) , see Bruce Baker at SchoolFinance101 . ** I realize this was an awkward first post. A little about myself: senior economics major to be teaching secondary math next year. Highly interested in/doing senior thesis using value-added modeling. *** Why did she block me? Probably these two tweets TomBurr@DianeRavitch answered this for you an hour ago. Why are you so lazy? READ THE STUDY. TomBurr@dianeravitch deletes tweet when she realizes she was wrong. Personal Victory. (Leaves semi-slanderous tweet about legality of data access) Now, maybe I was mistaken. Maybe my twitter feed was messed up and DR didn't delete something. It appeared to me that way at the time.  If so, I apologize (and recognize the irony of slandering someone in a tweet half accusing of slander.) I welcome DR to explain herself.  


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