Dec 10

NY Times Room for Debate: Federal Standards and Federal Funding

The New York Times Room For Debate asked me if I would weigh in on the following question:

The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 48 states and supported by the Obama administration, have worried liberals who question their quality and conservatives who fear they erode states’ traditional responsibility for education. At the same time, the budget pressure of the impending “fiscal cliff” could reduce federal support for education, which would add to the state and local responsibility.

As these trends collide, Americans can take a step back and ask: Should education standards and funding vary by state?

This gave me the opportunity to talk about an issue that too often goes un-talked about in the current education debate – inequitable education funding. Little did I know I would be debating the question online with folks like Pedro Noguero, Jeb Bush and Rick Hess. Here was the start of my response:

The Common Core standards are the latest federal educational initiative, making the argument that creating national standards will somehow raise achievement nationwide while ignoring what is a far more important state-to-state and district-to-district variability: funding.

Disparate funding levels in the United States are the single most anti-democratic policy in our society. Where children live should not have bearing on how much money is spent on their education. And the variability in funding levels is deep and profound.

The rest is over at The New York Times, please go give it a read. (And wow… the New York Times. I’m kind of really excited. Really, really excited.)

Dec 09

A Thought From #BlackInAmerica

[Influencing this post – tonight’s CNN documentary – Black in America]

I watched Black In America for a lot of reasons tonight. First, much of the documentary was shot at SLA, focusing on the incredible work of the poets of PYPM and one of PYPM teacher / mentors, Vision. Whenever you get to see people you like and care about on television, doing amazing things, you watch. But the show was thoughtful and powerful and explored issues of racial identity and how that racial identity is defined. One of the stories they followed was the evolving sense of self of a young bi-racial woman, raised by her white father.

I’ve seen a lot of bi-racial students struggle with identity over the years, and much of it has been about the word “or.” “Am I black or am I white?” And, in so many ways, that’s an impossible question that forces kids to somehow deny some piece of their identity. It strikes me that American racial dynamics — largely defined by a dominant white culture — has been so oppositional for so long that we want these kids to choose a single identity, rather than embracing the complexity of what makes them who they are. It should not be as hard for a kid to say, “I am black and I am white” or “I am Afro-Latino” as our society makes it.

I watch the kids of SLA deal with issues of race and racial identity in ways that both seem familiar to the questions of twenty-five years ago when I was their age and also deeply unfamiliar. I see them engage with the issues of race with an openness and honesty that I would have been unable to do when I was their age. But I see so many of the same challenges and issues still around. And I still see too much pain as kids figure out the complexity of who they are in a world that still wants to put people into too many neat little boxes that rarely represent the complexity of their lives.

Thank you, CNN, for focusing on the amazing poets of PYPM, and thank you for the work you are doing with Black in America. With luck, it made a lot of people think tonight.

Apr 25

SLA in Scholastic Administrator Magazine

Science Leadership Academy is featured (along with High Tech High and New Tech High and Gary Stager and Jane Krauss, nice company!) in this month’s Scholastic Administrator Magazine in The Power of Project Learning — an article about project-based learning. In addition to some cool shots of Gamal Sherif and Matt VanKouwenberg (and a nifty one of me, I admit), there are some great quotes such as:

Sometimes the results surprise both the teacher and learner, says Zachary Chase, an English teacher at SLA. To learn about the oral tradition associated with Homer’s The Odyssey, students were charged with finding a family story, getting a first-person recording of the story, and preserving it to pass onto their children. When one student found a bunch of letters from an uncle who had left his family to go to California during the Gold Rush, he used GarageBand to record himself reading the letters. He altered the voice to make it sound like that of an older man, Chase says. This project not only outstripped the teacher’s demands, but the success of the final project even surprised the student, he adds.

But be sure to read the whole article.