Archive for the 'Urban education' Category

When One Door Closes…

2972235208_f249b6a3c4_b.jpgBy Amanda Szramiak – On my last blog, I talked about my rejection from Teach for America. This week I have some more positive news to share.

I was offered to teach summer school with the Center for Urban Teaching, and I am so immensely excited. Though I am not sure what school or grade I will teach, I will be teaching! It is so exciting to finally be able to say I am going to be teaching for longer than a period or two. Others may be frightened by the 7a.m. to 5p.m. time commitment for six weeks, but I am truly overjoyed with the opportunity. I have been reaching out to some of my friends and colleagues who have been affiliated with CfUT, so if you are, please don’t hesitate to give me advice.

The Center for Urban Teaching’s main purpose is to “identify, prepare, and support high performing urban teachers.” Their values of being spiritually focused, respectful, courageous, perseverant, and dedicated coincide with my beliefs on what it takes to be a powerful teacher. I think having an organization instill these values in their teachers helps to ensure that the teachers will also inspire their students. Not only does CfUT want to enhance student achievement, but they also want to aid and support urban teachers to become high performing.

I think this experience coupled with my field experiences will give me all the valuable tools needed in order for me to be considered successful in my future classroom.

Our Schools are Underfunded Because Our Cities are Voluntarily Impoverished

download (50).jpgBy Nick McDaniels – Teachers and teacher salaries are often the scapegoat for school systems not having any money.  To be sure, staff salaries and benefits are a major expense in big urban school districts. And big urban school districts struggle with funding because the cities in which they are situated struggle to generate revenue for schools, which are often based on property taxes.  When teachers want a raise, more resources, or better working conditions, school systems and their defenders can cry poverty and blame the teachers for trying to break an already broke system.  How convenient!

The story that is not told is that many of our cities, which could be giving more money to their school districts to provide better wages, more resources, and better working conditions, squander millions and millions of dollars in annual tax revenue every year to tax breaks for developers.  These developers, armed with the promises of jobs and redevelopment and dreams of conquering America’s urban frontier, enjoy years and years of tax-incentives, but often never deliver on the promises of jobs but rather on the hidden promise of gentrification. In the meantime, schools that could have used the revenue continue to struggle.

It’s hard to blame the developers for taking the hand out.  But, in my mind, it’s even harder to blame the teachers, many of whom do pay property taxes in the jurisdictions where they teach (as I do), for asking for increase wages, more resources, and better working conditions.  So who do we blame?

The corrupt city officials continue to underfund schools so as to provide financial incentives to the developers who donated heavily to their campaigns.  Voluntary impoverishment is never an adequate defense for not paying the bills.  So why do we continue to let cities who do not appropriately fund schools defend themselves; or worse, why do we defend them for passing the blame?

Not Fooled by the Chicago Teachers Union

By Bill Waychunas – It’s not that I’m anti-Union, I’m just against unreasonable people that take advantage of political situations. Trying to fool people into thinking that you’re fighting on behalf of kids when it’s really your own interests at the forefront, frankly, makes me sick.

On April Fool’s Day, the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) held a one-day strike, or walk-out as they’re calling it, to protest “unfair labor practices” at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). What I find unfair about CTU’s protest is their lack of consideration for CPS’s current situation and their actions’ negative impact on the teaching profession’s public perception.

The Chicago Public School district is so short of money that they have taken out massive loans and laid-off thousands of teachers and staff already this year. They’ve even announced that teachers will have to take unpaid furlough days to help make ends meet. This isn’t a new thing either; CPS hasn’t been able to make a payment to the teachers’ pension program in years.

This is all amid a state budget holdout that’s been going on for almost a year and extraordinary pension related debt in Chicago which led to a doubling of property taxes last year and general financial problems in the city.

Don’t get me wrong, the importance of education should cause people to rise up and demand better from their legislators and local leaders. Kids deserve to go to well-funded schools. And if this is what CTU is actually protesting about, then I’m all for it. Unfortunately, this isn’t really their end-goal.

The CTU and their leader, Karen Lewis, have had some very public battles with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, stemming from the teacher’s strike over the summer of 2012, where teachers and the mayor duked it out over teacher evaluations, salary, insurance benefits, and extending the school day and year. Both sides came out of the strike claiming some victories, but the real result was the creation of a political rivalry which is getting in the way of the city and state from finding real solutions to the very real financial problems.

Fast forwarding to the mayor’s race of 2015, and the only thing which prevented Karen Lewis from running against Rahm Emanuel was a bout with brain cancer. Instead, the CTU did the next best thing and anointed a hand-picked candidate for mayor, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and pumped in record amounts of cash into local elections for alderman and state representatives.

With the election of anti-Union Republican Governor Bruce Rauner in 2014, who is generally a moderate, the CTU have continuously criticized and demanded more from a state and city that are in financial ruin.

This brings us back to the walk-out or strike on April Fool’s Day. What were CTU members really striking about? Money? I’m not sure how their strike could make money appear out of nowhere from a state and city that are frighteningly broke, leaving the CTU looking like a bunch of childish whiners. Their continuous demands are even hurting the teaching professions image, by making CPS teachers seem unrealistic, greedy, and ignorant. Far from acting like the respectable and reasonable professionals which teachers constantly profess to become, they’re acting immaturely by making a thinly-veiled political move for their own personal benefits.

Knowing that there is actually no money currently available that is going to change the situation faced by the district, city, and state, the CTU concocted this event to further crystalize their political image as the anti-Rahm and anti-Rauner brand. This is a move to entrench their political strength with hopes to leverage it in future elections and their on-going contract negotiations with the city. This was not about children or education. It is about adults taking advantage of a political situation, at the expense of children, while offering no real solution or willingness to face financial realities like grown-ups or professionals.

The irony will be if the CTU does win this political battle, then is forced to see their own unreasonableness and deal with the financial woes in ways which they would have previously howled and complained about. With the current politics of the CTU, I hope that day never comes.

Maybe their plan will work and they fooled everybody with their April Fool’s Day strike, but Karen Lewis, you’re not fooling me.

Schools and the Perpetuation of Trauma

Logo-primary.jpgBy Nick McDaniels – I live and work in a city that has been plagued by violence of historical proportions.  Recently, my school system has made it an initiative to instruct teachers about the effects of trauma resulting from violence on students.  What the school system wants is for teachers to understand that students who witness acts of violence, have violence perpetrated against them or a family member, may exhibit off-task behaviors in class.  What the school system wants teachers to do is to adjust our interactions with students to accommodate their responses to trauma.

Forgive my tone, but thank you for pointing out the obvious.

In this way, Baltimore has a school system not unlike many urban school systems, where a city’s problems with violent crime places limits on classroom learning.  And, Baltimore’s initiative, as patronizing as it may be for those of us who work the day-to-day in the classroom, is a good one.  Honestly, we as teachers need to be reminded that sometimes, or perhaps even often, classroom misbehaviors may be the manifestations of other experiences.  In fact, it registered for me that the other day when a student called me an @$%*&# because I changed the presentation slide too fast, that anger was probably not really directed toward me.  These reminders help.

But what about our role in the perpetuation of this “trauma?”  Gone are the days when schools can be considered the safe-havens away from neighborhood violence.  There are small fractions of many student bodies that perpetrate acts of violence against other students, repeatedly.  These students, due to a drastic reduction in suspension, expulsion, alternative schools, intense intervention services, are often inserted immediately back into the student body where they can repeat offend.  These offenders are often themselves impacted by trauma, but in school, instead of helping them cope, we allow them to inflict similar trauma on others.

As a student, after you have been robbed in school, beat up in school, threatened in school, only to return the next day to see the same perpetrator sitting again next to you in second period, you will undoubtedly feel the perpetuation of the initial trauma.

By allowing students to engage in physical fights with one another and putting the students immediately back into the same classroom, we are letting students know, as they learned long ago in our communities, that if you experience trauma, no one will help you avoid future iterations of the same trauma.  On the contrary, we are going to force you to endure the memory of violence against you through compulsory education.  And so these emotional impacts (fear, hopelessness, etc…) of trauma manifest themselves as anger, and hence, more violence.

Quite frankly, an explanation of misbehavior as a result of trauma is not enough.  If we refuse to isolate students from future trauma in schools, then we are offering no more than insulting lip service to a dire problem.  The answer, as I have said many times, is not to increase suspension rates for violent in-school offenses, but to increase services for students exhibiting violent behaviors and isolate them from students who are not exhibiting such behaviors during treatment.  If we are not protecting the kids who have yet been untouched by trauma from those who have and have failed to cope in a healthy way, then we are ensuring that every student will eventually be impacted by trauma as a result of violence in schools.

Allowing Student Voice: Understanding 2015 as a Teacher in Baltimore

Baltimore_riot_police_VOA (1)By Nick McDaniels- Happy New Year Marquette Educator Readers!  For this post in the past, I have professed some teaching resolutions.  And often, just like that extra 10 pounds I hoped to lose, or the student loan debt I hoped to pay down, those resolutions have been quickly forgotten.  I often use class time on the first day back from winter break to give a rousing “new year, new you” speech and ask for academic resolution from students.  This year, I did none of that.  Not because it usually is an ineffective practice at improvement, but because mainly, after a year like we had in Baltimore, it goes without saying that this year must be different and that last year has shaped us.

2015 was marked by one major event in Baltimore that has made us all forget American Pharaoh’s win at the Preakness, and, thankfully, the Ravens 2015 season.  In April of 2015, Freddie Gray, a young man living in West Baltimore, died after an interaction with police.  His death sparked what has been called an uprising, unrest, and riots.  Schools were temporarily closed.  The international news media made a trip to Charm City.  The National Guard occupied our streets.  The violence in the city then erupted, leading Baltimore to a nearly murder-a-day rate for 2015 and a record setting per-capita murder rate.  Quite simply, it was a difficult year to be a student in Baltimore.

So I told my students, just as my teacher told me on September 11, 2001, that, at least in Baltimore, people, their children perhaps, will want to know someday where you were and what you were doing during that time in late April of 2015.  The events impacted the lives of everyone in the city and the fallout continues to do so.  Trials for the officers charged in the death of Mr. Gray continue.  This is not, and may never be, behind us.

What we must remember now, in 2016, if there was a resolution to be made, it is that student voice in times of crisis and tragedy is extremely important.  So as the trials and the protests and the violence continue, we must allow space for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the events that are impacting their lives. We can hope that such events will never happen again, but, as we know, they can.  As such, we must charge ourselves as teachers to not look back on a year of tragedy and crisis having not given our students a chance to lift their own voices in response.

The Financial Unpredictability of Pay-for-Performance

money-73341_640By Nick McDaniels – There are very few things that are predictable in education any more. And budgeting for education in a rapidly changing education regulatory climate is becoming increasingly challenging. Perhaps this is why it is so perplexing that some of America’s most cash-strapped districts — often big, urban school districts –have shifted or have tried to shift to pay-for-performance structures of teacher compensation (I work in one of these districts).

And while innovation in the areas of educator compensation may be important in a nation of shifting priorities, creating more financial instability seems far from wise. Where pay-for-performance structures exist, districts struggle mightily from year to year to predict the coming year’s expenses. This hamstrings programmatic funding streams, and, in turn, creates more unpredictability regarding which services can actually be offered to students.

It seems to me now, in fact it always has, that creating a predictable system of school funding could cut down on highly criticized levels of inefficiency in public schools. So why do school systems pursue such pay-for-performance structures? Perhaps the school reform bug bites even the wisest of chief financial officers. I will affirmatively say that if I was in charge, on either the labor or the management side, I would bargain for the most predictable staffing pay scale possible so that the district’s year-to-year programmatic expenses could be far more intentional and calculated.

But alas, I’m not in charge. I’m just a teacher hoping I get my pay-for-performance raise that is now months overdue.

The Impact of Service Learning on White Attitudes

Untitled-1logoBy Nick Rocha – Service learning programs have been a growing trend among institutes of higher education.  Many universities and colleges provide week-long or semester-long programs that are designed to encourage students to interact with other students and communities.  “The general philosophy is to encourage a mutually beneficial partnership between students and a community group, with students providing needed services to a community that in turn provides rich professional and personal learning opportunities for students” (National and Community Service Trust Act, 1993).  How might service-learning, specifically multicultural service-learning, affect the racial attitudes of White, middle-class students?

There has been a great deal of research that highlights the value of multicultural service-learning.  According to Guilfoile and Ryan of the Education Commission of the States, “a growing body of research shows that students engaged in high-quality service-learning learn to collaborate, think critically, and problem solve” (2013).  In addition, service-learning can challenge stereotypes, reducing student ignorance, intolerance, prejudice and modern racism.  In contrast, “critics have expressed skepticism about bringing White middle-class students to low-income communities of color, especially when benefits to the community are unclear” (Reardon, 1998).  White students often benefit from feelings of self-worth, but they often view themselves as the “advantaged providing a service to the disadvantaged [and] this may perpetuate students’ negative stereotypes of community members” (Hess, Lanig, and Vaughan 2007).  This deficit-oriented approach “may contribute little to their intellectual and practical understanding of social justice and racial inequality” (Reardon, 1994).  What aspects of service-learning influence whether or not White, middle-class students’ attitudes perpetuate negative stereotypes or strengthen a higher intercultural sensitivity towards other communities?

Multicultural service-learning programs often consist of five themes: Investigation, Preparation, Action, Reflection, and Demonstration (Kaye and Connolly 2010).  The investigation involves the collection of student interests and a social analysis of the issue being addressed.  Preparation involves the continuation of knowledge of the issue and the organization of the service-learning objectives.  The Investigation and Preparation stages are critical for the development of White student attitudes regarding disadvantaged communities and racial stereotypes.  Even though White middle-class students are reluctant to talk about race for fear of appearing racist, discussing structural racism and White privilege prior to the Action stage of service-learning helps to make power relations visible and critical reflection on racial attitudes possible (Green, 2003).  Additional research will needed to be conducted regarding student multicultural learning outcomes through service-learning, but it would seem that service-learning on its own merit does not positively influence White students’ racial attitudes (Houshmand et.al 2014).  Service-learning should provide a significant amount of background knowledge regarding power relations, White privilege, and racial colorblindness in order to encourage students to critically reflect on their service experience and their social status.


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