Posts Tagged 'Nick McDaniels'

Fighting Summer (L)earning Loss with the Paid Summer Internship

maxresdefaultBy Nick McDaniels

This summer, a number of my students are participating in summer internships at law firms and a public agencies. These students, from the sound of the messages they have sent me are learning a ton, working harder than they have ever worked, and generally, having a good time.

Some students received internships through the prestigious Law Links Summer Internship Program, a program that should be duplicated in every city and state. Others made connections on their own or through relationships they built through my classes.

Of course, I am very proud of these talented young men and women. But the big picture is this: my students are spending their summer Learning extremely valuable skills in a professional environment while improving their legal knowledge and Earning cash.

And we read this time of year, every year, about Summer Learning Loss. It is real. It happens (to teachers as much as students). But when students become teenagers, the learning loss often is more voluntary, or rather a result of a carefully calculated cost benefit analysis: The more time I spend in the library, the less time I can spend making money to buy my school clothes. The choice for most high school students is clear.  Work Now; Learn Later.

We change the choice, however, by providing more professional summer internship opportunities for high school students. The more we can provide paid internship opportunities for students in work environments that will tap into a student’s learning potential as much as a student’s earning potential.

It’s time to ask our professional businesses around our schools to hire one of our students every summer so students have the choice to learn while they earn.


What Does a Revolving Door at the Top Say About A School System?

JCCH_Revolving_DoorBy Nick McDaniels

It’s about time that I get off my soap box about the revolving door of teachers in big city school systems!  I’ve been a teacher for seven years, blogging here for most of that, and I have consistently criticized the revolving door of teachers, but have failed to really reflect on the revolving door of superintendents, or, as they would like to be called, Chief Executive Officers.  In seven years in Baltimore City Schools, I have known 4 CEOs–two permanent, and two interim–and on July 1st, I will know my fifth, as Baltimore City Schools crowns a former Chief Academic Officer the newest CEO. What does this mean for me, personally? Not a lot. The actions of a CEO don’t impact my day-to-day in measurable ways, though, over time, it may impact my year to year.

But that’s just it. CEOs don’t often get to stick around long enough to impact anything, and if they do, the impact of their leadership is not really felt until after they are gone.  What does this say about the revolving door at the top? About the long-term vision for Big City School Systems? What does it say for the rank and file who come back year after year to see CEOs either leave for greener pastures or get fired for, well, not really being any better or worse than the last person?

I can’t necessarily speak to all of that. But I can speak to what it says to me. No person within school system, no matter how brilliant, how experienced, how well-paid, has a recipe for fixing the problems poverty creates for a school system and the community it serves. And as such, one CEO comes in, is set up to fail, and another CEO comes in to replace that person, thus giving taxpayers the illusion that the government officials, whether elected or appointed, who get to call the shots, are doing something about the problem.

Instead, they are just running an assembly line of people who will take the fall for their own inaction. I don’t feel sorry for the CEOs who lose their job, because the salary is worth the fall at the end. But I do feel sorry for the rest of us, the students mostly, who are pawns in this game of kicking the can, false hope, and deflection.

How good am I at answering student questions?

network-782707_960_720.pngBy Nick McDaniels – Today, as often occurs, an interaction with my daughter, Charlie, led to some reflection about my teaching practice.

Charlie and I were on the road when she, holding my iPod (yes, I still have an iPod because I don’t have a smartphone), frustrated that she could no longer use the internet because we were away from the wifi at home, asked me, “Daddy, what is the Internet?”

Yikes! “Well…” I said, buying time, “it’s complicated… you see… there is a network of wires, kind of like a web…”  In my head I am thinking, “my goodness, WHAT IS THE INTERNET???”  But, Charlie cut me off.  She said, “Daddy, there are no wires with this iPod.”

She had me there.  I backpedaled more: “Well, you see, now signals travel through the air, not with wires…”  She was lost.  I was lost. When I finished describing what my imagination believes the internet looks like, I asked her if she understood.  “Not really,” she said.

This made me reflect about two things: 1) What the heck is the Internet?; and 2) When a student asks me a challenging question, am I always this bad at coming up with an answer that is understandable?

You see, these are the things  upon which we as teachers rarely receive valid feedback.  I am sure I often give unclear explanations to students and, unless the student asks for clarity, I simply move on.

This is where checking for understanding becomes an extremely valuable habit for a teacher.  If the only person who is capable of telling me I gave a bad explanation is a student, I must habitually create time and space for students to let me know I need to try again. Perhaps, I don’t focus on this enough, but I will now, thanks to Charlie and the Internet.

How Computerized PARCC Testing Will Widen the Achievement Gap

6551525739_6b13d4f526_o.jpgBy Nick McDaniels – There are many valid ways to criticize the PARCC test, Common Core, and the Pearson Education Dynasty.  Much of this criticism requires speculation, however.

Well, as we begin to really embark on a new regime of high stakes testing called PARCC, one thing is becoming abundantly clear.  Poorly funded school districts do not have the capacity to implement a computer-based test.  At schools in our poorest urban and rural districts, technology access, broadband capacity, and staff and student technological literacy are real issues that impact teaching and learning every day in a way that staff and students in affluent districts probably cannot even imagine in 2016.

Pearson, of course, wants PARCC testing to be computer-based because they get to maximize profits by cutting the expenses of printing and grading paper-based tests.  And as Pearson said it, so it was done.  Many school systems have begun the new era of high stakes testing, where students strain their eyes in front of computers for hours taking tests that can be graded almost as soon as a student clicks submit.

For districts with one-to-one technology access, high levels of staff and student computer literacy, and strong broadband connectivity, this is an easy, perhaps even welcomed, shift.  But alas, these districts, with their robust budgets, often boast high passage rates on standardized tests regardless of format.

The districts where test scores have been traditionally lowest are the districts that are seeing students sit in front of a computer, taking a very hard test, as servers crash, computers turn off and on without warning, and interactive parts of the test fail to work because of broadband problems.

What the computerized PARCC test has done is take standardized testing, made the test more challenging, and increased the barriers for success for students in areas that have traditionally seen the lowest test scores.  How did the PARCC do this?  They shifted the test from paper to silicon and shifted Pearson’s profits from outstanding to unfathomable.



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?

3 Reasons Why You Should Want to Be a Teacher

6276586123_62b8be09c0_o (1).jpgBy Nick McDaniels – My last few posts have not been as positive as they could have been –  reflections, to be sure, of the American educational climate.  However, Spring Break is upon me, and I am better now.  Because after five straight days of sleeping in until 7:00am and getting dressed at…whenever I feel like it, I do love my job.

But it’s not the breaks that make it so great to be a teacher (though sometimes it is).  It’s these three things (among others):

  1. Despite that people bemoan the fact that “teachers aren’t respected,” we, in fact, are respected.  Granted, we are not doctors, nor lawyers.  We are not paid like them.  Nor did we have to go to school for as long as they did.  Nor likely, do we carry as much student loan debt.  Nor do we have to carry malpractice insurance.  And though we occasionally have to tolerate the always funny “those who can’t do…” joke, that is a lot better than what most people say about their doctor or lawyer.  I will tell you, when people find out I am a teacher, they respect what I do.  If being in a respected profession matters to you, despite what you hear some teachers say, teaching is a respected profession.
  2. The future is in your hands.  There are very few jobs where your work can have an impact for generations.  In fact, teachers are probably right up there with good financial planners and the guy who draws the lottery numbers on the evening news in terms of their ability to create watershed moments for families that will impact a generation.  If a single teacher can change a child’s life (read almost any “successful” person’s autobiography), then a single teacher has the capacity to impact a family for generations.  That’s a lot of responsibility.  What a reward, though!
  3. You have job security.  Machines have replaced most of us in what we used to do (…he types as a load of laundry spins in his washing machine).  13 men with a bunch of machines can now mine more coal than 130 men with shovels and picks used to.  GM’s robots churn out car after car after car faster than a team of autoworkers could. And while, I, as a good union man, will never endorse machination or outsourcing, I understand that “efficiency” is a primary driver of our capitalist economy.  Well, teaching is not — and never will be — a for-profit enterprise on a large scale (sorry to the venture capitalists who are treating it as such, as you will always be the exception to the rule). Despite Bill Gates’s best efforts, the human teacher will never go away.  It is, fundamentally, how we are designed as a species, for the younger generation to be taught (to fill in bubbles with a number two pencil?) by the ones who have been alive longer.  If you teach, take heart in the fact that your job can never be outsourced to a machine or to a drastically underpaid telephone operator around the world.

I still love what I do for a living.  And if you are a teacher, you should too.  And if you are not a teacher, maybe you should be.  It’s not all (root) beer and skittles, but darnnit, I’m pretty happy.

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.

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