This Week’s Education Reading List:

I am knee-deep in planning materials for my fall 2012 courses.  In the next term, which starts on September 24, I teach an Enhancing Youth Literacy Capstone at PSU, two WR 122: Persuasive Writing courses at PCC, and one WR 223: Persuasive Writing course at Marylhurst.  As you may imagine, the process of course revision, syllabus editing, and preparation is a little crazy as the term approaches.  With piles of books at my side and a book bag stuffed with papers, books I want to read, pens, and pamphlets, I am a near-constant feature at my local coffee shop.  That said, you can imagine that haven’t had oodles of time to write elegant blog posts on the state of education this week. Continue reading

Are Oregon School Districts Setting Low Standards OR Afraid to Take Risks? (Rudy Crew’s Response to District Achievement Compacts)

Dear All:

During this incredible week of student posts and conversations, I’m sneaking in a brief post because it’s important to keep informed about Oregon’s new Chief Education Officer, his role, and his possible impact on raising standards and achievement (and hopefully a love of learning) in Oregon schools.  In a recent article (“Oregon School Officials Set Low Goals, Angering Education Chief Rudy Crew”), we get a glimpse of Crew in his new leadership role.  Oregon has recently received a NCLB waiver and schools submitted their achievement compact plans (as per Kitzhaber’s new state-wide plan) to detail district goals for achievement in the upcoming school year.  In this article, it appears that Crew’s anger stems from a number of mostly unnamed (except for Gladstone) bigger districts that are setting low goals for student achievement in the next year.

The setting of low expectations and the response from Crew both deserve examination.  For me, both raise important questions.  We all know that students will rise to higher expectations if challenged to do so, but in an atmosphere geared toward standardized testing, evaluating teacher performance based on student scores, and labeling schools in a new but similar way to NCLB (we can not pretend that the labels “priority” and “focus” do not mean “in needs of improvement” even though they have a more hopeful tone), can we expect schools to set higher standards with the possibility of failure?  In my experience, those moments when I failed often ended up being my best learning experiences.  Being willing to take a risk means that we could have huge success or the opposite, but maybe in this culture of mediocre learning standards and restrictions on creativity and critical thinking, a risk is worth it.  And maybe Crew is asking us to take that risk?  

When my children enter school, I can only hope that they will be allowed to take chances without fearing punishment or utter failure.  As a newish parent, I’ve already realized that if something is not good enough for my own children, it’s not good enough for any child in my community.  And if it’s not good enough for any child in my community, it’s not good enough for any child in Oregon.  Let’s find concrete ways to support schools, kids, teachers, and administrators this year to really work together for real achievement…even if we have to take big risks.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts?  Do you think schools are at fault in these low expectations or is there more to the story?

Becoming an Activist: Little Steps, One Week (A Picture Diary)

I have been teaching community-based learning courses for about four years now.  I have been working in the community since I was a little kid, first through standing with my mom at rummage sales and helping out in the Saint Francis School soup kitchen.  As I first started teaching education-focused classes on social justice and volunteerism, I volunteered at the schools where my students worked.  And now, I’m exploring other roles.  The last week was a whirlwind of networking and trying new things.  I present my picture diary and the ups and downs of finding my new place as an activist for equity in education.

Thursday, May 31

Thursday, May 31, was the Save Our Schools Day of Action.  I’m still feeling out all of the official organizations that work to support schools, advocate for kids and teachers, and talk about school funding.  I am a Stand for Children member, I attended the UPSET (Underfunded Parents, Students, and Educators Together) rally, and I decided to test out the SOS Day of Action as part of my journey.

One of the actions the group was taking part in was a rally outside the Oregon Education Investment Board’s meeting with the new Chief Education Officer, Rudy Crew.  Both Crew and Governor Kitzhaber spoke to the small rally group; this earned both points in my book, but I am curious to see how this new CEO will turn around Oregon schools in the next 3-10 years.

On a side note, there was much talk about the last-minute change of location for the meeting (from PSU to Parkrose High School).  PSU would have undoubtedly had a much higher turn-out.  Was the change of location a way of avoiding more protestors?

Later in the day, I attended the Harvey Scott SUN showcase and was privileged to witness the work of my colleague Sabina Haque with SUN school kids and PSU Capstone students.  They produced beautiful community maps in addition to video shorts that filled the auditorium with the students’ honesty, real experience of the world, and ability to overcome obstacles even at such a young age.  This showcase really embodies one kind of community work that I am completely dedicated to — the sharing of our abilities and talents and the guiding of new mentors to work one-on-one with students in areas such as art that have been cut from so many of our schools.

Friday, June 1

I started the day early with a big cup of coffee and a muffin.  I then kissed my two children goodbye and headed to PSU where the Portland Action Summit: Leadership for the Next Generation was taking place.  I was able to listen to an incredibly articulate group from Lincoln High School (the “We the People” Constitution Team) answer audience-posed questions about the role of the community to support equity in education.  Very inspiring; here’s some video footage from the Classroom Law Project (also inspiring).  If all young people could be this well-educated in civics, what a community we would have!

I also participated in a community mapping project (a vision of what our community looks like now and what it should look like with adequate support for youth voices) and networked with Hands on Portland, the Classroom Law Project, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the Oregon Student Association.  Meeting people face to face is what this work is really about.  I feel like I have some good resources for future partnering and had many offers of groups to attend my class and speak to my students.

Later in the evening, I was honored to attend the Portland Teacher’s Program graduation ceremony.  I ran into students from my last five years of teaching and was so happy to hear that some of them are now in the classroom doing the important work. A powerful quote from the program: “The country is in deep trouble.  We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.  We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice” (Cornel West).

Saturday, June 2

I attended the opening day of the St. Johns Farmers Market with my family.  We listened to the Roosevelt High School jazz band.  I encouraged my husband (a jazz trumpeter and educator at PSU) to volunteer with their program next year.  The work continues little step by little step.  I think that’s the most important thing I learned in the last few days.  Each little step builds upon the last, and these steps do add up.  The more I get involved, the more I want to be more involved.  And the more I want to be more involved, the more I want my students and family members to be more involved in building the community of people dedicated to social justice and to supporting education.

Keeping Informed: The Good, the Bad, and the ? in Current Oregon School News

In paying good attention to my writing students, my community-based learning students, and my additional service learning duties (trying to get funded to attend a conference that will help me discuss the benefits of community-based learning for young writers), I have neglected my blog.  It’s hard to do it all, but it’s important (right now, in particular) for us to all keep informed because there’s a lot happening in Oregon as the school year winds down.

The Good

  • Oregon higher education officials are trying to keep rising tuition costs from rising quite as much as was indicated earlier in the year.  A 6% increase (with some breaks on fees) will result in an approximate 3% increase in costs.  While college costs in Oregon (and across the country) are still prohibitive for many would-be students, this could be worse.
  • The Portland Action Summit: Leadership for the Next Generation conference will take place this Friday (June 1) at PSU.  This is an amazing, free opportunity to network, gain advocacy skills, and find out what’s happening around Portland to support youth.

The Bad

  • Oregon schools could have saved money in the last few years by paying a little more attention to energy efficiency policies.
  • School districts across Oregon (including Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Tigard-Tualatin) brace for major cuts to teaching staff and programs.  While Portland’s teacher jobs may have been saved by Mayor Sam Adams, this doesn’t solve PPS woes — and in some cases, has exacerbated issues within already struggling schools.  Schools that already made changes to programming or support personnel are now faced with adding back teachers while still lacking the programming and aides they might need.  And while administrators take furlough days and continue to turn down annual raises, tension grows and schools still lack steady support.
  • There has been increased tension among local education advocacy organizations in the Portland area.  Increased tension means that unity will be hard to achieve if needed to make the big changes Oregon faces when it comes to education and equity.

The ?

  • Oregon has a new Chief Education Officer, who has been appointed to work on all of the plans we’ve been hearing about in Kitzhaber’s speeches and documents.    Is Rudy Crew the man for the job?  Could anyone turn around Oregon’s schools in three years (the term for the Chief Education Officer position)?  Only time will tell.

That’s a little bit of news from Oregon.  Don’t forget to check out my post on the May 31 Day of Action and the June 1 conference — two upcoming opportunities to get more involved!