“FREE” School Supply Store for Teachers?

School funding is an important issue in the education system and there seems to be little effective initiatives in place to increase the money pot. Instead of tackling the challenging larger approach of finding better ways to increase the overall … Continue reading

Promise Neighborhoods and Harlem Child Zone… to be or not to be? That is the question for these communities.

To be or not to be?  Communities that applied for Obama’s Promise Neighborhood grants in the past have asked this question.  They wanted their communities to be more conducive to learning in order to help their students achieve in their … Continue reading

New Oregon School Ratings: Let’s Show Kids They Truly Are a “Priority”

In my Friday morning Enhancing Youth Literacy class at Portland State University today, we started our session by taking a look at Oregon’s newly released school ratings.  What should we all know about this new system of rating?  Oregon was recently granted a No Child Left Behind Act waiver and has now developed its own rating system that includes labels of “priority,” “focus,” and “model” schools.  These labels only impact schools receiving Title I anti-poverty funding.  Priority schools appear to be the ones in the bottom 5% of achievement; focus schools are those in the bottom 15% of achievement, and model schools are the schools with the best performance that will be used as resources for best practices.  Priority and model schools will receive additional state support.  It’s a little unclear what that additional state support will look like, but hopefully it will actually be the kind of support these schools need.

Back to my moment in the classroom…

We did a bunch of searches to see how various local schools are doing.  We looked at the schools of the students that we have been volunteering with at Upward Bound (Madison, Grant, Roosevelt), we looked at schools that my own students had attended (Reynolds, Clackamas, etc.), and we checked a few schools in neighborhoods that are more affluent to compare them with schools in neighborhoods that struggle economically.

The result?  Concern for those schools who have historically done poorly and that continue to do so.  Worry for the kids and parents in schools that have struggled so hard.  Anxiety for the teachers in those struggling schools.  Dispair at graduation rates as low as 20%.  And a little bit of hope from the fact that Oregon is now looking at the growth in schools rather than just the scores.  If we can focus on growth, encourage more growth, and show kids that they can actually learn and grow, then we’ll be on the right path.

Here are some of the local news stories that have resulted from a first-glance analysis of the data:

  • Portland Schools Get More ‘Focus” on Achievement from State” (Portland Tribune): In this article, education journalist Jennifer Anderson points out that out of the entire state, Portland has 6 priority schools, 6 focus schools, and no model schools.
  • New Oregon School Ratings Show Familiar Patterns bu Highlight Little-Known Schools” (The Oregonian):Here, Beth Hammond talks about the ways the new school ratings show the same kinds of patterns we have seen under the No Child Left Behind ratings system.  Schools in higher poverty areas are doing worse than schools in more affluent areas.   Schools that serve families who are learning English as a second language are also struggling more than the schools that don’t.  Elementary schools are doing better than middle schools; middle schools are doing better than high schools; high schools are struggling.  No surprises here.  This grim picture has been painted again and again.

Of course, it’s not the data that’s most important in this story — it’s the kids, teachers, and families involved in the school system; it’s the community members who must come together to actually help schools see improvement.  If this NCLB waiver really works, we may see growth.  Let’s show “priority” schools that they’re not failures and that they’re not “in needs of improvement” — let’s show them that they are our priority in this next school year.  Please volunteer, vote to support kids/families in November, become a member of an advocacy organization like Stand for Children (or other similar groups), join the PTA, and/or become a mentor.  All of these acts show kids that they are our priority and that they are our focus. Let’s show kids that the change in language isn’t just another empty promise.  

Why We’re Uneducated About Education (by Guest Blogger Tyler Kennedy)

I love my job because I’m constantly learning.  I learn how to be a better teacher, what I want to take place in the classroom, and what I want to take place in the world each time I teach.  I learn about new perspectives, innovative ideas, and questions that I should be asking.  I get to be inspired by committed, hopeful, energized people willing to sacrifice a little to better the place we live for all.

This week, a few students agreed that I could share some of their work.  My first guest blogger is Tyler Kennedy, a student who is passionate about sustainability and who has become very involved in our Enhancing Youth Literacy course discussions and hands-on work.  His words appear below in teal.

The general public is not educated in terms of funding of educational programs because it’s not a subject covered in our sensationalized media today….If I were in charge of educational funding, I would assuredly allocate more funds toward early age education and parental support and assistance programs during the first few years of childhood.  However, this is due to my belief that it is not an educational problem as it is more of a poverty issue, which has repercussions in education…Providing a social help network to poor or needy families can go a long way.  Building and repairing libraries and other community resources is a great start.  With so much wealth being traded daily in our nation, how can we let our brothers and sisters suffer without basic life necessities?

Conversations and thinking about poverty, our education system, and the media are the first step in creating change in our communities, and I’m proud to be a witness and participant in this kind of discussion.  

A Question for PDXEAN Readers:

So, what do you think, readers?  Why are we uneducated about education and what’s the best way to educate a public that often feels apathetic or defeated?

Can We Have Equitable Education without Fair Housing? Some Ideas About How to Support Healthy, Equitable Neighborhoods and Schools

My Capstone students are diving into articles about neighborhoods, gentrification, fair housing, and more this week as they get started working with our community partners in various areas of the city. Students are working in St. Johns at the James John SUN School Summer Program, in Gresham and SE Portland in the 9th Grade Counts and Puentes programs, at New Columbia with the University Park Day Camp, and in the heart of the city with the Upward Bound Program. While our learning is primarily about education, the intersection between place and education is a strong one and must be examined.

Because of our current class reading and discussion, I’m reblogging an earlier post about the four-part article series run in the Oregonian on the fair housing crisis in Portland because it’s the topic of some of our discussion this week. One of my students asked the same question that I have been pondering every since reading this article series — what can we do about it?

I put together a preliminary list of some ideas and wanted to share them here as well.  Here is how I responded to my student in our class discussion forum when she posted on her outrage at the unfair housing situation and her desire to do figure out how to do something about it:

I had a similar reaction to this series of articles — despair and then wondering what to do. Even after talking to colleagues and friends, I’m still not exactly sure what the best course of action is. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts:

  • Be aware of what’s going with Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland): http://www.homeforward.org/. There are sometimes volunteer opportunities and public forums through this organization.
  • Volunteer or advocate through an organization like NW Housing Alternatives: http://www.nwhousing.org/. This organization supports low income residents in finding housing but also in resident services (parenting classes, homework clubs for kids, etc.). A former Capstone student of mine works with this organization now, so let me know if you’re interested in connecting.
  • There’s an upcoming talk on July 10 at the Kennedy School: http://www.mcmenamins.com/events/104204-Race-Talks-Opportunities-for-Dialogue. They’ve been hosting conversations related to issues of place, race, neighborhoods, and local history all year long.  This would be an opportunity to jump into a bigger conversation related to fair housing and equity. This should be a fascinating conversation, and you could get hooked up with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, which is leading the discussion.
  • Join your neighborhood association so that you can be part of bigger conversations about place and equity.

Education is much more my area of expertise, so I’d love to hear other suggestions on how to get more involved in advocating for fair housing in our city.  Please post your ideas here!

The Oregonian’s Brad Schmidt recently published a four-article series called “Locked Out: The Failure of Portland-Area Fair Housing.”   To get a taste of the article, read this quotable moment: “taxpayer money meant to help break down segregation and poverty is instead reinforcing it.”

On a personal level, I’m outraged because the money that I pay in taxes is actually undermining the work I do in the classroom and the community.  On a community level, I’m outraged because systemic racism and classism continue to play pivotal roles in decisions made about neighborhoods, housing, quality of living, access to resources, and access to strong schools.  

I often hear education advocates and activists say that the movement for equitable education is the civil rights movement of our time.  Maybe the call for fair housing practices and equitable neighborhoods (and access to resources) will become the civil rights movement…

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What Goes Well with Holiday Cookies? Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection

It’s that time of the week again — time to hunker down with some coffee, some peanut butter cookies (my current baked good of choice), and some updates on what’s going on in education this week.

The title for these Thursday posts (“Tiny Reading Collection”) is inspired by my daughter (pictured here) who is now two and in love with language.  One of her favorite words is “tiny,” and anything remotely small is labelled in this way.  Tiny crackers, tiny mermaid, tiny reindeer.  Her delight in learning and collecting new words motivates me every day as a teacher and writer.

On that note, instead of focusing on the grim and the grimmer, which is all too easy to do, I’m serving up some articles that will tap into your capacity to hope, to celebrate, and to give.  In the last few weeks, I’ve been in touch with a handful of former students who are choosing to continue on in their community-based learning placements (a kindergarten classroom, a community preschool, etc.) or who have sought out other kinds of community support activities after the Capstone class was over.  This always gives me great hope and inspiration. I hope that the following articles will inspire you, too.  Tis the season — enjoy!

  • Read about a classroom at Centennial High School where teachers connect pop culture to literary analysis.
  • Find out more about how Clackamas High School provides food and clothing for families who need support this winter.
  • Tune in to Helen Ladd’s paper on the connection between education and poverty, which has created a buzz and will hopefully help administrators and educators focus in on the fact that (a) those children who need support the most aren’t getting it and (b) schools alone cannot fix the problem of poverty that impacts so many young people.  While this paper outlines child poverty, it also provides a starting point for better, deeper work to support children and families.
  • Check out Elena Aguilar’s blog post about how to stay hopeful as an educator.

Finally, and I want to highlight this, I heard an inspiring story on NPR about micro-philanthropy efforts and was turned on to a website that educators use to fundraise for their classrooms: DonorsChoose.org.  This site allows you to search by city or by issue (I searched for projects in Portland) and includes things like teachers fundraising to put more dictionaries in their classrooms, educators seeking to buy art supplies for innovative projects, etc.  In a season where many are considering donations (as gifts or as part of their New Year’s Resolutions), please do check out this site and think about supporting a teacher and his/her classroom in your very own community.

As always, I’d love to hear from all of you who are reading!  Do you donate time or money to organizations or individuals of your choice throughout the year or at the year’s end?  What kind of donations do you feel most apt to make?  What do you hope to get back when you give your time or money?  And what do you offer to the community?  Please share your experiences to inspire others to join in…


Thursday’s Tiny Reading Collection: Economic Turning, the Good & Bad Revealed Through Testing, Arts Learning, & MLK Day of Service

As the school term winds down, some of you will have a little more time to read in your down time.  And for those of us who continue on the grind, we probably still have time to fit in a little update on education issues, right?  Here’s your easy-access collection of the week:

  • The connection between Portland’s reduced incomes and the impact on Portland schools and public services is explored.  I’m planning a later post on this…important stuff!
  • Read a recent study on how urban students have faired on standardized math tests.  There have been some improvements and some areas where improvement on the needed scale has yet to come.  For those of us who are educators or who have been in classrooms, the quote from a student about how he learns best when “learning is fun” should not come as a shock…but the continued emphasis on testing and drilling for the test in light of the fact that students learn best when engaged with the materials does seem shocking.
  • In light of the previous article, take a look at this Edutopia post about how to use student data to improve teaching practices.  For teachers out there, this is a must read.
  • With so many cuts to school programming, is this one answer?  Substitute recess for arts learning?  As someone who comes from a family of artists and musicians (and as someone who always hated recess as a child), this has some appeal.  What do you all think?
  • PSU (along with many other local universities) will be spending the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday serving in the community.  More specifically, PSU is dedicating its service to Roosevelt High School, which is right in my neighborhood and which will also be one of our community partners this winter.  This is a day off for so many of us…and is the perfect opportunity to get involved in the community as a one-time day of service or to jumpstart a New Year’s resolution to practice weekly community-based work.   Register through the above link!  I’ll be promoting this day of service throughout the next two months and hope to see you all there!

The Struggling Economy Hits Kids the Hardest: How Can We Help?

This week was the last week of the term at PSU, and I held my final “Enhancing Youth Literacy” class with my community-based learning students who have been volunteering at a local K-8 school, a community center preschool, and an alternative high school program.  In an email and in class, I implored these students to continue volunteering in some capacity because we really need active community members, especially in times of financial crisis.  I showed them the Hands on Portland website.  I let them know that I would be a resource if they were looking for placements.  I hope that they will all continue to give back in the way that they have this term…because often, I think this is the only way to make a difference.

I recently read an article in the Oregonian about rising child poverty in the Portland area and the impact on our kids…there is a widening gap between the areas where resources are available and where they are not.  And kids are struggling as a result.

In a meeting at the grade school in my neighborhood, I was shocked to find out that over 80% of the students receive free or reduced lunch.  This is a staggering number.  And the New York Times also recently published a related article: “Line Grows Long for Free Meals in U.S. Schools.”

What can we do in our community to make sure no young people go hungry?  How can we participate in supporting young people in their struggle to bridge the achievement gap?

Please think about ways (even small ones) that you can give back to those who might be struggling right now.  Do check out handsonportland.org as a starting point for finding ways to be more active!