Archive for May, 2010

In order to get this blog moving a little quicker, I’ve decided to invite middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, parents, and community members to guest blog on the site.

As an incentive, I have decided to offer small prizes for the first few guest bloggers. Writing should be around 300-500 words (Microsoft Word will give a word count) and the writing should somehow relate to education in Baltimore.

Here are a few possible topics to write about (I strongly encourage originality, so feel free to choose your own topic):

  • What do you think of the education program you are a part of? Is or has your education prepared you for college?
  • What is a program at your school that you think is really successful or unsuccessful?
  • Why are so many students dropping out? What advice could you give to them, teachers, parents, community members?
  • How is the community affected by the school system and its students?
  • What recommendations do you have that would improve education?
  • What programs are you involved in? How are you helping the community?

Again, feel free to stray from the topics I have suggested. Also, if you would like to add a photo you have taken or your own artwork, that would be awesome.

I am awarding small prizes (sorry, no televisions or Ipods to give away) to the first 3 quality samples that I receive. By quality, I mean thought-provoking. You don’t have to be an amazing writer to submit. So the things I’m giving away as of now are:

1. A new softback copy of Scratch Beginnings, by Adam Shepard (This is a really great book. It’s a true story of a 20-something year old who moves to a new town with only $25 and tries to make a life for himself. Look it up on Amazon for the full description).

2. Twilight (the first book of the Stephenie Meyer series) -gently used

3. New Moon (second book in the Stephenie Meyer series) -gently used

4. Gillette Fusion Proglide men’s razor, new in package

Write up your blog and send it over! Email it to and I will let you know when I receive it. If you don’t like my prizes, write one anyway! I’ll see if I can come up with anything else to give away. I’ll mail you your selection and then you can write back and say, wow thanks for the razor. My face is so smooth and I feel like a better person.


Big news broke yesterday when Baltimore City Public Schools revealed that someone (or possibly several people) at George Washington Elementary (a Blue Ribbon school in SW Baltimore) had erased and corrected thousands of  incorrect answers on the students’ 2008 Maryland State Assessment. To read more details about this story, check out the following Baltimore Sun article:

Parents feel cheated by test tampering

Then, The Baltimore Sun’s Inside Ed featured a blog titled, “Investigation like a who-done-it.”

I’d prefer not to turn this incident into a “who-done-it-mystery.” Instead, I’d like to focus on an article from the New York Times that was featured in a previous Inside Ed blog: The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand. If you check out the article, you’ll see that it’s very long: 9 pages. It’s long, but a worthwhile read. After reading the article, here are some quotes that stick out to me:

“In Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen pushed the Legislature to pass laws  making student test scores 50 percent of annual teacher evaluations.”

“In Delaware, no teacher now will be rated ‘effective’ who does not meet targets connected to student test-score improvement.”

“In 2009 the Gates foundation provided a $90 million grant to the Memphis school system — the state’s largest — on the condition that teachers there allow 35 percent of their performance ratings to be based on student test scores.”

Rather than asking who altered the tests in the Baltimore elementary school, we should be asking, why is cheating going on and what does that tell us about these tests and the accountability that is linked to these tests? Yes, finding the individuals who have cheated by tampering with children’s work is very important because that is not at all fair to the students, but the public should not get lost in the “who-done-it” game, but should be given the opportunity to look at the bigger picture.

Now I’m going to quote a few points that Diane Ravitch mentions in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (the book is awesome by the way; a must read).

“When tests are the primary means of evaluation and accountability, everyone feels pressure to raise the scores, by hook or by crook. Some will cheat to get a reward or to avoid humiliation”

“Any test score gains that result solely from incentives are meaningless because gains that are purchased with cash are short-lived and have nothing to do with real education.”

Rather than obsessing over reading and math test scores, Diane Ravitch says this:

“We want them to be able to think for themselves when they are out in the world on their own. We want them to have good character and to make sound decisions about their life, their work, and their health…”

Multiple choice tests are not going to create lifelong learners, so we need to shake our obsession with these tests. When the stakes for these tests are so high, cheating will go on. Teachers don’t want to lose their jobs and they don’t want to lose funding for their students. Dr. Alonso may want to act like cheating is not taking place throughout the city and county because he needs to protect his business model that is funded by the wealthiest people in the world (the Gates Foundation and the Waltons aka Walmart people), but most people actually involved in the testing process know that cheating is indeed going on in many different forms.

Attacking Dr. Alonso may seem the easy route to take, but in reality he is just a puppet in the game and is doing what he feels he has to (or at least this is what I’m guessing). As I stated, the wealthiest people in the world are in control of education reform, and unfortunately, they are not educators. If Dr. Alonso doesn’t follow the master plan, Baltimore will be cut off from a massive amount of much-needed funds. Even if he didn’t believe in the plan, we would never know, because he would probably be jeopardizing his position.

So where do we go from here? Do we just watch as public education crumbles?

This photo reminds me of our schools. Just looking at it makes one feel sick.

I read the following article about Teach for America recruits making their way to Baltimore’s schools:

170 Teach for America Teachers Coming to Baltimore

Then I started to wonder about the benefits and drawbacks of having brand new teachers from other parts of the country being placed in Baltimore’s high-needs schools.

First, who exactly are these Teach for America folks?

Basically, TFA recruits are required to have a bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.5 GPA and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Applicants who meet those requirements are not guaranteed a spot: Teach for America is very competitive.

Check out the link below to see the detailed, official admission requirements for Teach for America.

Teach for America Admission Requirements

Now many TFA teachers do go on to do awesome things. For example, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin went through the Teach for America program before founding their academies. They have made a great impact in the world of education. On the other hand though, I wonder how many teachers eventually change professions?

According to the TFA website, “37 percent of our alumni work outside the field of education.” I’m wondering, can these new recruits really hack teaching in inner cities? Also, are some teachers forced to leave to make way for these novice TFA teachers?

This article was written in 2007, but I think the argument still rings true today:

Teach for America: Elite corps or costing older teachers jobs?

Here is a quote from the above article:

“But critics say the growth in many cities is coming at the expense of experienced teachers who are losing their jobs — in some cases, they say, to make room for TFA, which brings in teachers at beginners’ salary levels and underwrites training.”

Also, according to the above article, “overall only 29% of alumni are still in the classroom.” I bet many of them are disillusioned when they actually step foot in the classroom, just like the English teacher in the HBO documentary, Hard Times at Douglass High (not that he was a TFA member). I would think it would be more effective to hire teachers who live in or at least near the community where they teach, so they do not experience culture-shock that will overwhelm them and cause them to change professions. Thoughts?

Arne Duncan

Posted: May 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Watch the short CNN video clip of Arne Duncan discussing standardized tests on McKay Coppins Newsweek blog:

Arne Duncan clip

The part that stands out to me is Duncan’s response to the question of whether or not linking teacher pay to test scores would cause teachers to teach to the test. He says, “No, because in fact that doesn’t work. Good results come from great teaching…” If this is true then why do students do such much better on state tests than they do on the national, NAEP tests?

This is the Secretary of Education making these remarks!

Do test scores really “shine a spotlight” on great teachers? What are your honest opinions?

I just read the following article in Baltimore Business Journal:

Maryland Ranks 8th for Reading Proficiency

and according to NAEP, “nationally two out of every three fourth graders overall are not proficient in reading.” What is going on in the United States that is causing over 60% of the nation’s 4th graders to fall behind in reading? In my last blog, I brought up the issue that students are not being taught to utilize comprehension strategies. So then the question is, how can we help children to comprehend what they read?

I am going to offer a suggestion for parents and tutors. Hopefully all parents are already encouraging their children to read books at home; if not, that is a crucial starting point! After reading, the adult that is working with the child should see how much information he or she can recall. In school, students answer A LOT  of questions. For example, why did the boys go to the park? How do you think Chris felt after he found out the secret? etc. While there is a benefit to prompting students with specific questions, this method does not simulate real reading. As adults, after we read, nobody gives us a set of questions to answer. We have to somehow process the information on our own and recall important information without being prompted.

I am going to share a few tips that I learned from Goodman, Watson, & Burke’s Miscue Analysis Procedures (from the book Reading Miscue Inventory).  I hope these tips will be very helpful for anyone interested in improving a child’s comprehension abilities.

After reading (the child should read a real book, not a short passage from a school textbook), have the child close the book and ask him to tell you the story in his own words. Do not become impatient or rush the student through the retelling. Kids need time to process their thoughts and telling a child to hurry up will make him anxious and may cause him to dislike retelling a story to you. At this point, do not give the child any pointers. Don’t tell the child to start at the beginning of the story and don’t prompt him by bringing up a particular character or location in the story.

If the child sums up the story in one or two sentences, this is an indicator that he probably has not had much practice retelling stories. After the child’s retelling, if you feel he may know more information than he shared, you can ask, “is there anything else that you remember?”

After the student is completely done with the retelling, questions about what has been revealed by the student can be asked. For example, “You told me the boys went to the park. Was there any specific reason they went to the park?” or “You told me Chris was excited when he found out the secret. Why do you think he was so excited?”  You can also have the child evaluate the story. For example, “would you change any part of the story? Do you think the author did a good job writing it? Was there anything that didn’t make sense?”

Hopefully those pointers help! Many students are not being given the chance to retell stories in school, so they really need to working on doing this at home!

I’ve been taking some master’s courses in reading theory and assessment. Apparently, a lot of kids are being taught to decode and memorize sight words (which is definitely important), but they are not being taught strategies to help them actually comprehend what they are reading. How about your kids? Can they comprehend what they read? After your child reads a story, can they retell it to you and recall details? If you’re not sure, try it out with your kid and then leave a comment.

If kids aren’t comprehending what they are reading, we have a serious problem. I recently worked with a 7-year-old who kept telling me that reading with expression and reading so others can hear you are the important aspects of reading. She never mentioned comprehension. My graduate professor told us that reading with expression is actually a performance issue and not a reading issue. When adults sit down and read, whether or not they can read with expression and in an audible voice doesn’t really matter most of the time. What matters is that they understand and can remember what they read.

Does anyone else see lack of comprehension a problem? I teach developmental college reading. The majority of the students can read rather fluently but have comprehension problems. Your thoughts?

My Lit J

Posted: May 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

I began this semester with strong beliefs about literacy that have not drastically changed, but I now have a much deeper understanding of literacy theory. At the beginning of the semester, I held the belief that motivation is extremely important. Without motivation, students can eventually stop reading altogether, as some of my adult reading students have done. One of my students said to me this semester, “It’s not that we don’t read. It’s that we don’t read what you all make us read.” She is in the lowest level reading course the community college offers, wants to be a lawyer, and has already bought a reading program for her four-month-old son. Most students do desire to be successful, but when they are presented with texts that they cannot relate to, reading becomes tedious and students lose interest. After learning about different reading models during the semester, I questioned why some models, such as the automaticity model, did not address motivation.

Throughout the semester, I also developed a better understanding of what comprehension is. When completing Kucer’s literacy beliefs profile at the beginning of the semester, I strongly agreed that comprehension involves getting the author’s intended meaning from the text. I already realized that students may pick up different aspects of a text, but I didn’t give a lot of consideration to the idea that each person is working with his or her individual schema. Background knowledge or lack thereof is a contributing factor that should be acknowledged when selecting texts for students.

The sociocultural, socio-psycholinguistic, and critical reading models all recognize student interest as being important. Interest and background knowledge are intertwined because without being given an opportunity to develop background knowledge, a student will have a very difficult time developing an interest in the reading. If students continuously read texts that they do not find interesting, they may not develop a lifelong love for reading and may always view reading as a burden rather than an enjoyable and empowering experience. One major challenge that I was able to observe through listening to the elementary school teachers in the class is that many school curriculums do not consider students’ interests, and many teachers do not have the authority to alter the curriculum. If teachers do not have any control over the curriculum they teach, engaging students in interesting reading material becomes a major challenge.

My beliefs about literacy acquisition have been confirmed and in some cases slightly altered throughout this semester. After learning about the different reading models, I understand how important tapping into students’ funds of knowledge is. For example, I taught a student this semester who said he never read novels, but he read auto mechanic manuals. When I gave him the opportunity to select his own readings during lab, he found articles on scrap metal and other topics related to his job, and he enjoyed explaining them to me. Kucer defines literacy as a social practice and gives examples of many different types of literacy. I learned how important it is for students to realize that reading an automobile manual is a literacy event. Valuing and encouraging students’ interests will encourage them to engage and take risks while reading.

Currently, I believe that students’ interests and funds of knowledge must be determined in order to create a stimulating reading environment. I also believe that each student will comprehend a text in a slightly different way because each student brings different background knowledge to the reading experience, so there is no one correct interpretation of a text. Lastly, I strongly believe that teachers must have some control over the reading materials that are available for their students. All students should be given the opportunity to read real books of their choice, rather than only reading isolated sentences and passages in basal readers.

Some of my students from last semester working together.