Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Link of the Week: Matt Damon Tells It Like It Is

Thanks to Matt Damon for this lovely moment (one among many) in defense of teachers:


Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Save Our Schools March!

Yesterday, despite near 100 degree heat and blazing sun on the mall, I proudly attended the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC with an estimated 8,000 other teachers, parents, and supporters of public education.  While organizers had hoped for a higher turnout, the marchers present were passionate about improving public schools to nurture the talents and interests of all children.  Many of the conversations I had with other participants centered on how to harness this momentum to generate change on the local, state, and federal levels.  We are exhausted by the increasing focus on standardized test scores and privatization of schools, but are determined to continue to fight for what is right for our students.
            Prior to the march there were two hours of inspiring speakers, including Diane Ravitch, Debbie Meier, Jonathan Kozol, and Matt Damon.  Damon delivered a powerful and concise speech, crediting his present day success to his teachers and the freedom they were given to treat children as individuals and tailor instruction to the needs and interests of their class.  That freedom, he acknowledged, is under attack today.  He shared, “I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.  And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested.” 
The speaker that moved me the most, however, was Texas superintendent John Kuhn.  Mr. Kuhn’s district serves a high proportion of English language learners and students in poverty, and he is proud of this fact, even though this means his test scores are low and he is under heavy pressure and sanctions from the state.  At the start of his speech Kuhn thundered, “I stand before you today bearing proudly the label of unacceptable, because I educate the children they will not educate.”  As I shared in a previous post, poverty is the core issue weakening our most vulnerable schools and communities.  Charter schools and private schools, currently hailed as the new solution by reformers like Michelle Rhee, are not required to educate students who are affected by extreme poverty- - such as students who are homeless, without healthcare, or have special needs.  Kuhn went on to proclaim, “I will never follow the lead of those who exclude the kids who need education the most so that my precious scores will rise” but instead that he will “march headlong into the teeth of your horrific blame machine and I will teach these kids!”  His speech renewed the passion I have for my work and my pride in being a public school teacher.  I highly recommend watching this eight minute version of the speech, made earlier this year at the Save Texas Schools Rally.
There is still a lot of work to be done in the effort to save our schools, but standing on the ellipse with thousands of other greedy teachers reinvigorated me for the fight ahead.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Speak Out for Public Education

        Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a demonstration in conjunction with Harvard’s Commencement Ceremonies designed to get Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s attention.  A Harvard graduate, Duncan was honored as Chief Marshall of the Commencement proceedings for his 25th reunion.  A group of educators and advocates from Cambridge and beyond, including Deborah Meier and Alfie Kohn, took this opportunity to gather in Harvard Square and speak out.  I was honored to be among the speakers at the event, and delivered a brief speech to share my story as a current teacher and give some insight into how Duncan’s top-down policies are negatively impacting classroom communities.
            It was heartening to meet this dedicated group of current or retired public school teachers, researchers, and advocates all devoted to bringing about positive change for our students.  I was excited to see passers-by and graduates stop to read our signs, gather more information, and thank us for speaking out.  We were a small group, but our message was clear:  teachers, parents, and students know what’s best for schools and we will make ourselves heard.  Next stop: Washington, DC for the Save Our Schools March!

Author’s Note:  To find coverage of the event visit wmbr.org, and click on the program “What’s Left” for Friday, May 26 from 6 to 7pm.  You will find the piece about the demonstration at about the 36-minute mark.

**Author's UPDATE:  To see video of the rally, go to http://www.filmourwayfilms.com/film/teachfilm.cfm and select the "Rally Against Duncan's 'Reforms' for Public Schools of May 26" link.  I come on around the 30 minute mark!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Link of the Week: U.S. Reforms Out of Sync with Top Nations, Report Finds

"The United States’ education system is neither coherent nor likely to see great improvements based on its current attempts at reform, a reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader released this week by the National Center on Education and the Economy concludes."  Check out the article in EdWeek here.

Shocking, I know.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Congratulations 2011 Graduates!

          It’s graduation season and I have had the enormous privilege of attending two university commencement ceremonies in the past few weeks.  The first was in Greeneville, North Carolina, where my brilliant and spirited sister-in-law earned her M.D. from the Brody School of Medicine.  The second was in Medford, Massachusetts where my dear, patient husband earned his Master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  After many months despairing over the frustrating state of affairs in public education, these two ceremonies inspired me to have faith in a brighter future for schools and communities around the world.
            The Brody School of Medicine is part of the public East Carolina University system and falls in the top ten among U.S. medical schools in percentage of students that go on to practice primary care and rural medicine.  Brody ranks in the 90 percentile for medical schools in the percentage of African American and Native American graduates, and boasts the one of the lowest debt burdens for graduating doctors.  In a time when inequity feels like the status quo, it is uplifting to see public schools crafting opportunities for scholars of all backgrounds to afford a quality education and go on to serve communities in need.  I am so proud of the newly graduated Dr. Elliot and the diverse Brody class of 2011!
            The Fletcher School, part of the private Tufts University, has a mission to prepare “the world's leaders to become innovative problem-solvers in government, business and non-governmental organizations”.  Fletcher's students come from all over the world, and have done everything from earning Olympic medals to establishing non-profits prior to enrollment.  The speakers at Fletcher’s commencement ceremonies, which included Senator John Kerry, all acknowledged the increasing severity and complexity of the problems these graduates would face upon re-entering the global work force.  What made the commencement so uplifting, however, was the faith and conviction expressed by each of the speakers that the graduates were prepared to face these challenges and pave the way to a more harmonious tomorrow.  They didn’t say the process would be easy- - simply that it would be possible.  Having spent time with many of the Fletcher graduates during my husband’s two years of study there, I have no doubt this is true.
            The problems generated by scarcity of resources, inequity, and philosophical and cultural clashes are certainly not unique to education, nor are they going away any time soon.  There are already wonderful efforts in place, such as those at both Brody and Fletcher, to provide opportunities for higher education to a diverse range of scholars and encourage the graduates to tackle the complex problems facing communities locally and globally.  Congratulations to all 2011 graduates- from high school grads to Ph.D.'s!  I can't wait to see what you all make possible!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Link of the Week: Budget Mix-Up

         Here's to The Onion for bringing some much needed levity to the school reform debate.  Their recent article Budget Mix-Up Provides Nation's Schools with Enough Money to Properly Educate Students is a hilarious account of a congressional blunder resulting in the accidental misappropriation of $80 billion earmarked for national defense.  A true disaster!  The Onion quotes House Speaker John Boehner: "Once these kids learn to read and think critically, you can never undo that," Boehner said . . . "It could take a whole generation to cancel out the effects of this. . . What will our nation do if the next generation knows that all we care about is our own selfish interests and pandering to the wealthy elite? Is that the future you want? Not me."  Sounds like a great future to me.

Here's to the Students!