Net-Positive: a facility that produces more energy than it uses. That’s the goal of the Academy of Global Citizenship has for its Chicago school campus. Jenni Schneiderman of the school explains at GOOD:
When Seattle’s Bulitt Center—the “greenest office building ever“—opens on Earth Day it will symbolize a shift in 21st century priorities towards intentionality, stewardship, and service. It will soon be followed by a net-zero energy hotel in the Fall of 2013. But businesses aren’t the only entities striving to meet the parameters of the Living Building Challenge by implementing the most ecologically conscious design and technologies available. A net-zero energy public school in New York City will open in 2014, and at our school on the southwest side of Chicago, the Academy for Global Citizenship, we are building a net-positive campus to house our net-positive community.
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Robyn Gee on Thursday, May. 10th
“Be data driven, not data drowning,” is the slogan for Kickboard for Teachers – an educational software, designed to help teachers and administrators collect data regarding their students’ academic and behavioral performance in one place.
Data is the name of the game in American education today — in fact, Jennifer Medbery, the creator of Kickboard, was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House. She is a former high school math teacher and Teach for America corps member. Many of the people on the Kickboard team are former teachers as well. The software was introduced in 2009, and is currently in a closed beta phase for individual teachers.
The software allows teachers to record academic and behavior-related data in one place, and share it with other teachers and administrators who have a stake in student performance. Teachers and school leaders can keep track of good and bad behaviors like being tardy, not wearing a uniform, answering a difficult question and turning in homework. It functions as an online gradebook as well.
But the data go a level deeper than grades, according to Stew Stout, the Marketing Outreach Manager for Kickboard, also a former teacher.
“One of the things I always struggled with as a teacher was, ‘What does a grade mean?’ So if I’m looking at a test and a student got a 75 or an 80, that doesn’t really tell me a lot. But in Kickboard we take the data one level deeper. Every question that a student answers that’s been recorded in Kickboard is based on a skill or a standard that a teacher is teaching… When you put that level of granularity you can really plan effectively. My students did well on this standard, and didn’t do well on this one. I’m going to prioritize what they didn’t do well on,” said Stout.
Kickboard claims that it can improve school culture, which seems like a trickier thing to prove. Stout says because Kickboard data allows all teachers to keep track of the same behaviors, school leaders can ideally identify and address the behaviors that happen most frequently.
“Maybe this student is acting out in three classes, but doing really well in one class. You can’t see that trend unless you have data. … School leaders can plan really purposeful professional development. ‘In this class I’m really seeing a lot of students talking out. In this other class I’m not. I’m going to connect these two teachers so they can help each other,’” said Stout.
Because Kickboard lets teachers update data in real time, and the data is attached to a particular student — not a classroom or teacher — school leaders and counselors using Kickboard can monitor student behavior around the school during the school day. If a student is having a particularly bad day, and three teachers in a row record concerning behavior for that student in their classrooms, a counselor who sees this on Kickboard could pull this student out of class and intervene. “You can intervene before a trend becomes a problem,” said Stout.
The software raises some interesting questions. Is there such thing as collecting too much data? Is a classroom still a classroom if teachers are more concerned with recording each student’s behavior than engaging with the students?
“If people are entering information, and they’re not doing anything with it, then the information is worthless. But if the data has value and it’s being used, then I think that’s great,” said Stout.
According to Stout, each teacher uses the tool differently. Kindergarten teachers that Stout has worked with do not enter behavior information until the end of the day, since their hands are full all the time. Some high school teachers who use Kickboard have iPad holsters attached to their hips, and are constantly recording behaviors. One school records over 120 specific behaviors that teachers can monitor in Kickboard.
For new teachers, or for teachers starting work at a new school, Kickboard is the equivalent of having the school handbook at your fingertips. “When a teacher signs into kickboard for the first time, the discipline logic is set up, all the consequences are there, all the behaviors are there and those behaviors that a teacher is recording — those are the same from class to class,” said Stout.
But Stout says they’re not pushing any one particular management system. “When a school signs up, they’re not choosing from a menu of behaviors they want to record, or a menu of consequences they could assign, or a menu of incentives they could give. Instead we’re giving them a tool, a framework that they can use to execute their vision,” he said.
So far, Kickboard is not sharing any quantitative results about how the program has affected student performance.
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Robyn Gee on Tuesday, Mar. 20th
Popular California community college, Santa Monica College, recently decided to start offering more sections of its most popular classes during the summer for five times the amount they normally cost, according to the Atlantic. The reason the tuition is so high is because these sections are not subsidized by the state.
Students in California have faced major tuition increases, due to budget cuts. According to the Community College Chancellor’s office, community colleges have suffered $769 million in cuts since 2009, and in 2011 took another $502 million cut.
Because of this, colleges have cut back on their course offerings, which makes it hard for students to get into all the classes they need to complete their programs. By offering more courses at higher prices, students who can afford to pay extra will be able to finish their programs faster.
The Atlantic is critical of this move, saying it creates two tracks–the haves and have-nots– in the school community, and will transform state schools into semi-private institutions. But the article also acknowledges that schools struggling to stay afloat do not have many other options.
Got better ideas? Tell us what you think.
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Robyn Gee on Friday, Mar. 9th
The New York State Department of Education recently released Teacher Data Reports (TDRs) to the media, reports that rate teachers based on the growth that their students have shown on state standardized tests. This “value-added” analysis is being incorporated into teacher evaluations all over the country, and creating controversy about how much of a teacher’s performance can be captured by test results. In New York, a teacher’s value-added score is 40 percent of their evaluation.
After the reports were released in the New York Times, the New York Post picked out Pascale Mauclaire — a sixth grade teacher at P.S. 11 — and called her the worst teacher in New York. They hounded her and her family for interviews until she had to call the police.
The funny thing is, Mauclaire’s students, fellow teachers and principal, vouch for her as one of the best educators at their school.
Stories like Mauclaire’s are popping up all over New York. The New York Times published an article about a school in Brooklyn where fifth grade teachers go above and beyond what is required of them, but whose data reports do not reflect the student growth in their classrooms.
Leo Casey, is the vice president of the United Federation of Teachers, and published an article in EdWize titled, “The True Story of Pascale Mauclaire.” The UFT fought the release of the data in the first place because they said the data was full of errors, and used test scores that were two years old.
Listen to a conversation with Casey above, and tell us what you think about releasing TDRs to the media.
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Robyn Gee on Tuesday, Mar. 6th
On Tuesday, the U.S. department of Education will release new data about school discipline. According to a preview of the results in the New York Times, black students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers.
The data was collected from the 2009 – 2010 school year, from 72,000 schools around the country, and covered kindergarten through high school-aged students. The data is part of a federal effort to address and problem solve around the “school-to-prison” pipeline, and the connection between getting in trouble at school and dropping out or being incarcerated at a young age. The data shows that the “pipeline” is disproportionately affecting students of color. The Times reports that over 70 percent of school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement were for Hispanic and black students.
Diana Tate Vermiere of the ACLU of Northern California spoke with us earlier this week about exclusionary school discipline practices saying, “We’re talking about the citizens of today and tomorrow. We need to be developing them, bringing them along and ensuring that they have access to education. The overuse of discipline that excludes them from school, that alienates them from school – leads to higher rates of dropout or push-out of school, is denying them their fundamental right to an education. It is most certainly a civil rights issue of today, of the past, and frankly of the future.”
Kavon Jones, 18, goes to Envision High School in Oakland, CA, and is no stranger to school discipline. He said he was in detention three to four times a week, every week during high school, but said he was too stubborn to change his behavior. A detention at his school could quickly progress into more exclusionary punishment. “If you didn’t go to detention, say if you got 30 minutes and you didn’t go– it turns into an hour, and after you miss that hour, you get a referral. And when you get three referrals, it results in a suspension for three days,” he explained.
An organization taking a closer look at these issues is the Advancement Project, a nonpartisan, civil rights organization that focuses on issues related to the school-to-prison pipeline. They connect the escalation of suspensions and expulsions to the high-stakes testing movement and the implementation of No Child Left Behind.
In a report called, “Test, Punish and Push Out,” the Advancement Project says that there were almost 250,000 more students suspended in 2006 – 2007 than there were four years previous, when NCLB was signed into law, and during that time, expulsions increased 15 percent.
The report explains:
Because of the focus on test scores and the severe consequences attached to them, if a student acts up in class, it is no longer in educators’ self-interest to address it by assessing the student’s unmet needs or treating the incident as a “teachable moment.” It is much easier and more “efficient” to simply remove the child from class through punitive disciplinary measures and focus on the remaining students.
Stay tuned for more coverage of school discipline in the U.S. and what young people have to say about it.
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Robyn Gee on Tuesday, Feb. 14th
The Campaign for an American Dream is organizing a cross-country march, that will send four walkers, who are all undocumented and living in the United States, from San Francisco, Ca to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about immigrants’ rights. They’ll be stopping in 200 communities holding various events and rallies, and plan to arrive in D.C. in late October, 2012.
I spoke with 25-year-oldNicolas Gonzalez, one of the four walkers. He came from Mexico to the U.S. with his mom and older sister in 1992. When they arrived, they moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he’s been living ever since. Gonzalez is an immigration activist and shared with us his story and motivation for embarking on this trek.
Turnstyle: Describe your experience growing up in Illinois.
Nicolas Gonzales: When I was 12, my mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is something that really impacted me and my family. When I was 18, it spread, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer. My mom wasn’t working anymore and my sister wasn’t living with us.
I dropped out of high school and began working. My mom needed that support. My dad had to work to pay for the house, to pay the bills.
My mom passed away two years ago on January 23, 2010. It was the hardest year for me. I saw my mom going to the public hospital, along with many other immigrant women; they would have to sit around and wait for treatment, and switch doctors. I was the one who knew what medication she was taking, who her doctors were, translating for her.
Turnstyle: How did your mom’s sickness impact the work you’re doing now?
NG: My mom died in this country of freedom where she was considered a criminal. It didn’t seem right, and I needed to do something about it. [Me and some other youth] were really tired of living in fear. We said, ‘how can we challenge the system?’
I became part of a group called the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago. When March came around, we had already started organizing an immigrant rights march.
We decided to have an event called a “Coming Out of the Shadows” day on March 10 in Chicago. We went against politicians, organizations, and older activists, saying we want to take the stage and declare our undocumented status. We were tired of people speaking for us. We have a voice. Eight of us went on stage; we told our stories.
Turnstyle: When did you find out, or really notice the impact of being undocumented?
NG: I was 15 or 16 when I realized I didn’t have [a] Social Security number. I wasn’t able to go to [any] summer programs that they offer to students. I was always doing volunteer work because I couldn’t get paid. Everyone else my age was getting paid, but I wasn’t, for doing the same or even more work. That’s when I realized [life] was going to start getting tougher. My parents told me get work, start working.
But [being undocumented] didn’t hold me back. I was always volunteering everywhere. Sometimes they would pay me with gift certificates to Target or to Starbucks; that’s how they would pay me.
My education was through other means, not necessarily by institutionalized ways of getting educated, but through my own terms of getting little training here and there, for domestic violence or trainings that got me to where I got.
Turnstyle: Why are you participating in the CAD walk?
NG: My mom’s passing pushed me in a lot of ways to push other youth to organize. I was asked to do groundwork in Alabama, but a week before I left, I was called and asked to be one of the [CAD] walkers.
I’m looking forward to meeting different people, and really knowing that what we’re doing is powerful. It’s not only going to educate our communities, but our allies. Sharing our stories as a political tool to create change is something I look forward to.
I’m not doing this for myself, but to empower communities, and also to send out a national message of unity. We’ve lived in oppression too long. How do we move forward?
Stay tuned for upcoming coverage on the progress of the CAD walk. Have you heard a story similar to Nico’s? Think the walk is a good idea? Let us know what you think.
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Robyn Gee on Thursday, Feb. 9th
Last month, the California State Senate approved a bill to develop a Creativity and Innovation Education Index — a database designed to keep track of the number of arts, music, and other creative opportunities at schools. The intention is to measure how schools are fostering creativity among their students. California is just one of several states to implement a law like this, Massachusetts being the first, according to Education Week.
It might seem like a shock that California is concerned with measuring creativity opportunities when the budget for arts classes and music programs has been cut in school districts all over the state. However, employers and business owners are saying that new applicants to the workforce are not equipped with the creativity and critical-thinking skills required to get hired.
The California Alliance for Arts Education describes the index:
A creativity and innovation index would provide a way for schools to rate their progress in teaching, encouraging and fostering creativity in students. Index scores would be voluntarily compiled by school and district staff from a survey of curricula and teacher reports. It would quantify the opportunities in each school as measured by the availability of classes and before and after-school programs offered by and through school districts that nurture creativity and innovation in students. Examples might include visual and performing arts education classes, debate clubs, science fairs, theatre and dance performances, music concerts, film-making, creative writing, and independent research.
Turnstyle spoke with Mary Wright, Associate Director for The Conference Board, a business membership and research association, who specializes in the intersection of business and education. She was a leader on a report called, “Are They Really Ready To Work?” in 2006, which identified key skill sets that employers thought were important for their employees to have, and creativity and innovation were among the top five.
We spoke with Wright about the concept of a Creativity Index and how she thinks it could affect the workforce readiness of young people today.
Turnstyle: Explain, in a nutshell, your workforce readiness research with regards to the need for non-academic skills.
Wright: We wanted to understand what business really meant by “new entrants are not workforce ready.” We looked at both basic skills, [like] reading, writing, and arithmetic, and also asked about the applied skills, like 21st century skills. The applied skills are things around critical thinking, information technology application, teamwork and collaboration, and creativity and innovation.
Turnstyle: Can you explain “applied skills?”
Wright: It was clear to us that the applied skills were the ones that were considered most important. Certainly, people would argue that math and science develop significant critical thinking skills. They give you tools to figure out problems. But if you can’t communicate what you just learned or what you just did, you’re not as valuable in the workplace.
It was interesting given the emphasis that people have on STEM [science, mathematics, technology and engineering] skills, and yet, what employers were saying, it wasn’t the math skill that was important, it was the critical thinking skill. That would be true regardless of whether someone was in a STEM career or a retail career.
Turnstyle: How does this research reflect a changing trend in the workforce?
Wright: In my parent’s generation, you started working at the bank, and you were at the bank for 50 years and you retired with your gold watch, and that’s all you did. Today’s generation, you’re not only looking at six different jobs at the bank, but six different careers. You may start in a retail company, and take those skills and go to a manufacturing company, and take those skills and go to a bank, and take those skills and go somewhere else.
The ability to use your knowledge as a set of tools, to be able to analyze, regardless of the industry or the role you find yourself playing, that seems to be a far more valuable skill set than whether you have the technical skills. There’s a stubbornly high unemployment rate, and people are saying that there’s a huge mismatch between the skills of the people available and the skills of the jobs that are there. That, I think, people are attributing to the decline of technical education, or the fact that people are saying everyone needs a four-year degree; I think the data shows that that’s not necessarily true.
Turnstyle: Do businesses and schools deal with creativity in the same way?
Wright: We were curious to see: how is it that creativity is taught, and how is it enhanced? We asked both business executives and school administrators how they were thinking about creativity. Everybody said creativity was very important; but how it is defined was quite different. Businesses said that it was the ability to define the problem; school administrators were saying it was the ability to find the answer.
A lot of businesses have gone out of business because they were solving the wrong problem. The auto industry has solved the wrong problem many times over; maybe they [were] building bigger cars but the problem was fuel… We also saw that when we asked schools what programs help develop creativity, they said creative writing and arts classes. Yet the majority of those classes are not required, not part of the strict core curriculum; they were an elective.
Now business had a very similar result. We asked: once you have these employees, how do you help develop creativity?
But neither schools nor businesses are making creativity a requirement of either their employees or their students.
Turnstyle: Do you think creativity indices are a good way to increase the amount of creativity in schools?
Wright: What’s important gets measured. I think that therefore developing some metric by which you can determine [the question], “are you making a difference?” is a critical one. Massachusetts and California are two states with big high-tech industries and [are] very interested in making sure there’s a creative nature.
We’re hoping to be able to ask, if these are the most creative people in the company, what is their training? What is similar in their background that would suggest that therefore if you did the following six things, you are going to be more successful as a creative person? If schools had some measure that begins to say it’s because they had a fabulous science teacher, or project-based learning, or a theater program, because we don’t have a sense of what is the most significant driver.
Turnstyle: Do you have any concerns about the index?
Wright: There’s always an issue around equity. If kids are coming from an upper-income area, and parents can supplement what kids are exposed to, then you begin to worry about the bias. Is it just the school environment? What is happening before and after school that is going to make a difference? I haven’t seen the indices so I don’t know how they’re going to factor in that kind of thing.
Then there’s the issue of preference… If a kid chooses not to be involved in activities like theater, are they missing out on the opportunities?… If that project-based learning is not used in the traditional classroom, then that child will not be exposed. Then there’s the reverse: just because a kid was in a classroom with project-based learning, does that mean they’re inherently more creative? No.
Turnstyle: Do you see a common goal for businesses and education in terms of workforce readiness?
Wright: We continue to look at the issue around how businesses and schools talk to each other. Schools have always felt that their role is to make that person ready to be an important contributor to society — someone you want to have as a neighbor. We certainly feel that the skill sets involved in being workforce-ready are exactly the same as those of being a good citizen: you can read, you can write, you can express yourself, you can understand, you can take knowledge from a variety of areas and turn it into something useful. We feel that the bridge between the business world and the education world is there, and it’s something we need to work on strengthening.
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Robyn Gee on Wednesday, Feb. 1st
This story originally aired on KALW’s Crosscurrents.
In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama proposed something radical, that dropping out of high school should no longer be allowed. But that might be complicated. Every school district has tried numerous solutions to the dropout dilemma without success. The problem prompted Russell Rumberger to write a book called Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It.
Rumberger is director of the California Dropout Research Project, and he currently serves as provost in the Office of the President at the University of California. He recently talked about his theory that high schools need to promote alternatives to college – and that some people might be better served not getting a higher education at all. KALW’s Ben Trefny sat down with Youth Radio’s Robyn Gee to discuss this idea of education.
This story was produced by Youth Radio with support from the New Options Project and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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Robyn Gee on Wednesday, Jan. 25th
President Barack Obama gave education a fair share of attention during the State of the Union address last night.
The talking points:
- Require all students to stay in high school until they are 18
- Extend the tuition tax credit
- States should make higher education a priority in their budgets
- Reward good teachers and keep them on the job
- Give schools flexibility so they do not have to teach to the test
Mr. Obama has said in the past that he hopes the United States will be number one in the world when it comes to having the highest percentage of college graduates. “Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”
But “college for all” is a hot topic right now. Some educators argue that not everyone wants to go to college, or will necessarily succeed in college, and policy makers need to define success more broadly beyond academic achievement tests and AP tests and include valuing job-ready skills in students.
Instead of making vocational education and career and technical education an option in high schools, Obama wants to address job training by creating partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train Americans with specific skills that lead directly to jobs. As of now, Mr. Obama believes business leaders can’t find American workers with the right skills to hire.
In terms of teachers, the Huffington Post reports that both the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were pleased with the speech. Obama spoke about the role a teacher plays in changing students’ lives, quoting a Harvard study that said that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by $250,000. He said schools should have flexibility to reward good teachers and replace ineffective teachers.
Check out a video of the speech below.
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Robyn Gee on Tuesday, Jan. 24th
Professor Diane Ravitch is a big voice in education policy and a huge critic of No Child Left Behind.
Yet, as former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush, she helped promote the same policies she’s now criticizing.
Ravitch’s latest book is called, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. In the book, she details why she drastically reversed her position on school reform. While she used to push for testing, charters and privatization, now she’s worried these efforts are making things worse and hurting students.
As an education reform veteran, Ravitch can tell you change isn’t easy, and it isn’t kind. Listen to an interview with Ravitch above.
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