Sunday, April 28, 2013

This is Not the End...but it is.

Paper? Check. Project? Check. And with that, Frisch LEADS comes to a close. 

I will update you soon on the Frisch LEADS learning experience -- the mistakes I made and how I grew as a result -- but for now I thought I'd let you see what I ended up producing for my final project on education inequality: 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Search for Recent Research

Here I am, sitting at my dining room table trying to finish up a few paragraphs on the physical conditions of school buildings for my final paper. I have been toying with these paragraphs for days now because I keep running into the same problem: outdated research.

My paper is very data-driven, i.e. I rely heavily on studies, reports and dissertations published by people who have, well, done the work for me. For this section of my paper, I needed data on, among other things, the statistical relationship between the conditions of a school building and student achievement, low-income school districts and inadequate school facilities, and how specific aspects of school facilities impact learning. The information available on this topic is scanty to say the least, but there are a number of studies and dissertations from the 80's and 90's on the internet. The problem is that I can't use research from 1995 to talk about the current state of education inequality! I have yet to find a study done in the last 10 years on the school facilities gap, and I really need this information. I've changed my search terms at least 20 times but I cannot locate any relatively recent research on this topic.

This impasse that I have reached leads to an entirely different discussion about how recent research must be for one to use it in a paper, and what inferences one can make from old research about the current state of affairs. 
However, for now all I ask is that you comment on this post if you know of any data that might help me move forward with this section of my paper! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Paper Prep

This week we are being asked to outline the headings for our Frisch LEADS paper. I'm happy that I have the opportunity to get organized because the research I have compiled thus far is not in any sort of order on this blog.

I will be dividing my paper into two or three large sections:

Section I: The problems
Section II: Potential solutions
Section III: What can the average American do to help? (I am not positive that I will include this section. It really depends on how quickly I write the first two sections!)

In Section I, I will utilize a lot of the research that I have written about in previous blog posts. Here is my general outline for Section I (adapted from a previous post in which I ambitiously outlined a ridiculously extensive paper):

Section I: The problems

    1. How is education unequal?
      1. Issues that stem from US public school system/federal funding system
        1. class size
        2. physical conditions of school building
        3. quality of teachers/administrators
        4. teacher-student ratio
        5. after-school programming/extracurricular activities
        6. variety of classes; Advanced Placement courses
      2. Issues that stem from a student's family or community
        1. English as a second language
        2. literacy
        3. security considerations
        4. emotional/psychological/physical health
        5. dropout rates
        6. lack of access to tutors, private lessons, extra-curricular activities, etc.
    2. Implications of education Inequality
      1. standardized testing
      2. teacher evaluations
      3. college admissions
      4. employment (aspirations and actual employment)
      5. social mobility
      6. emotional/psychological health
      7. literacy (individual, familial)
      8. economic implications (cycle of poverty)
      9. community growth or stagnancy

I understand that this outline is still fairly ambitious, but seeing as there is a plethora of information on all of these topics, I don't foresee myself running into difficulties in terms of finding information for each category. Of course, I will not be doing a thorough job on each of these topics since there are so many of them.

In section II, I will focus on proposed solutions that address many of the above-mentioned issues. I will include research on and analysis of the many solutions that are out there, from the most logical to the most impractical. My goal is to write an unbiased paper, so I have no qualms about criticizing the approaches that I mention. I will attempt to touch upon the pros and the cons of each approach. Here is an outline of Section II:

Section II: Proposed Solutions (information and analysis) (in no particular order,and this isn't a complete list)
  1. Charter schools
  2. voucher system
  3. Reforming federal funding to public schools
  4. online education
  5. early childhood education
  6. socioeconomic reform (talk about a broad and complex topic...)
  7. reforming curricula
  8. Selective hiring
  9. Student incentives
  10. Standardized testing reform
  11. blended learning (cutting costs, class size)
  12. team teaching (class size)
  13. resource sharing/clustered schools
  14. public schools as community centers
  15. specialized guidance programs for at-risk students
  16. career counseling

The structure of the possible section III has yet to be determined, but I think that I may profile organizations involved in promoting education reform and education equality, and provide readers with examples of how to get involved in this movement. I recently read through the Forbes 30 under 30 in education and noticed that many of the people on the list founded or are involved in amazing organizations that are working to improve so many aspects of education. I've also happened upon dozens of similar organizations and projects while curating articles for the RealSchool and Occupy Standardized Testing Facebook pages, so I'll be sure to check my Evernote archives for relevant articles.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Mid-Blog Crisis

Disclaimer: This blog post is an original work. I promise. Google all you want! You won't find it anywhere else.

The time has come for me to face my fears.

The mission: Find My Voice
The location: Blogland, circa 2013
The objective: Stop mooching off of others and actually say something original.

I know, I sound like an English teacher with the whole "find my voice" shpeel (and to be honest, those are the words directly out of my english teacher's mouth), but I think I need to do some serious voice-searching. I've spent my first few months in Blogland amassing research and sharing it would you, the people from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany (and that lone soul from the Dominican Republic) who actually read these posts. You may have noticed, nay (yes I just said "nay"), you've definitely noticed that I basically quote the words of others- namely authors of education inequality-related articles and books- and rarely venture into the scary world of My Own Opinion. Well folks, the time as come for me to leave my childhood behind and take this critical step towards adulthood. In my next few posts, I am going to work hard to include some words that originate from my own noggin, not Google Scholar. In fact, some might say that I am aiming to develop the "scholar" in me. Sounds fancy, no?

Despite the momentous, life-changing nature of the task that lies ahead, I hope that this mission- whether it succeeds or fails- will be a growth experience for me. After all, I do spend all of my free time writing on this thing. And I REALLY don't want to spend my entire winter vacation on a task that bares no fruit.

Until next time, enjoy my past unoriginal blog posts!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Essential: Excellent Educators

I recently read an excerpt from A Notion at Risk: Preserving Public Education as an Engine for Social Mobility*. The section is titled "Inequality in Teaching and Schooling: Supporting High Quality Teaching and Leadership in Low-Income Schools". Here are some interesting points. Most of this post is just quotes from the excerpt, but the quotes pretty much speak for themselves. I will update this post as I read more of the excerpt. 

*This was written in 2000, so the exact statistics are no longer valid. However, I think this paints a fairly accurate picture of the current state of affairs, as not much as changed in our approach to education equality in the last decade or so. 

A. Effective teachers are the key.

The author notes that effective teachers are exceptionally important to the academic growth of a student. Particularly disturbing is the piece I have underlined below. The author explains that certain studies have found that "African-American students are nearly twice as likely to be assigned to the most ineffective teachers and about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers". Whenever I read a statement like this, I think of Jonathan Kozol, a well-known advocate of education reform who spent most of his life teaching in some of the poorest school districts in the country. I recently began reading his book The Shame of the Nation. In his introduction, Kozol talks about how segregated our public school system remains despite the fact that Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka legally integrated American schools nearly fifty years ago. Research like this is evidence that Kozol is correct in his sobering assessment.

"Students who are assigned to several ineffective teachers in a row have significantly lower achievement and smaller gains in mathematics and reading—yielding differences of as much as fifty percentile points over three years—than those who are assigned to several highly effective teachers in sequence. These studies also find troubling indicators for educational equity, noting evidence of strong bias in assignment of students to teachers of different effectiveness levels, including indications that African-American students are nearly twice as likely to be assigned to the most ineffective teachers and about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers."

B. Teacher expertise is a major factor in student achievement.

"In an analysis of nine hundred Texas school districts, Ronald Ferguson found that teachers’ expertise—as measured by scores on a licensing examination, master’s degrees, and experience—accounted for about 40 percent of the measured variance in students’ reading and mathematics achievement at grades 1 through 11, more than any other single factor. He also found that every additional dollar spent on more highly qualified teachers netted greater increases in student achievement than did less instructionally focused uses of school resources. The effects were so strong and the variations in teacher expertise so great that, after controlling for socioeconomic status, the large disparities in achievement between black and white students were almost entirely accounted for by differences in the qualifications of their teachers."

C. Reading achievement correlates with teacher expertise.

This passage made me stop and reflect on how lucky I am to have always had english and history teachers who "use a wide variety of books, newspapers, and materials from other subject areas", "engage students in regular writing", and rarely "use reading kits, basal readers and workbooks".

"The National Assessment of Educational Progress has documented that the qualifications and training of students’ teachers are also among the correlates of reading achievement: students of teachers who are fully certified, who have master’s degrees, and who have had professional coursework in literature-based instruction do better on reading assessment than students whose teachers have not had such learning opportunities. Furthermore, teachers who have had more professional coursework are more likely to use an approach that integrates the teaching of reading with literature and writing, which is associated with stronger achievement. For example, teachers with more staff development hours in reading are much more likely to use a wide variety of books, newspapers, and materials from other subject areas and to engage students in regular writing, all of which are associated with higher reading achievement. They are also less likely to use reading kits, basal readers, and workbooks, which are associated with lower levels of reading achievement." 


D. Expert teachers mean higher-order learning.

I am particularly fond of this passage because I am a fan of problem or project-based, higher-order learning and really, really dislike rote memorization.

"Expert teachers are a prerequisite for the successful implementation of challenging curriculum. Teachers who are well-prepared are better able to use teaching strategies that respond to students’ needs and learning styles and that encourage higher-order learning.15 Since the novel tasks required for problem-solving are more difficult to manage than the routine tasks associated with rote learning, lack of knowledge about how to manage an active, inquiry-oriented classroom can lead teachers to turn to passive tactics that “dumb down” the curriculum, busying students with workbooks and end-of-chapter fill-in-the-blank tests rather than complex tasks like lab work, research projects, and experiments that require more skill to orchestrate."

E. The importance of a good principal.

"While there is no evidence about the relative competence of principals in low-income schools versus schools generally, there is evidence that, all else being equal, principals’ leadership has a great deal to do with which schools are hard to staff. Study after study has noted that good schools in low-income communities have strong principals who serve as instructional leaders. While resources and working conditions certainly matter, research suggests that teachers who have options choose to enter and remain in schools where they feel well supported by the local administrator, irrespective of student wealth or poverty, and that schools with poor leadership typically have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers. In national surveys of teachers about their decisions to remain in teaching, administrative supports matter far more than the characteristics of the student body or even variables like student behavior and parent involvement."

F. The problem of staffing low income schools.

"Although there are many new teachers who cannot find jobs, there are also many job openings for which schools have difficulty finding teachers. In almost every field, schools with the largest numbers of low-income and minority students are much more likely than other schools to report that they have difficulty filling vacancies. These schools are also more likely to fill vacancies with unqualified teachers, substitutes, or teachers from other fields, or to expand class sizes or cancel course offerings when they cannot find teachers."

Minority and low-income students in urban settings are most likely to find themselves in classrooms staffed by inadequately prepared, in- experienced, and ill-qualified teachers because funding inequities, dis- tribution of local power, and labor market conditions conspire to produce shortages of which they bear the brunt. Shortages of qualified teachers also translate into larger class sizes, lack of access to higher- level courses, and poorer teaching."

"These “shortages,” though, are largely a problem of distribution rather than of absolute numbers. Wealthy districts that pay high salaries and offer pleasant working conditions rarely experience shortages. Districts that serve low-income students tend to pay teachers less and offer larger class sizes and pupil loads, fewer materials, and less desirable teaching conditions, including less professional autonomy. They also often have cumbersome and inefficient hiring systems that make the selection process particularly slow and grueling for candidates. For obvious reasons, they have more difficulty recruiting teachers. In 1993–94, for example, schools serving larger numbers of minority and low-income students were four times as likely as whiter and wealthier schools to hire unqualified teachers."

"On virtually every measure, teachers’ qualifications vary by the status of the children they serve. Students in high-poverty schools are not only the least likely to have teachers who are fully qualified, they are also least likely to have teachers with higher levels of education— a master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree. Whereas only 8 percent of public school teachers in low-poverty schools taught without at least a minor in their main academic assignment field, fully one-third of teachers in high-poverty schools taught without at least a minor in their main field, and nearly 70 percent taught without at least a minor in their secondary teaching field. This is problematic given the studies that show lower levels of achievement for students whose teachers are not prepared and certified in the subject area they teach."

G. What state you live in matters.

"Inequality is most pronounced in the states and districts that have invested the least in preparing and hiring high-quality teachers. In states like Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, and Wisconsin, nearly all teachers hold both full certification and a major in the field they teach, and few if any are hired on emergency credentials. Not surprisingly, students in these states rank at the top of the distribution in mathematics and reading achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One might speculate that this distribution is largely a function of states’ student populations; however, research on the determinants of these outcomes has found that states’ levels of student performance are much more strongly predicted by the proportion of well-qualified teachers (those holding full certification plus a major in the field they teach) in the state than by student poverty, language status, or other background variables. As described later, these states have adopted specific policies that have allowed them to provide well-qualified teachers to all students. By contrast, states like Alaska, California, and Louisiana, which rank much lower on overall achievement, have many fewer teachers who are well qualified (that is, who hold certification plus a major in their field) and large numbers of teachers teaching out of field or on emergency credentials. These differently prepared teachers are allocated along class and racial lines.

Brainstorming Break

Due to the craziness of the last few weeks, I have severely neglected this blog. Now that I am ready to get back on track with my research, I thought it might be a good idea to spend one post figuring out what I have accomplished thus far and where I intend to go in the coming weeks.

I just posted another set of links on education inequality, to add to about 10 links I have already posted. These posts are basically an aggregation of some of the research I have been doing. Although I am thoroughly enjoying collecting these contemporary articles, I think I need to start getting organized with my research. In the coming weeks, I hope to research the "problem" section of my paper in a more focused manner, according to the following rough guiding outline. I plan to modify the outline as I research, so this is not a final product. After that, I will turn to the "solutions". 

  1. The problems
    1. Quality of education
      1. Issues that stem from US public school system/federal funding system
        1. class size
        2. physical conditions of school building
        3. teacher:student ratio
        4. quality of teachers/administrators
        5. after-school programming/extracurricular activities
        6. variety of classes; Advanced Placement courses
        7. management and administration of schools
        8. special education
      2. Issues that stem from a student's upbringing or community
        1. English as a second language
        2. literacy
        3. security considerations
        4. emotional/psychological/physical health
        5. dropout rates
        6. lack of access to tutors, private lessons, extra-curricular activities, etc.
    2. Implications of education Inequality
      1. standardized testing
      2. teacher evaluations
      3. college admissions
      4. employment (aspirations and actual employment)
      5. social mobility
      6. emotional/psychological health
      7. literacy (individual, familial)
      8. economic implications (cycle of poverty)
      9. community growth or stagnancy

Putting Prose on Pause

This week (or rather, last week), we were asked to write a poem about our topic. I am no poet, but I hope that this piece conveys some of the realities that students in low-income school districts experience and want to express. 

*Disclaimer: This poem is not written from my perspective. It is written from the viewpoint of students who experience education inequality. 

packed with students, rushing to class
(or not)

filled with brightly colored posters
and the smell of whiteboard markers

the ones we take for granted now
but will want to thank later

cover the desks in the back row
documenting the fleeting thoughts of teenage girls

When will you realize?

We have hallways, classrooms, teachers and doodles

But our hallways are dirty
the floors haven't been washed in years
the linoleum is badly cracked

our classrooms are poorly lit
and don't have enough desks to seat our whole class
some kids sit on the floor

our teachers want to teach us
but instead they test us
and then hang their heads in disappointment when we don't do well

our doodles aren't about sports or fashion
they are about the places we work after school
when we should be doing homework or playing ball

my parents tell me "stay in school", "school is important"
how do I reply?

as long as my hallways and classrooms and teachers and doodles
are the way they are
I am better off
anywhere but school.