Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I've Said It Before, and I'll Say It Again:

College was the best ten years of my life... Go Blue!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Praxis Advice

The Praxis I is so easy that you will feel offended, insulted, and angry (at yourself for missing more than two questions). You will pass with flying colors and wonder for many moons: "What kind of idiot can't pass this test?" And then you will meet those people when you start teaching in the public school system. You will subsequently cry, rend your clothing, and disavow solid food.

The Praxis II tests can be a bit trickier -- depending on your major. As an English major, teaching English, the Praxis II in English was a cake walk (much, much, much, MUCH easier than the English Lit GRE required for a PhD program). But, I'll be taking the Praxis II in math this summer and am concerned about that one -- my background not being particularly math-oriented. Ben'll arrange study groups in early June.

So, if you're taking the test in your field, you'll have no problems. If you're stretching into new domains, I'd recommend you check www.ets.org (Praxis II Test Details, Test Preparation, Tests at a Glance, Subject Assessments, and then just look for the name of the Content Test that you'll be taking). Honestly, though, don't sweat it: Mississippi's standards are appallingly low...

Hedge Funding Schools?

One of the best articles I've read in months... And my response to it and a friend:

This is necessarily a long hodge-podge. Please read it through. On the one hand, I know you're busy; on the other hand, I want to do justice to the issues.

I'm familiar with "Success for All." Very mixed feelings. As an educator I'm torn. I hate scripted programs (especially in an English classroom) because they hog-tie an effective, progressive teacher like me; yet I adore The Princeton Review's scripts because they demand high-caliber teachers from the get-go. I believe more strongly in getting great teachers than in finding great programs to be run by shitbox teachers. My cohort is split about similar programs that they've been forced to implement this year at their schools. Consult their Blogs for their opinions.

If you wanted more information on the "phonics" vs. "whole language" approaches to teaching reading, check out the Reading Wars in California that have been waging for 20-30 years. [Also, what do you know about the Barksdale Reading Institute? They've poured millions (30?) into Mississippi over the past 3 years and have seen little encouraging results. I've met the director, and he's frank if depressing when he says that they've done the best job imaginable, but that the kids need too much.]

The biggest issue is sustaining any growth (such as Greenblatt has experienced) throughout the middle-school years. Programs can succeed with young children, but they fall off after 4th grade. It's bizarre, and the only rationale I buy is the "culture" excuse: students spend only 15% of their waking hours in a classroom (a school year is only 180 days, more than half of each school day is spent not during school hours, and some of every 7-hr school day is spent at lunch, in passing time, or at gym) and otherwise live 85% of their waking lives surrounded by peer pressure in a non-literate culture. One out of three American adults is functionally illiterate; that's insane, and it's much higher in these impoverished communities. Think about it: Ever seen someone blow past the "Please wait to be seated" sign at a restaurant? Ever seen someone look at a picture and order a "Number 3" off the MickeyD's menu? Why don't poor people file for an income tax refund? Because they can't read.

Another issue is money. Greenblatt acknowledges that it's not simply throwing money at a problem that will solve it. And he's right. But with so much mismanagement in education and so much red tape in politics, the money (especially a measly $1000 per student) doesn't make it where it needs to be. Having software designers and money managers on-hand, to really run a school (an "educational business/institution") would solve many, many problems.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Reader, the biggest thing that would help Mississippi's public education right now would be placing a $1,000,000 endowment in the hands of the Mississippi Teacher Corps at the University of Mississippi. Anyone who could do that would be impacting the lives of tens of thousands of children. But people aren't exactly clamoring for that non-honor. They want to create something from scratch to stamp their name to -- like the Bill Gates Foundation or The Barksdale Reading Institute. But MTC is in a very fortuitous position because of its relationship with the university. If you're interested in learning more about what we do and why an endowment is necessary, Ben Guest is the man to address: bguest@olemiss.edu.

But let me tell you this: An endowment would create one of two opportunities.

1) The Teacher Corps would be able to train an additional 15 teachers every year. And every year, those same 15 teachers would be teaching in some of the country's worst schools. At 130+ students per teacher, we're talking about impacting the lives of an additional 2000 students per year. Every year.

2) Or the money would be used to extend the Teacher Corps for an optional third and fourth year. The money would pay for a specialist's degree and for National Board Certification -- for "continuing education" of the teacher -- both of which result in higher pay and better teachers. Plus, teacher retention rates jump dramatically if a teacher teaches for five consecutive years.

If such a large endowment is too much to wrap your head around, consider this: A $15,000 donation earmarked specifically for the making of a documentary film will provide the Teacher Corps with the marketing tool necessary to aggressively pursue the million-dollar donors. I've contacted a filmmaker this evening.

Can I put you on the Teacher Corps monthly email list?

To A Future Guest Speaker

My name is Mr. Khaki Pants, and I am an English teacher at Name This High School. Insert Student Name Here is a student of mine, so I attended last night's Jabberwock along with Mr. MoMo (a math teacher at the high school).

To make a long story short, MoMo and I have co-founded a student-run Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Club at Name This. Our typical meetings are fiery discussions involving 10-20 students from 4-5pm on Wednesdays. Our president and executive board members usually stay until 6ish, and we have debated issues ranging from race, education, and nutrition to politics, Governor Ross Barnett, and student leadership. Recently we've had a spate of guest speakers (Senator John Horhn, local NAACP President Gus McCoy, Jackson Free Press columnist and rapper Kamikaze, Governor Ray Mabus, and others).

When we make an announcement for such speakers, we can pack the room with 70 students. We've taken a 40-student fieldtrip to Murrah's African American History program and have a budding partnership with St. Andrews. We are currently planning two fieldtrips: one to Ole Miss and Memphis for May 12-13 and one to Beth Israel for a Holocaust Memorial this Tuesday. We are funded by Jackson State University's Mississippi Learning Institute and have been in constant contact with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

Our nascent club is taking off, and we would love for you to be a part! We hope you'll consider speaking with our students on Day, Month Date, from 4-5pm. Your views on BET and the African-American woman and Black culture would be an excellent counterpoint to Kamikaze's feelings about Spike Lee's recent comments at Ole Miss and hiphop culture's blamelessness in the perpetuation of a degrading public image.

Normally, I would have Super Student (a student leader) compose this email, but with the school year winding down, and days ticking away, I couldn't wait until tomorrow -- plus she's been busy planning our fieldtrips, organizing our meetings, and learning vocabulary words. Again, our students would love to ask you questions and to hear you speak. I have cc'ed this email to Super Student and MoMo, and you should feel free to respond to any and all of us.

Thank you for your time,
KP (and MoMo and Super Student)