This week I've had a spate of misbehavior, oddly in just one particular class. Yesterday alone, one kid refused to face forward and stop talking after I called his name four different times, finally whipping around and yelling "WHAT?!?!?" at my repeated attempts to get him to stop his conversation and take notes. Another kid refused to remove his do-rag after I also asked him to do so several times. Then, a third kid jumped into that conversation with an impassioned tirade against the school's prohibition of hats and do-rags in class (presumably in the defense of his do-ragged friend--with ...


In the days leading up to the election, one of the kids in my 9th period raised his hand and said, "Miss, what's the difference between Republicans and Democrats, anyway?" I was unsure how to answer. "Well... Republicans tend to vote more conservatively, while Democrats tend to vote more liberally," I tried, feeling awkward. The kids stared at me blankly. Clearly I needed a better approach. The thing was, I wasn't sure how to answer that question. It seemed pointless to discuss it in the abstract, without specific issues to offer up as examples of Republican or Democratic partisanship. And ...


So Parent-Teacher conferences were this past Thursday evening and this Friday. Often, I find these conferences to be extremely frustrating, because the parents I most need to see--whose homes I've called multiple times (often with no answer), to whom I've sent letters repeatedly--rarely make an appearance. When I wrote about this last spring for a Teaching Ahead round-table on the topic of parental involvement, I got a lot of flak from readers who felt I was being insensitive; some of these families, the readers pointed out, are in crisis (homelessness was the main issue mentioned by readers of the Teaching ...


Some alert readers sent me an article from the Jay Mathew's education column in the Washington Post about the "Fiction v. Nonfiction Smackdown," as he puts it. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a comprehensive set of guidelines for what skills students should have mastered in every grade level and in every academic discipline, have increasingly begun to emphasize nonfiction over fiction reading, particularly in high school English Language Arts curricula. The result, they say, will be to improve students' ability to do the type of reading they'll need to do in college and the workplace. Opponents of this policy ...


Last week, I talked about the links between vocabulary, reading, and socio-economics: Specifically, a New York Times' discussion of a study that showed poorer children are exposed to fewer and less complex words than their wealthy counterparts, so that they enter school with huge disparities in vocabulary knowledge. These gaps are unfortunately never bridged, such that these students are far under-represented in specialized high schools where admission is determined by a test. Their SAT scores are also lower than those of their wealthier peers, making family income the single strongest correlate to test scores. My students are all taking the ...


Last week, some parents spontaneously came to see me about their child, "Joe." Joe is extremely diligent and cooperative. His assignments are thoughtfully written, he always shows up on time, and he seldom disrupts class. I told the parents that I had very few critiques of Joe's work habits, and admitted that I was actually surprised to see them, given that he's generally a top performer in his class. (I probably shouldn't have been surprised--Joe's academic success is undoubtedly due in part to his parents' high level of involvement in his education. More on this in a second.) It all ...


"Won't Back Down," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, is the latest in a series of agitprop films (including last year's notorious "Waiting for Superman," and another film called "Detachment," which opens in New York and L.A. next month) that seeks to dramatize the American education crisis for the big-screen. Both "Waiting for Superman" and "Won't Back Down" suggest that the panacea for America's failing schools is privately funded charter schools, which--in their freedom from the control of evil teachers' unions--automatically allow for a higher caliber of classroom instruction for the youngsters. (The connection between getting rid of teachers' ...


This week, the New York City Department of Education announced a controversial decision to make Plan B, an emergency contraceptive commonly known as the "morning-after pill," available in 13 high schools around the city. Apparently the pilot for this program, called CATCH (Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare), began in five schools around the city in January 2011; CATCH is now active in some 40 city schools nationwide. The program works with health department doctors and trained school nurses to provide more reproductive health services to teens, particularly in areas with limited access to nearby health clinics. On principle alone, I'm ...


The Chicago teacher strike ended this evening with union president Karen Lewis stating at the press conference, "We said we couldn't solve all the problems in the world with one contract, and it was time to end the strike." One issue of contention between the school board and the union was the extent to which teacher evaluations should be tied to students' scores on standardized tests, a subject I discussed in my last entry. This week, I'd like to discuss alternate means of evaluating teacher efficacy. 1) Professional observations: This one's obvious. In most schools, the principal or assistant principal ...


It's Tuesday and the Chicago teachers are on strike, which I felt couldn't go by without a mention. One of my students asked today why the NYC teachers weren't striking, and suggested we ought to--however, he also suggested that we should have a day off for September 11th and that more Jewish holidays should be added to the calendar (NYC public schools are closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), so I think his interest was more geared towards added vacation time than education reform. So, one of the issues that the Chicago teachers are striking about is the proportion ...


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