Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: January 16, 2018

This week’s inspiring #TeacherTuesday is Dr. Alexis (Schoen) Sandberg, an elementary school counselor at Rolling Hills and Hillcrest Elementary schools in Council Rock School District. Originally an English Language teacher, her experience working with students who experienced difficulties with school and making friends led her to the realization that she “wanted to become a school counselor to help students navigate these challenges.”

Alexis’ decision has been reinforced by former students who return to share their view of her impact on their lives, including one who “was inspired to become a counselor because of the support I showed him during a tough time period,” and another “who was in tears telling me about how much our time together meant to her.”

This thoughtful counselor adds, “What makes public education great is the ability to support all students, not just students who fit a particular economic, religious, or intellectual mold.”

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: January 9th, 2019

We’re delighted to feature Woody Martin, fourth grade teacher at Willow Dale Elementary School in Centennial School District PA as this week’s #TeacherTuesday.

In addition to being a “creative and caring teacher in the classroom,” he and fellow teacher Alexa Angelitis also direct the school’s drama club and are already planning for this year’s production of Aladdin, which promises to be a huge success.

Says Woody, “I knew I wanted to teach while working in a YMCA aftercare program while attending West Chester University of PA. I was a finance major, but I LOVED my part-time job working with kids after school.”

When did the light really go on?

“I was explaining fractions to a third grader during homework time and her face lit up when she finally understood the concept. I was so excited about her reaction, I changed my major later that week and never looked back,” he adds.

Woody believes, “I am so fortunate to do something I love, and there is no other profession I would choose over teaching!” And his students are fortunate to have a teacher who brings such passion and presence to the classroom.


How Chester Community Charter School got a 9-year deal

For years, charter school proponents have been trying to change Pennsylvania law so that operating agreement renewals could be extended from five years to 10.

They haven’t succeeded in Harrisburg. But that didn’t deter Chester Community Charter School.

One year into Chester Community’s latest five-year agreement, Peter R. Barsz, the court-appointed receiver who oversees the financially distressed Chester Upland School District and wields nearly all the powers of a school board, took the unprecedented step of extending the Delaware County school’s term for five more years to 2026.

Barsz contends that the move was designed to protect Chester High School: In return, Chester Community, which already enrolls about 70 percent of the primary grade students in the struggling district, agreed not to open a high school.

The decision means staff and parents at the state’s largest bricks-and-mortar charter – already slated to receive more than $55 million in taxpayer funds this school year – won’t have to worry about its fate for nearly a decade, even if its test scores continue to fall far short of state benchmarks.

It also guarantees that CSMI LLC, a for-profit education management company that operates the K-8 school with 4,200 students, will receive millions of dollars in revenue for nine more years.

Chester Community’s extension comes as school districts across the commonwealth and nation are wrestling with the growth of charter schools, more privatization in education and the impact on traditional public schools. It also renews lingering questions about the intersection of politics, government and schools.

CSMI’s founder and CEO is Vahan H. Gureghian of Gladwyne, a lawyer, entrepreneur and major Republican donor –the largest individual contributor to former Gov. Tom Corbett. And though CSMI’s books are not public – the for-profit firm has never disclosed its profits and won’t discuss its management fee – running the school appears to be a lucrative business. State records show that Gureghian’s company collected nearly $17 million in taxpayer funds just in 2014-15, when only 2,900 students were enrolled.

Barsz, meanwhile, is a Delaware County Republican and accountant who has served as treasurer for multiple GOP groups, including Corbett’s campaign. Over objections from the state Department of Education and at the urging of Chester Community, a judge reappointed Barsz the Chester Upland receiver in May. Weeks later, he extended Chester Community’s charter to June 30, 2026.

Months after the move, state education officials have declined to discuss the matter in detail, but acknowledge they are researching a possible legal challenge to Barsz’s decision.

The department, a spokeswoman said, “continues to review the documents provided by the receiver, the data reported by the charter school, and the Charter School Law to determine if any additional action is warranted.”

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, whose office has scrutinized the Chester school’s finances in the past and who has often called the state’s charter law “the worst in the country,” was unaware of the renewal until he was told this month by the Inquirer and Daily News.

DePasquale, a Democrat, said he had never heard of such a lengthy charter school renewal, and questioned whether the move limited the district’s authority to demand improvements, especially at a school where test scores are so low.

“This is giving away the accountability that is so desperately needed … for nine years,” he said.

David E. Clark, Chester Community’s CEO, declined to be interviewed. But in a statement, he defended the renewal and said it would provide needed stability for Chester Community and the school district.

“This was viewed as an opportunity to improve our school and the instructional experience we provide, especially given the recurring financial and funding challenges faced by the Chester Upland School District,” Clark said.

A closely watched district

For decades, Chester has been a micro-lab for educational experiments, including charters. The city is perennially one of the state’s poorest and its public school system among its neediest.

Five years ago, then-Education Secretary Ron Tomalis designated Chester Upland a district in financial distress. That decision led to greater control and funding from the state and the appointment of a receiver to oversee the system.

Charters were supposed to be one possible savior.

The privately managed schools educate 51 percent of the students in Chester Upland. And nearly three-quarters of the younger students go to Chester Community.

CSMI, its parent company, has long been a prominent player in the charter world – and not just in Chester. The company runs a school in Atlantic County, N.J., and until last year had another in Camden – New Jersey denied its renewal because of low academic performance.

Chester Community has also struggled to succeed. The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams released in September showed that Chester Community had some of the lowest scores among charter schools in the region: Less than 16 percent of students passed PSSA reading tests in the last school year; 6 percent passed math.

The scores were lower than all but one of the four Chester Upland district schools that have K-8 students.

That was the backdrop Barsz was dealing with when, in June 2016, he became the district’s third receiver. The Chester Upland board recommended him for the appointment, and he had the backing of Chester Community and the other charters in the district — Widener Partnership and Chester Charter for the Arts.  State Education Secretary Pedro Rivera asked the Delaware County judge to appoint Barsz for a year.

By law, a receiver takes on most responsibilities of a school board, including approving budgets and renewing charters. The elected board still levies taxes. Barsz, 60, a certified public accountant, is a partner at a regional accounting firm. His $144,000 receiver’s salary is paid by the state.

But in time, his relationship with state education officials grew strained.

‘We all need to get better’

In May, Rivera said he could not recommend Barsz’s reappointment when his term expired in June, and the department asked Delaware County Court Judge Chad F. Kenney to replace him.

David W. Volkman, executive deputy secretary of the department, said in court filings that Barsz had not been able to provide the leadership needed to improve Chester Upland’s academics and finances.

He alleged Barsz was distracted by other duties and was not devoting his full attention to Chester Upland. He also said that Barsz had been aware the district was delinquent in making earned-income tax payments months before the department was told, which led to the district owing more interest costs and penalties.

Barsz denied the allegations and asked to be reappointed. The Chester Upland school board sided with him. “Well, you don’t change nothing that’s working,” Board President Anthony Johnson told the judge at a hearing May 24, according to the transcript.

Other charters, including cyber schools that enroll district students, took no position on Barsz’s remaining as receiver.

But Chester Community said in a filing to the judge that Barsz had taken steps to improve the district’s finances and should be reappointed. Barsz’s “continued service as receiver is integral to ongoing progress,” the school said.

In his May 25 decision, Kenney said that replacing Barsz would cause Chester Upland to have its fourth receiver in five years and create “a lack of continuity in leadership and direction” that would not be good for the district or its students. He reappointed Barsz for two years.

A little more than three weeks later, Chester Community submitted its charter renewal proposal. Five days later, on June 27, Barsz approved the plan, extending the school’s term to June 30, 2026.

Amy Munro, acting chief of the state Education Department’s charter division, said the  department learned about the renewal the day it occurred – and objected to the move.

State law “expressly provides that a charter may be renewed for five-year periods,” Munro later wrote in a letter to Barsz.  She said there appeared to be nothing in the law that would allow an early renewal during a charter’s existing period without “a comprehensive review” of its operations during its current term.

In his response, Barsz said he had conducted a detailed review of Chester Community, including examining its annual reports, yearly audits and test scores.

He said he acted because Chester Community offered to forgo opening a high school – one that had been previously approved – and instead remain a K-8 school through 2026. Approving the proposal, he said, was a way to safeguard Chester High School from a further decline in enrollment. The school, which had 1,605 students a dozen years ago, had fallen to approximately 1,100 in 2016-17.

“In short, we were presented with a unique opportunity to help secure the future of an extremely challenged school district,” he wrote in his letter to Munro. “Chester High School is the flagship of the Chester Upland School District… The potential creation of the charter high school in the district threatened to undermine the future of the entire district.”

The two-page charter renewal Barsz signed also gave the school a green light to expand its K-8 enrollment — authorizing a fourth site in Aston and “any other added” locations in the district “as deemed necessary by Chester Community Charter School from time to time…”

The fourth campus is a leased building in an industrial park in Aston that had housed the Chester Charter School for the Arts before it moved to a $30 million new campus in August.

  1. Bruce Crawley, Chester Community’s spokesman, said recently that CSMI supported the renewal and that the management firm provided “technical and legal support” during negotiations with Chester Upland for renewal terms. He and CSMI declined to name the company representatives or say if  Gureghian was involved. Crawley said it was difficult to identify CSMI’s participants because the matter was discussed at more than one meeting.

In a written response to questions from the Inquirer and Daily News, Crawley said the renewal was not tied to the charter’s support in court for Barsz in the dispute over his reappointment. He said the Chester Upland board was the primary backer of Barsz’s reappointment. He said the hearing transcript shows that another charter had attempted to voice support for the board’s position, but that the judge said the charters had no role in that discussion.

“Clearly, therefore, there was not a connection between the renewal of CCCS’s charter and Mr. Barsz continuing as … receiver,” Crawley wrote.

In an interview this fall, Barsz said that while evaluating the renewal application, he reviewed Chester Community’s sub-par test scores but was as concerned about student performance in the district as a whole.

“Our academics are not good — our school district,” he said. “And [Chester Community] I’m concerned about as well. We all need to get better.”

Barsz also said he was not sure he even knew that Chester Community had advocated for his reappointment.

“In all honesty…this is the first I’m hearing that,” he said. “I didn’t think they took a position. It’s nice to hear they supported me; I needed it.”

Barsz added: “On the other side, I cannot think that the judge let one letter influence his decision – especially since he extended [the appointment] for two years.”

Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: January 2, 2018

Matt Peitzman is a perfect example of public education at its best!

This week’s #TeacherTuesday, is a Pennridge grad who now teaches tech education for the 21st century at his old high school, and has the opportunity to work with three of the tech ed teachers who inspired him. His department was recently named the top tech ed program in the state when they received the Program of Excellence award from the Technology Education and Engineering Association of Pennsylvania.

A passionate believer in public schools and the many opportunities they provide, he loves teaching an elective and the fact that they offer students a chance to “express themselves and gain confidence where otherwise they may not have the opportunity.”

The school’s guitar building course is unique in the Bucks/Mont area and Matt says, “I love that any student at Pennridge High School can take our tech ed courses and specifically the guitar building course we’ve developed. Building an electric guitar involves physics, chemistry and math and we “are very proud of how well the class has turned out and continues to evolve,” he adds. Matt says the entire department is “awesome,” and that guitar building is just one example.


Michael Fiore was named state School Social Worker of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of School Social Work Personnel.

A brief talk with Michael Fiore is all it takes to get a solid feel for the passion and energy he brings to his job as social worker/home and school visitor for the Council Rock School District.

Fiore’s dedication and commitment come through with every word, and are two of the reasons he recently was named state School Social Worker of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of School Social Work Personnel.

Fiore, 49, has for the last 15 years been the school district’s social worker covering Council Rock High School South in Northampton and the eight schools that feed into it. His colleague, Stephanie Warshaw, covers the district’s other high school, Council Rock North in Newtown Township, and its five feeder schools.

Fiore, who was nominated for the award by Neshaminy School District social worker Barbara Furphy, said he was surprised by the honor because he had nominated Warshaw for the award and was hoping she would get it.

“I was making calls and lobbying for Stephanie and not getting a lot of good feedback, which kind of made me mad,” Fiore said. “It wasn’t until I attended the banquet that I realized I was getting the award. I was really pulling for Stephanie, but I am honored by the recognition.”

The “home and school visitor” part of Fiore’s title means a large part of his job is tracking frequently absent students and finding ways to get them into school more often. That can mean talking to these students or their parents, visiting their homes, or finding out about and helping with any other issues that might be contributing to the absences.

Since Fiore’s nine schools include 5,000 students, it’s impossible for him to make all the home visits necessary; social workers from outside agencies, including Bucks County Children and Youth, also make many visits.

“We do whatever we can think of to get kids back in school,” he said.

Fiore said his other duties are basically doing whatever is in his power to help struggling or troubled students get the help they need to succeed in school and life. That includes connecting with the appropriate social service agencies to get assistance for students and their families with things like mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment and other financial problems.

“If we can assist with these things even a little bit, it helps students get to school and do well there,” Fiore said. “I like the challenge of figuring out ways to help, in a new way sometimes. There are only so many resources out there, so it’s rewarding when you can think of ways to pull in help from somewhere. There is so much pressure on the kids — I guess a lot of it coming from social media. It seems your whole life is under a spotlight all the time. I think society is in the midst of figuring it all out, and that makes things tough on students.”

That kind of empathy and understanding are part of what makes Fiore so good at his job, said Council Rock South Principal Al Funk.

“He’s a guy who goes above and beyond every day for students and their families,” Funk said. “Mike has great communication skills and he’s a problem solver. I think that’s a unique skill set to have. The issues he deals with are complex and heavy, and Mike has the ability to keep things in perspective and work toward solutions.”

One of those heavy issues is suicide. As trainers for Council Rock’s suicide prevention program, Fiore and Warshaw work with school district counselors, psychologists and other staffers — and outside agencies — to help students who might be thinking of taking their own lives.

A less “heavy” part of what Fiore considers part of his job as a school social worker is helping with all the various community service and giving projects going on in the school district.

“There’s some kind of giving effort going on virtually all the time in Council Rock schools,” Fiore said. “The philosophy is not just to teach science and math, but to teach students to help one another and others.”

On a recent day at Council Rock South, he helped students pack care packages of food and hygiene items for shipment to U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Fiore also helps with school district food drives around Thanksgiving and other times of the year and various other projects. Helping others makes students feel better about themselves and strengthens society as a whole, he said.

And it’s a stress reducer for himself, Fiore added.

“I have a hard job, talking to suicidal kids and dealing with people who are struggling with lots of stuff,” he said. “So these other things, the giving projects and the good they are doing and happiness they bring, help keep my soul alive.”

Fiore grew up in Central Bucks and graduated from CB East High School in 1986 before he went on to Penn State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1991. He now lives in Doylestown Township with his wife, Patti-Jean, and their two daughters, Kellett, 17 and Catherine, 12.

Fiore always wanted a job helping people. He credited a counselor at Penn State for steering him onto his career path. Fiore was a juvenile probation officer for 15 years before he got his current job in Council Rock.

With all the pressures and anxieties facing students, schools could use more social workers, Fiore said.

“The recommended ratio is one for every 750 students, and I’m one for 5,000,” he said. “But I like that I deal with students K-12. I know them all throughout their school years and they get to trust me and trust what I say. Part of my rap in talking to a middle school student who I’ve known and is having a problem is saying, ‘Look, we’re going to get through this and you’ll be shaking Mr. Funk’s hand (at graduation) in a few years.’”

Getting students to that moment is the bottom line, Fiore said.

“You’re so out of luck and so behind the eight-ball if you don’t have a high school diploma now,” he said. “It always feels good to me and all the others who play a part in the success of students in Council Rock when, every graduation, we can look at maybe 20 or 30 graduates who have had struggles and say ‘we all got together and got them through somehow.’”


2017 Education Research Highlights

Twelve studies that educators should know about, on everything from the benefits of mentors to the most effective studying strategies.

Every year, we hope, researchers gain new insights into what works in the classroom—and what doesn’t. In 2017, a group of scientists made the case for why social and emotional learning is essential in schools. We learned that negative stereotypes can discourage students of color from going to college, and that a reflective writing exercise can help. We also learned that it’s OK for second graders to use their fingers to count, and that text messages sent to parents boost family engagement and student attendance.

Practice Testing, Planning Top List of Effective Studying Strategies

Students often overestimate how prepared they are for a test, which can lead to disaster. New research pinpoints two highly effective strategies. In a major review—encompassing 118 previous studies—taking low-stakes practice tests was identified as one of the most effective ways to make concepts stick. (In addition to practice tests, we’ve discussed several other strategies to boost student memory.) And a recent study highlighted the benefits of asking students to plan out the steps they’ll need to take to pass an upcoming test. This encouraged them to study effectively, resulting in higher grades for the whole course—one-third of a letter grade higher, on average, than their peers.

New Teachers—and Their Students—Benefit From Mentors

We know that mentors provide new teachers with much-needed support and guidance in their crucial first years, but there’s a strong pass-through effect as well: Students of mentored teachers gained the equivalent of 3 to 3.5 months of additional learning in reading and math over the course of a year, a new studyfound. (We’ve looked at the elements that made the program successful.)

Clickers Boost Fact Retention, but Can Impede Deeper Learning

Clickers—popular handheld devices often used to quickly display multiple-choice questions via a projector—can give teachers real-time feedback on how well students understand a lesson. But don’t rely on them too much: A new study found that while clickers can aid students in remembering facts, they may lead students to focus too heavily on those facts, hindering deeper levels of understanding. (We explored the pros and cons of clickers earlier this year.)

Don’t Drop Finger Counting for Young Children Too Soon

Children are usually discouraged from using their fingers to count by the end of first grade—they’re learning to do math in their heads, and finger counting is seen as a crutch. But a new study of 6- and 7-year-olds shows that this may be a mistake—finger counting, when paired with number games, can boost math learning for second graders. (Using our fingers activates areas of our brain associated with counting.)

The Importance of Social and Emotional Learning

This year, we saw two comprehensive reports making the case for social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools. The researchers behind one of the most widely cited SEL studies released a follow-up looking at over 97,000 K–12 students. They found that the benefits of SEL persist for several years—boosting academic success, decreasing disruptive behavior, and reducing emotional distress in the long term. In a separate report, a council of 28 scientists called on schools to focus on SEL, making the argument that student success is tied not only to academic ability and cognitive skills (such as working memory and self-regulation) but also to emotional skills (such as the ability to cope with frustration) and interpersonal skills (including empathy and the ability to resolve conflict).

Reflective Writing Exercises Can Improve Student Outcomes

When students write about their personal values, it can help them feel more positive about themselves and their futures, promoting a growth mindset and creating a protective buffer against many harmful experiences. In one study, a reflective writing assignment helped students of color deal with racism and negative stereotypes, leading to higher academic achievement and boosting college enrollment rates years later. In another study, a similar writing exercise helped math students focus on long-term goals instead of immediate pressures, reducing math stress and improving their attitudes toward math. (We explored why this works earlier this year.)

Text Messaging Can Boost Grades and Attendance

Another strategy to file in the “cheap and effective” category: A study published this year found that weekly automated text messages sent to parents about their child’s grades, absences, and missing assignments encouraged them to be more involved in their child’s learning, improving attendance by 17 percent and reducing the number of students failing a class by 39 percent.

The Debate on Academics vs. Play in Preschool Continues

A major analysis—spanning 22 previous studies—provides support for the idea that all children should have access to preschool. Children under 5 who participated in classroom-based early childhood education programs were less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be held back a grade, and more likely to graduate from high school, compared to peers who were not in such programs. And while we know that young children need a healthy dose of playtime in school, a new study reminds us why academics are important at that age: Over the course of a year, preschoolers who spent more time on language, literacy, and math activities than their peers gained, on average, 2.5 months of additional learning. The key takeaway? Keep academics and play well-balanced.


Source: Edutopia 


Teacher: We didn’t sign up for this

Teachers in Anchorage recently rejected a tentative agreement on a new contract that failed to include a sought-after 3 percent salary increase — but, according to news reports, money was not the only issue. Sagging morale was another factor.


KTUU in Anchorage quoted Corey Aist, a teacher in the Anchorage School District, as saying:

“Personally, I was at every board meeting, listened to all the stories being shared by the teachers. And they just want to be valued, they want to be heard, they want to be respected. That may have had a bigger consequence to the contract than the actual items within.”


If low morale was a factor, Anchorage would hardly be the only place where teachers are feeling a lack of respect. Surveys of teachers and growing teacher shortages have revealed a real cost to the teaching profession of low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing and insufficient resources.


In this post, Paul Murphy, a third-grade teacher in Michigan with 18 years of classroom experience, writes about why there is so much dissatisfaction among so many teachers today. Murphy writes about education at TeacherHabits.com, and he gave me permission to publish this.


By Paul Murphy

We teachers sure like to complain a lot. At least, that’s what I’m told by people who don’t teach. Here’s one comment left on an article I wrote:


“Quit complaining. Everybody has things they don’t like about the professions they chose but teachers are the biggest whiners.”


Here’s another:


“I know about a dozen teachers. Every single one of them knew going in how much education they’d have to invest and the amount of effort expected.”


One of the most common refrains complaining teachers hear from non-educators is that we knew what we signed up for.


“Hey,” they say, “You knew the score going in, so no b—-ing about it now.” It’s an argument that, on its face, makes some sense. It’s true that teachers knew at the outset we weren’t going to get rich. We knew the job would be challenging. We understood that no matter how good we were, no one was going to build a monument to us.


But the truth is, the job of a teacher has changed a lot in a very short amount of time.


I started teaching in 2000. I thought I knew what to expect. I doubt I’m alone. Since many big changes to education have happened in the last 10 years, there are probably millions of teachers who are currently doing a job for which they did not sign up. So when our critics tire of hearing us complain and tell us that we knew the deal going in, they are often wrong. There is a lot of stuff we didn’t sign up for.

We didn’t sign up for a Department of Education that doesn’t actually believe in public education or actively supports alternatives.


We didn’t sign up for wage gaps and the “teacher pay penalty.” In 1996, while I was in college deciding to “sign up” to be a teacher, the average weekly wage of public-sector teachers was $1,122 (in 2015 dollars). In 2015, it had fallen to $1,092. Weekly pay for all college graduates rose by $124 per week over the same period. I might have signed on knowing I wouldn’t get rich, but I sure as hell didn’t sign on expecting to be paid less after 17 years on the job.


Part of that declining pay may have something to do with diminished political clout. Because when I signed up to be a teacher, teachers unions still had power. In the intervening years, Republican-controlled legislatures have done everything they can to erode the unions’ influence. My state, Michigan, became right-to-work in 2012. State legislatures around the country have also removed tenure protections, curtailed collective bargaining rights, abolished last-in, first-out policies that protected veteran (read, more expensive) teachers, and attacked pensions.


We also didn’t sign up for fewer resources. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008.

We didn’t sign up for increasing federal intrusion. No Child Left Behind became law in 2002. Its goal of having all students proficient by the year 2014 was mocked by anyone who knew about the process of teaching and learning, but that didn’t stop the federal government from doubling down with an extremely poor rollout of the Common Core State Standards and what was effectively a bribery scheme called Race to the Top to get states to adopt those standards.


Teachers didn’t sign up for high-stakes teacher evaluation systems that rely on crummy data and the opinions of administrators whose motives may not always be pure.


We didn’t sign up to give students an ever-increasing number of flawed standardized tests that spit out unreliable data used to determine a meaningless teacher rating.


We didn’t sign up for value-added modeling, a statistical method used to evaluate teachers that the American Statistical Association says, “Typically measures correlation, not causation: Effects — positive or negative — attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”


We didn’t sign up to be scapegoated by politicians. The staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island sure didn’t sign up expecting the president of the United States and the secretary of education to endorse their collective firing. While we may have expected to be treated like dirt by Republicans, we didn’t sign up knowing the Democratic Party would abandon us in such a publicly humiliating way.


We didn’t sign up for longer school years or balanced calendars.


We didn’t sign up for substitute teacher shortages.


We didn’t sign up for active shooter drills.


We didn’t sign up for higher poverty rates and needier students. In my state, there are 15 percent more kids in poverty today than there were in 2008.


We didn’t sign up for increased funding for charter and virtual schools. The same politicians who claim they can’t spend more on education manage to find billions of dollars for charter schools every year, in spite of their lackluster performance. Virtual schools are even worse, but legislators seem to love them anyway.


We didn’t sign up for declining autonomy in the classroom. We didn’t sign up to have our hands held — mistrusted, second-guessed and told to toe the line, to teach this content at this time in this way. We didn’t sign up for pacing guides, scripted lessons or strict fidelity to unproven programs.


We didn’t sign up for less planning time.


We didn’t sign up to implement policies we know are bad for kids. We didn’t sign up for less recess, less gym class, less art, less music and less fun.


We sure didn’t sign up to give 8-year-olds reading tests that could result in their retention.

We elementary teachers didn’t sign up to stress out 9-year-olds over their “college and career readiness” or to take the play out of kindergarten.


There’s an awful lot about our jobs today that we didn’t sign up to do.


In spite of this, most teachers will continue to do the job. Most will do their best. I’m not naive enough to expect those who call teachers whiners to join us in fighting for change. I have no illusions about any of the things I didn’t sign up for going away anytime soon. I won’t challenge our critics to get in the ring and become teachers themselves. After all, they now know what they’d be signing up for. But I will ask them to believe teachers when they tell them what needs fixing. And if they won’t do that, then I will kindly ask them to shut up, and quit telling teachers that they knew what they signed up for.


What do you think, teachers? What else didn’t you sign up for? What’s changed since you decided to become a teacher?


Credit: The Washington Post

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: December 26, 2017

Scott Landis, a Wissahickon Middle School science teacher, is this week’s #TeacherTuesday extraordinaire. He was inspired to become an educator by his experience with several Wissahickon High School teachers who were “fantastic educators and great role models.” He loves public education because it is “the true melting pot of the diversity of students within our community.”

The “WOW factor” is what lets Scott know that his decision to become a teacher was the right one. “When teaching a concept and then supporting that concept in a demonstration or student activity, I hear the students say ‘WOW,’ when they experience the learning.”

What provides Scott with inspiration? “Every day is a new journey down the path of education. If the students demonstrated difficulty grasping a concept, a need to find a new path to teach the lesson is an educational challenge.”

Teacher Tuesday

Teacher Tuesday: December 19, 2017

As this week’s #TeacherTuesday, we’re pleased to feature Shannon Martin, a “caring, accomplished, talented math teacher” who has taught at William Tennent High School since 2000, says a colleague. Shannon manages to “incorporate creative lesson planning while utilizing technology and group involvement,” and tells us that graduates return to talk about “the superior foundation they have received by having Ms. Martin’s math class.”

Shannon’s choice of career was cemented in high school, when her classmates came to her for math help.

“I could explain the concepts in many ways until they each understood it,” she says. “Math has always been like a puzzle to me and I enjoy helping others put the pieces together!”

She is also involved with an after-school robotics club which competes against other schools on a special playing field with robots they have designed, built and programmed. “Shannon believes that every child has the potential to grow and to learn,” her colleague added.


New study: Charter schools that unionize hold real benefit for students

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“It just makes sense.” That’s what Lynn Kameny said when Education Votes told her about a new study that concludes unionization in charter schools “positively impacts student achievement.”

Kameny, an English teacher at the Alameda Community Learning Center, a California charter school covering grades six through twelve, suggests it’s because educators who teach at charter schools with a union have a strong collective voice.

“As a member of a charter school with a union, because my union protects my right to have a voice in the classroom, I feel I can advocate for my students without fear of job reprisal,” said Kameny. “That’s a pretty big factor.”

The study looked at several charter schools in California. The authors of the study, entitled Teachers’ Unions and School Performance Evidence from California Charter Schools, concluded the following:

The main results of our analyses are thus that unionization in charter schools positively affects student achievement in math, but has a smaller and statistically insignificant impact on English achievement.

The study also found that “unionization benefits the learning of students with low levels of achievement the most.”

We asked Kameny for an example of how educator unionization impacts students. She described how math teachers at her charter school, Alameda Community Learning Center, located between San Francisco and Oakland, used their collective voice to ensure the school did what was best for student learning.

“They have been able to advocate for a math curriculum that they feel will be a good support for students moving forward,” said Kameny. “And they were able to do that without having to worry about how this might compromise their ability to teach here.”

Charter schools receive public funding but operate independently, in many cases, by for-profit companies.

Educators nationwide, including the 3 million members who make up the National Education Association, believe that charter schools should be held to the same standards and accountability measures as traditional public schools and authorized by local school boards to ensure they remain responsive to the communities they serve.

On a side note, the federal government just announced $253 million in charter school grants to be shared among the following states: Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Credit: Education Votes