Category Archives: Equity

The Beautiful Struggle

I’ve yet to meet a grown-up who, at some point, hasn’t felt a bit like a hamster in the wheel – spinning mindlessly towards some opaque goal, and for some abstract, poorly understood reason.

Life can feel that way sometimes.

So you can imagine my surprise when, while visiting a small public high school in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco, I encountered a group of boys working on an indeterminate project out of plywood and a handsaw.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked.

“We’re building a human-sized hamster wheel,” they replied.

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Categories: Assessment, Democracy, Equity, Leadership, Learning, Teacher Quality, Voice

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For America’s Schools, Is This the Beginning of the End of Average?

One year, early in my teaching career, I got reprimanded for giving too many “A’s.”

“You can’t give everyone the same grade,” I was instructed. “Give a few A’s and F’s, and a lot of B’s and C’s. Otherwise, everyone will know that your class is either too easy or too hard.”

This was unremarkable advice; indeed, it was as close to the educational Gospel as you could find. It was human nature in action.

And, according to a new book, it was completely wrong.

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Categories: Equity, Leadership, Learning

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Discipline in schools moves toward peacemaking

The first time he got in trouble, 7-year-old “Z” kicked his teacher — getting him into more trouble.

A few months later, shortly after his grandfather passed away, he kicked his teacher again.

In many schools across the country, where zero tolerance policies allow little wiggle room for understanding why a child may be misbehaving, Z would have been suspended, expelled, or even arrested.

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Categories: Equity, Learning, Organizational Change, Voice

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A Year of Wonder: What is the Future of Higher Ed?

It’s been the no-brainiest of no-brainers for as long as anyone can remember: If you’re a parent, and you have the means to do so, a mark of your commitment to your children is measured by the amount of money you’re able to sock away for their college education.

But what if it’s no longer true?

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Categories: Equity, Organizational Change

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This is what every student could look like (and be)

Here’s the thing about me: I love schools. And I’m in them all the time. Lots of them, all over the country. So it’s safe to say that I am as aware as just about anyone what is out there when it comes to American educational options.

And yet here’s the other thing: I’m constantly hearing about new places doing great work — new to me, at least, because the folks there have been doing their thing for a long time — and whose approach to learning is precisely the sort of thing we should be hearing a lot more about.

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Categories: Equity, Learning

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Across the Country, a New Type of Partnership Between Charters and Districts Emerges  

Increasingly, I’m hearing a question that drives me crazy: “Are you for or against charter schools?”

There can only be one legitimate answer to that question: It depends.

Are you speaking of the situation in Michigan, in which four out of five charter school operators are for-profit entities? Or the overall tendency for charters to be even more segregated than their public school neighbors? Or the reluctance by some charter leaders to hold themselves to the same standards of transparency and openness as traditional public schools?

If so, thumbs down.

But if you’re talking about places like Baltimore, where all charter school teachers are unionized (and the charters themselves are almost all locally conceived and teacher-led), or if you’re pointing to the growing movement among some charters to intentionally enroll and serve integrated student bodies – by way of the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools – the picture takes a very different shape.

And then there’s what’s happening with Summit Basecamp – a new sort of partnership between charters and traditional public schools that may very well offer the best evidence so far of what Al Shanker first called for back in 1988, when he imagined a new kind of school in which teachers could experiment with different ways of reaching students, and then inject that wisdom back throughout the public school system.

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Categories: Equity, Leadership, Learning

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As Fifty States Reimagine Education Policy, Four Are Ready to Offer Guidance

What makes a mind come alive?

How can one community impact every child?

What do schools need to be changing from, and to?

And how can states set the conditions for lasting change?

In theory, these questions have always mattered. In reality, they are about to matter a lot more now that the United States Congress is poised to reauthorize its central education policy for the first time in thirteen years – and usher in an era of state authority on everything from school accountability to teacher education policies.

Now that the balance of power is shifting back towards the states, what should they do with it?

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Categories: Assessment, Equity, Leadership, Learning, Teacher Quality

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Big Bird Can Close the Achievement Gap? Not So Fast . . .

Don’t get me wrong: I love Big Bird as much as the next guy. But when people start talking about how Sesame Street is just as effective at closing the achievement gap as preschool, I start to worry that we’re becoming enamored with a seductively simple characterization of a deeply complex problem.

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Categories: Equity, Learning

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Is it time for schools to rethink, well, time?

On a recent weekday morning in Washington D.C., several hundred teenagers hurriedly made their way through their high school’s hallways in a frantic effort to get to class on time.

I know – nothing new there. Except that in this particular school, the hallways had ubiquitous electronic clocks that measured time in bright red numerals down to the second, and these particular students had just three minutes to move from one class to another. “They had five minutes last year,” principal Caroline Hill told me, in between passionate exhortations for her students to keep moving. “And it was a complete waste of time.”

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OK, Brown v. Board is 60; Now What?

As I travel around the country this month, participating in public conversations about the promise and peril of school choice, it seems fitting that right as we marked the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, I would end up having lunch with Michael Alves.

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Categories: Democracy, Equity, Learning

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