I got started on the campaign trail in Cleveland Heights in early October. While knocking on doors is not my favorite activity, it is my civic duty. Despite my hesitation, something sweet kept happening, which made those moments of discomfort worthwhile. I encountered parents of children who went to school with my kids back in the 1980s and 90s at Boulevard, Monticello and Heights.
The Common Good
It’s election season and we need to pay attention.
Apathy is the enemy of democracy. It can allow unacceptable conditions to become accepted facts of life. By expressing our concerns through our actions as citizens and as voters, we decide which issues receive attention and if solutions serve the public’s interests. It’s our responsibility. It’s the central feature of a democratic government and society. It makes democracy work.
As an unapologetic reader of education reform literature, it’s a relief to find a book that is jargon-free, makes sense, and offers a feasible approach to making sure students learn. This summer I hit the jackpot with British educator Dylan Wiliam’s 2011 book, Embedded Formative Assessment. Doesn’t sound like much of a page-turner, but I couldn’t put it down!
Despite my allergic reaction to anything that has to do with testing students as a lever for school improvement, I found myself drawn to Wiliam’s emphasis on student assessment as a valuable tool for change. This author is all about good teaching and, if you ask me, his ideas give teachers an approach that works. I’m excited because these ideas are taking shape in classrooms in our school district and they have tremendous promise.
I have the privilege of organizing the Heights Summer Music Camp, a project of Reaching Heights. For each of the last eight years, it has given an average of 85 elementary and middle school music students from the CH-UH school district a week of intensive music exploration, instruction, and growth. We attract kids who have had years of private instruction, and those who have had just a year of group instruction in their elementary schools. About a third of the campers attend with scholarship support.
Each year, I have witnessed campers push themselves hard, have fun, and rise to high expectations. It is magical.
Last month, after I walked the third graders from across the street to school for another day of testing, I came home to a welcomed invitation to sign a petition, modeled after a resolution supported by more than 360 Texas school boards, calling for the end of high stakes testing.
I’ve been waiting 10 years for the chance to speak up in an organized way on this issue. It finally came.
In 1966, Painesville residents Diana and Ted Woodbridge started their search for a home closer to the city. As they looked for housing in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, the white couple was steered away from a neighborhood that had recently started to integrate—a distressing artifact of the days of legally sanctioned racial segregation. The experience began a life-changing journey that, five years later, produced a powerful resource for justice that endures today: Home Repair Resource Center (HRRC).
Last year the Ohio Legislature adopted a budget that slashed public education funding and mandated an expensive, unfair and potentially damaging system for evaluating teachers. The legislature is not fulfilling its responsibility to ensure that all children achieve, yet it is ready to punish teachers if they don’t produce high test scores.
A familiar argument in the teacher blame game goes like this: Public schools have bad teachers because of unions. The implication of this statement is that unions don’t care about teacher quality, and school districts lack the tools and authority to effectively evaluate teachers and dismiss those who fall short.
A familiar complaint from teachers goes like this: Evaluation is superficial at best, and subjective or vindictive at worst.
Where is the truth? This question drove me to learn more about how the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District approaches teacher evaluation—something that is really important if you care about teacher quality.
Schools connect us.
"All children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014."
This is the inspiring goal that drives No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 federal law designed to ignite success in public education by making teachers accountable for student learning. The law mandates yearly tests to measure whether schools are meeting their obligation to reach this goal, and expects that each year a larger share of students will prove their proficiency. Failure to meet the yearly improvement in test scores prompts punitive consequences for educators and schools.
I’m a regular at Lake View Cemetery. It’s a grand place to walk, view nature and enjoy the seasons while experiencing Cleveland history. The headstones tell so much.
My route frequently passes by the grave of Garrett A. Morgan, the African-American inventor, philanthropist and publisher who is credited with more than 40 inventions, including the gas mask and traffic lights. This spot is special. It’s a reminder of how empowering a great school project can be.
The blame game rarely works when it comes to finding good solutions to complex issues. One such issueis how to ensure that every child has access to an effective teacher.
There is little disagreement that effective teachers are the most important resource a school has for educating its children. The literature is full of evidence that the quality of the classroom teacher makes a huge difference to student learning, especially for children who have limited support at home. Creating a supply of effective teachers is a great way to improve student outcomes.
Individuals can have a powerful effect on the quality of teaching in our public schools.
We can’t give educators the skills they need to be effective, but we can help motivate them to be their best. When we pay attention to their work, and let them know how valuable they are, it makes a difference. When they do well, tell them! It’s as easy as that.
Before Senate Bill 5, I didn’t give much thought to collective bargaining, and preferred to ignore the Ohio Legislature. What a mistake!
School districts are awash in data!
Data is part of the everyday life of the classroom teacher. It is guiding evidence for policy makers, and the primary lever for state and federal accountability. These days, data has become the coin of the realm for almost any discussion of how well schools are doing—an issue of paramount interest to the public, too.
Federal programs are not far away abstractions; they affect people we know and places we care about, like Cleveland Heights. They empower people, alleviate problems, generate jobs and strengthen communities. These benefits could disappear way too soon as Congress, in the name of deficit reduction, prepares to decimate domestic spending.
“I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and I am comfortable with chalk. When I found the whiteboard in my room this fall, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it,” recalls Boulevard kindergarten teacher Belinda Farrow.
Yesterday on my walk home from Boulevard Elementary School I ran into Hope (this is not her real name but it is what she represents to me), a first grader who I tutored last year as a Many Villages volunteer.
She was late for school, but when she spotted me, her worried face lit up and she opened her arms for a hug. As quickly as we met, we departed on our separate ways. Here was the reward for my work as a volunteer: the smile and affection of a lovely young girl who is facing many hardships in her daily life, and challenges in her search for academic success.