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Educare in Chicago: Why Aren’t We Doing the Obvious?

Educare is open 11 hours a day, 5 days a week, all year. It is a shining example of the difference high quality pre-k can make in the development of children. The segment below, by education correspondent John Merrow, describes the up hill battle to find a model of early childhood program built with the intention of best serving children. There are public preschool options in Chicago like Head Start and other programs but, they are not the same. One of those programs is Preschool for All. Of course the difference between Educare is and Preschool for All is capacity and intensity. Preschool for All reaches only 24,000 kids for 2 1/2 hours a day for nine months a year.

This video shows the ineffective crosshatching of policy that is intended to support at risk children. What it does though is provide the best to a few, some services to many, and none to the majority. Sounds like an inequitable system to me. If high quality public pre-k is a a great investment, why is are programs like Head Start always on the chopping block.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Rep. Miller: “It’s Not Tough To Kick A Child Out of Head Start”

The House Republicans must not have gotten the memo. After 40 years of research, including numerous recent studies that show investment in pre-k to be a sound budgetary decision, the house has proposed to cut funding to 218 thousand Head Start children. While the rest of the nation is fine tuning the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a bill to increase quality and access to pre-k, House Republicans are attempting to renege on their obligation to support families in their own voting districts. This current crew of House Republicans have never seen the persistent but quiet movement for equity in our educational system that is the Head Start family. Each time funding to Head Start is challenged families, directors, teachers, and community partners must stand up to say, “No” you can not steal from our nation’s neediest families. PEW Charitable Trusts described it this way in a recent press release,

“Fiscal health comes from budget discipline and making smart investments in programs that offer strong returns. The research shows early learning programs provide children with a solid foundation for success, which pays dividends for families, school districts and taxpayers—and ultimately improves America’s economic competitiveness.”

Now is that time again. As Miller says in the video below, fight back for Head Start parents who don’t get the same voice as Hedge Fund managers and Big Oil.

Click here to contact your House Representative. My representative is House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor. You should probably contact him also because his role is to set priorities for his party. Tell them you are a member of the Head Start Family

If you want to you can use this paragraph from the CLASP as the basis of your letter. Be sure to sign your name.

Four decades of research confirm that Head Start improves the readiness of poor children, and that children who participate perform better in school and are less likely to repeat a grade or need special education services and have higher graduation rates than their peers. Head Start children outperform their peers on every measure of children’s preschool experiences, including cognitive development and health. Research is also clear that Early Head Start, which reaches infants and toddlers, also works. The program has positive impacts on a wide array of child outcomes, as well as family self-sufficiency and parental support of child development. Children who participate in Early Head Start programs show gains in language and cognitive development, exhibit lower levels of aggressive behavior and more positive interactions with their parents than do children from similar backgrounds who did not participate in Early Head Start.

What Tax Season Means in Head Start

Head Start has always been a comprehensive preschool program that provided Head Start children health, nutrition, mental health, dental, education, and family services. As Head Start has been transformed by each new authorization of the Head Start Act, its focus has changed, but most of those service areas have always been there, chipping away at the challenges that families must over come to pull themselves out of poverty. One of the times of year when you can really see the family involvement service area make a difference is around tax time. One goal of the family service area of Head Start is to help parents set goals and make good decisions related to changing the life of their family. Sometimes a family goal can be as simple as purchasing a car with a tax return windfall.

For my own family, as a teacher with a decent salary and two children, tax returns have meant paying a large unexpected bill, saving some dream money, or getting to take a vacation. For my Head Start families, tax season was something else entirely. It was hope. It was the opportunity to step away from the hard scrabble life of subsidized housing and daily struggle for existence. Head Start and other poverty oriented early childhood interventions have taken a comprehensive approach to developing children and families.

It is funny, and might make you scratch your head if you have always lived comfortably, but the quickest way out of the ghetto is a set of wheels. For some people owning a car is the ticket out of poverty because it can lead to so many other opportunities. A car means a chance to attend community college, find an apartment in a better part of town, or to get a better job that you could never get to on the bus line. A car means a parent can expose their children to more of the world than their block and the road from the corner to the school. That tax return means less stress about making ends meet which leads to better relationships with your kid and enough food that children don’t worry about their next meal. Money has the power to change lives and when you work with needy kids in preschool you can see that change transform lives.

The Millionth Child

Sometimes the enormity of the positive effects of pre-k just
boggles the mind. Public pre-k is one of the few government programs
that actually brings a return on investment  and
the volume of that return, when you consider that some states have
supported pre-k since the '80s or '90s, can be astronomical. Take
Georgia for instance. The state just became the first state in the
nation to reach its millionth child served in its public pre-k program, Bright from the Start. If the return on investment is anywhere close to Karoly and Bigelow's calculations of $2.62 for every $1 invested, or the $2 to $17 returns suggested by Karoly, Kilburn, & Cannon, and you are looking at savings that are beyond impressive.

Recently someone calculated the financial impact for a single state. Wilder Research of St. Paul, Minnesota found that over the past 25 years Michigan had saved $1.15 billion. Here is the break down on the returns:

Schools – $221 million in K-12 savings from reduced special education costs, drop out, and grade retention.

Taxpayers – $584 million in reduced government spending and increased tax revenues from more productive adults.
The public
– $347 million in reduced social costs to the public realized through
reduced incarceration, destruction, and injury caused through violence
and crime.

The economy – $1.3 billion annually including generated wages and reduced government spending.

strong body of credible research that says, "pre-k pays" — and yet
there are still those who balk at the decision to invest in kids. In
these tough economic times, we can only be certain of one thing: Our
future will be determined by the success of our children. Maybe we
should hedge our bets and invest in them.

Obama’s Top Ten Pre-K Promises

As the students in my classroom watched the inauguration, my assistant cried. (Just a little bit.) It was an amazing thing to see history in the making. It affected everyone in our economically challenged urban elementary school. Yesterday, as I listened to the post-party coverage and people talking on their cell phones in the grocery store, I was struck by how many people are concerned about President Obama moving left or right of where they think he stood on issues. This morning I heard a radio comment that now is the time for everyone to make their opinions known and that they should remind our president of where he has come from. So here is my “don’t forget the pre-k” post-it note for President Obama.

We seem to be on the right track. The House economic stimulus package in Congress already has 2.1 billion for Head Start in it as described in this Wall Street Journal article about the loads of promises the president made on the campaign trail.

President Obama has mentioned funding early childhood education many times since 2007. So in the spirit of David Letterman, I give you President Barack Obama’s Top 10 quotes on early childhood education as found on the website On the Issues. and Youtube.

10 Obama supports increasing funding for the Head Start program for preschool children. Obama has called on states to replicate the Illinois model of Preschool for All.

Campaign website, BarackObama.com, “Resource Flyers” Aug 26, 2007

9 We can start by investing $10 billion to guarantee access to quality, affordable, early childhood education for every child in America. Every dollar that we spend on these programs puts our children on a path to success, while saving us as much as $10 in reduced health care costs, crime, and welfare later on.
Source: Speech in Flint, MI, in Change We Can Believe In, p.249 Jun 15, 2008

Put billions of dollars into early childhood education
8 Latinos have such a high dropout rate. What you see consistently are children at a very early age are starting school already behind. That’s why I’ve said that I’m going to put billions of dollars into early childhood education that makes sure that our African-American youth, Latino youth, poor youth of every race, are getting the kind of help that they need so that they know their numbers, their colors, their letters. Every dollar that we spend in early childhood education, we get $10 back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores. That’s the kind of commitment we have to make early on.
Source: 2008 Democratic debate in Las Vegas Jan 15, 2008

7 Teachers don’t go in to education to get rich. They don’t go in to education because they don’t believe in their children. They want their children to succeed, but we’ve got to give them the tools. Invest in early childhood education. Invest in our teachers and our children will succeed.
Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

6 If you’re a progressive, you’ve got to be worried about how the federal government is spending its revenue, because we don’t have enough money to spend on things like early childhood education that are so important.
Source: 2008 Politico pre-Potomac Primary interview Feb 11, 2008

5 Children’s First Agenda: zero to five early education

High-Quality Zero to Five Early Education: Obama will launch a Children’s First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to five years old.
Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 20-23 Feb 2, 2008

4 We’ve got to have early childhood education.
Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum Jul 12, 2007

3 We’ll invest in early childhood education programs so that our kids don’t begin the race of life behind the starting line and offer a $4,000 tax credit to make college affordable for anyone who wants to go. Because as the NAACP knows better than anyone, the fight for social justice and economic justice begins in the classroom.
Source: McCain-Obama speeches at 99th NAACP Convention Jul 12, 2008

2 Michelle and I are here only because we were given a chance at an education. I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education.
Source: Speech at 2008 Democratic National Convention Aug 27, 2008

1 This clip really seems to show where his heart is on the issue of voluntary Pre-K. Hopefully, he won’t forget.

Supervision vs. Observation

I was asked recently about my experience of supervision in my first year. I am thinking back 12 years now. I was not observed formally more than three times my first year. I was observed informally numerous times. This year however, I have experienced a new type of observation from my supervisor. My current principal stops in almost every morning for about 30 seconds. He doesn’t ask questions or interrupt. He just watches, smiles, and leaves.

As I have gained experience my perspective on this has changed. In the beginning I thought I was being “cheated” the necessary guidance I thought I needed. Over time I have discovered that some aspects of my practice are observed informally and frequently (lesson planning, management, and student rapport) while formal observations were almost incidental. I always tell new teachers that they are judged by how they walk their students down the hall and it is true. I have never received more than cursory feedback from formal observation although I have asked and even pressed administrators for feedback.

Recently, after reading Malcolm Gladwell’sBlink” which describes how experts and people in general can “thin slice” experiences and make the same or better qualitative judgments as scientifically based observations I decided that a principal can probably see “what a teacher actually does” as well or better in an informal 30 second observation as in a formal observation.

After having done some observation of student teachers, I have come to see the process of observation as much more fluid. The coaching or formal observation process can be extremely helpful to inexperienced teachers but I am not sure that it is the best use of administrators’ expertise. I have always believed what my father said about management, that “It is easy to make someone do their job but hard to make them want to do their job.” The observation/accountability process can intrude on this aspect of the administrator/teacher relationship.

I do think that observation is changing in the field but it has not happened in my school system yet. I think that observation for coaching is one area where teacher leadership can make a significant impact if the structure of schools is changed to allow for this type of leadership. Peer coaching may be more effective than supervision in supporting novice and struggling teachers. The evaluative aspect of administrator observations can actually distract from the goal of coaching. When a young teacher is observed for evaluation they are doing “their best” while, when they are observed for coaching it is understood that they are trying to improve and so may may show what is actually closer to their practice. Reflection on video is an excellent tool in this situation.

I have been trained as a coach using the Santa Cruz “New Teacher Center” protocols. They use a criterion referenced observational system that focuses on reflection as the primary tool for improving teaching practice.

If a supervisor is necessary to provoke reflective thought in a teacher maybe that teacher shouldn’t be practicing or at least should still be in an apprentice position.

Gerald Bracey Buries The LDH Hatchet

Gerald Bracey wrote an excellent post on the Huffington Post about what the heck happened with the Secretary of Ed nomination. He describes how the “frame game” was played and the people who have the most expereince with actual kids (teachers and teachers unions) got labeled as anti-reform or for those not familiar with right wing edu-speak as not caring about kids and the quality of their education.

The history of the Ed Sec position has seen only two ED Secs with actual experience in education. Only one, Terrel Bell, was a K-12 teacher. What did Terrel Bell do? He changed the future of education in America through bringing together countless stakeholders to create the National Commission on Excellence in Education, and publish a Nation at Risk. And he accomplished this while Ronald Reagan was trying to dissolve the USED and cut funding for all of its programs.

We could only have been so lucky as to have a “non-reformer” like LDH in the position. Teachers don’t mess around with reform because it is a code word for privatizing education these days. Why hire somebody to fix education when everyone you need to do it is in a classroom. Hire a teacher for the job and then you have buy-in from the most important group, the people actually doing the teaching. Bracey did an excellent job explaining what happened this fall. The real reformers (people who care about kids) got beat by the fake reformers (arm chair quarterbacks) with no experience actually playing the game on the field. Who do you want to coach your team, someone who has played the game or someone who has watched it from the stands.

image from:http://www.objetsobjects.com/id1.html

Thanks to Thompson @ This Week in Education

How Many Presidents Does it Take to Turn-On a Light Bulb?

My buddy Bill “The Tempered Radical” Ferriter posted about the above visual on his blog. He had this to say…

“Because we’re working on identifying main idea in our reading classes, I asked my students a simple question: “What point do you think the artist was trying to make with this image?” My students’ answer:

“Well, that’s pretty obvious, Mr. Ferriter. He’s trying to say that the United States has never had a woman president.”

Amazing, huh?

That’s got me feeling pretty good about the future of our country. Sure, there are people who will always look at other individuals through the lens of skin-color. While racism is abhorrent, it’s also a sad truth of the human condition.

But as more and more children grow up in an increasingly tolerant world with successful role models of every shape and color, our country—like my kids—becomes increasingly color-blind…and that’ just plan cool.”

I found Bill’s post interesting but perhaps a little naive. I never thought I would say that about a post that Bill wrote but our cultural circumstances are so entirely different I thought that I should leave a comment. Here it is.

I think that you may be on to something but, I am not sure that racism is a condition of the human race or that being color blind is a good thing.

What does color blindness in ed policy lead to? What does it lead to in our classrooms?

As you may know I am the minority, a white man, in my school. The more I talk about, and joke about race the less of an issue it becomes for my colleagues and myself. I am also taking all these doctoral classes and let me tell you that race blind researchers are the last thing we need. Sometimes researchers forget that race is not the cause of the poor performance it is the name for the poor performance. It is a descriptor for a group of students who historically have been under served by education.

It is in naming the unnamed so that it loses power that we create a color “full” America. Maybe Bill’s students were afraid to name the unnamed and address race head on. Maybe it was the safe route to talk about something they were all obviously comfortable with, gender equality.

Some thoughts from an embedded reporter. What are yours?

Image from: Patrick Moberg’s Illustration Blog:

Education’s 5th Job: Whipping Boy

In the second chapter of Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen he describes the various reason’s for schooling that have been present through out the history of organized education in America. Christensen describes the 4 jobs schools have been “hired” for:
Job 1 Preserve/Inculcate Democracy
Job 2 Provide something for every student
Job 3 Keep the U.S. Competitive
Job 4 Eliminate Poverty
I can see his point on most of these issues. Schools have been charged with fulfilling these “needs” for society but, I think he leaves one job out: Whipping Boy.

a whipping boy was a boy brought up together with a young prince and required to take the punishment for the latter’s misdeeds. Because this is a blog post and not a thesis I can say this type of thing.

The reason I bring up this “job” of schools is that I have a great deal of trouble squaring Christensen’s hypothesis about schools needing to innovate and become student centered learning places because his theory of innovation surpassing “business as usual” relies on the profit motive. In his theory an untapped market is found, a product/service is provided that was not available before, the market expands and overtakes the previous model. This, however, relies on equal players in the market. For example, I can sell apples on the corner, just like anybody, and if there is a market, I can make a living. But, with education there is a different relationship between the “customer” and the established competition. The prince/politicians have always had education to take their beatings for them. If politicians allow for poverty to destroy lives, then education can be expected to clean up the mess, and if it can’t well then there is something wrong with education and it needs to be fixed. If politicians can’t provide equal opportunities for all of its citizens through the job market then the schools can take a few licks if they can’t make everybody above average.

Most of all, the “politics/business as usual” needs the whipping boy to stick around. It is vital that the whipping boy is available to take the punishment and the blame for the princes.

I mean, what would happen if education, despite politics as usual, actually defeated the achievement gap as some 90/90/90 schools have done. Then who could we blame for the lack of real choice provided to all manner of disenfranchised people in our country?

This is why the innovation theory doesn’t work. How can the whipping boy innovate when the prince is the one in charge? Maybe the most profound innovation would be to set the whipping boy free. It worked in Finland.

No Child Left Inside

Kids_klubhouse1 In the maelstrom of our current economic crisis, a radical new education bill has made it out of the House and is headed to the Senate. The bill titled No Child Left Inside is making tiny little waves in the sea of education reform. It is a bill that essentially requires environmental education in schools with the goal of developing citizens’ feelings of stewardship.

As a pre-k teacher I am ecstatic to have a federal mandate to take my students outside. It is like your parents telling you that you “Have to have ice cream!” after dinner. If the government wants me take kids outside, I am all for it.
From Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s website:

On September 18, the House passed the No Child Left Inside Act, H.R. 3036. One of the greatest challenges facing current and future generations is to build a more sustainable, energy-efficient world. By teaching students about the role of the environment as an important
national resource, we can prepare them to take on critical issues – energy conservation, air pollution, climate change, wildlife protection – and become better stewards of the earth.

NCLI gets at what is wrong with education today without pointing fingers or directly challenging that other “No Child Left” bill that has narrowed curriculum to the point that schools had stopped teaching some subjects because they weren’t tested. This bill fundementally transforms the role of schools from places to create a viable work force to schools as places to create a viable people.

The No Child Left Inside Act would address this by igniting students’ interest in the outdoors and spurring them to take part in outside activities. And learning to explore the natural world and their personal connection to it inevitably triggers an interest in spending more time in it.

The bill orginated from the work of Richard Louv, who coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv talks about how a nature deficit has contributed to behavioral disorders in children. His book has sparked a national movement to get kids back outside. In Richmond Virginia this Spring there will be a symposium exploring this important subject at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, in conjuction with its 25th anniversary.

If this bill passes in the Senate, you may hear the joyous cries of wild children and adults who are fed up with days spent inside, thier eyes glazed over with the flickering colors of video games. The sound of America waking from the fitful sleep of SecondLife to realize the potential that living in the presence of nature could have on our collective soul might just change education for the better. I know it will confirm what pre-k teachers all over the country already know: kids need to go outside.

Photo credit: http://playborhood.com/site/article/taking_over_your_front_yard_and_or_sidewalk/