Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Difficulties Low-Income Kids Face Throughout Education

STOP THE PRESSES! My last post was going to be my last one of the year, but then this heart-wrenching article in the NY Times came out – perhaps the article of the year. We all read about the terrible college dropout crisis among poor and minority kids – statistically, it’s DOUBLE the high school dropout crisis (see data on pages 49-65 in my school reform presentation) – but rarely do we see the human face of this crisis. This article presents it by profiling three friends from Galveston, TX in vivid, complex, and heart-breaking detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater.

“It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ”
Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

Here’s commentary from my friend Dai Ellis:

Fantastic in-depth NYT article today about the unconscionable gap in college completion between students from wealthy and poor families. I wish they’d invested to multimedia it up the way they did the gorgeous, groundbreaking avalanche story the other day — could’ve been even more powerful. But at least the Grey Lady wrote a great piece and had a video companion.

It’s a heartbreaking story. We know the basic narrative already, but it hits you fresh every time you read about another young person’s story. And here there are three. Each of them illustrates a different facet of the tremendously complex web that’s been woven to snag low-income students before they cross the finish line. You can read all the statistics as a citizen, but you read about Angelica or Melissa or Bianca as a parent.

It’s also a maddening story that got me riled. More on that below.

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Lewis on Sandy Hook Shooting Feedback

In case you were thinking that nothing could surpass Ravitch’s race into the gutter by politicizing the Newtown tragedy (see my previous post), the head of the Chicago teachers union, Karen Lewis, outdoes her (further reinforcing why I view her as a truly despicable human being). Below is her rant and commentary by Andy Rotherham and RiShawn Biddle. Here’s Rotherham:

You wonder if you should even call attention to such rank behavior and there is something of an “ick” factor to it, for lack of a better word. But Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, the nation’s third largest teachers union and a force within the national American Federation of Teachers, found a way to make Ravitch look like a statesman while rushing to her defense.  Writing of a Teach For America teacher or staff member who criticized Ravitch’s linking of the massacre to education policy, Lewis writes:

There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.

There’s more.  Ravitch, of course, posted the entire thing at the top of her blog to make sure no one missed it.

And here’s Biddle:

Yesterday, your editor chastised Ravitch for her nastiness. But as I mentioned then, Ravitch has found allies who will defend the indefensible. One of them is Karen Lewis, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who, in a correspondence with Ravitch published yesterday on the latter’s site, accused David Rosenberg, a vice president at Teach For America who criticized Ravitch publicly and demanded her to take down her nastiness, of “false outrage”. Lewis then went further by accusing reformers of advocating for policies that supposedly ”kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation”. Going further, Lewis declares that ChiTown students have been “victims of [school reform] experiments”, evoking some other imagery that is even more distasteful.

As I said yesterday: Wow. Just wow. Or as my dear departed grandma would say, Lewis just couldn’t keep it to herself just once.

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Geoffrey Canada on Gun Control

Speaking of Newtown, here’s the incomparable Geoffrey Canada with an op ed in the NY Daily News:

America is facing a war, and our children are the casualties. Marian Wright Edelman wrote recently, “Since 1979, when gun death data were first collected by age, a shocking 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. That is more child and youth deaths in America than American battle deaths in World War I (53,402), or in Vietnam (47,434) or in the Korean War (33,739) or in the Iraq War (3,517).”

I keep lots of statistics in my head. I know which of my schools had the best state scores, how my high school students did on the state Regents exams and how many of my seniors went on to college. The one number I do not keep in my head is the number of children that have been killed since I began working at the Harlem Children’s Zone 30 years ago.

I’m a numbers guy, but some numbers I don’t want to remember. If I had to guess, I would say about 60. The late 80s and early 90s were my worst years. I was losing about a child a month to handgun violence. So if you figure I’ve averaged 20 children murdered a decade, Newtown, lost as many children in one day as I did in 10 years. America, welcome to my nightmare.

The National Rifle Association has bullied America’s leaders so thoroughly that we have not been able to have a serious conversation about gun control no matter how many children are murdered in America. And the bullying continued with Friday’s press conference.

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Gun Control Organizations

My friend (and ed warrior) James Forman sent out an email asking for suggestions about which gun control organizations he should support and here’s the follow-up email he sent:

Thanks for all the amazing responses.  It is clear that there are lots of folks out there who want to do something on this issue and who, like me, didn't know where to turn.
A bunch of people said "share what you learn," so here goes. 
I got some responses from experts in the field, so I’m confident this is a solid list.  Your money won’t be wasted. Also, if you want to take action other than donating money, these groups all send out action alerts if you sign up.
 . . . . .
The group most often mentioned was the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  Donate here.  

A close second was Mayors Against Illegal Guns.  One of my friends who has been involved in the issue for many years encouraged donations to this group in particular because they are spending money in the ad wars to come against the NRA.Donate here.  Mayors Against Illegal Guns is also sponsoring the Demand a Plan campaign.  Check it out--it which includes a strong 90-second video feature some leading artists and performers, and links for how citizens can take action. 

Other recommended organizations include:

Finally, I was listening to Slate Culture Gabfest podcast yesterday and they recommended folks check out the Million Child March Against Gun Violence on Facebook.  Folks are trying to organize a million kids on the mall this spring.  Like it there and help spread the word, and if the march happens lets everybody plan on meeting up in DC with our kids for a good cause.  

Ify and I will bring Emeka--as Jim Forman's grandson, about time he started getting dragged to some marches.

Much love and Happy Holidays,

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Past TFA DC Teach of the Year Awards

Following up on my post, in which my friend Bob Compton called attention to TFAer Julia King being awarded DC’s Teacher of the Year, another friend writes:

Julia King’s election as DC Teacher of the Year is fantastic – but it’s not unique. DC TFA alums have long been recognized through this award for their excellent teaching.  The winner in three of the last four years was an alum, and TFA has been well-represented in the finalists. It really shatters the stereotype.  One alum, Kenneth Robinson, has been teaching at his placement school here for 20 years and is being awarded a David Rubenstein Excellence in Teaching award at the Kennedy center in January. And lots of these Teach of the year award winners and finalists teach in charters.

Here’s what I was able to collect:

Winner: Julia King (TFA Chicago ’08 )
D.C. Preparatory Academy Public Charter School

Laura Good (TFA DC ’05)
Excel Academy Public Charter School

Shajena Erazo (TFA DC ’09)
Ballou H.S. (DCPS)

Winner: Not an alum – but one finalist was: 
Drew Snodgrass, DC Preparatory Academy Charter School

Winner: Jon Rolle (Mid-Atlantic ’05)
Friendship Southeast Academy Public Charter School  

TFA alums Julianna Tabor and Oliver Jones

Winner: Stephanie Day (DC ’05)
Friendship Chamberlain Public Charter School

And remember…Jason Kamras (DC ’95) was the 2005 DC Teacher of the Year and won the national top spot that year, too. 


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Forbes 30 Under 30: Education Recipients

Forbes recently published its annual 30 Under 30 lists for various professions, including education: I’m embarrassed to say that I only know two:

Jeremiah Kittridge of Families for Excellent Schools. Forbes writes: “Families for Excellent Schools works with parents in 65 charter schools in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to encourage them to become educational advocates for their schools. He previously served as a public school teacher and a labor organizer at SEIU, a 2 million strong union of service workers.” Here’s Alexander Russo’s take:

Most of the folks who make the Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30: Education section are doing familiar things you already hear about a lot -- apps and devices and charters and all of that -- most of them doing things that are appealing but haven't really made much of an impact yet -- and obviously showed up so that they could take a professional portrait.  
Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but the name and image that jumped out at me was Jeremiah Kittredge, 26, Executive Director, Families for Excellent Schools.  

According to Forbes, FES "works with parents in 65 charter schools in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to encourage them to become educational advocates for their schools. He previously served as a public school teacher and a labor organizer at SEIU, a 2 million strong union of service workers."

Obviously Kittridge hasn't saved the world yet, either, but I like that he's doing doing something political and grassrootsish.  Other honorable mentions?  Greg Rosenbaum, 24, Coordinator, SXSWedu; Zakiya Smith, 27, Director of Post-Secondary Innovation, Center for American Progress.


Alexis Morin, 22, and Catharine Bellinger, 22, Cofounders, Students For Education Reform

Founded SFER while they were undergraduates at Princeton in 2009. They set out to mobilize college students to advocate for K-12 education reform in the voting booth and in state capitols, a mission that has grown to 136 chapters in 33 states. SFER scaled so quickly that its founders put their own educations on hold for a year; they are now balancing a senior year course load and leading the organization.

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Former NFL QB Kinta Helps Kids at His Former High School

A wonderful story about former NFL QB Jon Kitna helping kids at his former high school:

Before he left the Dallas Cowboys to come home again, Jon Kitna had one request of the two principals who run Lincoln High School:

Give me your worst students.

The other teachers told him to stop. This was last February and it was going to be hard enough to teach three algebra classes in the middle of a semester. He was two months gone from an NFL career that went for 16 years, after all. Yes, this was his old high school, the one where he was a star quarterback in the early 1990s, but didn’t the new football coach understand what he was getting into?
Didn’t he see the numbers? Didn’t he know that four of every five of the students were on free or reduced lunches? That finding a meal was more important than understanding negative integers? Inspiring the best students was going to be difficult enough. Save himself, they advised. Start slow. Make it easy.

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Lower College Admission Rates for Asians

An interesting op ed in the NYTAsians: Too Smart for Their Own Good?

AT the end of this month, high school seniors will submit their college applications and begin waiting to hear where they will spend the next four years of their lives. More than they might realize, the outcome will depend on race. If you are Asian, your chances of getting into the most selective colleges and universities will almost certainly be lower than if you are white.

Asian-Americans constitute 5.6 percent of the nation’s population but 12 to 18 percent of the student body at Ivy League schools. But if judged on their merits — grades, test scores, academic honors and extracurricular activities — Asian-Americans are underrepresented at these schools. Consider that Asians make up anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of the student population at top public high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science in New York City, Lowell in San Francisco and Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, Va., where admissions are largely based on exams and grades.

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Programs Making a Difference for Kids in Africa

Last but not least for 2012, my family and I on Sunday visited Kibera, the largest slum in Africa (and 2ndlargest in the world after one in Mumbai), in which as many as 1.5 million people are jammed in squalor. We saw two wonderful programs that are giving hope to and making a difference for kids there, Shining Hope for Communities and Children of Kibera Foundation.

Shining Hope runs a variety of programs: health clinics, a library, computer training, clean latrines, safe water, but the best part for me was The Kibera School for Girls (see top two pictures in the collage above), which is growing to 140 girls in grades K-4 this year (from 100), giving them a great education. Below are two articles about Shining Hope by Nick Kristof as well as an ABC News segment. Jessica Posner, who just married Kennedy Odede in June, is in the top right and bottom left pictures. Email Kennedy and Jessica’s emails are: and

Here’s an excerpt from Kristof’s first column about Jessica and Kennedy Odede:

In a Mother's Day column in the spring, I suggested that readers commemorate the day not only with flowers but also with a donation to lift up women around the world. Readers showered one group that I mentioned, Mothers' Day Movement, with more than $135,000 that was forwarded to a slum empowerment group in Kenya.

Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, with some of the beneficiaries of their programs.
So while in Kenya recently, I dropped by to see what was being done with your money. In the grim alleys of the Kibera slum in the capital, Nairobi, I found a dazzling girls’ school being built with some of those donations — and, yes, I found a love story.
The saga begins with a young man named Kennedy Odede who grew up in the slum. He never received a formal education and lived homeless on the streets after the age of 10, but he was exceptionally bright and taught himself to read.

In the lower right picture is us with Ken Okoth, the founder of Children of Kibera. Here’s a friend’s description of him and CoK:

CoK is doing amazing work with young people in the slums.  They not only have a school, but an inspiring media and technology program with young people. 

Ken grew up in Kibera and received a scholarship to St. Lawrence University. SLU has been giving two students from Kenya a full ride every year since 1974 when they founded their Kenya Semester Program, now the longest running undergraduate semester program in Africa (I am an alum). 

Ken is also running for Parliament.  I recently visited with Ken with a small group in September and he gave an incredible talk about his hopes and plans for Kibera.  While the problems in Kibera are massive, Ken has a sense of purpose and enthusiasm that is inspiring.  My group was very impressed with Ken and our visit to his school and the program at Children of Kibera. 

If you are interested, I can do an email introduction, or you can just email him and mention my name.  Here is his campaign page: and here is his email:

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Pictures from Kibrea

Below are more pictures from our visit on Sunday to Kibera (also posted at:

Pics 1-8 are general pictures, 9-22 are of Shining Hope for Communities and 23-29 are of the Children of Kibera Foundation .

Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner Odede run the former (their emails and and Ken Okoth runs the latter (

Both programs welcome visitors, so if your travels bring you to Kenya, be sure to visit!

Us with Jessica Posner Odede (on the right) in front of The Kibera School for Girls, which is run by Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO’s clean water kiosk is in the background.

Many of the children were there even though it was the Sunday before Christmas.
A playground on the roof of the school building.

Here’s the library.

Another classroom at the Red Rose Nursery School.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Tribute to the Victims of the Sandy Hook Shooting

A beautiful tribute: 

Three days after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., NBC's reality talent show The Voice kicked off its third season finale with a touching tribute performance for the 20 schoolchildren and 6 adult staff members killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Continue Reading...

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Ravitch's Words on the Sandy Hook Shooting

In jarring contrast, there are apparently no depths to which Ravitch will not stoop. Her blatant lying to defame RI Superintendent Deb Gist was probably her prior low (Examaples 1, 2, 3, 4 ), but she’s now outdone herself and hit a new low yesterday by using the Newtown tragedy to advance her agenda and attack Gov. Malloy (a Democrat!), Superintendent Stefan Pryor (another Democrat!), “ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers”. As Andy Rotherham correctly tweeted: “The first part of this is lovely - the second half is obscene and embarrassing.” This is what she wrote (and I am NOT making this up!):


Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.

Oh, and be other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores. Governor Malloy said, memorably, to his shame, that teachers get tenure just for showing up. No one at Sandy Hook was just “showing up.”

Governor Dannell Malloy has led the effort in his state to expand charter schools and high-stakes testing. He appointed a state commissioner of education who co-founded a charter chain. He said, memorably, that he didn’t care how much test prep there was so long as scores go up. Sandy Hook is not that kind of school.

Let us hope Governor Malloy learned something these past few days about the role of public schools in their communities.
Newtown does not need a charter school. What it needs now is healing. Not competition, not division, but a community coming together to help one another. Together. Not competing.

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Connecticut Looking to Expand Charter Schools

Speaking of Connecticut, it’s looking for high-quality charters:



My name is Debra Kurshan and I am the Chief Turnaround Officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education.  We are all dealing with tragedy that struck here last week and are so appreciative of the outpouring of support from across the country.  We are working to continue our work and keep our prayers and thoughts with the families and community of Newtown.

As you know Connecticut passed a set of legislation reform items last summer and the Governor has laid out 6 key principles one which is to expand high quality school models. I am writing to ask if you would post some information about the letter of interest we are requesting from charter school operators on your listserv. This is part of our effort to increase the availability of high quality school models.  The letter can be found here.  

Please let me know if you have questions. 


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Tony Bennet Serves as Florida's New Education Commissioner

Turning to Florida, HUGE news!

Tony Bennett, Indiana's outgoing Republican superintendent for public instruction, will move to Florida to serve as the state's new education commissioner.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to hire Bennett to oversee the Florida's public schools and colleges. Bennett is expected to carry over his school reform agenda from Indiana that focused on the Common Core State Standards, a set of national benchmarks for reading and math.

"I think his ability to be up to speed quickly will be very important for the state of Florida," Florida board member John Padget told the Orlando Sentinel of Bennett.
Bennett's time in Indiana was defined by a number of initiatives that mirror Florida's school reform efforts, including grading schools on an A-F scale, expanding charter schools and voucher programs, evaluating teachers based on student performance and pushing for turnaround efforts in failing schools.

I find it hilarious how often the unions think they win by engineering the ouster of a reformer – and then the reformer comes back on an ever bigger stage to torment them even more! Exhibit A is Michelle Rhee and now Bennett has moved to a state with THREE TIMES the population!

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