Teach for America Coursework 1

TFA sent along a bunch of coursework to complete prior to training in summer. Though the coursework is apparently not going to be tracked by TFA in any way, I figured I’d dive in and try to glean some good information from it. (Note: this is not going to be a polished, well-written post. It’s mostly just for me.) There are lots of readings and post-reading questions in the packet, so I’m going to use the blog to keep track of some of my initial responses to the questions and ideas TFA is posing. The first section presented four topics: Charter Schools, Common Core Standards, Politics and Teacher Evaluations. I was to choose three, read the corresponding articles, and think to myself about how these issues will affect me and my students, and what elements of the issues are not covered in the readings.

I chose charter schools first since I am going to be working at a charter. I read a Daily News piece presenting an overview of both sides of the charter issue, a Times piece about charter attrition rates, and a Chalkbeat piece on charter leaders meeting with Chancellor Farina. I know about most of these issues already because of my relationship with education-oriented non-profits, but I was most interested by two things. First off, the Daily News piece tried to be balanced, but it underplayed the implications of non-unionized charters. The article reads:

Nine out of 10 New York City charters aren’t unionized, which gives them more freedom to put their staffs through rigorous training, lengthen the workday, adjust salaries, and hire and fire teachers — and school leaders — at will.

 

That’s in stark contrast to district schools, which have to abide by what can be rigid and stifling laws and contract rules.

 

In other words, charter school leaders have the freedom to make the types of smart decisions that are the hallmark of almost all well-run organizations.

Well, that’s a super kind framing of the issue. Those “rigid and stifling laws and contract rules” could also be called crucial protections for teachers. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to work as a teacher and know I am an at-will employee, fireable at any time (although very soon, I’ll find out). I imagine that this lack of job security could negatively impact many teachers’ ability to do their jobs, and ultimately that will harm students. Lack of unions is one of my biggest concerns with regard to charters. Second point of interest: the Chalkbeat article linked to another article about a coalition of charter school leaders who seek to work closely with Farina and de Blasio on education reform and policy. My new school happens to be on that list, and my new principal has been very vocal in much of the coverage around de Blasio and his position on charters. It will be interesting to see firsthand how this coalition’s work with De Blasio affects or doesn’t affect our school and students. I’m certainly encouraged by the fact that my principal is seemingly looking to build a productive relationship with the mayor, unlike certain charter leaders.

I chose the Common Core Standards next. They assigned two Times editorials with opposing views, a Politico piece expanding on the union’s objections, and an overview from the Washington Post. My only issue with the readings was that although they showed different points of view on whether or not the Common Cores will work, none of them questioned the basis on which the Common Cores are built: that testing is an accurate way to measure our students and teachers, and that American students are truly falling behind the rest of the world. Diane Ravitch has framed America’s academics on the global spectrum in a vastly different light, and I think her work would be worth exploring in the course material as a counterpoint. That being said, since Common Core is a reality, my biggest concern is getting proper professional development.

My third set of readings focused on politics. These articles focused on de Blasio and Farina’s priorities. I was most interested in the following excerpt, from de Blasio’s website:

Ensure All Students are Reading at Grade Level by Third-Grade

A key indicator in determining if a child is falling behind is if he or she is reading at the appropriate grade level. Third grade is a pivotal year in development, as children switch from learning to read to reading comprehension. One in six students who cannot read at their grade level by the third grade does not graduate high school on time. This hurts a student’s ability to go to college or get a good job. That’s why reading at grade level must be an urgent priority. Bill de Blasio will ensure there are strong reading programs in every school that allow teachers and parents to continually monitor student progress in reading at grade level, and support students should they begin to fall behind. De Blasio will work with community partners to establish community and school-based reading programs, and he will raise awareness about the importance of reading at grade level through summer reading programs and expanded partnerships between DOE and the city’s three public library systems.

I am going to teach elementary, although I don’t know the grade yet. It seems like third grade is a critical year in the de Blasio/Farina administration, and so I’ll be interested to see how these reading programs develop, since I could very well be teaching third-graders or students on their way to third grade.

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