Snippet from my Personal Statement for law school, (four years ago)

It is quite risky to post what you believe, but at the risk of being vulnerable, here goes.  It's almost 2012 and I have always looked back to what I've done and who I've been to fine tune my future.  Thought I'd share my thoughts from four years ago.

If I fail them, then I fail at life.
My work had become just that serious. I opened my classroom door to the faces of five seven-year-olds waiting for their first glimpse of “teacher,” post-Winter Break. They scrambled in, hung their backpacks on their hooks, got out their materials for the day, and took their seats. Learning to execute just those things had taken us until the end of September to perfect. Amazingly, after a one-month vacation, my students remembered our morning routine and did it flawlessly. Even as the rest staggered in, not a single child went looking for a pencil, forgot his or her holiday “get-smart” homework packet, or asked me to read the directions for the beginning activity. The room was silent. And as they diligently wrote in their journals, I monitored them, doing my best to choke back the tears.
The pride I felt in that moment fueled my commitment to teach for the next eighteen months. My December holiday had been spent analyzing reading unit assessments, math performance projects, and writing samples. The results showed phenomenal growth. My class of predominantly African-American and Latino children had improved an entire grade level in literacy in only five month’s time. These students had transformed into a new group of children now infused with perhaps the greatest source of renewable energy any child has available to him: the motivation to succeed. That January, I knew I had to do everything I could to prepare them for our first high-stakes standardized test in April.
Those first moments still resonate deeply with me. Each day, my students “got smarter” because I taught through their deficiencies and beyond my own self-expectations. We strengthened one another: they worked hard to learn because I worked hard to teach. I saw myself in their little minority faces and knew they needed to see an African-American woman working just as hard for each of them.  By the end of my two years, my two separate classes outperformed projections for their underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds.


How Do We Do More for Juveniles Who Get Less of Both Prevention and Rehabilitation Services?

from my Art of Social Change course facilitated by Betsy Bartholett and Jessica Budniz
     During Week 10, Bryan Stevenson, Naoka Carey, and Josh Dohan cautioned of how the criminal justice system had retreated back to treating juveniles as adults though the juvenile justice movement sought an independent system that acknowledges the real differences between child and adult psychological development.  Last session during Week 11, Tim Decker and Edward Dolan added to the weekly discourse of how many children in the United States begin life and enter adulthood with fewer opportunities to be productive, healthy people.  Mr. Decker and Mr. Dolan took what we learned steps farther by explaining that the trade-offs between due process and rehabilitation for juveniles has resulted in children experiencing grotesquely punitive treatment in youth corrections institutions.


Politics as a Barrier to Fairness in Educational Outcomes for Our Children

The following is a response to a course presentation on the Achievement Gap.

Until Dai Ellis spoke up, it seemed that the students and speakers were going to continue to mosey around the big elephant in the room that is responsible for stifling the progress of closing racial achievement gaps for our nation’s most vulnerable children.  Professor Roland Fryer told a narrative of how he’d presented several decisionmakers with his “vaccine” of five “common sense” interventions and how each turned him down, even though they had been initially interested in his achievement gap research because it had potential benefits for their communities.  And Professor Tom Payzant followed Fryer’s presentation by adding that parents and community members ought to be engaged in the process of turning around the lowest performing schools in order for reform efforts to be authentic to the communities with the most to benefit or loose from the interventions.  The former Boston Public Schools Superintendent also cautioned reformers to think about creative ways to replicate charter management organizations without also replicating the bureaucratic ills begotten to many school systems.  But until Mr. Ellis, CEO of Excel Academy “no excuses” charter schools network, advanced his two talking points ((1) “ideology kills” and (2) scaling up charter success is possible), the class conversation seemed mainly about the problem of the achievement gap and proffered solutions coming from research and practice.  The conversation would have never moved to the real takeaway lesson for the evening:  individuals from various backgrounds can become change-agents for the education systems in their communities.  The counterintuitive politics of education reform has made it increasingly difficult to deliver solutions that make our student outcomes more fair.


In the child welfare space, none of us chose this.

None of us chose this for our lives.  As mothers, we don’t choose dysfunction over healthy family units and as children we don’t choose to be orphaned over being nurtured.  None of us look down the barrel and say “Sign me up for the hard life!”  But, it’s true—our choices have consequences and those kinetics run deep and long. When we take toxins into our pregnant bodies we seep destruction into our children.  When we run away from the institutions that simulate normalcy, we claim our autonomy and our vulnerability.  And when we open ourselves up to revolving door of caretakers, we become the bests and worse parts of humanity. What separates those that plead for adoption now and removal yesterday versus those that urge family preservation first and resources soon is not a game of who to blame. But rather, both recognize that none of us chose this for our lives, yet all of us must take care to fix it. Using the babies in the river parable, we are just torn as to whether to concentrate on scooping up the babies we see floating downstream or trekking upstream to search for the baby thrower.  As and much as I would like to strap on my backpack and charge after the evildoer throwing away lives, I cannot contemplate passing by the lives in front of our needing solutions now.


How Can Anyone SERIOUSLY talk of no federal Department of Education?

In a country with such porous state borders, diversity and interconnectedness, how can we seriously be talking about eliminating the federal Department of Education?


What is the comparability loophole?

ESEA Reauthorization is the coming attraction in Congress this fall.  If she were selling tickets, people would be lining up around the block just to see if she will make an appearance.  Some are betting that she will.  Most are skeptical -- at best -- if she will even be permitted to take the stage.  Back in 2007, when she was supposed to star in the blockbuster hit of "Changing No Child Left Behind," she was no where to be found.  Well, correction, she started to get off the ground, maybe even made it to the dressing room to get revised, but never fully showed herself as a finished product.  And now that she has this unrealiable track record, many in Congress (namely House Republicans) insist that they will put together their own show -- in smaller magnitude -- that will carry the same punch.

One of the many, many [read numerous] proposals on what should be included when (if) ESEA reauthorization happens this fall is to fix the "comparability loophole."  The comparability loophole describes the way federal money is delivered to schools serving large amounts (or percentages) of low-income families' children.  Boiled down, this means that in order to get federal funds, a school district must (among other fiscal requirements) spend as much of their own monies (state and local) on schools with high concentrations of low-income students as it does on schools within the same districts that have low concentrations of low-income students.  This is known as the "comparability" fiscal requirement.  It stems from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I provision.  (ESEA is the base bill that has been reauthorized several times, most recently known as No Child Left Behind.)

More after the break...


Sign Me Up! (or) Say What?

Another Monday morning where the dirth of good, juicy education policy news is rather annoying.  Being is Washington it seems that the buzz definitely quiets when Congress is on recess.  Meanwhile, the education policy pundits, wonks, and peddlers are gnawing on speculation and media leftovers.  So, thought I'd humor you with my innermost thoughts when it comes to this stuff. 

When it comes to education policy headlines, I find that I am in one of these two camps. 

Either I am willing to immediately jump on board -- no elaboration needed, "sign me up," I'm down --


I put the skids on by seeking much more confirmation -- run that by me again, "say what?"

What are your reactions?  I'm sure you are not nearly as binomial as I.

Image source pages for the cat and baby.


Philadelphia's Arlene Ackerman is Out. But Why?

Booting up my computer this morning, I again saw headlines of the Philadelphia education leader that is no more -- Arlene Ackerman.  Admittedly, I have not followed her administration, the policies, or the press.  I do know, however, that some organizations in the civil rights community welcomed her presences in Philadelphia and were optimistic of what she would do there.  So, I though to ask someone more familiar with Philadelphia about it.  Here's a few lines from my anonymous source:
"Over time, the theatrics surrounding her management style and personality became the story, not what she actually accomplished or attempted to for students.  Due to our schools governance structure, having allies and good relationships is very important.  She didn't seem to do too well with creating the right allies."
So it seems the press clippings jive with what Phillies felt on the ground.  But what about her education policies?  How were those received?
"My sense is that most folks wouldn't quabble with her actual agenda."
Hmm.  So are there any important take-a-ways as Ackerman leaves?
"Seems more like a case for 'if you want to be big city superintendent, you gotta be a politician too.'"
Lesson learned.  Resume the forward-charge.

Click here to read Words from Ackerman


"Sounds Good to Me"

NCLB Waivers

As of August 19, at least 10 states have signaled that they will file requests for waivers of some No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provisions, 6 states have already submitted NCLB waiver requests, and 3 states have decline to submit formal waivers but instead submitted position statements giving notice to the U.S. Department of Education that they do not intend to comply with NCLB standards for the 2011-2012 school year (and beyond). I found this cartoon on Blue Stream Prairie and thought you might also enjoy it.  All credit goes to the author and cartoonist.


It Takes One to Know One

It has occurred to me that many of the high-profile education reforms (many of which I have spent the last 5 weeks following on twitter, attending their speeches, reading their newly released reports, and cruntching their policies) probably have never spent 24 hours in the public schools that they have remedies for. 
Maybe this shocks no one.
But for me, as one who sees such merit in many, many of the reform proposals, it seems a bit disingenous to have a cure and have never interacted with the "patients," their communities, or the everyday stressors that may be responsible for the illness in the first place.


Notice to Parents (especially those in APS schools): School Choice is Law

In doing some research, I came across the following provision within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended and authorized as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  This provision concerns school choice for parents and families that attend a Title I school if the school is categorized as a school in need of improvement. 

Perhaps this helps some families, especially given the volitile state of some Title I schools in Atlanta Public School System.  Check first to see if the school is on the "needs improvement" list.  If so, these federal requirements should apply.  The information shared below is from the Congressional Research Service and was presented to the U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce committee in June of 2011. (Internal citations omitted.)  For reference, AYP is Adequate Yearly Progress and LEA is local educational agency (like a school district).

After not making AYP for two consecutive years, a Title I-A school is identified for school improvement.  Being designated for school improvement carries with it the requirement to develop or revise a school  plan designed to result in the improvement of the school. LEAs are required to provide schools within their jurisdictions with technical assistance in the design and implementation of school improvement plans. Schools identified for improvement must use at least 10% of their Title I-A funding for professional development. All students attending Title I-A schools identified for school improvement also must be offered public school choice—the opportunity to transfer to another public school within the same LEA.
Under public school choice, students must be afforded the opportunity to choose from among two or more schools, located within the same LEA, that have not been identified for school improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, and that also have not been identified as persistently dangerous schools. LEAs are required to provide students who transfer to different schools with transportation and must give priority in choosing schools to the lowest-achieving children from low-income families. LEAs may not use lack of capacity as a reason for denying students the opportunity to transfer to a school of choice. In instances where there are no eligible schools in the student’s LEA, LEAs are encouraged to enter into cooperative agreements with surrounding LEAs to enable students to transfer to an eligible public school.
Emily Barbour, Jody Feder, and Rebecca Skinner, CRS 7-5700, Secretary of Education’s Waiver Authority with Respect to Title I-A Provisions Included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congressional Research Services (June 28, 2011) at 8-9, http://edworkforce.house.gov/UploadedFiles/June_28_2011_CRS_report.pdf.

Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal – An Overview in Lieu of the 400+ Pages of Special Investigators’ Report

Main Question
In light of the Governor’s Special Investigators’ Report (“Report”) on alleged cheating in Georgia school districts, what issues need to be addressed in Atlanta Public School System (APS) to overcome systemic failures?
Short Answer
The Governor’s Special Investigators’ Report details organized and systemic misconduct on the part of Atlanta Public School System officers, administrators, staff, principals, teachers, and educators.  The Report found mismanagement, poor oversight, and a lack of ethical behavior as it relates to state testing on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (“CRCTs”).  It identifies failures in leadership at both the district and school levels and links cheating outcomes to dysfunctions in APS organizational culture. 

I.                   Background
a.       Why was the Report Written?
b.      Who Authored the Report?
c.       How was the Report Compiled?
II.                Content
a.       What are the Report’s Main Findings?
b.      How Does the Report Detail These Findings?
c.       Does the Report Name Educators?
III.             Conclusions and Policy Recommendations
a.       Where Does Responsibility Lie?
b.      What Issues Need to be Addressed to Overcome Systemic Failures?
c.       What Does the Report Mean for the Truancy Intervention Project?

H.R. 2445 is some pretty scary stuff

H.R. 2445 would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to provide States and local educational agencies with maximum flexibility in using Federal funds provided under such Act.

But "flexibility" in these ways is more of a reverse Robin Hood blindside.  Title I monies are at stake.

Switch Hitting for the Goodside -- Bring my Passion to the Capitol!

My summer time at a law firm has now ended and I'm switch hitting for the good side at a national advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.  Yep, I said it -- in the homeland of the federal government, I am just blocks away from the House floor.

Of course I'm focusing on education policy, bringing my experiences full circle.  So expect to hear my passionate outcries against crippling policies and in support increased opportunities for students and their families.  Kinda nice to get to actually say something.  No better not say that because then they will think you are one of those kinds of people. No if you say that they will just ask you what you meant by that and then they will know you are not their friend. No you know they are gonna ask for support for that statement, and you don't even wanna go there. And especially no you are absolutely wrong on that issue and I am yearning to tell you about yourself.  Instead I get to write, influence, observe, effectuate, dialogue, and deliver.  Yum!

So in the mean time and in-between time . . . stay posted.


Atlanta Public School System (APS) Cheating Scandal -- Shocker! Or, is it?


I will be enthralled by this APS + cheating scandal for quite some time. For those upset, confused, or relieved at the finger pointing that is going on, I am preparing a "just the facts please" account, so be ready. Until then, read Report pages 2, 18-19 of Volume 1. That is your homework.http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/215053/volume1-gov.pdf


Special Education Mediation - a snippet from my research

There continues to be an unexplored area of special education mediation focused on outcomes for students. More evidence and live interviews are needed to cure possible ineffective uses of mediation by families of children with special needs, school administrators, and mediators themselves. Parents of children with special needs see mediation as an extension of an IEP meeting and therefore embrace it as a place to voice their concerns about school administrator policies or actions. School officials see mediation as a platform to persuade families that they are competent in fulfilling their responsibilities and exercising discretion over special education services. However both of these views advance a narrow perception that each party has a “one way voice” opportunity to extend its position while the third-party mediator either rationalizes the position to the other party or has them bargain for their demands through the mediation process. Coincidently, both overlook the opportunity for mediation to be a time to reflect collaboratively on where the child’s needs may lie and where family and school could adjust to meet those needs. Special education mediators have a huge role in mending these fences. For the sake of students, special education mediation need evolve into a child’s best interest platform if it is to fulfill promises of alternative dispute resolution in this area. Mediation should not only be procedurally different from due process hearings, but it should be substantively different from even the other IDEA safeguards of IEP meetings and civil litigations. Additional evaluative research mindful of children’s bests interests can make this possible.

Educators are People, too.

One of the top reasons why I think education could benefit from organizational culture literature is captured by this blog post in Education Week: "10 Reasons Your Educators are Resisting Your Change Initiative."  Educators are people, too.

I was reminded of the humanity and "regular"-ness of teachers when I visited my old school a couple of weeks ago.  I heard people continually satisfied with the progress of their students.  I heard people continually frustrated by the oversight and underappreciation.  I heard teachers sound like employees in other organizations-- wanting the basics of transparency, agency, and respect.  It cemented my thoughts that leadership is really powerful (and can rob shining stars from their brilliance over time).


Exam Week and Education Pauses

In the middle of exam week now and the only two on the horizon both tie together my excitement for law and students-- one Child, Family, and State 8-hour exam and one mediation paper on IDEA voluntary mediation provisions. However, I'm most excited reminding myself that I have articles and blog entries waiting for me on my Google Reader from my weekly education clippings. Which begs the question, "Am I going in the wrong direction?"

Of course, I'll strongly defend with a "no, there is no 'wrong' direction." I hardly think that Ms. Wright Edelman or Mr. Klein knew exactly where they'd be careers later when they graduated from the nation's top law schools Yale and Harvard, respectively. But, I'm sure they find daily passion that they are right where they were always meant to be grinding it out for children and students. 

That's the direction I want to go in. So I gotta get through these last academic tests to start the journey. Ok, back to the books.


Blogging from The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Ideas

with Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute
March 30, 2011

On Today’s agenda: attend the talk with author, education-thinker Rick Hess. I’d read article after article of his during my Fall Introduction to Education Policy class at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. I own his “Common Sense Reform” book, so I was eager to hear what he had to say.

Apparently, the session was a book talk. He was self-depreciating at the beginning but also declaring that all the good ideas, he would take credit for. He’s sociable—but I wanted to withhold my opinion. He opened with a reference to a different context—a past article he’d written on teacher certification. What he found most useful about the past discussion was that the habit of discussing teacher licensure opened doors of attack or defense of the education system. He wanted people to engage in the debates of education—not just the notions of whether something is a solution to schooling or an attack on schooling (of course, I’m paraphrasing).  He’d like to discuss using new tools to solve new problems, instead of whether certain principles are sacrosanct. Sounds good, right? Cut to the substance…

Educating Myself

New to the academic lineup are (1) Child, Family, and State, (2) Mediation, and (3) Leadership in the Public Sector. Though none overtly discusses education, education reform, or its subject matter’s application to schools, I am pretty sure that they can each be applied to solve our greatest domestic policy deficit—the achievement of our students.

So the goal is to tie the courses to our students by scraping out little pieces of doctrine.

First up: Child, Family, and State

From my outline of Bartholet’s Nobody’s Children. Text is paraphrased below. Any quotations, direct or indirect should be credited to Bartholet.

Family functions to provide care and nurture essential to a children’s well-being. Victims, even if adults, are children of victims. Need special parenting to overcome damage from their condition.  Behind closed doors, no one can see what is going on and there is no huge criminal threat. American culture makes Nobody’s Children possible. 

Major Points from Nobody’s Children

[[ redacted to address formatting concerns and will be replaced ]]