Our Nation’s Untapped Treasure!

As the demographics of our nation change, increasing the numbers of poverty students within our schools, we must look deeply at the structures of how we educate students.  These structural changes must include how we identify and serve our most gifted and talented students, especially those of poverty, English Language Learners, and students of color. Our traditional methods of identification often have a bias that benefits mainstream students. This under-identification of minority and poverty students leads to their not receiving services that develop their abilities. However, even with bias-free identification methods, we must provide services to nurture the gifts and talents of our high ability students.

In too many poverty schools, the emphasis is on remediation and passing the state assessment. Enrichment and differentiation become additional tasks placed upon overwhelmed teachers.  Training often focuses on intervention strategies and data collection rather than differentiation.  Teaching to the middle and supporting the struggling students is a matter of survival for educators in our lock-step system.

We must change our paradigm.  We must set aside our deficit mindset as we look at poverty and minority students. Our high ability students must all have the opportunity to develop their full potential. In order to do this, we must have an inclusive mindset when it comes to enrollment in advanced classes.

Because research shows, many of our poverty students enter school already behind their wealthier peers, we must be willing to provide acceleration for our poverty and minority students to close the achievement gap so they are prepared for advanced academic options. A focus on acceleration must be a priority at the state, district, and school level.  Teachers must embrace an inclusive mindset which supports the preparation and enrollment of more students in high level courses.  Districts must be prepared to provide additional teachers in order to keep classes sizes small enough for teachers to provide individualized attention.  The state must fund schools so that differentiated learning experiences can be provided.

Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities is a 2015 report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation on high ability, low-income students.  Citing statistics that show how well individual states are doing to identify and serve these students, the report calls this the “excellence gap” and recommends changes to insure low income high ability students achieve at the same rate as their high income peers.

The report recommends:

  1. Make high-performing students highly visible – meaning collect data that reveals the economic status and performance levels of all students. Are our poverty students excelling…not just passing state and national assessments?
  2. Remove barriers that prevent high-ability students from moving through coursework at a pace that matches their achievement level – meaning dual enrollment, acceleration, early entrance options.
  3. Ensure that all high ability students have access to advanced educational service – training teachers and administrators, monitoring gifted programs for quality, increased enrollment in AP and dual enrollment courses
  4. Hold LEAs accountable for the performance of high ability students from all economic backgrounds – states should disaggregate data for high ability, low income students and measure their growth on state assessments.

Report findings:

  1. In most states, attention to advanced learning is incomplete and haphazard
  2. In the absence of comprehensive policy support for advanced learning, economic conditions appear to drive outcomes
  3. Although some states have impressive outcomes for their high-performing students, no state can claim impressive performance outcomes for students from low income backgrounds.
  4. Data describing advanced performance are not readily available.
  5. All states could do more to support advanced learning.

The EXCELLENCE GAP is costing our country its future…with increasing numbers of poverty students, we cannot as a nation ignore the potential of the gifts and talents of these children.


Supporting English Language Learners

Demographics are changing in our communities and many schools are seeing an increase in the number of English Language Learners.  Teachers often struggle with how to support the academic success of students who are not only learning rigorous academic content but also learning a new language.

This article extends the concern with the achievement of ELL students to focus on the social-economic status of their families, stating that adults who do not speak English often are limited to low wage jobs and may be linguistically isolated from the mainstream population, The economic status of the ELL students’ families adds another barrier to academic success for these students. Poverty has its own stress with which students and their families must deal. Available, affordable housing often clusters these students into “poverty schools” where resources are stretched and teachers are overwhelmed.

Proposals focus on extending existing service: language classes, engagement activities and wrap around services for families; extra learning time for students; and training for teachers.  One of the phenomenon surrounding recent immigration patterns is that new areas of the country, especially suburbs are experiencing a large influx of English Learning Language populations, including students.  Seeking job opportunities and safe housing, immigrants and other linguistically isolated populations find pockets of affordable housing within suburban areas.  These are often pockets of poverty inside wealthier suburbs and school districts. These areas do not have the infrastructure nor experience to support successful integration of this population group.

In my experience, this insufficiency extends to the suburban schools. School district leadership are often unprepared for, or “in denial” of the changing demographics of some of their schools.  These leaders look back to historical patterns of achievement and resource allocation as a guide to the future. This denial of changing demographics is often accompanied with “handwringing” and finger pointing over the underachievement of the poverty schools within their midst. With the aim of improving academic achievement, leaders often buy programs and place mandates on schools rather than investing in services and additional personnel. Personnel added is often at district level without direct impact on students.

This article proposes several ways to provide multi-generational support to English Language Learner families.  It is important to recognize that these services, like language classes and parent education cannot be offered in the traditional venue of “bring the parents to school in the evening.”  Schools must look at venues within the community, like apartments and churches, even groceries stores, to meet the people where they live.

Included in the recommendations for improving the academic success for English Language Learners is the charge to prioritize specific ELL training for teachers.  Citing the improved achievement of ELL students in Denver Public Schools where the district required all teachers to be ELL certified. I would posit that certification alone will not improve achievement, but the fidelity of implementation of best instructional practices that support language acquisition and literacy within all content areas.  This will mean more that a certification or workshop, but a school culture that prioritizes literacy and views all staff as partners in teaching reading, writing, speaking and listening.

The article concludes with five case studies of communities and their strategic plans to support English Language Learning students and their families.  These studies provide examples of ways other districts, schools and communities can raise the achievement of their students. The use of Saturday and summer learning time, a proactive retract/retest policy that catches students before they fail, a focus on attendance, and other differentiated school initiatives require the support of school and district leaders, as well as funding from the community, state, and federal government.


What makes a good teacher?

What makes a good teacher?.


this is a great article, especially at this time of year as educators wonder if the stress was worth it…to continue in education or find another job.  I disagree with Bill Gates…teachers grow well beyond the third year of teaching.  Part of being a teacher is being a learner!   Most of the teachers I have known were on a continual quest to improve their practice.


The he heart of the teacher is their biggest asset…you just can’t teach someone to like kids!  Everything else, yes!

All Students Need 21st Century Skills

A recent article on The Glossary of Education Reform began with the basic definition of 21st Century Skills and moved into the debate surrounding the implications of teaching cross disciplinary, process skills  – the 21st century aspect of education – versus teaching content – viewed as a 20th century focus.  In our era of standardized testing this debate is happening everyday.  In struggling schools – often schools of poverty – the push to maintain the traditional focus on content knowledge ties the hands of teachers who want to provide a richer curriculum for students. Teachers in poorer schools struggle with filling academic gaps and providing interventions. In our wealthier schools, students often have the background knowledge of facts or the technology and home support to get the facts that will take them to higher levels of thinking.

It is critical as we want to prepare all students for success in college and careers that our poorest students have the experience with thinking skills, problem solving, and cross disciplinary exploration.  As it currently stands, many of our poorer students are passing standardized tests, graduating from school unprepared to compete with students who have experienced a more complex education.  We must provide all students a 21st century education – we will need to re-invent our struggling schools to build strong foundations that allow students to experience the same educational depth and complexity offered at wealthier schools.


The Importance of a Leader’s EQ

Daniel Goldman has written about emotional intelligence before, but relating EQ to leadership provided ideas for reflection.  Self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationships are the four areas highlighted for leaders to develop in their quest for effectiveness.  Just as we tell our teachers: it is all about relationships – the same is true for administrators with teachers.  Without that emotional connection and physical presence, the knowledge and smarts just won’t build the team effort needed to surmount the challenges of education today.


Creating synergy between teachers and administrators to improve schools

Much is said about the importance of effective teachers in classrooms; this article focuses on the critical aspect of building leadership to school achievement.  However, I would extend this insight to remark that real progress happens when effective teachers partner with a caring and capable instructional leader.  The synergy of the these two elements working together toward a common goal and vision is greater than either entity could achieve by themselves.

As a teacher, I often prescribed to the “close the door and let me teach” group of educators.  I did not want to become embroiled in district politics or the latest mandate for teaching; I wanted to focus on my classroom…my students.  I was “blessed” with administrators that allowed me to do just that.  They entered my classroom door to pull out students for discipline or for a once a year checklist evaluation.  Other than that, they gave the perception of being unaware of my daily activities beyond the test scores I produced.  My proactive communication with parents and good relationships with students resulted in rare complaints to administration.

As I moved into building leadership, I found I missed being in the classroom. The first years of leading a school found me locked in my office, overwhelmed with managerial tasks – I often felt like I should wear fireman’s boots to school – always putting out fires.  I did not like feeling so reactive.  As the principal in this article did, I learned to push paperwork to before and after school so I could enjoy drop in visits to classrooms. I liked the feeling of having my “hand on the pulse” of the school. My teachers and students got used to the idea that I would wander in, watch and listen, and move on.  I tried to visit most classrooms several times a day. I also dropped into planning meetings or data analysis meetings to listen to teachers talk about instruction.  I tried to be available – physically and emotionally – for teachers – to engage them through relationships and through understanding their struggles and instructional strengths in the classroom.  I often offered resources or support.

What I did not realize as a teacher was that administrators share the same pressures as teachers.  Many teachers today still do not view their administrator as an ally in their struggle to improve instruction and student learning.  With the position power that a principal holds, I believe it is the job of the principal to build this feeling of alliance.  Through a spirit of caring for the people, an awareness of their daily lives both in and out of the classroom, and a credibility that experience and presence – being available emotionally and physically – breaking down the barriers between “management” and teachers – this is the synergy that will improve our schools