Monthly Archives: January 2009

FROM ONE MOMENT OF DEFIANCE… REDEMPTION

A picture is worth 1000 words… except when it requires a caption.  Like this picture of two middle-aged African American couples embracing in a hotel room in Boston right after Barack Obama was sworn in a the 44th President of the United States.

smith-carlos1

This is more than just another poignant scene captured on America’s most magic of days. For the two gentlemen in the photo…  it HAD to be such a powerful, emotional, exhilarating moment of sweet redemption.  

Forty years ago, they took a courageous stand on the world stage.  Not unlike Rosa Parks, theirs was an act that horrified  much of white America– while it simultaneously inspired a whole generation who were growing weary of the slow pace of change in the late 1960’s.   

They have paid dearly for that moment of defiance… but it too was captured in an iconic photograph that, I can assure you, is worth at least 1000 words.  

smith-carlos2-1

For Tommie Smith and John Carlos, winners of the 200 meter gold and bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, January 2oth no doubt brought sweet redemption and  1000 words.

None of them necessary.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under President Obama

WORDS MADE CHANGE

Like this tag cloud designed by Wordle, everyone heard something different in President Obama’s Inaugural Address:

image0011

I don’t know what images or themes resonated for you, but Nelson Smith, the Executive Director of the National Alliance of Charter Schools reviewed the historical Inaugural Week in his Charter School Blog, and he heard this:

I found a strong echo of our [charter school] model in this passage of the President’s inaugural address:

 “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

What this means for charter schools can be found on the new White House web site under Education Agenda. President Obama promises to “double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools,” but warns there will be “a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools.”

Fair enough.  As on most things, I agree with President Obama (and Nelson Smith, too). But how will the President define “successful charter schools?” and what are the criteria for an “underperforming school?”  

Presently “underperforming schools” become “underperforming schools” when their test scores in math and reading fall short of the prescribed benchmarks called Annual Yearly Progress or AYP. And since nobody wants to bear the mantle of an “underperforming school”, you can be sure we all teach the heck out of math and reading.  President Obama recognizes that schools have narrowed the curriculum in response to these pressures at the expense of science and technology and social studies and the arts.  And recess. He calls it teaching to the test.  I call it teaching to what is tested. Others may call it teach what you better teach if you don’t want lose your charter or be called an underperforming school.will-i-am

Nevertheless, as Will.i.am says “It’s a New Day” and thank God for that.  We have a mandate for change.  And since I don’t mind using test results to determine how effectively schools are serving children and their families, I don’t care whether president Obama changes the whole assessment game or not.  

What I do care to C H A N G E is how we recognize and define successful schools– charter or otherwise. Math and reading results are one indicator, but can we get some love for the other extraordinary things that happen for children at El Milagro?

Like when we …carlos

• introduce our children to the latest technologies…

• or teach them to think…

• or refer them to the eye doctor for properly fitting glasses…

• or teach them proper dental hygiene so their teeth aren’t rotting in their heads…

• or  teach them to sing and draw and recite their poems on a stage…

• or  teach them that their forefathers won congressional medals of honor in foreign wars too…

• or help them preserve and perfect their native language…

• or connect a family to health insurance…

• or help Rafael properly grieve for his relatives who were recent murder victims in Tijuana’s horrific drug wars…

• or help Laura stay grounded even as she  is about to lose her mom to stomach cancer (which is a big deal because her dad passed away two years ago)…

And so forth.  Supporting kids in crisis– isn’t that high performance too?

Just last summer, Nelson Smith and The National Alliance of Charter Schools published a tool they call “Quality Indicators“.  It’s one way to expand the definition of what a successful school is.  So at El Milagro we decided to integrate the general concept into our charter as we get ready to take it to the local governing board for re-authorization in March.   We will be able to describe the goals of our charter in broader terms than just academic achievement– but also longitudinal growth, progress of English Language learners and the sense of engagement for students, teachers and  parents.

                                                             *                *                  *

So when Wordle created their cool tag cloud from some of the major themes and words that were used by President Obama in his Inaugural Address, they were unintentionally shining a bright light on his priorities.  The bigger the word the more often he used it.

 I like that C H A R T E R and  C H I L D R E N are so predominantly positioned on the top of the box, and in the center– and that they are surrounded on all sides by C A R E  and  C O O P E R A T I O N and W O R K and  H O P E.

monument

1 Comment

Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, President Obama, public education

INAUGURATION DAY: A POEM, A PRAYER, AND A PROMISE

tzsupmomentMy Inauguration Day  post on LeaderTalk is a tribute to President Obama… it offers a Poem, a Prayer, and a Promise. It included the re-mix of:  “A Poem for Barack Obama Upon the Inauguration of America”.  I also integrated themes from the  letter to his daughters.  

And El Milagro celebrated the way we celebrate!

balloons_t350

Leave a comment

Filed under El Milagro, President Obama

We Will Arise and Walk Again

mural2I celebrated another birthday this week and I realize with each passing year how much I have learned in my life. Every day, every week, every year.  And the lessons keep coming.  But the ultimate lesson of where we all go from here– no matter how deeply I reflect– I can never quite resolve. I only know that we are here and we are gone.  And that somewhere our spirits and our souls are transformed and we slip quietly out of view of those we leave to the Earth.

In the meantime, we live and we learn.  And we enjoy occasional moments of profound transformation.

flagsThis weekend, we are all on the precipice of such a moment.  One that stirs our history and our hopes. There is an unmistakable spiritual presence emerging even while our nation reels from conditions that might otherwise seem awfully bleak.  In three days, we will arise and walk again.

I am reminded of the dangers of attributing superhuman qualities to one man.  But for nearly a decade Americans as a people have sputtered and flailed and failed mightily to grasp or hold the greatness that we once believed we were pre-ordained to achieve.  Our world is is in turmoil.  The fabric of America, is in tatters.  And we have turned to a person possessed with uncommon wisdom and natural gifts– not the least of which is his deeply inspiring spiritual intelligence.  

daughtersjpgThis week, as he braces for Inauguration Day and the ride of a million lifetimes,  Barack Obama published a letter that he has written to his daughters: “What I Want for You– And Every Child in America”.  In it he says:

“When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.” 

For those of us who have raised our own children and who know what it means to delay our own personal ambitions and dreams so that our babies might realize theirs– it is an extraordinary admission.  

How many parents have watched their infants sleeping and longed to provide the world for them?  We so desperately want to remove the heartaches and failures and disappointments that might discourage them.  We sacrifice to provide for them.  Each generation stretches to the very boundaries of its collective talent  to make the lives of the next generation that much easier, that much more fulfilled.  It is what parents are expected to do.  “Devotion” is listed in the job description.

dad-daughter1So for his part, Barack Obama has merely ascended to the most difficult job on the face of the earth– to become the most powerful living human being– to make the world a better place for the daughters he loves so dearly.  He has risen above paralyzing political divisions for the opportunity to change the course of America.  To become president, he merely had to transcend centuries of racism, intractable prejudice, and a tortured national history of self-hatred that manifests itself in bigotry and intolerance.father-daughter1

Uncommon devotion.

And he writes:

“That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be. 

These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure. 

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.”

For those of us who have devoted our life’s work to the service of children– whose schools reflect our own beliefs in the virtues of justice and equality– the Inauguration of Barack Obama is a moment of blessed redemption.  

I forwarded President Obama’s letter to Keenan and Kira and I am looking forward to discussing it with them.  

“I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had .”

I am not usually so reflective on my birthday.  But at this moment, the past and future seem to be aligning.  The lessons of the universe… the mysteries of life.  The devotion of our ancestors… our hopes for our children. Our historical struggle… our resurrection.  

So on we go.  January 20, 2009. We change the world.

prez-obamajpeg

Leave a comment

Filed under President Obama, public education

HAWK

tricksjpegI don’t get why skaters ride off curbs and park benches and the eaves of buildings.  I don’t get why they practice ‘ollies’ over and over and over again.  I don’t get why they are so insistent on landing some dumb-ass acrobatic stunt– or how they could be so willing to get maimed or killed for (maybe) :30 seconds of  satisfaction.  

For years when my wife and I saw young kids riding skateboards down hills with no helmets, or bouncing off the side of cars to land their imaginative new tricks and impress their friends, we would shake our heads and mockingly refer to them as “brain surgeons”.

Then Christy sent us a link to an interview done by Tony Hawk for NPR.  I never put Tony Hawk in the same category as the “brain surgeons” because he seemed like an entrepreneur and a businessman more than a skateboard guy.  I don’t picture Tony Hawk getting up in the morning and practicing skateboard tricks.  How could he?  He is flying all over the world making movies and video games and marketing Tony Hawk skating gear.  But then I was struck by this quote:  

“Although I have many job titles — CEO, Executive Producer, Senior Consultant, Foundation Chairman, Bad Actor — the one I am most proud of is ‘Professional Skateboarder.’”

It made me realize how important it is for kids to be encouraged to grow up and do the thing they love to do.  

hawkWhen interviewed on NPR, Tony Hawk said:

I have been a professional skateboarder for 24 years. For much of that time, the activity that paid my rent and gave me my greatest joy was tagged with many labels, most of which were ugly. It was a kids’ fad, a waste of time, a dangerous pursuit, a crime.

When I was about 17, three years after I turned pro, my high school “careers” teacher scolded me in front of the entire class about jumping ahead in my workbook. He told me that I would never make it in the workplace if I didn’t follow directions explicitly. He said I’d never make a living as a skateboarder, so it seemed to him that my future was bleak.

Even during those dark years, I never stopped riding my skateboard and never stopped progressing as a skater. There have been many, many times when I’ve been frustrated because I can’t land a maneuver. I’ve come to realize that the only way to master something is to keep it at — despite the bloody knees, despite the twisted ankles, despite the mocking crowds.

Skateboarding has gained mainstream recognition in recent years, but it still has negative stereotypes. The pro skaters I know are responsible members of society. Many of them are fathers, homeowners, world travelers and successful entrepreneurs. Their hairdos and tattoos are simply part of our culture, even when they raise eyebrows during PTA meetings.

So here I am, 38 years old, a husband and father of three, with a lengthy list of responsibilities and obligations. And although I have many job titles — CEO, Executive Producer, Senior Consultant, Foundation Chairman, Bad Actor — the one I am most proud of is “Professional Skateboarder.” It’s the one I write on surveys and customs forms, even though I often end up in a secondary security checkpoint.

My youngest son’s pre-school class was recently asked what their dads do for work. The responses were things like, “My dad sells money” and “My dad figures stuff out.” My son said, “I’ve never seen my dad do work.”

It’s true. Skateboarding doesn’t seem like real work, but I’m proud of what I do. My parents never once questioned the practicality behind my passion, even when I had to scrape together gas money and regarded dinner at Taco Bell as a big night out.

I hope to pass on the same lesson to my children someday. Find the thing you love. My oldest son is an avid skater and he’s really gifted for a 13-year-old, but there’s a lot of pressure on him. He used to skate for endorsements, but now he brushes all that stuff aside. He just skates for fun and that’s good enough for me.

You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

                                                                                                                                                             –All Things Considered, July 24, 2006

What a great lesson from a guy that has spent a lot of his life practicing and mastering his craft while others mocked him and called him names like… well… brain surgeon.  Maybe next time we should appreciate kids who have the persistence required to practice those sometimes-senseless tricks for hours.    They fall.  They get back up.  They fall.  They get back up.  They fall.  They get back up.  Resiliency is not a character trait to be mocked.  

So now Tony Hawk has the time and resources and motivation to do what ever he wants. And one of the things he chooses to do is direct the Tony Hawk Foundation— an organization committed to helping inner cities and low income communities build skateboard parks for youth.  To date they have built nearly 400 skateboard parks for inner city kids, from Compton to Athens, Georgia.  

From diving off of park benches to changing the quality of life for thousands of children in communities all across America.  Not bad for a skater kid from San Diego.

The day my wife read the Tony Hawk interview she took his advice and fired off an e-mail to Keenan and Kira:

Dear Keenan and Kira: I am attaching a GREAT (and yes, short) article about Tony Hawk. I encourage you to read it. I will never call those skater kids “brain surgeons” again. Now, I’m not advocating that anyone go off and be a skateboarder for a living….there is a real message here about doing what you love.

Daddy and I were talking the other night about how much time we put into our work. We do it not because someone requires us to do it, but instead because we find our work truly rewarding. If someone were to ask me, what is your wish for your children, I would not say, super intelligence or physical ability or beauty….I would say, I hope my children find a partner who makes them happy every day, a job that is so rewarding they don’t dread Mondays and the character to always do the right thing. I think you guys are well on your way!

I love you…Mama

tricks-2jpeg

Find the thing you love. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

BABEL’S TOWER

globeOn January 2, 2009, I challenged readers to consider what happens to our students when you test them in a language that is not their native language, and then pass judgment on them and on their teachers based on the predictable results!  I invited readers to take a quiz and to not be discouraged by the fact that the quiz is in a foreign language.  

This issue is huge.  It has less to do with test scores and more to do with how we are preparing our children to compete globally.  Or not.  (Check out who is about to become the largest English speaking country on the planet.)  Of course our students need to speak English, but why aren’t they speaking other languages, too?  

Anyway, if you took the quiz you experienced what many of our students experience.  They may know the material and have the skills in math or reading or writing– but their academic proficiency (and intellect, motivation, potential, etc.) will be determined primarily by their ability to master a second language and the confidence they have in themselves as second language learners. 

Here were the 3 questions:

Question Number 1:

quiz

 

Если ваша профессиональная репутация, ваша школа рейтинга, и будущее ваших учеников были все зависит от детей, каким образом осуществляется на стандартизированных испытаний, которые приведены в иностранном языке, вы должны:

А. выступаем за то, чтобы дети предоставили оценки на их родном языке ,

B. энтузиазмом участвовать в вашей государства осуществлять в учебных злоупотреблений;

C. вид, что исход отметив делать с языком, или

D. привести ненасильственного протеста

Question Number 2:

كاليفورنيا يطالب بأن تتخذ جميع الأطفال أنصبتها المقررة باللغة الانكليزية للأسباب التالية :

أ. انها حقا جيدة للأطفال

ب. لأنها أكثر موثوقية وسيلة لتحديد ما تعلمه الأطفال

C. لأنها ستوفر معلومات قيمة والمعلمين حول ما يعرف الطلاب

د. وسوف نتأكد من الطلاب لا يملكون غير عادلة رئيس جامعة كاليفورنيا تبدأ اللغة الأجنبية

Question Number 3

Λαμβάνοντας αυτό το παιχνίδι δεν είναι ένα έγκυρο κριτήριο της τη νοημοσύνη μου, διότι:

Α. Δεν μιλούν καμία από αυτές τις γλώσσες

Β. Είναι απλά μια προσομοίωση

C. Είμαι πραγματικά πολύ έξυπνη και μόλις πήρε suckered σε αυτό το κουίζ

D. Αν όλοι μιλούσαν αγγλικά δεν θα είναι απαραίτητα αυτό το κουίζ

 

Did you pass?  You don’t know?  Well here is the translation:

Question 1, which was written in Russian, asks:

If your professional reputation, your school’s ranking, and the future of your students were all dependent on how children performed on a standardized test which is given in a foreign language, you should:

A. Advocate that children be provided the assessment in their native language

B. Enthusiastically participate even if you consider it educational malpractice

C. Pretend that the outcomes have nothing to do with language; or

D. Lead a non-violent protest to end the demoralizing practice

Question 2, written in Arabic (thanks to Google Translate), asks:

California demands that children take all of their assessments in English because:

A. It is really good for kids

B. Because it is a more reliable way to determine what children have learned

C. Because it is consistent with the “English Only” agenda

D. It will make sure no student has an unfair head start on the UC foreign language requirement

Question 3, which I am sure was all Greek to you, asks:

Taking this quiz is not a valid test of my intelligence because:

A.  I don’t speak any of these languages

B.  It is just a simulation

C.  I am really very smart and just got suckered into this quiz

D.  If everybody spoke English this quiz wouldn’t be necessary

Your score on this quiz doesn’t matter very much.  Your answers, however, are critical!!!

dsc016711

1 Comment

Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro

THE LANGUAGE OF THEIR FATHERS

My students speak the language of their fathers and their fathers don’t all speak English.  California is a tough place to live and go to school if you don’t speak English. dsc_0125

We have a long and inglorious history in this state of lining up groups of people in our collective sights, and then stripping them of their fundamental rights through public elections (Remember Prop 8?).  So in 1998 Californians passed a state proposition that effectively banned bilingual education.

calImagine that.  While the rest of the world continues to require two and three languages for children, our state made bilingual education all but illegal.  I wondered:  is that really what Californian’s want for their children?  And if that is what Californians really want for their kids, why is a foreign language still a requirement for the vaunted University of California system?

And just in case any schools had ideas about ignoring the law (like, of course, we did at El Milagro), along comes NCLB  to squeeze every existing bilingual program that might still be operating in the state.

Because in California, the state board of education determined that children must take the state assessments in English. No exceptions.

parkingjpeg1So like all of their native US-born, monolingual, English-Only counterparts, our English learners have to demonstrate mastery of such things as reading comprehension, word analysis, mathematical operations, number sense, algebra and writing conventions.  They have to demonstrate that they know and can do what any child at their grade level should be able to do according to grade level standards.  And they have to do it in a foreign language called English. 

And of course the results matter.  Their school could fail to achieve the AYP goals for English language learners if they don’t get enough right answers on their test.  Their school could become a “Program Improvement School.”  There could be sanctions.  There could be consequences for their teachers and their principals. 

But that’s not all.

Schools with a high percentage of students struggling to learn English typically end up with a lower Academic Performance Index…

Results are published in the local media and the API of each school is compared and contrasted… 

calif-dist-schoolReal estate companies utilize sites like greatschools.net to market properties and neighborhoods with the highest scores…

Prospective new families then move to areas where they perceive there are the best schools…

…While communities with disproportionately large numbers of  English language learners  continue to experience declining enrollment, de facto racial and ethnic segregation, and high mobility.   

It’s a tough cycle to reverse. So schools, out of necessity, abandon their bilingual programs and opt for full English immersion and the bigoted doctrine of  “English-Only” wins. 

But isn’t there a better way? If you really want to assess what a child has learned , do so in the language with which they have the greatest degree of literacy– like the 14 other states (including Texas and New York) already do. 

If you are still unconvinced, please take the simple quiz below.  There are only three questions and if you are an educator or a parent or a concerned citizen—you have the answers!  Just imagine that your school’s reputation, your future, the entire social/cultural/economic fabric of your community depends on your score.  No pressure.  Relax and do your best—even if the quiz is in a foreign language:

Question Number 1:

quiz

 

Если ваша профессиональная репутация, ваша школа рейтинга, и будущее ваших учеников были все зависит от детей, каким образом осуществляется на стандартизированных испытаний, которые приведены в иностранном языке, вы должны:

А. выступаем за то, чтобы дети предоставили оценки на их родном языке ,

B. энтузиазмом участвовать в вашей государства осуществлять в учебных злоупотреблений;

C. вид, что исход отметив делать с языком, или

D. привести ненасильственного протеста

Question Number 2:

كاليفورنيا يطالب بأن تتخذ جميع الأطفال أنصبتها المقررة باللغة الانكليزية للأسباب التالية :

أ. انها حقا جيدة للأطفال

ب. لأنها أكثر موثوقية وسيلة لتحديد ما تعلمه الأطفال

C. لأنها ستوفر معلومات قيمة والمعلمين حول ما يعرف الطلاب

د. وسوف نتأكد من الطلاب لا يملكون غير عادلة رئيس جامعة كاليفورنيا تبدأ اللغة الأجنبية

Question Number 3

Λαμβάνοντας αυτό το παιχνίδι δεν είναι ένα έγκυρο κριτήριο της τη νοημοσύνη μου, διότι:

Α. Δεν μιλούν καμία από αυτές τις γλώσσες

Β. Είναι απλά μια προσομοίωση

C. Είμαι πραγματικά πολύ έξυπνη και μόλις πήρε suckered σε αυτό το κουίζ

D. Αν όλοι μιλούσαν αγγλικά δεν θα είναι απαραίτητα αυτό το κουίζ

checkjpeg1So how did you do?  Are you in Program Improvement?  You can check your answer and the translation here  on Sunday, January 4.

3 Comments

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro