Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This is what TFA Puget Sound Looks Like. Vol 1

Olympia local, University of Puget Sound grad, and Western Washington University Teacher steps up to Teach For Seattle.
Emily Ehrlich
1st year TFA Corps Member Seattle/Puget sound

Connection to Washington State: I grew up in Olympia, went to college at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, lived in Seattle and worked at the Elliott Bay Book Company, worked at schools all over the Puget Sound region and at a library on the Olympic Peninsula, then got a Master’s in English from Western Washington University in Bellingham.  So my connection to Washington is very deep!  I love Washington, and can’t imagine ever leaving.

Why do you teach for Seattle?  I teach for Seattle because I want to give back to my community.  I am deeply committed to ensuring that everyone has the wonderful educational opportunities that our state has given me, and teaching is the best way I can do that.

How did you get involved in education? Literacy is my life.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that the stacks of books and journals piled around my apartment are probably going to fall down and crush me someday.  I started teaching with a company called the Institute of Reading Development, which offers intensive summer reading programs to students aged four through adult, because it just kills me that there are students out there who don’t like reading because it is hard for them.  I wanted to give them the tools to be better readers, so that they could experience the joy of learning through reading.  My students benefited so much from intensive reading instruction, and I loved going to work every day.  I decided to pursue a Master of Arts degree in English Studies because I wanted to deepen my own understanding of the subject I now knew I wanted to teach for life.  As a fully funded graduate student at Western Washington University, I taught five quarters of English 101, Writing and Critical Inquiry, and one quarter of English 347, Young Adult Literature.  Teaching at the college levels has allowed me to really understand what level of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills are necessary for students to be on the path to success in college.  I want to bring that knowledge and experience to students in public schools.

What are your hopes for schools in the Puget Sound?  My hope for schools in the Puget Sound is very realistic.  I know it is realistic because I have experienced it myself, and a lot of students experience it every day—that all students emerging from schools in the Puget Sound region can be proud of their education, and can make the choice to pursue further education. 

A Brillian and Compassionate Citizen

Name: Lindsey Van Zanten

TFA Corps Year - 2009 New Mexico

Years Washington State: I spent 4 years at UW before just moving back this month.

Why do you work for change for kids?My most sincere and deepest belief is that education is how things change. The confidence, material, peer learning, social interaction, opportunity pathways, and so many other facets of what excellent school could look like- inspires me to my core. I have witnessed biases, low self-esteem, generation-long family struggles, apathetic attitudes, and lack of intellectual or social confidence, turn upside down because of what happened within the four walls of a truly excellent classroom, and the social supports that were able to back up those efforts. Every kid, especially those whose cards are stacked against them just because of their zip code, deserve the opportunity to achieve at the highest levels. Our world is desperately in need of these brilliant and compassionate citizens, and we need to step up and give them the tools.

How do you stay connected to education?I'm currently involved in several Seattle reform projects and pursuing a career in policy and advocacy with a specific focus on teacher development, and early childhood initiatives.

What are your hopes for schools in the Puget Sound?My hope is that there would be an underlying vision, evident from the hallways to the instruction to the PTA meetings to the school buses, that we cannot settle for anything less than doing whatever it takes for our kids. I want that relentless push to be taken seriously, to be able to stand in the face of fear or risky change or criticism; for every stakeholder to realize that there is no acceptable excuse for this to go on any longer, that old methods haven't and won't get the job done, that the potential for our students is so monumental and precious, that every moment lost not being strategic is a moment that we will never get back.

As Promised. . .

The first two profiles of Puget Sound education advocates are up!

Please meet two amazing Washington graduates: Lindsay Van Zanten and Emily Elrich. Lindsay is one of the amazing co-contributors to this blog.  Emily spent the last two years teaching English at Western Washington University and has just moved to Seattle as part of TFA's 2011 Puget Sound Corps.

Another Angle.

There are lots of opportunities for schools in the Puget Sound to change direction and take bold steps toward meaningful reform- and the upcoming Seattle School Board election is a fantastic example. Learn about the candidate from Districts 1, 2, 3, and 6 here. Please take note that while not all of the candidates have websites, their contact information serve as a chance for you to make sure that these influential policy and decision makers align with your beliefs and ideals on what's best for kids and the quality of education they deserve.

Monday, August 22, 2011

To Teach, or Not to Teach?

"Our kids deserve more, deserve better and I’ve lived here long enough to know that I want and can be part of the change necessary to help them achieve everything they’re capable of.”

- Teach for America Corps Member, Puget Sound ‘11

In living rooms and coffee shops across the Seattle Metro Area 35 highly qualified teaching candidates are constantly checking their email, updating their resumes and practicing their talking points for the most controversial job interviews they may ever face.  They have beat out 15,000 other applicants from Washington State for acceptance to the selective Teach For America program and now they’re applying alongside hundreds of other teachers for positions in Seattle and Federal Way.

Last year, the Seattle and Federal Way committed to accepting TFA teachers into the hiring process for the 2011 school year. With incredible support from groups like the Seattle Foundation (see video below) the community rallied to bring the new Corps members to the Puget Sound.

Over more than 20 years, school districts have partnered with Teach For America, because they offer an additional pipeline of diverse, effective teachers and leaders for their communities. Of the 35 Seattle Corps members, 40% are people of color, 30% received Federal Pell Grants to attend college and 55% are from or attended school in Washington State.

In an independent survey by Policy Studies Associates of principals who employed Teach For
America corps members, 94% report that the corps members made a positive impact on their
schools.  The most recent study from Tennessee, which looked at 42 different teacher preparation programs, found that, Teach For America corps members outperformed the average new teacher across all subject areas and grade levels. Teach For America was the top new teacher preparation program in the state.

Yet, this Seattle Corps faces some of the strongest opposition and misinformation campaigns the organization has ever seen.  Blogs such as Save Seattle Schools, Walking to School, and Seattle Education are preparing to tar and feather every school board member, superintendent, administrator, principal, teacher, UW graduate or student who ever breathed a word of support for TFA.

In the next few weeks I hope to bring you the stories of people who participated in the discussion about bringing Teach For America to the Puget Sound and give a human voice to the other side of the issue.  

Meanwhile, please take a few seconds to this online poll.

Real Talk.

The only way to accurately describe the achievement and opportunity gap in Washington State is…striking. Having attended college in the Seattle area, surrounded by some of the brightest and progressive minds I have ever had the pleasure of learning with, I would have never imagined that our public schools told a much different narrative of utterly evident disparities between white students who come from middle-high income families and students of color who are from lower income backgrounds. Indeed, such injustices can, and have historically, hidden behind a city beaming with plenty of caffeine, culture, progression, and water-proof sneakers. The truth of the matter is, however, that Washington is one of only a handful of states where the achievement gap is actually widening with time, and the reality of what opportunity and choice looks like for too many of our kids demands our most urgent and courageous steps forward.

And what might this look like, from a more concrete standpoint, you may ask? Let’s start at the beginning, when students first enter the public school system. 50% of incoming kindergartners are not prepared to succeed in the classroom, and are in need of severe remediation from day one. At the elementary level, the contrast of race and income becomes more defined. As showcased in a case study between Bryant Elementary, where students are primarily white and middle/higher income, and Northgate Elementary, where the student population is primarily lower income and students of color- Bryant’s third graders scored 40% higher in math and 60% higher in reading than Northgate’s third graders. These trends, mind you, can be found in many of Washington’s elementary schools, and often can be seen as factions within the same classrooms.

At the secondary level, the chasm between race and income persists and is expansive across the board. To take a local case study, at Garfield High School, students of color and from low-income backgrounds are as far as 70% behind their white peers in math, and 25% in reading. Data can also support that these extremes are representative of the extremes between other schools in the district. Moreover, Washington is 46th in the nation for odds of students going to college by age 19; while the fact remains that 67% of Washington jobs will require post-secondary degrees by 2018.

So. Many have been asking and wrestling with these questions of “why Seattle?”, “why now?”, as education reformers propose changes that threaten the current state of opportunity in Washington. And the truth is that the current state of opportunity is, and has historically been, bleak and inequitable at best. In an ever-globalizing and technological world, every minute spent not strategically addressing these disparities is pulling our state, our city, our communities, our families, and most significantly, our students further into a hole that is getting deeper everyday. All of Washington’s students are tomorrow’s thinkers, leaders, teachers, builders, and workers; and we are doing a poor job at preparing them with the necessary skills and mindsets. To settle for the persisting status quo, to let these numbers stand and expand as they will almost certainly continue if stark changes are not made, is unacceptable. We can and must do better.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm Coming Out. . . .

. . . as an education "reformer." gasp!   I'm not really sure what that means, but I'm pretty sure I am one.  I hear it tossed around in the news when Wendy Kopp says that all children deserve an excellent education, when President Obama declares a need for high quality early learning, or when Arne Duncan drives the Aviation High robot around.

Until now, my only exposure in the Seattle "blogosphere" was an offhand inclusion as a "reformer" in the The Stepford Wives of Race to the Top.  While I prefer to be flattered by the association with Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler,  I assume the intended parallel was to the brainwashed robot.

Maybe that's what's missing, proof that we're not all robots. Proof that "education reformers," a loose group of individuals who share a range of ideas geared towards improving kids lives, are people, not corporations, not foundations, not machines. Proof that we can be Teach For America corps members and alumni, Gates Foundation grant recipients, union members, Stand for Children members, League of Education Voters Supporters, racers to the top, Democrats, Republicans  or whatever and still be critical advocates for children.

This blog should be venue to share the stories of the individuals who believe that all children deserve an excellent education, the achievement gap can be closed, and education is a social justice issue.  I hope that this becomes a place for you to share big thoughts and connect with others who want to make that happen.