Tag Archives: education reform

#KeepKidsLearning this Summer by Joining NSLA’s Thunderclap!

2 Jun


Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities put our nation’s youth at risk for falling behind – year after year – in core subjects like math and reading. The math and reading skills low-income students lose each summer are cumulative and contribute significantly to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids.
By fifth grade, cumulative years of summer learning loss can leave low-income students 2 1/2 to three years behind their peers.
Many kinds of high-quality learning opportunities during the summer can make a difference in stemming learning loss, and ultimately closing the country’s achievement gap.
On June 17th, we’ll create an online groundswell with a Thunderclap calling for communities across the nation to level the playing field by keeping ALL KIDS learning this summer.
Donate one Tweet or Facebook post to encourage everyone to #KeepKidsLearning!


Stemming the Slide: How Summer Presents Unique Challenges and Opportunities for Underrepresented Students

14 Apr

Below is a shortened version (you know I would never do a presentation without icebreakers, but I didn’t want to spoil it for any potential participants!) of a presentation I am giving at the National Partnership for Educational Access Conference on April 17, 2015. Hope you’ll join me in Philadelphia and see what it looks like live and with tons of activities!

Apply for the 2015 Excellence in Summer Learning Awards

7 Jan

Do you run a high-quality summer learning program that should be recognized nationally?

NSLA CMYK logoThe National Summer Learning Association’s (NSLA) Excellence in Summer Learning Award and the new Founder’s Award recognize summer programs or models that demonstrate excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for young people.

Just by submitting an application for one of these awards, your program will receive a feedback summary from NSLA outlining its strengths and areas for improvement. There is no cost to apply.

Award winners and finalists receive even more detailed feedback, similar to having a full CASP (Comprehensive Assessment of Summer Programs) assessment and a consultation phone call with the NSLA Program Quality Team.

As a Summer Learning Excellence Award Winner, your program will receive:

  • Visibility at NSLA’s Summer Changes Everything™ national conference through general sessions presentations, and other speaking opportunities.
  • National exposure through a NSLA press release during the busy summer media season.
  • Peer learning opportunities through NSLA’s new affinity group structure.

Your program may even be featured in a future case study in NSLA presentations, publications, or reports that are widely distributed throughout the education field and staged on summerlearning.org.

The application deadline is Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Visit summerlearning.org/SummerExcellence to learn more and apply today!

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Why Parents should Not Support School Vouchers: an Economic Analysis

27 Mar

As part of my Economics class for my Master’s of Public Policy program at Johns Hopkins University, I was to write a one-page blog post responding directly to another post. The goal was to use economic principles and theory to construct an argument opposed to another article. Below is my economic blog post analysis about school vouchers.

Should parents receive vouchers to send their children to the school of their choice?

Should parents receive vouchers to send their children to the school of their choice? Source.

School vouchers act as certificates parents use towards private school tuition instead of sending their child to public school. School voucher policies attempt to allow students and families to choose the school that best fits their needs.

The free-market economic justification for school vouchers is that increased competition among schools will lead to better quality education because public schools will have to compete with private schools for funding. When families can choose between their home public school and a private school that becomes affordable to them because of the voucher payment, public schools have a monetary incentive to improve. If they do not, students will leave causing enrollment to drop, and the school will lose funding. On the surface this sounds like a great idea: in the battle for vouchers, the highest quality schools win! However, the economic theory of positive externalities paints a different picture.

Individuals that have access to quality education throughout primary and secondary school and graduate are more likely to have stable families and be active and productive citizens. They are also less likely to commit serious crimes, place high demands on the public health care system, and enroll in welfare assistance programs. These extra benefits that education brings to society are what economists call positive externalities.

Since people do not recognize the extra benefits they bring to society by receiving quality education, they may not receive as much education as society wants. In other words, without a government intervention, people probably would not be willing to pay for or spend as much time in school as they do with government intervention. What people also don’t realize is that these externalities make it in their best interest to ensure a quality education for as many people as possible. And research shows that voucher programs may actually diminish school quality overall. With a decrease in school quality society may experience additional costs—such as more people enrolling in welfare assistance programs.

A market-oriented education system like the one created by school vouchers creates an additional incentive for schools to focus on test scores and neglect other important lessons. Many of the important things that we ask schools to do, like teaching creativity, morality and civic duty impact society. If we leave it up to the private market, the theory of externalities states that these externalities will be under-provided.

Another downside of school vouchers as an intervention: parents who value education more highly will leave the lowest achieving schools. Often the most participatory parents are the ones who value education highly. Schools rely on these parents to run fundraisers, volunteer for school trips, and participate in the PTA. Vouchers create concentrations of these parents in schools that don’t need them, diminishing education quality across the schools left behind.

By using school vouchers as an intervention in education, the government will decrease education quality for many students. This will create negative externalities and diminish positive externalities thus hurting not only our young peoples’ education, but society as a whole.

In response to: Public strongly supports school vouchers, new report finds.


Service-Learning: Kid Tested, Data Approved

6 Jun

In April 2012 I attended the National Service-Learning Conference hosted by the National Youth Leadership Council in Minneapolis, MN. I will be writing many updates about the wonderful sessions I attended at the conference, the following post is one of them!

The Gold Standard of Service-Learning

The second pre-conference session I attended at the National Service Learning Conference was called “The Gold Standard of Quality Practice: What Research Shows and How to Bring it to Your Program.” It was presented by Shelley H. Billig, Vice President of RMC Research Corporation who wrote The relationship between the quality indicators of service-learning and student outcomes and co-authored and edited Advancing Knowledge in Service-Learning: Research to Transform the Field. She has also published many articles summarizing the research she has done on quality programs. You can find a list of nearly 60 articles that are written by Shelley or cite her work in the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse Library. (Just doing a quick google scholar search for “Shelley H. Billig” brings up pages upon pages of books and articles.) Basically, Shelley’s the expert when it comes to Service-Learning data and outcomes and I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to attend her workshop.

One of the criticisms Service-Learning often receives is that there is not enough results to back-up the implementation of a program or to obtain funding. Shelley was at the conference to set the record straight and educate others on how to use data to support your service-learning program as well as explain what the data should look like if you have a high-quality service-learning program. So what did she find?

The Data

Over the past few years, the research on the impacts of service-learning on students has grown exponentially, and the results are good!  High-quality service-learning programs yield statistically significant impacts on students’ academic achievement, civic engagement, acquisition of leadership skills, and personal/social development.  (More information and data can be found here: Service-Learning Standards and Research.)

Service-learning does a great job helping average students excel academically, but does an outstanding job with the lowest and highest performing students. However, if you want to achieve the absolute best outcomes you must have continuous and ongoing service and learning. This means that episodic or one-time service is not enough to make a profound difference in academic performance. The duration and intensity of service-learning has the most transformative growth and power. When you have the ideal amount of intensity it transforms who students think they are and they’re character while the duration of the service-learning teaches the skills students need to be academically successful.

Another huge determining factor is the ability to celebrate the service once it’s complete because studies have shown that a group centered culminating event at the end of service tends to have a more lasting effect on the outcomes. While doing something is better than nothing at a minimum, a large culminating event is better.

One of the last factors that makes a profound difference in the outcomes is having teachers who volunteer to do service-learning. When teachers are required to implement service-learning programs, they have worse outcomes than those who participate by choice. This really highlights the importance of igniting a passion in your teachers and creating a culture of service at your school.

The stats don’t lie: when you have high-quality service-learning programs you have a huge increase in positive outcomes for students.

Click here to download one of Shelley’s works: Why Service Learning is Such a Good Idea


Service-Learning: Not what you teach, but how you teach

29 May

In April 2012 I attended the National Service-Learning Conference hosted by the National Youth Leadership Council in Minneapolis, MN. I will be writing many updates about the wonderful sessions I attended at the conference, the following post is one of them!

service-learning in action

Some of my students from The SEED School of Maryland participating in a service-learning project with Marriott employees.

It’s been a little over a month since I attended the National Service-Learning Conference in Minneapolis, MN and since then I’ve been meaning to write a post about what happened there and how I’ve applied it to my work. Of course, this is my first update, but such is the life of an AmeriCorps member. Completing 1,700 hours in 10 months is no easy feat, and once one project or event is over, I’m quickly onto the next.

It’s All About Outcomes: How a Semester of Service leads to Student Achievement, Workforce Readiness, and Stronger Communities.

Presented by Susan Abravanel, Youth Service America

While a day of service is a wonderful thing that introduces young people to volunteering, a semester of service is ideal especially when connecting that service to learning. A semester of service is not just for college students and is not defined by the level of school a young person is attending; it is 70 hours of engagement that combines service and learning that students participate in continuously over a 12-14 week period.

In this context continuous doesn’t mean that students are doing nothing but serving for 70 hours straight or 12-14 weeks straight. It also doesn’t mean that students participate in one service project with nothing before or after (also known as episodic service). In this case “continuous” means that little pieces of service are incorporated all along the way in the classroom and outside the classroom. This can include learning the historical context of the service project, why there’s a need for service, bringing speakers or experts into the classroom, conducting research and gathering data, etc. in addition to the direct service project.

Now I know that teachers have a lot to do—outcomes they have to meet, observations, standardized tests, learning objectives, state/national/school educational standards—I’ve lived with one for two years, been taught by them for 20 years, and my family is full of them. So what I want to stress is that service-learning and participating in a semester of service is not something you do in addition to what you already have to do; service-learning becomes how you teach. Service-learning should be integrated into the classroom and not just an extracurricular activity.

This way of teaching is incredibly effective because the constant integration between service and learning answers the primary question on the mind of every student: “Why am I learning this?” By layering in the learning with the service you are bringing a level of practicality to teaching rather than giving students the message that “I’m learning this because it’s on the test.” Too many people give things to our youth and do things for them, but that takes away their power and some of their learning. With service-learning young people are empowered to do things and figure things out for themselves.

Service-learning works for every young person—really every student no matter what the age—because it taps into our basic human needs for purpose and creativity. When you ask students why they like service-learning they don’t say it’s because it helps them get better grades (though high quality programs do that too); they say they love service-learning because they want to make a difference in their community.

Questions to the panel of teachers participating in a Semester of Service and their answers below the jump!

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Occupy our Schools: Maryland State Assessments and Education Reform

13 Mar
Standardized Test

Standardized Test (Photo credit: biologycorner)

 “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”
Thomas Jefferson

With the first two weeks of testing (at least the testing that matters to the government… sorry science teachers) for the Maryland State Assessment complete, and our city students #2 pencil filled bubbles being graded as we speak, I want to take a moment to talk about how these weeks could have gone.

Picture the scene: Monday morning between 7:30-8:00am, students are filing into their schools. They’ve been prepped for weeks, months, years for these tests. They know their importance, what good scores can do for their schools and their future. If their schools even offer classes outside of Math and English, those lessons have been abandoned. History, Science, and Spanish teachers alike pass out worksheets about fractions and give lectures about negative integers. But instead of the many tests that have gone before it on March 12th the test booklets are passed out and no one opens it. Not a single Baltimore City student opens their test, fills out a bubble or writes one word. In a form of conscientious objection not a single students completes their MSA; more than that, no Baltimore City student answers a single question.

It’s been talked about, written about, and in some places it’s already happening, but why hasn’t it happened here in Baltimore?

Let me backtrack a bit to say two things:

  1. I am not a teacher, though I have worked in the Baltimore City School system for the past two years and have worked with young people for my entire life. I also live with and date a traditional route (that means no Teach for America or Baltimore City Teaching Residency in our house!) middle school teacher who teaches science at a non-charter K-8 school in West Baltimore.
  2. I do not consider myself to be part of the Occupy Baltimore (an offshoot and affiliate of Occupy Wallstreet) movement. However, I do believe in education reform and believe that something needs to be done about the state of our city’s schools and the sooner the better.

So again I ask: Why not Baltimore and why not now?

But before you answer that I want to take a minute to explain to you why I feel so strongly about standardized tests. Hold on tight! In order to support my call to action to boycott all standardized testing in Baltimore City I want to highlight how standardized tests are hurting our students and teachers.

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