Every Child Deserves a Great Education

Archive for September, 2013

Barack Obama meet LBJ 0

Posted on September 25, 2013 by dmayer

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Today, for the first time in our history, we have the power to strike away the barriers to full participation in our society. Having the power, we have the duty . . .

We are fully aware that this program will not eliminate all the poverty in America in a few months or a few years. Poverty is deeply rooted and its causes are many. But this program will show the way to new opportunities for millions of our fellow citizens.

No, these aren’t words ripped from today’s headlines. Wishful thinking. President Lyndon said those words in 1964.

Lyndon Johnson’s first job right out of college was that of a teacher. He taught poor Mexican-American children who could barely speak English. He always wanted to do more for his students, saying:

Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.

Poverty is the root cause of our nation’s education woes, but poverty is also pervasive throughout our democracy. Poverty is the enemy. Before his presidency was overshadowed by the war in Viet Nam, Lyndon Baines Johnson had started another war: the war on poverty. If Viet Nam hadn’t sucked the funding out of that war, this country might have eliminated poverty once and for all. It’s time to give it another shot. These are some of LBJ’s accomplishment during his short term as President as he encouraged Americans to create a Great Society. From the U.S. History website:

  • A Job Corps was established to provide valuable vocational training.
  • Head Start, a preschool program designed to help disadvantaged students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn was put into place.
  • The VOLUNTEERS IN SERVICE TO AMERICA (VISTA) was set up as a domestic Peace Corps.
  • The Wilderness Protection Act saved 9.1 million acres of forestland from industrial development.
  • The Elementary and Secondary Education Act provided major funding for American public schools.
  • The Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests and other discriminatory methods of denying suffrage to African Americans.
  • Medicare was created to offset the costs of health care for the nation’s elderly.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities used public money to fund artists and galleries.
  • The Immigration Act ended discriminatory quotas based on ethnic origin.
  • An Omnibus Housing Act provided funds to construct low-income housing.
  • Congress tightened pollution controls with stronger Air and Water Quality Acts.
  • Standards were raised for safety in consumer products.

From his 1965 State of the Union speech to the United States Congress:

Beyond this great chamber, out yonder in 50 states, are the people that we serve. Who can tell what deep and unspoken hopes are in their hearts tonight as they sit there and listen. We all can guess from our own lives how difficult they often find their own pursuit of happiness. How many problems each little family has. They look most of all to themselves for their futures, but I think they also look to each of us.

Today, for the second time in our history, we have the power to eliminate poverty in America. Let’s do it right this time. Barak Obama, you have some mighty big shoes to fill. We are looking to you and Congress. Add an omnibus jobs bill to the list above, change Wilderness Protection Act to Planet Protection Act, and this is exactly the agenda we should be working to accomplish today. No more wars, just equitable, healthy, sustainable living for all. We can do this.

Go Away and Stay Away TFA! 0

Posted on September 22, 2013 by dmayer

Teach for America, Inc. is the flagship of the education reform movement. The organization replaces professional teachers with unqualified college grads in the classrooms of some of our nation’s most disadvantaged children. This practice harms students and the teaching profession. It must stop!

To read more about what people are saying about Teach for America, check out our EdWatch page.

Math Camp is over, but Key Math Lab PDX isn’t 0

Posted on September 09, 2013 by dmayer

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Key Math Lab PDX offers tutoring to all students in North Portland.

When Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, a Portland Public Schools STEM school for girls in grades 6-12, was abruptly closed in June of 2012, the girls were devastated .  Students and the community fought admirably to keep their school open, but the district was intent on closing it.  A small group of parents and students formed Girls Lead, a club to encourage the girls to continue their pursuits in math, science, and public speaking.  Girls Lead Summer Math Camp was proposed to give girls an opportunity to improve their basic math skills and provide math challenges.  Thanks to a grant from the Herbert A. Templeton Foundation, camp was free to girls in grades 6-8, living in North Portland, and attending schools in the Jefferson cluster.

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Girls Lead partnered with Great Schools for America to offer Summer Math Camp.

The all-volunteer camp staff was headed by Deb Mayer, director and lead teacher; Jyothi Pulla, parent liaison; and Carolyn Leonard, community support advisor. Several additional volunteers offered their math talents daily in order to make camp fun, varied, and relevant. We practiced drills, played games, held friendly competitions, and shared experiences. Together, we learned much about math, problems and solutions, and each other.

We discovered two things to be quite surprising. One had to do with math skills, the other with attitudes and perceptions. We found all the girls to be lacking in basic math skills.  After giving a targeted placement test, we found the scores less than anticipated. Most parents had mentioned their daughters were “weak” in math at registration, so we were expecting to do some remediation. But, we hadn’t anticipated such a wide gap between what the girls knew and what they were expected to know at grade level. These were smart, vibrant girls. Puzzling.

Carolyn Leonard, retired PPS teacher and administrator, suspects the deficiency may have something to do with the math textbook/publisher adopted by Portland Public Schools that introduces calculators in the primary grades. ”When students can point and click to find an answer to a simple problem and aren’t required to memorize math facts or do mental math, they can quickly fall behind,” she said.

To address the lack of basic skills, Key Math was introduced. A focused twenty minute drill each day to learn math facts and operations. Math can be a struggle when counting on your fingers is the primary strategy. Key math emphasizes speed and accuracy in doing basic math problems. The program is designed to produce competent and confident students.

Most of the girls, as we anticipated, didn’t like math much as shown by an attitude survey. No surprise there. The surprising thing was that each of these girls, as diverse and the group was, brought with them a similar perception of their self-worth. They saw themselves first and foremost as consumers. They wanted to know about the math of money. For the most part, they come from low-income families where their parents or guardians must spend every cent on basic necessities. They don’t get allowances. They don’t get paid for doing chores. They are too young to work. In a society that values its citizens primarily as consumers, they feel marginalized. They don’t see themselves as having value apart from their ability to spend money. Troubling.

To accommodate the girls’ need to know more about personal economics, we interviewed them to find out about their interests. They wanted to know about the math of shopping (no surprise there), reading food labels, planning an itinerary, how much stuff cost, coupons and discounts, planning a career, how much money people make, and so on. My goals for them were a bit more esoteric, so, in addition, I devised activities that emphasized the beauty and language of math — topics such as factorials, the power of exponents, estimation, and large numbers — topics they latched on to immediately.

Each day we solved a problem together, and then volunteers gave girls one-on-one attention to complete similar problems. Opportunities for student-led conversations were plentiful. Opportunities for us to listen — priceless.

According to posttest results, in only five weeks the girls made significant gains in basic math skills, but they are still below grade level.  It will take time and continued, focused effort for them to catch up. The community needs a tutoring center where kids can go to get help with math.

On the last day of Summer Math Camp, we offered to continue camp as Key Math Lab PDX. Some girls continued, and other neighborhood children signed up through August when we closed.

We hope to open again in October after the school year has begun. The Lab will be open to all students, both boys and girls, offering tutoring in basic elementary and middle school math skills. Developing the curriculum was easy, and it seems that volunteers are willing to give their time and expertise. Altering kids’ perceptions of themselves from valued consumers to valued citizens will take continued effort. Key Math Lab PDX isn’t just about learning basic math skills. It’s about developing competence and confidence in academics. It’s about developing relationships between tutors, parents, and students that stress the importance of study. It’s about providing guidance to kids who need it..

Key Math Lab PDX will open for the fall session at our temporary location, McCoy Village Community Room, 4330 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in October for as long as we can sustain it.

Like us on Facebook to get updates about dates, times, and registration.

Teach for America wants YOU! 0

Posted on September 02, 2013 by dmayer

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Before they have entered their first class of the new academic year, seniors at colleges and universities across the country are being aggressively recruited by Teach for America. TFA is the much touted recruiting firm that places college graduates without teaching knowledge or experience into the classrooms of some of our nation’s neediest children. The following is an e-mail exchange between a TFA recruiter and my friend’s daughter who is valiantly resisting the call.  This redacted copy is reprinted with the permission of the student.  (All italics mine.)

All TFA recruiters are TFA alums who have completed two years “teaching”.  At first, the student didn’t know how TFA got her e-mail address.  She still doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks TFA has access to student data and chose her because she was an officer in a service organization.  The student is not happy that TFA has access to her data.  Some information has been redacted to protect the identities of the participants.  Authors’ names have been replaced with “TFA Recruiter” and “Student”.  

From: TFA Recruiter
Date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 11:16 AM
To: Student
Subject: Brief chat about ************

Hi Student,

I hope you are enjoying your summer vacation! I know what a treasured break this time can be before senior theses, orals, and writtens begin. However, with the fall semester of your senior year just around the corner, I thought I’d contact you about a potential post-graduate opportunity to put on your radar considering your involvement in **************.

My name is ****** *****, and I am the Recruitment Associate for Teach For America at ********. At Teach For America, we look for socially-minded, top leaders on campus, because we believe you have the passion and determination necessary to change America for the better. Teach For America’s goal is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed and achieve their ambitions in life, regardless of where they grew up. However, currently only 1 in 13 children from low-income communities will graduate from college, which significantly limits their life trajectory. You have the opportunity to change this.

**** ******, a 2011 ******* Corps Member who just moved back to *********, will be meeting with select students at ********* and would love the opportunity to chat with you about your experience as an officer, Teach For America and our mission to offer every student an excellent education. Even if you don’t plan on applying to Teach For America, you can be an advocate on campus to ensure educational equity for all students.

Would you be available to meet with **** this coming week for a brief 20-30 minute chat? If you are interested, please let me know and I will send you a link to ****’s calendar so that you can find a time that works best for you.

Thank you for your time. I hope that you’ll have a chance to chat with ****.

TFA Recruiter

P.S. You may already be aware, but Teach For America is leading the movement to end educational inequity in our country. Here are some of the basics about our program:

  • All academic majors and career interests are eligible to apply
  • Receive full salary (up to $51,500) and health benefits
  • After completing the two year commitment, graduate school scholarships and employer partnerships are available

For more information check out this video and our website.

****** ****
Recruitment Associate-******* | Teach for America
Office: *********

One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

This communication and any file transmitted with it may contain information that is confidential, privileged and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. It is intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any use, dissemination or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify the sender. Thank you for your cooperation.


On Aug 30, 2013, at 8:49 AM, “****** *****” <******.****@teachforamerica.org> wrote:

Hey again Student,

Hope you’re having a great week!  I wanted to check in to make sure you got this important information about an opportunity for you to help change our country while earning a living.  I sent you an email on Wednesday (included below) and it has a lot of information about the educational injustice we are trying to solve and how you can play an integral role in the movement.   Please take 5 minutes to read the email and respond to me with your interest in chatting with us to learn more about Teach for America.

Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon!


TFA Recruiter

From: Student

Sent: Friday, August 30, 2013 9:48 AM

To: TFA Recruiter

Subject: Re: Brief chat about ************

Hello TFA Recruiter*,

First off, I’m honestly flattered that you would be interested in talking with me.

The reason I didn’t respond is because I do not agree with the methods of TFA. I believe that at-risk kids deserve experienced teachers, not hastily-trained, fresh-from-college graduates who are, at worst, naive idealists who’ll burn out after a semester, ultimately steering them away from going into education and leaving their students unhappy with school.

That said, I do sincerely wish you and ******* the best of luck here at ********. There are plenty of people here who are much more energetic and much less cynical than I am. In general, I’m incredibly unhappy with the state of education in America, so TFA’s mission is admirable.



Teach for America’s propaganda machine is so effective that even students who disagree with their methods still believe their hype.  

On Aug 30, 2013, at 8:14 PM, “****** ****” <**********@teachforamerica.org> wrote:

Hi Student,

Thanks so much for your response and your honesty.

And you know what, you’re right – this is problematic work.  It’s extremely hard – the national retention rate for first year teachers across the country, not just TFA teachers, is 86% – and it’s 83% in districts with a majority of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch.  Across the country, teacher preparation, training and support vary in quality and few programs venture into tackling issues of educational inequities and the disparities that fall along lines of race and class.  As a country, we have a lot of work to do to ensure all kids have access to great academic opportunities.

I also believe that all kids deserve high quality educators.  I would propose that rather than preventing this, TFA is promoting this by recruiting and redirecting talent into teacher hiring pools.  Ultimately, districts and schools make hiring decisions.  For example, in *********, our corps members apply to job postings and go through the standard hiring process (they actually have an additional layer of speculation in ********** and have to be approved by our school board).  So that means if a principal is hiring a corps member, they believe that they are the best candidate for the job.  Which speaks to greater issues indeed.

Ideally, TFA wouldn’t exist and I genuinely hope that day comes.  For that day to come, we need talent in education.  About 30% of all TFA teachers are still teaching – and over 60% are still in education more broadly (for example, the Dean of the College of Education at UW is a TFA alum as well as two State Superintendents of Education and two State Senators).  We don’t have this all figured out and we don’t think two years is going to change the system – but perhaps thousands of people rooted in real classroom experiences and their own students can work with their communities to foster greater systemic change.

So this is complex.  I know you’re not interested in doing TFA but I know ******* would love to meet you.  We need to be critical of our work and would very much appreciate your time and perspective.

Let me know what you think and if you’re up for it.


TFA Recruiter

TFA tosses around statistics with impunity.  They provide no reliable evidence that 30% of TFA recruits are still in classroom or that 60% are still involved in education endeavors.  TFA contracts with school districts to hire its recruits even when credentialed teachers are available for those jobs.

On Aug 31, 2013, at 1:48 AM, “****** ****” <******@********.edu> wrote:

Hi again, TFA Recruiter,

Sorry for the extra e-mail, but I just took a look at my schedule for next week and I literally have no time to talk (which is a shame, because I would have enjoyed a good debate).  I therefore took the liberty of briefly typing up the main issues with which I am concerned in regards to education.  Feel free to read and pass on to *******–or not.

  • The devaluing of teachers and the need for more funding in schools;
  • The increasing importance placed upon testing and the cheating that ensues;
  • Charter schools;
  • The impermanence of teachers at schools and the resulting lack of stability and support for students;
  • Valuing padded resumés over experience and ability

There are others issues, as well.  I’d like to note, however, that all of these are problems exacerbated by TFA.  The American education system has never been equal, but within the 20 plus years that TFA has been around, I believe things have only grown worse.  Some of the worst proponents of mis-guided educational “reform” are indeed alumni of TFA.  Michelle Rhee, to name one.

I think if TFA really wants to work for educational equality, you need to seriously reevaluate what you are doing.

I enjoyed chatting with you,


From: TFA Recruiter

Date: August 31, 2013, 8:59:15 AM PDT

To: Student

Subject:Re: Brief chat about ******* at *********

Hi Student, 

Again, thank you for such a thoughtful response. I am sorry that you and ****** won’t be able to talk next week, but she is planning on being back at ******** later this semester and I will be sure to reach out again at that time. I know that you two would be able to have a really engaging conversation around these issues and she’s excited to meet you and hear your perspective. I have forwarded your email to her as well. 

Good luck with your first few weeks of classes! I hope you’re able to do something fun on this long weekend. (I’m currently en route to ****** to see my parents!)


TFA Recruiter
 A little research shows that the school where this particular recruiter taught actually slipped in performance in both reading and math during the years she was there.  Way to close the achievement gap TFA!

One last thought from the student:

We don’t even have a School of Education at our college. If Teach for America were sincere about providing needy kids with the best teachers, wouldn’t they be recruiting from Schools of Education? I have friends who have spent four years studying to become a teacher. They can’t find jobs. The whole idea of Teach for America just doesn’t make sense to me.