Love Letter to My Dead Student

A Chicago teacher mourns a slain student, knowing that he won’t be the last…

By Ann Mastrofsky
I was in my classroom when someone opened the door, stuck in his head and mooed. I opened the door and looked around the corner. As I expected, it was J., one of my favorite, most charismatic, and most intractable students, who typically greeted me in this manner. He very rarely attended class and when he did, he spent most of his time socializing. But he beamed with pride when you complimented his efforts. He appreciated your kindness and respected you in return. He did the best he could, and sometimes his best was outstanding; he earned the highest grade on my semester final.

I greeted him and he smiled warmly, an impish flash in his eyes. He and I had bonded early; he liked his middle aged, white female teachers, teachers like me, the best.  A huge youth, he towered over me and my neck hurt looking up at his broad face and dyed dreads.

I asked him what was up and he shrugged, smiling shyly. I told him to pull up his pants and take off his hat, both of which he did. I asked him if I’d see him in class later and he told me that I would.  A few of his friends approached and I ducked back into my room, allowing him the privacy that adolescents and teachers both require. I knew only a very little about J’s life outside of the classroom, but I knew enough to know that my ignorance was for the best.

As I expected, he never showed up in class that afternoon.

And now, he is dead at 17, shot to death by unknown assailants.

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Inequality is for Winners

I talk to Tom Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, about the Democrats’ break up with the working class and why education can’t save us…

listen liberalEduShyster: We’re going to be hearing a lot about income inequality at the Democratic convention in Philly this week. But you insist that the Democrats not only have no intention of doing anything about inequality, they actually kind of like it.

Tom Frank: The Democratic party really doesn’t care about inequality because they’re now a party of the professional class: affluent, white-collar professionals. They themselves say this all the time; they talk about the professional class as being their constituency. But we don’t often try to put the pieces together and try to figure out, well what does it mean to be a party of the professional class vs. the working class? One thing it means is that inequality is seen as the natural order of things. In fact, professionals believe in inequality. They think of inequality as totally fair and the way things should be, and they think that because they themselves are the winners in the great inequality sweepstakes. Continue reading →

Teach Like It’s 1895

Teach Like a Champion’s pedagogical model is disturbingly similar to one that was established almost a century ago for the express purpose of maintaining racial hierarchy…

By Layla Treuhaft-Ali
As an aspiring teacher and a history major, I’ve become fascinated by teacher education, past and present. Which is why I decided to embark on a close reading of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A ChampionThe book, and its teaching techniques, looms large for any teacher who works in an urban school. Not only has the TLC model of teaching become a fixture of most *high-performing* charter school networks, but it is increasingly making its way into urban school districts as well. And that’s just the start. Teach Like a Champion’s approach also underlies broad efforts to transform the way teachers are educated, forming the *backbone of instruction* at an expanding number of charter-school-owned teacher education centers like Relay Graduate School of Education and Match’s Sposato School of Education.

As I was reading Teach Like A Champion, I observed something that shocked me. The pedagogical model espoused by Lemov is disturbingly similar to one that was established almost a century ago for the express purpose of maintaining racial hierarchy.

Teach Like A Champion advertises 49 discrete techniques that teachers can master to raise student achievement and help increase their students’ college readiness, with a strong emphasis on classroom culture and shaping student behavior, down to the most minute actions. As I was reading Teach Like A Champion, I observed something that shocked me. The pedagogical model espoused by Lemov is disturbingly similar to one that was established almost a century ago for the express purpose of maintaining racial hierarchy. Like Teach Like a Championthis initiative was implemented largely through teacher education and funded and directed entirely by wealthy white businessmen and industrial philanthropists. Continue reading →

What If Everything You Thought You Knew About Teachers Unions Turned Out to be Wrong?

An economist finds that teachers unions raise teacher quality and increase kids’ educational attainment… 

EduShyster: It’s a well-known true fact that teachers unions make it much harder to get rid of bad teachers. But you conducted a study that purports to find the opposite. In fact, you titled your study The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers. Tell us about what you found.

Eunice Han: What I found is that the facts are the opposite of what people think: that highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.

EduShyster: That sound you just heard was of jaws collectively dropping. While we give readers a chance to re-combombulate themselves (and arm themselves anew with anecdotes), can you walk us through your argument? And feel free to use a formula. 

Han: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them. Using three different kinds of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I confirmed that unionized districts dismiss more low-quality teachers than those with weak unions formula2or no unions. Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism. No matter how and when I measured unionism I found that unions lowered teacher attrition. This is important because many studies have found that higher quality teachers have a greater chance of leaving the profession. Since unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers while keeping more good teachers, we should expect to observe higher teacher quality in highly unionized districts than less unionized districts – and this is exactly what I found. Highly unionized districts have more qualified teachers compared to districts with weak unionism. Continue reading →

The Cost of Choice

A new study finds that charter school expansion in Michigan has meant financial chaos for a growing number of school districts…

detroit_damage2_640-900x570.jpg (900×570)EduShyster: Your new study looks at why certain school districts in Michigan have descended into a state of, as I like to describe it, *smoking ruin.* To keep the suspense alive, tell us what you found DID NOT contribute to the severe financial distress of these districts.

David Arsen: The question we looked at was how much of this pattern of increasing financial distress among school districts in Michigan was due to things that local districts have control over as opposed to state-level policies that are out of the local districts’ control: teacher salaries, health benefits, class size, administrative spending. We also looked at an item that the conservative think tanks are big on: contracting out and privatization. We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent. We looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and we followed them for nearly 20 years. The statistics are causal; we’re not just looking at correlation.  Continue reading →