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Lead from the Start: June 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

it doesn't matter how rich your kid is

Kids who go to preschool make gains, no matter their SES. You gotta love it if you are a preschool teacher.
Another, (yes another) preschool study covered in USA Today found that preschool benefits all students.
This is another log on the fire for expanding preschool services to all students.
Steve Barnett, the godfather or preschool research and the head honcho at NIEER said,
"It's the whole city, it's all of the kids, it's done through the public schools and it seems to produce pretty big effects for all of the kids,"
Now when we combine this with economic research on the costs and benefits of preschool we find we got good deal on our hands.
According to Dr. Timothy Bartik of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research (2006), while investments in luring businesses can create large financial gains for a state in the short term these benefits are likely to plateau after several years. However, after an initial short-term increase in jobs by creating preschool classrooms, a time release earnings boom begins to tick when a state invests in universal preschool. Bartik also suggested that the return to the state may be less than the return to the nation because 2/3 of state program participants are likely to leave the state in the 12 years that it would take to realize the return on investment. But this benefit to the nation, in terms of higher income and less stress on social services also suggests a stronger federal role in funding preschool initiatives.

How about a preschool Title in NCLB?

When will it happen? Watch me turn blue while I hold my breath ...............................

photo credit:

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer (Ed Reform) Blockbusters

In the past I have written about riding the waves of reform. I've discovered one of the ways to do that in this space is to respond to those big reports that seem to arrive on an almost weekly if not monthly basis like blockbuster movies. But my doctoral studies have gotten in the way of my timely commentary even as my research papers I was writing for class is what is busting blocks on the reform front.
Here is the first of two.

Broader, Bolder-- This report has some very big names from the industry attached includingsome of my favorites like: Linda Darling-Hammond, John L. Goodlad, T. Berry Brazelton, James Comer, David Grissmer, (frick and frack) Deborah Meier Diane Ravitch, and Sharon Kagan. It is like a Robert Altman movie, everybody who is anybody has signed this thing.
I guess that might be the scariest thing about this statement, it is endorsed by the establishment. My esteemed TLN colleague, Renee Moore, brought some issues with the statement to the TLN breakfast table a couple days ago. She said, "On the surface, most of what the statement calls for is laudable and logical. But as I read it more closely, a few statements began to trouble me." She goes on to say:

For example: "Education policy in this nation has typically been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of low socioeconomic status in learning." Oh, really? The children of the poor have been the primary concern of educational policymakers? And what is the evidence (or better yet, the results) of that concern?

The report's major claim is that we need to acklnowledge that schools, as they are currently structured, can't solve all of the social ills of America. It mentions that we need to start paying attention to what kids are doing outside of schools.

Many of the big names associated with this report were/are part of the Democracy At Risk report that came out recently. I thought that report rocked so I am more inclined to read Broader, Bolder with more interest.

The best part of the report, and another area Renee found issue with, was the pushing of Early Childhood education. I have been researching this approach to the achievement gap and find all of the reasons for investing in early learning sound on many fronts. (More on this later...) I do have to outright disagree with Renee on this statement in her post though...

I won't take time to go into it here, but the real history of the Head Start program, which began in rural Mississippi, is what I was thinking of when I read the statement's call for "increased investment in developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school, and kindergarten education." That kind of noble talk has been heard before, and it translated into the worst kind of paternalistic racist usurpation's of parental rights and community-based cultural practices. It was well-intentioned educational policy during the desegregation of the schools that led to the dismissal of thousands of Black school administrators and highly effective teachers. Those same policies led to a dismantling of the cultural ties between communities (in our case Black communities) and our schools. These mostly unintended consequences were, nevertheless, debilitating. Collateral damage from poorly developed and implemented public education policy....Hmm...where have we seen that recently?
Personally, I am very proud of my work with Head Start and its history. As with any large scale reform there are bound to be misuses and unintended consequences, especially in places where segregation was still fought in in 1965. Richmond didn't desegregate until 1978. But, the strong African-American women who hired me, were the same women who started the Head Start program in Richmond in 1965. They have given me a respect for the program and it's place in history. They made sure when I was hired (as a white male substitute teacher) that I understood what Head Start is really about. They made sure that I understood that I was going to be a part of something bigger than myself, or Richmond, or Virginia. It is a social program meant to lift families up. And it has done that for 43 years.

The real history of Head Start is that of a National program created to serve at-risk children from across the country. It is not the story of Head Start in Mississippi.

photo credit: YWCA of Chicago

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

a gaping hole where Reading First died

Reading First lays dead on the floor of congress. Killed by faulty implementation and good ol' boy accountability.

I have no great love for some of the scripted programs Reading First has paid for but, I do appreciate the Professional Learning Comminities it has created almost nationwide in schools where there were none. Teachers talking to each other about how to best teach their students is a good thing.

But congress, I want to know what happens when you remove $1 billion from reading education in the matter of two years.
What happened to Reading Recovery? What will happen to the funds? Who will lose out more in this political drama?

The kids or W.

Please congress if you don't want to fund Reading First, fund something for these kids. There is a gaping hole where learning might have happened.

Thanks to Early Ed Watch for timely coverage.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

I saw the best minds of my generation -- Howl MEME

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, …

crippled by concern for their children's well being, shot through with fear, play outside doubtful,

loose cannons put holes where there shouldn't be any

scraping for advantage or washed over by life, forget their choices, making plan after plan, never realized

carried on backs of teachers, left behind for an ideal, faces tattooed with numbers, less than fifty meaning less

learn whether we teach or not, cry whether we care or not, climb trees of diminishing opportunities until, they cling to limbs too thin to hold them and they fall at the feet of


who could always pick up a fallen child, no matter the parent, no matter the sub-group, no matter their past, because of their future means more than we know

Thanks to Jose Vilson for this brilliant idea for a summer time post
Now I will tag just a couple people, hopefully at least one of the
The TLN Bloggers, and TMAO

photo from:
by Not Emily

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Friday, June 06, 2008

To a Mom who is not afraid of monsters - Still I Rise

Our class will sing a version of the classic poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelo, a song performed by Ben Harper titled I'll Rise, in Tuesday's preschool "Moving On" ceremony. I love the poem and the song for so many reasons but mostly because it teaches what so many children's songs don't. Perseverance and belief in yourself in the face of adversity. Considering most of my students' background, it is probably the most important thing I could ever teach them. These are also the same reasons each year my class learns "I Believe I Can Fly" by R Kelly and "You Can Make It If You Try" and "Everybody is Star" by Sly and the Family Stone. We learn "Dance to the Music" just because it is a blast to sing with the kids.

This year this song will have a special meaning. Our friend, L. will be joining us for our "Moving On" ceremony on Tuesday. I have written about L. before, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia in October. She has come back intermittently since February but, has come back for several days this week so that she can learn our song and dance and participate in the ceremony.

It is hard to do a ceremony like this and keep it in perspective especially for the parents as my friend Vanessa of the Inside Pre-K blog has talked about. I mean, these kids have mostly just made it through one year of school but for us, this one will mean a lot more. It will honor the spirit, the strength, and the struggle of L.'s and her family especially her mother Sharone who has cared for 4 kids while her youngest struggled with leukemia, her oldest with finding himself in high school, and a daughter with diabetes, even as she has ticked off classes towards her business degree.

This is for Sharone and for L. who have struggled with a monster so fierce... but I know they will rise.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A disastrous Carnival

The eduwonks weather a Technological storm and post EduWonks Carnival. Let the free exchange of thoughts begin.

Oh and by the way there was a catastrophe at the carnival (maybe it was a twister.)

The host states:
Special Note: Due to some disastrous technical troubles, (several hours of reading and work lost) we are presenting this week's midway "in the raw." That is, (pretty much) as they were submitted on the Blog Carnival submission form. Should corrections be needed, please contact us at: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net.

We apologize to our readers and hope that our next effort is more worthy.
So in the way of trying to help here are some good "vendors" on this weeks midway. There may be more...

for the Word

Over at What It's Like on the Inside, the Science Goddess has online learing at it's best. And she has what happens when Censorchimps attack. (Related: Be sure to follow this link to her post on the school "tree killer." It seems as though every school does have at least one!)

for the longest best post title...

Last week's Carnival host Carol Richtsmeier presents Train Wrecks, Dr. Laura & Throwing Tinkerbell Under the Bus posted at Bellringers.

and this one well.. Just because Jose is awesome (and he linked to me which I didn't know when I picked it)

Jose presents Soft Like Baby Talc posted at The Jose Vilson.

because everything Bill writes is worth reading even if you don't agree...

Bill Ferriter presents Surviving Digital Frustration. . . posted at The Tempered Radical, saying, "In this post, the Tempered Radical offers words of advice for those who struggle to continue to move forward with digital learning experiences in the face of the all-powerful firewall."

and Nancy because she lives in A Strange Land and you can tell she almost doesn't believe this is all "Really Happening"
Nancy Flanagan presents SAVE THE CHILDREN posted at Teacher in a Strange Land, saying, "So now the answer to urban dysfunction is charter boarding schools?"

image from:

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give me the gun

When I first started teaching I worked next door to a Head Start assistant teacher named Mr. B. He gave me a great deal of advice and he is partially responsible for the teacher I am today. One of his first lessons was how to handle it when a kid starts shooting a pretend gun made out of legos in your class.
He told me, "Put out your hand to the child and say calmly, give me the gun." He told me never to acknowledge before I had the toy in my hand that the "gun" was actually legos. Then discuss why it is important not to play with guns, real or pretend.
He taught me two lessons with this approach. The first is that when a student is in the "pretend" mode of thinking the best way to communicate is to acknowledge their "reality". It is a matter of meeting a student where they are cognitively. The second lesson was that sometimes, at the preschool level, we are charged with writing scripts that a child will use for the rest of their life. It can only be helpful for a child to have acted out the drama of handing a "gun" to a caring adult.

I was reminded of these lessons yesterday in the L.A. Times when I read about a preschool teacher in Chicago who developed an approach to help young children understand their interactions with guns and gangs.

Before students in each of Sierra's two preschool classes begin reciting nursery rhymes and learning reading skills, they gather on a colorful rug around Sierra, who points to a large sheet of paper bearing the signatures of the 20 students in each class.

The paper is a contract. A red line runs through a student's drawing of a gun above a promise that he or she won't "touch real guns or talk to gangs."

The promise helps Sierra get her students to talk about how to cope with the violence. The children gather around and immediately start talking about the latest run-ins they and their families have had with gang members.
Dealing with community violence head on is a scary proposition for a preschool teacher. Ms. Sierra has shown courage in trying to help kids deal with the reality of their life situations.

This is especially hard when the gang members and and guns are in students homes. I have had students tell me about guns their family members own and why they have them. It is especially hard to navigate the murky moral and ethical waters of talking with children about family members who are involved with illegal activities. But this is the reality of teaching children of poverty, they live on the margins of an underground reality that mainstream America like to consider the "other" people. In my students lives, the "other" is sometimes their brother, cousin, mother, or even grandmother. How do we love a child and reject "who they are"?

Image from: "GNU Free Documentation license".