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Lead from the Start: January 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's Top Ten Pre-K Promises

As the students in my classroom watched the inauguration, my assistant cried. (Just a little bit.) It was an amazing thing to see history in the making. It affected everyone in our economically challenged urban elementary school. Yesterday, as I listened to the post-party coverage and people talking on their cell phones in the grocery store, I was struck by how many people are concerned about President Obama moving left or right of where they think he stood on issues. This morning I heard a radio comment that now is the time for everyone to make their opinions known and that they should remind our president of where he has come from. So here is my "don't forget the pre-k" post-it note for President Obama.

We seem to be on the right track. The House economic stimulus package in Congress already has 2.1 billion for Head Start in it as described in this Wall Street Journal article about the loads of promises the president made on the campaign trail.

President Obama has mentioned funding early childhood education many times since 2007. So in the spirit of David Letterman, I give you President Barack Obama's Top 10 quotes on early childhood education as found on the website On the Issues. and Youtube.

10 Obama supports increasing funding for the Head Start program for preschool children. Obama has called on states to replicate the Illinois model of Preschool for All.

Campaign website,, "Resource Flyers" Aug 26, 2007

9 We can start by investing $10 billion to guarantee access to quality, affordable, early childhood education for every child in America. Every dollar that we spend on these programs puts our children on a path to success, while saving us as much as $10 in reduced health care costs, crime, and welfare later on.
Source: Speech in Flint, MI, in Change We Can Believe In, p.249 Jun 15, 2008

Put billions of dollars into early childhood education
8 Latinos have such a high dropout rate. What you see consistently are children at a very early age are starting school already behind. That’s why I’ve said that I’m going to put billions of dollars into early childhood education that makes sure that our African-American youth, Latino youth, poor youth of every race, are getting the kind of help that they need so that they know their numbers, their colors, their letters. Every dollar that we spend in early childhood education, we get $10 back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores. That’s the kind of commitment we have to make early on.
Source: 2008 Democratic debate in Las Vegas Jan 15, 2008

7 Teachers don’t go in to education to get rich. They don’t go in to education because they don’t believe in their children. They want their children to succeed, but we’ve got to give them the tools. Invest in early childhood education. Invest in our teachers and our children will succeed.
Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

6 If you’re a progressive, you’ve got to be worried about how the federal government is spending its revenue, because we don’t have enough money to spend on things like early childhood education that are so important.
Source: 2008 Politico pre-Potomac Primary interview Feb 11, 2008

5 Children’s First Agenda: zero to five early education

High-Quality Zero to Five Early Education: Obama will launch a Children’s First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to five years old.
Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 20-23 Feb 2, 2008

4 We’ve got to have early childhood education.
Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum Jul 12, 2007

3 We’ll invest in early childhood education programs so that our kids don’t begin the race of life behind the starting line and offer a $4,000 tax credit to make college affordable for anyone who wants to go. Because as the NAACP knows better than anyone, the fight for social justice and economic justice begins in the classroom.
Source: McCain-Obama speeches at 99th NAACP Convention Jul 12, 2008

2 Michelle and I are here only because we were given a chance at an education. I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education.
Source: Speech at 2008 Democratic National Convention Aug 27, 2008

1 This clip really seems to show where his heart is on the issue of voluntary Pre-K. Hopefully, he won't forget.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Supervision vs. Observation

I was asked recently about my experience of supervision in my first year. I am thinking back 12 years now. I was not observed formally more than three times my first year. I was observed informally numerous times. This year however, I have experienced a new type of observation from my supervisor. My current principal stops in almost every morning for about 30 seconds. He doesn't ask questions or interrupt. He just watches, smiles, and leaves.

As I have gained experience my perspective on this has changed. In the beginning I thought I was being "cheated" the necessary guidance I thought I needed. Over time I have discovered that some aspects of my practice are observed informally and frequently (lesson planning, management, and student rapport) while formal observations were almost incidental. I always tell new teachers that they are judged by how they walk their students down the hall and it is true. I have never received more than cursory feedback from formal observation although I have asked and even pressed administrators for feedback.

Recently, after reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" which describes how experts and people in general can "thin slice" experiences and make the same or better qualitative judgments as scientifically based observations I decided that a principal can probably see "what a teacher actually does" as well or better in an informal 30 second observation as in a formal observation.

After having done some observation of student teachers, I have come to see the process of observation as much more fluid. The coaching or formal observation process can be extremely helpful to inexperienced teachers but I am not sure that it is the best use of administrators' expertise. I have always believed what my father said about management, that "It is easy to make someone do their job but hard to make them want to do their job." The observation/accountability process can intrude on this aspect of the administrator/teacher relationship.

I do think that observation is changing in the field but it has not happened in my school system yet. I think that observation for coaching is one area where teacher leadership can make a significant impact if the structure of schools is changed to allow for this type of leadership. Peer coaching may be more effective than supervision in supporting novice and struggling teachers. The evaluative aspect of administrator observations can actually distract from the goal of coaching. When a young teacher is observed for evaluation they are doing "their best" while, when they are observed for coaching it is understood that they are trying to improve and so may may show what is actually closer to their practice. Reflection on video is an excellent tool in this situation.

I have been trained as a coach using the Santa Cruz "New Teacher Center" protocols. They use a criterion referenced observational system that focuses on reflection as the primary tool for improving teaching practice.

If a supervisor is necessary to provoke reflective thought in a teacher maybe that teacher shouldn't be practicing or at least should still be in an apprentice position.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gerald Bracey Buries The LDH Hatchet

Gerald Bracey wrote an excellent post on the Huffington Post about what the heck happened with the Secretary of Ed nomination. He describes how the "frame game" was played and the people who have the most expereince with actual kids (teachers and teachers unions) got labeled as anti-reform or for those not familiar with right wing edu-speak as not caring about kids and the quality of their education.

The history of the Ed Sec position has seen only two ED Secs with actual experience in education. Only one, Terrel Bell, was a K-12 teacher. What did Terrel Bell do? He changed the future of education in America through bringing together countless stakeholders to create the National Commission on Excellence in Education, and publish a Nation at Risk. And he accomplished this while Ronald Reagan was trying to dissolve the USED and cut funding for all of its programs.

We could only have been so lucky as to have a "non-reformer" like LDH in the position. Teachers don't mess around with reform because it is a code word for privatizing education these days. Why hire somebody to fix education when everyone you need to do it is in a classroom. Hire a teacher for the job and then you have buy-in from the most important group, the people actually doing the teaching. Bracey did an excellent job explaining what happened this fall. The real reformers (people who care about kids) got beat by the fake reformers (arm chair quarterbacks) with no experience actually playing the game on the field. Who do you want to coach your team, someone who has played the game or someone who has watched it from the stands.

image from:

Thanks to Thompson @ This Week in Education

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