This episode is a rebroadcast while our teachers are on summer break: Take a breath! News events have come quick and often this year, and some of that news has been called "fake". The teachers had a lot to say about dealing with "fake news" in their classrooms. How do teachers teach critical reasoning skills in an era of “alternative facts.” It reminded our panel this week of George Orwell’s 1984.
Above photo by Alejandro Forero Cuervo
What makes a city a good place to live for teachers?
Data analytics firm GoodCall has its answers. It recently created a list of best cities for teachers--689 cities total--rating some obvious factors like job availability, cost of living, average teacher pay relative to other salaries in the area. It also gathers data on things like local amenities, number of restaurants per capita, and violent crime rates.
A clear pattern emerges in GoodCall’s study. All cities in its top ten are small to mid-size suburbs or exurbs, most of them in the Midwest. Five of them are suburbs of Chicago. But the top city to live in if you’re a teacher in 2017, according to GoodCall, is Bentonville, Arkansas.
Bentonville is a town of roughly 50,000 in northwest Arkansas, just south of the Missouri border. It’s most well-known for being the birthplace and now global headquarters of the Wal Mart Corporation.
Though you may be surprised at it’s place as ‘Best City for Teachers 2017’, Jayna Moffit isn’t. She’s a standout math teacher at Lincoln Junior High in Bentonville. She’s not a Bentonville native, she moved there only after completing a stint as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta in the early 2000s. (No Wrong Answers, incidentally, is sponsored by Teach For America Kansas City, which has no association with Jayna.)
She’s lived in Bentonville now more than 15 years. Her husband is a police officer in the town, and her daughter just graduated from Bentonville High. Who better than to get an insight into what’s apparently the best city for teachers than Jayna Moffit? Here’s our conversation.
Teachers: LuAnn Fox (high school Advanced Placement Literature); Elaine Jardon (middle school math); David Muhammad (high school international relations.
Two stories of social media pitfalls--one involving teenagers, the other involving a teacher--caught our eye this week. First, a much-discussed story about Harvard rescinding admission for at least 10 incoming freshmen because of offensive memes they posted in a private Facebook group. Our teachers are saddened but not surprised at that kind of behavior. They’re a bit more surprised at our second social media story: a middle school teacher who posted a picture to Facebook of himself flipping off the White House. Should he be punished in some way?
Also, what makes a “good” or “bad” teacher? Reddit users have their ideas. A new study compiles them into an interesting (if incomplete) picture. Our teachers respond and also ask: is labeling “good” and “bad” teaching even helpful?
Teachers: Maddie Burkemper (who now teaches 5th grade); Maria Kennedy (high school humanities); David Muhammad (high school government).
Secession is back and not just in American History class. Our teachers this week tackle the story of mostly white Alabama city seeking to secede from a largely black county-run school district. Our teachers have a problem with the district’s stated reasons for seceding and a problem with what they say it means for public education writ large.
Plus, should character traits like “responsibility” and “optimism” on students’ grade reports? Our teachers talk about the uses and abuses of such so-called “soft skills” assessments.
Finally, there’s no Kids These Days this week because our teachers our out of school. (They haven’t been around kids.) But we’re trying something new: a pop culture roundup. This week: a fat-shaming movie poster, Wonder Woman storms America, and “covfefe.”
School secession is actually more common than you might think (U.S. News)
Assessments of “soft skills” are growing in popularity. (Education Week)
A movie poster critics said fat-shamed kids caused a stir. (New York Times)
Few education writers (with the possible exception of Jonathan Kozol) are more widely respected and more widely read than Mike Rose. In a career that’s spanned more than 35 years, Rose has produced eleven books on education and learning, ranging in topic from effective literacy strategies to the cognitive complexity of blue-collar work.
His most well-known book may be the semi-autobiographical Lives On the Boundary. It’s now generally considered a classic of the field, often read in education schools and teacher-prep programs. The book details different ways to reach so-called “problem” students, while at the same time mining the deep vein of Rose’s own personal experiences growing up in a working class household that often felt shut out of the educational establishment.
Mike Rose was born in Pennsylvania, the son of Italian immigrants and grew up in Los Angeles. He’s said one of the most impactful things to happen to him growing up was being moved out of his high school’s vocational track into its college prep track. In the college prep track, he had a teacher who advised him on applying to college.
Rose, who now teaches at UCLA, has tended to focus his writing on class divisions he experienced as a student and that still often plague our education system. He’s written passionately about vocational education--what’s now termed Career and Technical Education--and how it can and should be integrated into a more well-rounded education that also includes STEM learning and instruction in subjects like classic literature. He says votech subjects like auto mechanics and shop class are often looked at with snobbery and elitism and are undervalued by the education system as a whole.
Rose has been revisiting these themes on his blog in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as president. He’s not a fan of the president. He makes no bones about his disappointment in Trump’s election, swept to the White House with the support of millions of white, working class voters like people he says he grew up around. We wanted to speak to Rose about how his career’s focus--his lifelong passion for looking at issues of class in education--now may seem more relevant than ever.
Teachers: Greg Brenner (high school government); Jaime Meyers (middle school English); Jason Steliga (high school science).
Summer is here for our teachers! Well, almost here. (Sorry Greg.) And they are in a reflective mood.
First up: what does the alleged assault of a journalist by a politician in Montana say about our societal norms? Does it change, at all, how teachers feel about counseling kids to not use violence to solve their problems? Plus, we tackle teen pregnancy. The story of one girl who was barred from walking at her school’s graduation went viral. What do schools do well (and not so well) about dealing with the challenge of teen pregnancy? Finally, our teachers look back on the students--that for better and worse--made an impact on them this year.
One conservative commentator called the case of Greg Gianforte a “moral test” for the Republican Party.
The case of Maddi Runkles in Maryland drew national attention to how her school punished her for her pregnancy.
The Atlantic’s new audio project “What My Students Taught Me” inspired our teachers to think of students who have impacted them.
Kids These Days:
Jaime: Fidget spinners are still in and getting ever-more sophisticated.
Greg: His students are all about getting summer jobs. The most popular places to land? The farmer’s market and a local amusement park.
Jason: He’s soaking in the graduation parties thrown by his students’ families. He’s now been around long enough that it will be the third child from that family he’s gone to a graduation party for.
Teachers: Maddie Burkemper (4th grade … all of it); Princeston Grayson (middle school gifted and talented); and Rebeka McIntosh (elementary alternative education)
This week, we can’t not talk about the crazy week that was in Washington. (Here’s a recap. Believe us: you need it.) Our teachers say they used to read the news to decompress from school. No longer. Then, we tackle President Donald Trump’s proposed federal education budget, which would completely eliminate funding for a variety of programs, from gifted and talented education to civics education. Finally, has your school gone “full Google?” Our teachers’ schools have all gone one-to-one or are in the process of going one-to-one with Google Chromebooks. Is this a good thing?
The Washington Post’s break down of Trump’s proposed education budget.
The New York Times has a fascinating story about the “Googlification of education.”
Kids These Days:
Maddie: She says her kids are still talking about the chant their class came up with for their school’s Field Day. (Maddie demonstrates during the episode.)
Princeston: Signed any student yearbooks lately? Princeston has. A lot.
Rebeka: It’s that time of the year. The final days of the school year are a time for time-killing games and activities. You know what we’re talking about.
A big trend in public education currently is something called “Maker education” or “Maker learning.” There isn’t one universally settled upon definition though its proponents generally use terms like “hands on” and “learner-focused” to describe it.
Benjamin Herold writing in Ed Week said “maker learning” refers to a “wide variety of activities (from computer programming to sewing) that support the development of a mindset that values playfulness and experimentation, growth and iteration, and collaboration and community.
Maker education is part of the broader, loosely organized ‘Maker Movement’ of tinkerers, DIYers, computer programmers, and hackers who put a lot of stock in the act of creation itself and the experimentation and failure that often goes into that.
As you may be able to tell, there’s a lot of buzzwords to sift through when talking about “Maker education.” But what does this look like in schools?
We wanted to try and answer that question. And in the Kansas City metro area where No Wrong Answers tapes there are few schools to get that answer more clearly than Lewis and Clark Elementary in Liberty, Missouri. The school has undergone a revolution of sorts in how teachers their teach and how students learn. And that’s due in large part to the school’s implementation of Maker strategies.
We went there and did something we’ve never done: a live taping of our podcast in front of a small audience of teachers, parents, and students. We wanted to ask people in Lewis and Clark’s community what “Maker education” has meant to them.
Teachers: LuAnn Fox (high school English); Elaine Jardon (middle school math); Jason Steliga (high school science)
This week, Besty DeVos is back. The Secretary of Education gave the commencement address recently at Bethune-Cookman University and boy, did it get ugly. Then, we talk chronic absenteeism, what federal DOE officials have called a “hidden crisis” in American education. But it’s not just the stereotypical trouble-making skippers that miss a lot of class. Finally, we tackle a new Pediatrics study that says bullying is down...way down. So why doesn’t it feel like it to our teachers?
Watch excruciating video of Betsy DeVos’s Bethune-Cookman commencement address.
Read some eyebrow-raising federal stats about chronic absences.=
This Pediatrics study says bullying in American schools is dropping precipitously.
Kids These Days:
Luann: Students taking Advanced Placement tests aren’t supposed to talk, text, or tweet about the exams on test day. But they do.
Jason: Chance the Rapper was in town. His students’ heads exploded.
Elaine: Even though she’s still on maternity leave, her students are grade-grubbing at the end of the semester. Ah, the satisfaction of being able to delete on their emails...
Everyone’s talking about the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” and our teachers are no exception. Some praise its frank portrayal of serious adolescent issues like suicide, sexual assault, and drug abuse. Others say it glamorizes suicide and could be a trigger for kids struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Good or bad, our teachers say it’s definitely sparked discussion, and not always the ones they were anticipating.
Plus, new research from Johns Hopkins University quantifies further the positive effect black teachers can have on black students. Having at least one black teacher in elementary school enhances the likelihood a black student will graduate high school. But while some say the obvious answer is, “Hire more black teachers!” our teachers say we also need to better train the white teachers who still make up the majority of our nation’s teacher workforce.
Finally, if your school had a room for teachers go to smash things in order to relieve stress, would you use it? One elementary school principal in Maryland got in hot water with parents for creating a “smash space” for her teachers. Our teachers say, “What’s the big deal?”
We just completed National Poetry Month in April and we recently asked some of our teachers…for a little bit of show-and-tell to celebrate that. We wanted them to pick examples of a poem, or an excerpt of a poem they have found personally or professionally inspirational as teachers. Or maybe a poem that has been used to particularly good effect in their classroom, that resonated with students.
Maddie Burkemper, Jaime Meyers and David Muhammad brought us their poems. And David started us off. If you didn’t know, he’s a rapper in his spare time outside the classroom.
Be honest, had you ever heard of “lunch shaming” before news broke about a recently signed New Mexico law that bans so-called lunch shaming in public schools? That is, singling out or punishing students who cannot pay for their school lunch. Our teachers had never heard the term, but they have a lot of thoughts about the bill. They like its principle: don’t punish for kids for not being able to pay. But who is going to pay for it? And should schools everywhere just offer all kids free and reduced-price lunch?
Also, we’re coming to the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (The irony, of course, is our latest news cycle has been dominated by news of Bill O’Reilly.) But a new report by the White Ribbon Campaign concludes America still has a long way to go in successfully enlisting men into the fight against sexual assault and rape. Our teachers agree. They see how students perceive sexual violence and sexuality more generally as one of the thorniest issues they face.
We end with a discussion about teachers buying and selling lesson plans and materials on line, in a growing digital marketplace. (Teachers have reportedly raked in more than $1 million in a single year selling their plans.) But some worry this “monetizing” of a key teacher skill creates literal paywalls to organic collaboration. Our teachers’ verdict? In a phrase: “Respect the hustle.”
“Kids These Days”: Maddie has developed a “fast chains” challenge that has gone viral--in its own modest way with her students; Jaime says one of her particularly unique students is himself a walking, talking meme, and David says it’s prom season, so there is nothing else on his kids’ minds.
Above photo courtesy of Jim Bowen
Last September, the Houston Chronicle published a seven-part series of articles that exposed an astonishing fact: for years, the state of Texas had set a cap on the percentage of students in public schools who could receive special education services.
The paper’s reporting showed that starting in 2004, state education officials arbitrarily decided that no more than 8.5 percent of children in public schools in the state could receive special education services. At the same time, the national average of students requiring special ed services was somewhere closer to 13 percent. The decision to implement that cap, say educators and policymakers in Texas, has likely denied needed services to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of children over the past 13 years.
The Chronicle series was reported on by the paper’s statehouse reporter based in Austin Brian Rosenthal. Rosenthal has won numerous honors for his reporting in this series, including a prestigious George Polk Award. The Houston Chronicle was also recently a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.
Full disclosure: Rosenthal is the brother of one of No Wrong Answer host Kyle Palmer’s very good friend, whom he met while teaching in Houston. Kyle taught in Texas for four years while this policy of capping special education services was in place. He doesn’t remember ever hearing about it. Rosenthal says he heard that a lot from educators he spoke to for this story. The policy was never publicized or promoted. But once enacted as part of a state accountability system, schools and districts worked hard to lower the percentage of students they gave special ed services in order to meet this state target.
This story took Rosenthal more than a year of reporting and hundreds of interviews with teachers, parents, students, and state officials. It all began, Rosenthal says, with an unlikely sounding tip.
Above photo courtesy of Bill Smith
This week, we talk about an inspiring (and kind of appalling) story out of Pittsburg, Kansas. Journalism students at a high school there raised questions about their newly hired principal’s credentials and then the principal resigned. The story was a media darling for a while, blowing up on social media. (The students and their adviser were interviewed on Good Morning America and also got to talk with The Washington Post’s now-Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter David Fahrenthold.)
Plus, toy-free kindergarten: is that a good idea? The Atlantic details the increasingly popular trend in German education. The idea is to prevent small children from developing habit-forming behaviors that, later in life, can manifest into depression, social anxiety, and drug addiction. In America, at least, teachers at higher grade levels say students treat smartphones as toys. Taken those away has predictably disastrous results.
Finally, The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog has once again posted a teacher resignation letter from an educator who says she’s quitting the profession because she fears what she’s doing is not enough to fight against societal forces of oppression and segregation Hmm. For many teachers this type of “why I quit” letter is a tired genre. Why do our teachers think such letters still get written and published?
That, plus ‘Kids These Days’: Chris Brown on Blackish, moms up in arms about Cheerios’ campaign to give away wildflower seeds, and the term ‘lit’. Do you know what it means?
Above photo courtesy of Loyd Wollstadt
#BlackWomenAtWork has been trending on social media in recent days. It is a response in part to comments made recently by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly referring derisively to California Democratic Representative Maxine Waters’ hair.
On the same day, in a separate incident, President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer reprimanded reporter April Ryan in a manner many found patronizing. Both events involved white men saying things to or about black women that many found offensive, or at the very least tone deaf.
Activist Brittany Packnett created #BlackWomenAtWork. She says it was meant to start a conversation because the “slights” against Waters and Ryan (things like comments about one’s hair) are experienced everyday by professional black women.
A one-time teacher, Packnett is most well-known as a Black Lives Matter activist and co-founder of Campaign Zero which aims to reform policing practices. A St. Louis native, she helped organize protests in Ferguson, MO, following the 2014 killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.
At that time, Packnett was executive director of Teach For America in St. Louis. She has since risen in that organization to Vice President of National Community Alliances.
Full disclosure: Teach For America Kansas City is No Wrong Answer’s underwriter but does NOT sponsor these Extra Credit episodes. Also, No Wrong Answers host and creator served as a TFA corps member in Houston, TX from 2006-2008.
Packnett has also served on the Ferguson Commission appointed by former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon tasked with investigating issues of racial inequality and injustice in the St. Louis region. She also sat on President Barack Obama’s commission on “21st Century Policing.”
We wanted to talk with Packnett about how #BlackWomenAtWork could be applied to the world of education. What is working in schools like for black women? Are there special experiences that black women teachers are sharing about their working lives? And do black women educators have a particular role going forward in this country’s ongoing conversation about race, equity, and justice?
Above photo courtesy of Matthew Britton
Segregation, if you haven’t been paying attention, might strike you as an educational problem from a bygone era. But, in fact, it’s increasingly seen as a major problem in modern American schooling. Take Howard County, Maryland, one of that state’s most integrated districts.
The Baltimore Sun reports many of the districts’ AP and “gifted and talented” classes are disproportionately filled with white students, and remedial classes are disproportionately filled with black students. Our teachers say that type of often unintentional segregation hurts everyone.
Also relevant to this conversation: a lengthy piece in The New York Times Magazine last year by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones about the agonizing process she went through deciding where to send her daughter to school. Our teachers take some issue with her argument that parents are making a “moral” position by not sending their children to neighborhood public schools.
Also, a Dallas high school with a prayer room is at the center of a growing controversy over religious expression in public schools. This story is well told by Dallas public radio station KERA. Our teachers are fed up with discussions about religion and prayer and public schools. They say this, and many other controversies like it, miss the role schools often play in their local communities. Those angry about kids praying in school, they suggest, are just fuddy-duddy rules followers.
Plus, United Airlines found itself in a bit of a controversy over leggings recently. Discussion of what is appropriate dress in public--yoga pants? Bare shoulders?--is common in schools. Our teachers point out the gendered nature of school dress codes (and really, all dress codes.) And say there is a definite double standard with boys and girls when it comes to what they’re wearing.
Kids These Days? Maddie’s are really into ‘glitter jars’ as stress relievers. Daivd’s kids are all about Kendrick Lamar this week (Psst, he released two new songs.) And Rebeka’s kids...well, let just say...there’s been better weeks, but they’ve picked themselves up and are moving on to better days. Plus, they get to find out the results of the Dr. Seuss ‘Final Four.’ (Have to listen to Episode 9 for that one.)
By: Kyle Palmer and Matt Hodapp
Recently, the Kansas City, Missouri Public School District essentially declared itself a “sanctuary” district when the school board unanimously passed what it called a “safe and welcoming schools” resolution.
This resolution prohibits federal immigration agents from entering Kansas City schools without a warrant and also says any request from immigration authorities for information about students will not be provided without a warrant. The district says it will continue to not collect data about the immigration status of students and their families.
This move came just weeks after rumors that potential raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, would be conducted outside Kansas City area churches. Those rumors turned out to be unfounded. And local ICE officials have responded to the Kansas City school district’s resolution, saying they already avoid doing investigations in “sensitive” places like schools and churches.
But Kansas City schools say they want to make sure their schools are “not disrupted by immigration investigation” which can “significantly disrupt the school environment” and “interrupt learning.”
To learn more about why the district decided to take this step, No Wrong Answers talked with Dr. Luis Cordoba, the head of the office of student interventions in the Kansas City Public School District. His office is the one in charge of supporting the district’s sizable population of immigrant and non-English speaking students and their families.
Dr. Cordoba is an immigrant from Mexico himself, who was brought to the United States by his parents when he was one. He grew up in East Los Angeles and became a naturalized citizen while working as a California Highway Patrolmen. He’s also a licensed drug and substance abuse counselor and has led trainings for Kansas City Police cadets on race relations.
Above photo by alamosbasement
By: Kyle Palmer and Matt Hodapp
Sesame Street, the iconic American television program that’s been on the air now nearly fifty years, will be introducing a new muppet character, Julia, who is autistic. CBS’ 60 Minutes first reported the story and interviewed the puppeteer behind (or under) Julia, who is herself the mother of an autistic son.
This comes as diagnoses of autism have been growing: the CDC says now 1 in 68 American schoolchildren are diagnosed with some form of the neurological disorder. Our teachers talk about their experiences teaching autistic students. They also talk about how other students are starting to understand and value their autistic classmates more.
Meanwhile, a new survey from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center for Education Policy shows foreign exchange students think American schools are easy. Really easy. This is nothing new: the survey replicates a similar one done in 2001 that had nearly identical results. But our teachers take issue with what they call “school bashing” conclusions. They say, in short: “Define ‘easy.’”
Finally, a legislative tit-for-tat in Ohio has educators talking. Republican Gov. John Kasich thinks teachers should have to complete yearly job shadowing outside schools in order to get re-licensed. A competing bill would make the governor shadow teachers for 40 hours every year. Beyond these seemingly far-fetched policy proposals, our teachers say there is a deeper discussion to be had about what education should be good for, and what teachers should be preparing students for--career? College? Both?
As always, we end with “Kids These Days.” Special edition this time with one teacher back from maternity leave. What are babies into these days?
Above photo from woodleywonderworks
Some states grade their schools on the traditional A-F scale that many teachers use in their classrooms. Proponents think it’s an easily comprehensible way for parents and policymakers to track the progress of local schools and hold schools accountable.
Education Week reports at least 18 states have adopted some form an A-F grading system that relies primarily or partly on schools’ standardized test scores. And more states are reportedly debating legislation to adopt similar programs. But these grading systems are facing a “mounting backlash” from educators, superintendents and even parents who call an A-F system for schools overly simplistic and focused on the wrong measures.
How do our teachers feel? And let’s break this conversation down into two parts. Do they you use A-F systems in their classrooms? Why or why not? Can A-F grading be applied to schools in a fair, productive way?