Archive > July 2012

Seth Saavedra
July 31, 2012

If you’ve followed ed tech chatter these past few weeks, then you know that the buzz around Khan Academy, the popular online repository of educational videos voiced by the charismatic Sal Khan, has taken a rather negative tone ever since two teachers at Grand Valley State University created "Mystery Teacher Theater 2000”—in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000—a scathing response to a Khan video lesson about negative numbers.

Salman Khan, speaking at TED 2011. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

For those of you without the nearly 12 minutes to watch the MTT2K video, which has more than 32k views, I’ll summarize: it is short on actual humor and long on math inside jokes and nitpicks about Khan’s methodologies. In fact, I had to watch the video three times to understand the gripes. My main impression is that makers of the video are calling out Khan for a technical flaw or two, and their commentary is tinged with more than a dash of disdain.

While I believe that even the most ardent fans, be they of Teach For America or Khan Academy, must be critically engaged, asking tough questions, and examining fundamental assumptions, there is an important distinction  between critical feedback and cynicism. Robert Talbert offers a measured and balanced view on what he loves and doesn’t about Khan Academy: “I believe online video is an idea whose time has really come in education. I’m not jealous of Khan Academy. But I’m not an uncritical fan, either, and we need to look at carefully at Khan Academy before we adopt it, whole-cloth, as the future of education.”

Shuhei Yamamoto
July 30, 2012

Shuhei Yamamoto joined Teach For America’s staff in 2007 and moved to Chicago, where he still resides. 

In the wake of the Aurora shooting, our nation rightfully felt compelled to speak, sparking important dialogue surrounding violence, gun control, and mental health. It has become clear to the general public yet again—as it did after Virginia Tech and Columbine—that gun violence is a crisis in the United States. The Aurora tragedy is undoubtedly one of the most-talked-about American news stories of the year.

Between 8 p.m. July 20—the Friday of the Aurora shooting—and 9 a.m. July 23, 31 people were shot on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Three of them were killed. This news received little attention outside of local media outlets.

A memorial to the 406 homicide victims in Philadelphia over the course of one year (Courtesy of Tony Fischer Photography).

The next night, in the same neighborhoods, 13 people were shot. Six were shot within a span of 15 minutes, including one 17-year-old boy who died. He was reportedly hanging out with friends in the park.

Ruiyan Xu
July 27, 2012

Five links that made us think this week.

In the wake of the Aurora shootings, Mike Johnston (Colorado state senator and TFA alum) has a message for all of us: Love back.

Teachers are doing it for themselves! Three teachers make a video and get on Kickstarter to fund their dream of touring America’s best classrooms, sharing best practices, and eventually starting their own school.  (Via Good Education)

Marie Diamond
July 27, 2012

This post is part of an ongoing series on Pass the Chalk called Point/Counterpoint, where two bloggers will argue opposite sides of a pressing issue in education. Yesterday, blogger Erin Teater argued for gender-segregated schools in "No Girls Allowed! The Case For Gender-Segregated Schools." Today, Marie Diamond rebuts.

While Erin can speak firsthand about the benefits of gender-segregated education at schools in low-income communities, I’m disturbed by the trend and its effects on students from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Does gender-segregated education really improve students’ learning, and in the long run, is it good for the welfare and social development of kids?

Boys and girls in the classroom together.

While the number of gender-segregated schools and classrooms remains small, they are growing fast. In 2002, only a dozen schools had single-sex classrooms, but today as many as 500 in 40 states do. Are these classrooms good for kids? The evidence suggests no. Last year Science magazine published a comprehensive review of existing research that concluded “there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance.” What’s more, separating boys and girls “reinforces stereotypes and sexism” because it “makes gender more salient.” Segregation, whether race-based or gender-based, “undermines rather than promotes equality,” the paper says. The New York Times, writing about the same study, points out that there’s even disagreement about the degree of success at Chicago’s Urban Prep, one of the schools that Erin mentions in her post.

Erin Teater
July 26, 2012

This is the kick-off post for an ongoing series on Pass the Chalk called Point/Counterpoint, where two bloggers will argue opposite sides of a pressing issue in education. Today, blogger Erin Teater argues for gender-segregated schools. For the other side of the issue, check out "Boys Have Cooties: The Trouble with Separating the Sexes."

Single-sex schools seem to be a hot topic right now. Single-sex education in public schools was legalized in 2006, and today, there are only 116 public schools across the country that are truly gender specific. I have had the opportunity to work with 3 of those 116 schools: Walipp in Houston, and Urban Prep and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Chicago.

2012 Commencement, Courtesy of Urban Prep Academies.

Data supporting or contesting single-sex schools varies, depending on who you ask, so I will only speak to my experiences and what I have seen. When the opportunities are leveraged, I have seen tremendous things come out of all boys and all girls schools. Simply segregating the sexes does not alone close the achievement gap. Sorry, it’s not that easy. You still need all that other stuff (you know, strong teachers, high expectations, purposeful leaders, etc.).

Bex Young
July 25, 2012

Sit down, have a glass of Teach For America Kool-Aid with me for a second. I'd like to talk to you about social media and you. Now, if you support Teach For America in any way, then make sure you toe the party line.You know: No individuality allowed! Remember, we all have ONE opinion and Teach For America can say it all for you...

Okay, so I am just kidding (seriously, I am). The Teach For America network is nearly 40,000 strong and full of diverse opinions on how to close the achievement gap, and we couldn't seriously represent all of those viewpoints in one voice. Still, the truth is that even though we’ve never wanted our network to be of one voice, we haven’t always actively encouraged our folks to share their own opinions online. We want to change that because we know how important it is for all of us to be out there sharing our perspectives and fostering a robust dialogue on the issues and their solutions. That's why we decided to get our thoughts on social media down on paper. Our philosophy, for the most part, is directed towards corps members, alumni, and staff—but hopefully it gives anyone who's interested a sense of how important we think social media is in the broader effort to change mindsets and close the achievement gap. Plus, we think some of the ideas here are just plain common sense.

July 24, 2012

Monday marked the all too soon end to a life I have admired for the entirety of mine.  Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away after a long battle with cancer.  Sally was my president, my rabbi, and the keeper of my dreams. Offering inspiration for a generation of girls, her accomplishments made the stars feel in reach for one young girl in a small, rural western Massachusetts town. A girl who sits here as a woman, now the same age as when Sally first went into space, deeply thankful for the inspiration that came from the worn pages of her copy of Ride's children's book, To Space & Back.

Sally Ride in space

Sally Ride in space. Photo courtsey of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

When I was younger I pored over each page of that book.  Every word was a passport to outer space.  But what I loved most were the pictures. Each nook of the shuttle, every cranny in the gadgetsthey filled my mind with possibilities.  Seeing the crew together, all so smart, all in the same flight suitit didn’t matter how much money you had.  And growing up in a low income community, the image of achieving something so great and not having it matter what you were wearing was intoxicating.

To Space and Back by Sally Ride

Cheryl Chun
July 23, 2012

Cheryl Chun is originally from Alea, HI, and is a 2006 D.C. Region corps member. This blog post is reproduced with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ. It was first published on the Human Capital Blog.

Before I was a medical student, I was a teacher. I taught high school mathematics for two years in the District of Columbia.

Being a public school teacher was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I spent my days trying to not only excite my students about mathematics, but also to help change their life trajectories by encouraging them to go to college.








Ruiyan Xu
July 20, 2012

Five links that made us think this week.

Can you solve some of the world’s biggest problems through technology? The amazing students at the annual Imagine Cup are coming up with innovative solutions.

Cheating. It happens—even in prestigious magnet schools. Is cheating just a fact of life?

Ew, boys! Do separate classrooms for boys and girls lead to better learning?

We talk a lot about the achievement gap in America here at TFA, but what about the achievement gap between America and the rest of the world?

Seth Saavedra
July 20, 2012

There’s an ongoing discussion in the education community about what we can learn from the training of our armed forces to better prepare and develop our teachers. With just 13 weeks of intensive core training, the Marines manage to turn young men and women, most with no prior military experience, into a highly-skilled, effective fighting force.

Yet, as Andy Rotherham writes Time, “in American schools, we still haven’t figured out how to give our teaching force—whose members are college graduates, more than half of whom have advanced degrees—autonomy and accountability in a far less dynamic workplace.”

Teach For America corps members at summer institute.

Over the last 22 years, Teach For America has conducted its own intense introductory training for its corps members: summer institute, which consists of five action-packed weeks split between teaching and soaking up classes ranging from classroom management to lesson planning. The environment is nonstop, with the aim to start optimistic corps members—many with no prior teaching experience—on a lifelong journey of becoming effective educators. The hours are long, hard and, given the stakes, completely warranted.

Summer institute has been on my mind as I recently went through the latest “Pre-Institute Work” for 2012 corps members and found myself pleasantly surprised, but still wanting more. While Teach For America’s training and development of corps members is light years ahead of what I experienced when I was at Philadelphia institute many years ago, we have yet to fully embrace the use—and reap the benefits of—education technology (“ed tech”).


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