Archive > August 2012

Ruiyan Xu
August 31, 2012

Five links that made us think this week.

What’s the purpose of K-12 education? Over at Impatient Optimists, Irvin Scott argues that primary education should prepare students for colleges and careers, while Anthony Cody says “that’s not enough.”

Who’s the boss in the classroom? It’s Tony Danza, who shares what he learned during the year he spent teaching 10th-graders in Philadelphia.

Promotional image for the A&E television series Teach: Tony Danza

Michael Tipton
August 31, 2012

I like to win. So does my alma mater—Louisiana State University (LSU)—where suffice it to say, our 90,000+ fans in Tiger Stadium expect the LSU Football Team to be Southeastern Conference champions ever year … and if we had our way, national champions every year as well. You can expect that we will absolutely demand to win when we play Alabama this November 3rd; both because we always plan to beat Alabama, and because of a recent national championship game for which we intend to be vindicated.

LSU football. Photo by JustDog (via WikiCommons).

How does LSU football win? The team recruits the best players, holds those players to the highest standards, and demands continued performance from them day in and day out. Everyone works together to build a team that can deliver against opposing teams—who are made up of the best athletes held to those same high standards from all across the country. In short, LSU football raises standards for performance daily.

Jessica Cordova Kramer
August 30, 2012

Jessica Cordova Kramer is Senior Managing Director of Alumni Engagement at Teach For America.

We left the Pine Ridge Reservation and drove 300 feet across the South Dakota border into the “town” of Whiteclay, Nebraska. No real housing, no street lamps, no sidewalks—nothing.  As I looked around, lump in my throat, I was faced with a patently un-American scene: grown men and women passed out, on the street; a woman stumbling across the road.

Whiteclay, Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Jessica Cordova Kramer.

Our guide, Robert Cook—a Teach For America colleague and an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe—was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Minutes away in neighboring Whiteclay, there are as many liquor “stores”—really trailers selling oodles of beer to Pine Ridge residents who walk over—as there are residents. Here, very successful American businesses are selling about 12,500 cans of beer a day, mostly to Oglala Lakota men, women, and children. 
Ned Stanley
August 29, 2012

During my sophomore year in high school, there was a period of three months where I genuinely wanted to be a trucker, much to the chagrin of my educator parents.  It may have been typical teenage angst, and it was certainly the fact that I had been reading a lot of Jack Kerouac, but I romanticized the idea of endless open roads and distant horizons and baseball games playing on half-working pit-stop television sets.

Now I cross the country for an entirely different reason. Over the past year, I’ve visited a dozen cities to talk to teachers in and outside our organization about improving our leadership framework.  And I always start these conversations with the same question: “What are your ultimate aspirations for our students?”  Invariably at some point a debate ignites about whether we should really be striving to ensure every single one of our students goes to and through a four-year college.

During a recent conversation with the teachers in Champaign, Illinois, someone made a statement that I’ve heard many times before:  “Not all kids want to go to college.  We should embrace free will.”

It isn’t that I disagree—my Teamster-aspirations fifteen years earlier are testament to that—but I’m always disturbed by this sentiment.  The night before, I had seen the graphc above on Andrew Sullivan’s blog depicting job losses in the recession, based on a new report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Vanessa Descalzi
August 28, 2012

Vanessa Descalzi is manager of national communications for Teach For America.

The day my TiVo filled to capacity with Bravo shows, and typing “P” autofilled my browser to Perez Hilton, I finally admitted that my tolerance for the superficial was unusually high. Yet I’m still stopped cold when Teen Moms grace the covers of my favorite supermarket magazines. This week, one young woman is spilling all about her battle with drug abuse—at the same time she’s launching a memoir and hawking spaghetti sauce branded with her toddler’s face.

The young women of 16 and Pregnant. Photo from MTV.

With nearly 7% of girls between ages 15 and 19 becoming pregnant, the U.S. boasts the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. The vast majority of these girls don’t have endorsement deals to fall back on—often, a simple support system is stretching it. I witnessed this firsthand while teaching just outside Washington, D.C., a city that has seen its teen pregnancy rate climb 78% in recent years. My first year I taught Ivette, a tenth grader whose baby face belied the fact that she had a baby of her own. Two years later I supported my 13-year-old student through her pregnancy scare.

Aimée Eubanks Davis
August 27, 2012

Aimée Eubanks Davis is executive vice president of people, community, and diversity at Teach For America. You can find her on Twitter at @EubanksDavis.

I’m immensely proud to call New Orleans a second home, and with every anniversary of Katrina’s destruction, I find myself right back in the eye of the storm. As I write this, I’m terrified that the Gulf Coast faces another tragedy in Hurricane Isaac, and I cannot imagine what will happen if this storm unleashes Katrina-level destruction. 

NASA satellite photo of Hurricane Katrina on Aug 28, 2005.


My love for New Orleans runs deep. Whenever we can, my husband Marcus and I take our three children to his native city to feed our souls. We eat his mother’s 7th Ward red beans and rice; adapt our early-to-bed bodies to the New Orleans nightlife; and journey through the city to check the progress (or lack thereof) since Katrina’s devastation of friends’ and family members’ homes, churches, and po’boy shops. We miss seeing the people who never returned. Every trip, I visit former students and colleagues to hear about their lives and work. What makes New Orleans more special than any city I’ve ever encountered is the human connection; it’s a place steeped in relationships, culture, and tradition.

I’m also proud to have played a role in fueling New Orleans’ new, innovative educational system with outstanding leaders. I spent many years walking through local public schools that were abysmal. Seven years ago, the academic achievement of the city’s students was the worst in the state of Louisiana and pretty much all of America. More recently, I toured several local schools with my brother-in-law and niece, and they kept repeating that “these kinds of schools didn’t exist before.” Every time I visit a school, I look at student work, and the student work I see now is, on the whole, far superior to what I saw before.  The dramatic rise in the number of New Orleans public school students eligible for two- and four-year merit-based scholarships to Louisiana public colleges and universities has risen dramatically in the last seven years. More students are on a path to get to and through college and reach their career goals

Yet I’m haunted by the fact that only a small fraction of the people who led (and still lead) the transformation of New Orleans public education are among the city’s African American majority; they are not my former students, nor do they share their racial backgrounds. 

Gaby Barahona
August 24, 2012

Gaby Barahona is manager of regional communications at Teach For America.

Five links that made us think this week: 

Two million: That’s the historic number of 18-to-24-year-old  Hispanics in the U.S. who enrolled in college in 2011. The Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data notes that in public schools nationwide, 1 in 4 elementary students are Hispanic. I wonder what the milestone will be in 2019.

In case you missed it, here’s an interesting dialogue on education and the upcoming election with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, education historian and policy analyst Diane Ravitch, teacher and education historian Camika Royal, teacher Maryanna Stufflebeem, and Success Academy Charter Schools founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz.

Can schools be cool? Scholastic issued its assessment of the 25 coolest schools in the U.S. (shout out to my home state for having two on the list!). What ideas should we be bringing back to our communities?

Photo by Katherine Johnson, via Flickr Creative Commons

Janiceia Adams
August 23, 2012

Many of my friends and family members own an iPhone or a smartphone or an iPad. We all know that there are apps available to help you with everything—whether it’s starting your car or checking your bank account. For teachers, there are apps that can help with all aspects of teaching, including connecting academic content to the real world, keeping in touch with parents and families, and grading papers and assignments.

Here's a roundup of five apps that I believe will benefit educators, families, and students.

Photo by Mono (Own work) [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

1.  Dash4Teachers
(Price: $4.99, 5 stars – 13 ratings; iTunes link)
Several teachers in New Orleans, including Aliya Bhatia, created this app that focuses on parent contact and home visits. Dash4Teachers allows teachers to log student behaviors for 1 to 100-plus students, their initial contact with parents, and follow-up communication with families. Aliya emailed me about it: “This spring, I was really frustrated with my parent-contact systems and [ended] up building an iPhone app for teachers to connect more easily with students' families. I, along with teachers at the school where I intern, have been using Dash4Teachers for the past few weeks to coordinate home visits. It has been a godsend and keeps track of all the data I need to make informed calls to parents.”

2.  BrainPOP
(Price: $0 - $6.99, 4.5 stars – 4445 ratings; iTunes link)
BrainPop is an amazing animated video tool that can be used in the classroom via a projector, SmartBoard, iPad, or mobile device for on-the-go learning with an accompanying quiz. This app features a learning video for the day and a daily quiz. The full version of the app, with more than 750 videos, is $6.99. BrainPop Educators features lesson plans and other teaching tools for educators on a variety of subjects from grammar to physics. There is also BrainPop Jr for K-3 teachers. Their main site offers free materials and videos at After a free lesson on the Harlem Renaissance, my kids had enough background knowledge to fully participate on a trip to the Apollo Theater. Jahyra squealed, “I know that answer, we just had a lesson on it and that question was on the quiz!”

Claire D'Silva
August 22, 2012

Claire D'Silva is an intern at Teach For America.

Scott Faris played guitar for what he believes is the only all-teacher rock'n'roll cover band ever to turn a profit touring South Dakota and Northern Nebraska. He also studied film at New York University, taught fifth grade in South Dakota, and now works as an associate of communications and operations for Teach For America-Colorado. His video, “Teach At Altitude,” is the winner of Teach For America's 2012 Show & Tell contest, which challenged members of the Teach For America network to show off what makes their regions unique.

Hear more from Scott on the making of the video:
Chanté Chambers
August 21, 2012

Chanté Chambers is a managing director of recruitment at Teach For America, responsible for ensuring that the organization meets ambitious recruitment goals at historically black colleges and universities.

I had just spent two hours with my mentee at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C. De’Angela, soon to be a college senior, and I were exploring the history of African Americans, the inexplicable forms of injustice and inequity that we’ve historically worked to overcome, and the sense of urgency we felt around improving educational opportunities for communities of color. To have such an emotion-filled discussion in such a historical place was almost surreal—and then a friend sent me the announcement of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

The picture of President Obama surrounded by African American community leaders and advocates, collectively determining to change the course of education, or lack thereof, for black and brown faces in this country, left me speechless. It also led me to reflect on my dissatisfaction with our education system.

President Obama signs the executive order for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Standing (from left) are Patricia Coulter, chief executive officer of the National Urban League of Philadelphia; Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill.; Rev. Al Sharpton; Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP; Ingrid Saunders-Jones, chair of the National Council of Negro Women; Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.; Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools; and Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)


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