Taylor Williams

It’s Computer Science Education Week (December 8-14)! This Thursday, join Teach For America and millions of students worldwide and participate in the Hour of Code to increase awareness of and access to computer science.

Access to computer science is increasingly important for all students. While there are some students who will decide to pursue a career in the field, all students will benefit from engaging in computational thinking, something often heralded as a new form of literacy. Efforts like the Hour of Code, the TEALS program, and the forthcoming AP Computer Science Principles course are all fantastic initiatives that are bringing much-needed public attention to this issue. Currently, nine out of ten schools don’t offer computer programming classes. Last year, only 711 students in my home state of Washington took the AP Computer Science A test. Only 12 of them identified as black and 24 identified as Hispanic. Student participation and performance in computer science has long been bifurcated along lines of race, class, and gender. These are urgent issues that demand attention.

Gary James

My heart is heavy after the non-indictment decisions for the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. My heart isn’t heavy because the indictment decisions were a surprise. It’s heavy because the decisions weren’t a surprise. It’s heavy because I can recount at least two of my own interactions with the police where I questioned my safety. It’s heavy because a black person is killed by the police, a security guard, or vigilante on average every 28 hours. And it’s heavy because many of the kids and communities our corps members serve may internalize the idea that their lives don’t matter to the majority of the country, that they or their loved ones are just a bullet or negative interaction away from becoming a hashtag.

In our work, we focus on the way the education system doesn’t work for all kids, specifically poor kids and kids of color. But disparities in the education system are just one example of the disparities that exist in most systems in our country. The financial system. The economic system. The criminal justice system. Our systems of housing, voting, immigration, and the list goes on. It’s not just that these systems are broken. It’s that they were not designed to include all Americans. One quote I’ve seen recently and repeatedly is that “a system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.” That’s a heavy statement. It’s an uncomfortable statement. But I think it’s one we should sit with. Sometimes we have to just sit with discomfort because we can’t always tie the truth with a bow.

While a standard college curriculum calls for four years of classroom instruction, the majority of American students spend more than four years in college. The Washington Post explains why so many American students require extra time and money to get a degree. Check out the other stories that got us talking this week.

Bradley Brewer

I had been a bit of nomad since I graduated from college, when I moved to Minnesota a few weeks after graduation to take a sales position with a global manufacturer. After 10 months, my job sent me to Montana where I spent the better part of three years traveling across the great American Northwest. And I loved it: the solitude, the scenery, the autonomy, the opportunity. It was all a young man could ask for—and I was thankful. But something was missing. I missed being a part of an active community. 

For teachers and educators who are passionate about education and believe technology is a powerful enabler, EdTech has intriguing potential.  

Last month, I attended an EdSurge Summit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California to get a better sense of how teachers and technology companies are joining forces to enable educational opportunity for students. The event, which meets regularly, brings together teacher participants to “Play, Listen, Explore, and Share” tech tools that have been curated by local educators.

After nearly 25 years in this work, we’re the first ones to say that we’re still learning every day.  That’s why we were glad that NPR gave us the opportunity to share some of what we’re learning and some of the ways we’ve evolved.

Opening up the doors is important. Not only does it allow us to give an inside look at how we’re trying to fulfill our potential as an organization, but it lets us shine a light on the efforts of our Teach For America community. The programs covered in the article are a result of the hard work of hundreds of Teach For America staff, corps members, and alumni—all committed to helping us do our part in the fight for educational equity.

Pass the Chalk

The shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has settled a bit, and now we’re turning our lens to those in need on Giving Tuesday. First launched in 2012, Giving Tuesday has expanded into a much-anticipated annual event for those looking to give back and celebrate generosity.

At Teach For America (TFA), we’re keenly aware of a pressing need that keeps us working every day: Only 1 in 10 students growing up in poverty will graduate from college. You can help us change this. For just $5 a day, you can sponsor a day of learning for five students who lack educational opportunity because of circumstances beyond their control.

When I began to explore teaching as a career, one of the first factors I considered was the fact that I am gay.

If there’s anything that all teachers know, it’s that students sense when teachers aren’t being themselves. Kids can smell it: They can smell when you’re being forced to do something administrative; they can smell when you don’t want to be there; and they can smell when you’re not being real. When I am being myself, I smile. I laugh. I laugh out loud. I am animated. I gesture wildly with my arms. People can read my facial expressions from a mile away. My voice registers more tenor than bass. I am happy. I am passionate.

But taken together, all of those things that made me me were now things that made me walk on eggshells at school. Because some may see those attributes as “too gay.” I cautioned myself: If I smiled and laughed too much, or if my pitch was too high, my performance of my own masculinity might give students or parents reason to question my sexual orientation. Because others read gesture into gender expression and sexual orientation, I feared my passion and animation in my classroom. They would clue others to a side of me that I needed hidden.

Being a new father has both its challenges and triumphs. You get to see your night owl, attention-seeking infant turn into a daytime, attention-seeking baby boy who is fascinated with trying to fit as many Cheerios in his mouth as he possibly can. 

The challenge lies in the fact that in a few year short years, I will have to make some of the most important decisions in his life (much more important than Cheerios). Where will my son attend school? Whom do I trust with the social, emotional, and educational well being of my child? 

What makes this challenge even greater is the fact that I am, in part, responsible for creating that same sense of trust for the parents of 27,000 students in the largest district in the state of Missouri. Who would I be if I could not send my own child to a school in a district in which I am charged with making great? 

When I sat waiting on Monday evening for a decision in the possible indictment of Officer Wilson, I immediately recalled the moment I found out I was carrying a little black boy in my womb. The Trayvon Martin shooting was fresh in my mind, and I thought about how my skin color would be passed down, and my unborn son would be judged, undervalued, and treated poorly as a result.

Because of his race coupled with his gender, my son Jackson entered this world susceptible to poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, poor health, mass incarceration, gun violence, police brutality, and racial profiling. His ability to stave off many of these ills will be our responsibility, as his parents, and that is a heavy toll. We are ready for the challenge.

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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