Tag Archives: Teachers College

A bottom-up view of policy I can get behind, Part 1

One of the most satisfying parts of being in a doctoral program is having access to great research and ideas. Recently I have been able to make time for reading research related to the areas I would like to study while in my graduate program at Teachers College: inequality, educational policy, access to high quality teaching, race, and English language learners.

I picked up an issue of Educational Researcher (the AERA’s official journal) and began flipping through the articles yesterday. Like most education journals, the trouble with me is narrowing down the articles to read because so much is related to the question of how to transform American schools so that they promote equity rather than continue to reproduce the social order and larger inequitable political forces at work in our city governments, schools, and American life more generally. I started with the first piece, and I am still lingering over it now:

Raudenbush, S. W. (2009) “The Brown legacy and O’Connor challenge: Transforming schools in the images of children’s potential.” Educational Researcher, 38(3), 169-181.

So the idea here is that since Brown v. Board of Education, we have been making gains in reducing inequality (generally and in schools). Something happened though in the 1990s (and that something is pretty concisely summarized in 8 paragraphs of the article) where we began to see that there was a “cumulative effect of the concentration of disadvantage among those living in the poorest neighborhoods” (171). While the application of the term “disadvantage” still creeps me out when it appears in research pertaining to actual people, communities, and cultures who even in concentrated poverty have many “advantages,” I do think that Raudenbush has it right that trends in physical and economic segregation over the 70s and 80s resulted in our present American reality that race all too often correlates to educational (and hence economic) disadvantage.

In this article Roudenbush posits that we can transform the “amount, quality, and organization of schooling” to make good on the “O’Connor Challenge” of our post-secondary institutions no longer needing affirmative action policies because our schools would “be producing enough strong minority applicants by then to achieve diverse student bodies at prestigious universities without the aid of affirmative action policies” (170). His hypothesis is that policy can mobilize schools to take on the awesome challenge of providing and ambitious instruction capable of changing the game for those students traditionally locked out of our educational system. Instead of the overarching, top-down educational reform policies of our past, he argues that we should increase the amount, quality, and organization of our schools through “a shared, systematic approach that emphasizes teacher accountability and schoolwide collaboration” (178).

There is a lot in the this article to chew on, and that will come in Part 2 of this post once I have another go-round with reading it. I will though leave with an excerpt from the summary that inspires me to dig in to the ideas it presents:

In sum, the shared assumption is that college success is a natural outcome of continuous engagement in ambitious intellectual work from early preschool through secondary school. The central premise is that nearly all children will thrive intellectually if exposed to ambitious instruction carefully tailored to frequent, objective assessments of student progress throughout the schooling years. Such instruction requires that the privatized, idiosyncratic notion of teaching that characterizes U.S. schools give way to a shared, systematic approach that emphasizes teacher accountability and schoolwide collaboration. In such a system, teacher expertise in using the system will vary, and schools will e organized to motivate and support advances in expertise. This conception of the effective school has broad implications for school leadership, parent engagement, social services, and teacher preparation. Clarifying how such an approach can be conceived, implemented, tested, and broadly shared requires a novel sense of how practitioners and researchers should interact, with implications for how universities should best organize themselves to support powerful urban schooling.

School Winds Down, Sarah Winds Up


This, the final week but certainly not the final frontier, is a significant marker. Just as our cohort begins to jel and as we gain a familiarity with this new frame as doctoral students, our intensive summer comes to an abrupt end.

Sure, we will all be glad to return to what has been the primary focus of our lives: our jobs and families. Yet, we have started something here, and like all committed and passionate folks, it’s hard to leave midstream. Yes, we will be back together at the end of September, and yes, we have a vast array of assignments to complete for this summer and for the upcoming fall semester. There is plenty to read, research, write, contemplate. I have just fully appreciated this space to learn, reflect, synthesize, and develop as an educator and human being. We are among such dedicated, intelligent, and diverse folks here at Teachers College and in our Urban Education Leaders Program.
After five weeks of intense scrutiny and reflection, I find that I am further along the path but still my sights remain squarely set on equity, race, opportunity, language, leadership, and advocacy. No one issue has emerged as MY issue, but I’m deeply committed to addressing the root causes of inequity and continuing to seek out solutions to the very real consequences of our current dropout crisis and school-to-prison pipeline in American urban school systems. I would like to find a way to link this uniquely American experience to a more globalized movement to fight oppression and the resulting poverty and marginalization through youth activism and media experimentation. I have some initial ideas on this kind of project, but first and foremost, I need to focus myself where I truly know the most: American inequity.
In some ways, I would like to stay in this stasis of summer–pondering and experimenting intellectually and indefinitely. I have to admit though I’m looking forward to the next steps of action, of some sort of job, and of more fully putting theory into practice.

Superintendent? UELP’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Today we met the cohort that is two years ahead of us. They seem so far ahead of us, mostly working as district leaders–some already superintendents and even former superintendents. Perhaps they came in more seasoned than we are now, but perhaps two years from now we will have grown into the leaders they clearly are now.

As I sat in the resource management class (focused on HR this week) our two cohorts are jointly taking at TC this summer, I wondered how much all of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy established by the Organization and Leadership department at TC. To what extent are they district leaders now because the program named them as a cohort ready for the challenges of leadership in urban districts? To what extent will they stay with the work because of the cohort model and because of the training UELP is providing? To what extent do I now (as of 4 hours ago) see the path toward becoming a superintendent as possible and perhaps desirable because of the frame of this program?
I actually realized today that under the right leadership, working in a district could be satisfying work that pushes toward wide scale change. At first, I felt out of place sitting in a classroom where the instructor asked us to frame a vision for how we wanted to manage human resources in our district. This is a level of questioning I have never been exposed to, and I knew at some point in this program, we would begin to shift in this direction. The work we have done in the first two weeks immersing ourselves in the research has felt pleasantly familiar, like an old high school or college buddy you see again after 3 years and realize that you still connect. I’m good at being a graduate student and scholar.
Working alongside more established school leaders this past two weeks has pushed me to feel more comfortable calling myself a leader publicly. I have always seen myself as someone with strong leadership skills, experience, and dispositions, but this is the first time in a while I have actually identified with and embraced the title of leader. When I decided to enter to realm of urban education 13 years ago as an outsider who grew up in a rural homogeneous community, I disassociated with the identity of leader. I knew that I had so much learning to do, so much listening, and so much living. I have been consciously building my practice in a field I care passionately about; I have been pushing myself to become competent and established enough to be on firm ground when I assert that we can and should transform urban systems to be more just and equitable. I finally feel ready to assume a formal leadership role in this field.
I have to trust that I belong with these two cohorts of established principals, executives, district leaders, and superintendents. I remain open to a variety of leadership roles, and today I accepted for the first time that included in the list of possible leadership roles is the title superintendent. Where do I go from here? That’s still up to the NYC job market the opportunities I find through TC. I’m curious to see where this path leads me in the near future. The next two years will likely be largely shaped by UELP’s vision, connections, and requirements, and I look forward to be looking back measuring the likely inevitable exponential growth two years in this program will produce.

Literacy for Freedom Schools Initiative

I’ve always been passionate and driven. I’ve always had a clear vision for the direction and arc of my life and a strong set of hypotheses about how to set about making that vision a reality. I believe that there is meaningful, impactful, and urgent work for me to do at the nexus of community and schools. I believe that we can create equitable and just educational systems truer to promise of the ideals that launched the great American democracy experiment. This sense of purpose and vision formed early for me–at sixteen, in a public high school in rural Vermont. My teachers, my classmates, my community, my family all played central roles in forging my identity as an achiever, activist, and educator.

At points in my career, I have struggled to identify the best way forward–this past couple of months of career and life transition being the most recent example. Happily, this past weekend at Teachers College provided enough perspective and opportunity for deep thinking and reflection to allow me to find some clarity and articulate a strong set of hypotheses about the arc of my life and work in education.

Hypothesis 1: University-School Partnerships is the best lens for my academic and professional work going forward.

I have a diverse set of interests and competencies: teaching literacy across the high school curriculum, history curriculum development, school leadership, new teacher development, bilingual education, dropout prevention, equity in classrooms, participatory action research, teacher leadership, building a culture of achievement in low-performing schools, school-community partnerships, family engagement, community service learning, technology in the classroom, professional development, inclusion/special education. These represent what I have done and have been interested in as a practitioner and as a researcher over the past ten years in urban schools. I am stepping in the Urban Education Leaders Program recognizing these as assets and potential areas of further development in my pursuit of my own personal development to become a district leader in urban school reform.

In my work with establishing New Mission’s dropout initiative with professors Theresa Perry, John Diamond, and Terry Meier in Boston, I have experienced the power of university-school partnerships to catalyze change in schools. In reading about examples of schools that have created a culture of achievement for students of color–like the University Park School in Worcester, MA–I have been inspired to explore further just how deep and powerful those university-school partnerships can be. My recent interest in larger-scale urban reform like the Harlem Children’s Zone has pushed me to consider the yet-to-be-realized possibilities for university, school, government, and community organization partnerships to create expansive change in urban districts in terms of increased equity for students and families.

I think my diverse interests (past, present, and future) all can find a home under the research umbrella of university-school partnerships, and I’d like to use this lens to focus my dissertation research and my practice.

Hypothesis 2: In my practice I can have the greatest impact in urban education reform by becoming a principal, launching one or more schools in concert with university partners. Down the road I will seek both district leadership positions and eventually a college/university professor position to the end of improving school leadership and equity.

I know that I have the capacity to be an outstanding school leader, and I would like the opportunity to create a team of educators, university partners, and families to found a 6-12 school centered on Literacy for Freedom–rooted in the traditions and history of African American, Latino/a, and other groups’ struggles to achieve full citizenship, freedom, and liberation in America and around the globe through literacy and education. I see my time at Teachers College as a way to study efforts like the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering (as well as other examples) in order to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully launch my own school. I can imagine collaborating with professors like Theresa Perry at Simmons and Terry Meier at Wheelock College whom I have already begun working with over this past year to embed the transformative ideas and legacy of freedom for literacy in the curriculum and school culture of one Boston pilot school.

This is an ambitious project, but my work in Boston over the past 10 years and the opportunity to do the Urban Education Leaders Program in New York at Teachers College over the next four years should afford me the contacts, knowledge, and resources to begin implementing this vision.

I propose the Boston Literacy for Freedom Schools Initiative.