The Charter School Debate

By Amanda Dolce, SED 2016

It’s not hard to find complaints regarding today’s educational system. Any newspaper, news channel, or overheard conversation can tell you that. As a result of this unrest, society has crafted several proposal and theories to test different ways to better our education system and thus better our children. One of these proposals is the use of charter schools.

What is a charter school? The term has become a hot word in debates but for most, the term, and the frenzy surrounding it, remains unclear. A charter school is a public school that is funded independently by a private group, or many groups. Theses groups are given a charter to venture out and design their own public school. As a result, the charter schools have much more autonomy in whom they hire to teach, what they teach, and how they teach it. To some, these new independent schools are sources of experimental hope, while to others they are a waste of time and resources.

photo credit: Merrimack College via photopin cc

photo credit: Merrimack College via photopin cc

Those who support charter schools view them as a chance to experiment. Much like a science experiment in a lab, charter schools can theorize the best education practices, test them, and then analyze the results. Some say this is a great way to discover what can help improve education. Once they find these conclusions they can be applied to the larger public school system. Others praise charter schools for the savior role they play. Many parents and teachers support charter schools because they view them as a superior alternative to the norm. For instance, some parents in low-income Harlem, New York are thankful for charter schools because they fear the neighborhood public schools their students would otherwise have to attend. They like the choice to go elsewhere; they feel charter schools give them some control in their fate. They see charter schools as a blessing.

To others though, it is a curse. Opponents express anger over the whole movement. Some argue that the money invested in the few charter schools should be invested in the whole public school system. This way, they argue, the money will help all children, not just the students in the charter school. Similarly, opponents feel that changes need to be made for all, not just the few students who are picked out of the lottery. If charter schools are better, why should only a few be served? Further, those against charter schools argue that test results indicate that most charter schools are performing at the same level or below public schools. A crucial criticism of charter schools is that they are simply a fad that is distracting from the real problems in public education.

As with most educational topics, there are two strong sides to the charter school debate. Time will tell whether they are indeed a fad or a solution to our problems. As future educators, this, long with others, is a debate worth looking into and figuring out where we personally stand.

Check out these quotes about charter schools and then find your own voice! (From Intellectual Takeout)

“I don’t mean to imply that charter schools by themselves are the solution. But by freeing education entrepreneurs from regulations and letting them hire the best teachers—‘certified’ or not—they can rescue at least a few kids from America’s flunking educational system.”
-Edwin J. Feulner Ph.D., Charter Schools Are Smarter Schools, The Heritage Foundation, August 14, 1998

“And what about the kids who are not motivated to apply to special schools where they will have a special learning experience? Will charter schools help us do a better job of educating all our students – which is what we must do if we are to salvage public education? Or are they an escape valve to keep those who are dissatisfied from deserting the system.”
-Albert Shanker, Where We Stand: Questions About Charters, New York Times, December 18, 1994

*Amanda Dolce is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying special education.

Those Who Can, Teach

By Jessica Gulotta, SED 2017

photo credit: ThomasThomas via photopin cc

photo credit: ThomasThomas via photopin cc

As a complete science geek, Albert Einstein is undoubtedly someone I look up to. I was reading quotes by him and I came across one where he said, “it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression in knowledge.” This quote struck me pretty hard because an expectation of a teacher, given by Einstein himself, is something that I would whole-heartedly commit to.

It got me thinking about education as a career and how hard it really is. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “those who can’t, teach.” And every time, my skin crawls. Those who can’t teach? I would argue that those who can, teach.

Teachers get up every day knowing they have the power to inspire somebody, get to know somebody, and to completely change somebody. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I definitely don’t know of any other career path that allows for this type of life-molding power. I personally can say that a big part of who I am is due to the inspiration and wisdom that my past teachers instilled in me.

And so, I will argue.

Those who can, teach. Those who can selflessly dedicate their lives to the betterment of others can teach. Those who can immerse themselves in the knowledge that they must convey, can teach. Those who find pure happiness in others fully succeeding, can teach. Those who can take Einstein’s request to awaken joy in students, can most definitely teach.

Those who can, teach.

*Jessica Gulotta is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying science education.

Surviving Elementary School as a Future Secondary Education Teacher

By Melissa Perez, SED 2016

As a tutor at Edison K-8, I work with students in grades 3 to 5. Coming from someone who is studying to be a high school mathematics teacher, working with such an energetic group of children can be stressful at times. Over the year, I have found some ways to be a successful tutor due to both my experiences and knowledge I gained from a course in Problem Solving (ME363). Here are 3 ways to help a non-elementary teacher be a more effective tutor for children.

Drink coffee.

Perez Article 2 1

photo credit: Linh H. Nguyen via photopin cc

You probably already drink it. If you don’t, you most likely will. This year (or maybe even just this week), I have consumed more coffee than I thought was possible. I am not completely sure how elementary teachers have so much energy, but I have noticed that I can smell the sweet aroma of coffee breath coming from them. Who knew that coffee from Starbucks could taste like water from an oasis? If coffee really isn’t your thing, do some jumping jacks or take a quick power nap before your tutoring sessions. If you show up to tutoring sessions feeling lethargic, children might think that you don’t really care to be there with them. Do whatever you can to stay energized and make sure you show your tutees how excited you are about learning and helping them learn so that they, too, can stay positive about their schoolwork.

Have a support system.

When I first started my job, I thought I knew everything there was to know about tutoring. I soon realized that the more I worked with children, the less qualified and unprepared I felt. There were times when I struggled to effectively explain certain concepts or times when my tutees would complain and say things like “I’m never going to understand this” or “This is why I hate math.” Feeling discouraged, I turned to the best teachers I knew to ask for help. My mom reassured me of my abilities as a teacher whenever I had felt like I had failed my students. My sister explained strategies that she used with her students, such as giving demonstrations and scaffolding, so that I could be more prepared the next time I tutored. With their support, I stayed motivated and became determined to find and use new strategies to help me become a better tutor. So don’t ever feel like you have to know all the answers. Find people who will support you and help you become a better teacher.

Implement what you learn.

Even when your eyes burn due to the lack of sleep, make sure to pay attention and take good notes in your education courses. Last fall, I took Problem Solving, where I learned how I could unobtrusively facilitate the learning of my students through active problem-solving. It helped me view mathematics from new perspectives. Knowing about mathematical theorems, properties, and procedures was not enough; I was challenged to understand why these were true and how I could explain them in a way that would make sense to my students. Although I took the course with high school students in mind, I was able to apply a lot of the skills and knowledge learned in the course to help me tutor the kids in elementary school. Make sure you listen carefully in your courses: you will never know how much you (or your tutees) will benefit from it.

Although my job has proved to be challenging at times, I have learned a few things along the way to help me survive. Even on my most exhausting days I can honestly say that I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to help students grow as learners and the opportunity to improve my skills as an educator.

*Melissa Perez is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying mathematics education.

Research: The Finnish Advantage

By Carina Traub, SED 2016

I talk about Finland a whole lot more than other people talk about Finland. Is it because I’m Finnish? No, it’s because I’m an educator.

In the education field, we are familiar with Finland’s remarkable PISA results, but we often have trouble finding ways to replicate their success here in the United States.

Flag of Finland

Flag of Finland

Finland values its teachers tremendously, and young Finns grow up awarding the same amount of prestige to teachers as we do towards doctors and lawyers here in the United States. While completely shifting the mindset of American society may seem like a daunting task, there are ways to break down teacher prestige into more attainable chunks.

For example, teachers are so respected in Finland because they attend highly selective teacher colleges where they complete intensive research-based training. Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, explains that, “All graduating teachers, by the nature of their degree, have completed research-based master’s theses accompanied by rigorous academic requirements of theory, methodology, and critical reflection” (p. 94). Such well-trained teachers have earned their country’s respect, and deserve their loyal following of foreign teachers who pilgrimage to Finland to see equitable and effective education in action.

By attending Boston University’s School of Education, SED students also achieve a high-caliber teacher training experience. This semester, however, I wanted to make my teacher education more akin to that of the Finns, so I reexamined the basis of Finnish teacher training. There it was: research.

The Finns trust their teachers to design curriculum at a school-based level because their teachers have been trained in how to research the most efficient ways to deliver content to their students. If I wanted to replicate Finnish PISA scores in my own future classroom, research looked like an excellent activity to get involved with.

Thanks to the help of my former special education professor, I connected with Zachary Rossetti, an assistant professor in the special education department who was willing to bring me in to his research project. He was studying the sibling relationships between adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their siblings without disabilities. Suddenly, I was immersed in the field of research.

Image by Hannah Landers

Image by Hannah Landers

I was reading dozens of academic articles and learning about the specifics of complex sibling relationships filled with empathy, challenges, and love. Then I was organizing these stacks of articles thematically, and learning how a literature review can transform into the introduction to a research paper. Next came the coding, getting into the real details of Professor Rossetti’s project. I was enthralled and learning so much.

I was finally getting to be a part of the Finnish advantage. I was developing new skills I would not have acquired in my regular classes, and gaining exposure to an academic world where I had previously just been a visitor. My research experience has challenged me to do better, and to be better. “Research like a Finn!” I tell myself, and I know that my future students will reap the benefits.

Reference: Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

*Carina Traub is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying English education.

Giving All Students an Equal Opportunity

By Michelle Yelaska, SED ’16

Usually when I see viral videos or popular tweets, I dismiss them as fads that are entertaining but unnecessary. However, there is one blog that I follow quite adamantly – Humans of New York. Photojournalist Brandon Stanton travels through the city taking pictures of your average human and informally interviews them. Between pictures of cute kids at Chinese New Year and drug addicts, one particular story caught my eye.

As a PTA member at an inner city school, one lady was fighting for equity in the school system. She claimed to be an advocate for her child and 17 other students who came from bilingual families and scored high on the Regents exam. With their high scores, they can qualify for an Advanced Regents government scholarship to help further their education. Although they have the scores, they are missing three years of foreign language to apply. Recently, the principal at the high school fired the foreign language teacher and refuses to hire a replacement. Without the third year of foreign language, many students are not qualified and miss out on this great opportunity.

Photo Courtesy of Humans of New York

Photo Courtesy of Humans of New York

While of course this snapshot only tells one side of the story, a couple of things are quite clear. First, this is a case of inequities in the school system. Equity in education means providing all students with the opportunity and the chance to succeed. Without a foreign language teacher, students at this school do not have the same opportunity to work towards the scholarship. They are eliminated from the race before it has even begun. This goes beyond inequities – it is a clear case of inequality in the school system. Because this school lacks a foreign language teacher, the students suffer from missed opportunities. And while the teacher may have been fired for a perfectly acceptable reason, a replacement could have been found.

Another observation is that the lady in the picture specifically pointed out that “These kids are from Ecuador, Peru, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, everywhere.” Although not explicitly stated, this implies that the students already speak a second language at home and English may not even be their first language. Thus, while it is important to take foreign language in school, students may already be proficient in two languages without taking the language requirement in school. Though I am not well informed about the Regents Exam, are there no exceptions made for bilingual students? Is there a special test they can score well on to exempt them from the three years of foreign language?

Although you can’t trust everything on the Internet, this photograph stimulated some questions for me as a future educator. How can I be an equitable teacher and give all students an opportunity to succeed? How can I positively impact the school to ensure equity? Teaching is not just about proving the quadratic formula. It is also about giving all students an equal opportunity to achieve their goals.

*Michelle Yelaska is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying mathematics education.

Hard and Soft Individualism: Is One Better Than Another?

By Alisha Parikh, SED ‘17

Compare the two statements, “Sit down, get your books out, and start working.” and “I love seeing how wonderful all of your work has been, why don’t we put some of your work up on the walls?” These two phrases are a glimpse into a long held debate about the style of teaching that is best for students, particularly those in primary education. Is there one particular type of teacher that is better for the developing and enhancing students’ learning at early ages? Can one style of teaching be diminishing to a child’s natural love of learning? The answers to these questions have varied and have led to different interpretations and beliefs from educators and researchers. In my AN290: Children and Culture class, we discussed specifically two different types of teachers: those who promote Hard Individualism, and those who promote Soft Individualism.

Teachers who lean toward the hard individualism style of teaching are often seen as more strict, commanding, and disciplining with their students than other teachers. No doubt, these teachers instill a sense of discipline in their students, a critical aspect of learning. The students in this type of classroom environment gradually learn to not be overly – sensitive and learn to take criticism in a constructive way. Lessons such as these are important in the classroom, and can greatly influence a student’s efficiency and productivity in learning. However, some fear that this particular style of teaching may diminish the natural curiosity and love for learning that young children have. With constant commands and little room for sensitivity, children may over time come to keep their questions and expressiveness within themselves. In turn, this could negatively affect a child’s learning and capabilities in the classroom.

In contrast to teachers who favor the hard individualism style, other teachers lean toward a soft individualism style of teaching. These teachers lean toward encouraging children to express themselves, and to foster their natural curiosity. A common representation of this style of teaching is displaying children’s work on the walls, as a way of appreciating the students’ work and boosting their self-esteems. In turn, these students come to learn that questions can foster their learning process, and that experimentation and discovery are essential aspects of learning in the classroom. On the other side, some individuals criticize such teachers for being “too soft.” They say that students who are taught by such teachers may become overly – sensitive to criticism, and not be able to appropriately manage failures or challenges.

Considering both sides then, as emerging teachers it is critical for us to acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages of each of these teaching styles. Many say that for younger children, because learning is still much about the whole child and personal development rather than an academic focus, the concept of soft individualism is better to bring to the classroom. As children grow older and the academic work becomes more challenging and a greater focus, the concept of hard individualism is more appropriate so that students can learn how to grow from criticism and discipline. But in all, every teacher is unique and brings a different personality to the classroom. There is not one right or wrong method, the answer lies in what is most appropriate based on the teacher’s beliefs about what is best for his or her students and what style will bring out the best achievement and potential based on each child’s individual style of learning.

*Alisha Parikh is a first year student at Boston University School of Education studying early childhood education.