Tag Archives: Education

REPOST: These Syrian children are proof that we can provide education in the midst of conflict

An aspiring school ‘timeshare’ initiative in Lebanon has made a dramatic impact on educational provisions for children in conflict by putting at least 148,000 Syrian refugees back to school. The Guardian tells us more about this life-changing project and how we could help it further its mission.

Image Source: www.theguardian.com

This week 148,000 Syrian child refugees in Lebanon are back in school. This is thanks to an innovative initiative that has dramatically changed the way we think of provisions for children in conflict.

Having been deprived of an education by a war entering its fourth year, 88,000 of these children are now benefiting from a unique timeshare experiment. The local Lebanese children, who study in French and English in the mornings, are sharing their schools to allow Syrian refugees to learn in their native Arabic during a second afternoon shift. Some Syrian refugees also attend the morning school and the shift system is allowing many more children to be educated.

In one pilot area in Akroum, northern Syria, a Scottish charity is providing the funds for Syrian volunteers and Lebanese teachers to work together. Over the past few weeks an idea that was once merely a concept has been debated by international organisations and turned into reality. The project has got off the ground thanks to aid given by 10 donor countries, allowing Unicef and the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) to mobilise and work in partnership with the Lebanese government.

This month in New York I was able to report to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that the idea of education without borders is coming alive in one of the most dangerous areas of the world. This is thanks to the efforts of the UN voluntary organisations and aid agencies that have now pledged approximately $100m to make the initiative work.

The education of Ban Ki-moon himself is testimony to what can be achieved when international organisations are determined to provide education in the midst of conflict. The secretary general was educated under a tree during the 1950s civil war between North and South Korea. He benefited from a unique scheme under which Unesco and Unicef provided aid for the child refugees of that country’s devastating war. He told me that the books he used were received thanks to Unesco and that printed on their back cover was a message from the UN. It said: “Work hard and you will repay your debt to the United Nations.” This is something Ban Ki-moon did many times over as he rose to become the first secretary general of the United Nations who was brought up in the midst of civil war.

But 60 years on we have yet to establish the principle that even in the throes of conflict children will be provided not just with food and shelter, but with education. And we have yet to persuade aid donors that the one thing that education can provide is the vital ingredient of hope: hope that there is a future worth preparing and planning for.

Today more than 20 million of the 57 million children who are not in school are denied education because they are victims of war. And while the Red Cross long ago proved that healthcare can be provided even in the most difficult and turbulent of wars, we have not yet made sure that schooling can continue uninterrupted. As a result of our failure, children who should be at school are often involved in child labour, begging on the streets, condemned to early marriage, trafficked, or even recruited as child soldiers and trained to kill.

Now Lebanon can become the country where we achieve for education in 2014 what was achieved for health a century ago. We can give education to every one of the 435,000 child refugees and vulnerable children.

The provision of education beyond borders is not just a concept. It is coming alive in the most difficult of conflict zones, but it will take a demand from the public to persuade governments to do what is necessary to maintain support over the coming years. We must make sure the right of every child to go to school – in war as well as in peace – can become a reality.

My name is Jamie Squillare, a literature teacher. I believe that providing education in the midst of conflict can be challenging but possible. Governments and citizens needed to do what is necessary to maintain support over the coming years, especially for the hard-to-reach conflict zones. Visit my blog to read more tales of achievements in the education sphere.

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REPOST: Anti-testing groups form alliance to bring sanity to education policy

Education groups who opposed the high-stake use of standardized tests have formed an alliance called Testing Resistance and Reform Spring to support a wide range of initiatives aiming to stop the use of standardized test scores as key measure of educational achievement. The article below contains the names of individuals and groups who have joined the alliance.

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Image Source: washingtonpost.com
With resistance to standardized test-obsessed school reform growing around the country, three dozen local, state and national organizations and individuals have now banded together in an alliance to expand efforts to bring sanity to education policy.

The alliance, which is called Testing Resistance and Reform Spring, will support a range of public education and mobilizing tactics — including boycotts, opt-out campaigns, rallies and legislation — in its effort to stop the high-stakes use of standardized tests, to reduce the number of standardized exams, and to replace multiple-choice tests with performance-based assessments and school work. The alliance will help activists in different parts of the country connect through a new Web site that offers resources for activists, including fact sheets and guides on how to hold events to get out their message.

The emergence of the alliance represents a maturing of the grassroots testing resistance that has been building for several years locally in states , including Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.  Though many supporters of Barack Obama expected him to end the standardized testing obsession of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind when Obama was first elected president, many now say that the Obama administration has gone beyond the excesses of NCLB to inappropriately make high-stakes standardized tests the key measure of achievement by students, teachers, principals and schools.

Assessment experts say that standardized test scores are not a reliable or valid way to make high stakes decisions about the effectiveness of teachers or the achievement of students, but education policymakers have ignored these warnings for years. This has led to situations that are nothing short of preposterous, such as teachers being evaluated on the test scores of students they never had. Meanwhile, the emphasis on testing has led to an explosion of tests being given to kids; for example, fourth-graders in the Pittsburgh Public Schools have to take 33 standardized tests mandated by the district or state this school year. It is this reality that has fueled the resistance.

The founding members of the alliance are the Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, as well as Parents Across America, United Opt Out, Network for Public Education, and Save Our Schools.

Prominent educators, activists and bloggers who are partners in the alliance are:

Wayne Au, associate professor, University of Washington
Anthony Cody, teacher, blogger
Nikhil Goyal, student, activist
Jesse Hagopian, teacher, Garfield High School, Seattle, Washington
Deborah Meier
Diane Ravitch
Angela Valenzuela, professor, U-Texas, Austin
George Wood, superintendent, Federal Hocking Local Schools, Stewart, Ohio

Organizations that are alliance partners are:

National 
Coalition for Essential Schools
HispanEduca
K-12 News Network
National Latino/a Education Research and Policy (NLERAP)
Rethinking Schools

State and Local
Change the Stakes (New York)
Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE)
Citizens for Public Schools (Massachussetts)
Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) (Kentucky)
MecklenburgACTS.org (North Carolina)
More Than a Score (Chicago)
New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)
Opt Out Orlando (Florida)
Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago)
ReThinking Testing Midhudson Region (New York)
Social Equality Educators (Seattle)
Students 4 Our School (Denver)
SWside Parents Alliance (Chicago)
Teacher Activist Group – TAG Boston
Texas Center for Education Policy
Time Out from Testing (New York)
Youth Organizers for the Now Generation (YOUNG) (Boston)

More news on education and literature are found on this on this Jamie Squillare blog.

REPOST: Utah’s Teacher of the Year on effective education, school grades, Common Core

Allison P. Riddle, who was recently named as Utah Teacher of the Year, shares her thoughts about her profession and the principles and institutions involved in it.

NORTH SALT LAKE — Foxboro Elementary School teacher Allison Riddle started her week like many others, working with students in her fifth-grade class and preparing for parent-teacher conferences.

There was little out of the ordinary, considering that on Oct. 4 she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year, an honor that includes a check for $10,000, an interactive Smart Board for her classroom, a laptop computer, a $250 Visa gift card and a future meeting with the president of the United States.

Newly named Utah Teacher of the Year, Foxboro Elementary’s Allison P. Riddle, works with one of her students Ayla Honneywell in class Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News). Image Source: www.deseretnews.com

“The kids are excited. They are very excited about the Smart Board,” Riddle said. “I feel kind of silly, actually. There are so many good teachers. There are dozens of amazing teachers. I’m just someone that enjoys it.”

But to the administrators and staff of Foxboro Elementary and Davis School District, there is nothing silly about Riddle’s win. An educator for 25 years, Riddle is known for blending both the science and art of teaching and for helping less-experienced educators develop their skills.

“It’s a huge honor to the school to have Allison not only nominated but then to win,” Foxboro Assistant Principal Jake Heidrich said. “It’s very deserved by her. She is an excellent teacher.”

In Riddle’s classroom, nothing is an assumed skill, Heidrich said. Riddle takes the time to teach students how to line up and how to retrieve and replace materials, which contributes to more effective lessons, he said.

Heidrich also works with Riddle on a school mentoring committee for provisional teachers at Foxboro Elementary. During class periods where her students are engaged with a task they can work on individually, she’ll take first- and second-year teachers into the classroom of more experienced educators to point out best practices.

“There’s a lot of great teaching in this school, and it’s great to pull these new teachers out and have them go watch it,” Riddle said. “But you have to have somebody else with you that can point certain small things out.”

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said Riddle was already on the district’s radar before the awards ceremony. He described her as an educator with a passion for teaching who goes out of her way to help her students, as well as her fellow educators.

“This is the first time Davis School District has ever had the Teacher of the Year,” Williams said. “We’re more than pleased. We’re tickled.”

Newly named Utah Teacher of the Year, Foxboro Elementary’s Allison P. Riddle, helps Charlie Ho during class Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News). Image Source: www.deseretnews.com

Riddle said the biggest challenge facing Utah’s schools — besides having the lowest per-pupil spending in the country — is an increasingly negative attitude toward public education from community members.

She said Utah teachers are doing amazing things with the resources available to them, but many people forget the role a public school plays in giving children a safe space, off the streets, where they can learn reading, writing and arithmetic.

If the public perception were more positive, Riddle said, parents would be more inclined to support teaching efforts by getting involved with their child’s homework and schooling, and private businesses would be more willing to support school initiatives.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “It’s a public program that benefits everyone, not just that cute little kid that sits in that desk.”

But the key to improving the public perception is trust, Riddle said, and it’s up to educators to develop a trusting relationship with children and their parents.

“If (a student) has a supportive parent at home that will get on board with me and really review things every night, I can do good things,” she said.

Riddle said she has been involved in the planning of family math and literacy nights where community members are invited to attend academic activities at the neighborhood school. She said that type of public outreach helps develop an atmosphere where a school is a community center and not just a public day care where parents drop off their children on their way to work.

“The schools would need to do that,” Riddle said. “They’d have to set up some activities to get more parents in so they would trust the teachers at the school to help them help the kids.”

If she were given carte blanche to improve education Utah, Riddle said she would start by lowering class sizes.

Newly named Utah Teacher of the Year, Foxboro Elementary’s Allison P. Riddle, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News). Image Source: www.deseretnews.com

Her current class has 33 students, which is above average for fifth grade but not an anomaly in the state.

Riddle said the large group makes it difficult to give individual attention to every student. During reading time, for example, she said she uses a clipboard to rotate through the class on a predetermined schedule.

“I can actually teach each child one-on-one if you lower the class size,” Riddle said.

In addition to a large classroom, Utah’s Teacher of the Year also teaches at a C school, according to school grades released last month. The grades are based on student test scores and have been criticized by many in the education community for painting too narrow a portrait of school performance considering the stigma attached to a failing grade.

Riddle said she welcomes an evaluation of a school’s performance but added that there are contributing factors that affect a student’s test score that are not reflected in the grades.

“You could’ve honestly predicted a lot of those grades by ZIP code,” she said. “There’s so many other things that go into a test score. A test score, for me, is not a child.”

Riddle also weighed in on the controversial Common Core State Standards, which define the minimum skills students should learn in each grade and have been adopted by all but four states.

She said a set of common standards is beneficial to the professional development of teachers, who often attend training conferences out of state that don’t fully align with the standards back home.

“You can walk into a conference and feel confident that you’re getting ideas and supplies that will fit your standards,” Riddle said.

She also said the new standards are not radically different from the state’s previous standards, which were routinely tweaked themselves every few years.

Effective teaching, Riddle said, is less about the specific content than it is the use of classroom management and best practices to give students the help they need.

“Give it to me. I can teach it,” she said. “If you can teach well, you can teach anything. Except for, like, physics.”

Elementary school teacher Jamie Squillare sees her profession not as a burden but as a blessing. She enjoys time with her students and encourages them to read books even outside the classroom. Follow her on Facebook for more information.