Drawing (obvious) Conclusions

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Results are in from the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress, also called NAEP or The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is a national exam given to fourth and eighth grade students to “assess what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas” (The Nation’s Report Card).

Average reading scores for eighth-graders increased from 2015, yet there were no changes for reading at fourth grade or for math at either grade. Reformers say their efforts are improving scores, and public school advocates say their increase in scores- “were “flat” and “stagnating,” “mixed” and “steady” or even contained “bright spots” (Atlanta Journal Constitutional).

After reading the scores, one educational advocacy group wanted better “screening” for teachers, another more private school options. Several said schools needed stronger accountability, which usually means testing, but an anti-testing group said nearly two-decades of high-stakes tests had produced little progress (Atlanta Journal Constitutional).

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What about the achievement gap? Well, to no one’s surprise, it’s widening. “In fourth-grade reading, for example, the gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of students widened by four points. In fourth-grade math, the gap widened by six points” (Hechinger Report).

The gap in reading scores between the top 10% and the bottom 10% increased by three points. The gap in math scores between the top 10% and the bottom 10% increased by six points (Hechinger Report).

Students in Chicago, touted last year by the New York Times as “the most effective school district in America, based on how much students had been advancing each year from 2009 to 2015″ did not show gains this year (Hechinger Report).

After many years of impressive gains in Washington DC (now attributed to questionable practices), educational progress stalled in 2017 as students remain well below the national average. While in San Diego, Fresno, and Los Angeles, schools reported gains in fourth grade reading scores. At the same time higher income districts also showed gains.

None of this should be a surprise. Top income level students fare well on the test, and  bottom income level students do not. The gap doesn’t narrow if both groups continue to move (or not move) at the same rate. So how do we narrow the achievement gap? Continuing to take tests and report results no one finds surprising doesn’t help. Pointing fingers at who’s fault it is doesn’t help. Pointing out stagnant scores of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, though glaringly obvious, also doesn’t help.

According to Brookings Institute, “Unless we rapidly increase the rates at which we close our race-, ethnicity-, and income-based gaps, unequal access to education and the consequences of this inequality will affect students today as well as subsequent generations.”

We have to change the variables. Offer students support they need in reading and math to get better. Fund initiatives that support students who need assistance. Train teachers to be more effective with students who continue to score low.

NAEP scores are a big deal, but mostly to people who want to point fingers at each other. My dad used to say, “Figures don’t lie, liars figure.” NAEP scores tell us what we already know. What are we going to do about it? For the sake of all children, do something differently next time.

These are my reflections for today.

4/20/18

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Oklahoma Teachers: “It’s not just about the money.”

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In an effort to save money, ninety school districts in Oklahoma worked a four day week because of a severe cut to school funding. While this made many students happy, it outraged teachers and parents.

Teachers pay in Oklahoma is the third lowest in the country, driving many teachers to work two jobs- at Walmart on weekends or in restaurants at night. Many argue even with a drastic decision to move to a four day week will do nothing to make up for the significant budget shortfalls (The Economist).

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“The real reason why so many school districts are resorting to a tighter calendar is that it is the only true perk they can offer to poorly paid teachers, whose salaries start at $31,600 and who have not received a rise for ten years. The exodus to Texas and Arkansas, which included Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, continues unabated. A 20-minute drive across the border often results in a $10,000 increase. Dallas’s school district has unashamedly set up booths in Oklahoma City to poach what talent remains” (The Economist).

The issue is not just salary. Teachers have expressed concerns over the high cost of health insurance. “Under the cheapest plan on offer, monthly premiums are $400 for a single person. The cost of adding a spouse is another $470 per month; a child is $208”(The Economist).

So last week they went on strike, impacting more than 500,000 students statewide. In early negotiations, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin offered teachers a $6100 pay raise, but the teachers said no. To read just the offer, an outsider would think teachers were crazy to pass that up, and selfish to move forward with the strike.

That wasn’t enough for the teachers, who are seeking $10,000 over three years. Even with the $6100 pay raise approved by lawmakers, their mean salaries would be still be lower than teachers in every neighboring state, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed.

This according to Alicia Priest, President of the Oklahoma Education Association:

“This package doesn’t overcome a shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It’s not enough,” Priest continued. “We must continue to push for more annual funding for our schools to reduce class size and restore more of the 28 percent of funds they cut from education over the last decade” (The Hill).

Last Friday the Oklahoma Senate considered proposals to expand tribal gambling and tax certain Internet sales that would generate roughly $40 million annually.  Lawmakers approved the state’s first major tax increase in a quarter century, a $400 million revenue package (Reuters.com).

According to NBC News, Governor Fallin has faced the brunt of criticism from teachers, many of whom blame her for supporting subsidies for businesses and tax breaks  granted to the energy industry, which were worth $470 million in fiscal-year 2015 alone. When energy prices declined a few years ago, so did the state’s tax revenue, leading to deeper cuts in education spending. Teachers are seeking $200 million in increased annual education funding.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized Oklahoma teachers telling them to “serve the students,” according to the Dallas Morning News.  “I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.” This from a billionaire who never had to work, never attended public schools, surrounds herself with a security detail costing taxpayers millions of dollars, talking to Oklahoma teachers  who have an average salary of $42,460, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, placing them at 48th in average U.S. classroom teacher salary (Dallas Morning News)

Oklahoma’s teachers are following the same path walked in West Virginia, where teachers secured a pay raise, and Kentucky, where teachers rallied Monday and are threatening to do so again if the state government doesn’t meet their demands. There’s grumblings Arizona could be the next to see a teachers strike.

After nine days of striking, which led to tens of thousands of people – including students- filling the capitol building, the strike ended Thursday night. OEA President Alicia Priest said, “After getting $479 million in funding for the next school year, the OEA decided to end the walkout, though the funding falls short of what we’d hoped to achieve” (CNN).

The OEA polled its members and by Thursday, 70% of respondents indicated they were unsure of continuing the walkout (CNN).   Teachers agreed that while the strike may be over, the fight will continue to restore funding and improve conditions.

I applaud teachers who stand up for better working conditions for themselves and better educational opportunities for students. I hope talks will continue past the strike, but it shouldn’t have come to this.

These are my reflections for today.

4/13/18

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Linda Brown Thompson

Oliver Brown was an assistant pastor in a Methodist church in Topeka, KS. He also worked for the Santa Fe Railway. Within four blocks of where Brown lived with his wife and three children was Sumner Elementary School. Brown’s children couldn’t attend Sumner because it was for only white children. Rather, Brown’s children had to walk through a railroad yard and across a busy intersection to catch their bus to travel two miles to the all black Monroe Elementary School.

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Linda Brown, who was seven in 1950, recalled the day her father took her by the hand and walked the four blocks to Sumner Elementary School. Linda remembers hearing her father ask the principal why his daughter couldn’t attend this school because of the color of their skin. All Linda wanted to do was go to school with the other children in her neighborhood. She remembered hearing the voices of her father and the principal getting louder. Soon after, Mr. Brown walked out, took Linda’s hand and walked her back home.

“My father pondered, ‘Why?’ Why should we have to tell our children that they cannot go to the school in their neighborhood because their skin is black?’  (Washington Post).  Little did Oliver Brown or his daughter know that what transpired from that day would lead to what many say is the most historic Supreme Court decision in American history.

In February 1951, NAACP attorney Charles Scott filed a lawsuit against the Topeka School District in federal court. By July, a federal court panel heard testimony from Oliver Brown and 12 other plaintiffs who argued that when it came to public schools, separate was not equal.  The court’s decision supported segregation in the Topeka Board of Education (Washington Post).

In 1952, the case, Oliver L. Brown et. al v. Board of Education of Topeka, was appealed to the Supreme Court, which consolidated the Brown case with five other desegregation cases from Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C., into a single case. Thurgood Marshall led the legal team arguing that black children were denied access to all-white schools, challenging the “separate but equal” legal doctrine that had stood since 1896 with the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (Washington Post).

On May 17, 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren rendered the unanimous decision of the court that all black schools were inherently unequal and school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Linda Brown remembers coming home from school that day to find her father in tears. “My father believed strongly God would move people to do the right thing” (Washington Post).

Linda Brown Thompson worked as a Head Start teacher after college. She also spent her life telling audiences the story of her father, and what he did for his children, and for all black children in America. Oliver Brown died at the age of 42 in 1961.

On the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Linda Brown spoke of the decision, and the impact it had on her family and this country.

“Looking back on Brown v. Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of our young people greater today” (Eyes on the Prize).

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Linda Brown Thompson died March 25 at the age of 76.

In hearing of Brown’s death, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer made a statement. “Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world” (Biography.com).

These are my reflections for today.

4/6/18

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Congress rebukes DeVos’ education agenda

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The education budget approved by Congress and signed by Trump was a far cry from what was proposed, weakening DeVos’ agenda to privatize public education. Trump’s budget plan called for slashing the education budget, cutting discretionary spending by $9.2 billion. That did not happen.

Here are some highlights of the budget:

Title I funding  for disadvantaged students will increase to $300 million up from $15.8 million in 2017.

DeVos and Trump asked for a $1 billion program designed to support open enrollment (school choice) in districts. This is not included in the budget.  The bill also leaves out a $250 million private school choice initiative.

Title II funding which provides professional development to educators got $2.1 million. The Trump budget wanted to eliminate Title II.

Title IV grants slated for districts to use for a variety of needs from technology to school safety will receive $1.1 billion. Trump wanted to eliminate Title IV.

21st Century Community Learning Centers gets a $20 million bump, another program Trump wanted to ax.

DeVos wants to reduce the Department of Education, but the bill bars funds from being used for “a reorganization that decentralizes, reduces the staffing level, or alters the responsibilities, structure, authority, or functionality of the Budget Service of the Department of Education”(Ed Week).

DeVos wanted to shrink the office for civil rights’ budget by $1 million. Instead the funding increased from $109 to $117 million.

The budget includes a $2.37 billion increase in funding to the Child Care Development Block Grant, increases Head Start funding $610 million, and kept spending level for the Preschool Development Program – another program this administration sought to eliminate.

The bill requests $120 million for the Education Innovation and Research (EIR). This program seeks innovative practices in schools.

The spending bill would raise the maximum Pell Grant award to low-income students by $175 to $6,095; DeVos had proposed freezing the maximum at $5,920. She had also proposed cutting federal work-study programs in half, but the spending bill would add $140 million, for a total of $1.1 billion (CNN).

The budget increases funding for student mental health, increasing funding by $700 million for a wide-ranging grant program schools can use for violence prevention, counseling and crisis management. An additional $22 million is slated for programs to reduce school violence and support mental-health services in schools (Washington Post).

Significant changes come to the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative. This program is currently housed in the Department of Justice and uses funds for research and development of safety programs  for bulling and school safety. Now the funds will be redirected to the STOP School Violence Act, allowing funding for metal detectors and other safety measures. Funding can also be used for evidence-based programs for school safety, violence prevention efforts, and anonymous reporting systems (Ed Week).

One item that did not get cut from the budget is the increase in funding for charter schools, up $58 million to a total of $400 million. But with the cuts in other areas including vouchers and school choice, this is a small concession.

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After a tumultuous year of trying to prove herself worthy of a cabinet position she is not qualified to hold, a year of pushing an agenda not aligned with an already volatile congress, and an abysmal interview on national television, by all appearances this is a vote of no confidence. The Secretary should consider embracing this budget and work to support every aspect of it or step aside. She may surround herself with marshals, and protect herself from grizzlies, but she can no longer push her agenda on a country and congress that does not support it.

These are my reflections for today.

3/30/18

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DeVos on 60 Minutes

In case you missed it, the Secretary was interviewed by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes. You can watch it here. It runs about 13 minutes.

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Stahl asks, “Have you seen the really bad schools?” Her response, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” Stahl fires back, “Well maybe you should.”

This was only the beginning of the unraveling of DeVos on camera. If she ever wants to look back at where her credibility tanked, she needs only to watch this video.

DeVos said, “We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars [in public education] from the federal level, and we have seen zero results.”

Stahl quickly responded, “But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished? Why is a reporter telling the Secretary of Education that schools have gotten better? Shouldn’t she know that?

What many pundits believe to be the turning point of the interview came when Stahl asked DeVos a question regarding the outcome of Michigan’s charter-school-expansion. Alia Wong of The Atlantic, summarized, “Pushing back against the contention that charter schools and voucher programs deprive traditional public schools of funding, DeVos insisted that achievement at traditional public schools actually increases when a large percentage of children opt to enroll in privately run schools. Stahl asked whether Michigan’s schools have gotten better thanks to the charter-school experiment.

DeVos responded, “I don’t know. Overall, I—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.”

The reality, as Stahl was quick to point out, is contrary to what DeVos suggested.  Michigan ranks toward the bottom on national reading and math assessments despite nearly 20 years of DeVos family funded and supported charter school growth (The Atlantic).

Later in the interview, Stahl asked, “Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary? DeVos responded, “I think I’m more misunderstood than anything.”  This is where I disagree. DeVos is not misunderstood, most people completely understand all too well who she is and what she’s doing.

Here is a short list of reasons she is so grossly unpopular:

  • lacks experience in education – especially public education (she did not attend nor did any of her children attend public schools)
  • does not connect with educators – rather she demeans them on a regular basis,
  • decisions are driven by her privileged lifestyle which puts her out of touch with many – if not most – families whose children attend public schools
  • supports privatizing public education, supports charters and vouchers despite an absence of research to support their success
  • her response to school violence is to arm teachers
  • she is the only Cabinet member protected by Federal Marshals, costing taxpayers nearly $1 million a month
  • she has already rolled back protections of minority, and trans students

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The day after the interview aired, DeVos was speaking to the National PTA, when she claimed 60 Minutes producers edited her remarks. Yet, she did not provide one example of a misquote.

“So, now that I have the opportunity to speak unedited, I’m not afraid to call out folks who defend stagnation for what it really is: failure,” she said, criticizing those who are against school choice given that U.S. students are ranked 40th in math, 23rd in reading and 25th in science compared to other countries. What she doesn’t say is the United States  has a far higher child-poverty rate than other high-income countries, and can explain in part the test scores.

Responses to her interview from educators are on point.

“I found [the interview] to be somewhere between disappointing and disturbing,” said Claire Smrekar, an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University whose research focuses include school choice. “It just demonstrates—again—an appalling lack of understanding of some public fundamental principles and practices related to public education” (The Atlantic).

Smreakar was not alone in her criticism. Joshua Starr, CEO of Pi Delta Kappa International suggested DeVos’ debacle on 60 Minutes was characterized as either “a matter of total incompetence or willful ignorance.” But a few concluded her to be categorically disingenuous.

Luis Huerta, an associate professor of education and public policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College, argued that DeVos’s non-answers and evasions and seeming refusal to support her claims with data were deliberate (The Atlantic).

The backlash since her interview has been strong. Some portray her as incompetent,  others see her as blind to the needs of black children. She’s been satirized on Saturday Night Live, and by Steven Colbert.

According to USA Today’s Cunningham and Whitmire, DeVos has failed to demonstrate three basic needs of the job.  “First, she has no demonstrated interest in the public schools that educate 90% of our students. Second, she fails to grasp even the basics of what’s not working in K-12 education. Third, she can’t seem to defend what she professes to support, charter schools, which is possibly the most indefensible of her failures — and where she’s doing the most long-term damage.” (USA Today).

Will DeVos be the next one through the revolving door of this cabinet?

These are my reflections for today.

3/23/18

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“I was just there to be there.”

As I have many times since last January, I am compelled to write about the Secretary of Education as she has once again drawn negative attention to herself. Following are two recent events where Betsy DeVos showed who she really is.

Last week she spoke of how the structure of public school classrooms hasn’t changed since the industrial age. In her words, “Students lined up in rows. A teacher in front of a blackboard. Sit down; don’t talk; eyes up front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class,” she tweeted. “Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely hasn’t” (The Hill). To drive her point she included a stock photo of a current classroom.

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Teachers were quick to fire back.

“Don’t you know that stock photos aren’t real? How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore,”

“Rows and lectures are NOT the norm in public school,”

“It doesn’t look familiar at all. Have YOU even looked in a public school classroom in the last 10 years?”

“Come visit our school and classroom! We spend 75% of our day in small-groups, independent reading, researching our interests, learning about the world, and engaged in play. We love learning in hands-on ways and would welcome you any day!”

“How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore. I would think that as Sec of Edu you would be celebrating us, not putting us down(The Hill)

Most teachers criticized DeVos for not having visited public school classrooms. If she had, she would see the reality is largely contradictory to her stock photo analogy. One would think the Secretary of Education would support and advocate for the roughly 3 million public school teachers in the US , rather than demean and devalue them.

Last Wednesday the Secretary visited Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, FL and students were not pleased. DeVos met with a few students, “and gave “BS answers” to their questions about what she plans to do to address gun violence (Huffington Post).  A small group of student journalists grew increasingly frustrated as the Secretary dodged their questions (Time).

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According to Alyson Sheehy, “It was a publicity stunt, really. There was no point to it,” Sheehy said DeVos didn’t meet specifically with any students. “She was kind of just walking around the school and not talking to anybody,” the high school senior said (Huffington Post).

When a student asked DeVos how she plans to stop school shootings, DeVos showed reluctance. “She kind of gave us simple answers and didn’t really answer the questions we asked,” Sheehy said. When the students pressed her for an answer, DeVos told them officials were “working really hard on things” and that she didn’t “think this is the time to really ask those types of questions” (Time).

During the press coverage, she defended Trump’s call to arm teachers, but quickly walked away from the podium when asked about it (New York Daily News)‘I think to say ‘arming teachers’ is oversimplification and a mischaracterization really,’ DeVos said later.  She continued, ‘I think that the concept is to, for those schools and those communities that opt to do this … to have people who are expert in being able to defend and having lots and lots of training to do so” (CNN).

At the end of her press coverage, she called for elevating ideas that are ‘done well.’

‘Like what?’ asked a reporter. ‘Any specific things?’ asked another.

‘Thank you, press,’ said an aide off camera, as DeVos walked away. ‘Five questions, that’s it?’ said a reporter as she avoided a follow-up about arming teachers (Daily Mail).

If DeVos’ plan was the connect with students at MSD High School, she did not do a very good job. She met with only a few students, did not answer their questions, and walked out of the press conference without addressing any specific concerns. As Kyra Parrow said,“She wasn’t informative or helpful at all. It’s nice that she came to give us condolences, but we are so done with thoughts and prayers. We want action… She didn’t come to inform us or talk about how we are going to fix this issue; she just came to say that she came. That disappoints me.”

DeVos spoke with reporters following her visit, saying, “I was just there to be there, to be with them. I would love to come back sometime, in an appropriate amount of time, and just sit down and talk to them” (CNN).

Later the same day, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade made a surprise visit to the MSD, meeting with students and staff. Speaking to students, Wade said, “I just wanted to come and say I’m inspired by all of you…  As someone out here in the public eye, I’m proud to say I’m from this state because of you guys, because of the future of this world” (Huffington Post).

While I am encouraged by Wade’s thoughtful comments to students, I am appalled by DeVos’ lack of self-awareness.  If this was a publicity stunt, it wasn’t even done well.

“I was there to be there.”

That says it all.

***This blog was written prior to DeVos’ abysmal interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday night. I am compelled to respond, but I need to spend some time on it. Next week’s blog will be about DeVos’ interview with Lesley Stahl.

These are my reflections for today.

3/16/18

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Professional Identity

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Last week I attended the 70th annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). This is the largest gathering of faculty and administrators from undergraduate and graduate programs, community colleges, and P-12 teachers. I gave a presentation with colleagues on the first day, spent the rest of the time networking with like-minded people, and hearing stories of what others are doing to strengthen teacher education, and better prepare students for the teaching profession. As Lynn Gangone, AACTE President said, “We are here to discuss ways to maintain teacher and students’ safety in the classroom, sustain public education and develop new and better pathways toward solutions.” 

The theme of the conference was “Celebrating Our Professional Identity: Shared Knowledge and Advocacy,” and in session after session this theme was reinforced. As I listened to Gangone give her opening remarks, I couldn’t decide if I was encouraged or disheartened. She spoke of many things teacher educators consider every day; social justice, diversity, professional development, community partnerships with P-12 schools and colleges of education. There was a panel discussion on teacher recruitment and retention which included a Q&A session with such questions as how do we recruit and retain people of color, specifically black and Latinx, to become teachers in high poverty areas? How do we strengthen partnerships with P-12 schools?

The conference concluded with a keynote address by Diane Ravitch. She spoke eloquently of Emma Gonzales – the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School student who has been so driven and determined, along with her classmates, to be the catalyst for changes in gun laws in this country. She said the voice of change is now in the hands of a younger generation, as historically it has been the younger generation who affected change in this country.

In the end, she encouraged the room full of educators and administrators to keep doing what we’re doing, and most importantly – VOTE.

Teacher educators incur a tremendous amount of pressure to teach our students. We train our candidates to be advocates for all students, recognize and embrace diversity, strive for social justice, create classroom environments free from bias, and all this is in addition to solid pedagogical practices, effective assessment strategies, management of classroom and student behaviors, and dealing with all the issues students bring with them to school.

That’s a lot to ask.

All this got me to wondering if people truly understand what it means to be a teacher educator. And in light of recent violent acts in schools, what it really means to be a teacher.  I don’t think so.

AACTE 2018 gathered us to collaborate and consider “ways to maintain teacher and students’ safety in the classroom, sustain public education and develop new and better pathways toward solutions.”

We’re going to be busy.

These are my reflections for today.

3/9/18