The secretary, the first lady and the queen

Perry Stein of the Washington Post reported recently that more than 700 students at the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Southeast Washington will soon be looking for another school. On January 11, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously (6-0) to close Excel due to very little evidence of academic improvement. Not a big deal? Tell that to the more than 600 students in grades Pre-K through eight. Excel is the district’s only all-girls public charter school.

Saba Bireda, a member of the DC Public Charter School Board said, “The longer girls are at Excel, the further they fall behind their peers in the city” (Washington Post).  Excel Academy is not alone. Since 2012, 24 charter schools have closed in DC due to poor performance.

In arguing against the closure, school leaders said the framework to assess schools is biased against those with a high percentages of at-risk students, and two-thirds of Excel students are considered at-risk. However, Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said that 22 of the city’s 120 charter schools have greater at-risk populations than Excel, and most of those schools perform better on their annual assessments (Washington Post).

Nationwide, there is a repeating pattern of charter closures.  Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, “Each year, about 400 charter schools open in the country, while 200 to 300 close because of low enrollment, poor performance and financial woes” (Washington Post).

In April Betsy DeVos visited Excel with Melania Trump and Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah. DeVos made a statement after the visit.

Excel Academy is a shining example of a school meeting the needs of its students, parents and community. As Washington’s first public charter school for girls, Excel Academy shows the transformation that can happen when parents are empowered to choose the education setting that best fits their child’s individual needs, and when kids are given a true chance to learn and thrive. The school’s focus on STEM education prepares its students for success in high-potential fields that need more female representation (Ed.gov).

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DeVos touted Excel as a “shining example”.  Nine months later, the school is preparing to close. Excel is not a shining example at all. It is an example of the failure of yet another charter school to turn students around academically, while siphoning money away from the public schools.

With regard to the closing of Excel Academy, what are the thoughts of the secretary, the first lady, and the queen now? I really wish someone would ask them.

#anotherdayanothercharterscandal 

These are my reflections for today.

1/26/18

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Still more charter scandals

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This is the fourth blog I’ve devoted to charter scandals. Sadly this could become a monthly post. These stories are from November.

Milwaukee, WI –  Out of 126 teachers at the Milwaukee Charter Prep (MCP) school, 22 are not currently licensed. Milwaukee Public Schools teachers are required to have a license to teach, so are MCP teachers. According to Rob Rauh, the CEO of MCP,  they are “working diligently” with Teach For America and Milwaukee Public Schools to get the applications processed.

Rauh explains why there is a high number of unlicensed staff. Some teachers were recruited from another state. Others are taking part in recruitment programs like Teach For America. Others have pending applications for renewal. But one of the biggest obstacles, Rauh says, is the state’s rigorous certification exam known as the Praxis (Fox.com).

“It’s a challenging test,” Rauh said.  Nghia Foster, who is the Dean of Students for Milwaukee College Prep, struggled to pass the Praxis. “A test does not justify what you can do in a classroom,” Foster said (Fox.com). 

Thirty seven states require students pass Praxis to gain state licensure. Other states require a different exam, but all require a test as a criteria for licensing.

My question: How is reformers answer to failing public schools unlicensed teachers who can’t pass a basic core competency exam?

Chicago, IL –  In 2005 Pamela Strain founded the Beacon Hill Preparatory Academy, a private school for underprivileged children in a south Chicago suburban neighborhood.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Strain is suspected by the FBI of using the school to steal $2.7 million in funds over a seven-year period, including money from federal school lunch subsidies and other grants designed to provide nutritious food to low-income children. “During one visit to the school’s Harvey location in 2015, a state inspector encountered offices with badly outdated equipment and records of a food program that were either missing or incomplete. The school appeared to have no dedicated food prep area, and an empty classroom where food was being stored was infested with moths Chicago Tribune .

Strain, 60, is charged with using school funding to “…pay for a lavish lifestyle, including her home and other properties, luxury cars, spas, salons and shopping sprees at stores such as Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s” Chicago Tribune.

My question: Without oversight from the state, does anyone see why so many people are misappropriating funds?

Dover, DE –  Noel Rodriguez, principal of the Academy of Dover, a charter school was recently charged with embezzling $145,480 from the Academy over a a three-year-period beginning in July 2011. “Rodriguez used the embezzled money for personal expenses such as electronics, gardening and camping equipment, automobile costs, a dog house, personal travel and home improvement items” (Delaware State News).

My question: If this gentleman was under investigation from the beginning, why did it take so long to investigate?

Chicago, IL – Megan Kotarski, 28 was a teacher at the Horizon Science Academy was charged this month with having sexual contact with a 16 year old student. Kotarski is charged with a felony count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim between 13 and 18 years old (Fox News).

My question: What the hell????

Tobyhanna, PA – Reverend Dennis Bloom, 62, was the former CEO of the Pocono Mountain Charter School, and pastor of the Shawnee Tabernacle Church. This month Bloom was fined $55,000 by the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission for filing deficient financial statements for four years. Additionally he was charged with ethics violations. “According to the commission, Bloom gave his wife a substantial raise and hired his children for positions in the school(Pocono Record).

Bloom founded the K-12 school in 2003 and resigned as CEO of the charter school in 2010 under a cloud of controversy regarding his personal and school finances.  The PA Charter Appeals Board revoked the charter’s license renewal application, because of “excessive entanglement between the school and its landlord, the Shawnee Tabernacle Church” (Pocono Record).

My question again: Without oversight from the state, does anyone see a pattern of misappropriation?

I’ve written of only a few of the multitude of stories about charter scandals. We know what happens when the fox guards the hen house, and we continue to watch it happen. Shame on us.

These are my reflections for today.

12/1/2017

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For-profit universities

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For-profit universities are institutions operated by private, for-profit businesses that receive fees from each student they enroll. For-profit education is common in many parts of the world, making up more than 70% of the higher education sector in India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia (Shah & Nair, 2013).

Not so long ago, these institutions were touted as the future of higher education  in the US largely because they targeted non-tradition students – meaning they were drawing from a population of older people with jobs who can’t or don’t necessarily want to attend school full-time. Many schools marketed heavily in the business sector, looking to draw students from the corporate world. The selling point was at lower costs, students could attend classes online, and take as many or as few classes as they wanted. There was a boom in enrollment from 1990-2010.

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What has happened since 2010? Regulators started cracking down on the industry’s misdeeds. Here are a few examples.

For-profit colleges are far more expensive than community colleges, their closest peers, but, according to a 2013 study by three Harvard professors, their graduates have lower earnings and are actually more likely to end up unemployed. To make matters worse, these students are usually in a lot of debt. Ninety-six per cent of them take out loans, and they owe an average of more than forty thousand dollars (Surowiecki, 2015).

In an incident involving Corinthians Colleges (with over 24 campuses in the US and Canada) investigators  found  the school lied about job-placement rates nearly a thousand times. In a 2010 undercover government investigation of fifteen for-profit colleges found that all fifteen “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” (Surowiecki, 2015). Corinthians and 24 of its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

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President Barack Obama worked to stop many of the abuses of for-profit schools by cracking down on the industry-which was later blamed for pushing Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech into bankruptcy.

Enter Betsy DeVos. Her connection to for-profit institutions is deep. Recently she hired former DeVry Institute Dean Julian Schmoke who made headlines last year, as he was under fire from state prosecutors and the Federal Trade Commission. DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to students who complained that they had been misled by its recruitment pitch.

DeVos also hired Robert Eitel who now serves as a special assistant to the secretary. Eitel’s former job was as a corporate owner of for-profit colleges. He spent the last 18 months as a lawyer for a company facing government investigations-one that ended with a settlement of over $30 million over deceptive student lending (Halperin, 2017).

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Trump’s pick to be the Education Department’s general counsel, Carlos Muñiz, is a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education Corp. which is a for-profit education company under several investigations.

Betsy DeVos’ department is hell-bent on removing many of the Obama administration’s regulations governing the for-profit college sector. Here’s one example:

DeVos has stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 87,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration (Collins, 2017).

As a result, in July 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations, leaving students without degrees and with piles of debt.

Since the election last November, stocks of for-profit institutions have soared as Trump made clear he supports any plan which will slash government regulations (Cohen, 2017).

Sarah Dieffenbacher borrowed $50,000 in federal student loans to attend Corinthian’s Everest College from 2007 to 2012. While waiting for a reply to her claim to have her loans discharged, she had her wages garnished. Though a federal judge ordered the Education Department in June to rule on her application, they have not rendered a decision (Cohen, 2017).

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said in September, “It’s telling that Secretary DeVos is once again quick to blame students who were victims of fraud, including many of our nation’s veterans, rather than the predatory for-profit colleges who defrauded them” (Douglas-Gabriel, 2017).

Hard to say what DeVos loves more – unregulated charter schools or unaccountable for-profit universities.

These are my reflections for today.

11/3/17

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Sphere of Influence

Today I have a guest blogger, my esteemed colleague, co-author and friend. She writes about a sphere of influence we all have and may choose to act on or not every day.

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With the recent events in Charlottesville, Houston, and the current impact of Irma as it hits Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the people in my life who live and work all over the United States. It’s not that I forget about them when their specific cities or states are not blasted all over the morning news and radio programs, but at times it’s easy to be lulled into thinking our lives are progressing in forward-thinking momentum. Yet when natural catastrophes, violent human behaviors, and unpredictable incidents occur, it often serves as a harsh reminder that this world does not always operate in positive progress. These events clearly impact huge numbers of people – time seems to stand still, lives are changed in an instant. These events also give us individual opportunity to truly consider our own thoughts, words, and behaviors – our proactive and reactive responses. What are the ways in which our thoughts, words, and behaviors impact and influence others?

In recent years, my research on preparing pre-service teachers to work in environments with diverse students and families led me to examine some of the social structures and interpersonal dynamics present in other areas of scholarship, such as psychology and government.

In government, sphere of influence is defined as a country or area in which another country has power to affect developments though it has no formal authority. In psychology, it is a systematic way to view how one’s surrounding environment influences who one is and will become. I would argue that each one of us can not only be acted upon by these outside forces, but each also possesses the potential to act upon, within, and even beyond our spheres of influence.

So the sphere of influence as a concept is not a new notion, but applying sphere of influence to the field of education is a new opportunity to address the intersectionality of our lives as learners, teachers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, administrators, professors, family members, and friends.

It’s been said that a teacher has a ripple effect on human lives. Specifically, a teacher in Year One teaches 25 students, then in Year Two teaches a different 25 students, in Year Three teaches a third unique set of 25 students, and so on. And for each individual life a teacher touches, this individual grows up and takes the lessons learned as a young person into a whole other sphere which comprises their adult lives. So as a pebble thrown into the middle of a huge lake, the original point of impact ripples out to reach, eventually, the farthest edges of the shore.

Yet educators are not the only ones with a widespread sphere of influence. Each of us, and our own families and homes, neighborhoods and communities, workplaces and professional organizations, possess a great potential to powerfully contribute toward creating a kinder, more respectful, inclusive world. This potential power within each of us centers on our choices. Quite simply, each morning when we wake up we have choices – choices such as how we greet the people we encounter, whether we will stop and help someone in need, how we will respond to that one person who is always complaining. These interactions stem from the specific spheres of influence each of us occupy.

So the questions surrounding sphere of influence are really WHAT and HOW.

WHAT: What do you represent? What beliefs are worth the effort of standing firm? As educators, many of us believe in developmental growth and learning. As a mother, I advocate for all children to receive equitable access and opportunities to quality healthcare, education, and housing. As a human, I greatly value respect for and acceptance of all people.

HOW: How will you use your sphere of influence? Will it be something you acknowledge and capitalize upon in your life? Will you use it to propel positivity or harbor hate? Or will you pretend your life and choices bear no impact upon others’ lives, refraining from action?

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I urge you to think. I urge to you act. The world cannot survive with our silence.

Cori Brown, Rowan University.

9/8/17

 

 

 

For a couple of hours

This week, I digress.

For a couple of hours on Monday many of us forgot about politics and frustrations. We stayed away from news feeds. The conversations at work, at home, on the phone and at our favorite coffee houses didn’t revolve around what is or is not happening in Washington, and the horrific events of the past two weeks.

For a couple of hours we were reminded of the power of Mother Nature and how she is so much bigger than all of us, and transcends everything we do. We had a math lesson     (or refresher) on the orbit of the Earth, moon and sun. Many of us were reminded of where we were in 1979 or 2009 when we saw the last eclipse.

For a couple of hours we gathered at the beach, in a field, outside of our workplace, homes, or in the streets. We drove north or south depending on our location. We set up camp, threw down a blanket, unfolded a chair. We shared drinks and protective glasses. We had conversations with strangers.

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We took off the gloves, put down our phones and caught our breath. We watched as the moon moved in between us, throwing some shade. We shared a sense of awe, excitement, and unity. And when it was over, we smiled and went about our business. If you were one of the fortunate people who participated in the eclipse in some way, perhaps you walked away feeling better.

For a brief period of time on Monday we didn’t read about crimes being committed, accidents or fires, charter school failures, poverty, school closures, or racism. We got together for a commonality and shared it with each other.

Maybe we needed the eclipse to help us slow down for a little while, or to look up from our phones and computers. Maybe we needed the eclipse to remind us of how small we really are in comparison.

As the event came to an end, we folded our blankets and chairs, took off our glasses, and went back to whatever we were doing. If we consider this a singular moment, existing in isolation then maybe we missed a message. The eclipse helped us remember who we are. We can stop what we’re doing to help others, to talk with others, to give of ourselves. We can share a moment, a commonality, and a pleasant word.

After all – and despite our current political climate – this is who we are.

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These are my reflections for today.

8/25/2017

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A mediocre teacher in every classroom

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In what may be considered a blessing, charter schools are having trouble staffing their schools. To solve that problem in New York, the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter School Institute is going to make it easier to “certify” teachers to staff their charter schools.

Currently in New York, to obtain a teaching license one must earn a graduate degree in education from an accredited university and pass some sort of test or performance assessment. Other states require either a 4 year degree/certification program or a two year alternate route as many states offer as well as the test and/or performance assessment.

According to the New York Times the SUNY proposal states, along with a Bachelor’s Degree, “candidates must have a minimum of 100 hours of ‘field experience’ under the supervision of another teacher, a requirement that could be fulfilled in about two and a half weeks of school.” The  proposal under consideration includes a minimum of 30 hours of classroom instruction. “If, when its charter comes up for renewal, the school is able to show its teachers are producing successful students, the program would be allowed to continue” (Times Union). This certification would apply only to teachers in SUNY charter schools.

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers hammers back:

“The state requires prospective cosmetologists to receive 1,000 hours of specialized instruction and real estate brokers to get 120 hours of instruction and two years of field experience,” Mulgrew said in his letter to Joseph W. Belluck, the chair of the Charter School Committee at SUNY in Albany. “But SUNY’s proposed regulations would, in essence, let charter schools — many of which have admitted having difficulty hiring and retaining certified teachers — create their own special teaching licenses for anyone who finishes one week of specialized instruction and works only 100 hours in a classroom under the supervision of another teacher or administrator, including those who are not themselves certified” (UFT.org).

Charter school advocates say the proposal would help schools struggling to find quality teachers who are certified in New York.

This begs the question, what defines quality teachers? Put it simply, would you rather have a teacher who graduated from an accredited teacher education program who has passed all the requirements for graduation and state licensure? Or would you rather someone with a Bachelor’s degree in anything and 30 hours of classroom instruction on teaching and no certification, no passing score on a performance assessment, and no pedagogical training? This will not produce quality teachers.

The question I continue to ask, because it frustrates me the most is why aren’t these charter schools opening in affluent suburban communities? (*most charters in NY are in NYC).  Because I have taught in both urban and suburban areas, I am confident when I say a charter school in a middle or high income district, staffed by unlicensed and inexperienced teachers would go over like a lead balloon. But that’s not where the charters are opening.

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Maria Bautista of the Alliance for a Quality Education said the proposed changes are racist.

“We know they’re going to disproportionately impact black and brown children,” Bautista said at a recent SUNY Charter School Committee hearing. “You would never have uncertified teachers teach your children. Why is it OK for black and brown children? That is not OK” (wbfo).

On every level, that is not OK. It’s not okay for the teaching profession, and it’s not okay for the minority and low-income children this will directly impact. Is there an expectation of ignorance with these decisions? Is the SUNY Charter Institute counting on this being an 11th hour decision when no one is paying attention? Yes and Yes.

The following statement comes from the 1983 report from President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. This report was considered by many to be a landmark event in modern American educational history.  “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” was controversial at the time, as many believed it did not go far enough to report on the effects of poverty, as low achievement was equated to poor schools instead of neglected communities.  

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people (ed.gov.).

a rising tide of mediocrity – We have persistently failed to address the economic and social injustices that created these communities and then blame schools and teachers for students’ failure. The solution is not to lower the bar of teacher qualifications, rather we should do the opposite. Teach and train more people to be effective in our classrooms-both urban and suburban. Hold teachers to a high standard, and give them the tools they need to succeed.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) a French moralist and essayist once said, “Mediocrity is excellent to the eyes of mediocre people.” As a nation, we must expect excellence in our teachers who will bring out excellence in our students. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

These are my reflections for today.

8/4/2017

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Finding Common Ground with Teach for America

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As a teacher educator, my stomach roils at the very mention of Teach for America (TFA), yet for some reason it keeps coming up in my life. My argument against this organization stems from my belief that the most effective urban teachers come from traditional teacher preparation programs, which include a solid foundation of theory, pedagogy, and fieldwork experiences in urban environments. Training effective teachers to work in urban classrooms may bring sustainability to these schools, and bring teachers who understand how to narrow the achievement gap that exists between high and low income schools. Staffing schools with college graduates who aren’t required to have a degree in education or a teaching license, and have only five weeks of training, as is the case with TFA is a disservice to students in urban schools. This is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

About a year ago, a former student who was about to graduate from our teacher education program asked if I would serve as a reference for TFA as she was beginning to seek employment after graduation. I told her I would, but she had to listen to me for five minutes while I explained why I wanted her to have a very clear understanding of the organization before she applied. She came to my office and before I even spoke, she said, “I know you don’t like it, I know it’s not good for urban schools to hire inexperienced teachers, but I think I can do this and I would like the opportunity to try and change their approach.” Knowing my opinions should not impact her choices, I found the common ground and agreed to write a glowing recommendation. I completed the online recommendation, and being a good sport, on the form I checked yes they could contact me with additional questions, but no they could not contact me for networking opportunities. I’m all about supporting my teacher candidates, even if they feel strongly about pursuing employment with an organization I do not support. But discuss networking opportunities with TFA? No, thank you.

This student accepted a position in New Orleans, and came back to campus to visit me at Thanksgiving. I asked how it was going, and her response was, “It’s worse than you think.” I was disheartened, but not surprised.

Last spring I attended accepted students day with my son at the university where he would attend. During the day, two people from two different programs offered this to parents and students, “We encourage our students to take advantage of service opportunities, such as Teach for America.” Each time, my son looked at me as if to say, “Mom, please don’t stand up and debate this.” The voices in my head are screaming, don’t those children deserve the best trained teachers, and not just college students looking for service opportunities?” But for my son, I swallowed the urge to stand and scream in protest, and mentally began writing a letter to the president of the university.  The letter is written in my head, but that’s as far as it’s gotten.

The next encounter was while I was attending a post-memorial service luncheon in honor of my godfather. I was introduced to one of his granddaughters. In casual conversation I mentioned I am a college professor. She asked what I teach, and I told her I am a teacher educator. “You’re not going to like me very much, then,” she said. I tell her I’m sure that’s not true, and she goes on to tell me she was a TFA corps member for two years, worked in staffing for a while after that, and now is co-founder of a program bringing early childhood education programs to urban children in a large metropolitan area. I begin pontificating on the research my colleagues and I have done, our recently published book and how we feel so strongly about our work. I tell her the book comes from work each of has done in providing urban field experiences for our students, paralleled with course work, and activities, which support how our students need to first understand themselves and the cultural lens through which they see the world. In order for teachers to be effective in an urban classroom, they must also understand the students and the environment from which they come. It is only then they can begin to understand their students, and how the culture of these children differs from their own upbringing. She appears to be intrigued by this. Sadly this was news to her.

Somehow what happened next even surprised me. We found a way to reach common ground. She left TFA because she didn’t completely agree with the organization’s plan, said she didn’t need to read any of the exposés written by disgruntled former corps members who admitted to being ill-prepared to teach these students, and in this environment. She already knew about it first hand. I was happy to hear this. She made a point of saying not all corps members are horrible teachers, and I agreed, but countered with why our most needy students deserved our very best teachers. She agreed. We agreed that suburban schools would never be staffed with TFA corps members, and we recognized the issues surrounding why only urban schools employ them.

At the end of the conversation, she told me she would read the book on the flight home. She mentioned a friend who is the Director of Corps Member Development and after reading our book would speak with her friend about our conversation and the book.

I begrudgingly acknowledged I would be willing to discuss the book with her friend, and how it might be implemented in TFA training (still only 5-weeks, but whatever).  In this conversation I learned how something good came out of her work with TFA. I would like to think something good might come of my conversation with her. This got me thinking further. Perhaps the common ground is more approachable, than the defining line in the sand. Am I selling out by agreeing to have a conversation with TFA? Could I be like my student who believes maybe she can affect change within the organization in New Orleans ? I don’t know. But the fact that I found common ground and we could agree, disagree, and agree to disagree was tremendous growth for me.

My most recent encounter was last month when I reached out to TFA looking for data on the growth of charters in New Orleans pre- and post- Katrina – specifically the number of TFA corp members were in the New Orleans Schools. Honestly, the information I was looking for was for research purposes only. I got a response from the Managing Director of External Research asking me to complete a research partnership request. “Once you’ve submitted this request, we will review the information provided and make a decision as to whether or not to release the data.” On the same day I submitted the form, there was a lot of search activity on my research publications from…. guess where? New Orleans. Not sure how they felt about my research, but I guess I can understand the hesitation to provide the data to anyone, as most of it is used against the organization.

This week I got a response. “We are happy to provide historic placement data for TFA in New Orleans.  I am working to assemble those numbers now and should have them to you soon.” 

I will only use the information I receive for the intended use- research for a book. For as much as I take issue with TFA, it keeps coming up in my life. Maybe some day I’ll understand why.

Sun-Tzu wrote, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

These are my reflections for today.

7/28/17

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