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Friday, March 31, 2006

Jim Collins and Latino Achievement

Good to Great and Built to Last have already had a profound impact on education. Many school administrators have read them and attempted to implement their messages. I've sat through countless meetings with administrators how talked about the importance of “getting the right people on the bus.” In fact, Good to Great has replaced Senge’s The Fifth Discipline as the must read business book for educators.

Collins bases his studies on comparisons. In his books, Collins takes a successful company and compares it with a company that flounders. A similar methodology is used in Why Some Schools with Latino Children Beat the Odds...and Others Don't. Collins and and company compare elementary schools that are beating the odds to “twin” schools that are not progressing.

One thing is clear, lot will be made of the report's findings. Collins found that successful schools:

  • focus on improving the things they actually can control that will make a big difference in student achievement.
  • do not play the blame game when it comes to student achievement.
  • focus on the achievement of every student, and every classroom.
  • examine achievement per class and per teacher.
  • unmask poor achievement that is hidden in school-wide data.
  • systematically employ formative assessment and adjust the curriculum weekly arriving at individualized instruction.
  • spread the responsibility for student achievement across the school.
  • work effectively in teams.
  • pick a proven program and make it work over time.

It is important to take note that the usual suspects were missing from the list:

  • parental involvement teacher turnover
  • class size high qualified teachers
  • length of instructional day
  • tutoring
  • central office programs

Undoubtedly the cult of Collins among administrators will grow as a result of this report, and it should. I found that the Collins' report supports a learning focused, decentralized approach to education that emphasizes administrative and teacher grit. Make no mistake, the schools that were successful in the study had administrators and teachers that exhibited a laser like focus on improving student achievement. To me a lot of this affirms Richard DuFour’s Professional Learning Communities at Work and Whatever It Takes. Collins’ report is a must read for all educators.


The End of Best Practices in Education

It appears that folks are sick of “best practices”. Garr Reynold’s has taken it on at Presentation Zen and Steve Mykolyn even argues that there is no such thing as a best practice. These guys inhabit the private sector, but their critiques ring true in education. Educators need to banish best practices from their vocabularies and get down to the business of big ideas.

Early in my career, education was in the throws of the best practice movement. Best practices were everywhere. They were a convenient, marketable; one size fits all solution to teaching and learning.

I still get queasy when at the memory of rayon clad women preaching best practices and higher order thinking skills (H.O.T.S.). “Best practices have the H.O.T.S., got it? They have the H.O.T.S.! What do best practices have? I can’t hear you? That’s better. One more time, what do best practices have? Wonderful, orchids to you! Orchids to you!”

Despite the unbridled enthusiasm, it always appeared that the proponents of best practices where up to something. Some claimed that their best practices were “scientifically proven”. If you know anything about educational research, these claims are dubious at best and often verge on the fraudulent. According to proponents, best practices failed only if they were poorly implemented. This logic gave best practice advocates an out when it came to accountability. We hear this excuse today from school based test prep companies. “The kids didn’t improve because you failed to implement the program correctly.” Blame the school leadership, blame the teachers, but never blame the product.

School administrators often complained that teachers were resisting to best practices because they were resistant to change. The irony is that best practices kill change because they, by definition, discourage innovation. After all, it is impossible to improve on what is a deemed to be the best.

It’s time to kill off best practices in education.

Feel better?

Now that best practices are gone, it is time to work the big ideas that have the potential to transform teaching and learning.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Face Recognition, White Matter, and Connectivity

I played an online face recognition game with Isabelle yesterday. Isabelle’s focus improved along with her score. After a few tries she was able to recall all 10 components of the simulated face. Give it a try for yourself here. She loved playing. We also played an online version of Simon both with audio and without. We agreed that it was easier to play Simon without the audio. Check it out for yourself.

When the kids went to bed, I stayed up and read an article on reading performance and white matter. The study of 32 kids age 9 to 12 found that the stronger the connectivity of white matter, the better the reading ability. White matter is described as essential for information transformation. If the gray matter is the computer, the white matter is the wiring.

Interestingly, white matter is not distributed evenly in the brain. The right hemisphere has more white matter then the left. Significantly, synthesis occurs in the right hemisphere. Dan Pink describes it this way: “the right hemisphere is the picture; the left hemisphere is the thousand words. Clearly the hemispheres must be integrated for optimal performance.

Think About This

Two students are taking an exam—Andrew and Ashley. We are monitoring their brain activity. Andrew’s brain is popping with activity; Ashley’s brain is relatively calm. Which student did better on the exam? The answer is…Ashley. When it comes to performance, it is all about brain efficiency. It is similar to research that has been done comparing professional musicians to novices. While playing a concerto, the brain of the professional musician is more efficient than the novice. Practice until it’s automatic.

Cool, huh?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Take the Cognitive Reflection Test!

Charlie is napping. For the second day in a row Charlie has insisted on wearing his superhero pajama bottoms over his pants. Quite a few people have noticed the new look. One guy at Starbucks commented that Charlie was starting a new trend, and that I should “trademark his look”. Another customer commented that the outfit was a clever solution to a problem she encountered while dressing her own sons. She’s right; it is a simple solution to a common problem.

As for me, I’ve been reading a lot about the brain, assessment, and video gaming lately and came across something called the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT). According to its creator, Dr. Shane Frederick of MIT, the Cognitive Reflection Test is valuable “for researchers interested in separating people into cognitive groups, the CRT is an attractive test: it involves only three items and can be administered in a minute or two, yet its predictive validity equals or exceeds other cognitive tests that involve up to 215 items and take up to 31⁄2 hours to complete.”

In fact the CRT has a high correlation with the ACT and the SAT tests. So in honor of testing season why not give it a go? Did I mention that it is only 3 questions long?

Grab a pencil!

Answer the following questions:

(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost? _____ cents

(2) If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take
100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes

(3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size.
If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it
take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____ days

All of the questions have intuitive “BLINK” answers. The thing is, those answers are wrong. For example, most folks “see” the answer to the first question right away. The ball costs 10 cents, right?

Wrong, the ball actually costs 5 cents. Set up and run the equation yourself. For the math challenged, check this out:


B=C + 100

The ball costs 5 cents.

Now, if you take the time to think through all the problems, and check your work, then you are more apt to get the correct answers. If I had students who were going to take the ACT or SAT, I’d give them this test to demonstrate the limits of intuition.

The answers are: 5 cents, 5 minutes, and 47 days.

Thanks to Eide Neurolearning Blog for getting me into CRT.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Let's Create a Nation of Little Neuroscientists

Sometimes I miss the obvious. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the brain—how it works, and how to enhance its performance. I’ve been reading with an eye toward improving education. I've been thinking about brain friendly learning strategies, but I've missed the obvious.

Wittgenstien said that the limits of our language mean the limits of our world. His message is that the stronger our vocabularies—the more we can name, the richer life becomes. If we are raising a generation of vocabulary impoverished children, what will the limits of their future be?

Wittgenstein words echo in my head whenever I go for a walk in the woods. I’m no woodsman. My experience when I walk in the woods goes something like—oak tree, tree, tree, oak tree, moss, moss, oak tree, bird. Now, if I studied the woods and knew the names of things then I’d be able to differentiate the different trees and birds. I would see things in a more specific way and not be blinded by generalizations. My experience would be infinitely richer.

Of course Wittgentsien was a philosopher and not a neuroscientist, but he was on to something. Today, we know that cognition is limited by the categories we create in our brains. That is, how we experience the world has a lot to do with the categories that we create in our brains. That’s part of the reason why graphic organizers and mind maps have become popular learning tools in schools. They try to graphically illustrate the way our minds integrate information. The thinking is that since “brains work this way” why not give students brain friendly mind maps and graphic organizers to enhance their learning. Here’s the rub, kids get inundated with graphic organizers and mind maps in school, but are never explicitly taught how the brain works. Think of it this way, you may have the tools to fix a car, but unless you understand how a car works those tools are useless.

A lot of lip service is paid to the creation of life-long learners. We hear about how important it is to integrate and synthesize information in the new economy. However, we do not explicitly teach kids about their brains. Research into the brain indicates that it continues to change over time. The term for this is plasticity. That’s right; we can all get smarter. The key is to change our brains. What a powerful message for kids and adults to learn. Perhaps if we taught a course where kids explored the power of their minds, then they would be better equipped to integrate information and optimize their brains.

Knowing what’s under the hood is important in autoracing. A racecar is only as good as its engineers, pit crew, and driver. Most kids go through school without knowing what’s going on under the hood. Kids have no clue about how their brains function. In fact, if you talk to kids you learn that they come to school with a lot of myths about how the brain functions. Certainly we could enhance student learning if we taught students about the brain For example, if students understood the concept of plasticity, then they may work harder at learning new things. It’s obvious to me that what’s missing in the curriculum isn’t necessarily brain friendly instruction, but the study of the brain itself. Let’s create a nation of little neuroscientists. I’m starting with my kids, Isabelle and Charlie.

Essential Books:
Carter’s Mapping the Mind
Pink’s A Whole New Mind
Restak’s Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot
Restak’s The New Brain
Stafford and Webb’s Mind Hacks

Essential Web:
Eide Neurolearning Blog
Mind Hacks
Creating Passionate Users
Science Daily
Brain Waves

New Link, thanks Sandra:
Neuroscience for Kids

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Word Poverty and the Academic Word List

Students today suffer from word poverty. Teachers know it and choose to ignore it. Did you know that high knowledge 3rd graders have vocabularies equal to low-performing 12th graders? Just ask a low-performing 12th grader to tell you story, and you’ll come to realize just how big the problem of word poverty is.

Somewhere along the line something awful happened to vocabulary instruction. Maybe it was when some teachers stopped requiring their students to memorize word lists and went solely for words in context—as if being asked to memorize word lists actually harmed students! The funny thing is that most teachers, when left to their own devices make esoteric vocabulary selections—opting for the exotic words instead of the high frequency words. The effect, over years, is dire word poverty among our youth.

The uproar over vocabulary at my own school started when I asked the faculty to have their students paraphrase questions that appeared in their textbooks or on tests. I love to drive home a point and knew that such a task would start conversation in the staff room. Of course, teachers soon discovered that many of their students didn’t understand academic questions. It looked grim—teachers would never know whether students had content knowledge because students lacked the academic vocabulary to decipher texts, lectures, and questions. Teachers were concerned and started asking, “If students don’t know the words in a question, how can they know the answer?” That question ushered in a school-wide focus on vocabulary.

While conducting research into this problem, I came across the Academic Word List (AWL). The AWL was developed at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Here are some reasons why the AWL rocks:

  • It was created so that it could be used by teachers to focus students on the words most needed to study academic texts.

  • The AWL does not include the 2,000 most frequent words of English.

  • Words on the AWL had to occur in over half of the 28 subjects. Just over 94% of the words in the AWL occur in 20 or more subject areas. This principle ensures that the words in the AWL are useful for all learners.

Teachers embraced the AWL. Departments divided up the AWL, created weekly word lists that included student friendly definitions. Students were tested weekly in their each of their classes on the AWL. Kids were exposed to a minimum of 35 words a week from the AWL.

Teachers also requested professional development on effective vocabulary instruction. Some of the most popular were sentence synthesis and yay or nay. Vocabulary instruction improved dramatically, and test scores went up too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

To Do List for Educators

  • Start an online forum for teachers
  • Conduct virtual office hours
  • Accept only electronic copies of papers
  • Join a papermill
  • Get graphic with grammar instruction—diagram sentences
  • Stop giving dictionary definitions for vocabulary words
  • Take a speed-reading course
  • Buy a rap album and figure out how kids learn the lyrics
  • Align instructional time with assessments
  • Take a drawing class
  • Read business blogs
  • Integrate the power of visuals
  • Learn from the “pros”
  • Practice the power of story
  • Test ideas, collect evidence, share, get feedback, adjust the idea
  • Remember form and function
  • Write a blog
  • Interrogate instructional practices
  • Engineer powerful ideas
  • Play video games
  • Always be true
  • Learn about the brain
  • Be a synthesizer
  • Laugh
  • Establish new neural pathways
  • Play the caption game
  • Don't mistake kindness for weakness
  • Practice self-directed think-alouds
  • Find Aristotle
  • Organize and host a JAM
  • Practice creative abrasion
  • Time yourself
  • Make learning an opt-out instead of an opt-in thing
  • Promote open-source, asymmetrical learning
  • Answer the question, "What would I be most afraid to be wrong about?"

Think Alouds, Justifying Methods, and Learning Jams

Charlie talks to himself. He runs a verbal commentary on what he is doing. If he is painting watercolors, he can be heard saying “Paint, paint, paint, orange, orange, paint, paint.” It’s called directed play, and it’s essential to self-instruction. I conceptualize it as self-directed think-alouds.

Here’s my self-directed think-aloud: I just finished an article in Educational Leadership by Wiggins and McTighe in which they point out “A great weakness of our craft is that we typically do not require faculty members to justify their teaching methods, course designs, and assessments against a set of learning principles.” They’re right; in the current system there is no incentive to interrogate teaching practices.

We won’t realize this professional interrogation unless we embrace open source, asymmetrical educational systems. In such a system, a teacher tries an idea out in her classroom and it yields great results. She posts the strategy on a message board for innovative educational ideas. Within days other teachers across the urban landscape tryout the idea in their classrooms and offer feedback through the message board. The idea becomes an innovation and is spread by the hive. Through this process urban educators are able to test ideas, collect evidence, and innovate.

Wiggins and McTighe go on to suggest that we mandate that teachers “learn about learning.” I disagree, because mandates feed a bureaucracy that loves to look good on paper. After all, what does it mean to learn about learning? Does it mean that teachers should study neuroscience or does it mean that teachers should study evidence based learning strategies? No, I think we need teachers that are passionate about learning. I propose that we identifying job applicants that are passionate about learning and hire them. I want intellectually curious teachers that are driven to improve their practice. Essentially, I want teachers that got grit.

However, most of us work in established schools and don’t have the luxury of creating the faculty from scratch. The question becomes identifying the teachers in our buildings that love learning and feeding that desire.

Here’s an idea: host a learning jam. Essentially, a jam consists of a bunch of people getting together for 24-hours with the singular focus of creating a product. Jams have been used to write books, music, and create video games. Why not host a standards based assessment jam or a curriculum writing jam or an interdisciplinary unit jam? All that’s needed is a location, take-out menus, wireless Internet, printers, and a common focus. Host a jam, see who attends—I bet you get the gut it out, love learning, badass teachers. For more information on Jams check out Passionate Users and the Ad Lib Game Devlopment Society.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Teacher Wisdom and Standardized Test Scores

I hate to wait. I always have. Waiting is frustrating. As a kid I hated waiting in the lunch line. As an adult, I hate waiting in the supermarket checkout line. As an educator, I hated waiting for standardized test results. Following state testing I would ask teachers how well they thought the kids did. I always got vague, sometimes encouraging answers. In contrast, when I was asked about test scores I always commented that things looked promising but that we would have to “wait and see”. Of course “wait and see” meant waiting 3 months or more to get the final results from the state. I would have paid some serious cash for a crystal ball. Little did I know that the crystal ball was right in front of me.

I’m not alone; lots of educators would like to know the percentage of students who will meet/exceed standards this year on state tests. Administrators would avoid sleepless nights if they knew that answer. James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds may hold the answer. Surowiecki’s thesis is that “large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.”

Surowiecki identifies four key qualities that make crowds smart. According to him, for crowds to be smart, they need to be diverse, decentralized, independent, and they need to possess a means to summarize their opinions into a collective verdict.

In my experience public school faculties possess the four key qualities that make a crowd smart. After all, teachers are diverse because they bringing different pieces of information to the table. Teachers are decentralized because no one at the top is dictating their answers. Teachers also tend to be fiercely independent, in that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and don’t worry about what everyone around them thinks. In this instance, predicting state test scores, it is relatively easy to summarize teachers’ opinions into one collective verdict—average the predicted scores.

My advice to administrators is to ask the faculty to predict the school’s performance on the standardized test. That’s right; just ask all the teachers, not just the ones that teach the testing grade, to anonymously predict how well the students will do. Collect the data, and take the average. If the faculty size is large, diverse, and independent enough, then they should be able to zero in on the percentage of students who meet/exceed state standards. When the real results come in, compare them. Let me know how it goes.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Pink's Book Inspires a Whole New Look

The new look around here is thanks to Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. The book is all about integrating the left and right sides of the brain. The future, or as he calls it, the Conceptual Age will require the mastery of six domains or senses. Those are design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. The best part about the book is that it has expanded the way I think, create, and learn. I view Pink’s book as a blue print for maximizing knowledge/power/action in the new economy. Pink even provides “portfolio” exercises to build capacity in each of the six domains. Cool stuff.

In part one of the book, Pink argues that developing the six domains will be critical in a world of abundance, Asian outsourcing, and automation. I was aware of most this stuff, but it was interesting to note the huge number of programmers and accountants that are working on the cheap. Bill Gates knows this. Why pay American programmers to do what Asian programmers can do at a fraction of the cost. All those kids being told that computers are a cash cow are being sold a bad bill of goods. According to Pink, the people who will make it in the emerging economy will be the creative-MFA types who blend traditional left-brain smarts with creative, empathetic right-brain smarts or as Pink calls it L-Directed and R-Directed aptitudes.

Isn’t it ironic that NCLB focuses exclusively on left-brain smarts? I think Pink is on to this too when he writes about a battery of assessments from Yale called the Rainbow Project that measures R-Directed aptitudes. The test asks students to provide humorous captions to New Yorker cartoons, to write a story “using only a provided title as their guide, and they are given several scenarios to problem solve. The Rainbow Project sure sounds more enjoyable to take than the SAT. Of note is the fact that the Rainbow Project Test is more a better predictor of how well students will do in college than the SAT.

Anyway, one of the activities Pink recommends is to C-R-A-P-ify your graphic design. CRAP is an acronym for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. With this in mind, I examined the old layout and decided it wasn’t CRAP. It could be argued that the old layout had no CRAP. So, I looked at some other blogs and spent some time looking at the Webby Awards. Anyway, what you see is what you get. At least it looks a lot cleaner. What started off as a means to post pictures of the kids and write about education now has design principles behind it. Form and function are now in harmony.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Got Grit?

Patrick Welsh’s “For once, blame the student” has a tone reminiscent of the old faculty lounge. Listen, I’ve heard countless urban teachers blame students for sub par achievement:

“These kids are lazy.”

“They don’t work hard like they used to when I started teaching.”

“The kids are nice and polite, but they won’t do a damn thing.”

“I assign the homework; the kids just don’t do it.”

“Kids just don’t care about their future.”

Guess what? Some of those very same teachers were teaching their asses off, but the kids weren’t learning.

Look, in education the only time an individual admits to culpability is when the phrase, “there’s plenty of blame to go around” follows. Yeah, no one wants to take the blame for lousy student achievement, but if no one admits culpability then nothing will change.

Teachers, repeat after me: “I take full responsibility for the failure of my students to realize their peak academic performance.”

Parents, repeat after me: “I take full responsibility for the failure of my child to reach his/her peak academic performance.”

Feel better?

Now, here’s what we can all do to insure that students learn:

Insist on and reward effort. It makes sense, and it has an emerging research base.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at Penn, studied high achievers in various fields and found out that “There were certainly a fair number of people who were brilliant, ambitious and persevering, but there were also a lot who were not a genius in any way but were really tenacious.” There it is; grit is back, baby.

Duckworth went on to design and administer a grit questionnaire and gave it to the entire entering class of West Point cadets. She found that the best predictor of a cadet completing the infamous Beast Barracks wasn’t class rank, SAT score, but G-R-I-T.

The biggest enemy to developing grit in a child is praising them on intelligence and not effort. After all if parents are right then where are all the geniuses?

Keep it simple, praise effort. If your kid is successful, point out the effort behind the task and reward it accordingly. Coaches do this all the time when they start the kid who worked the hardest in practice. Teachers should do it too because students don’t get anywhere with genius alone. Since work ethic and character are critical to success, it makes sense to grade on both quality and effort. That’s right reward the kid who busts his ass.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Badass Teachers, Open Source Education, and the End of Urban Eduation as We Know It

It is my hope that the new world of small schools and asymmetrical, open source education will be a boon to the badass teacher. These are the teachers who evaluate learning strategies by asking a simple question, “How will this help the students kick ass?”

Badass teachers are disruptive. They are not one size fits all, team players, and as such, are feared by educationalists and careerists alike. Badass teachers embody a killer combination of action, knowledge, and power. They believe that students need to be taught the tools to kick academic ass, and to do this they spread power/knowledge like a virus. It is no surprise that badass teachers use tech to increase the spread of this virus. They confer with students during virtual office hours using instant messaging, and post their latest innovation online for feedback. They are the architects of open source, asymmetrical education, and in the end they are the only hope for urban education.

Badass teachers produce badass students that are informed, articulate, and inquisitive. Let’s face it lots of teachers talk about empowerment and valuing student “voice”; however, many complain when they have a truly informed “voice” in their class. That is because badass students are fierce self-advocates that realize that quietest inherit the least. Good for them, chance are they have a badass teacher to thank.

In urban school systems that reward “playing it close to the vest”, badass teachers are all about transparency. They employ blogs as a means to analyze, critique, and expose schools and policies that embrace paper pushers, pikers, and politicians. Needless to say, these folks are detested by administrators because they are a threat to the existence of the system.

Badass teachers will flourish in small schools that value creative abrasion while maintaining a duel focus on process and practice. Clearly these pioneers of open source, asymmetrical education are the best hope we have for creating passionate, informed, articulate students.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ACT Study Reveals Huge Achievement Gaps

I’m sure that a lot of articles will follow the lead of the Washington Post’s “Study: Reading Key to College Success”, but those articles will miss the real story embedded in the actual ACT report, "Reading Between the Lines". The real story is the insanely huge achievement gaps among subgroups on the ACT. As for teachers and professional development types there is gold buried in the report when it comes to understanding ACT passages.

According to the folks who wrote the report, an ACT score of 21 out of 36 in reading indicates that a student is college ready. College readiness is defined as having a 75 percent chance of getting a C or better in a course, a 50 percent chance of getting a B or better. Of course students who don’t get a 21 are at risk for a whole bunch of disappointment, not the least of which is being labeled not having sufficient workplace literacy.

The report finds that only 51 percent of the tested students in 2005 met the college ready benchmark. Significantly there is a 38 point gap between African American (21 percent score 21 or higher) and white students (59 percent score 21 or higher). However an even larger gap, 37 points, exists between students who come from families that make less than $33K (33 percent) versus students who come from families making in excess of $100K (70 percent). I’m sure that the Illinois State Board of Education will check out this report, convene a blue ribbon panel, and issue a report of their own.

Fortunately, the ACT has a solution that involves policy makers and teachers. The ACT contends that policy makers need to draft better, more thorough reading standards—like the EPAS standards drafted by the ACT, huh? Problem solved—adopt the ACT’s standards, teach to the test, and then use the ACT as your accountability mechanism. Done.

As for teachers, the ACT recommends using more sophisticated texts with students. No argument from me on that. In my experience, once students acquire the tools to take apart text, they get hooked on it, and the best texts to take apart are the most sophisticated. The sad truth for many kids who attend urban schools is that the first time many kids encounter a sophisticated text is either on the ACT or as part of an ACT prep course; this reveals a lot about the state of urban education, teacher expectations, and instruction. According to the ACT, having students work sophisticated texts can result in a “10 point” increase on the reading test. It’s true, I’ve witnessed this effect though my involvement in policy debate. Among other things, policy debate teaches students how to critically evaluate and manipulate sophisticated texts. It is no surprise that debaters kick ACT ass.

I can’t overstate the importance of using sophisticated texts with students. A few years ago I created and implemented a whole school reading program that was EPAS aligned and inculcated students with an approach to critical reading transferable to ACT texts. Not surprisingly test scores went up as students outpaced expected gains as measured by the ACT Link Report, and the district.

One more thing, as a teacher and professional development guy, I loved the Appendix of the report where the folks at ACT walk the reader through the sophistication of ACT reading passages. I loved it! It is helpful because it clarifies what an ACT reading passage is, and we all know that clarity is crucial.

For added clarity don't forget to visit my ACT Reading Prep Posts:

Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

Embezzlement and the Fiscal Crisis in Chicago Public Schools

The news of former Simeon High School’s finance manager, Marilyn Jenkins-Evans, being charged with embezzling $450,000 in school funds while working in $79,800 position should shed light on hiring and promotion policies at the Board of Education, but it probably won’t. Ironically, Ms.Jenkins-Evans was promoted to a central office position at the same time she was embezzling money from Simeon; so much for the vetting process downtown. For a picture of this 47 year-old diva, click here. The questions begin to bubble to the surface. Who hired Ms. Jenkins-Evans? What are Ms. Jenkins-Evans’ credentials? Does she wear Prada? Does she have a drug habit? Christ, how many Ms. Jenkins-Evans types are there out there in CPS in charge of the cashbox? Where did all the money go? How did she get promoted so fast? Why did Pastor Katie Peecher of New Heritage Cathedral feel compelled to call her a "wonderful woman"? WTF? What is no surprise is that with folks like Ms. Jenkins-Evans in charge it is no wonder that CPS is in a fiscal crisis.

Many budget directors, finance managers, and principals across CPS are probably quite worried today. In all likelihood there will be more charges in the near future. Perhaps it is time we have highly qualified individuals not only in the classroom but manning the money too.

For all you high school math teachers prepping for the PSAE, try these timely word problems out:

1) Assuming that #2 pencils cost $0.78 a dozen, how many pencils could Ms. Jenkins-Evans have purchased for Simeon students?

2) If a tutoring company offers private, one-on-one, tutoring for $75/hour, how many hours of private, one-on-one, tutoring could Ms. Jenkins-Evans have purchased for Simeon students?

3) What is the minimum number of central office administrators’ salaries that Ms. Jenkins-Evans could have picked up? Use The Champion to obtain salary information.

Good Luck