Education Reform
fever catch it
August 31, 2005
Lynne Varner
Seattle Times

Between today's
release of results from
the Washington
Assessment of Student
Learning and the
federal government's
list of schools falling
short of improvement
goals, educators are
renaming this Hell Week.

Teachers are growing
defensive, snapping
that, of course they
grasp their students'
deficiencies, so get off
them, already.
Principals mutter darkly
about unfunded

As if educators weren't
already feeling the heat,
Seattle City Hall sent up
a not-so-gentle
reminder that the
$116.8 million Families
and Education Levy is
available to the Seattle
Public Schools, but
contingent on academic

In public education's
almost century-worth of
mediocrity, the chickens
are finally coming home
to roost. The sounds
you hear are people
scrambling to duck.
Better get used to the
warm temperatures of a
frequent and more
intensive spotlight on
how well schools
educate our children.
Under the federal No
Child Left Behind Act of
2001, every state has to
publish school and
district improvement
data. In addition to the
law's high expectations
and no-excuses
attitude, it gives parents
enough information to
make them part of the
solution or the problem.
Educators say learning
is too complex a
process to rest solely in
their hands. They're

From the WASL to the
National Assessment of
Educational Progress to
the federally mandated
list of schools making
yearly progress, the
barometers are
The annual release of
test scores has taken on
because of the
escalating set of
consequences in store
for schools that falter
rather than grow.

Public schools have
operated on such a loose
system that critics equate
consequences with
punishment. But students
failed by public education
have been suffering the
consequences all along.

There shouldn't be
much wailing in
Washington state.
Thanks to our early
embrace of education
reform, we remain
ahead of the curve.
About 185 schools
across the state were
placed on the federal
list for failing to meet
annual performance
goals. Yes, this is an
increase from last year,
but two things to
consider before
descending into

One, the number of
districts on the list
remains unchanged at
29 — including Seattle
Public Schools —
meaning academic
performance in those
districts did not worsen
even as standards rose.
Two, some of the
schools will appeal their
placement on the list,
causing a closer
analysis of their test
results. Federal officials
expect some of those
appeals to be
successful and the
eventual number of
schools on the list to fall
closer to last year's.

An assortment of
benchmarks places this
state in a positive
academic light. Math
and verbal scores on
the SAT are at an all-
time high. Washington
continues to rank
among the top-
achieving states in the
nation on another
college-readiness exam,
the ACT. The average
composite score earned
by Washington high-
school graduates for
2005 — 22.7 —
exceeds the national
average of 20.9 and is
matched only by a few
other states with similar
participation rates.

Of course, there will
always be one study or
another comparing our
kids with some
automatons in a foreign
country and making us
feel we aren't
measuring up.
Personally, I'd rather my
4-year-old grow up to
create the most novel
school of art since
Cubism, but I
understand that
America operates on a
global platform and
must raise its
educational standards
to compete.

This is why, rather than
feel inundated or
penalized by the rise in
expectations and the
sharp-edged presence
of enforcement
measures, educators
should emerge from Hell
Week with a sense of
what's working and
what's not.

Rainier Beach High
School has been cited in
the news because test
results show it needs
more academic
improvement than any
public school in Seattle.
Thanks to the data, we
even know what topic
students at the school
are most challenged by
— basic math. Attention
should move from
feelings of
embarrassment to plans
that include assessing
the school's math
curriculum and how it's
taught, adding more
math tutors and
reminding parents that
their job doesn't end in
the school parking lot.
I know. The playing field
is not level. Students
start from different
points on the academic
continuum. But in the
heat of this week, if we
reach for that tired
excuse, we're ignoring
the possibility that most
can catch up if afforded
the right chance.
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Stutz Artiano Shinoff
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Improving Teacher Quality
Ed Reform Rpt:
Improving Teachers
Evaluating teachers
Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers
by Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert
March 06, 2010

In no other profession are workers so insulated from accountability.

The relative decline of American education at the elementary- and high-school levels has long
been a national embarrassment as well as a threat to the nation's future. Once upon a time,
American students tested better than any other students in the world. Now, ranked against
European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other
nations. Within the United States, the achievement gap between white students and poor and
minority students stubbornly persists—and as the population of disadvantaged students grows,
overall scores continue to sag.

For much of this time—roughly the last half century—
professional educators
believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the
right method of instruction, all would be well.
They tried New Math,
open classrooms, Whole Language—but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting

Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many
reasons was overlooked or denied.
What really makes a difference, what
matters more than the class size or the textbook, the
teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum,
is the quality of the teacher.
Much of the ability to teach is innate—an ability to
inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess
(and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way
many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and
pedagogy. In any case the
research shows that within about five
years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who
is not.

It is also true and unfortunate that often the weakest teachers are relegated to teaching the
neediest students, poor minority kids in inner-city schools. For these children, teachers can be
make or break. "The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row
will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak
teachers in a row will never recover," says Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and coauthor of the
2006 study "Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher

Nothing, then, is more important than hiring good teachers and firing bad ones. But here is the
Although many teachers are caring and selfless,
teaching in public schools has not always attracted the
best and the brightest. There once was a time when
teaching (along with nursing) was one of the few jobs not
denied to women and minorities. But with social progress,
many talented women and minorities chose other and more
highly compensated fields. One recent review of the
evidence by McKinsey & Co., the management consulting
firm, showed that most schoolteachers are recruited from
the bottom third of college-bound high-school students.
(Finland takes the top 10 percent.)

At the same time, the teachers' unions have become more and more powerful. In most states,
after two or three years, teachers are given lifetime tenure. It is almost impossible to fire them. In
New York City in 2008, three out of 30,000 tenured teachers were dismissed for cause. The
statistics are just as eye-popping in other cities. The percentage of teachers dismissed for poor
performance in Chicago between 2005 and 2008 (the most recent figures available) was 0.1
percent. In Akron, Ohio, zero percent. In Toledo, 0.01 percent. In Denver, zero percent. In no other
socially significant profession are the workers so insulated from accountability. The responsibility
does not just fall on the unions. Many principals don't even try to weed out the poor performers (or
they transfer them to other schools in what's been dubbed the "dance of the lemons"). Year after
year, about 99 percent of all teachers in the United States are rated "satisfactory" by their school
systems; firing a teacher invites a costly court battle with the local union.

Over time, inner-city schools, in particular, succumbed to a defeatist mindset. The problem is not
the teachers, went the thinking—it's the parents (or absence of parents); it's society with all its
distractions and pathologies; it's the kids themselves. Not much can be done, really, except to
keep the assembly line moving through "social promotion," regardless of academic performance,
and hope the students graduate (only about 60 percent of blacks and Hispanics finish high
school). Or so went the conventional wisdom in school superintendents' offices from Newark to L.
A. By 1992, "there was such a dramatic achievement gap in the United States, far larger than in
other countries, between socioeconomic classes and races," says Kate Walsh, president of the
National Council on Teacher Quality. "It was a scandal of monumental proportions, that there
were two distinct school systems in the U.S., one for the middle class and one for the poor."

In the past two decades, some schools have sprung up that defy and refute what former president
George W. Bush memorably called "the soft bigotry of low expectations." Generally operating
outside of school bureaucracies as charter schools, programs like KIPP (Knowledge Is Power
Program) have produced inner-city schools with high graduation rates (85 percent). KIPP schools
don't cherry-pick—they take anyone who will sign a contract to play by the rules, which require
some parental involvement. And they are not one-shot wonders. There are now 82 KIPP schools
in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and, routinely, they far outperform the local public
schools. KIPP schools are mercifully free of red tape and bureaucratic rules (their motto is "Work
hard. Be nice," which about sums up the classroom requirements). KIPP schools require longer
school days and a longer school year, but their greatest advantage is better teaching.

It takes a certain kind of teacher to succeed at a KIPP school or at other successful charter
programs, like YES Prep. KIPP teachers carry cell phones so students can call them at any time.
The dedication required makes for high burnout rates. It may be that teaching in an inner-city
school is a little like going into the Special Forces in the military, a calling for only the chosen few.

Yet those few are multiplying. About 20 years ago, a Princeton senior named Wendy Kopp wrote
her senior thesis proposing an organization to draw graduates from elite schools into teaching
poor kids. Her idea was to hire them for just a couple of years, and then let them move on to Wall
Street or wherever. Today, Teach for America sends about 4,100 grads, many from Ivy League
colleges, into inner-city schools every year. Some (about 8 percent) can't hack it, but most (about
61 percent) stay in teaching after their demanding two-year tours. Two thirds of TFA's 17,000
alumni are still involved in education and have become the core of a reform movement that is
having real impact. The founders of KIPP, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, are TFA products. So is
the most aggressive reformer in education today, Michelle Rhee, the education chancellor of the
District of Columbia, who is trying to loosen the hold of the teachers' union on a school system
that for years had the highest costs and worst results in the nation. (See following story.)

It is difficult to dislodge the educational establishment. In New Orleans, a hurricane was required:
since Katrina, New Orleans has made more educational progress than any other city, largely
because the public-school system was wiped out. Using nonunion charter schools, New Orleans
has been able to measure teacher performance in ways that the teachers' unions have long and
bitterly resisted. Under a new Louisiana law, New Orleans can track which ed schools produce
the best teachers, forcing long-needed changes in ed-school curricula. (The school system of
Detroit is just as broken as New Orleans's was before the storm—but stuck with largely the same
administrators, the same unions, and the same number of kids, and it has been unable to make
any progress.)

The teachers' unions—the National Education Association (3.2 million members) and the
American Federation of Teachers (1.4 million members)—are major players in the Democratic
Party at the national and local levels. So it is extremely significant—a sign of the changing times—
that the Obama administration has taken them on. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is dangling
money as an incentive for state legislatures to weaken the grip of the teachers' unions. To
compete for $4.3 billion in federal aid under the Race to the Top program, states get extra points
for getting rid of caps on the number of charter schools (a union favorite, since charter schools are
often nonunion) and allowing student scores to be used in teacher evaluations. Measuring
teacher performance based in part on the test scores of their pupils would seem to be a no-
brainer. New Orleans uses student scores to measure teacher effectiveness. But it's prohibited by
law for tenure decisions in states like New York, where the teachers' union has long been

It will take a quiet revolution to improve American schools. Some educational experts have noticed
an uptick in the academic quality of new teachers, at least at the high-school level, possibly
because the recession has limited other job opportunities. One of the unions, the AFT under
Randi Weingarten, seems to realize that sheer obstructionism won't work. "One of the most
hopeful things I've seen is that the union people don't want to spend so much time defending the
not-so-good teachers anymore. I think the pressure of accountability is paying off," says Haycock
of the Education Trust. "They know they will be held responsible if they are defending teachers
who aren't any good."

Some teachers resent the reform movement as a bunch of elitists denigrating loyal and
hardworking teachers—of whom, of course, there are many. But others welcome a boost in status
that would come with higher standards. "You know, the Marine Corps never has any problem
meeting its enlistment goals, because it's an elite corps, and people want to be part of something
that is seen as the best," says Daniel Weisberg, general counsel of The New Teacher Project and
coauthor of "The Widget Effect," a critique of teacher-evaluation programs. In Europe, where
teachers enjoy more social prestige and higher salaries, schools have no trouble attracting new
teachers with strong academic records.

Before the American public-education system can regain its lost crown as the envy of the world,
local politicians and school administrators will have to step up. At Central Falls High School in
Rhode Island, half the students drop out of school, and proficiency in math measured by state
exams stands at a pitiful 7 percent among 11th graders. Under state pressure, the local
superintendent, Frances Gallo, tried to improve scores by requiring teachers to work 25 minutes
longer each a day, eat lunch with students once a week, and agree to be evaluated by a third party.
The teachers, who make about $75,000 a year, far more than average in this depressed town,
balked. They wanted another $90 an hour. So Gallo took a brave and astonishing step: she
recommended firing all 74 teachers. Her boldness was praised by Education Secretary Duncan—
and supported by President Obama. The teachers' union initially squawked that everyone was
unfairly "blaming the teachers," but then last week backed off under a storm of media pressure
and accepted the new rules requiring teachers to spend more time with the students.

The Central Falls High story was a notable breakthrough, but there is a long way to go. The media
are beginning to root out the more outrageous examples: last year the Los Angeles Times ran a
long series documenting the unwillingness of the education bureaucracy to fire bad teachers (like
the one who told a student who attempted suicide to "carve deeper next time" and another who
kept a stash of pornography and cocaine at school; both are still teaching). The Indianapolis Star
reported how Lawrence Township schools had quietly laid off—with generous cash settlements
and secrecy agreements—a teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student; another accused
of touching students and taking photos of female students; another accused of kissing a high-
school student; and a fourth with a 20-year history of complaints about injuring and harassing
students, including a 1992 rape allegation. At the time the story ran last summer, all four teachers
still held active teaching licenses. While these horror stories are sensational, what's also
disturbing is the immunity enjoyed by the thousands of teachers who let down their students in
more ordinary ways. Many more teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.
Maybe they'd get more respect if the truly bad teachers were let go.

With Eve Conant and Sam Register
Taking No Prisoners in
San Diego Schools

June 25, 2010

Education historian Diane
Ravitch was once a fan of
testing and accountability
as the way to fix schools.
She worked under
Presidents George H.W.
Bush and Bill Clinton. She
backed No Child Left

But she's had a change of
mind. In her newest book,
The Death and Life of the
Great American School
System, she has come to
criticize the school reform
ideas she once

Ravitch zooms in on San
Diego Unified and the
school reform battles under
former Superintendent Alan
Bersin as one example of
the kind of change she
believes has not worked --
and will not work -- in

Her book is a unique
outside look at one of our
most controversial school
leaders, one who has
continued to spark debate
over how schools should be
fixed long after his

It is an even more
fascinating look now, after
San Diego Unified has
chosen a very different
leader to carry out a
different, grassroots model
of reform. I couldn't swing a
flight to New York, so I
chatted with Ravitch over
e-mail this week.

Why San Diego? What is it
about the battles here that
proved important for you in
illustrating a larger point
about school reform?

San Diego was a very important
district in the current reform
narrative because it was the
first big district to apply the
top-down approach. The
leadership knew exactly what
teachers should be doing, and
they required compliance. Its
"take-no-prisoners" approach
was subsequently copied by
Joel Klein in New York City and
Michelle Rhee in Washington,

You talk a lot about the
"top-down mandates"
under Bersin and a lack
of collaboration. Was
style the problem with
Bersin -- or was this
about substantive
differences on his

From what I learned, the
problem is one of style. I heard
repeatedly from teachers and
principals that they agreed with
the substance of the reforms,
but they hated the top-down,
accelerator-to-the-floor style.
They hated the feeling that they
were treated as lesser human
beings, that there was no
collaboration or consultation,
just mandates. The resentment
and rage that built up undercut
the reforms.

It's really easy, as
journalists and observers,
to get wrapped up in the
conflict itself in school
systems and to conclude
that conflict itself is a sign of
failed leadership. Is it? Do
you think there ever is any
justification for the rapid,
take-no-prisoners style of
education reform that
Bersin represented?

Conflict is a sign of failed
leadership in education.
When one is running a
prison system, it is
important to have a tough,
top-down style, because
you can't take chances. But
in education, the leadership
must rely on the teachers to
do the daily work. If the
leadership does not win
their willing, even
enthusiastic, support, then
the reforms will stall.
Teachers are educated
adults; they have
experience with students.
They don't like to be
treated like children. They
need to feel respected.

People have described
this book as a big shift in
your thinking, rejecting
the things that you once
praised -- No Child Left
Behind and charter
schools, for instance. Do
you yourself see it as a

The book is a reversal of
my views about testing,
accountability, and choice...

You decry the influence
of big foundations on
educational policy in
public schools. But as
school districts lose
funding, those groups
have also played a
crucial role in stepping
in with money. Is there
any way schools can
involve private groups
without letting them
control their decisions?

Never in our history have
foundations been so
assertive in seeking to
control and direct education

In many instances, the
policymakers themselves
have been trained by the
same foundations that are
seeking to take control.

We are at risk of
abandoning the democratic
governance of education
and handing it over to a
small number of very
wealthy foundations, whose
knowledge of education
reflects the priorities of the
very wealthy men who
created them, and to a
select group of hedge fund
managers who think they
know how to solve every
problem despite their lack
of experience...

'Vision Without Action Is Hallucination'
Voice of San Diego
by Emily Alpert
March 24, 2010

School board President Richard Barrera laid out his vision for the future of  San
Diego Unified in the annual State of the District address tonight at Cherokee Point
Elementary. Here were some of the highlights:

• Barrera said that schools clearly need to improve, but he drew a bright line
between the "corporate model" of school reform, which he linked to No Child Left
Behind and the reforms of former Superintendent Alan Bersin, and the "community
model" he favors.

What does he mean? Barrera defined the corporate model as change that comes
from the top, by setting easy-to-measure standards for which local schools and
teachers are accountable. It punishes schools where students fail on standardized
tests and rewards schools where they do well.

In contrast, Barrera described the community model as being driven by teachers,
parents and others close to schools. It is built on strong relationships between
people in a school community, stability and small class sizes where teachers can
tailor their teaching to each student, Barrera said.

That has worked in local schools, Barrera argued, and the "big ideas" from
corporate reformers haven't. He highlighted our recent article about Euclid
Elementary as an example.

"The community model might not be flashy, and it might mean that nobody gets to
be hailed as a savior," he said, "but if we want our kids to have a real shot at a
bright future, the community model is change that we can believe in."

• Barrera decried the budget cuts handed down by state legislators and argued
that California should tax oil production and alcohol more heavily to help schools.

He also mentioned that the school board might put an "emergency education fee"
on the November ballot to bring in more local revenue. This is the parcel tax that
the school district hired consultant Larry Remer to research. It would take a two-
thirds majority to pass, Barrera said.

But Barrera also noted that eventually, the legislature has to restore money to
public schools. He estimated that eventually San Diego Unified will get an annual
funding increase of $225 million. Money like that could create class sizes of 20
children per teacher in every single grade, he said.

• Barrera recounted his maddening experiences with the bureaucratic dysfunction
of the school district, such as when he said the school board discovered the
transportation department regularly overspent its budget by $7 million to $8 million

"Decades of bureaucratic waste and neglect was enabled by a culture of
arrogance in the central office" that allowed ideas for streamlining to go ignored,
Barrera said.

That is changing to a "culture of ownership" where ideas are valued, Barrera said.
He touted a new way of budgeting as an example. San Diego Unified still ended up
making painful cuts such as shortening the school year by five days, Barrera said,
but the school district was able to keep class sizes intact.

• Barrera's speech was full of memorable anecdotes, but my favorite was when
Barrera went off his script and started talking about his experiences as a
community organizer in Arkansas, where he met a minister who made and sold
whiskey "in the informal economy."

As Barrera recounted it, the minister used to say, "Vision without action is
hallucination!" Barrera said he replied, "Reverend, you would know!" His point --
and his final argument -- was that his vision can't happen without the whole
community, through volunteering, lobbying and backing the parcel tax.

But you don't have to take my word for it. You can read the full text of the speech
or check out the video on the school district website.

Education Reform

Talking to Kids
Book Boondoggle?
Nat'l Board Certif
Ordinary People
Writing Sample
Toss Democracy
School Violence
In a perfect world, teachers who are not good at their jobs would be steered to
different careers.  In this world, there are two powerful forces preventing this.  One is
the teacher's union.  But another, more powerful reason is that we don't have
enough gifted teachers who are willing to fill our classrooms.  If we valued giftedness
in teachers, and paid for it as we do for superior ability among doctors and lawyers
and accountants, then we could afford to follow the advice of Evan Thomas and Pat
Wingert in the following article.
Teaching links
Abusive teachers
TEACHING THE TEACHERS: But innovator may be
casualty of California budget cuts
Apr 24, 2011
By Jason Felch
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — In February, 5th-grade teacher Miguel Aguilar stood in the
front of a class, nervous and sweating.

The subject — reading and comprehension — was nothing new. But on this day,
his students weren’t 11-year-olds in sneakers and sweatshirts: They were 30 of
his fellow teachers.

It was the first time anyone at Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima could
remember a teacher there being singled out for his skill and called upon to share
his secrets school-wide.

“A teacher coming forward ... that hadn’t happened before,” said Janelle
Sawelenko, another 5th-grade teacher.

Months before, Aguilar had been featured in a Los Angeles Times article as one
of the most effective teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District at raising
student scores on standardized tests. Many of his students, the article noted,
had vaulted from the bottom 30 percent in the district to well above average.

The article contrasted Aguilar’s performance with that of the teacher next door,
John Smith, who ranked among the district’s least effective teachers. Pupils in
both classes faced similar challenges in this poor, predominantly Latino

When the article appeared — followed soon after by a database ranking about
6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers — it ignited debate nationwide.
Educators, teachers unions and experts warned that publicly rating teachers
would pit one against the other.

Seven months later, Broadous teachers and the principal say the opposite has
occurred. They’ve noticed a new openness to talking about what works, an
urgent desire to improve. “It’s encouraged them to collaborate,” said Eidy
Hemmati, the school’s intervention coordinator.

Indeed, Broadous teachers — including Smith — have repeatedly sought out
Aguilar’s help this school year, despite the potential for hard feelings.

The new experiment, however, may be short-lived.

After a particularly long day of teaching several weeks ago, Aguilar found a pink
slip in his mailbox. He was one of about 5,000 district teachers notified that they
might lose their jobs this summer, depending on the troubled budget.

Smith didn’t get a pink slip. In California and most other states, seniority, not
performance, is the sole consideration when layoffs come.

Smith has been with the district 15 years, Aguilar eight.

In the initial weeks after the article came out, Aguilar said he “went through hell.”

“There’s a lot of jealousy and hate out there. ... People said things like, ‘There’s
this guy who thinks he’s all good just because he’s Latino and he’s friends with
the kids. How do you know he’s not cheating?’ ”

Many educators, including many at Broadous, were skeptical of the Times’
statistical approach, known as “value-added analysis.” In essence, it estimates a
teacher’s effectiveness by measuring each student’s performance on
standardized tests compared to previous years. Because it measures students
against their own track records, it largely controls for socioeconomic differences.

Districts across the country are adopting the approach, but opposition to value-
added remains strong among many teachers and their unions, and some experts
consider it too unreliable for high-stakes decisions. Proponents acknowledge
that it is imperfect, but say that it is the most reliable tool available and that it
should be used along with other measures.

By singling out Aguilar, the Times article had put him under an uneasy spotlight.

“Little by little I felt like I had to prove I was respected not just because of my test
scores,” he said, “but because of what I’m teaching in my classroom.”

On visits to his classroom, Principal Stannis Steinbeck quickly concluded that
Aguilar was not simply “teaching to the test” — a concern among critics of the
value-added approach. He had an uncanny ability to connect with his students
while commanding their respect.

When she learned later that Aguilar had devised his own method for teaching
reading and comprehension, she asked for a demonstration. Steinbeck was
impressed: Aguilar forced students to slow down and think before answering
questions. Without dumbing down lessons, he broke down key concepts in a way
that his 5th-graders, among the grade’s least fluent in English, could readily

Steinbeck asked Aguilar if he’d be willing to lead a school-wide training session.
Aguilar said her request “blew my mind.”

The demonstration to a classroom full of teachers in February was well received.
So he went grade by grade giving sample lessons as the teachers looked on.
Within six weeks, 3rd-grade proficiency in reading and comprehension rose from
20 percent to 30 percent, Steinbeck said.

Aguilar’s fellow teachers expressed cautious enthusiasm. “His strategies are not
the end all, they’re not the light from heaven,” said Sawelenko, the fellow 5th-
grade teacher. “But it’s a step forward, and it’s a lot better than what we were

“It’s time to begin workshop,” Aguilar told his class on a recent Friday morning.

The week before, the class had read a short story. Now, during the period each
day when teachers can choose a skill to reinforce, the students were going to
tackle some comprehension questions they had composed.

“It’s going to get us to think,” he told the class, “to become better critical thinkers.”

“Follow with your finger as we read aloud,” he said. In unison, the class read,
“Why was Robert afraid of catching the ball?“

At this point in many classrooms, students would work independently or in groups
to answer the question. But Aguilar had his students take out crayons and
colored pencils to dissect the question and circle the main point.

Most circled the words, “Why was Robert afraid.”

Aguilar called, unsolicited, on different students, checking their comprehension
before asking the others whether they agreed. He then asked the class what the
question was asking for, a prediction or an inference.

Once the class had settled on inference, the students went back to the story to
find evidence to support their answer.

After 30 minutes working through the questions, each student wrote down his or
her answer. The process eventually becomes automatic for students and they
cover the material more quickly, Aguilar said.

That night at home, Aguilar made a chart of which students got which type of
questions wrong. The next week, he would put them in groups to focus on that
particular comprehension skill.

It wasn’t rocket science, he admitted. But it worked.

Steinbeck and several teachers at the school said they feared the new spirit of
collaboration would dissolve if Aguilar were laid off this summer.

“Honestly, if he leaves, I won’t have anyone to collaborate with,” Sawelenko said.
“It’s an absolute disservice to children and it’s morally wrong.”
San Diego
Education Report