Are some schools better than others? Public Education vs Privitization

I am a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and watch the show everyday. For those of you that have never seen it, you are missing out. It is the perfect mix of comedy and politics. The Daily Show is definitely left-leaning politically, but is not afraid to take on both the left and the right. The show is very much a comedy show but Jon Stewart does have serious guests on his show.

Last week Jon had on Diane Ravitch to talk about her new book, The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In the interview, Diane discusses the state of education in the United States.

Although Diane is talking about education as it pertains to the United States, there are definitely some universal themes discussed. She points out that poverty is the number one contributor to low academic achievement. She goes on to point out that there is a direct correlation between districts that have low test scores and districts that have the highest rates of child poverty. I would wager that the same could be said about Canada and other industrialized nations. When students are sick, hungry, and have little to no supports in the home, they are at a huge disadvantage. According to Diane, this is “the elephant in the room” that legislators and decision makers are not taking about. She goes on to point out that if we really wanted to improve education we would make class sizes smaller, we would have nurses and health-clinics available in the schools,and we would make physical education and the arts a priority.

Another theme that emerges in this interview is that of having education look more like a marketplace with the allusion of choice as opposed to having good public education available for all. Based on my 15 years of experience,  I believe that there is a perception in the public that some schools are simply better than others. Some schools have better programs, higher academic standards, and better teachers. In my opinion, this is simply not true. Every school has great teachers, every school has great programs, every school has high academic standards, but not every school has the same demographics. This goes back to the point that Diane made in the interview; area’s with high poverty rates tend to have poor test scores. But does that mean it is a bad school with bad teachers? Of course not. This is a great example of how data can be used incorrectly. I believe data has its place to help guide decision making, but there is a huge danger when we use data to compare one school to the next. When the general public see’s data presented this way, they might choose to send their children to the school with higher test scores because it is perceived that it is a better school, and I believe this is a very dangerous premise.

I whole-heartedly agree with Diane when she says at the end of the interview, “People should have a good neighborhood school in every neighborhood. One where they are very happy to send their kids because they know the teachers are terrific”. Data definitely has its place but we need to move away from using it to compare schools. As Diane says, we need to start to looking at students as individuals and not as data points. Picking a school for you child should not be a consumer choice. In my opinion and in my experience, every school has good teachers and good programs and even though every school is different, one is not necessarily better than the other.

So what do you think? Are some schools better than others? How much choice should parents have when deciding where their child might go to school? Is the public school model working or do we need to move to a privatization model? I would love to hear what you think!


Making Connections With Students: It’s the Little Things!

I am currently in my 16th year of teaching. I have taught at 4 different schools in my career, two of them in small towns, and two of them in the city. I have taught grade 8 through grade 12, mostly math, with a few other subjects thrown in. I have mostly enjoyed my time as a teacher, a lot of ups with a few downs. I have never been the most organized teacher, I have never been very creative in how I deliver content or assess students, but I have always felt that I was a pretty good math teacher, just maybe not a great math teacher. However, when people have asked me over the years what my greatest strength is as a teacher, I have always responded that I feel like I am good at connecting with my students. And I have always felt as though this was one of the most important things we as teachers can do.

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Every teacher is different, and I believe this is a good thing. We need all sorts of teachers with different strengths, different styles, and different perspectives. And every student is different as well. We as teachers cannot make a student like us, or make a student love our subject area, but every teacher can make an attempt to connect with their students. This is something that we, as teachers, can control.

When I think back to my high school experience, I don’t necessarily remember the most organized teachers or the most intelligent teachers or the funniest teachers, but I do remember the teachers that I connected with. I remember the teachers that took an interest in the things I did outside of school. I remember the teachers that were caring and kind. I remember the teachers that were fair and listened to me. I remember the teachers that gave up their time to coach, direct, or run a club. I remember the teachers that made an effort. When I entered the teaching profession, I aspired to be and do all these things that I admired in my teachers.

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To this day, when I run into a former student, we don’t talk about that amazing math lesson I did, we talk about the trip we took together, or the close basketball game we won (or lost), or the musical we did together. And I do the same when I run into my former teachers. Connecting with students is a huge part of what we do, and students will remember and hold onto that.

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We can do small things as teachers to connect with students, they don’t have to be big things like coaching a sport or directing a musical. It may be as simple as saying hello in the morning or asking how their day is going. It may be as simple as asking about their interests, or going to seem them play a game, or sing at the choir concert. It may be as simple as opening up and letting them know something personal about yourself. It may be as simple as listening to their concerns and giving them a voice. It may be as simple as getting to know the student and their story.

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Of course all of the other stuff is important too. I think that all teachers should be organized and professional and experts in their content area, but I think that we get too wrapped up in the day to day grind. Curriculum, timelines, professional development, assessments, planning. Sometimes we lose sight of the small things that can mean a lot to our students. If we take the time to connect with our students it will make a difference. It did for me. So thank you to all of my teachers that connected with me. And I encourage all of the teachers who read this to continue the work they do to connect with their students. It will make all the difference in the world.

If you are in the mood for sharing, let me know what you do to make connections with students or share a memory from your own school experience. I would love to hear from you!

I Love TED Talks!

For those of you that know about Ted Talks, I probably don’t have to convince you that they are both amazing education tools and just plain fun and interesting to watch! For those of you that have never heard of TED or never watched a TED Talk, I hope I can convince you to have a look, because not only can you grow your own curiosity and knowledge base but also that of your students and colleagues. And for those of you who are not teachers, you can watch for the shear entertainment and educational value, even if you don’t share it with anyone.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, started out as a conference in 1984 which brought together people from these three worlds to share idea’s. Not surprisingly, the motto for TED is “Idea’s Worth Spreading”. TED

TED Talks are short video’s, usually about 18 minutes long, in which a speaker talks and presents on a specific topic. The speakers are experts in their respective fields and the presentation is generally short, educational, and entertaining; and these three adjectives are really what make TED Talks so great. You don’t have to invest a lot of time and they are very entertaining and educational, perfect for a school setting, but also perfect for the average person who wants a quick bit of entertainment while they work out or wait for the bus. Also, there are currently over 1600 TED Talks available, so you can find a TED Talk on almost any subject. Some are very funny and light hearted, some are very somber and serious. Whatever your interests, there is a TED Talk for you. So instead of me just talking about TED Talks, why don’t I share some with you.

I will start with a TED talk that falls under the topic of education but is also related to the most recent EC&I 831 on-line class which featured guest speaker Sylvia Martinez. Sylvia talked to the class about the Maker Movement in education which she features in her book, Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. She is encouraging teachers to let their students simply build things out of junk and odds and ends. Let them be the creators and engineers. Let them learn through play. Technology is integrated using things like Makey Makey and Arduino and the end result can be unbelievable. I believe that this is very closely related to the first TED Talk I would like you to watch. The video features Dr. Sugata Mitra, an educational researcher, who discovered, through his “Hole in the Wall” experiments, that children can teach themselves, and each other, in the absence of formal teaching. He hooked up a computer in a slum area of urban India, protected by a wall, and simply let the neighborhood children experiment with absolutely no training on how to use a computer. Watch the video below to see what happens.

What an amazing story! And this is just one of many education related TED Talks. There are also subject specific TED Talks that a teacher may use. I am a math teacher and here is TED Talk I shared with one of my classes.

Here is a very interesting TED Talk that could be used in a biology class studying the environment.

Here is a TED Talk that made the rounds on social media that could be used in a language arts class studying poetry or maybe a social studies class studying social justice or bullying.

How about music class? Here is one of my personal favorites which features Bobby McFerrin. I love this one.

There are so many more that I could show you but I think that I have maybe shared too much on this post as it is. Even if you watched just one of these video’s I hope it was enough to get you to go and check out some more and maybe see if there are any that would fit into your subject area or specific topic you want to cover.

Please let me know what you thought of any of these TED Talks or maybe share your  favorites with me. I would love to hear from you in the comments area below!


A Promise to My Daughter

So I thought I would take a break from all the posts about social media and technology and share something education-related from my personal life.

This fall my 4 year old daughter started going to preschool and today I attended her very first parent-teacher conference. Her teacher said that she was doing very well and told her mother and I all the things that a parent wants to hear; she is polite, she listens well, she gets along with others, she works hard, and she is progressing nicely. I know that my daughter still has a long way to go in her education career but I couldn’t help feeling very proud of my little girl.

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What I realized today was that this was going to be the first of many parent-teacher conferences that I would be having over the next 13 years. So after I told my daughter how proud of her I was, I asked her if she liked school. She said, yeah. Then I told her how much I liked school and how much her mother liked school and that she was going to be in school for a long time. I told her she was going to graduate high school, and then go to university, and then take her masters, and a PhD. I don’t think she really knew what I was talking about, but she was smiling and giggling the whole time and that made me smile.

I don’t know what path my daughter will eventually take, but I am going to make sure that she knows that education is important and I will always encourage her to be a life long learner. I don’t proclaim to know everything about parenting, or anything about parenting for that matter, but I do know as an educator, that taking an active role in your child’s education and making it a priority is absolutely essential.

Right after the parent-teacher conference today I realized that this was the beginning of a long journey of my daughters education and that I would be involved every step of the way. I don’t consider this a burden, I consider it a privilege. I know that there will be many bumps along the way but I can’t wait to take this journey with her. So that is my promise to my daughter, that I will be with her every step of the way through her education career and always encourage her. I promise to make education a priority and I will always be proud of her accomplishments. That’s my promise.


No Day Like Today!

I thought I would title my first Blog ever with one of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite musicals of all time, Rent. It is useful in so many situations, whether you are giving up a bad habit, making a positive change in your life, or just deciding to live your life to fullest, there is “no day like today”. In my case, there is “no day like today” to write and share my first Blog ever!

I will start with a little bit about myself, however, I always find it hard, when writing a bio, to find that right balance of interesting personal information and pertinent professional information. It is somewhere in the middle between an online dating bio and a professional resume, you don’t want to get too personal but you don’t want to come across boring either. Anyway, here goes. My name is Ryan Josephson, and I am a father of a beautiful 4 year old daughter. I have been in the education business for 15 years, teaching high school (mostly senior math), with a little coaching on the side (mostly basketball), and some drama directing thrown in for good measure (mostly musicals). In my spare time I love to golf and play other sports. I am also involved in the performing arts. My main love is improv, but I also like to sing and play the guitar and do a little acting when I can. There is something very addicting about the stage to me and I can’t get enough of it.

EC&I 831 is my 5th masters class and the first elective I have taken thus far. I am really looking forward to a different style of class than my previous 4 classes. As far as my comfort level with technology, I have always felt as though I have been a few steps behind but I do feel as though I am beginning to catch up a little bit. As far as social media goes, I think I am fairly tuned in, especially in my personal life. I use Facebook and twitter quite extensively to stay connected with friends, colleagues, and educators, and to promote the various shows and endeavors I am involved with. I hope to share some of my many social media experiences as we move forward in this class and in my Blog’s. Beyond social media, I feel like I have a lot to learn. I am excited to learn more about all the technology available to make my classes more interesting and engaging. I firmly believe that making connections to people is a an amazing way to learn, and this can be accomplished face to face or through social media.

My goal for this class is to continue to connect with and learn from other educators and to open myself up to all the possibilities that technology may hold for my teaching practices. My personal hang-up with technology is related to my subject area. I have always found it difficult to adapt many of the technological tools to mathematics, and I have always felt that it would be too time consuming to do so, and the pressure to cover curriculum in a timely fashion often over-rules my desire to incorporate technology. However, I know that there are senior math teachers out there that are doing it, and it is time for me to just give myself over to the process. So that is what I am going to try and do. No day like today!

I know that we are only a week in, but I am thoroughly enjoying this class so far! I look forward to getting to know all my classmates better and continue to connect and share. Live and let learn!