A Message from Marlene: 

“Curiosity and Failure”

Have you ever watched young children at play? They are amazing at finding ways to interact with what we might consider the most mundane things. Give a young child a plain cardboard box, and they’ll make a car out of it, turn it into a desk or set up a restaurant. Their curiosity about the world is endless—they want to touch, taste, and explore everything. We set up our early childhood classrooms to foster that curiosity. But something changes between those early years and the time when children enter the elementary grades. School becomes more and more about grades and making sure that everything deemed necessary by some authority is shoved into their brains. What often happens is that school becomes a chore, rather than a joy, and that “joy-squelching” seems to grow with every passing year.  I, along with many other educators, continue to advocate for a change in our approach to education. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” So how do we continue to foster an environment in which our students are passionately curious? The scary part for many of us is that it means we have to change our education delivery system in order to facilitate change in education from a factory model to one in which students have some choice and voice.

It also means that students have to be allowed to fail. Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Wow, wouldn’t that be amazing if we fostered that sentiment in our students. How we do that with an overemphasis on grades and testing remains to be seen. If our emphasis is always on getting all the right answers, how will we explore new ideas that initially may seem all wrong. As educator Ken Robinson has said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

That is why I continue to be so excited about our SMILE Project, as our pilot schools continue to explore ways to empower students’ learning through innovative approaches and an appropriate use of technology. (The appropriate use of technology, by the way, is a whole other topic for a future column!)

Even with the success our SMILE Project, as I head into the final few years of my career, I’m a bit  disheartened that we still seem to be having the same conversations we were having when I started teaching forty years ago—inequity in education, ill-prepared students for the workplace, and dissatisfied teachers. What’s worse, we’re still pointing the finger of blame at anyone but ourselves. I may be seasoned, but I’m ready for change in education, and I think we owe that to all children in our education system. Making positive strides for one child, one day at a time, can change lives forever. Let’s nurture their curious nature and prepare them to push past failure to success.

Easter blessings to all of you.


Charters, Vouchers, Tax Credits: Making Sense of it All!

The appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education within the new Trump administration, has brought a tremendous amount of debate and angst over the proposed expansion of school choice.

Currently 27 states have some form of private school choice. Fourteen of those, plus Washington, D.C., have voucher programs, and some have more than one program. In conversations with teachers, parents and others regarding school choice, I’ve learned that there is a lot of misinformation out there. Due to the fact that this is such a controversial issue, emotions can sometimes cloud the facts.

So here is a simple primer for those of you who might be interested in understanding the nuances of school choice.

Both magnet and charter schools are considered public schools of choice. Charter school laws and authorizers vary by state. They operate with fewer regulations and restrictions than typically-operating public schools. They are accountable  for academic results, often measured through state tests, and for achieving the goals of their charter. Charter management organizations (CMOs) can either be not-for-profit or for-profit.  Some provide a specialized curriculum, e.g., STEM, music, leadership. Charters receive funding per pupil, oftentimes less than what the typical public school receives. Results vary and if a charter school does not meet performance goals and financial and organizational stability, it may be subject to closure. In many cases states place a cap on the number of charter schools permitted. There is often tension between typically-operating schools, teachers unions and charters.

Magnet schools are operated by school districts or consortia of districts. They have a focused theme and are open to all students in the district. Sometimes they focus on gifted and talented students, fine arts, or international studies. Students are often chosen by lottery. As these schools are part of the established districts, they are considered less controversial than charters.

Voucher programs are probably the most controversial of the choice options. Putting it simply, money is set aside from the state budget and given as a voucher to families to choose which school they would like their child to attend, including private and religious schools.  There are often special requirements, such as having a disability or specific family income in order to be eligible for vouchers. Indiana has the most expansive program including more middle income families than other states. Nine states and Washington, D.C., require state testing, 11 programs in nine states have programs for students with disabilities, and four states and Washington, D.C. have income requirements.  There is fierce debate around vouchers, with unions coming down hard against them. Results vary by state and by study.

Tax credit scholarships are also considered part of the choice movement. This type of program allows businesses or individuals to receive a tax credit for donating money to an approved scholarship program which allows students to attend the school of choice. Finally, education savings accounts are created when the state takes a portion of money that would have gone to the district for a child’s education. This amount is  allocated to parental savings accounts. The money can then be used by parents for approved education expenses, including tutoring, therapy, books or tuition. All parents are eligible for this money, both public and private.

Depending upon the area of the country in which you live, any of these programs might be present. Forty-three states and Washington, D.C. have charter laws.

Change is difficult. I like to think that wherever we come down on this issue, we will put the welfare of our children, particularly the most vulnerable, first.

Why Does it Matter?

MarleneThis past weekend I attended the Springfest at Astoria Lutheran School in N.Y., the place where I spent 18 years as teacher and then principal. Two of my former students now work at the school.  It’s a special place where kids are nurtured as individuals and  are taught the love of God and others. I’m part of a Facebook page with the class of 1978, my first class, and it is remarkable how much the school means to these now mature adults. Schools like Astoria Lutheran, and hundreds of others, struggle to keep doing their mission work in diverse communities around the country. CUEM is dedicated to ensuring that Lutheran schools in our cities not only survive, but thrive for generations to come. Won’t you help support that effort by making an Easter gift for our work?

Online donations can be made at: http://centerforurbaned.org/donate/, or donations may be mailed to CUEM at 475 Riverside Drive, Ste. 1244, NY, NY 10115. Thanks, and God’s blessings for a wonderful Easter!

Finally…A Little Easter Humor



Donate to The Center For Urban Education Ministries!