Although I am very concerned about our future, Thanksgiving Week is a time to reflect on how much I am thankful for. Here’s my list of some of the people and organizations that make our lives life better. Because some of them are non-profits relying on individual generosity, I am including their contact information.
FAIRTEST: This organization (full name: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing) has been an honest and honorable advocate for reducing our reliance on standardized bubble tests. It’s also a solid source of information about the growing ‘Opt Out’ movement, where students simply say ‘No Mas’ to excessive testing. A non-profit, FAIRTEST is an organization to be both thankful for and worthy of your financial support.
WHAT KIDS CAN DO was years ahead of its time when it began spotlighting the accomplishment of young people in 2001. You may know WKCD from “Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students” (The New Press 2005), but WKCD uses digital, print, and broadcast media to send a dual message: 1) What young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need, and 2) what they can contribute when we take their voices and ideas seriously. The youth who concern WKCD most are those marginalized by poverty, race, and language. WKCD was founded an educator and a journalist with more than 60 years combined experience supporting adolescent learning in and out of school.
READWORKS If you believe as I do, that reading is the essential gateway to success, then Readworks is a group you should be thankful for. Readworks is a free and easy-to-use that helps teachers do a better job. In its own words, “ReadWorks is committed to solving America’s reading comprehension crisis and student achievement gap. Driven by cognitive science research,the non-profit ReadWorks creates world-class content, teacher guidance, and integrated tools that improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Lean and mean group that spends its money helping teachers helping kids.
THE URBAN ASSEMBLY While improving educational opportunities is never easy, the smoothest path to success is to start in kindergarten and first grade, then add a grade or two every year. The tough job is starting in high school, after the kids you want to help have spent eight or more years in traditional schools. So that’s what Richard Kahan decided to do when he transitioned from a hugely successful career in real estate and urban planning. Today The Urban Assembly supports a group of 21 high performing, small public schools in New York City, including seven Career & Technical Education (CTE) schools and three all-girls schools, serving over 9,000 students from low-income neighborhoods. These themed schools (EG, Academy for Government and Law; Gateway School for Technology; Institute of Math and Science for Young Women) are open to all students.
YOUTHBUILD I got to know YouthBuild during my first go-round at the NewsHour sometime between 1985-1990. I’m happy to report that this organization, dedicated to giving marginalized youth a second, third and perhaps fourth chance, is stronger than ever. Its dynamic founder, Dorothy Stoneman, remains one of my heroes. Once just Boston-based, YouthBuild now reaches many corners of the globe. From its website: “There are at least 2.3 million low-income 16-24 year-olds in the United States who are not in education, employment, or training. Globally, over 200 million youth are working poor and earning less than $2.00 a day. All are in urgent need of pathways to education, jobs, entrepreneurship, and other opportunities leading to productive livelihoods and community leadership. YouthBuild programs provide those pathways. All over the world they unleash the positive energy of low-income young people to rebuild their communities and their lives, breaking the cycle of poverty with a commitment to work, education, family, and community.”
In case you are wondering, YouthBuild is a non-profit that accepts contributions from readers like you!
THE CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND Perhaps all you need to know about CDF is its slogan, Leave No Child Behind. Yep, George W. Bush ripped it off but–significantly–changed the voice from active to passive. CDF is activist and has been since Marian Wright Edelman founded it in 1973. I have fond memories of coffee klatches in her kitchen in Washington, DC, in the late 1970’s, listening to and learning from one of America’s great contributors. It’s needed more than ever today.
COMMUNITY SCHOOLS These are one of our brightest hopes for the future, schools that celebrate and embrace their communities. While a few organizations push this concept, the go-to organization is the Coalition for Community Schools, headquartered in Washington but serving hundreds of communities. Take a look, please, and share this with your educator friends.
CORE KNOWLEDGE I am a huge fan of this approach to curriculum and of its founder, the great E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Don Hirsch is a small-d democrat who believes that the more people know, the better off we all are. I’ve been in a bunch of Core Knowledge schools, and every one has made me want to be a kid again. Nearly 1300 schools from preschool through 8th grade in 46 states and Washington, DC, uses the Core Knowledge curriculum. From its website: “The idea behind Core Knowledge is simple and powerful: knowledge builds on knowledge. The more you know, the more you are able to learn. This insight, well-established by cognitive science, has profound implications for teaching and learning. Nearly all of our most important goals for education–greater reading comprehension, the ability to think critically and solve problems, even higher test scores–are a function of the depth and breadth of our knowledge.”
MAKERSPACE This is an idea whose time has come. If you are not on this train, climb aboard now because it’s a great way to energize kids and channel their creative energy. Want to see students eager to come to school? Visit one with a thriving Maker Space. From one website: “Makerspaces are community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.
Makerspaces represent the democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education. They are a fairly new phenomenon, but are beginning to produce projects with significant national impacts.”
My son started and runs a Makerspace at his school, but I’d be a fan regardless.
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING My favorite approach–but far from the only one–is that taken by Expeditionary Learning, but the general idea is that kids should be working together on projects that create knowledge. In schools that embrace projects, the hallmarks are discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. And as its supporters like to point out, “Teachers talk less. Students talk and think more.”
GWEN IFILL I am thankful for the life, career and friendship of Gwen, who died on November 14th at age 61. The tributes have been well-deserved, endless and eloquent, because Gwen made a huge difference to so many. She will not be forgotten, and her mark on journalism is permanent.