Aya Academy of Excellence

Tutoring for Children Who HATE Tutoring

Tutoring for Children Who HATE Tutoring

Aya Academy of Excellence’s Saturday Academy is a year-round programming for students who need to CATCH UP, KEEP UP and GET AHEAD. What makes Saturday Academy different? Unlike traditional skill and drill tutoring programs, Saturday Academy invests in having learners fall in love with learning. Skill development is achieved through the engagement of hands-on, highly interactive experiences. Saturday Academy deftly weaves together the use of science investigations, literature and digital explorations to foster each student’s academic development.

Are you ready for your kids to fall in love with reading, science and math? If so, join in a future session at Aya Academy of Excellence’s Saturday Academy small group tutoring program.


Atlanta Surges Into the STEM Sector



On Friday, March 21, 2014, the city of Atlanta kicked off an eight-day celebration of all things STEM.  The event, The Atlanta Science Festival, was over two years in the making, according to one of its co-founders Jordan Rose of Emory University.  The leadership team and advisory committee pulled together several dozen disparate organizations throughout the region to provide educators, families and scholars a glimpse into the emerging STEM sector that has been embraced by the nation and that has been heavily courted by the city.  The old guard, including Georgia Tech and Emory University, leaders in engineering and bio-medicine, stood side-by-side with institutions which have newly recognized the significance of the sciences in other fields.

Throughout the week, the doors to community-wide centers were open to showcase ongoing programs and to provide support and engagement opportunities to the public.  Within three days, I traversed across throughout the city to participate in some of the most feted events offered during the festival.

Last year, during our Summer’s Cool academic camp, my students and I visited the Carlos C. Museum while we toured the campus of Emory University.  The three story museum’s collection spans thousands of years several continents.  The smattering of artifacts, including African masks, embalmed Egyptian mummies and  shards of Greco-Roman vases, became the featured resources of integrated STEM lessons.  Using a problem-based approach, students engage in an inquiry based on conservation methods employed by museums.  The teachers who presented during the event were highly enthusiastic about the activities they created.  Among the several showcased that evening, the fibers inquiry to test the acidity of paper was  the most accessible to all learners. This activity, which also included a reading about the Egyptian goddess Isis, would undoubtedly pique the interest of young people in the classroom.

The following day, I scooped up my ladybugs and headed over to Spelman College to see their all-girls robotics team, SpelBots.  The auditorium-filled expanse of giggly tikes were amused by Sugar and Spice, the two humanoid robots which responded to audio commands.  The kids were amazed by how the robots were able to move and interact with the people in the room.

Our three-day exploration into STEM was rounded out by a visit to the stellar Tellus Museum. This science center includes galleries featuring dinosaur fossil replicas, remnants from space shuttles and minerals from around the world. My ladybugs were enamored with the hands-on children’s learning gallery.  Within it, they were able to participate in several investigations related to light, meteorology and energy.  Although we did not have an opportunity to visit the onsite planetarium, we did have a chance to explore the Solar House constructed in 2002 by a team of Georgia Tech students. This phenomenal space showcased how different energy choices can positively impact our environment, including the use of LED lights, water cisterns and celestories.

Kudos to the Atlanta Science Festival team for delivering a high octane STEM experience to the city of Atlanta.  I’m sure this is only the beginning.


Send Me Back Saturday: Launching Community Programming


Redefine Start. These sage words were spoken to me a few years ago in response to how I was approaching serving youth and families. To me, I could not, prior to that conversation, see how to provide academic services without a brick and mortar location. Thereafter, my thinking changed and Aya began to takeoff because we began offering workshops in partnership with local libraries and afterschool programs.

The image above was taken two years ago during our first community-based literacy workshop series. Here are a few insights regarding working with and behalf of communities.

1. Focus. Have a clear and cogent objective. Initially, our organization took a Pinky and the Brain approach – we wanted to take over the world…in a good way. But it is impossible to serve every need. Therefore, go deep and not wide in regard to what you would like to focus on with your services.

2. Teamwork. Get a great team. Create a matrix which defines your strengths and identifies your gaps. Band together with others who can provide support in areas where you have gaps. I’ve been blessed with great collaborators who provide our organization with assets I have yet to develop. There is no shame in not excelling in everything. Just take note of what Tom Collins’ Good to Great proffers: Get the Right People on the Bus.

3. Midgetize. Start small. Work out the kinks. Expand. Last year, we launched our first camp….it was nearly 3 years in the planning…and it was worth the wait. This year we are expanding to serve three times the number of learners. By starting small, we had less constraints, including budget and recruitment of learners and personnel. This provided opportunities to reflect on instructional practices and operational strategies.

4. Dream. Feel free to delve into your creativity. Mentally walk through best case scenarios. When working with marginalized communities it is easy to listen to the apathy and entertain others’ frustrations. Let the ‘its never been done before’ roll off your back and open up to possibilities. This aids in becoming a problem solver and a change agent.

5. Serve. Help others. I sometimes volunteer more during the week then I do ‘work.’ That’s always been my heart. The universe does give back what you put in. Those I’ve assisted have looked out for our organization by including us in their other activities. Through a willingness to serve, others will provide support in unexpected wonderful ways. This process aids in building relationships which assists in the forward movement of your community initiatives.

Imagination Stations: Setting Up Science Inquiry Stations

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Clanking of metal. Whirling of water down a drain. The sprouting of thistles through densely packed earth. Rays of light streaming through the panes of an arched window forming ripples of rainbows. The wonders of science are ever-present in our daily life and by closing textbooks and opening our eyes, our children can delve deeply into learning that is meaningful.

I recently crafted an after-school curriculum for a local Atlanta program seeking to raise the science and math thinking of their students. After combing through the Common Core Standards, I assembled a few dozen activities to pique children’s interests while aiding their understanding of life and earth science. Within the next year, our organization is seeking to establish a share space for families to engage in academic learning. This space, The Community Classroom, will have a robotics lab, art studio and a technology lab with supplies to explore, create, build and program. Here are a few of the activities our maker space will carry that families can participate in today with everyday objects they have at home.

General Notes:
Store and collect basic supplies in a closet or bookshelf space.
More unique items can be found in thrift stores, like Goodwill.
Use a file sharing system, like Google Docs, to store activity how-to sheets.

Imagination Station One: DNA Extraction

  • Strawberry
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Dish detergent
  • Salt
  • Zip-lock bag
  • Water
  • Measuring utensils
  • Beakers (Substitute a Plastic Toothbrush Holder)
  • Tweezers
  • Spoon


What to Do:

  1. Into a beaker, pour 2 drops of dish soap into 1/4 cup of water.
  2. Add 1/4 tsp of salt.
  3. Mix to form the extraction solution.
  4. Place 1 strawberry and the extraction solution into a plastic bag.
  5. Squeeze out the air from the bag and tightly seal it.
  6. Mash the strawberry and extraction solution.
  7. Open the bag and pour the mixture into a beaker.
  8. Add a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol to the solution.
  9. Using tweezers, remove the white, fluffy strings at the op of the mixture.
  10. You’re DONE!

The Science: Our DNA, a series of individualized codes, is the blueprint of body. Like the strawberry, our DNA can be extracted and scientists can study it to see a sequence of codes that are used o determine how our body develops, including how our hear grows and how our eyes are shaped.

Imagination Station Two: Cotton-ball Catapult
Craft Sticks
Large Markers
Masking Tape
Measuring Tape/Ruler

Cotton Ball

What to Do:

1. Attach a spoon to a craft sticks securely with a rubber band near the top end.

2. Using a rubber band, secure a second craft sticks to the opposite end of the first one to make the edges touch.

3. Slide a marker between both craft sticks.

4. Launch a series of cotton balls with the catapults.  Change the trajectory (height and distance of the path the object travels) by pressing down the spoon with varying degrees of softness or hardness.

5. Alter the location of the rubber bands to test whether this change alters the trajectory of the object.

6. Test your accuracy by propping masking tape upright to attempt launching the projectiles (thrown objects) through the center of the tape.

The Science: The Concept of Variability checks the degree of change for a set of data (in this case, the number of launches).  Learners should track how each change they make impacts the results.

Imagination Station Three: Lego Re-Loaded
Bags of Legos, Duplo or Standard Size
Index Cards

Lego Bundle

What To Do: On separate index cards, write the following Lego challenges to design each over time –

1. Tallest Tower – Within the next 60 seconds, create a Lego structure that is as tall as possible.

2. Vessel – Create an object that can hold something within the room you are in during your build.

3. Bridge – Develop a structure which connects to areas in the room you are in during your build.

4. Dream House – Design a futuristic home with at least two rooms and an outdoor space.

5. Go Green – Create a tool which can be used to harness energy.

6. Lego Logo – Re-create a famous logo or symbol.

7. Vehicle – Design a means that can transport people by land, sea or air.

8. Mutation – Design a structure that can transform into a living animal or plant.

9. Ecosystem – Build a habitat for an animal or plant to live.

10. Monument – Re-create a famous structure.

The Science – Building requires the participant to use problem solving skills and imagination. While creating structures, learners will employ engineering principles, including stability. Learners will employ the engineering design process to assist in employing their critical and innovative thinking.

Engineering Design Process

Books For Fun – Graphic Novels (Comic Books) have a fun, storytelling platform which appeals to both boys and girls.  Decoding Genes with Max Axiom by Amber J. Keyser is a good read for kids interested in learning more about DNA and genetics.

Decoding Genes Book

Hands-on learning is a platform to develop thinking skills through involvement.  The maker space movement, often spearheaded by public libraries and schools, is a noteworthy trend that empowers learners, both young and old, to develop new skill sets.  Our Community Classroom seeks to do just that by equipping families to learn collaboratively.  In an upcoming post, we will add  a few more of our proposed Community Classroom imagination stations families can try at home and will discuss how to align inquiry stations with a standards-based curriculum.

Can Communities Be Fixed?

Strong communities are comprised of strong families.  Whether measured by empirical data or the personal narratives of individual families, there is something that is true no matter how we look at it: Families need support.  There is more than a scintilla of evidence which suggests that there is at least a correlating relationship between parental involvement, student academic performance.  And there is evidence that schools with high achieving students are positioned within stable, thriving communities.  What if these factors were all tied together: student achievement, stable communities and parental involvement?  

At Aya Academy of Excellence, we are in the midst of creating a new model of learning, which will support students’ academic learning in school – or at home, by providing a maker space in neighborhoods which lack out-of-school academic opportunities.  Through our Community Classroom we will provide an open share space to provide families opportunities to participate in interactive workshops related to STEM, literacy and art.  On weekends or after school, families can visit the Community Classroom art studio, robotics lab and literacy lounge.  Together, parents and children can build robots together, learn how to code programming and create art.

To support schools, the Community Classroom will partner with local schools to provide staff training on students engagement, parental involvement and content learning.  There are some awesome maker-spaces developing around the nation in schools and libraries for a variety of reasons. We envision that the Community Classroom will be informed by the existing success stories, and will establish an enriching model communities can emulate to rebuild families and communities.


Words of Wisdom

While curating images and videos to represent our African-American history tableau, my conscience was constantly pricked, realizing that sometimes the ‘least of these’ is forgotten in our history. Black History month focuses on a handful of notable leaders. But this reality of parsing through history is true across United States and global history too. So when I came across a profound Polish proverb about the farmer’s role in society, I had to include it within the 20/20 Tapestry which highlights the contributions of George Washington Carver. It succinctly addresses the importance of the farmer within society.

To me, quotes and sayings are excellent vehicles to critically think within the classroom or around the dinner table. Aya Academy of Excellence’s 20/20 Tapestry Curriculum includes at least one word of wisdom for each lesson to be used as a warm-up in the school setting or as a prompt for parents to use as a conversation starter with their children. Some of my personal favorites from the curriculum are from Maya Angelou, Cicero, and Malcolm Gladwell.

The imagery used in this quote, and throughout the curriculum, helps to convey the raw emotion connected with the words. What will kids feel when they see and hear this picture and the accompanying words? And, more importantly, what does this proverb tell us about the status of farmers? Is poverty monetary or are riches based something less tangible, like our quality of life and overall well-being? Through quotes, highly complex topics, such as social status, can be introduced to even the youngest of learners. And often, there is no right or wrong response. Quotes allow for increased critical thinking in a highly, accessible fashion because they spark both thought and discourse.

Click on the link to view a sample lesson from our point-and-click African-American history curriculum. Proceeds from the sale of our curriculum will provide support for our programming, including our Community Classroom, which is a share space that enables families to engage in STEM, art and literacy together. Thank you for supporting our youth and families.

2020 Tapestry Analyze It_Farmer

It’s All Greek to Me

When deciding how my daughters and I would approach homeschooling, we had to chisel through heaps of different approaches and materials.  Pinterest has become our best friend as we have found a slew of activities and techniques.  Honestly, I was impressed by the creativity and commitment of families who have elected to educate their children at home.  Their pins and blogs illustrate that they have found the secret  to children’s academic success: focus on learning and keep teaching engaging.

Without the fetters of excessive paperwork and other common constraints of public school, children flourish.  So with all this said, the first month has been a whirlwind and a joyous success as the girls and I delved into our first unit study- ancient Greece.

Here is some of what we do did…and why we chose to go in that direction.

1. We have opted for a unit study approach.  The girls and I, through unit studies, have a chance to explore a topic, especially world cultures.  Although our days are spent at home, or at the library, we can connect to people and concepts far away from us.  We started with Ancient Greece and have scoured our local library for books connected with the topic.  A favorite mentor text was The Librarian Who Measure the Earth. It blended science, math and culture seamlessly. The girls were able to connect to the concept of cultures, in this case Greece and Egypt, co-existing at the same time.

2. Lap books – the marriage between foldables and a manilla folder – helps chronicle, in a structured way, our learning.  We used a free resource on-line.  It was OK but I know that my creativity is leading me to create customized lap books for future units.  The one we used was a great start but I’m excited about mixing up elements to extend their learning in a more interactive format.

Ava’s Lapbook with Cover of the Parthenon

3. Co-op – one week before beginning our homeschool journey my eldest said she was concerned about it being ‘just us.’ That threw me for a loop since she’s often felt isolated at school.  Her concern caused me to join a local co-op so the girls had weekly contact  with other kids on a consistent basis.  Thus far, the girls have met up with the co-op at local parks, participated in river explorations and joined in a storytelling event.

4. YMCA – thank goodness for this Godsend!  The pool is our PE place of choice.  The girls found it more fun when the outdoor pool was open, but I’m grateful we have a facility close by to change up our PE routine.  Aside from the Y, local parks and YouTube have been great.  Ava is our Yoga guru, and with the help of YouTube, we are perfecting our ‘downward dog’ on at home.

Growing Avid Readers – Courtesy of Riordan’s Percy Jackson and The Olympians

5. Literature studies – I love reading…and so does my eldest, Eden…but my youngest finds it boring.  To spice up reading, we are careful to select books that are interesting due to relevance and to the author’s ability to create a vibrant picture with words.  Within the past few weeks, we’ve read biographies Wilma Unlimited about the Olympian Wilma Rudolph! Eleanor: Quiet No More about First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Ray about the music great Ray Charles.  These stories tie into our studies and our character development creed.  The first few weeks we studied the principle of endurance and the challenges  each biographical figure had to overcome served as inspiration.  Our core book, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, has been PHENOMENAL.   It’s great for  vocabulary acquisition – love Riordan’s word choices; vocab such as cackled, sauntered and glumly are presented.  And of course, it ties in with our unit studies on Ancient Greece.

6. Expeditionary Learning- we are out and about almost every day.  We take trips to utilize our local community resources including the library and park but have also made a commitment to take ‘big trips’ on Fridays every few weeks.  Our first was to Nashville to visit the Parthenon replica at Centennial Park.  The girls were blown away at the enormity of the Athena statue on the upper  level.  When we returned home, they had a heightened (no pun intended) interest in Greek mythology.  I whipped out a copy of  DK’s Illustrated Book of Myths that I’ve had for about fifteen years. Our quick trip to Nashville lead to their interest in hearing about Persephone, Orpheus and Icarus.

7. Pop Culture – the girls have watched Disney’s Hercules a million times.  Full disclosure, Meg’s signature song, is my favorite Disney tune.  So watching Hercules for a millionth and one time seemed appropriate.  And since we watched it after making paper mâché bowls, not the best rendition of Greek art, we had a nice frame of reference to talk about city-states,  muses and trade.  Once we finish reading The Lightening Thief  – we read one to two chapters a day – then we will also watch that movie too.  The girls are intrigued that various scenes and characters are not in the film.

8. I love art.  Its messy.  It’s colorful.  It’s expressive.  Several times a week, we create water-color canvases, shadow puppet theaters and paper mâché objects.  Again, Pinterest is amazing.  I’ve curated a ton of projects the girls and I will create throughout the next year.

9. Math – I’m certified in three core subjects…but math is not one of them.  While the girls were in public school, their school provided each student a subscription to IXL.  It’s been perfect for reinforcement.  I love that it is organized to follow the state standards and that the girls can go at their own pace.

10. Morning Ministry – We open each morning with prayer.  This establishes a warm tone to our day.  We follow with either a scripture study, prayer bucket activity or hands-on craft.  It’s also an opportune time for us to discuss how to work out our issues using the Word of God as our touchstone.

Overall, homeschooling has been an amazing experience for us and I am looking forward to watching the growth of our family as a result of this connection.

The ABCs of Ed Reform: An Ode to Anthony

I became an ed reformer the day I stepped into my first classroom in 1996.  I was a newbie teacher with passion, drive, first-rate university training and the knowledge that I was completely ineffective.  My students had needs I was ill-equipped to meet and according to the veteran teachers around me, it would take a solid five years before I had enough acumen to manage a class and have ownership of my content. I went home on the first day of my teaching career with a raging headache and saddened heart. 

One student in particular spurred my desire to change the status quo.  Anthony, a slight in stature sixth grader who was reading on the third grade reading level, had an unparalleled desire to learn.  Long before vouchers were in vogue and Waiting For Superman was stirring people to chime in about the value of charters, I longed to provide alternative options to students stuck in failing neighborhood schools with teachers not cutting the muster.  I remember pulling Anthony to the side one day and saying to him that I wish I could send him to the school I attended when I was his age.  I had great teachers who had a command of their subject matter.  And to boot, my school offered numerous extracurricular activities which kept me thoroughly engaged and eager to attend school each day.   Essentially, I was wishing that Anthony could be transplanted to a better school and not be the victim of location.  To no fault of his own, Anthony was being held hostage in a failed system.

Fast forward fourteen years later and I find that the number of ‘Anthony’s’ have grown exponentially.  The achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts is growing ever wider.  For my part, I am committed to opening a private school to serve at-risk students.  It is my hope that in doing so that I can impact not only the lives of my students but their families and community as well.  As I meet and talk to parents, community members and fellow educators, I realize that some have only a vague understanding of the mission of the movement and the movers and shakers who have become integral in the transformation of the American education system.  Below I offer a short primer on the hot button topics and people who are shaping the ed reform dialogue.

A – Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration.  His vision of transforming the education system includes widening options to parents seeking quality education for their children including the expansion of charter schools.  Charter schools are public schools which receive a contract to operate for approximately five years on the premise that they will meet or exceed goals outlined in their charter.  Generally these schools target at-risk student populations who are in danger of dropping out.  To achieve his mission, Duncan created the Race to the Top grant program to encourage states to innovate to raise achievement.

B – Brain Based Learning
Ed reformers rely upon research, action and empirical, to determine the best strategies for improving students’ academic achievement.  Over the last few years, brain-based research has been tapped to justify why one learning model is better than another in raising students’ achievement.  Knowing how the brain works helps to determine how best people learn. Information gleaned by brain-based learning enables ed reformers to determine how school culture, learning environments and course offerings should look.

C – Common Core Standards
Governors from nearly every state have adopted a set of standards to make teaching and learning consistent in the nation.  This means that a fifth grade  child will learn the same set of math skills in Georgia as they would in California.  This initiative was developed in response to the nation’s continued downward spiral in international education rankings.

D – Data
Test scores, drop out rates and teacher retention data are among the many factors used to determine if a school is successful or floundering.  Since many states have had differing standards and assessments, measuring schools across the nation with an apples-to-apples comparison has been nearly impossible.  State assessments have ‘cut scores’ with ever-changing passing benchmarks.  In other words, students in differing states are accountable for different bodies of knowledge and determining their level of proficiency is not a universal standard.  In some states, students are designated as meeting standards if they answer only 50% of the questions on an exam correctly.

E – Economics
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  The same question can be posed about economics and achievement.  Is achievement an indicator of affluence?  Is affluence an outcome of achievement?  Ed reformers are polarized on this issue.  Some believe that a quality education creates economic parity while others believe that the inherent economic disparity in a capitalistic society has created education disparity. 

F – Federal System
Our constitution succinctly divvies up power between our national and state governments.  Since the responsibility to provide an education to its citizens was not outlined as a power of the national government, it automatically becomes under the jurisdiction of state government.  That being said, each state mandates its own rules regarding class sizes, teacher certification, promotion requirements, assessments, etc.  However, once states accept federal grant money (Title programs and RTTT)  for student lunches, after school programs, etc., states must then follow federal guidelines to continue receiving federal aid.

G – Gates Foundation 
Over the past few years, philanthropists have become exceedingly influential in the ed reform movement.  Some have provided seed money for charter organizations as is the case of Don Fisher, co-founder of The Gap.  Fisher, who currently sits on the board of KIPP, funded the mega charter organization when it was founded.  The Gates Foundation, established by Bill and Melanie Gates, provides funding to organizations seeking to embark on innovative initiatives in ed reform. This funding has been used for research and to establish charter schools.  A few dozen high schools in New York City have opened with the aid of grant money provided by the philanthropic organization.  Some ed reformers have been in opposition to the Gates Foundation and other organizations funded by Wall Street stating that grass root initiatives spurred by parents, teachers and community members are being stifled.

H – Home School
Parents have begun in ever-increasing numbers to withdraw their children from their local public schools.  Families who are discouraged with the education provided by their local districts are opting to teach their children at home.  Research has shown that these children often academically outperform their counterparts who attend public schools. 

Federal law regarding individuals with disabilities mandates that students receive an education in the least restrictive environment possible.   Federal law also dictates under NCLB that schools are to demonstrate that they are meeting standards based on their entire school population as well as subgroups of 150 or more students.  Students served under IDEA law fall into this category.  Unfortunately,many  schools have failed to grapple with the best means to serve their students with disabilities to adequately demonstrate achievement on state assessments to make AYP (annual yearly progress goals.)

J – Jobs
Every school in the nation has a disclosed vision and mission statement.  As varied as each school’s goals, they all share the same core goal of educating their students to be college and career ready.  The concern of ed reformers is that the 20th century model of schools was designed for a 20th century marketplace.  The workforce for the 21st century requires skills of collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking and problem solving, all of which requires a learning environment much different from today’s traditional classroom. 

K – Klein
NYC schools, the largest public school system in the nation, has been the district to watch.  For over eight years, Joel Klein, hired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sought to improve the on-time graduation rate, elimination of social promotion and closing the achievement gap between black and white students.  As chancellor, Klein instituted changes which have been replicated in much smaller school districts including authorizing charter schools, specifying a reading curriculum teachers are expected to teach and dismantling local school boards to centralize authority.  Gains in NYC student achievement touted as indicators of these measures success have been recently tarnished with the revelation that state assessments became increasing easier for students to pass. Klein’s successor, Cathie Black, made headlines when Bloomberg opted to hire a school leader who had never worked with schools.

L – Longitudinal Data
Each school term, the reset button starts for students.  Often it takes many months for teachers to learn the ability levels and learning styles of their new crop of students.  A push is being made to create universal systems to store student records of achievement that will follow them their entire school career.  Doing so would provide teachers with the information they need to differentiate lessons that personalize learning for children. 

M – Michelle Rhee
Rhee, founder of the New Teacher Project, was tapped by former DC mayor Adrian Fenty to become the district’s school chancellor.  Her capacity to develop a program to recruit and train highly qualified teachers was seen as a critical component needed in the city’s school reform efforts.  Her tenure as chancellor was cut abruptly short when she resigned after Fenty lost his re-election campaign.  Teacher unions vehemently opposed Fenty’s re-election due to Rhee’s push to end teacher tenure by providing teachers the option of higher pay tied to student achievement or lower pay raises. This push later resulted in the firing of 241 teachers who were deemed either unqualified based on certification standards set by NCLB or poor classroom evaluations.  Teachers and parents voiced discontent with Rhee’s initiatives and strongly supported Fenty’s opponent Vincent Gray.

NCLB, No Child Left Behind, is federal legislation begun under the George W. Bush administration to close the achievement gap of students amongst  racial, disability and language subgroups.  Schools are rated as making AYP, Annual Yearly Progress, and passing, if their students overall and in each subgroup achieve percentage benchmarks.  Each year the benchmark passing score rises with the intention that by 2014, all students will be reading and math proficient. Schools and districts continually failing to meet academic goals are required to offer parents the ability to transfer their children to schools which are performing  and/or offer free tutoring from outside providers.  In some drastic cases, school closures have resulted from schools which have continuously failed.

O- Options
Ed reformers are most concerned with changing the landscape of how schools currently operate by providing innovative options to the learning environment.  Some envision equipping schools with a 1:1 laptop program to use technology to reach today’s ‘digital’ learners.  Others propose smaller class sizes, art education, single gender classrooms, charter schools, college prep, vouchers to private school, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focused curriculum, etc.  The number of options available for changing the state of education is vast and ever-growing as new research develops to support one initiative over another.  Options of choice are tied to the desired outcome of a reformer.  For example, a community seeking to secure a biotech industry in their neighborhood will push for schools to incorporate STEM while those grappling with school dropout will focus on college prep.

As the United states continues to compete in a global market, it continually measures its students’ academic outcomes with nations around the world. The PISA, Programme for International Student Assessment, is conducted every three years amongst nations around the world. The 2010 results for the United States were lackluster and a clear indication that the nation is in the need for ed reform.  The US ranked 14th, 25th and 17th in reading math and science respectively behind global leaders Shanghai in China, Canada, South Korea and Finland.  the results of the rankings have created discussion regarding what schools in America should teach and how they should teach it.  Singapore math has cropped up in many districts as schools seek avenues to replicate the nations with stong academic results.  The film, Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim provides a snapshot of how US schools are struggling to keep pace academically with nations like Finland whose children repeatedly lead on the PISA.

Q – Quality
Many buzzwords abound in education – collaboration,  engagement, equity, etc.  And the meanings for each of these words vary based on the perspective of the ed reformer.  The same is true for the most ubiquitous buzzword, quality.  A quality education is the goal of ed reformers but what that looks like differs greatly from school to school.  Ed reformers are grappling with how to accurately measure what a quality teacher, a quality learning environment and a quality curriculum entails.  Assessments and evaluations to measure the learning of students, performance of teachers and overall quality of education have been under scrutiny as these tools are often manipulated to show favorable outcomes.  Until a  universal meaning for quality can be created with a valid means to measure its fidelity, quality will continue to remain a mere ed reform buzzword.

R – Race to the Top
Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top federal grant campaign was established to motivate states which were already in fiscal hardship due to the recession to revamp their education systems.  States competed for a portion of the $4 billion dollar fund to cover budget shortfalls in exchange for promising to establish reforms that would close the academic achievement gap.  The four central missions of RTTT included raising teacher effectiveness, establishing data systems to track student progress, turn around failing schools and the adoption of standards and assessments to make students college prep and career ready for a global market.

S – Services
Schools such as Harlem Children’s Zone, lead by Geoffrey Canada, have noted that the academic gains made by the students in their schools are tied to the wrap-around services offered to students and parents.  There is a clear relationship between the stability of a child’s family and community and their academic achievement.  Schools have begun to offer services including parent institutes to raise family involvement in school, health programs and early childhood education.  Proponents of offering wrap around services link the breaking of generational poverty to academic and social improvements of children and their families.

T – Tenure
Tenure, a long-held tradition in education, is the system which provides job security to teachers.  Opposers to tenure cite the difficulty of the removal of ineffective educators.  Some cite districts such as New York in which teachers who are under investigation for wrongdoing spend months out of the classroom in ‘rubber rooms.’  These teachers continue to receive their salary during the long and arduous process of investigation.  Proponents of tenure point out that without it, many teachers would be left to be fired at the whim of administrators.

U – Unions
National organizations like the AFT, American Federation of Teachers,  and the NEA, National Education Association, were developed for the goal of providing a collective voice on behalf of teachers.  In some states, where legislation prevents unions, teachers become members of professional organizations.  Unions are a special interest group which have effectively bargained contracts for their members.  Ed reformers may be both for or against unions depending on the reform they seek.  Pro union reformers will cite the need for better classroom conditions which are both better for students and teachers including class size.  Ed reformers such Diane Ravitch will point out that the playing field between teachers and administrators is inherently unequal and unions function to protect the rights of teachers. Ed reformers against unions such as Dr. Steve Perry, the founder of Capital Prepatory Magnet School, are critical of how the organizations seek to maintain systems such as tenure which can be used to protect ineffective teachers.

V – Value Added Analysis
VAA is a method of evaluating educators based on the test scores of their students from the current year against the previous year.  Ed reformers against VAA site that VAA is invalid due to the curriculum differences year-to-year from one grade level to the next.  For example, a student taking life science in 7th grade may not have any background build on from their course in earth science in 6th grade.  The two subjects are too divergent to compare stats.  

W – Whole Child
Whole child advocates point to research demonstrating the need to stimulate the learning of students in core subjects by providing fulfilling arts education, physical education and overall engaging experiences.  Since NCLB, schools across the nation have eliminated music programs, health education and recess to devote resources of time and money to seat time to raise academic achievement.  Whole Child reform advocates that transferable skills are created when students engage in learning of the arts and have kinesthetic experiences.

X – eXtended Day (I’m obviously cheating here)
Donald J. Fielder, author of Achievement Now! How to Assure No Child is Left Behind, indicates that time on task in core instruction is one of the most essential means of ensuring students will academically reach success.  Schools across the nation have begun to extend their school day to allow for additional math and reading instruction. 

Y – Year-Round School
The traditional school calendar of 180 days was devised when the United States was still an agrarian society and in need of whole families, including children, in the field to harvest crops.  Although society has transformed since the 19th century, the American education system has not kept pace.  Some ed reformers cite nations in Asia which offers a longer school week to demonstrate the need for more instructional time.  Others favor a school year that spans 200+ days per year to eliminate the lag of learning which ensue over the summer months.

Z – Zero Tolerance
Not all ed reform discussion center on academic achievement.  Many ed reforms are concerned with the ‘pipeline to prison’ and ‘dropout factories’ which are disproportionately in minority schools and amongst Black males.  Harsh discipline guidelines, called zero tolerance, were implemented to take a no-nonsense stance on unruly, and often violent behavior.  Ed reformers have voiced concern that schools with zero tolerance often target Black males and that these disciplinary actions lead to dropout and later prison.

I rebounded from early failure with the aid of my university’s New Teachers Network, a collaborative support group helmed by my college professor.  It saved not only me as an educator, but the hundreds of students I would serve.  Of all the ABCs critical to the transformation of schools, none is greater than  authentic collaboration.  With it, our teachers, students and parents can band together to raise expectations to produce a generation of global thinkers poised to positively impact their communities, nation and world.

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