Aya Academy of Excellence

Interactive Game Board



Although recall is at the bottom level of Blooms Taxonomy, creating a baseline understanding of key people and significant events is instrumental in creating the foundations for critical thinking.  You can take the simple matching activity up a notch by having your learners construct an interactive game board using basic materials you can find at the dollar store.or hardware store.


  1. Type up a two-column matching activity board.  We created one to review 20 African American Scientists. (click the title to get a free copy of the PDF.)
  2. Hole punch a circle next to each entry in both columns.
  3. Cut thin strips of aluminum foil.  Attach foil using transparent tape to the back of board.  Cover each foil strip completely before attaching the next strip. Each end of the foil should appear through the opening of each hole punch to connect the correct answers of each column.
  4. Insert a D battery into a casing.  Attach wire to each end of the casing.  One wire will attach to a light bulb and mini clamp; the other wire will be attached to a mini clamp only.
  5. When the clamps touch to the correct combination from column A and column B, the light bulb is lit.

I used this activity in class a few years ago with middle-schoolers.  This is one of the family engagement activities we will use to provide families an opportunity to reinforce learning.  During one session, families will create 3 blank templates that can be interchangeably used for different classes.  


Netflix: Black History Month Through Film


I milk every ounce of the $7 I pay Netflix each month.  I scraped cable nearly four years ago and have not looked back.  A family member was lamenting last week that there was nothing on television, although she forks over a cool $70+ per month on satellite services.  I had to to fight from giving a Kanye shrug. WINNING!

Aside from Binge watching television programming like Law and Order and Frasier, Netflix provides me access to quite a few independent films and theatrical releases that didn’t last too long in the theater.

This month, there are quite a few interesting films to watch during Black History Month.  So if you have considered adding Netflix to your entertainment cadre, this would be an advantageous time to do so. When watching films with children, you can use the Story Chips tool to assist in establishing thoughtful dialogue.  Also, consider incorporating a hands-on project after viewing, such as creating a movie poster for the film highlighting one o the pivotal scenes or important themes.


Here’s a list of sixteen films presently available for viewing for each of the remaining days of Black History Month.


  1. Winnie Mandela – a biopic starring Jennifer Hudson as the South African leader who triumphed over incarceration and her husband’s twenty-seven year imprisonment. The last decade shown in the film is some of the most gripping as it shows her relationship with Mandela and the ANC fractured due to her embracing militant ideals and practices.
  2. The Black Panther Mixtape – I’m watching the tail-end of this Swedish documentary now.  It’s intriguing to observe the words of Stokely Carmichael (I did not know he was Trinidadian) and Bobby Seale laced with John Forte and Talib Kewli.  The timeline format aids in understanding how events unfolded and attitudes shifted.
  3. Surviving Katrina – a documentary on the hurricane which raged through New Orleans and exposed the socio-political issues we have in our nation.
  4. Hard Lessons – Starring Denzel Washington, this drama based on real-life events tells the story of George McKenna, the tough, determined new principal of a notorious Los Angeles high school. 
  5. The Long Walk Home – A film, starring Whoopi Goldberg, about the Montgomery bus boycott from the perspective of a white woman and her black housekeeper.
  6. The Journey of August King – a film about a runaway slave during the 1815.
  7. Savannah – A film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as a freed slave during Reconstruction and his friendship with an aristocratic white man.
  8. Night Catches Us – Starring Kerri Washington, a film depicting a former Panther and his re-connection with the daughter of a former Panther leader.
  9. Salute – a short documentary on the 1968 Olympic historic moment when two champions raised the black fist salute at the medal podium.
  10. Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin – A documentary about one of the major architects of the Civil Rights Movement. 
  11. Shaft – Starring Samuel L. Jackson in the John Singleton remake based on the story created by illustrious photographer Gordon Parks.
  12. Luv, Starring Common as a man returning home after eight years in prison.
  13. A Band Called Death – a documentary about three Detroit brothers who formed the first African American punk  band.
  14. Akeelah and the Bee – A middle school girl capitalizes on her love of words to participate in the National Spelling Bee Competition. 
  15. Gifted Hands – Cuba Gooding, Jr portrays neurosurgeon Ben Carson in a biopic showing his development from a struggling student into an expert physician. 
  16. All Things Fall Apart – Under the direction of Mario Van Peeples, 50 Cents stars as a gifted college running back whose world turns upside down when a crisis jeopardizes his professional ambitions — and teaches him some life lessons.

Connect Four: A Critical Thinking Game

Here’s a cool way to get learners to think critically about concepts or historical events.  I call it Connect Four, after the game, because the learner will explain how four seemingly disparate items are connected to one another.  I first came up with idea when teaching sixth grade social studies as a means of helping students review for an assessment.  All you do is provide a list of four items and the learner provides a connecting fact which links them together.

Connect Four

For example, Bessie Coleman and Josephine Baker traveled to France to further their individual careers because segregation in the United States prohibited their professional advancement.

Josephine Baker and Lena Horne were famed entertainers who refused to play before segregated audiences.

Rustin Bayard played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement and was a co-organizer of the March on Washington of 1963 of which Lena Horne and Josephine Baker both attended.

Connect Four is a conversation starter and enables the participants to consider concepts in a substantive context.

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.

Tools of the Trade: Story Chips


A few years ago, I stumbled across a lovely resource to spark discussion during literacy workshops.Story Chips and Discussion chips are an affordable teaching tool to encourage learners to share their thoughts in small and large group settings. Since learners can select their questions, they feel a degree of ownership during the discussion process.

The chips, which retail for less than $5 at teacher resource stores, can be made at home. The questions are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and therefore, they have several levels of thinking ranging from recall to analytical inquiry. In class, I would allow learners a chance to swap questions out from the chips bucket to ensure they selected questions they were comfortable responding to in front of a group. While reading Julia Alvarez’ Before We Were Free, each student was paired with a partner and answered the questions together. The partners were allowed to first discuss with their buddy their individual responses to create a consensus before sharing out to the larger group. As always, getting to the ‘right’ answer took a back seat to developing students’ ability to think critically and dialogue with peers.

To make your own, create questions in Microsoft word to fit into a text box the size of a 20 ounce bottle cap (Vitamin Water). Glue the questions onto the bottle cap and Voila, you’ve saved $5!

What I love most is that these chips can be used with any age learner and within any setting. Families can have these on hand
at their bedside table to use during bedtime reading.

What Can We Learn From the Atlanta Snow Storm of 2014? Turning Teachable Moments into A Project Based Lesson



With metro Atlanta children stranded and schools and motorists stuck on our highways, there has been loads of fingerprinting about who is responsible.  Putting away the well deserved frustrations aside, this confluence of hilly southeastern terrain, torrential arctic blasts and overextended transit to and through the city converged to create what some are calling a perfect storm.  The educator in me sees an AWESOME social studies lesson on how government works, and should work.  

This activity can be tailored for any age group capable of reading online text.  Parents at home and teachers at school can individualize the learning to suit the needs of their children: 

Research the roles and responsibilities of the following political leaders: state governor (Georgia), city mayor (Atlanta) and superintendent of schools (state of Georgia, Atlanta Public Schools, Cobb Public Schools, Fulton Public Schools).  This information is available online on government sites and within the state’s laws.

Identify who these leaders are and what were their responses to the storm and resulting transportation issues.  There are numerous interviews available online of many of these leaders.

Do you believe that the decisions these leaders are empowered to make are sufficient to deal with weather emergencies and transportation/traffic?

Do their respective functions require that leaders collaborate with other leaders? 

Locate at least one direct quote from each of the leaders and assess their leadership abilities. (This is subjective)

What recommendations would you make for them in respect to their leadership? 

Presentation: Package this research together into an infographic to include quotes, a breakdown of the leaders’ responsibilities and a timeline of their responses to Atlanta’s Snow Storm of 2014.

Again, this activity can be re-structured to meet the learning styles and needs of your learners. Have fun with the graphic design – snow, snowballs, transportation, buses, schools.

Teaching with Picture Books: Part 1

When I began teaching in the 1990’s I had the great fortune of experiencing baptism by fire. Although my alma mater, the illustrious Hoftsra University boasts one of the most laudable teaching preparation programs in the nation, very little can prepare you for becoming a middle school teacher in a community grappling with severe issues of poverty, drug use and crime. Every issue a community faces is reflected in the lives of its children and as a classroom teacher, these issues become ones that must be recognized and faced.

Understandably, while students are juggling immense socio-economic family and community issues, academic advancement becomes challenged. Author Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, discusses how parental academic achievement, and specifically the areas of vocabulary acquisition and executive function, impact the learning of students. In a nutshell, parents are the springboard to their children’s learning. What parents know and the academic norms they possess, can affect how well a child will learn.

So in 1996, when three eleven year old boys ‘would not’ pay attention or participate in our guided reading activities, I had to learn through experience that their inability was attributed to the text being inaccessible. Although they were in the sixth grade, they were each reading several grade levels behind. One student could not sound out the word ‘great’ in a social studies passage on Alexander the Great. At that moment, I realized that the text was a hindrance and headed to the local library where I scoured the shelves for picture books on the ancient civilizations we were studying. By using fiction and non-fiction picture books, the content was accessible and my students were able to cull historical information about ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Rome.

Picture books, as mentor texts, are bridges parents at home and teachers at school, can use to provide context for science or history content. When I home-schooled my daughters, we read a few picture books each week on historic figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Mandela and Wilma Rudolph. The vivid imagery helped build engagement and the shorter passages meant that we could dive into another person’s life at least every other day.

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum Reading Selection for The Trailblazers' Lesson Plan

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum Reading Selection for The Trailblazers’ Lesson Plan

For our 20/20 Tapestry Curriculum, we have a list of picture books suited for the study of African American history. Our curriculum is divided into twenty lessons, each uncovering a specific archetype – moguls, inventors, champions, etc. During our journey of discovery of The Trailblazer, we investigate the American cowboy through the adventures of Bass Reeves, Stage Coach Mary Fields and Nate Love. Check out our video to learn how Jerdine Nolen’s Thunder Rose can be used to teach language development and history, all while engaging young listeners through an interactive approach.

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

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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