Monthly Archives: July 2012

“In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning”

Born to Rise: One woman’s mission to reform education

In a new book, the founder of Harlem Village Academies recounts how she set out to prove that a good school can turn any kid around.

In the weeks after her husband died of leukemia, leaving her with three small children to raise, Deborah Kenny sought solace in books.

“After he died I, like most people, couldn’t sleep at night and so I started reading,” said Kenny.

Of all the books she read during those sleepless nights, it was the one written by a doctor who survived a concentration camp that changed the trajectory of her life.

“In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ [author] Viktor Frankl had this one line in the book where he said, ‘We had to teach the despairing men that it’s not about what life has to offer you but what is life asking of you,’” said Kenny, 48. “That was the thing that uplifted me, because I thought, ‘Well, life is asking something of me. I have to do something.’”

What Kenny did was launch some of the most successful schools in New York City. Her nearly 10-year journey to establish Harlem Village Academies is chronicled in her new book, “Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching their Highest Potential.”

As she grappled with how to create great schools Kenny also read management guides such as Peter Drucker’s “Management Challenges for the 21st Century.” Drucker’s philosophy was that workers who are told exactly what to do stay incompetent. The key to success, she decided, was to create a culture that empowered teachers.

Kenny, who has a Ph.D. in education and a background in children’s publishing, took a job with Edison, a for-profit chain of charter and contract schools. But the administration was in charge of the design of the schools and everything from the curriculum to the daily schedule was pre-determined. That vision worked against her belief that in order to have highly successful schools the teachers needed to be in the driver’s seat. So she quit her job at Edison and lived off of her emergency savings while she tried to get funding for the charter school she dreamed of starting in Harlem.

Harlem Village Academies, the brainchild of educator Deborah Kenny and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have become a success story in a sea of failing schools in New York City. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams talks to some of the school’s students about their favorite teachers and about how their education at Harlem Village Academies differs from their previous schools.
After roughly a year of hustling day and night to make it happen Kenny made in-roads with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but she found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“There was this Catch-22 because in order to get a charter in New York State you have to have a certain amount of funding,” said Kenny, who lives in Manhattan. “But in order to get the funding the Gates Foundation needed us to have the charter.” Then, in a made-for-TV moment, everything came through at the last minute, and in September 2003 Harlem Village Academies’ first middle school opened its doors.

Almost immediately Kenny established the teacher-driven culture she had always envisioned for her schools.

Giving teachers freedom, and holding them accountable

“You can’t give people complete freedom unless at the end of that they’re held accountable,” said Kenny. “When I say freedom, I mean they choose their curriculum. They make decisions about the teaching methods. They make decisions about school-wide policies too.”

Charter schools, which receive some public funding but operate outside of the public school system, have been a source of controversy in education circles but Kenny says that their ability to hold teachers accountable is essential to success.

“Only charter schools are allowed to hold teachers accountable,” said Kenny. “And only when you hold teachers accountable can you give them complete freedom. Only by giving teachers freedom do you attract the best to the profession. So all schools need to have those conditions. I don’t care if you don’t call it charter, but all schools need to function like that in order to attract the best people and keep them happy and make them passionate about their job.”

Advertise | AdChoicesMany teachers at Harlem Village Academies say the collaborative supportive culture is in stark contrast to their experiences at other schools. Michele Scuillo, who teaches fifth grade non-fiction reading, worked at a public school right around the corner before joining the Harlem Village Academies team.

“I had difficult students, I had difficult parents and just didn’t have any kind of a support system,” said Sciullo. “And I felt like this cannot be it, this cannot be what people do for 30 years. So I was ready to leave teaching.” But today Sciullo says she is at the top of her game and she credits her fellow teachers with helping her get there.

Kenny says that being accountable for the success of the students means that teachers are pushed to teach for depth and comprehension and not just for the test.

“The focus on teacher quality is that there’s too much emphasis now being put on the state test,” said Kenny. “We’re going to dumb down our expectations if we evaluate teachers only by the state test.”

‘Our kids have so much potential’

Many of the students at Harlem Village Academies enter the fifth grade several grade levels behind in math and reading. But according to the school’s website, 100 percent of the students who scored a level one in reading (illiteracy) when they entered the school advanced to level one (basic) or level three (proficient) on the New York State reading tests within one year. And in 2008, Harlem Village Academies students made history as the first class of eighth graders in Harlem history to achieve 100 percent passing on the state math test.

“Our kids have so much potential. And they just want somebody to believe in them,” said Kenny. “They’re very young when they come here. But a lot of people have discouraged them along the way. And when you provide them with what every kid deserves, which is just, you know, love and respect, they give it right back to you.”

Kenny dream has steadily expanded. Today there are two middle schools and one high school and in September of this year the first elementary schools will open their doors. Last year the first class that entered the school in 2003 graduated from high school. Almost all of them are currently attending college.

“After graduation all of the kids came up and started thanking me and all their teachers,” said Kenny. “It was pretty incredible to hear an 18-year-old boy come up and say, ‘You know, if it weren’t for this school I wouldn’t have made it.’ That was a pretty striking moment.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Education News


the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

Obama launches African-American education initiativeBy the CNN Wire Staff

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced an initiative he said will give African-American students greater access “to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.”

Speaking Wednesday night at a National Urban League gathering in New Orleans, Obama said he has issued an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, saying, “A higher education in a 21st century cannot be a luxury. It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford,” he said.

He added that his administration is “pushing all colleges and universities” to cut their costs.

The president focused the bulk of his comments on the economy, saying his tax policies and economic plans aim to boost the middle class.

“We also believe that every entrepreneur should have a chance to start a business, no matter who you are, no matter what you look like,” he said. “That’s why we’ve helped African-American businesses and minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses gain access to more than $7 billion in contracts and financing that allow them to grow and create jobs.”

A spokeswoman for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney responded to the speech, saying Obama has “disappointed” African-Americans with his performance on the economy.

“As black Americans, we all take pride in Barack Obama’s historic election,” said Tara Wall, senior communications and coalition adviser for the Romney campaign, “but unfortunately his performance as president has not matched that enthusiasm. He’s disappointed black small business owners, failed to address rising black unemployment — which now stands at over 14%, and is double that among our youth — and failed to address the widening economic disparity gap.”

Obama’s executive order comes in the wake of a new report by the National Urban League’s Policy Institute that warned the president could lose three key battleground states — Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio — if African-American voters don’t match their strong turnout of 2008 in this year’s election.

“African-American voters tipped the outcome of the 2008 presidential election in several key states, and are poised to do so again in 2012,” said the report, titled “The Hidden Swing Voters: Impact of African-Americans in 2012” by Madura Wijewardena and Valerie Wilson.

“How this will manifest will depend on many things, but one important factor will be whether the extraordinary growth in turnout by African-American voters in 2008 will be replicated in 2012,” the report continued. “The 2008 voter turnout rate was driven by historic factors that may not necessarily apply in 2012.”

The “historic factors” reference was to Obama being the nation’s first African-American nominee of a major party, with voters having the opportunity in 2008 to make him the nation’s first African-American president.

This time, an economy struggling to recover from a recession that hit African-Americans particularly hard has raised questions about whether Obama supporters will have the same fervor as they did four years ago.

A recent Gallup Poll showed the president with overwhelming support among registered African-American voters, with backing of 89%, compared with 5% for certain Republican nominee Mitt Romney. In 2008, Obama won 95% of the African-American vote, with 4% voting for GOP candidate John McCain.

About 2 million more African-Americans voted in the 2008 election than in 2004, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Voting by all minority groups accounted for nearly all the increase in turnout (5 million) between the two election cycles, as white non-Hispanic voting was virtually unchanged, the Census Bureau reported.

A decline in African-American voter turnout to the 2004 level of 60% from the 2008 level of 64.7% would cause Obama to lose in North Carolina and possibly lose in Ohio and Virginia, according to the National Urban League Policy Institute report.

Obama won all three states in 2008, and most scenarios for Obama’s re-election depend on him winning at least two of them this time. Ohio has 18 electoral votes, while North Carolina has 15 and Virginia has 13.

A fierce start to the election campaign, with the candidates and their supporting super PACs launching bitter attacks, has made ensuring enthusiastic backing from traditional support bases a key to victory in November.

The president’s speech Wednesday concluded a four-day, six-state swing that started earlier than planned Sunday so he could visit Aurora, Colorado, after last week’s mass shooting at a movie theater.

During the speech, Obama made some of the most forceful statements of his presidency on the issue of gun violence, saying that while he respects the nation’s hunting and gun-owning traditions, “We should leave no stone unturned and recognize that we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe.”

CNN’s Lesa Jansen, Tom Cohen and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Education News


Obama proposes $1B for science, math teachers
By JOSH LEDERMAN | Associated Press –

The Obama administration unveiled plans Wednesday to create an elite corps of master teachers, a $1 billion effort to boost U.S. students’ achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.

The program to reward high-performing teachers with salary stipends is part of a long-term effort by President Barack Obama to encourage education in high-demand areas that hold the key to future economic growth — and to close the achievement gap between American students and their international peers.

Teachers selected for the Master Teacher Corps will be paid an additional $20,000 a year and must commit to participate multiple years. The goal is to create a multiplier effect in which expert educators share their knowledge and skills with other teachers, improving the quality of education for all students.

Speaking at a rally for his re-election campaign in San Antonio on Tuesday, Obama framed his emphasis on expanded education funding as a point of contrast with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whom he accused of prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthy over reinvestment in the nation.

“I’m running to make sure that America has the best education system on earth, from pre-K all the way to post-graduate,” Obama said. “And that means hiring new teachers, especially in math and science.
The administration will make $100 million available immediately out of an existing fund to incentivize top-performing teachers. Over the longer term, the White House said it plans to launch the program with $1 billion included in Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2013.

But the House and Senate both voted down Obama’s budget earlier in the year, making it far from certain that Obama will be able to get congressional approval to spend $1 billion on master teachers.

An aide to Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, noted that the federal government already has more than 80 teacher quality programs and said it would be foolish to pump money into programs that may be duplicative or unproductive.

“Republicans share the president’s goal of getting better teachers in the classroom,” said Kline spokeswoman Alexandra Sollberger. “However, we also value transparency and efficient use of taxpayer resources.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he expected the two parties to come together to support achievement in areas of high demand.

“This initiative has nothing to do with politics,” Duncan said. “It’s absolutely in our country’s best long-term economic interest to do a much better job in this area.”

A report released in February by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology found that the U.S. must increase by 34 percent the number of students receiving degrees in science, math and related fields to keep up with economic demand.

The program will start with 2,500 teachers divided up among 50 different sites, the White House said, but will grow to include 10,000 teachers over the next four years. Obama, in partnership with a coalition of groups including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, has set a goal of producing 100,000 additional math and science teachers over the next 10 years.


Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Education News


Single Sex Classrooms On The Rise

Education news: Number of single-sex classrooms on the rise in U.S. schools
By: Ryan Arciero

While coed classrooms are often seen as the norm in traditional American schools today, that may change in the not-too-distant future.

In recent education news, the U.S. Department of Education has revealed this week that the amount of single-sex classrooms nationwide has seen a dramatic increase since gender-oriented limits were lifted. According to a new report on Wednesday from “Education News,” the number of U.S. classrooms with single-sex students has grown almost three times its number in past years.

Growing numbers of single-sex classrooms in U.S. schools

Thanks to a recent academic research article from the Associated Press this week, parents and teachers have become aware that an increasing number of American schools are in the process of trying a single-sex education program in classrooms for students.

The U.S. Department of Education had lifted some tight restrictions on public schools that kept genders apart since early 2006. Since then, single-sex classrooms continue to grow in the states. Namely, in 2002, fewer than 12 recorded public schools were reported to provide single-sex teacher instruction for students; that number has increased to almost 500 school options today.

The academic results of all-boys and all-girls classrooms vary, and are still inconclusive at this point, according to the “Education News” report. The first school in Idaho, for example, to try an all-boys and all-girls classroom was Middleton Heights Elementary. Although the students were split by sex into different classrooms, the school’s teachers and principal reveal that the content curriculum is the same.

However, different learning atmospheres and culture environments have become apparent. The boys and girls meet and play together during recess and lunch hour before returning to their respective classrooms. Males learn in an educational classroom with blue-colored walls and chalkboard, as well as pictures of camping, sports, and other normally seen as “masculine” items. Females, on the other hand, have their classroom colored red and with paper hearts.

Those against single-sex classroom education or gender-restrictions argue that the instruction for just boys or girls separately is not effective. According to Diane Halpern, past president of the American Psychological Association, reveals that these school classrooms wrongly encourage stereotypes for the genders.

Proponents use studies that show single-sex instruction is actually beneficial for young students. Middleton Heights Elementary pointed to research that showed boys, for example, who struggled in reading were improving in gender-split classrooms. The move has been quite popular, and spread to other parts of the school.

Educational researchers will have to wait and see how this single-sex classroom experiment turns out, and how it compares to the successes or pitfalls of a traditional coed student rooms.

For breaking education news and school-related issues, please feel welcome to subscribe to Ryan’s online articles in the link above or follow him on Twitter @RyanArciero123

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Education News


From Pre-School To Prison


Leave a comment

Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Education News


Your Child Can Be Left Behind

In this March 2, 2012 file photo, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks during a forum on education at American University in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Most States Now Exempt From ‘No Child Left Behind’
White House grants waivers to two more today, making 26 By John Johnson, Newser Staff

It’s a milestone for No Child Left Behind, but not in a good way: More than half of the nation is now exempt. The White House issued waivers today to the 25th and 26th states, and another 10 are in the works, reports the New York Times. The exemptions come ahead of a 2014 deadline requiring all students to be proficient in math and reading. They also come close to making the hallmark of George W. Bush’s education reform “essentially nullified,” says the Times.

Education chief Arne Duncan says the waivers are necessary while the administration works with Congress to rewrite the law, which critics say is too focused on test results, notes AP. “A strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as 26 states have now demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to act,” said Duncan in a statement. A school superintendent in Maryland says the waivers don’t do much to get away from standardized tests, however. “I have a lot of respect for Arne Duncan, but it’s just sort of moving around the chairs on the Titanic.”

CaseClosed2:No child should be left behind. Parents you must step up and teach your children what the school doesn’t teach him or her. It is YOUR job and responsibilty to educate your child beginning in the home, no excuses are allowed. You will teach your child now so he won’t be dependent on you when his 40 and you’re 65 years old.Think long term where your child will end up in the future if you don’t prepare your child Now and today.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Education News


Johnny Can’t Read Because He’s Homeless

Latest report: More than 1 million U.S. students are homeless
By Kate Santich

In recent years, you’ve heard a lot about the growing number of homeless students in Central Florida’s public schools. But the problem isn’t limited to our region — or our state. Sadly, data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education show that, for the first time in history, the nation’s public schools reported more than 1 million homeless students.

The number includes children enrolled in U.S. public preschools and kindergarten through 12th grade for the 2010-2011 school year. And the figure actually underestimates the number of homeless children by excluding infants, toddlers, preschool-aged children who aren’t enrolled in public programs and homeless children who are home-schooled. (Yes, they exist. I recently interviewed a family that has lived in a motel for nine months while the parents continue to home-school their three children.)

According to the federal government, 44 states had an increase in the number of homeless students compared to 2009-2010 — and for 15 states the increase was a staggering 20 percent or more. The states with the biggest increases were Kentucky (up 47 percent), Michigan (38 percent), Mississippi (35 percent), Utah (47 percent) and West Virginia (38 percent). The number of homeless children enrolled in public schools nationwide has increased 57 percent since the recession began in the 2006-2007 school year.

Florida, with nearly 56,000 homeless students across the state in 2010-2011, increased 15 percent over the previous year — and ranks fourth in the nation in terms of sheer numbers.

“We’ve never seen numbers like these before,” says Beth Davalos, who runs the Families in Transition program for homeless students enrolled in Seminole County Public Schools. And the only reason Florida’s figures didn’t increase more sharply, she says, is that the state did a better job than most of identifying homeless students in previous years.

Still, she adds, “These numbers only reinforce the urgent need to increase our focus on helping our homeless children and families. Otherwise, the numbers will continue to rise.”

Much of the increase has been tied to unemployment and under-employment.

In Michigan, for instance, where automakers laid off legions of workers, the number of homeless children enrolled in public schools has increased 315 percent from 2008 to 2011.

“Every single county in Michigan reported homeless children and youth in its public schools,” said Pam Kies-Lowe, the state’s coordinator for homeless education. “One school district referred to … youth homelessness as the ‘tsunami after the earthquake.’ ”

Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, school districts are required to immediately enroll homeless youth. The law also requires that, when it’s in the students’ best interest, schools must allow homeless children to stay in the same school even if their families are forced to move because of eviction or foreclosure.

In Central Florida — as across the nation — schools have responded to the growing ranks of homeless students by launching food pantries, clothing closets, free summer programs and other support efforts.

This past academic year, school districts in Orange, Osceola and Seminole projected they would reach a collective homeless population of 10,000 students.

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the report reveals “the troubling depth” of America’s housing crisis.

“The severe lack of affordable housing for families has yet to be addressed, and over one million children are paying the price,” said Maria Foscarinis, the nonprofit agency’s executive director. “Everyone has a human right to safe, decent, affordable housing. And until we make that right a reality for all Americans, the number of homeless students will continue rising.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Education News