Saturday, July 24, 2010


The last few days I put together my knowledge of Kemang and the surrounding area to develop a decent running route. Friday night was the first time I tried the loop and was still uncertain whether or not I was making the correct directional assumptions, when out of nowhere, someone startled me by shouting "BULE! Hey Bule, over here!" Bule is the Indonesia word for albino or Caucasian, but based on the accent, it was clear an Australian was yelling at me. I looked around and saw a man stuck in traffic across the street. He asked me what I was doing, and when I responded that I was just jogging to be in shape for futsal over the weekend, he responded with "right on!"

In general, Indonesian culture is not accustomed to running for fun or running for fitness. Between the climate and being in the middle of a developmental boom which has eradicated millions from poverty, it is logical for this to be foreign to them, however, I've yet to get used to their reactions. These vary from "Jalan-jalan bule!" (rough translation: "Run, Forrest, run!") to yelling and applauding as I go past to a simple turn of the head to stare in shock. Running is a part of me that I don't want to repress to a treadmill, thus it will be my act of sharing bule culture with wider Jakarta :).

It has come to my attention that I should clarify my position regarding the New York Times article I referenced in an earlier post (The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand). While I like the article a lot, as with all things, we must be critical readers and uphold a standard of analysis I previously neglected to address. Race to the Top could be one of the most transformative parts of the Obama administration, not because of its perfect implementation or that it is necessary the best way to go about educational reform, but because it's been the catalyst for significant changes in many state laws.
Additionally, I agree with Mulgrew that most teachers go into teaching for reasons outside of what can be stipulated in a contract and that they want what's best for kids. Unions are theoretically a good thing because they protect their members from potentially crazy administrators (and based on the stories throughout the TFA NY office, there are plenty of those) and create a perfect association for medical insurance (employed, college educated individuals with a higher correlation for more positive lifestyle choices - the most significant factor regarding long-term health outcomes and thus insurance pay-outs), yet, pragmatically, I cannot support unions who refuse to negotiate on "the big three." The "big three" are employment for life, lockstep compensation, and last in/first out.

As I mentioned above, I am in favor of various forms of protection from potentially vindictive or out-of-touch administrators, but going to an extreme where it is nearly impossible to fire someone as long as they don't abuse a child is ridiculous. Due to many issues with standardized tests (from subjects that lack tests, to the biases within the tests, to the question of how to rate growth, and many others), teachers should not be judged solely on their students' performance on one exam, but there needs to be some sort of accountability. This could come from an outside body (say a separate division of the DOE), other administrators, staff developers, or some crazy formula involving multiple parties, but ineffectiveness and shirking cannot be tolerated for those molding our youth. I really like the quote, "good teaching is just good teaching." There is not one right way to be an effective teacher, but the anecdote within the article comparing the Harlem Success Academy with PS 149 points out the obvious fact that children working in a classroom will learn more than students jammed in an auditorium during a "coverage."

This brings me to my next point. I'm sick and tired of people constantly trying to find excuses for why charters are performing better than comparative neighborhood public schools. Does this mean I don't find validity in their arguments that there are factors within the data that are skewed in favor of charter schools to perform better? No. In fact, just for Mr. C, here's my critical analysis of the anecdote within the Times article.
Higher performance among the charter students is biased due to 1) parents have to elect to have their children enter the lottery (thus signalling their, at least latent, interest in their children's education and valuation of education, but I would argue the threshold here is quite low due to the extreme number of students being turned away by charters and, more importantly, the pervasiveness of Harlem charters into the fabric of the community - more so than probably any other neighborhood in America) 2) most likely having a higher percentage of native English speakers (advertising to non-English speaking parents has been lacking despite recent campaigns by charter networks) and 3) most likely having a lower percentage of Special Education students. Additionally, the charter is likely to be operating at a lower cost per student because the teachers in the charter have fewer years of experience (thus on the aggregate paid less and due to younger ages having lower benefit costs as well) and the higher costs associated with educating a higher percentage of special education students (as hypothesized above).
However, it's really hard to imagine these discrepancies bridge the achievement gap (or in this case, chasm) between these two schools. In fact, isn't our necessity to look for excuses as to why many charters are performing better than their "peer" neighborhood schools a good thing?? Doesn't this prove that it is possible for students from these environments to perform to the highest standards?? Charters are not the answer (I am fortunate to have witnessed some of the more successful charter schools in the nation), and in fact many charters are failing their students, but as adults working to better educate all children, we need to drop our biases and learn from the "one hundred 1% reasons for success." (Part 1, more on this to come, but it's getting late over here and I don't want this post to become too epic.)

"He is the only man to have aced a Rorschach test. If he were to give you directions, you'd never get lost, and you'd arrive there at least five minutes early. The pheromones he secretes have been known to affect people miles away, in a slight, but measurable, way. He owns three sports cars and drives five. He is the most interesting man in the world."
These are images from Mentari on Friday night. I stayed a little later so I could grade papers, prepare my lessons for the coming week, and catch up on the SEC media days. I was struck by how fortunate I am to be working in such a beautiful place and had to share these with y'all! The bottom picture is a view down the first floor hallway from the library. My classroom is just after the set of lockers and the main office is all the way down on the right (after the garden that is directly across the hall from my room!)

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