Month: March 2016

The equity gap – what are your biases?

The equity gap – what are your biases?

From the sound of its name, an outsider would never know Paradise Valley Unified School District has worked hard – and still struggles a bit – to overcome minority student achievement gap issues.

When Arizonans think of Paradise Valley, they think of that ritzy ‘burb that features pricey houses with gorgeous views and lots of acreage – not the 100-square-mile north Valley school district where 37 percent of the kids are so poor they qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.

But PVUSD is a great place to look at when one wants to understand the challenges teachers and administrators face when community demographics change. In the last decade, schools that once served white, middle-class kids have started serving students who speak little English and whose parents struggle daily to get meals on the table. Seemingly overnight, parent-teacher conferences were less about how Sally is doing on  spelling and more about helping Salma’s parents understand the basics of how their child’s school operates.

Creative ways to teach English learners

When I was an Arizona Republic reporter I enjoyed visiting PV schools and writing about the creative ways the district teaches subjects like math to students who have still not mastered English.

I recently attended the Arizona School Board Association’s 2016 Equity Event  and heard PV Superintendent Jim Lee talk about how teachers and administrators in his 45 schools work to make students of all ethnic and economic backgrounds feel included.

Lee also is president of the national Minority Student Achievement Network, a coalition of multiracial, suburban-urban school districts that share ways to identify and work to eliminate achievement gaps in their schools.

The first step, Lee said at the Arizona conference, is self-examination.

Everyone is biased 

What are your biases? Where do they come from?

“In our training we encourage people to reflect on how they were brought up and what their belief system is,” he said.

“Everyone has deep-seated biases. We don’t even realize our biases. That is the hard part.”

While it might be unrealistic to overcome all deep-seated biases, teachers and administrators who have taken time out to examine their own prejudices tend to be better, fairer educators.

A female football kicker overcomes preconceptions

A student who spoke on a panel that I moderated at the Equity Event is a great example of what can be achieved with the help of a her father, a coach, and other adults who did not let history or preconceptions get in the way of her success.

Tempe Marcos de Niza High School student Krysten Muir is a record-breaking kicker on the school’s varsity football team. A Tempe and Arizona first.

Want to know more about what her school, coaches and teammates say about her success? Click here for a video. 




Certification = 31 & 1/4 pizzas

12512618_10207398003421571_3100641105666253081_nWe’ve heard about teachers who go out of pocket for classroom supplies, supplemental books and things like tissues for kids who forget them.

But hundreds of dollars’ worth of exams and license fees? No one ever talks about that. When I began planning to become a teacher, I did not consider how big of a dent fees for credentials would make on my credit card bill.

I know many professionals are used to paying fees in order to work. Nurses, for instance, pay around $300 in Arizona for exams and licenses. But journalists have no such requirements. So I was surprised when required fees started adding up before I even enrolled in my teacher education program.

‘It is expensive’

Tammie Pursley, president of the Mesa Education Association and an AVID teacher at Poston Junior High in Mesa, said the fees come up a lot when teachers talk about their expenses.

“It is expensive,” told me. She said she advises new teachers to budget for the costs and not run down to the Arizona Department of Education every single time they have something new to add to their certificates.

I asked ADE spokesman Charles Tack how the fees are the calculated and where the all the money goes.

“The fees are based on the average amount of time it takes for each service as well as other administrative costs – paper, computers, copiers, office supplies,” he said.

Revenues pay staff salaries and the administrative costs, he said.

Tack also said the fees have not increased in more than a decade.

Almost $400 in testing and license fees

Here are my costs so far:

  • $67.00 for an Arizona Department of Public Safety fingerprint clearance card, required by ADE and Rio Salado College.
  • $95.00 for a National Evaluation Series Spanish language exam, also required by ADE and Rio.
  • $52.45 for a study guide and practice test for the Spanish exam. My goal was to pass the first time I took it.
  • $60.00 for a substitute teaching license. Not required but useful.
  • $60.00 for a provisional career and technical teaching license. Also not required but useful in case I decide to teach journalism in addition to Spanish.
  • $60.00 to show I passed a Structured Language Immersion course. This is an Arizona requirement.

Should I have bought pizza instead?

Believe it or not, there is a thing called the National Pizza Index that helped me figure out what else I could have done with the money spent on teaching credentials. It shows the average cost of a pizza in various locations across America. Arizona’s average pizza costs $12.61 – a little less than the national average of $13.21.

If my calculations are correct – and I did pass algebra and arithmetic exams before being admitted to Rio – I could have bought about 31 and 1/4ths pizzas for the amount I am spending on credentials.

So did I make the right choice? So far I am saying yes.

I will revisit this issue later on, when I blog about a first-year teacher’s salary.

Please follow my blog

I’ve launched The Classroom Scoop to share information I am learning about the latest in education science – as well as my personal journey from the newsroom to the classroom. Along the way, I will also share links to what I am reading about education news and policy – and more.

I hope you will join me by following The Classroom Scoop. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email me at .


‘Thank you for your service’

I still haven’t gotten used to hearing it.

Thank you,” people tell me when I mention that I left a 30-plus year career in journalism to become a public school teacher.

They say it in a tone typically used when thanking armed services members for their sacrifices.

But don’t feel like I’m making a sacrifice. I’m excited. It’s the kind of excitement that college students feel when they finally discover their heart’s desire and start planning a new life direction.

I am following my own heart’s desire. I hope to be in a public school classroom – teaching secondary Spanish – by August.

I loved my long career as a newspaper reporter and editor at The Arizona Republic. I won awards, traveled, met fascinating people and, at times, helped readers solve problems or better understand our complicated world. But it’s time to do something new.

Education has always been my topic

Education is a topic I have written about on and off since my days as a student journalist at Ohio State. But while it was my topic, but it was not my favorite until a few years ago.

Like many newspaper reporters I attended countless state and local school board meetings and listened to discussions student discipline policies and the latest standardized test scores. I know. Yawn.

But then, about four years ago, Common Core began to come up at board meetings.  Although reading about new academic standards was a bit dry, Common Core itself was revolutionary – and controversial.  The plan was to replace old academic guidelines that the Arizona’s old AIMS multiple-guess test was based on. And that made traditionalists nervous and angry. Some fascinating meetings ensued.

The core of my decision

I got even more interested in teaching after visiting some Common Core classrooms to see new brain-based ways of teaching.

In Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School teacher Marcia Middleton’s class, I watched second graders learn division by playing with coins and making change. Not a dull moment at the white board all morning.

In Mesa Red Mountain High School teacher Keiko Dilbeck’s class, I watched ninth grade English students flip through magazines to figure out whether ads for pet treats or cereal were meant to appeal emotion, authority or logic — pathos, ethos and logos. Again, not a second of boring lecture.

And, although, Spanish is not what educators refer to as a “core” subject, I also was impressed by something called “flipped instruction” in Mesa Mountain View High School teacher Ryan Norton’s second-year Spanish class. I have a BA and an MA in Spanish and have had some pretty great instructors along the way.

But I had never seen any high school Spanish class as fun and fast-paced as Norton’s. Students prepare the night before by watching 10-minute videos that introduce new vocabulary or grammar. Then in class, students play games, sing songs and compete in contests to practice what they have learned.

A buy-out helped me take the plunge

The more new teaching methods I observed, the more interested I was. Interested, that is, in trying teaching myself. I longed to join this new movement of teachers who do more than just stand in front of a white board and hope kids absorb 10 or 20 percent of a lecture.  I spent a few months researching what it would take. And when the newspaper offered buyouts to long-term staffers last fall, I was prepared to take the plunge.

I’ve enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher education program at Rio Salado College. So far, the classes have been fascinating. This term, one of my textbooks is titled Brain-Based Learning: The New Paradigm of Teaching.

“The brain does not learn on demand by a school’s rigid, inflexible schedule,” author Eric Jensen writes. “It has its own rhythms. If you want to maximize learning, you first need to understand how nature’s engine runs.”

Please follow my blog

I’ve launched The Classroom Scoop to share information I am learning about the latest in education science – as well as my personal journey from the newsroom to the classroom. Along the way, I will also share links to what I am reading about education news and policy – and more.

I hope you will join me by following The Classroom Scoop. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email me at .

— Cathryn Creno