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Dear Betsy DeVos | Pt. 2

Dr. Barbara McKeon

As a fierce advocate for under-served students and a leader of an independent public charter school I am not convinced that Betsy DeVos' nomination as Education Secretary will improve educational outcomes for all. Together, administrators, educators, concerned citizens, families and lawmakers can and must work to insure that all students are given the opportunity to succeed. Betsy DeVos' nomination does not send that message. Instead, we may be facing unfunded mandates, reductions in Title I monies that are directed towards educating those in the lowest socio-economic class and inconsistency in how resources are allocated depending on where one lives. In an era when we need unity, Ms. DeVos sends a message of division. In an era when the quality of education is determined by zip code, Ms. DeVos wants to "defund public schools". In an era when insuring that our students are safe at school, Ms. DeVos believes that allowing guns in school should be "left to the locals". Ms. Devos believes and has financially supported school choice and is convinced that "it is time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want for their kids". What about students who are homeless? "Who live in poverty?" Who are incarcerated? Who are disabled? Whose primary language is not English? Whose "moms and dads" have been deported? These students have no choice. Privatizing public education will not solve the social problems we face in the United States that have the greatest impact on educational outcomes. Let’s "shift the debate" and choose to support educational quality for all. 

Dr. Barbara McKeon

Dr. McKeon’s career has focused on serving the needs of the most vulnerable populations. She has written numerous articles and spoken extensively on topics in education including restorative justice, improving school culture and inspiring leadership, most recently as a Keynote Speaker for the Affinity Teaching Alliance in England.  Dr. McKeon serves on two Mayoral committees in New York City focused on reducing the pipeline to prison for minority students and on building Community Schools.  She is the grandmother of 4, a clown, a fitness instructor and appears in the Guinness Book of World Records!

She is currently Head of School at Broome Street Academy, a high school for homeless and foster care children in New York City.  

Dear Betsy DeVos | Pt. 1

Aleah Tarnoviski

While Betsy DeVos certainly lacks the kind of resume I would hope an Education Secretary would posses; she does support school choice. As a special education teacher at a public charter school, this is of utmost importance to me and the children I serve.

Too often "school choice" has become a phrase that lawmakers and others throw around with a sense of negativity, while forgetting the communities it empowers. This phrase has come to mean what its detractors believe of it: "privatization" and defunding of public education. It has become about lawmakers claiming to know what’s best, all while shutting out the voices of hundreds of thousands of parents and children who have chosen alternative forms of education, primarily due to poor local options. 

School choice is about providing options to every child and every family, regardless of income, zip code, or immigration status. In New York City, over 100,000 children attend charter schools every day. In Harlem, 1 out of 2 kindergarteners attend a charter. This year, 68,000 parents applied for less than 24,000 charter school seats, leaving 44,000 children on a waiting list in New York City alone. It’s very clear what parents want, and to deny them this choice is wrong.

The problem with being outraged at school choice is that it disproportionately targets working class families in cities across the country. Wealthy families have options. The richest families in New York City have long ago taken their children out of district schools, yet no one seems to question their choice. Where is the outrage at the Upper East Side moms choosing to send their children to $30,000 per year elementary schools? Why are we outraged that poor families demand the same educational excellence for their children as the millionaires on the Upper East Side? All families deserve options, regardless of their race, or zip code, or legal status. 

Does public education need to change? Of course. But in the meantime, our kids don’t have time to wait. If we truly value a child’s future; we value their education.  Six year olds cannot wait for us to fix this mess. They need to learn to read now. They need to learn how to dance and add and write now. How dare we tell the children in the poorest areas of our city that they need to wait in failing schools while we attempt to fix a system that’s been failing their neighborhoods for decades. We would never say that to a kid living in Tribeca, or a kid on the Upper West Side, so why are we happy to say it to the children of the Bronx?  Kids don't have time to wait around for the adults to get it right. School choice gives kids the options they need in the time they need it. All children deserve immediate access to an education that empowers and equips them to be the people they were made to be.

The educational crisis in our country is desperate and urgent. I can only hope that Devos who has stated, "the status quo is not acceptable" chooses to remember our most vulnerable kids and families in her endeavor to make us "the best in the world."

DeVos has served as a long time advocate of school choice, and chaired boards that seek to fight for the same kids I teach every day. This makes me want to give her the benefit of the doubt in all of this. Qualifications mean nothing to me if they don’t equate to action on the part of our kids. Real action brings change, and the best kind of change is immediate. I hope that DeVos chooses to recognize the true bearers of reform in all communities, be they district, charter, parochial, or private and use them as models of what’s possible. 

DeVos has four years to prove that she's out to help our kids and provide them with the options they deserve, now. 

Aleah Tarnoviski

I’ve had the privilege of teaching for more than five years in New York City. It is exciting and meaningful, beautiful and hard. I’ve spent all of these years in the same elementary school in the Bronx, and I’ve learned much in my time surrounded by the dreamers, leaders, dancers, writers, mathematicians and actors that are being raised within our halls.


New Year, New Mindset

Aleah Tarnoviski

Fostering growth mindset in our kids:  Teaching them to love the struggle and celebrate their growth. 

I’ve spent most of my teaching time in third grade, guiding young ones through multiplication facts and folktales and their fair share of assessments.  Third grade is a special year, marked with huge gains both socially, emotionally, and academically for each student. One of the ideals that I value most highly in my classroom is that of growth mindset. Coined by Carol Dweck, a growth mindset refers to one’s belief in their capability, their belief that they can, and their faithfulness to the steps it will take to reach their goals. Think of it as the difference between thinking, “I’ll never be good at math. I’m just not a math person.” vs. “I’m getting better at my math facts. Today I got two more than yesterday!” Research has proven that if we believe we can improve in an area, and we are equipped with the right tools and strategies, we can grow. When students get this, and bring this mindset into their learning, it’s magic. Students are happier and more excited about their learning; they stay committed amongst struggle, and find joy in the journey of math, reading, and writing. 

How can we foster this positivity?  How do we foster this magic and create kids who truly believe, “I can”? Below are a few of my favorite takeaways from my journey as a teacher. 


Remind them of growth

Start by talking about where they started. Remind them of when they were learning to sound out simple words, when they couldn’t add small numbers, or when they couldn’t write their first and last names. Kids have short memories and they get stuck in the moment. Get them to acknowledge where they have made growth. It’s the first step in opening their minds to future progress. 


Set goals

Kids struggle to break down their big goals into attainable steps. Help them break down their big goal (“I want to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end.” “I want to memorize all of multiplication facts”) into weekly, even daily goals. Work with your child’s teacher to ensure both of you are valorizing these goals, as well your child’s efforts towards them. Knowing these small goals helps you celebrate the tiniest of victories.  Rejoice in the small things—small victories add up to big achievements. 


Equip them with tools to succeed

Growth mindset is about more than just effort. Kids need to know that it’s more than just “trying”, it’s utilizing the tools and strategies that they’ve learned to fix mistakes and improve. New tools are sometimes the secret to success. If your child is continuing to struggle in a particular area, don’t allow them to give up. Instead, encourage them to try it a different way, or take what they did correctly and build upon it. 


Hold them accountable

This goes for their work, as well as their thinking. Hold them to the strategies they know they are successful with. Remind them of the progress they’ve made using them, and create opportunities for new practice. Challenge their thinking when they are frustrated; these are your most important moments as their coach! They need your pep talks (not sympathy!) when the going gets tough. Acknowledge the struggle, valorize their effort, and push their belief that they are BECOMING who they’ve set out to be. 


Be a model of growth mindset

We as adults must model what we want our kids to believe. Instead of saying, “Mom’s not good at art,” or “Dad isn’t good at math,” phrase everything as a journey. Try: “I’ve always wanted to be better at drawing,” or “Math is difficult for me, but this strategy helps me a lot.” We do hard things every day, and we’ve got to be transparent about our push through struggle. We push through the struggle because we know what lies on the other end, and we have to raise kids who believe that, too. Our language around how we view our own struggles shapes the way our children view theirs. 


If your interested in more information regarding growth mindset, Carol Dweck wrote a great article in Education Weekly regarding her research and what she’s learned in her most recent work. She also includes great suggestions for parents and teachers! Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'- Ed Weekly