Education Reform

Adam Alvarez

A word to future students

Prepare yourself for a class like no other! In Education Reform, students will be challenged to operate within an open learning curriculum where the learning cannot be pre-determined because it is grows organically as a result of involvement. Along with your classmates, you will engage in deep thinking and dialogical practice while perusing historical education activity and responding to current issues. Expect to grow your skills in theorizing, deliberation, and collaboration as you take on unexpected projects that address timely events. Good luck future reformer and press on!
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day

I took a different approach to this Seussian assignment. Before having it read aloud to me, I had a friend tell me a little about it, in her own words. Her response was moving.

She gave me the context; she said it takes place in a school where all the teachers are amazing and the kids love it. She mentioned a teacher who taught frogs to dance, a weird, worrysome principal, and kids that were learning everything.

When she mentioned the kids having to take a test in order to prove they had been learning, it appeared to me that she got a little choked up. It was as if the real fun in learning was stifled by the pressure of the test. Her voice cracked a little and then she said, "Just go read it!"

I read the story and immediately saw the connection to our present schooling situation. I worried that the kids were not going to pass. Maybe in my conditioning, to hear about the things they were learning, I did not recognize Diffendoofer's curriculum as valid content. They appeared to be having too much fun to be able to gain enough knowledge to pass a test. The worrysome principal made me think that all was really not okay, even though the teachers and students demonstrated otherwise.

You can see the disconnect with Flobbertown. Uniforms, no singing or dancing, and sameness are all characteristics of schools that I have attended. I attended private schools where we wore uniforms and everyone was uptight about school. Unfortunately, in our public schools, those represent the dominant schools.

Lastly, it was surprising to know that Diffendoofer passed the test. I began to wonder if, in their context, a reform had already happened where tests would include important things like noodles and poodles. Maybe, it as meant to be some kind of alternate universe where more value is placed on how you learn, rather than what you learn. It could also reflect the political influence of the test makers. Perhaps someone who graduated from Diffendoofer began working for Pearson and insisted that this curriculum was valid and relevant.

Position on Reform for Students of Color

Male Teachers of Color

As a part of a recent research project, our team set out to find 10 college sophomore students that are somewhat interested in becoming a teacher. The goal is to partner these 10 students with 20 students from a local urban high school. Each mentor would have 2 high school students to tutor in English, math, and social skills. We sent out communications en masse to draw the attention of college students, which would give us a large pool from which to choose. At this urban high school, mostly all the students are African American. Our hopes were to get a fair share of diversity, including males and females. The importance of having mentors that look like the students is important because students should be able to see and be able to relate to whom they are working. Like the general teaching population, our group finally consisted of mostly white females.

One equity issue is that demographics of the students in the underserved schools do not match the demographics of the teachers. One reason for this could be that the teaching field is less attractive to male students of color. Another possible reason for the lack of male students of color in college pursuing a degree in education might be that there is an overabundance of dropouts. If male students of color feel pushed out because of a forced disconnectedness between the school and themselves, the chances of them pursuing a degree in teaching probably diminish.

A question to think about is how does the school structure affect the development of a student’s academic identity? In other words, are there practices that make students of color disconnect from school, thereby reducing or eliminating the chance/ likelihood for them to pursue teaching as a profession? If more students of color chose to pursue teaching, administration, and or policy level careers, how would this impact the current education system?


Students of color living in poverty may relate to or be able to identify with injustices. We know kids are bright, and using the immediate surroundings, local and national issues, and more accurate depictions of history, there may be a better chance to engage them. If students are taught young that there are biases in the neighborhood, country, and in the world, they may grow up with a more activist approach to learning and applying knowledge. What if educators stress the importance of gaining knowledge as a way to fight injustice and not just score adequately on a test?

Consider a liberating curriculum, one that is taught through a Freirian lens, a lens of critique. A curriculum that is taught by a teacher, who is a member of a marginalized group, who has experienced injustice firsthand, and can relate to students, may create a different learning experience for students of color. This curriculum, before anything else, should allow time for the students and teachers to cultivate a relationship of trust and respect, as well as norms within the class. Using this critical lens, in addition to meeting similar curriculum standards, would allow learning in a way that is relevant. The content becomes more relevant because students are not just learning to get a better grade; they are learning to improve society, correct injustices, and gain better access to opportunities. I believe that once a child can read, he can know truth, especially if he is provided access and guidance.

Cathartic moments happen when we admit to the wrongdoings, inequities, and oppressions and work together to figure out ways in which to improve outcomes for all people. When kids first learn to read, we should be giving them texts that explain humanity both in its faults and successes. Policy makers should allow the truth to be examined and analyzed as a part of learning. Leaders with experience in teaching, knowledge in societal inequities, and a mindset for access to opportunities for all students should be at the helm of creating this curriculum.

Closing thoughts

During this educational reform, it is important to know that the intention for change is long term. Policy makers would be wise to first implement these changes, and then give them time to materialize. I conjecture that the effects of the reform would be major. For one, having more male teachers of color may reduce the number of dropouts among black and brown male students (which are disparate compared to the white counterparts). This we can infer because there is a massive disconnect between the mostly white female teaching population and the male students of color.

Secondly, a pipeline could be created that allowed more male students of color to become teachers. Like the aforementioned mentoring program, pre-service teachers of color could return to high schools to help mentor, thus having a positive impact on student achievement. The male teachers of color policy would incentivize high school male students to become teachers.

What if educators stress the importance of gaining knowledge as a way to fight injustice and not just score adequately on a test?

Sexual Assault on Campus- Reflection of the Emergency Meeting (activity)

Reflection on Sexual Assault (Gotham University)- Adam Alvarez

I really appreciated this timely group activity. Developing this assignment was a smart idea because it simulated, what I imagine, a real life practice that university officials face. With the assignment of roles, a somewhat limited understanding of the issue, and the anxiety of not knowing what to expect from the other groups, it made for a realistic education reform topic.

One of the parts of that activity that resonated with me was the fear of who was going to take the blame. There was an underlying feeling of “we need to figure this out”, but at the same time no one wanted to be at fault for a wrong decision. I remember questioning the board of directors and watching them squirm when they fumbled for a response. It was interesting to consider the question, “How will you measure success?” What a valid question because were we more concerned with eliminating sexual assault on campus, or increasing the number of cases reported?

We agreed that there should be a spectrum on which there would be levels of offenses. One suggestion that was made was to give an alleged perpetrator a second chance. However, it was difficult to decide how to navigate that sensitive situation. On the one hand, how do you deal with the potential victim who, in the case of a real offense, might be dealing with some serious emotional residuals? Moreover, how do you avoid punishing a potentially innocent person?

Upon reflecting as a group, it was apparent that this kind of issue could take many hours to resolve. I imagine that there are other sensitive issues within the education arena that are difficult to address. For example, the promotion of common core curriculum, or issues with cheating on standardized tests. I believe that reformers have a tough job when faced with difficult issues.

This activity, especially because of the short notice and timeliness, made it more difficult to prepare. Again, I believe that it simulates a real life situation. I am extremely glad that I am NOT in the unfortunate position where I have to manage a situation like that!

Who is in charge of reform?

While scanning this list, see if you notice anything. Go ahead, scroll down. Now that you have returned back to the top, notice that most of these reformers are _______________ & ______________. There are only 7 ________________ and 2 _________________. These are some things to consider for future reform and reformers.

Thomas Jefferson

Horace Mann

Franklin Bobbitt

John Dewey

Edward L Throndike

Jean Piaget

Benjamin Bloom

Ralph Tyler

James Popham

Maxine Greene

Betty Friedan

James Conant

Terrance Bell

Milton Friedman

Gloria Steinem

Madelyn Hunter

Terrence Bell

Martin Luther King

Diane Ravitch

John Ogbu

Marc Tucker

Christopher Whittle

William Gates

Charlotte Danielson

Deborah Meier

What does this mean to future reformers?

Hazi's Reform Research Strategies

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Adam Alvarez

Doctoral Student & Research Assistant

University of Pittsburgh

Center for Urban Education