Friday, April 29, 2011

How far will you go to get educated?

This provocative article on NPR, powered by The Root, considers the cases of two parents, both of whom lied about their addresses in order to get their children into good school districts. The question remains: is their behavior acceptable, and if not, what does this say about education in the U.S. and the effort that low-income parents must make to give their children a future better than their own?

Helena Andrews, author of the article, argues strongly against the school districts that hired a private investigator to trace the fraudulent documentation of two of their students. Now the students' mothers, one in Ohio and the other in Connecticut, owe a total of $45,000 in penalty fees and tuition. Tonya McDowell from Connecticut is homeless; she used her father's address on her six-year-old son's registration documents to get him into a decent school district. Kelley Williams-Bolar from Ohio has two young daughters living with her in a crime-ridden neighborhood. She, too, forged documentation to send her girls to a better school in a different part of town. Now, both mothers must deal with heavy financial penalties and the possibility of having their children withdrawn from schools that may have given them a future.

What is the issue here? With impending school budget cuts all over the nation, it's interesting to learn that schools are shelling out thousands of dollars to pay private investigators, who, in turn, rat on their own students. The parents are being punished, but the students, who have had no say in the matter, are the true victims in this dangerous bureaucratic game. We live in a country where the quality of our schools is determined by tax dollars, not social equity laws or merit awards. And now, instead of protecting students whose families are fighting to keep them in decent schools, we pile on lawsuit after lawsuit, making the idea of social mobility a growing myth, never a reality.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last hired, first fired...teachers say good-bye to California schools

State budget cuts are not only slashing class selections, increasing class sizes, and taking away student scholarships in California schools. Now, it's time for the teachers to go, too. This article in the L.A. Times profiles James Yi, a history teacher at Middle College High School in the L.A. Unified School District - a beloved educator who, with only five years of teaching experience under his belt, will now have to leave the students whose lives he's been trying to change for the better. Mr. Yi has received a "reduction in force" letter from the school board, and will soon have to start looking for another job.

Yes, his story parallels that of countless California teachers over the past year or more...which makes it no less powerful. James Yi graduated from UC Irvine and originally went into computer marketing, transitioning into education after being disappointed in the tech field. Now, teaching the history of the Vietnam war to high school sophomores and seniors, and encouraging his students - most of whom hail from disadvantaged backgrounds - to pursue higher education, Mr. Yi has found what he truly wants to do. His students love him. His fellow teachers and administrators respect him. Are people like James Yi the ones who should be taking the brunt of Sacramento's budget proposal? As the author of this story duly notes, why not institute a higher oil excise tax, or a temporary tax hike with a budgeting balance that benefits education? There must be a way from keeping California's suffering education system from sinking further into the pit of disadvantage, poverty, and low graduation rates. Will firing teachers and cutting classes really help? Think again, state administrators - are people like Mr. Yi and his students the ones you want to keep hurting?

Programs like Tutorpedia's SES (Supplemental Educational Service) tutoring are options for schools who are experiencing problems servicing students in need. Check out our page for more of these options...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tutorpedia's launching its Summer 2011 Workshops!

What are you doing this summer? Care to challenge yourself, learn, AND have fun all at once? Take part in Tutorpedia's annual Summer Workshops, taking place at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Atherton, CA.

You can choose from one of three sessions: early July, late July, or early to mid-August. Workshop topics range from Public Speaking, Headstart to Chemistry Excellence, and SAT Prep to Spanish Immersion and Creative Writing. We may even be stretching your cognitive and creative limits with classes on Google Apps Design, Sustainable Agriculture, and Improv Comedy. More topics will be coming up - take your pick, from intellectual to mind-boggling to goofy. And remember, when you sign up for one workshop, you get ten percent off any other workshops that you sign up for! Check out the details for sign-ups here. Prices go up after May 13, so don't miss out!

For more details on our personalized, project-based workshops, visit Tutorpedia's website and read up on what makes a Tutorpedia workshop your learning vehicle of choice. We can't wait to keep learning with you as summer approaches!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The dollar value of nature vs. nurture: who needs help the most?

The NY Times published an intriguing story recently about how students' family backgrounds and parenting history play into how "successful" they become as adults. The article details the release of a recent book by Robert Caplan, "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think", which is a response to the rigorous tirade on proper parenting issued by Amy Chua earlier this year.

Caplan's argument poses an interesting counterpoint to the example set forth by Tiger Mothers everywhere. According to his text, parents' behavior has no effect whatsoever on how children turn out - the key is to give them the right tools: education, extra-curriculars, a stocked fridge - and let them take what they can from these factors. Go get a back massage, moms and dads, says Caplan, as your everyday parenting efforts simply don't matter. That is, assuming you can afford a trip to the spa - the book mostly caters to inhabitants of white suburbia, largely ignoring kids growing up in low-income areas and weakening the overall argument, to say the least.

And that's precisely the issue with the education debate in news headlines today. In determining what's most important for students, rigorous violin practice or a school trip to Venice, parents and education specialists are missing the point. The children who are in dire need of attentive parenting are those on the sidelines, in low-income households, in impoverished neighborhoods. These kids often lack at least one parent, not to mention the luxury of agonizing over whether piano or soccer is the extra-curricular that will get them into an Ivy. It's time that educators took a step back and re-evaluated the arguments soaring above our heads. Instead of intellectualizing education and parenting strategies, let's give them to those who really need 'em.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Scholarship cuts and less HOPE for US students

In yet another tribute to impending budget cuts in America, Georgia's legislature is threatening to slash the HOPE scholarships that have previously been available to low-income students who maintain a B average while studying. The HOPE scholarship has guaranteed funding for a college education to all qualifying students in the state. Students must hail from low-income backgrounds and provide proof of substantial academic achievement while in college.

Now, however, students in need are having their scholarship rescinded as the state scales back on its education budget - a dismal echo of recent happenings in our own state, California. These changes mean that students who already work part-time jobs while in college may have to take time off or even drop out; some lack funds to pay off even a community college tuition. Most of these students have little to no family support, and many hail from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Changes to HOPE scholarship guidelines include not only cuts to the amount of funding available, but strict criteria of GPA and minimum SAT scores for students who wish to receive aid. These amendments make the situation increasingly difficult for students who receive no academic support at home and simply don't have access to SAT prep classes and materials. Check out this NPR story here:

Equity? Nice try, America. Let's see what you come up with next...President Obama's verbal support of educational opportunities across poverty lines would need to be translated into concrete actions right about NOW.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What if you were principal? Students make the changes

This recent story from the Huffington Post polls students across the nation by asking them a simple question: if you were principal for a day, what would you change? The responses range from insightful and serious to quaint and goofy.

Above all, students are choosing to make the lunch menu more nutritious (good-bye, soda machines! hello, fruits and vegetables), with the occasional request for more pie. It's surprising and inspiring how often elementary school students stress the value of getting their peers' input on what kind of dynamic makes for a positive, healthy learning environment. Of course, there are those bizarre requests, such as the one to keep a colony of frogs in the school's main office. Overall, though, this aside from more "serious" education topics certainly gives some food for thought to educators and parents. Projects such as this poll do something that standardized education in America does not accomplish often enough: give students an individual voice, regardless of age. And sometimes, it is just time to let go and open up to student-directed, creative changes. The occasional pet frog in the principal's office may not be such a bad idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Get an iPhone, boost that grade? iPhone technology increases cognitive development in children

Today we're hosting yet another shout-out to the role of technology in education for our students. Here are a few words from Ahmed Siddiqui, the founder of the innovative new learning technology, Go Go Mongo!. Ahmed says...

"When I was going to school, the most common means of learning were paper, pencils, and books. English is my second language, and I remember very clearly how difficult it was to make friends in kindergarten when I couldn’t even communicate with them. That was nearly 25 years ago. Kids today, especially ESL students, are going to school and still using the same old paper, pencils, and book methods I used while growing up. However, when these kids go home, they are surrounded by all sorts of great technology, from iPhones to Tablets, video games, and on-demand television. Why is it that we are not using these technologies to improve learning? More importantly, why aren’t we using these technologies to make learning fun?

I started down this path one year ago, searching for an answer. The iPhone intrigued me because of its sheer simplicity. My two-year-old cousin was able to unlock my iPhone and navigate to pictures, videos, and even games, without any instructions. Even though she couldn't speak English, she had already mastered the iPhone at the tender age of two. I had her play even more games to see what gaming dynamics she liked and started building a game for her skills set. My objective was to build something fun first, and then figure out how to sneak in the learning objectives. I wanted her to learn English from games at home so that when she goes to pre-school, she wouldn't face the same embarrassment I felt while first starting school.

Through numerous revisions, Go Go Mongo! was finally released in the Apple iTunes App Store, and received the “New and Noteworthy” award from Apple. The game uses the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer to control the main character, Mongo. Children have to use their motor skills to make Mongo run left to right to catch food falling from the sky, learning new vocabulary in the process. By using technology and implementing gaming dynamics, we can make learning fun again. Go Go Mongo! is now available on iTunes App Store here."

For more information, feel free to contact the founder of this exciting new tech tool for learning at

Monday, April 11, 2011

But Mom, I learned it on the internet: online education a plus?

More and more schools across the United States are resorting to online classes to boost graduation rates, help students with credit recovery, and deal with growing class sizes. This story in the New York Times juxtaposes the value of an online education with the benefits of learning in a real live classroom.

At times, an online class provides the opportunity to learn where otherwise students would not have one. For example, the Westbrook School District in Maine is offering students Chinese classes online through the Virtual High School Global Consortium, a non-profit online academy in Massachusetts. Westbrook is facing giant budget cuts and simply cannot afford to offer advanced language classes to small groups of students. At charter schools or low-income school districts, make-up classes for failing students are also being offered online on a growing basis. Idaho school districts recently passed a measure that requires schools to provide free laptops for all students, making 2011 seem like the prime year to be a student among the corn fields.

And yet, fancy Macbooks and internet hype fests aside, educators can't ignore the question: do we really learn better from a robot than when a thinking, breathing human being guides and instructs us? And what about the value of a classroom dynamic that pushes students to argue and challenge one another on current issues? Online education is often "cheap education." And internet courses do offer convenient alternatives for ill or otherwise indisposed students to catch up on work. But can a computer replace a human being, and if so, where are we headed...and do we really want to get there?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bay Area schools take a major hit

Watch out, California's education system: the battle to keep your schools funded has only just begun. A recent story in the San Jose Mercury News details the impending budget cuts that are being thrust upon Bay Area schools. Yes, we've heard this one before. But this time, the amount of money being slashed from the education budget per student is bigger than ever, and the effects could be devastating.

California's schools are facing a potential $1000 cut from the budget allotted per student, a further loss of 30 days from the existing school year, and a resulting condition of near bankruptcy. Administrators and the Legislature may have to accept up to $13.5 billion in cuts by November 2011. What's even worse is that there seems to be no turning back on this deadly road; Governor Brown mentioned this Tuesday that he has given up changing the minds of GOP leaders who oppose a tax vote on this matter. This means that class sizes will go up and educators' salaries will decrease even more than in the past. Now that arts, music, and sports programs, not to mention electives, have been cut from many schools, core programs are going to be the recipients of this attack.

While many citizens will dismiss this news as yet another numbers-oriented report on the ubiquitous "budget crisis," rest assured: these measures will have brutal consequences for Califiornia's students, teachers, and parents, both current and future. One question remains: can anything still be done?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Learn languages, show off your smarts

Spanglish, Chinglish, Konglish? Is speaking multiple languages, one at school and others at home, hurting students more than helping them? Will toddlers get confused upon being shuffled into an all-English pre-school after speaking only Russian or Hindi at home?

Nonsense, experts say. Check out this story on NPR about the benefits of bilingualism for kids, which sustain bilingual and trilingual people well through their lifetimes:

After all, two-thirds of the world's children grow up speaking multiple languages, and one in five of American students speak one language at school, and a different language at home. What are we so afraid of? Parents who fear that their multilingual children suffer from stunted development should rethink their parenting strategies. Bilingual individuals are forced to keep multiple areas of the brain activated at the same time - even though they are speaking one language, the others are still present in their cognitive activity. As a result, studies have shown that bilingual individuals are less likely to suffer from cognitive disorders such as dementia later in life. Rock on, language learners!