Mr. W’s Classroom isn’t Waiting for Superman

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[Ace Sunday Editorial]

Education Reform hit the news this week with the release of  the Davis Guggenheim documentary, Waiting For Superman, (reviewed here by The Wall Street Journal). Then the crew showed up on Oprah, with Mayor Cory Booker, and Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg stirring the drama by pledging $100 million to Newark’s public schools.

In Lexington and surrounding counties, teachers aren’t waiting for Superman or Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, and have turned instead to something a little more lifesize at donorschoose.org.

Today’s Ace Sunday Editorial is from one of those teachers.

I Can Teach a Man to Fish, but I Need Some Help Buying Bait.

by Jason McKinley Williams

I teach high school English and I recently posted my first project to donorschoose.org, the website founded by Charles Best, a Bronx social studies teacher, in 2000. His goal: let public school teachers promote projects that would help students learn but for which there were no financial resources. Today, visitors to the site can browse projects from teachers all around the country and support those projects with donations of any size. Some ask for 35 copies of a needed book. Others ask for art supplies. Some ask for musical instruments.Users find a project they like and help make it a reality.

My school is actually quite fortunate in that we have some support from community organizations and the Advance Kentucky grant which promotes AP coursework for more students. However, the need for materials remains overwhelming and every teacher has a laundry list of lessons or projects he or she would do if only the resources could be acquired.

The materials I wanted for my students were not “sexy”:  paper, pencils, highlighters, and some hole-punches to implement a planned approach to peer review and writing instruction. I hope to use these techniques and materials to give some under-resourced students the skills and confidence to challenge themselves with AP English next year.

Once my idea was posted to the site, with the help of Experian, exposure on the Stephen Colbert project list, and several individual donors, the project was fully funded within four hours. Click here for the project.

DonorsChoose.org is practically a dream factory for struggling teachers and students.  In return, my donors will get (alongside my eternal gratitude) thank you letters from me and my students as well as photos of their donated materials in use.

During the current economic downturn, public education has become a prominent target for both actual and proposed budget cuts. This course of action is as ironic as it is tragic. College admissions, scholarships, and job markets grow more competitive daily. Since the prior generation’s dreams of a well-paying factory job have migrated to lower-cost countries, the task of fully preparing students for life after high school has become even more essential.

Nonetheless, schools and teachers find their daunting task growing more challenging. Teach students whose families have less. Prepare them for a more competitive world. Do so with fewer resources. Repeat.

The typical answer for me and my fellow teachers has been to dip into our own pockets to supplement the funds provided by the schools. Seventy-two pencils here. Thirty thrift- edition copies of Hamlet there. You do what it takes.

But while the loudest voices in the current political discourse have ensured nothing is less popular than supporting government services, there remains a large group of citizens who believe in public education and in the students whose futures hang in the balance. The challenge has been connecting those citizens and their resources to the teachers who need them.

Fortunately, Internet-based social networking has helped make that connection possible.

DonorsChoose.org caught the attention of celebrities like Adam Lambert and Steven Colbert who have funneled fans to the site. Corporations like Sonic, Leapfrog, and the credit agency Experian have also promoted and heavily supported individual projects. The results for a public school teacher can be stunning.

DonorsChoose.org offers an incredible opportunity for supporters of public education and people who want to know their charitable giving has a specific, tangible impact.  If you fit into either category, I’d suggest you review some projects at the site and connect with some students who can truly use your help.
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  • Jason McKinley Williams

    Thanks for letting me spread the word. I also need to thank Justin Wylie, my colleague who made me aware of this great resource.

  • grizzlygirl

    Tank you Jason for letting us know about this extremely worthwhile site!



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