Opening a private elementary school in Kenya

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Studies on the history of education in Kenya show that Christian missionaries brought the initial Western education, spreading out to become the single system in Kenya by 1920. Over the years, the responsibility for development of education in Kenya resides with the Government. However, the administration has delegated the responsibility for the establishment and most of the financing of primary schools to local authorities, with the aim of providing a system of primary education that is responsive to local needs and stimulate local initiative.

The Government is responsible for establishing the curriculum, administering the certificate for Primary Education and ensuring that instruction is of an adequate quality, and assumes full responsibility for the financing of all expenditures on primary education in County Council areas (Nyachieo Bogonko, 1992, pp. 18-19).

"When the Education Act was hammered out in 1968 giving the government control of the missionary-founded schools and conceding to the churches merely the rights of sponsorship, education was to undergo its first major crisis since independence. It is a crisis from whose effects the country is still reeling thirty years later as the century draws to a close. Many schools run by religious brothers, sisters and priests, and characterised by law and order, efficiency and cleanliness were put in local hands. The modest contributions from overseas, assiduously saved and carefully spent, began to dry up. Many religious brothers and sisters had worked without pay, save for a living allowance. With the new arrangement after the Education Act, instructors were paid a full salary. In many schools, a major financial crisis ensued" (Njoroge, L. M., 1999, p. 234).

The second major crisis the education system was to undergo happened in the mid-eighties when President Moi's Government introduced abruptly a new education system known as 8-4-4 (8 years of primary education which was meant to be terminal for the majority, 4 years of secondary education and 4 years of university education) that stressed self-reliance and required heavy investments both from the Government and parents. The 8-4-4 education system still remains controversial and was too ambitious for the resources available; as a consequence it has not achieved yet some ofits aims. The third major crisis started in the late 198O's when the Government, under pressure from international donors, introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme, which took the shape of "cost-sharing" for educational and health services that

previously were free. This measure, coupled with the poor performance of the economy affected dramatically the enrolment in primary schools in Kenya, which by the late years oflast century

stood just above 80%. Possibly as a result of the third crisis, private primary education experienced a remarkable growth because parents are willing to spend money to guarantee their children access to some of the few public secondary schools that feed the public universities. University education is still the best option for upward social mobility in Kenya but this state of affairs does not seem fair from the point of view of distributive justice and the common good.

Foster Middle School is located in the eastern portion of the Tulsa Public School District in Tulsa County. Foster currently serves approximately 616 students in grades six through eight. The student populace is 23% Caucasian, 34% Hispanic, 29% African American, 9% American Indian, and 4% Asian. About 70% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Foster has always been a culturally diverse school, but they have experienced a significant change in membership distribution over the last few years with their Hispanic population increasing from 7% in 1999 to 34% in 2007. Today approximately 32% of the students are bilingual with Spanish as the primary language spoken. Approximately 17% of Foster's students are on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), with the majority served in co-teaching inclusion programs.

The Mission of Foster Middle School is in line with Tulsa Public Schools mission, vision, and beliefs, which is "to provide a quality learning experience for every student, every day, without exception". Their beliefs help them to achieve this mission, and they are: "Everyone can and will learn, High expectations yield high results, Families and communities are essential partners in the education process, Every employee is personally responsible to model ethical behavior, exhibit a strong work ethic and to achieve high performance, Every individual has dignity and worth, A diverse community of learning requires a variety of educational opportunities, Quality learning experiences require:

An effective teacher in every classroom;

An effective principal in every school;

A challenging curriculum;

Adequate resources;

Continuous improvement in every classroom, office and department;

Shared accountability among students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents and community;

A safe, secure, non-threatening, comfortable environment".

The neighborhoods served by Foster range from low-income housing projects to single family homes. Currently, 70% of the student body qualify for free and reduced lunch, a tremendous increase from 2000, where only 47% of the student body qualified. About 30% of the families in this area are single parent families, and in more than half of the two-parent families both parents work, so many students are unsupervised after school and are not learning to study at home. Accordingly an increasing number of Foster's students demonstrate conditions associated with stress and poverty, such as slowed learning, impassivity, quick tempers and problems defining personal space.

All of these factors negatively influence student academic performance and rob students and parents of their enthusiasm for learning. Last year every subgroup made adequate yearly progress in math, which contributed to Foster making adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the 2006 - 2007 school year. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires schools to make AYP two consecutive years to be removed from "Needs Improvement" status. Foster is still designated a Year 3 School Improvement School. Ensuring that every child is successful at school in spite of family circumstances or current level of performance has become the goal driving decisions and actions for the 2007 - 2008 school year.

Year

Math -All Students

State Math Target

AYP?

Yes, No

or SH(Safe Harbor)

Reading - All Students

State Reading Target

AYP?

Yes, No or SH(Safe Harbor

2002-2003

628

648

No

480

622

No

2003-2004

722

790

SH

573

768

No

2004-2005

704

790

SH

516

768

SH

2005-2006

1025

790

Yes

774

768

Yes

2006-2007

1177

932

Yes

987

914

Yes

Foster Middle school aims to comply with the NCLB elements. For example, they have before and after-school tutoring and students give up electives for math and reading remediation during regular school hours as a way to increase instructional time. They have a quarterly incentive for 100% attendance. They also adopt best practices, by implementing and utilizing Marzano's instructional strategies, Multiple Intelligences, Bloom's, and Cooperative Learning. They also have a site instructional facilitator who helps with peer coaching and mentoring, to help meet professional developmental needs. They have also established after-school and during school opportunities to increase parent involvement, like the PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, PTA bingo nights, classroom visits, and parent individual and team conferences.

Brief Summary of Research

With the No Child Left Behind federal mandate, teachers and school administrators are challenged to provide the best instruction possible in Mathematics. It compels the mathematics teacher to provide high quality instruction to learners of all classifications of students, be they mentally handicapped, English as a second language, or behaviorally disordered. Numerous researches have established the fact that student's success especially in Mathematics, depends to a great extent on the effectiveness of the teaching they receive.

Anna Graeber, in her article, Mathematics Instruction Across the Grades: What Consultants should know (2005), asserts that in order for mathematics teaching to be effective, it has to incorporate the three learning principles that the National Research Council (NRC) articulates. The first of these principles is that the instruction needs to engage the student's initial understanding in order to change their preconceptions. Secondly, in order for students to develop competence in mathematics, they must have factual knowledge, an understanding of mathematical concepts and facts, and be able to organize what they learn in a way that will facilitate retrieval and application. Thirdly, she reports that NRC recommends a "meta-cognitive" approach to teaching, to assist students define and monitor their progress in achieving learning goals.

Graeber (2005) through the research that she did, reports that most programs that have been successful in instructing mathematics were building on students' previous knowledge, providing them with opportunities to discover and practice multiple ways of solving problems, and also asking students to provide explanations. Kramarski, Mevarech & Arami, (2002) in their study found this to be true, and defined it as meta-cognition. They found that students tremendously improved, when they were put in small groups and asked to reason mathematically through every problem. They did this by answering a series of questions designed to focus on:

"(a) Comprehending the problem (e.g., "What is the problem all about"?);

(b) Constructing connections between previous and new knowledge (e.g., "What are the similarities/differences between the problem at hand and the problems you have solved in the past and why?" ;

(c) Using strategies appropriate for solving the problem (e.g., "What are the strategies/tactics/principles appropriate for solving the problem and why?"

(d) Reflecting on the processes and the solution (e.g., "What did I do wrong here?"; "Does the solution make sense?")" (p. 4).

In this way, the students remain engaged and they are able to apply what they learn to their outside life. Meaning is attached to the mathematical tasks they face (Graeber, 2005).

Cooperative learning has been widely acknowledged by researchers as an imminent way of improving students' academic and social performance. In their article Teacher Interventions in Cooperative-Learning Mathematics Classes, Ding, Piccolo, Kulm, & Xiaobao (2007) say that for teacher-intervention strategies to be effective, they should "(a) adapt teacher instruction to students' needs, (b) focus on cognitive and meta-cognitive aspects, and (c) combine teacher and peer resources." They believe that teachers should not only focus their attention on the functioning of the group in the cooperative learning classrooms but should also give attention to the individual student's mathematical thinking. Students should be encouraged to explain to each other and to the teacher as well.

The diversity of students in classrooms is increasing on a daily basis, a phenomenon that requires teachers to use diverse teaching strategies in order to cater for all the students' needs. Furner, Yahya, & Duffy (2005), believe that setting high expectations and providing strong support for all learners are key elements. They advocate for teaching strategies that integrate multiple intelligences to accommodate learners' differences, including English Language Learners (ELL), and special education students. They provide a list of twenty strategies that need to be incorporated into the instruction of mathematics, which incorporate the Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) approach which supports the teaching of acquiring language.

Inclusion of students with learning disabilities is one of the major concerns of many researchers today. One of the barriers to inclusive education is believed to be teachers' negative attitude. DeSimone and Parmar (2006) did a research to investigate how Middle school mathematics teachers' thinking about inclusion affects students' learning. According to this study, most teachers are not opposed to inclusion of students in mathematics classrooms in middle schools; however, they struggle with finding ways to increase the motivation and attention of the included students. This is because a lot of them feel that they are inadequately prepared to handle the learning needs of included students. In most of the schools where inclusion of students is practiced, the teachers say that collaborating with other professional like special education teachers and guidance counselors helped them a lot. When working together as a team, teachers felt more confident in meeting the challenges of their mathematics inclusion classes (DeSimone & Parmar, 2006).

Description and Evaluation of Curriculum/Field Experience

My field experience consisted of review of the Oklahoma's PASS document (Priority Academic Student Skills), Tulsa COUNTS, Tulsa Public Schools Mathematics Initiative, and Foster Middle School's Improvement and Achievement plan; I interviewed the principle, and the head of the mathematics department at Foster Middle school; and I observed six different mathematics classroom instructions. My aim was to assess the classroom culture, the instructional activities, the focus of the program on accommodating learners' diverse needs, and to observe the practices that were being applied to enhance student learning.

Assessment of Program Focus

The Mathematics program at Foster Middle School reflects the goals set by Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), which are in turn aligned to Oklahoma's Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS). TPS have designed a guide for Middle School Course of Study, which describes the basic curriculum at each grade level. The main focus for the mathematics program at Tulsa Public Schools is to intensify the students' knowledge of numbers, computation, estimation, measurement, geometry, statistics, probability, patterns and functions, and the fundamental concepts of algebra, by focusing on relevant content in each of these areas.

The sixth to eighth grade mathematics staff at Foster Middle School utilizes ongoing assessment procedures to implement the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), and the Standard District Curriculum Assessments. Based upon these tools and in conjunction with teacher-made tests, observations and student portfolios, goals for instructional emphasis at the sixth grade Mathematics are: Patterns & Algebraic Reasoning/Order of Operations - 1.2, Measurement/Compare and Convert Units - 4.2, and Measurement/Estimate measurements - 4.3. Goals for instructional emphasis at the seventh grade Mathematics are: Algebraic Reasoning/Properties - 1.1, Algebraic Reasoning/Linear Equations - 1.2, Number Sense/Integers - 2.1. At the Eighth grade level, the goals are: Algebraic Reasoning/Equations - 1.1, Measurement/Estimate Surface Area/Volume - 4.1, Data Analysis and Statistics/Central Tendency - 5.2.

It is universally agreed that skills continue to be an important part of any mathematics program. Research shows that skills are long lasting when students have developed them through the use of thinking strategies, rather than rote learning. The Mathematics program at Foster Middle School supports the use of strategies and the development of skills in the following ways: Carefully sequenced activities, Easy-to-manage materials that promote visual thinking, ongoing reinforcement of skills through various activities, and thorough assessments.

Lessons are planned by the teachers to teach the benchmarks that are part of each PASS standard. Assessments are given periodically throughout the school year to assess the students' mastery of the benchmarks. If the concepts are not mastered, then the skills are taught again, either in a class setting or tutorial session. These assessments are designed to prepare the students to be successful on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests (OCCT's) and help Tulsa Public Schools teachers plan their instruction.

At Foster Middle School, the teachers design their lesson plans on a weekly basis, based on the pacing calendars provided by Tulsa Public Schools. The teachers then write down on the classroom boards, the objectives of the week for students to copy into their agendas. This serves two functions, the students know what to expect for each class and they are to discuss with their parents their agendas; and it also helps the teachers to stay on focus with the objectives in order to adequately cover the curriculum. I observed this to be a very good strategy as it helps the children and the students to manage their time effectively in the classrooms. The parents are also invited to be a part of the learning process of their children.

Assessment of Program's Ability to Accommodate Learner's Diverse Needs

Students with learning disabilities are provided a special education student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) which states whether he/she takes OCCT's or if he/she takes the alternative assessments. Special education students who are expected to take the OCCT's are given teacher developed assessments and benchmark assessments for the Standard District Curriculum at their grade placement in order to be prepared for the state assessments. The regular education teacher tests the special education students, with assistance from the special education teacher, who is involved in identifying and providing appropriate accommodations. Consequently, students with an IEP are to be exposed to the same curriculum as in the regular mathematics course. Modifications are made according to the IEP and teachers are to use a variety of strategies, including curriculum and instructional adaptations, peer tutoring, cooperative learning, and layered curriculum to deliver the content.

Foster Middle School has inclusion classes where students with IEPs are taught in the same class with other children. The mathematics teacher is assisted by a special education teacher and a school counselor. This allows for a one-on-one between the teachers and the students to ensure that each of the students understand the concepts. The counselor also assists with any behavioral issues that may come up among the students. The teachers use different strategies to make sure that the students understand the concepts, including the use of calculators at selected times to ensure competency with various skills, the Smart Board to illustrate concepts, and students are allowed to check out the textbook on compact disc for additional assistance. Peer relations were also encouraged, especially with English Language Learners (ELL) students.

From my interviews with the Principle and the head of the Mathematics department, they both agreed that the program has been a tremendously help to the students with learning disabilities. However, at the beginning of the implementation stages, the teachers had negative attitudes towards this program. They felt inadequate, and were not sure if it's going to work or not. With time however, the teachers have come to appreciate the program.

Assessment of Instruction

For instruction practices in the Mathematics classrooms to be effective, it is recommended to include activities which require the students to be engaged in creating and solving problems both individually and as a group. The instructional methods should allow use of learning tools such as concrete models, fraction manipulatives, algebra tiles, geoboards, calculators, and computers to enhance learning through differentiated instruction (Zolkoski & Guinn, 2007). Emphasis must be on using mathematics to solve problems as well as on mathematics as an enjoyable activity. Students must be provided strategies for solving mathematics problems including text preview, prior knowledge activities, vocabulary development, and graphic organizers. The overriding goal behind any mathematics problem-solving activity should be to foster active, engaged, independent thinkers.

Teachers need a deep understanding of the mathematics they teach, i.e., concepts, practice, principles, representation, and applications to support effective instruction. A teacher's conceptual understanding of mathematics can affect classroom instruction in a direct and positive way. The mathematics teachers that I observed at Foster Middle school were confident and enthusiastic about the content they were teaching. They were well prepared for the lessons they were teaching and kept the students engaged throughout the class period.

The first ten minutes of every class that I observed at Foster Middle School, were dedicated to reviewing concepts previously taught and clarifying any misunderstandings students had. This was done through use of 'warm up or bell-work' tests. Teachers observed students during independent work time to determine their understanding of the concepts. After this, the teacher then presented new concepts to the class, and gave them lots of drilling questions to make sure that the concepts were grasped. In some of the classes I observed, the teachers used various games, like Bingo, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, among other games. These activities engaged the students' attention, and kept them actively involved in the learning process. Assignments were also graded in class, to determine the level of mastery each student had attained, and a quiz or teacher-made test were completed by the students to determine the students' proficiency with the skills taught earlier in the week.

Foster Middle School aims to develop a learning community based upon respect and dignity. They believe that this is the keystone that nurtures academic success. Their goal is that every student will develop skills and behavioral abilities that assure a positive, safe and caring learning community for all members of the school. Students and staff are expected to embrace the 7 Community Guidelines and Life Skills as part of their daily interactions. In the classrooms that I observed, students were encouraged to cooperate with each, and to treat each other as they expect to be treated. Most of the students were very cooperative, and had good behaviors. The teachers that I observed had good management skills. Most of them said that they had prepared power point presentations on classroom rules and procedures, which they shared with the students on first day of the school year. With a lot of practice and reiterations, the students knew what was expected of them and the consequences to the bad behaviors in class. This had helped to maintain a positive classroom atmosphere that was conducive for the students to learn.

Application of Best Practices to Improve Student Learning (1.5 page)

The Principle at Foster Middle School, said that the teachers use various teaching strategies such as graphic organizers, technology, challenging and current curriculum, and various teaching practices (Marzano's instructional strategies, Bloom's Taxonomy, the Multiple Intelligences, etc.) to maintain effective classroom instruction" (Principle). The teachers are expected to indicate which practice they intend to use for the lessons, whether Marzano's, Bloom's or the Multiple Intelligences.

From the research that I did, a lot of researchers advocate for cooperative learning in mathematics teaching (Ding et al, 2007. Foster Middle School, has implemented this very well. The students are encouraged to work together. In one of the class that I observed, the teacher encouraged the students to consult with each other first during independent work time. Then if both could not understand, they could ask the teacher. This was very helpful, especially with the ELL students, some of who have not mastered the English Language.

Foster Middle School has also earned a good name where use of technology is concerned. The use of the Smart board software has indeed helped to improve student learning. Teachers are able to use the internet field and mathematic soft ware to provide students with activities that keep them attentive and engaged, and that apply to daily life situations, as recommended by Furner et al (2005).

Implementation of Research-Based Professional Development Programs

Foster Middle School is committed to the professional growth and development of its faculty and new staff member. They have Site delivered math curriculum training; they devote 5 days solely to professional development in different areas, including mathematics. The teachers are also expected to attend training provided by the Tulsa School District. These training lessons include the following topics: classroom management and student discipline strategies, outreach to parents, diversity and multicultural education and other components as required for school improvement. The teachers are also encouraged to attend professional development workshops, classes, and conferences in order to learn new strategies, techniques, and teaching styles in order to remain effective so that the curriculum is both challenging and enjoyable to learn.

Conclusion

Mathematics is said to be a vital academic skill and a critical part of academic learning. This is why there is a nationwide call to improve the mathematics program and to improve the preparation of mathematics teachers. Foster Middle School has taken this seriously, as is evidenced by their goals and the execution of those goals.

Some of the mathematics teachers at Foster Middle School have college degrees in mathematics, which indicates that they are academically qualified for what they do. Most of them are passionate not only about what they teach, but about the children as well, a quality that the Principle told me he looks for when interviewing potential teachers. This enthusiasm is a key element in their classes, as it provides an energy that invites and allows the children to be a part of the learning process. This was a very good quality that I admired at this school.

The environment of every office is mostly created by the administration. I found the environment at Foster Middle School to be positive, and this reflects the School's Principle's character. An ORU alumni himself, He is very welcoming, and was willing to help me with anything that I needed to complete my project. I could sense his love for the students, and admiration for most of his faculty. He said that he knew God has blessed him with a good faculty and that inspires him to serve even more. Most of the teachers that I spoke with had good comments about him. They all agreed that he was very supportive, and believed that all things are indeed possible. All of them said that he allows them to be flexible with the curriculum and instruction, for the best interest of the students.

Being a mathematics teacher requires more than the content knowledge. A love and passion for the students and for teaching is undeniably a vital ingredient in the profession. This has a tremendous effect on the classroom environment; which in turn affects the learning of the students. Most of the students do not have a good attitude towards mathematics, and so this puts the teacher at a very challenging position. It demands the teacher to inspire and impart his/her enthusiasm to the students. It requires a lot of extra preparation time, to look for activities that will engage the students for effective instruction. I was inspired by some of the teachers that I met at Foster Middle School.

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