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Gates Foundation To Keep Pushing On Teacher Quality

By Katherine Long, The Seattle Times (TNS)

SEATTLE — Working on reforming the U.S. education system is the hardest job they’ve ever tackled, Bill and Melinda Gates said Wednesday — more difficult and complex, even, than trying to find a cure for malaria.

In the first major retrospective address on their educational philanthropy work in seven years, the couple that leads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged that many issues surrounding education improvement have become politicized, and success has been hard to prove.

But they reiterated their focus on teacher training as a key to improving education, defended the use of testing as one way to measure teacher and student performance, and said the Common Core state standards are starting to show results.

The Gateses both spoke at length during a Gates Foundation-sponsored event, the U.S. Education Forum, a two-day conference being held in Bellevue, Wash., that is bringing together about 250 national education leaders and politicians. It marks the 15th year the foundation has been involved in U.S. education philanthropy.

In 2009, at a similar event, the foundation launched the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative, an attempt to help school districts identify and reward their best teachers, help all teachers improve and weed out the worst. By 2013, according to an Education Week analysis, the Gates Foundation had spent nearly $700 million on its teacher-quality agenda.

Bill Gates acknowledged Wednesday that the foundation is still learning how it can help move the needle on improving the American education system. But he said he believed “we are working on the right problems” — that all students should meet high standards, and that they should be taught by the best teachers.

From the beginning, the Effective Teachers initiative was controversial, in part because of efforts to tie teacher performance to test scores. Many teachers were suspicious of the efforts, fearing they would be ranked on a measure that they argue isn’t a good or reliable measure of their work.

Although he believes teacher training is the right approach, Bill Gates expressed concern about whether the teacher initiative will ultimately have an impact. “A majority of teachers are in systems that don’t really help them improve all that much,” he said.

The foundation’s work to advance Common Core — the set of learning standards that 42 states are now using — has also met with fierce resistance.

Bill Gates acknowledged that the foundation was taken aback by the pushback on Common Core. “The foundation, and some others perhaps, were naive about these rollouts” and what kind of political fallout would come from it, he said.

Melinda Gates said she believes a few states moved too fast into Common Core, particularly in introducing a new layer of tests, which upset parents. “At the political level, there’s a lot of noise,” she said. “But if you go out and survey teachers, they are for the Common Core.”

And the state of Kentucky — the first state to implement Common Core — is starting to see significant improvement in student achievement, she said.

Bill Gates said he thought Common Core became mixed up with issues of over-testing, a concern that the federal government was playing too heavy a hand in local education and Internet-fed myths about the difficulty of the subjects.

Still, he said, “I’m always glad when education becomes a political issue … It’s fundamental to the future of the country, it’s good to see it being discussed.” But he was disappointed that the discussion went “a little off the rails in terms of facts.”

The Effective Teachers initiative focused much of the work on three school districts (in Florida, Pittsburgh and Memphis), and one consortium of charter-school operators. Those districts created new evaluation systems and rewarded effective teachers with bonuses.

But in Florida, the effort cost the Hillsborough County school district far more than officials projected, and the foundation cut about 20 percent of the funding it had promised. Very few teachers were fired, and there’s little evidence that the system boosted student achievement.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the foundation threatened to pull its grant funding after the district and teachers could not come to an agreement over teacher evaluation standards. The two sides eventually came together earlier this year.

Bill Gates said in order to be successful, teacher evaluation systems must be balanced, embraced by teachers, include data that teachers trust and have resources behind it to drive improvement.

“This is where we’re focused,” he said. “Over the next decade we hope to see incredible progress in this.”

But, he added, “it’s a difficult task.”
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(Note: The Gates Foundation provides financial support for The Seattle Times’ Education Lab project, which focuses on promising approaches to address the biggest challenges in education.)

Photo: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been studying education initiatives, but despite so much effort, success has proved elusive. WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr

Colleges Rethink The Math Students Need

By Katherine Long, The Seattle Times (TNS)

SEATTLE — Dena DeYoung traces her trouble with math back to sixth grade, when a well-intended placement test showed she was smart enough to do advanced work.

And for several years, DeYoung did well. But when she reached high school, math became her worst subject. Lost by the logic, unable to imagine how what she was learning would ever come into play in the real world, her math grades plummeted.

“I just never got it,” DeYoung said. “I was barely scraping by. It was just a nightmare.”

DeYoung eventually dropped out of her Shoreline school, and while math was not the only reason, it didn’t help. Instead of a high school diploma, the promising student earned a General Educational Development degree, or GED.

More than any other subject, math trips up students who might otherwise thrive in college, especially those who don’t plan to go into technical careers that require proficiency with numbers.

Failing the state’s math test keeps hundreds of students from graduating from high school each year, even when they’ve met every other requirement. Math is the reason why half of Washington’s high school students who enter community college must take remedial classes — which few ever pass, even after years of struggle.

A lot of effort has gone into thinking — and arguing — about how best to teach math, hoping to keep it from being such a barrier to higher education. But the math problem also has caused leaders of Washington’s community colleges to ask a fundamental question: How much math, and what kind, should be required for a student to earn a college degree?

Their answer, increasingly, is that there is no one answer.

Students who are studying to become nurses, social workers, early-childhood educators or carpenters may never use intermediate algebra, much less calculus. Yet for years, community colleges have used a one-size-fits-all math approach that’s heavy on algebra and preps students for calculus.

That’s starting to change in a few pioneering schools that are overhauling what math they teach and how they teach it. Some colleges, for example, have started to offer a math sequence that focuses on statistics, and persuaded the state’s four-year colleges to accept it as a college math credit. Others are offering a learn-at-your-own-pace approach.

These experiments, to date, are small but encouraging. The word is spreading about algebra alternatives, many of which include the kind of math students are more likely to need, such as probability and margins of error in opinion polls. Students are flocking to such classes — and they’re passing at much higher rates.

One study found that a statistics-focused class, identical to one offered at Seattle Central College, had triple the success rate when compared with the traditional math sequence, and students finished math in half the time.

DeYoung, now 26, enrolled in Seattle Central’s version of that sequence last year, called Statway, but with the nagging concern that she’d soon hit a wall — just like in high school.

But that didn’t happen.

“In the first quarter, I realized there isn’t something wrong with me,” DeYoung said. “I just needed a different approach.”

Seattle Central is one of 19 colleges nationally using Statway, which was developed by the Carnegie Foundation. (The foundation has also developed a program called Quantway that uses math skills to solve real-world problems.)

It’s one of the programs highlighted in a new math strategic plan that calls for all of Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges to find new, innovative ways to approach math.

“For too many students, the pre-college math experience at community and technical colleges has been frustration and failure,” the plan notes.

The beginnings of that plan reach back to 2009, when the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges began its latest round of puzzling over how to help more students pass.

In the plan, the State Board encourages colleges to find ways to accelerate a student’s path through math. As a result, some are allowing students to take both pre-college math and college-level math in the same quarter. Others, like Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, offer math that doesn’t follow a rigid schedule — students do as much math as they can complete in a quarter’s time.

The vexing issue of students getting stuck in remedial math is not new. It’s long been recognized as a problem, but one without a clear solution. Now colleges have models to try.

So far, 14 schools in Washington have made learn-at-your-own-pace math widely available to students. Statway is offered at another three.

Last winter, more than four times as many students signed up for Big Bend’s learn-at-your-own-pace math classes, called “emporium math,” as traditionally taught and online-only courses.

Statway folds remedial math and one-quarter of college math into a three-quarter series, which satisfies the requirement that students pass one quarter of college math to graduate. In Statway, students study statistics used in everyday life — in polls and studies, for example — and learn how to analyze data and make inferences.

It is, simply, “the best math for citizens,” said Seattle Central Statway instructor Paul Verschueren.

Verschueren believes students often struggle with high school algebra because they’re taught to memorize formulas. And while that’s efficient in the short term, he said, students don’t develop an understanding of the underlying concepts. Statway, in contrast, aims to build math intuition.

“People don’t understand how malleable numbers are,” he said. “We have petrified students who are always afraid of the wrong move.”

One other possible advantage: Statway students stay together through all three quarters, and over those nine months, students get to know each other and their instructor, which helps their confidence and makes it easier to lean on one another for help.

“It’s more like real-life math,” said Seattle Central student Shayla Martin, 34, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral sciences. “It’s the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘interesting’ to describe a math class.”

Should Statway count as a math credit? All of the state’s public four-year universities accept it, including the University of Washington. But the UW is doing so on a three-year trial basis.

Janice DeCosmo, a UW associate dean who has a leading role in deciding which community-college courses are transferable for UW credit, calls Statway “a very engaging curriculum,” but warns that it can limit students’ career choices because it doesn’t prepare them to take calculus.

To be accepted as a freshman or transfer student at the UW, all students must have intermediate algebra or its equivalent on their transcripts. That’s because many non-math courses — in sociology, geology and other sciences — depend on an understanding of algebra. The version of Statway offered in Washington’s community colleges includes extra lessons in algebra, which is why the UW accepts it as a transfer credit. (Along with Seattle Central, Statway is also offered at South Seattle and Tacoma community colleges.)

Even some Statway instructors say the class — while important — isn’t really a math class. Seattle Central instructor Bryan Johns, for example, thinks of the course as a logic and communications class because the math involved is so basic.

But it’s clearly helping students get beyond remedial math, and on to credit-bearing courses.

The first year Statway was offered at Seattle Central, 58 percent of students passed the three-class series. By the third year, 84 percent of students passed. By comparison, only between 11 and 15 percent of students who need to take remedial classes ever finish those courses, and complete one quarter of college math by the end of one year.

While Statway re-imagines what it means to be math literate, the emporium program at Big Bend Community College is rethinking the way math is taught.

The Moses Lake college still offers traditional courses made up of three pre-college algebra classes — introduction to algebra, and algebra I and II.

But it is having more success when students take those classes using videos and computers.

In emporium math, topics have been chopped up into mini-lessons, and delivered through short videos recorded by Big Bend instructors. Students watch the videos, then test their understanding, entering answers in a computer program that gives them immediate feedback.

In the computer lab one day in July, about 20 students worked in front of monitors as classical music played softly in the background. Some wore headphones to watch a video, and others used calculators and scratch pads to work out math problems.

When they got stuck, they raised their hands, and one of the tutors circling the room came to help.

Math instructor Michele Sherwood sat at the instructor’s desk, waiting for students to come to her with completed math tests — the tests are a key to moving to a next level. Sherwood walked students through problems they answered incorrectly.

“I don’t know what happened here,” one student told her, pointing to a wrong answer.

“Oh, I see what you did,” Sherwood said. “This is supposed to be 10.”

Big Bend made emporium math part of the curriculum in 2014. By winter quarter 2015, between 61 and 69 percent of students taking math the emporium way received at least a C or higher in the three algebra classes offered. That was generally better than students taking a traditional or online class, although the emporium method did not perform quite as well with algebra I students, who did better in a traditional setting.

Students also can work at an accelerated pace, and often complete two quarters’ worth of math in one quarter, said Sarah Adams, the instructor who oversees Big Bend’s emporium program. That saves them about $500, since they only pay for five credits each quarter, regardless of how much math they finish.

The emporium model was pioneered at Virginia Tech University in 1997, at an off-campus shopping mall (hence the name “emporium”) equipped with hundreds of computers and dozens of roving tutors. Along with 14 schools in Washington state, a number of other schools around the country now use it, at both the two- and four-year level.

At Big Bend, instructors have created their own lessons rather than using a commercial set that Adams said “is super expensive and wasn’t going to exactly cover what we wanted them to learn.”

Emporium math has been an ideal solution for Big Bend student Mari Chastain, who often floundered in high school because she has dyslexia — a learning disability that causes numbers to reverse themselves on the page. With emporium math, she can go as slowly as she needs.

The program attracts strong math students as well. Kayla Brown, a student who’s working on her nursing degree, flew through algebra, and still had time to slow down for the few concepts that stumped her.

Another student — a mom with six children — reportedly blazed through the work on her smartphone, mostly at night at home.

And with more students getting through remedial classes and beyond, higher-level math classes are filling up, too, along with classes that demand strong math skills.

This fall, Big Bend’s engineering class is full. And for the first time ever, there’s a waiting list for calculus.
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(Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to some of the most persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network, a New York-based nonprofit that works to spread the practice of solutions-oriented journalism. Education Lab is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Photo: Student tutor Angie Foster, right, helps student Krystal Huffman with a math problem at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Wash., which offers learn-at-your-own-pace math classes, called “emporium math.” (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times/TNS)

Community College Students Learn Math By Using It

By Katherine Long, The Seattle Times (TNS)

SEATTLE — The grinding sound of metal on metal filtered through the walls of Chris Lindberg’s math class at Shoreline Community College, but his students had no trouble tuning out the noise.

“We’ve got a ten-inch-diameter grinding wheel, and it’s turning at 1,910 revolutions per minute,” Lindberg said, jotting the numbers on a whiteboard. “What is the surface speed?”

The six students clicked away on their calculators to solve this fairly basic algebra problem, similar to the kind covered in high school classes.

But this is no ordinary algebra class.

In the most-copied idea to come out of Washington’s community college system, these students are learning basic math without having to take months — or years — of basic-skills classes for which they would earn no college credit.

Instead, they were catching up and earning credit at the same time, working toward a credential that can lead to jobs that pay between $15 and $35 an hour.

They also were learning algebra they will use — not years from now, but right away, when they go into the noisy shop next door, setting up complex lathes and milling machines, each the size of a small SUV.

Ten years ago, a handful of Washington community colleges piloted this approach as a way to boost the dismally high number of students who then were leaving before earning a credential, or even a single college credit. Called I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training), the program has been so successful that it’s now used at all 34 of Washington’s community and technical colleges, and has been copied by colleges in 29 other states.

I-BEST students are nine times as likely to earn a workforce credential as students who follow the traditional path of taking remedial classes first.

Even students like 25-year-old Troy Briones, who, by his own account, struggled in high school with fractions and other basic math concepts.

After a stint as an Army field artilleryman, the 25-year-old is back in Washington, training to be a skilled machinist, a high-demand job that can pay up to $35 an hour.

“Math is everything in machining,” he said. “I didn’t really know it, until a couple weeks into it — everything is math-related.

“The best part of the program is it’s very hands-on. As soon as the lecture ends, you go straight into the lab and try it…the instructors are with you every step of the way.”

A large percentage of students must take remedial classes in community college, which is one reason so few students complete degrees or career credentials. Washington state’s colleges, however, have developed a much better way to help students catch up and complete their programs.
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I-BEST’S KEY COMPONENTS

  • Students learn basic skills as part of vocational or academic classes for which they earn college credit.
  • Two instructors teach each class.
  • Basic skills such as math or writing are taught in the context of how they’ll be used on the job.
  • There’s a clear pathway that shows which classes to take next, helping students efficiently complete a credential or work toward a degree that leads to a job.
  • Students are grouped in cohorts, so they can learn from one another.

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Nearly 60 percent of students who enter community colleges aren’t prepared to take college-level vocational or academic classes right off the bat. And the failure rate is stunningly high: Only about a quarter of those students earn a degree in eight years.

That’s true nationwide as well as in Washington, and it’s not because the students flunk out.

At most community colleges, students who don’t do well on placement tests must take pre-college classes in their weak subject — math, writing, or reading. These classes can feel like a repeat of high school, and they can greatly extend the time and money it takes to finish a vocational or academic degree. Some students get discouraged or spend so much money on the remedial classes that they don’t have enough left to finish a credential.

Math is by far the biggest problem area, with more than half of Washington community college students required to take remedial courses in that subject. But they often don’t need an entire course of high school math; they’re just weak in some areas.

With I-BEST, basic math and writing skills are taught alongside technical skills, usually in the same classroom. The program pairs a basic-skills teacher like Lindberg with a subject expert, such as Keith Smith, the machining program instructor at Shoreline. The I-BEST approach is being used in academic transfer classes, too, for students working on associate or bachelor’s degrees.

Because it uses two instructors instead of one, I-BEST costs the community colleges almost twice as much as a conventional class. The college bears the extra expense, not the student.

But a national study showed that I-BEST programs produce long-term economic benefits that outweigh the added costs. And a state study suggested that I-BEST benefits the entire state because the graduates get better jobs, paying more in taxes over a lifetime.

The arrangement helps students like Briones who have struggled with math, as well as older ones such as Karen Luckmann, who was good at math in her 20s and almost decided to major in the subject as an undergraduate at Central Washington University.

But Luckmann is 53 now and starting a second career after she was laid off from Boeing last year. She hasn’t done algebra or calculus in decades, and she never took trigonometry — all skills she will need to become a precision machinist.

“If you don’t use it, you don’t apply it, it doesn’t stay with you,” she said.
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The beginning of I-BEST dates back to 2005, when educators with the State Board for Community and Technical College (SBCTC) became increasingly worried about the baby boom generation of skilled workers who were starting to retire.

A lot of young people were going to need advanced training to fill those jobs, and while they were enrolling in community college career programs, the completion rate was abysmally low.

“The truth was, our two-year system was hemorrhaging students with high school diplomas, or less, at a pretty alarming rate,” said Jon Kerr, the board’s director of adult basic education.

The staff began drilling into its data to try to figure out how the colleges could be more effective. One of the things it learned: Students who were assigned to basic education courses (scoring at tenth-grade level or below on a placement test) or developmental education (scoring at 11th- or 12th-grade level) were highly unlikely to ever get a credential.

They knew that a large chunk of their students — 40 percent — were working adults, and more than a quarter were raising children.

But they hadn’t fully appreciated that students who enrolled in basic-skills classes viewed those classes as a means to an end. “Their real goal was job skills to get a better job,” said Jan Yoshiwara, deputy executive director of education for the state board.

That was a big “aha” moment, she said. And that was when the colleges decided to experiment with weaving basic skills into career classes, so students could take the classes they really wanted from the start.

The state’s community college leaders also knew, through their research, that students who completed at least a year of college-level classes and earned a credential saw the biggest bump in earnings. They wanted to help more of them over that tipping point.

To see what would work best, a handful of community colleges launched pilot programs in 2004-2005, which showed they were right — teaching basic skills in context improved learning retention. It makes sense: When algebra for machinists is taught just before the students work on a metal-cutting project, they immediately apply what they’ve just learned, reinforcing it.

The pilot projects also showed that colleges could often accelerate the speed at which remedial math and writing are taught, just filling the gaps in students’ skills rather than requiring them to repeat whole classes.

Kerr also has interviewed hundreds of I-BEST students in his role as I-BEST director and dean at three different state colleges. Many said I-BEST was the first time their teachers had made a direct connection between academic work and job skills.

In addition, many I-BEST programs — and increasingly other community college programs — are providing a clearer path for students to earn a certificate or degree.

In the I-BEST machinist program, for example, students know that they can earn a basic manufacturing certificate in one quarter, preparing them for an entry-level job, or they can keep going for two quarters, or up to two years, adding skills as they go to earn an associate in applied arts and sciences.

“It all starts with one principle: Start with the end in mind,” said Davis Jenkins, senior research associate with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“If it’s a job, ask what are the competencies you need,” Jenkins said. “And create a clear path and map, and track their progress.”

Jenkins worries, though, that the higher cost of I-BEST has made it into a boutique program, not something that can be replicated on a large scale. Just 3,400 students in Washington participated in I-BEST last year; the community colleges have a head count of 400,000 students.

However, Jenkins believes many of its innovations can be woven into traditional programs for a lesser cost, by redesigning programs into career pathways and teaching math and writing in the context of the field the student is studying.

The lessons college administrators have learned from I-BEST’s success have influenced the way they structure other programs, including academic courses for students working on associate or bachelor’s degrees. And I-BEST has influenced the development of a new plan to change the way math is taught in Washington’s community colleges, one that would create career pathways for students and offer different kinds of math for different careers.
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I-BEST isn’t just about math. It also helps students who need to boost writing or reading skills. Renton Technical College’s anesthesia-tech program is a good example, using I-BEST practices to help students learn the vocabulary and other skills they need to aid anesthesiologists in the operating room.

It’s a small, very popular program, and no cakewalk.

Students must learn the special language of medicine, rooted in Latin and ancient Greek. They must understand complex medical procedures, and be ready to hand over the appropriate medical equipment to an anesthesiologist at the right time during an operation. They must know medicines and ratios so that they can question a dosage if it seems wrong.

Many of the students who enroll have no medical background. This year’s class includes a former blackjack dealer, a flight attendant, a corrections officer, and several Army veterans.

That’s why instructor Gary West wanted his course to become an I-BEST program. That way, he is team-teaching with Shokouh Pardakhtim, a basic-skills instructor who majored in math at the University of Washington.

While West teaches the procedure for inserting a central venous line with his quick wit and dry sense of humor, Pardakhtim is the quiet partner, helping students figure out drug regimes and formulas, work that involves multiplying fractions and understanding ratios. She also assists students with dense medical terminology.

Renton Tech was one of the original community colleges to participate in the I-BEST pilot. Now, the I-BEST approach is suffused throughout the entire school and helped it become recognized as one of the nation’s top community colleges this year.

At Renton Tech, about 82 percent of I-BEST students either completed a certificate or returned for another quarter of instruction in 2012-13. That’s far better than the non-I-BEST rate, which is 68 percent.

But it’s also typical of I-BEST across the state. In Shoreline’s manufacturing program, for example, 87 percent of I-BEST students completed a certificate or returned for another quarter — compared with 75 percent of non-I-BEST students.

Smith, the machinist instructor at Shoreline, is sold on the value of I-BEST — the application of skills, the support, the approach to teaching. He believes too many students falter at math in high school because the work is too theoretical.

With I-BEST, he said, “rarely does a student go through this program and not succeed at math.”

Photo: Mike Siegel via Seattle Times/TNS

Justice Sotomayor Shares Supreme Life Lessons

By Katherine Long, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Saying she was reluctant to give advice to 20-somethings because they probably wouldn’t listen, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered it anyway to a packed crowd of 1,200 at the University of Washington last week.

Candid and funny, Sotomayor talked about how hard it can be to arrive at a decision as a court justice, hinted at her distaste for the way money drives politics, agreed that the Supreme Court is probably still “the most moral institution” of government and offered advice about dealing with prejudice and stereotypes.

When she was done, she waded into the crowd and posed for photos with groups of grinning students, although she acknowledged that doing so would probably drive her security officers crazy.

Her appearance at the university’s Husky Union Building ballroom March 10 was part of a book tour for “My Beloved World,” her 2010 autobiography about growing up in the Bronx, the daughter of poor immigrant Puerto Rican parents. She was scheduled to speak later in the evening at Town Hall Seattle.

University of Washington Provost Ana Mari Cauce asked the questions, which had been submitted earlier by students. Sotomayor surprised the audience by asking each questioner to stand up and be recognized before she gave her answer, making the interview seem less formal and more personal.

Dressed in a crimson jacket, cream-colored blouse and black skirt, Sotomayor was hobbling a little from what she described as a knee injury.

She told students to sample lots of different fields, but to settle on the work they found most meaningful.

“The work you do the best is the work you love,” she said. “The greatest contribution you can make is figuring out what you think is important to you, what kind of work will satisfy you, what kind of work will make you feel meaningful, what kind of work will make a contribution to improving something that you think is significant.”

She told students to develop a community of good friends but also seek out people from different backgrounds and take classes in unfamiliar subjects.

Sotomayor said she regretted not asking more questions of her college friends while she was still in school, which would have helped her understand more about their lives.

One student asked what barriers still needed to be broken to improve the representation of women and minorities in government.

“Money,” Sotomayor said to laughter. “No, seriously. Look at what’s happening in politics. What’s talking the loudest is money.” For more minorities and women to gain more of a foothold in government decisions, “we’re going to have to work the political system at the highest level,” she said.

The first Latina to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Sotomayor talked of the hurt she felt during her confirmation hearings, when skeptics questioned whether she was smart enough to be a Supreme Court justice. And she also described an incident from her childhood, when the father of one of her friends used a racial epithet to describe Puerto Ricans while she was in the room.

“I don’t let others judge me — I judge me,” Sotomayor said.

Of the others, she said, “frankly, to hell with them.”

Sotomayor told the students that it was important to “find someone in your life who unconditionally loves you,” and that her grandmother was that person. “What gave me my drive is my mother,” she added.

What are you optimistic about? one student wanted to know. Said Sotomayor: “I’m very optimistic about the power of minorities to change the dialogue in this country.”

At the end of the talk, Sotomayor offered to pose for group pictures with students, prompting Cauce to say, “You really are Sonia from the Bronx.”

Photo: Commonwealth.club via Flickr