stephanie jones

Archive for the ‘Education Policy’ Category

Are Georgia Families Opting Out of Tests in 2014?

In communities, democracy, Education Policy, families, high-stakes tests, Standing up for Kids on February 28, 2014 at 3:25 am

My blog Stop the CRCT Madness is starting to get some hits again even though I never add any content to it. Everything has already been said about the insanity of the testing regime, the billions of dollars poured into corporate pockets every year as a result, the shrinking budgets for teachers and students and what really matters to them, and the inhumanity of the conditions of schools where nothing really matters except for the test scores.

It’s very quiet over there on that blog all year long, but when testing season emerges the comments emerge as well. These are likely from parents in Georgia desperately googling and trying to figure out how they can act against this testing machine. But I also get comments from students themselves – usually self-identified middle schoolers – who are desperate and feeling helpless and hopeless about the trap they find themselves in.

My reply to a recent comment:

There is a national “opt-out” movement happening. I’m not aware of any Georgia group doing this, I am well aware of many Georgia families being sick and tired of the hyper-focus on the tests, recess being taken away, Saturday school being mandatory, after-school being mandatory, and summer school being mandatory all in the name of passing some test. Kids are stressed out and anxious, and learning that school is a place where anxiety is normal, and that the only real reason to “learn” something in school is so that you can pass a test at the end of the year.

We are in desperate times and perhaps they are calling for desperate measures. It’s time for an opt-out movement in Georgia.

Check out this website for some opt-out options:
Fair Test – Opting Out

Is there an opt-out group forming in Georgia? Let me know –

Will you and/or your child be a conscientious objector to this war against children and youth? 

We are, indeed, in the midst of a legalized form of abuse – a war being waged in schools all over the country. We have a right to stand up, walk out, opt-out, speak out, object, and refuse to participate.

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Jumping back in with both feet – Who needs rules?

In class-sensitive teaching, communities, creativity, Education Policy, every day stories, institutions, Reggio Inspired Schooling, Standing up for Kids on January 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm

“Kids only get in trouble when they’re bored,” an educator from an elementary school in Auckland, New Zealand says, and kids don’t have time to be bored when they are fully engaged.

“Engagement” and “engaged” are two words we hear a lot in U.S. education reform and practice. But what do they really mean? Whose version of the words do we intend when we use them?

I’m jumping back into the blog after months of wiggling my way into a new research site that is in a community where most kids of all ages have the run of the neighborhood. They run through backyards, crawl in ditches, shoot hoops in the road, jump fences, chase the occasional chicken, run from and with dogs, play soccer in the red clay dirt, and swing as high as they can so their jump off will be more exciting.

The kids in this neighborhood don’t need plastic or wood playgrounds, their whole neighborhood is their playscape, and their imaginations are wide and impressive. Old picnic tables become stages where songs and dances are performed, which may be an activity that “educators” can find some value in. But what about jumping from swings sailing way above our heads?

A research study is underway in New Zealand that challenges the assumptions that guide so many of the “rules” governing children’s and youth’s playtime at schools. Four schools agreed to abandon their rules for the playground and the initial findings are simultaneously fascinating and predictable.

Watch a news report and read an article here about the research and its impact on one school.

Is it possible that adults’ rules create harsher social conditions for kids?

Is it possible that adults’ rules create barriers to full physical and cognitive engagement?

Is it possible that adults’ rules restrict kids’ creativity, imagination, motivation, and – dare I say it – “engagement”?

Sitting outside in the community where I am doing work, I watch a four-year-old boy climb to the top of the wood-and-plastic playground apparatus and I predict that he will slide down the cylinder-shaped slide.

But he doesn’t. And I can see how one adult expectation of how the playground equipment is “supposed” to be used could restrict play – and therefore development. Come to think of it, how fun is it really to continuously, day in and day out, climb up the steps in the same way and slide down the slide in the same way? Even a four-year-old masters the expected use of the playground equipment and boredom starts to set in.

Instead of sliding down, he struggles to pull himself up on top of the cylinder shaped slide, grunting and pushing his small arms to their limit until he manages to get one foot in place and finally the other.

Standing on top of the cylinder slide, arms stretched out to his sides, this young boy has achieved something. He is standing on top of the world looking out over the playground, the swings, the picnic tables, the tree trunk seats, and even the one-story homes that surround the playground.

He smiles.

Then jumps.

I have to admit that my heart skipped a beat and I’m pretty sure my eyes tripled in size and my mouth fell open. Yes, I am questioning and challenging the ways adults restrict children’s bodies (and therefore minds), but I am not immune to the assumptions circulating in a society that is saturated with “safety” mindedness and rules. What if he gets hurt? Should I intervene and stop him? Should I talk to the kids and create a rule about not jumping off the top of the playground equipment?

He lands, hard, and jumps up laughing and smiling and runs to the other side of the playground.

Achievement.

Engagement?

He struggled to make his body do something new, do something he didn’t know for sure he was capable of doing but confident enough to give it a try, and he did it. It wasn’t pretty or graceful or effortless, but it was evidence of motivation, perseverance, risk-taking toward the outer range of ability (determined by him), and success.

Is this not what educators wish children and youth would consistently do?

Being engaged in something isn’t just going through the motions of what was already planned ahead of time. For this young boy, continuing to climb up the steps and slide down the same slide in the same fashion day in and day out and well beyond the time within which he has mastered the activity does not produce “engagement.” When he is faced with having mastered the expected use of the equipment, he makes decisions about whether to abandon the equipment altogether or innovate a use of the equipment that will be more challenging (cognitively and physically – though I don’t see those as separate). Indeed, he figures out a way to challenge himself without the help of well-intended adults who may create a new activity for him that isn’t appropriately engaging. Part of the attraction and motivation of this new task that he has decided to take on may, in fact, be the unpredictability of it, the fact that the outcome isn’t already determined and every step between the beginning and ending laid out in a predictable fashion. He has to depend on himself and his creative use of the materials available to him, not someone else’s plan.

The Auckland school hasn’t entirely abandoned all rules for the playground, but the rules they do create are created in conversation with kids as issues arise. To too many adults such an approach is way too inefficient. Isn’t it easier to just have the rules ahead of time, teach the rules to kids, and then have adults around to surveil the kids and ensure rules are followed?

My response would be that efficiency in the eyes of adults is not equal to a commitment to the development and growth of children and youth. Educators are not supposed to be aiming for efficiency, but for something much more complex and beautiful: the cultivation of young people who are comfortable in their own bodies, confident enough to take risks, imaginative enough to grow beyond themselves, and content with who they are.

This young boy’s accomplishment was met with his own laughter and smiles and running off to continue his journey of mastering new things. He didn’t look to adults or peers for approval, and I’m pretty sure that powerful feeling that so many of us have had throughout our lives of “I can do that” planted a seed of certainty in him that wouldn’t have been possible had there been rules about not jumping off the playground equipment.

My witnessing his work/play also planted a seed of certainty in me that offers a little more comfort in standing back and letting children play in the ways that make them feel good by pushing themselves physically and cognitively. The Auckland school has found that “no rules” on the playground has resulted in a significant decrease in bullying behavior, a significant decrease in kids being in “trouble,” and a significant decrease in the need for adults to be supervising the playground.

“No rules” actually seems like it could be an “efficient” way to rid playgrounds of unbearable taunting and bad behavior.

Perhaps efficiency and engagement could find  a way to live among one another after all.

 

**Thanks to JT for passing along the no rules article and to the Browns for inspiring me to jump back in after a long hiatus from blogging.

Are you opting out of high stakes tests this year?

In Education Policy, high-stakes tests on April 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm

The national opt-out movement is gaining traction, but I have yet to hear from Georgia families who are opting out of high-stakes tests this year.

Check out the national website

And here’s an excerpt from Maureen Downey’s Get Schooled Blog on the topic:

“While Georgia doesn’t have an organized opt-out movement, Robertson said she’s been fielding more queries from Georgia parents. “I had three potential Georgia opt-outs this week. None of them followed through, but I have feeling next year will be a different story,” she said.

The state Department of Education told me that the CRCT is mandatory and there is no opt-out policy, but Robertson contends that parents can simply decline to have their kids take the test, then follow up with a hearing to see that their children get promoted to the next grade based on teacher input and grades.

“What is interesting about Georgia is that this hearing process would become so cumbersome — quite honestly, impossible — if a mass opt-out occurred. In New York, there was one middle school with close to 250 opt-outs,” she said. “Georgia simply couldn’t find the resources and/or time to perform 250 committee hearings for one school. Which, of course, proves the point once again that opt-out places the power in the hands of the parents, if they would recognize this…”

If you are opting out, or considering opting out, I would love to hear from you.

 

Reggio Wish #2 – Ateliers and Aesthetics

In aesthetics, anti-bias teaching, class-sensitive teaching, creativity, critical literacy, Education Policy, literacy, politics, Standing up for Kids on December 4, 2012 at 1:59 am

Ateliers and Aesthetics

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 “When we speak of aesthetics we speak of our bodies. From this point of view we can have a better understanding of what is meant by art. The work of art is to create antennae. Antennae which perceive all that is intolerable, discomforting, hateful and repugnant in the universe that we ourselves have created.” (Vecchi, 2010)

Vecchi writes about the radical move Loris Malaguzzi made when he positioning the atelier – and the atelierista – in Reggio schools. The atelier’s central location also positions it as the lifeblood of a school, a space where all things flow out and flow in. This conception of aesthetics as central to human life and necessary for children’s daily experiences is so different to see in person than the way the arts sometimes get integrated into projects even in some Reggio-inspired schooling and writing in the U.S. Arts-integration is sometimes reduced to making things, painting, drawing, or even a dramatic performance. Rarely do I hear educators articulating the fundamental purpose of aesthetics (or “art” as we usually call it) in education as “creating antennae” for our full bodies to perceive the beautiful and mundane and unjust in the world.

Inviting a non-educator artist to play a central role in curriculum and pedagogy is brilliant. Too often in educator preparation programs, the focus is so narrowly aimed at all the wrong things – controlling bodies (aka classroom management), controlling minds (aka disciplinary knowledge), and controlling futures (aka assessment, labeling, and tracking). A serious commitment to aesthetics and its role in life would mean not only inviting non-educator artists to the table and school, but also immersing future educators in antennae-making through deep and full-bodied engagement with aesthetics.

I wish for children, youth, and teachers to live their daily lives in schools saturated with the sensibilities of artists to make sense of the world, and surrounded by massive amounts of diverse materials through which to make that sense. This would no doubt create problems in the fundamental ideology of U.S. schooling and society, however, where most people believe there is one right answer and one right way – or at least “best practices” – and the ambiguity that comes along with art-making and living through aesthetics would challenge that ideology to its core.

Vecchi writes, “An aesthetic sense is fed by empathy, an intense relationship with things; it does not put things in rigid categories and might, therefore, constitute a problem where excessive certainty and cultural simplification is concerned” (Vecchi, p. 9). We are certainly in a time and place where “excessive certainty” and “cultural simplification” are highly valued, and ambiguity and aesthetics are deeply suspect. How might we individually begin to make ourselves more pliable? If I settle into a body/mind/way of being that embraces ambiguity, uncertainty, and a creative sensibility that cultivates my antennae of the world, what impact would that have on the people with whom I interact every day? What impact will it have on me? On the world? What if children and youth and teachers were encouraged to cultivate such uncertainty? I wish for the collective courage to take such a worthwhile risk.

Reggio Wish #1 – Slow Schooling

In class-sensitive teaching, communities, creativity, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, inquiry, Reggio Inspired Schooling, teacher education on December 2, 2012 at 1:53 am
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Slow Schooling

Five minutes pass, then ten minutes, then twenty.

Thirty.

Forty-five.

Has it really been an hour?

A young girl and boy wander around the schoolyard taking turns experimenting with a camera that offers new and unusual ways of looking and seeing and living in the world.

A close-up of grass, part of a tree, a swing, and a friend provide material for curiosity and wonder and laughter and play.

The two children spend at least an hour on their own. No adult checking on them wondering about their task and whether they’re on it, no expectation that some kind of share out will hold them responsible for an adult mandated lesson they were to put into practice, no interruptions or calls to the carpet or lights flipping on and off or shushes or claps or public celebrations of other children who are doing a different task.

To be in a place of such peace where  children and adults work/play for long periods of uninterrupted times pulled me into the slowness of being, the rhythm of the present, and the quiet of curiosity. To be in a place where time is supplanted as the governor of activity by the meaningful movements of people is really stunning given that I spend so much of my time in educational spaces that are marked by the minute.

When a society (or any sub-culture of a society) becomes so compelled by narratives of efficiency and accountability, it is inevitable that measures of time will begin to rule human lives. And if measures of time begin ruling adult lives, it is inevitable that the same restrictions will soon be forced upon children – perhaps with even more force given the assumptions from most perspectives that children are to be controlled in their stage of only partial humanity.

I am struck by the ease with which children and adults populate the spaces of the Reggio schools. Bodies seemed natural and relaxed. Talk flowed without a sense of urgency. Conversation happened. Wondering, wandering, play, work, and smiles interacted fluidly as if everyone was in a time machine. A time-standing-still machine.

What long-term effect would a commitment to a slow school movement have on the quality of children’s, youth’s, and adults’ lives? If a school is not governed by time passing, but instead governed by the present and tending to our joys, curiosities, needs, and togetherness, what would happen in that school? How would we recognize it?

With the U.S. policymakers and education reformers persuaded by “time on task” and “preparation” for a hypothetical future of “career and college,” most schools become spaces where fluidity is outside the lexicon. Where present is only here to prepare for the future. Like the grassroots slow food movement that challenges all the efficiencies and speed of fast corporate food and the culture-changing impact it has had on nearly everyone, I wish for a slow school movement that parallels in commitment to the local and present.

I wish for a school movement where two children can wander around for an hour taking photographs of objects and people they find curious, and their explorations won’t be disrupted by clapping hands, flipping lightswitches, teachers calling out, or threats of losing their 10-minute recess for not being on task.

“What Money Can’t Buy”

In class-sensitive teaching, classism, economics and economies, Education Policy, Uncategorized on November 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm

“What Money Can’t Buy”

Have we plunged off the cliff of a market economy and into the unforgiving sea of a market society? This is a terrific interview and I can’t wait to read the book.

Be on the Right Side of History – Vote No on Georgia HB 797

In democracy, discourse, Education Policy, politics on October 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Another essay from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective…

Be On the Right Side of History: Vote No on House Bill 797

An essay by the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective

As Georgia citizens, stakeholders, and voters we sit at a crossroads in deciding the long-term health of our public education system. Opening the floodgates to for-profit charter schools across the state of Georgia will have devastating long-term effects on our state’s public education. Vote No on House Bill 797 this November, but don’t do it because we want you to. Vote No because you know the facts.

Some Facts

Voting No will not change the authority of local school districts and the state to approve charter schools. Charter schools will still exist, and they will still be approved. If passed, the constitutional amendment will shift more authority to the state for approval with strings attached to state funds that will flow to those charter schools when we aren’t even fully funding our existing public schools.

On May 3, 2012, the Governor Deal signed a bill that will restore the state’s power to approve and finance charter schools without local school district approval. The legislation, however, needs voter approval in November because this bill – HB 797 – is a constitutional amendment.

The governor signed the bill at Cherokee Charter Academy, in Canton, Georgia, a school that received in excess of $1,000,000 in state funds as start-up capital. That is a million dollars just to get started, in an era of austerity when public schools are forced to furlough and lay-off teachers, shorten the school year calendar, and cut crucial support for media centers and the arts. If our state can’t afford to fully fund our public schools right now, why would we invite for-profit charters in and promise them dollars we don’t have? This, alone, should cause an eyebrow or two to be raised.

Without the approval of local districts, Georgia will open its educational system to a stampede of charter school corporations and real estate brokers who see this bill as a cash cow. These out-of-state corporations are funneling dollars into Georgia right now to get this amendment passed, and if we pass the amendment, we will funnel those dollars and many more right back into their corporate pockets.

How well do charter schools perform?

Most charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and according to research most students would be better off going to public schools.

Why would politicians be willing to “sell off” our public good – state education – and turn it over to other interests? Michael Klonsky claims that powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over charter schools, and more teacher evaluations tied directly to student test scores. These moves by the Georgia legislature will result in the overall weakening of Georgia Public Schools. Pushing professional educators to the sidelines and moving corporate interests into public education is a huge mistake.

Corporate interests?

Yes, behind this move to make it easier to establish charter schools is the existence of for-profit charter school organizations that are ready to move in and use state and local funds to manage charter schools. In some states, new charter schools receive start up funds at a time when public schools are having to furlough teachers and administrators and cut jobs and services just to meet the budget.

According to a report by Dick Yarbrough, charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling. He wonders why, with the Georgia Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, the Georgia legislature is so bent on changing the State Constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that doing so is unconstitutional – which is why we are now faced with a vote that would change the constitution.

Charter schools in other states do not compete favorably with traditional public schools. Why this big push for more charter schools?

Answer: For-profit charter networks

As Yarbrough reported, the Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that it is nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing industries in Florida. According to the newspaper report, charter school industry is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

In Florida, management companies run almost two-thirds of charters. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school. On top of such fees, these management companies frequently own the land and/or the buildings where the school is housed, and charge either the state or the local school system rent.

Would the state use taxpayers’ dollars to fund McDonald’s?

Let’s think about this in terms we might better understand given our limited experience with for-profit schooling: Imagine McDonald’s receiving money from the state to build its restaurants and open the doors; after its restaurants are built the state gives McDonald’s money for every customer that walks in the door; then state money has to go to pay the annual fee to McDonald’s to pay for its accounting and human resources management; and since McDonald’s owns the land or the building where the restaurant is housed, it charges the state rent.

What if the result of this kind of business model? McDonald’s (or the privately owned and run charter school) accumulates more and more money from taxpayers, leaving them with a good they can no longer call their own and no longer have control over. Would we ever put up with McDonald’s siphoning off taxpayer dollars to this extent? Would we amend the constitution to allow this to happen at the state level with no local approval?

No.

Vote No on the Charter Bill Legislation in November and tell Georgia Legislators that we don’t want to end up like Florida. Tell them we don’t want the locus of control of public school districts outside of local elected school boards, and placed in the hands of for-profit charter schools run by corporations that don’t understand or care about local needs.

Our political leaders have turned what started out as a good idea—the creation of charter schools to meet particular local needs—into a political battleground where money takes precedent over education. Lurking in the fringes of this battleground are corporations that see public education as a new market in which to make bets and money – on the backs of our Georgia children and youth.

Be on the right side of history in November, and on the right side of our children and their futures. Vote No on House Bill 797.

How and why do we learn to write?

In creativity, critical literacy, Education Policy on October 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Now that the Common Core Standards includes writing, people all over the country are scurrying around to knock down the cobwebs of good writing instruction from years past in an effort to be in compliance with new requirements. Of course we should have been focusing on writing in schools all along during the torturous decade when phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (sponsored by The National Reading Panel and No Child Left Behind) high-jacked literacy in every school across America.

All good educators knew the policies of NCLB and the practices of the NRP were too narrow and potentially disastrous. But it is the rare school (and school leader) where one can find a persistent push through the BS mandates passed by legislators and accompanied by pendulum swings and money-making products. Writing instruction managed to maintain a central role in some schools, hanging on by a thread and endangered by any drop in test scores, but in others it was pushed aside without another thought.

The good news is that writing has been deemed important again by the all powerful legislators. The bad news is that educators, children, and youth all over the country are caught up in another swirling whirlwind of curricular and instructional changes as the Common Core is “rolled out” across states, districts, and individual schools.

What I’m most worried about, however, is that old debates about how and why writing should be taught will re-emerge and distract us from the important work of figuring out what kids already do and know, and build on that foundation to make them the most capable writers possible who can shift between critical essays, engaging fiction, compelling expository texts, persuasive pieces, and writing that is used for many different personal purposes.

I’m worried that writing “to” the standards will result in standardized writing – the boring formulaic, disengaged writing that no one wants to read. Enough to meet the minimum requirements, and not enough to compel anyone to read.

I’m worried that we will forget why people want to write to begin with, and that motivation for grades or rubric scores will trump the real-life motivations for writing that students always have: teaching others what they know, telling others about their perspective, communicating with and about the broader world, and exploring their personal experiences and social analysis through creative modes that make living more fulfilling.

I’m worried that, once again, the “audience” for student writing will be the teacher with the rubric and the (not red) ink pen that gets the final word.

I’m worried that writing will be simplified: conventions over creativity; or creativity over conventions; or formulaic writing over free-writes; or, or, or, or.

Writing is broad and deep and complex and multilayered. Writing is about spelling and grammar and punctuation and creative selection of words and use of metaphor and analogy and symbolism; writing is about taking a stand, writing on the bias, research and inquiry, making things matter; writing is about personal exploration and political analysis and personal communication and crafting public policy; writing is all these things and more – and that cannot fit in a standard, in one approach, in one series of lessons, or in one program.

If we make students, their interests and their voices matter in schools, then we can open up the gates of motivation for writing. And we will have to teach them everything just as we will have to be willing to learn from them as they show us some tricks and techniques of their own.

If we make the desires of “future employers” the focus of our work rather than the students in front of us, we will fail from the beginning.

 

Creativity is Not the Enemy of Good Writing

In Education Policy, language, literacy on October 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Thanks to The Atlantic for publishing this essay I co-authored with Bob Fecho:

Creativity Is Not the Enemy of Good Writing

1 OCT 1 2012, 9:45 AM ET 7

Parasites were the subject of inquiry on a recent broadcast of Radiolab, a National Public Radio science show. Prior to hearing this broadcast, Bob, like most of us, was given to depicting parasites in cold, harsh terms. They were ugly and repellant organisms that lived off the nutrients of others. They conjured up images of the leeches covering Humphrey Bogart’s body in The African Queen and, as the Radiolab broadcast suggested in its opening sequence, the alien that emerged from the chest of the space crew of that eponymous movie.

However by the end of the broadcast, Bob had a revelation: the relationship between humans and parasites is far more complex than he had ever imagined or his high school science teacher ever let on. Among several enlightening aspects, the show dealt with the finding that parasites, particularly hookworms, help control hyper inflammatory response in people with allergies. To this end, scientists are experimenting with parasite therapy with fairly positive results.

What does a story on parasites have to do with the administration, teachers, and students of New Dorp High School and their writing instruction as highlighted in “The Writing Revolution” by Peg Tyre? We suspect that Bob’s initial understanding of parasites was based on a rudimentary inquiry into the subject, a reliance on what is often construed as established fact, and a desire to come to a simple, but satisfactory conclusion.

We, Stephanie and Bob, worry that the writing initiative at New Dorp is being viewed with a similar kind of narrow vision, perpetuating the simple and unhelpful dichotomies often construed as established fact in education rather than a deep inquiry into the complexities inherent in teaching and learning.

When positive change occurs in schools, there is a tendency to want to treat the experience like a controlled experiment in a lab, latch on to the latest innovation at that school, and then market it to schools everywhere. In the case of New Dorp, it’s the twin ideas of focusing on expository writing and the direct teaching of language structure. These two ideas are set in opposition to two others in the story: creative expression in writing and writing skills being “caught” (rather than “taught”) in student-centered classrooms.

These dichotomies don’t exist in real classrooms, nor in the theories and practices grounding powerful literacy teaching.

One example is the “structured speaking” highlighted in the article: Students were asked to respond to specific prompts during class discussions (e.g., “I agree/disagree with ____ because…”). However, similar kinds of exchanges can also be heard in student-centered reading and writing workshops, which have long embraced direct teaching of language, reading, and writing (including expository writing). Evidence of such explicit teaching can be found in volumes of books and dozens of binders produced through New York City’s own Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, arguably an epicenter of workshop teaching where it is always assumed that nothing can replace strong teaching and never assumed that writing will simply be “caught” by students.

Beyond our uneasiness with such dichotomies, we believe the key to the revolution at New Dorp is much more powerful and foundational than a particular approach to teaching writing or even an emphasis on language education. Empowering teachers to engage their professional knowledge and intellect and take charge of their teaching and learning is the revelation we see in Tyre’s article.The principal and faculty, Tyre writes, “began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing.”

In other words, instead of looking outside to standards, new materials, high-tech resources, and external experts for the illusory magic writing solution, New Dorp began a research project conducted by their teachers in their own school. In doing so, teachers were positioned as researchers of students and student work in their classrooms. They began a deep inquiry into what students were and were not doing, which became data they used to shape their instruction and tailor it to the needs of their students.

In doing so, perhaps teachers became less interested in assigning blame, which is too often heaped on working-class and poor students who are perceived as having low intelligence and limited capabilities because of their “non-standard” oral English.

This points to a more subtle and insidious threat to teaching and learning in schools like New Dorp: classism. Linguists concerned with issues of social class demonstrated long ago the fallacy of correlating oral language with intelligence, and yet this myth persists and often shapes assumptions educators and others have about working-class and poor students, making them already “known” to be less capable and more culpable for their own failures to succeed.

Learning about both the strengths and struggles of students can help teachers rethink their instruction. By viewing their students as capable learners, it seems New Dorp teachers innovated methods that — with concerted, consistent, and compassionate support — led the students to conceive of themselves as writers, particularly of academic prose. The fact that this initiative was taken on as a school-wide effort impressed upon the students and the teachers that what they were doing was important for learning.

“We teach students, not programs,” a local administrator recently told Stephanie. If we had to guess, it sounds as if New Dorp High School, as portrayed in Tyre’s article, has decided to teach students. Teachers were positioned to use their professional knowledge and experiences to learn about their students, analyze their writing, and be invested in their success.

Despite David Coleman’s despicable charge that “people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think” in the real world — when teachers teach as if they do give a shit about what students feel or think, revolutions like the one at New Dorp take hold. David Coleman is dead wrong about the real world and his advice for teachers is dangerous. Instead, when teachers invest themselves in deep inquiry into their own practice, they gain the intellectual and emotional commitment necessary to teach in ways that are in the best interest of students.

What worries us about most media portrayals of education is the emphasis on results over process. As new teachers enter New Dorp, for example, they might be told to teach this writing “program” without having engaged in the intellectual work of searching for and responding to the most pertinent needs of their student writers.

And it can’t be assumed that the students of New Dorp five years from now will be more or less the same as current students and in need of the same kind of instruction. Nothing, given our globalized and technological world, could be less true. Unless attempts are made to replicate the inquiry process and reassess student needs and teacher instruction, then, if we had to guess, the program won’t be nearly as successful, and a new crisis will emerge that only committed and empowered teachers will be able to solve.

Desperate educational situations all over the country are emerging out of the ashes of more than a decade of policies that forced schools into narrowing their curriculum and teaching to the test. Should we be surprised that students from under-resourced schools haven’t learned to be the strong analytical writers we wish they were? They have spent their entire school careers in the very places where surveillance was the most stringent, teaching the “standards” most scripted, and controlling the pace and content of instruction the most rigid.

Despite such restrictive policies and in the face of harsh criticism from media and politicians infatuated with tests and scores, many teachers in marginalized schools have struggled to hold onto their professionalism and integrity. As a result, and with few exceptions, underprivileged schools have suffered most deeply the consequences of poor state and national policies promoting test preparation as a guise for education.

But a return to more rigid teaching methods is not a way to solve the writing crisis in underprivileged schools. Actually teaching writing will help, and it seems that may begin to happen again after a decade of No Child Left Behind and the emphasis on skills-based reading instruction as a placeholder for literacy writ-large.

Teaching language will also help, though most of us equate language learning to parts of speech and diagramming sentences, which isn’t the kind of language learning we are necessarily talking about. Instead, we argue that helping students inquire into the way language is used for them, against them, and by them will help them to see the written word as something they control rather than it controlling them.

If anything should be replicated from the experience of teachers, administrators, and students at New Dorp High School, it’s the process they used for inquiring into the needs of their students and the cohesive and comprehensive plan they developed for addressing those needs. It is in that complexity, not the misguided adoption of programs from school-to-school, that new and insightful revelations are born.

Teachers and Public Education are Not the Problem – They are the Solution

In democracy, Education Policy, teacher education resources on September 25, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Great piece from PAGE…

By Jim Arnold, Superintendent, Pelham City Schools
Drug abuse education, alcohol abuse education, parenting, character ed, special ed, gender equity, environmental ed, women’s studies, African-American education, school breakfast, school lunch, daily attendance, computer education, multi-cultural ed, ESL (ELL, ESOL), teen pregnancy, Jump Start, Even Start, Head Start, Prime Start, Bright from the Start, Kindergarten, Pre-K, alternative ed, stranger/danger, anti-smoking ed, mandated reporting, CPR training, defibrillator training, anaphylactic shock recognition training, inclusion, internet ed, distance learning, Tech Prep, School to Work, Gifted and Talented, at-risk programs, keyboarding, dropout prevention, gang education, homeless ed, service learning, gun safety, bus safety, bicycle safety, drivers ed, bullying ed, obesity monitoring, BMI (body mass index) monitoring, financial literacy, diabetes monitoring, media literacy, hearing and vision screening, on-line education, CRCT, EOCT, GHSWT, GHSGT phase out, SAT prep, ACT prep, dual enrollment options, post -secondary options, AP, honors, IB, STEM, STEAM, adult ed, career ed, after-school programs, psychological services, RTTT, CCGPS, CCRPI and oh yes – classes……………..shall I go on?

Wonderful ideas all, and each deserving attention – and all have come to be the responsibilities of our schools and teachers.

On top of these (and other duties) we add furlough days, tight budgets, longer school days, larger classes, higher expectations, a political agenda that actively encourages blaming teachers for societal issues, the denigration of public education, market based solutions, teacher evaluations tied to student test scores despite all evidence to the contrary and a continued reliance upon standardized test scores as an accurate depiction of student learning and achievement with no substantive research to support such a position. No wonder teachers are discouraged. No wonder teacher morale is at an all- time low. So in the face of all that and more, is there a silver lining somewhere in that big black thundercloud?

 

Not really.

Add to that burden the daily diatribes blaming teachers for their failure to successfully raise and, almost as anin loco parentis afterthought, educate our country’s children and we begin to see the need for something to replace our outdated, shopworn, hideously corrupt, inefficient and failing system of public education. Hold on just a second…can that be right?

 

Is this a new phenomenon? Has public education deteriorated over the past 30 years or so to its current level, where the Mariana Trench seems a high point by comparison? Not by any stretch of a politician’s fertile imagination. In 1996 E. D. Hirsch called for a return to a traditional approach to public education in “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.”

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” told us of the apparent failure of our system of public education. The Educational Testing Service discovered in 1976 that college freshmen could correctly answer only half of 40 or so multiple choice questions. In 1969, the chancellor of New York schools, Harvey Scribner, said that for every student schools educated there was another that was “scarred as a result of his school experience.”

 

Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and, in 1959. LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”

In 1955, “Why Johnny Can’t Read” became a bestseller, and, in 1942 ,the New York Times noted only 6 percent of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75 percent did not know who was president during the Civil War.

 

The U.S. Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60 percent of the high school graduates failed. In 1889, the top 3 percent of U.S .high school students went to college, and 84 percent of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen. The list continues.

You see the harrowing cry “public education is failing” is not new. Sixty years ago, for the majority of the population in the United States, it was true. The reiteration of that cry in temporal terms does not, however, make it so. “To fall short; to be unsuccessful,” says Webster.

 

If 100 percent success is the only acceptable goal, mea culpa. If progress toward that goal is to be a consideration, then perhaps this data from the U.S. Census Bureau casts a new light upon that supposed “failure.”

While there most certainly are individual schools or systems with serious issues, to proclaim the entire system of public education as failing would seem to make as much sense as trading in your car because a tire went flat. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a significant portion of our Legislature wants us to believe public education is a massive failure because they have something to gain from doing so.

 

I find it more than a little interesting that many of the same group of Georgia legislators who attempt to add significantly to the burden of public school teachers through legislative micromanagement, unfunded mandates and financial underfunding are also among the most vociferous supporters of the Constitutional amendment on charter schools. It would be easier for me to believe their efforts were altruistically based and less motivated by selfish considerations were their children enrolled in public schools.

 

Politicians have never let the truth stand in the way of getting what they want. The Legislature’s insistence on accountability for everyone except themselves would be laughable if the consequences were not so severe for students, teachers and schools working diligently every day to overcome the effects of poverty. They have proposed, through the constitutional amendment, a process that would dismantle the system that offers hope for many in the name of using public money to pay for the education of the privileged few as if public schools and students were only there to allow someone the opportunity to make a gigantic profit. The abandonment of public education will only serve to keep those dependent upon public education as a traditional lifeline as uneducated as possible for as long as possible.

See how well “market based” strategies have worked for schools in Florida. (Here is one exampleHere is a list of many more.)

 

Once again, teachers and public education are not the problem, they are the solution. Sooner or later even legislators must see it’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation. Vote smart – vote “NO “on Nov. 6.
 

 

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