Archives for category: Students

This is good news from California. A large group of school districts are suing JUUL Labs from the damage that their vaping products are causing to students.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Anaheim Union High School District Files Suit Against JUUL Labs, Inc. for Creating the E-Cigarette Epidemic that Disrupts District-Wide Education

 

Anaheim, California – January 28, 2020 – Today, the Anaheim Union School District filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, Inc. for the company’s role in cultivating and fostering an e-cigarette epidemic that disrupts the education and learning environment across the District. The suit was filed in the Orange County Superior Court on January 27, 2020 (Case No. 30-2020-01126712-CU-MT-CXC).

Five districts, all members of a consortium of California school districts filing against JUUL, filed on Monday, January 27th, including the following: Rocklin Unified School District, Alcanes Union High School District, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Anaheim Union High School District, and Poway Unified School District. 

Ten more school districts in the consortium had filed prior to January 27th, including the following: Los Angeles Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, Glendale Unified School District, Compton Unified School District, King City Union School District, Ceres Unified School District, Anaheim Elementary School District, Campbell Union High School District, Chico Unified School District, Davis Joint Unified School District, all against JUUL for the same negligence and nuisance claims. Together, the consortium of school districts serve more than 1 million California students. 

The lawsuit seeks injunction and abatement to stop the e-cigarette epidemic, which has severely impacted the school districts by interfering with normal school operations. The District also seeks compensatory damages to provide relief from the district’s financial losses as a result of students being absent from school, coordinating outreach and education programs regarding the health risks of vaping, and enforcement actions – such as vape detectors, video surveillance, and staff to monitor the school’s property in an effort to combat the e-cigarette crisis. 

“We are holding JUUL accountable for its role in affecting our youth, our schools, and families across the country due to irresponsible practices.” said District Superintendent Michael Matsuda, “JUUL has used deceptive practices to market to our students and create a nicotine addiction. They must be held responsible for their actions.”

Since entering the market in 2015, JUUL has dominated the e-cigarette industry and now controls over 70% of the market. Reports found that in 2018, 4.9 million middle and high school students used tobacco products, with 3.6 million of those students using e-cigarettes. From 2017 to 2018, youth e-cigarette users increased by 1.5 million. The lawsuit alleges that growth is largely based on JUUL’s market strategy, which is to target school-age children to ensure the continual growth of their consumer base. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that the 2018 spike in nicotine vaping was the largest for any substance recorded in 44 years. The lawsuits allege that JUUL’s aggressive, strategic marketing and product designs not only created an addiction crisis among youth consumers, but also a widespread burden on school districts. 

Anaheim Union High School District is represented by John P. Fiske and Torri Sherlin of Baron & Budd, P.C. and Brian Panish and Rahul Ravipudi of Panish, Shea, & Boyle, LLP.

About the Anaheim Union High School District

The Anaheim Union High School District serves approximately 30,000 students in the communities of Anaheim, Cypress, Buena Park, La Palma, and Stanton.  For more information about AUHSD visit our website, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

John Bautista

Public Information Officer 

This is a book you will want to read if you are a parent, a teacher, a teacher educator.

Opting Out: The Story of the Parents’ Grassroots Movement to Achieve Whole-Child Schools is an essential addition to your bookshelf.

It was written by Professor David Hursh of the University of Rochester and parents leaders of the New York Opt Out movement Jeanette Deutermann, Lisa Rudley, and Hursh’s graduate students, Zhe Chen and Sarah McGinnis.

Together they explain the origins and development of the one of the most significant parent-led reactions against high-stakes testing and in favor of education that is devoted to the full development of children as healthy and happy human beings. The media liked to present the Opt Out movement as a “union-led” action, but that was always a false narrative. It was created and led by parent activists who volunteered their time and energy to save their children from test centric classrooms and wanted a “whole-child” education that helped their children become eager and engaged learners.

David Hursh has written and lectured about the assault on public education and the dangers of high-stakes testing.

https://www.waikato.ac.nz/wmier/news-events/prof-david-hursh-on-the-takeover-of-public-education

University of Rochester Meliora Address (2013): High-stakes testing and the decline of teaching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIQu2Hh_YkI

Keynote address: New York State as a cautionary tale (2014). New Zealand union of primary teachers and administrators. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW4vZGsLiL4

The parent co-authors are leaders of the New York State Opt Out movement, primarily through their role in New York State Allies for Public Education, which has organized hundreds of thousands of parents to say no to excessive and pointless testing, whose only beneficiaries are the big testing corporations.

The parents of the Opt Out movement are a stellar example of the Resistance that is bringing an end to this current era of child abuse and test-driven miseducation.

I was happy to endorse the book and am pleased now to recommend it to you.

 

 

Liat Olenick was a charter school teacher. Fatima Geidi was a parent of a charter student.

They write in a joint article that proposals by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren should not be controversial. Charter advocates have reacted fiercely against any effort to regulate the privately-run schools. But, say the authors, charters will improve if they are both accountable and transparent, as Sanders and Warren propose.

They write:

 

As a former charter school parent and a former charter school teacher, we support these proposals – and we believe, that if implemented both at the federal level and with a similar approach at the state level, this agenda would actually improve charter schools while also limiting some of the harm they have done to district public schools.

First, a little about our experiences, which are, sadly, far from unique. 

I, Liat, spent my first year teaching at a Brooklyn charter school that was started by non-educators and suffered from extreme turnover in administrators and staff. We had six principals over the course of the first year, and ten teachers either quit or were fired. We also lost special education students because our school wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the services they needed. Instead, they were sent to nearby public schools. Now that I work in a public school in District 14, we experience the reverse process — my school has no choice but to accept the many students pushed out by charter schools when they don’t conform to their rigid academic or behavioral expectations.

I, Fatima, am a single mother whose son was suspended over 30 times by his charter school, Upper West Success Academy, starting in first grade, including for very minor issues, such as walking up the stairs too slowly. He was also denied his mandated special education services, which worsened the situation. The school demanded that I pick him up so frequently in the middle of the day that I was forced to drop out of college myself. When I finally pulled him out of the school, his therapist told me he suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 

Then when my son and I were subsequently interviewed on the PBS Newshour about how he had been treated at the school, Success Academy officials at the network sent copies of his disciplinary files, full of trumped-up charges, to every education reporter they could find and posted it online. Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy CEO, also recounted false stories about his behaviorin her published memoirs. 

Although the US Department of Education eventually found her and the school guilty of violating the federal student privacy law called FERPA more than three years after I filed my initial complaint, Success officials have refused to comply with the law and continue to retaliate in the same way against other parents who dare to speak out against the unfair treatment of their children by releasing their confidential files to reporters. Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department has confirmed that Success Academy has systematically failed to provide students with their mandated special education services, even after having been ordered to do so by hearing officers.

Since my son left Success Academy, he is slowly recovering, and is now doing better in high school, but it took him years to undo the damage he experienced. I have met many other parents whose children suffered similar or worse fates. Success Academy charters are currently facing five different federal education lawsuits for violating student rights, and yet are the fastest growing charter chain in the state of New York, having received more than $60 million in grants from the federal government since 2006 to aid in their expansion and replication.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares his thoughts about what matters most. What matters most for the future is not test scores, yet we have spent an entire generation–now almost two generations of young people who have passed through our schools since 2000–focusing only on test scores. Will we pay a price? Will they?

 

As I left the computer to walk the dog, a thought provoking title jumped off the screen, “2019 NAEP Results Show There’s Something Wrong Going On.” Our neighborhood is gentrifying too much, but the park still offers a wonderful place for cross-generational, cross-cultural conversations about what is going right and wrong. Only our spoiled dogs complain when daily discussions last a long time when recounting the latest Trump assaults on our constitutional democracy.

In contrast to corporate school reformers, who claimed that schools could be the answer to inequities, when a dog walker shared a link about another path to progress, we knew there is no single, silver bullet. We loved the New York Times’ “Dogs Will Fix Our Broken Democracy,” but we knew that the doggies, on their own, can’t teach us “to step outside of our narrowest selves.”

https://www.the74million.org/article/petrilli-2019-naep-results-show-theres-something-wrong-going-on-3-theories-about-what-might-be-happening-in-our-schools-and-beyond/
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/opinion/dogs-democracy.html

The NAEP title also provoked contemplation on the school reform blinders which blocked out conversations about issues outside the school building. For two decades, as test-driven, competition-driven reform treated schools as a sped-up Model T assembly line, school segregation was increased and the curriculum was narrowed. The Billionaires Boys Club undermined instruction about issues outside of the classroom, such as deindustrialization, globalization, the increase of economic inequality, mass migration, climate change, and the decline in a sense of community.

Most inexplicably, schools ignored the moral dilemmas prompted by the digital revolution and we mostly failed to help our kids face its challenges, ranging from the gig economy to social media.

During the entire 21st century, both sides of the school wars have fought off their opponents with their metaphorical right hands, barely able to use our left hands for tackling the problems of poverty and segregation. Sure, the privatizers started this unnecessary battle, but why can’t they accept a truce? Why can’t we focus on the big picture issues that could explain the NAEP decline?

Shouldn’t we also wrestle with the biggest tragedies that are going on, threatening our democracy and our planet, and that contribute to NAEP scores declines?

Imagine my initial rejoicing when I returned from the dog walk to the NAEP story. The author of this appropriately-titled essay focused on what was going on outside the classroom, (as well as the minds of reformers, I would add.) He hypothesized that the Great Recession hurt student performance in two ways, “first, via its devastating impact on fragile families and their young children; and second, through its negative impact on school spending, as many state coffers ran dry.”

The author also noted that “the roaring ’90s led to a huge decrease in ‘supplemental’ child poverty rate … And that could explain much of the NAEP gains we saw in the 2000s, gains that were most dramatic for low-performing children and kids of color.” He then followed the cohorts of students who endured the years from 2009 to 2012 when the unemployment rate was 8 percent. He noted the correlation between the rise and fall of 4th grade scores and the stagnation and decline of 8th grade scores for low-income kids to the unemployment rate and education spending cuts. More affluent students, who didn’t have to face those challenges, continued to show steady gains.

A similar pattern was described in terms of screen time, and the anxiety and isolation it can cause. He notes, “Children from lower-income families spend an average of three and a half hours each day on screen media, … That amount is 40 percent longer than middle-income children (two hours and 25 minutes) and almost double the screen time spent by affluent children (one hour and 50 minutes).” As “screen time for low-income kids has absolutely skyrocketed in recent years,” their reading scores declined.

So, it seems logical that we should help teach children to use, but not be used by the cell phones. Given the massive and rapid economic transformations, that are unnerving adults, we should be preparing children not for worksheets and drill and kill, but for a healthy, productive, meaningful life in the 21st century. Contrary to corporate school reformers’ theory, which fought the legacies of segregation with segregation by choice, and the stress of poverty with the stress of high stakes testing, the logical conclusion would be that poor children need holistic and culturally relevant instruction.

But then the author, called for a “recalibration” including “much more demanding academic standards that were aligned to readiness for college and career.” He would do this by …?

For some reason that I still can’t understand, this author – who often acknowledges the failures of school reform – dug in his heals and called for a return to “the form of the Common Core; much higher-quality and more rigorous assessments, in the form of Smarter Balanced and PARCC and their successors.”

Readers, you probably guessed that the author who twisted himself into a pretzel when so contradicting  himself, was the Fordham Institutes’ Mike Petrilli. And he then called for “tougher tests and accountability systems.”

In other words, corporate reformers like Petrilli do provide at least one valuable feature. They are a great case study in how to present “alt facts.” Fordham et. al start with something we can agree on, something unifying, for instance like our shared,  heart-warming desire to cuddle a kitty. But they always end on a note of survival of the fittest, demanding the defeat of the educational institution that kitty-hating educators defend. Their spin could be featured in a great lesson of how political propaganda is spread on the web!

Seriously, “2019 NAEP Results Show There’s Something Wrong Going On” illustrates the huge opportunity costs of having to fight off reformers when we should have been concentrating on the existential dangers that that our youth face. And a New York Times Magazine special edition that was published the same week offers a horrifying glance at the battle we should have been engaging in.

The Magazine’s “The Internet Didn’t Turn Out the Way We Hoped” is so direct in its warning that its cover features the meanest-looking, ugliest kitty they could photograph. Kevin Roose’s “A Cleaner Internet” is illustrated with a cat embodying the beauty we hoped for, along with three stained kittens. He cites Marc Andreesen who said, “in the future there will be two types of people: ‘people who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.’”

Below are just a few of the special issue’s examples of today’s and tomorrow’s virtual realities that we haven’t educated our kids about. Jamie Lauren Keiles describes the “cursed dynamics on online fandom,” and explains, “Today’s fandom is more like a stateless nation, formed around a shared viewing heritage, but perpetuated through the imaginations and interrelations of those who enjoy and defend it” (It sounds to me that “fandom” also describes corporate reform.)

Yiren Lieu describes the “much more powerful apps” that are “flowering in China,” and concludes, “Whatever it is that takes place when Chinese –style super-app-dom meets the American teenager, it sounds like the future of the internet.”

The article that made me feel sickest was Elizabeth Weil’s “All My Selves Are My Favorite.” It begins with 15-year-old’s “Ninth Grade Makeup Transformation” YouTube video. She used “dozens” of brushes and powders, “bouncing between one shell of identity and the next.” And, “45 minutes later, tender, glittering and shellacked with cosmetics, she was ready for school.”

The teen’s commentary was full of expressions like, “I need to not be annoying, and I’m not doing a good job of that.  … I also look ugly, and I’m really depressed!”

Fortunately, at the end, she at least listened to, even if she didn’t hear, a 23-year old’s wisdom, “I’m like, Oh, this is what happens when someone is raised on the internet.”

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/14/magazine/internet-future-dream.html

Yes, behind the NAEP decline, there is “something wrong.” As John Merrow recently noted, “we have managed to teach our children how NOT to think, and today not even 14% of American 15-year-olds are able to distinguish facts and opinion.”

So, it’s a terrible shame that we educators have been distracted from one of our biggest tasks – helping kids learn how to control their own destinies. A generation of students has attended schools where they have been treated as test scores. Worse, venture philanthropists’ market-driven reforms are just one part of venture capitalists who see humans –  inside and outside of schools –  as data points.

https://themerrowreport.com/2019/12/05/the-national-assessment-of-educational-paralysis-naep/

 

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union adopted the agreement reached with the Mayor that provides significant new benefits for students. This is now known as “Bargaining for the Common Good.”

Chicago Teachers Union

STATEMENT:
For Immediate Release| ctulocal1.org

CONTACT: Chris Geovanis, 312-329-6250, 312-446-4939 (m), ChrisGeovanis@ctulocal1.org

CTU members vote overwhelmingly to accept tentative agreement

New contract includes historic language to cut class sizes, put nurse and social worker in every school.

CHICAGO, Nov. 15, 2019—Chicago Teachers Union members voted today to accept the tentative agreement they won in the wake of their historic eleven day strike.

With eighty percent of schools reporting, members have voted 81 percent yes to ratify the new contract with CPS.

The union won powerful gains for students and their school communities.

Those gains include mandatory class size caps and enforcement, language forcing CPS to comply with special education laws and regulations, sanctuary school protections for immigrant and refugee students, and supports for thousands of homeless students. While today most schools have a nurse barely one day a week, the contract will provide schools with a nurse and a social worker in every school every day. The union also won another freeze on charter expansion, and additional funding for staff that include librarians and counselors, who now must be allowed to serve only as counselors, not recess supervisors, test proctors or substitute teachers.

The contract will also, at last, lift up teaching assistants, school clerks and other paraprofessionals out of poverty.

“This contract is a powerful advance for our city and our movement for real equity and educational justice for our school communities and the children we serve,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey. We live in one of the richest cities in the wealthiest nation in the world, and finally Chicago must start investing in the future of our city—our children.”

Moving forward, the union has put some of CPS’ most harmful and inequitable education policies squarely in its sights—including ending CPS’ discriminatory ‘student-based budgeting’ formula and the district’s racist school ranking system called SQRP. That includes the union’s effort to win passage in Springfield for an elected, representative school board, a bill that the House and Senate leadership have vowed to move this spring and the governor has promised to sign, restoring to Chicagoans the same democratic rights that voters in every other school district in the state possess. The union is also pushing legislation to restore CTU members’ bargaining rights, which were stripped away in 1995 with the imposition of mayoral control over CPS.

“Our contract fight was about the larger movement to shift values and priorities in Chicago,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. “Working class taxpayers in Chicago have paid for skyscrapers that most will never visit—but a school nurse is someone their child in need can see on any day. In a city with immense wealth, corporations have the ability to pay to support the common good.”

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The Chicago Teachers Union represents nearly 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information please visit the CTU website at www.ctunet.com.

Jan Resseger is one of the keenest analysts of the assault on public education today.

In this post, she reviews Andrea Gabor’s excellent article in Harper’s magazine about the privatized district of New Orleans.

She begins:

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in September of 2005, I was serving in the Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination, as the point person tracking and staffing work in UCC congregations to support justice in public education. My job was to help our churches support equal opportunity and access to quality education and to ensure that members of our congregations understood the importance of the First Amendment separation of church and state in public schools.

In the autumn and winter of 2005, our office worked with partners in New Orleans to advocate for policies that would protect New Orleans’ most vulnerable citizens during the hurricane recovery.  Early in the fall of 2005, it wasn’t apparent that the city’s public schools would be affected, but weeks later the state intervened to take over the majority of the schools under a Louisiana law that had been amended to permit the broad takeover. All of the school district’s teachers were put on disaster leave, and on March 24, 2006, all of the school district’s teachers were dismissed or forced to retire.

My job included writing a September, beginning-of-school resource for UCC congregations. Its purpose was to highlight primary challenges to justice in our nation’s public schools. To research the 2016-2017 Message on Public Education, I traveled for a week in July, 2006 to New Orleans to learn what was happening in the public schools of a devastated city. I talked with the Rev. Torin Sanders, a member of the Orleans Parish School Board, sidelined in the state takeover. I spoke for more than an hour with Brenda Mitchell, the president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, which had been rendered—by state fiat—incapable of protecting even long-serving, tenured teachers. I drove past the former Alcee Fortier High School—previously a public neighborhood high school with open admissions—now seized by the state and turned over to Tulane University to become the selective Lusher (charter) High School, which privileged admission for the children of the staff of Tulane and other universities. And I visited Benjamin Franklin High School, formerly a selective magnet high school, and now a selective charter high school.  While charter schools in the rest of the country were required to accept students through non-selective lotteries, in New Orleans, the emergency had created a rationale for exceptions that created a group of exclusive, selective charter schools.

What I learned during that week was that the majority of public schools in New Orleans—one of the poorest communities in the United States—had been deemed “failing” because of low test scores and that, due to that designation, the state and all sorts of players I did not understand were conducting a disruptive experiment with a new kind of school reform on a group of children whose lives had just been upended in every other possible way.  In October of 2006, Leigh Dingerson, for The Center for Community Change, published a profound resource exploring the same issues.  She called it Dismantling a Community. Later Kristen Buras published Pedagogy, Policy and the Privatized City and other research that helped explain, from the point of view of New Orleans’ teachers and students, what had happened.  But at that time none of us really had the language accurately to characterize what we had watched happening as public education was intentionally collapsed into some kind of experiment.

Naomi Klein helped with the definition in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, in which she described the sudden takeover of the public schools in New Orleans as the defining metaphor for neoliberal economic reform: “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.  Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4… New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired… New Orleans was now, according to the New York Times, ‘the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools’…. I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism.’” (The Shock Doctrine, pp. 5-6)

From this perspective, she reviews Gabor’s recent article.

Audrey Watters is one of the leading voices among those who are concerned about student privacy.

In this post, she notes the growing attention to surveillance of children but observes that some parents are purchasing devices that facilitate surveillance.

Do you want your child to be surveilled by unknown persons and corporations?

State Senator Sam Bell has been concerned about the punitive discipline in the no-excuses Achievement First charter schools, which is primed for a major expansion in Providence.

He toured an Achievement First charter school, and his worst fears were confirmed.

Please read the entire post, which I condensed.

Senator Bell writes:

On Friday, October 18, I toured Achievement First. It was a chilling experience, an experience I’m still processing.

They wouldn’t let me take any pictures or video.

The start time was 7am. I got there at 6:59. I expected a mob of kids rushing to class, but they must have all already gotten there early. I only saw one or two kids, each of them sprinting. Kids, apparently, fear being late so much that they really aren’t late, despite being forced to wake up at what is an ungodly hour for a middle schooler. My guide, though, was late.

As we started the tour, I noticed black and yellow lines taped on the floor of the hallway. The children, my guide informed me, are all required to walk only on these lines. Several times, I saw adults chastising students for not walking on the lines. Quite literally, students were not allowed to set a toe out of line.

The bathroom doors, I noticed, were all propped open. I asked if it was for cleaning. No, I was told, it was so that the kids in the bathrooms could be watched. They didn’t prop open the toilet stalls, but it still struck me as intensely creepy, a twisted invasion of privacy.

In the classrooms, it was constant discipline. The teachers spewed a stream of punishments, and I often couldn’t even see what the students were doing wrong. The students kept losing points or getting yelled at for things like not looking attentive enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a child to be berated constantly, to be forced to never even think of challenging authority. It was, of course, overwhelmingly white teachers berating students of color. (The walls, of course, were plastered with slogans of racial justice.)

The education, if you can call it that, was the most shameless teaching to the test. I was shown what I think was a social studies class, where the children were being drilled to respond to a passage about Rosa Parks like it was a passage on a RICAS ELA test. They were being asked to interpret the passage, not to think critically about what Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott meant for American history and what we can still learn from that act of heroism today.

I was shown another class, where the students were just straight-up practicing to respond to what looked to me exactly like a RICAS short answer question. The teacher went around looking over the kids’ shoulders, basically praising them for checking the boxes of a RICAS grading rubric. (The RICAS grading rubric primarily emphasizes a rigid organizational structure with a single central idea and lots of specific pieces of evidence to support it.) This was far and away the best of the classrooms I saw. It was teaching to the test, yes, but with a teacher who at least showed compassion to the students and focused on building them up instead of tearing them down.

I also saw something they call “IR.” I think it stands for “individual reading,” but I’m not sure. Basically, it was kids sitting quietly and working through exercises in a book. It was the kind of rigid, formulaic make-work that drills kids for taking tests well but does not teach creativity, critical thinking, or passion for learning. It also looked miserable.

Not once did I see a lecture, a group discussion, or a seminar…

And this was what they chose to show me, this was what they showed a critic, this was a hand-picked tour to promote what they do. Although I asked to see one of the computerized teaching classrooms, my guide was unwilling to show me one. I did see posters telling kids to put on their noise-cancelling headphones, open their computer, be quiet, and work through their exercises. To her credit, my guide did basically admit to me that the computerized teaching system was kind of a mess. She said that kids are allowed to opt out of it to do book exercises instead and are no longer forced to wear noise-cancelling headphones if they don’t want to.

I did see several classrooms where the students were taking quizzes on laptops. This of course would be great preparation for taking a computerized standardized test. It struck me how often I saw this, and I wondered how much of the time must have been taken up by practicing taking tests.

Despite the policing of facial expressions, I saw some of the most jarringly sad faces I have seen in a very long time. I remember the look on one young woman’s face. She had been sent out of the classroom. I’m not sure why. I think she was a rebel. She was one of the very few I ever saw not walk on the lines taped into the floor. Her face was contorted into a shockingly intense frown. It almost looked like a caricature of a frown, the sort of frown one might see on an overly dramatic actor on TV but not in real life. My guide saw something different, raving about “faces of joy.”

At one point, rounding a corner, I heard a child scream. I don’t know what was happening, and my guide quickly rushed me away.

What was most missing was social interaction. When were the students supposed to talk to each other? To form meaningful friendships? To flirt and begin exploring romance? And it wasn’t just the lack of small group discussion in the classes or the strict discipline that stopped the students from talking in class. Even in the pep rally I witnessed, the kids weren’t talking to each other. If they tried to, a teacher would appear immediately to discipline them. I saw one kid quickly whisper to another and get away with it once. That was it. Even in the hallway, they weren’t talking. They just marched through the halls on the lines taped into the floor, enduring a stream of rebukes for minor offenses like leaving too large a gap between students.

On a human level, it was hard for me to take. When people tell stories about Providence school tours so bad they are moved to tears, I usually think they’re exaggerating. But I couldn’t stop tearing up at Achievement First, and I had to keep dabbing my eyes with a tissue. Now, I did have the ducts that drain my tears plugged to treat dry eye, so I do cry quite easily. But still….

After what I saw, I can easily see how this approach is great at producing amazing test scores. If you focus solely on test-prep and brutal discipline, yes you will boost test scores. Learning how to do well on a RICAS ELA test is learning how to think the way the test wants you to think. It’s learning not to think different. It’s learning to take the least challenging answer. It’s learning to sit still and robotically churn through boring and pointless questions.

But the human cost is so high. At what point is it worth subjecting kids to such misery? Even if the “achievement” were real learning, would it be worth the misery it takes to achieve it? Putting kids under that kind of stress dramatically increases the risk of lasting mental health damage.

Achievement should not come first. Children should come first.

Achievement First is planning on expanding. They’re asking to open a high school, and now they’re asking for a new elementary school, too. Some politicians, parents, student advocates, teachers, and unions have timidly objected to the funding Achievement First rips away from the already suffering public schools. But for me, the money pales in comparison to the raw human pain. Cruelty towards children is just plain wrong. It’s about people, not numbers in a spreadsheet.

Sometimes, overly mild rhetoric is irresponsible. We have to think carefully about the language we use. Words matter. If we water down Achievement First to a budgetary issue, then the Mayor of Providence will feel justified in letting them expand as long as better charter schools are prevented from opening or expanding in Providence. Instead, we must condemn Achievement First as a fundamentally immoral institution.

Half measures are not enough. No expansion is acceptable. Instead, we must talk about a turnaround plan to revamp and fundamentally reform these schools, returning actual learning to the classrooms, ending cruel discipline, and respecting the human rights of the students. And no turnaround plan will be real, no reforms will be lasting, without replacing the toxic administrators currently in charge with turnaround leaders who have true compassion for the students.

 

 

 

Bob Shepherd, our resident scholar, wrote this insightful comment:

Anyone who has taught high-school kids knows that they are extremely emotionally unstable. It’s a difficult time. It’s the time in which we all struggle with establishing an identity that will be acceptable to/accepted by the others around us. One way in which kids do that is by rebelling against their parents and teachers and older authorities in general. This rebellion can take forms both positive and negative.

On the positive side, many turn to resistance against how older people have messed things up for them–have given them human-caused climate change or dying oceans or Trump and his stupid wall. On the negative side, many turn to destructive behaviors of which older people disapprove–drinking and drugs and petty theft (shoplifting) and dangerous sexual experimentation for which they are not ready physically or emotionally. High-school kids tend to be extreme about everything–extremely idealistic and extremely inclined to go further, in their beliefs about the world, than their actual knowledge and experience rationally allow. They are sensitive and volatile and more than a little bit crazy, like caged tigers.

For a long time, great teachers in the humanities (English, history, art, theatre, music, languages) and in the sciences approached as a humane undertaking were able to harness that youthful idealism, that desire to define themselves as change agents over and against the adult world. In every classroom, there is the overt curriculum and then there are the hidden curricula that get taught incidentally. An extremely important part of the hidden curriculum in those classes in high school was always that a great teacher would use great cultural products from the past to harness that idealism and desire for an identity: “I am a writer, a musician, a linguist, a historian, a biologist, in the making,” the student would learn to say of him or herself. “I am Yolanda the poet.” An English class in which the overt curriculum as, say, study of Slaughterhouse Five, would become one in which, because the class was focused on what authors had to say, the hidden curriculum taught that people do (and rationalize to themselves) really stupid and evil things in war. And the kids would get all fired up about that. One in which the overt curriculum as American literature of the Puritan Era would become one in which the hidden curriculum taught Puritan values like individualism and local government and rebellion against tyranny and the horrors that can occur when people don’t practice acceptance and toleration (e.g., the genocide against the indigenous population in the Americas). And because kids were getting something from it–a sense of their own identity or a purpose or cause to be fired up about, they would learn that learning itself was of value. And what would last and be important from that high-school experience–what would not, perhaps, bear its fruit for years but would, indeed, bear fruit, would be that learning.

Not so now. English class has become all about applying item x from the Gates/Coleman bullet list to text snippet y in preparation for the ALL IMPORTANT test that will determine whether the kid will be acceptable for advancement. Kids have been robbed, by Ed Deform, by this testing mania, of humane education, of the hidden curriculum that taught them, most importantly, to become intrinsically motivated, life-long learners. No one ever got fired up by a set of test prep exercises.

We have an epidemic, now, in the US of high-school kids who are extraordinarily stressed out, who don’t see a future for themselves, who cut themselves and suffer from depression and anorexia, who commit suicide. If you teach in a high-school, you see this all the time, but especially at the end of the year, as testing season approaches. The kids, having been herded and cajoled and threatened all year; having spent a year sitting in class for an hour, getting up and moving for three minutes, sitting in another, and doing this six or seven times a day; now face the very real prospect of failure on invalid, capricious standardized tests, and they are stressed, stressed, stressed and ANGRY. The testing is AN ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN.

An entire generation of students has now been subjected to the standards-and-testing regime. And the results are in. We now KNOW that it has fulfilled NONE of its promises. It hasn’t improved learning outcomes. It hasn’t closed achievement gaps. But it has narrowed and distorted curricula and pedagogy and made our children SICK.

Enough. Standardized testing is a vampire that sucks the lifeblood out of education. Put a stake in it.

 

New Orleans is supposed to be the lodestar of the Corporate Reform Movement (or as I call it, the Disruption Movement), but the experiment in privatization is a costly failure, as Tom Ultican demonstrates in this post.

The old, underfunded school system was corrupt and inefficient. The new one is expensive, inefficient, and ethically corrupt because of its incessant boasting about what are actually very poor results.

Comparisons between the old and new “systems” are dubious at best because Hurricane Katrina dramatically reduced the enrollment from 62,000 to 48,000. As Bruce Baker pointed out in reviewing a recent puff study, concentrated poverty was significantly reduced by the exodus of some of the city’s poorest residents, who resettled elsewhere.

Ultican cites Andrea Gabor’s studies of the New Orleans schools to show that the lingering heritage of segregation and disenfranchisement has been preserved in the new all-charter system. The schools that enroll the most white students have selective admissions and high test scores. The majority of schools are highly segregated and have very low test scores.

Be sure to open this link and scroll down to “Individual School Performance,” where you will see that the majority of charter schools in BOLA perform well below the state average.

Do not look to New Orleans for lessons about school reform. But do admire it as a shining example of propaganda and spin paid for by Bill Gates and other billionaires who don’t like public education, democracy, or local school boards.