Archives for category: Students

Our reader Christine Langhoff writes about the current crisis in public education in Boston:

To use the common idiom, Boston is “woke”!

Parents, teachers and allies of public education protested on a frigid January night outside the mayor’s State of the City address. A few days earlier, 350 teachers, parents and students attended an informational town hall during the evening, as the issues of the hidden McKinsey report were publicly aired. There was another rally on February 17, during school vacation week.

Some 3400 students walked out of their classes on March 7 and went to City Hall and the State House to demonstrate after rallying on Boston Common. Some of them testified at the State House against the lifting of the charter cap. This was a student led and organized protest, which the mayor tried to dismiss with the classic “outside agitators” line. On March 17th, a group of parents, following the students’ lead, demonstrated outside City Hall, demanding the release of the report.

There have been a series of public hearings on the city’s budget, all of which are very well attended. A coalition of parents, educators and students are all on the same side of this argument, and though progress has been slow, we are not discouraged. Up next is walk-in day on May 7.

Much of this is organized on social media. In addition to the parents’ group QUEST, BEJA, Boston Education Justice Alliance http://bostonedjustice.org and the student groups YOUNG and BSAC http://www.youthonboard.org as well as Citizens for Public Schools are working together to keep our schools. The Boston Teachers Union has taken a page from our fellow unionists at the Chicago Teachers Union, allying with and supporting all these groups.

The question that has not been answered is why cuts to the budget, decreasing services to our SWD, and diminishment of offerings for students (closing high school libraries!) is necessary. Boston is in the midst of an unprecedented building and real estate boom; tax receipts are up by $95 million this year alone. (Massachusetts weathered the 2008 catastrophe pretty well.) We’re ranked number one (for what it’s worth) in urban school systems. What pretext is there for closing 30-50 schools? None.

But here’s the scenario we’re up against:

No elected school board, appointed by the mayor (since 1993)

The mayor founded a charter school

The superintendent is a Broadie

More parasites from TFA, TNTP, StudentsFirst are being hired at the school department

86% of our students aren’t white; most of them are poor and nearly half have English as a second language.

The governor wants more charters

The state board of ed is appointed by the governor

The state board is a cabal of privatizers from HGSE, the Pioneer Institute, New Schools Venture Fund

The former PARCC chairman is the state Commissioner

Walton is pouring money into the city

DFER sponsored successful candidates in the most recent election

Boston is a signatory to the Gates CRPE contract

The mayor and superintendent want One Enrollment

It’s an uphill battle and we can’t afford to lose.

Sam Gorman, a junior at Burbank High School, started an opt out movement that was joined by 40% of the students in his class. He demonstrates the power of a single individual to make a difference. I happily add him to this blog’s honor roll for his intelligence and leadership.

“Students began taking state standardized exams in Burbank earlier this month, but about 40% of Burbank High’s junior class chose to opt out of the process, according to Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill.

“There were 269 out of 656 juniors at Burbank High who opted out of taking the exam after getting a parent to sign off on the request.

“For Burbank High student Sam Gorman, the choice to opt out signifies his stance against a test that is based on “big data and redundant standards instead of the acquisition of long-lasting knowledge,” he said in an email.

“He learned he could skip the exam last summer in Switzerland, where he attended a student leader summit hosted by Education First, an international company that runs study-abroad programs.

“Working with progressive education experts like Sir Ken Robinson and Nikhil Goyal helped open my eyes to the exciting possibilities of an educational system that treats students more like the individuals they are and less like the raw data they’ve become,” he said.

“The state exam tests students on California State Standards, which until recently were called Common Core standards.

“The computerized exam made its debut in California two years ago. It replaced the STAR exam, which students took by filling in bubbles on paper tests that asked multiple-choice questions.

“The new computerized exam tests students in math and language arts and is used by educators to gauge high school juniors’ preparedness for college. Students in third through eighth grades are also tested to give educators insight into their grasp of state standards.

“Sam wrote about Common Core testing on his website, YoungchangeBestchange.org, and then in mid-March, he tweeted a link that explained how students could opt out.

“Juniors needed to make the request in a letter, provide a parent’s signature and date, and submit it to their school principal.

“It was around mid-March, still a few weeks before testing began on April 7, when junior Daniel Park was asked by a classmate if he would opt out.

“People everywhere were just asking, ‘Are you opting out?'” he recalled by phone this week.

“Daniel is a college-bound student who is enrolled in five AP classes — U.S. history, English, calculous, psychology and physics.”

Daniel opted out, along with 40% of his class.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, writes about the damage done by trying to standardize what is inherently non-standard: a human being.

 

His solution: Let teachers teach. Encourage them to recognize and magnify individual differences. Standardization doesn’t work for unique human beings, which each of us is.

 

He writes:

 

Perhaps the largest damage to our culture is the countless people who have died with their music still in them because they attended schools devoted to standardizing students. An eighth-grade boy in Farmington composed music for full orchestra, with 29 instruments — brass, woodwinds, percussion and strings — a piece that was so good it was chosen to be played at the State Music Educators Conference. Sadly, he did not go on to become another phenomenal composer like Mozart or Andrew Lloyd Webber, because he had to spend so much time with higher math and other required subjects.

 

What would American culture be like if teachers had been respected and trusted enough to determine the learning needs of each student and help him or her develop unique talents and use them to benefit society? What would have happened if, instead of trying to make students fit a standardized curriculum, teachers had helped students magnify their positive differences?

 

We can get some answers from the only teachers who are now allowed to personalize education: athletics coaches and arts teachers. These teachers see benefit in letting students try out for positions on the athletic team or for a part in the school musical. Coaches understand why sprinters should not be required to throw the shot put, or weightlifters to high jump. Choir teachers understand why high tenors cannot sing the bass part.

 

Let teachers teach, and let every child attain his or her full potential.

 

 

 


Want to end the obsession with standardized testing? Opt your children out of the state tests. Ignore the threats from state and federal officials. The tests today have taken over too much of the school year. Teachers should prepare and give tests that cover what they taught.

 

What if all students opted out of testing? That’s democracy in action. The elected officials who mandate these tests would take notice. They might even discover that no high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year.

 

The tests today are pointless and meaningless.

 

The tests are meaningless because the results are returned months after the test, when the student has a different teacher. The tests are meaningless because the scores provide no information about what the students learned and didn’t learn. The teacher is not allowed to find out what students got wrong.

 

Officials claim that the tests help students and teachers and inform instruction. Balderdash. The tests rank and rate students. Worse, the developers of the Common Core tests selected a passing mark so high that the majority of children are expected to fail. The passing mark is a subjective judgment. What exactly is the value of telling children they are failures when they are in third grade?

 

Schools have cut back on the arts, civics, science, history, and physical education because they are not on the test.

 

The tests are given online because it is supposed to be cheaper. But many states and districts have had technological breakdowns, and the testing period starts all over again. Students who take pencil and paper tests get higher scores than similar children who take online tests. It may be cumbersome to scroll up and down or sideways, wasting time.

 

In some states and districts, children with disabilities are expected to take exactly the same tests as children their age, regardless of the nature of their disability. Florida became famous for trying to force a test on a dying child. He cheated the state by dying before they could test him.

 

When students write essays online, most will be graded by computer. The computer understands sentence length, grammar, and syntax. But the computer does not understand MEANING. A ridiculous essay that is complete gibberish can get a high score.

 

The testing regime is destroying education.It is driven by politicians who think that tests make students smarter and by educrats who fear to think an independent thought.

 

There are two ways to stop this madness. One would be to require legislators and policymakers in the states and federal government to take the tests they mandate and publish their scores. This would prove the value of the tests. Why shouldn’t they all be able to pass the 8th grade math test?

 

Since this is unlikely to happen, the best way to restore common sense to American education is to stop taking the tests. Parents should discuss the issues of testing with their children. Explain to them that the tests can’t measure what matters most:   Kindness, integrity, honesty, responsibility, humor, creativity, wisdom, thoughtfulness.

 

The best and only way to send a message to the politicians is to let your children refuse the tests. Do you really care how their scores compare to those of students in other states? If you want to know how they are doing, ask the teachers who see them every day.

 


The Texas legislature has a strange obsession. Its members think that the best and only way to improve education is to require standardized tests and to make them harder every few years. Those tests can never be too hard. A few years back, the legislature decided that all students had to pass 15 tests to graduate, and parents across the state rebelled, forcing the test-lovers to scale it back to five tests to graduate. But they still believe that harder tests=better schools.

The legislators of Texas should take the Great Testing Challenge: Take the tests you mandate and publish your scores. Any legislator who can’t pass the eighth grade math test should resign. How many do you think would dare to take the tests?

 

This year, for the first time, ETS wrote the tests, and surprise!, there were computer glitches. Open the link and you will see a picture of little children at an elementary school in Abilene cheering the bigger children who were on their way to take the tests that would determine their worth and put a number on it.

 

Veteran teacher Jennifer Rumsey writes here about the state’s mandates and how they affect her and her students.

 

She writes:

 

 

“It’s that time again. Time for STAAR testing in Texas. STAAR is the legislatively mandated series of high-stakes tests for public school children in Texas, and it is the most recent and most difficult of several testing program iterations that began in the 1980’s.

 

“I’ve seen them all. I have been a Texas public school teacher since 1999. I have experienced TAAS, TAAS prep, TAAS workbooks, TAAS-aligned textbooks, TAAS packets, and even a TAAS pep rally.

 

“Once students’ statewide overall TAAS scores became pretty high, the legislature made the costly move (paid to Pearson) to TAKS. The public schools adjusted: we adopted TAKS-aligned textbooks (published by Pearson), bought TAKS workbooks, held TAKS bootcamps and tutorials.

 

“And then came STAAR, or State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which is the most ambitious testing program yet. The Texas legislature decided to gut public education funding that year, 2011. The cuts amounted to a loss of $5.4 billion, while they voted to create STAAR and pay Pearson $500,000,000. At first adoption, high school students were required to pass 15 end of course exams to graduate. Now, thanks to grassroots efforts to change excessive testing requirements, high school students only take five graduation exams. However, their future life success remains impacted by rules that they must pass these exams to graduate, even with their academic credits earned. [Note: Because of the deep cuts, Texas schools had larger classes and took cuts to librarians, school nurses, the arts, and physical education.]

 

“This week my freshmen students must take the 5-hour English I end of course exam. I will be one of the lucky test administrators. During one of my test administration trainings, I found out that I am now required to write down the name of each student who leaves the testing room to use the bathroom, the time the student leaves, and the time that they return. This information, along with a seating chart, will be turned in to the Texas Education Agency. I am not sure why. Is it an additional measure of control over the students? Is it an additional measure of control over myself and other education professionals? Is it a deliberate attempt at de-professionalization of educators? When I mentioned to my students that I had to keep track of their times in and out from the restroom, they were puzzled and irritated. One savvy freshman girl asked, “Do they want to know the stall I used also?”

 

“What I do know for sure is that these tests have become far too important. They are treated as top secret, national security-level documents. Why is the material in a standardized test treated as more confidential than the information in the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails? I have already signed my oath, and in my test administrator’s manual I am threatened with the loss of my hard-earned professional certification if I share information relating to what is on the test. I am cautioned to in no way purposely view the tests. Ironically, I am allowed to read the writing prompt to a student who requests it.

 

“Tuesday was a big day for my own family. My 10-year-old daughter is one of the unlucky guinea pig fifth graders in the state of Texas. She is one of the unlucky children affected by the State Board of Education decision in 2015 that “pushed down” developmentally inappropriate math objectives. Some of the newly required fifith grade material was, until 2015, not taught until the children were in the seventh grade.

 

“What does this “pushing down” of objectives do? It requires more material to be taught during the school year, stealing valuable time that math teachers need to teach the foundational material for that year. It makes math harder and more rushed for the children. It is wrong. The TEA suspended the math passing requirements for 5th graders last year. But not so this year. Nope. My child and her peers must pass this test or face retention in grade.

 

“And wait, the news just gets better. The outgoing Commissioner of Education announced near his departure that, “STAAR performance standards have been scheduled to move to the more rigorous phase-in 2 passing standard this school year. Each time the performance standard is increased, a student must achieve a higher score in order to pass a STAAR exam.” Thus, my daughter and all her 10- and 11-year old friends are being held accountable for inappropriate math standards and will be judged at a higher performance standard at the same time. Something is not right here. Something is very, very wrong. My child is not a subject to be experimented on.”

 

Kenya Downs interviews Professor Christopher Emdin of Teachers College, Columbia University, about his new book, called “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all Too.” 

 

Downs writes:

 

“There’s a teacher right now in urban America who’s going to teach for exactly two years and he’s going to leave believing that these young people can’t be saved,” says Dr. Chris Emdin, associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “So he’s going to find another career as a lawyer, get a job in the Department of Education or start a charter school network, all based on a notion about these urban youth that is flawed. And we’re going to end up in the same cycle of dysfunction that we have right now. Something’s got to give.”

 

Emdin, who is also the university’s associate director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education, has had enough of what he calls a pervasive narrative in urban education: a savior complex that gives mostly white teachers in minority and urban communities a false sense of saving kids.

 

“The narrative itself, it exotic-izes youth and positions them as automatically broken,” he says. “It falsely positions the teacher, oftentimes a white teacher, as hero.”

 

He criticizes the “white hero teacher” concept as an archaic approach that sets up teachers to fail and further marginalizes poor and minority children in urban centers. In “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … and the Rest of Y’all Too,” his new book released this month, Emdin draws parallels between current urban educational models and Native American schools of the past that measured success by how well students adapted to forced assimilation. Instead, he calls for a new approach to urban education that trains teachers to value the unique realities of minority children, incorporating their culture into classroom instruction. I talked with him about the book and why he says the stakes are too high to continue with the status quo.

 

Emdin says:

 

I think framing this hero teacher narrative, particularly for folks who are not from these communities, is problematic. The model of a hero going to save this savage other is a piece of a narrative that we can trace back to colonialism; it isn’t just relegated to teaching and learning. It’s a historical narrative and that’s why it still exists because, in many ways, it is part of the bones of America. It is part of the structure of this country. And unless we come to grips with the fact that even in our collective American history that’s problematic, we’re going to keep reinforcing it. Not only are we setting the kids up to fail and the educators up to fail, but most importantly, we are creating a societal model that positions young people as unable to be saved.

 

I always ask my teachers why do they want to teach and I can tell by their responses how closely the white savior narrative is imbued in who they are or who they want to be. I always say, if you’re coming into a place to save somebody then you’ve already lost because young people don’t need saving. They have brilliance, it’s just on their own terms. Once we get the narrative shifted then every teacher can be effective, including white folks who teach in the hood.

 

Downs asks “What are the risks of continuing urban education as is?”

 

Emdin replies:

 

The repercussions are around us every day from criminal justice to engagement with the political process, to higher incarceration rates and low graduation rates. The outcomes are right in our faces today. I’m not absolving communities from blame or parents from blame. But we know that schools that have more zero tolerance policies, youth are more likely to get involved with the criminal justice system. We know that schools that have these hyper rigorous approaches to pedagogy, youth are less likely to take advanced placement classes. So the place where the magic should happen is inside the classroom.

 

It’s not a tale of doom and gloom. I’m simply saying this is why it’s bad but there’s a way forward. And the way forward doesn’t cost a million dollars! It doesn’t require you to give an iPad to every kid in the school district or a $3 million grant. It’s free! Teaching differently is free. Going into the communities and finding out how to do things better is free, man! It’s not an issue of finance or an issue of wealth. It’s an issue of identifying that what we’ve been doing before just ain’t working.

 

 

Sara Roos, a public school parent who blogs as Red Queen in LA, has written a thoughtful and provocative article posted in Huffington Post.
She remembers a time when schooling was focused on the education of the student. But with the advent of mandated state testing, the balance has shifted to a paradigm. The student now performs on the test so his/her teacher and school and principal can be evaluated. 

EduShyster interviewed Preston Green, who has studied the legal status of charter schools and published scholarly articles on the subject.

 

Green points out out in the interview that a major difference between public schools and charter schools is the rights of students. The constitutional rights of charter students are significantly less than those of students in public schools.

 

Dr. Green points out that charter schools have a different legal status than public schools.

 

EduShyster writes:

 

“Dr. Green warns that both state and federal courts have issued rulings stating that students in charters do not have the same due process rights as public-school students. So what does this mean for cities like Los Angeles where a dramatic expansion of charter schools is on the table? *Half of the publicly-funded schools in Los Angeles might be legally permitted to ‘dismiss’ students without due process.* says Dr. Green. *We have to ask ourselves if such a scenario is acceptable.*

 

 

“I asked Dr. Green to explain some recent court rulings on student rights, and how they relate to the larger debate over whether charter schools are public or private entities. Take it away, Dr. Green. Court is in session…

 

 

By Preston Green
“Charter advocates claim that charter schools are *public schools* because *they are open to all, do not charge tuition, and do not have special entrance requirements.* But what about student rights? State and federal courts have issued rulings suggesting that students attending California charter schools do not have the same due process rights as those enjoyed by public-school students. In Scott B. v. Board of Trustees of Orange County High School of Arts, a state appellate court found that charter schools were exempt from due process procedures that applied to public-school expulsions. In reaching this conclusion, the court observed that the state education code generally exempted charter schools from rules that applied to traditional public schools, and the expulsion statute was one of those rules.”

 

In short, students check their constitutional rights at the charter school door.

EduShyster joined the thousands of students who were protesting the budget cuts. She wanted to know what they were thinking. She got an earful.

Who do you think is really powerful? I will tell you: students and parents. When either group gets organized, they have real power. Consider the parents who opted out in New York: they made Governor Cuomo beat a fast retreat. No one knows how to stop them. No one can stop them.

 

And now there are the high school students in Boston. They organized a protest against massive budget cuts. They planned meticulously. And thousands of students walked out, ready with signs of protest. The students are fighting for what they need and deserve: a well-resourced education. This should be their right. They should have to fight for it. But they are fighting, and their voices are powerful.

 

 

Hours before more than 3,500 of their peers would march out of their classrooms toward Boston Common, a small group of high schoolers was glued to a group chat on their phones. It was 3 a.m., and they needed to make sure everything was ready for the district-wide protest they’d spent the past week organizing.

 

Were the posters finished? Yes. Was the meeting place finalized? Yes. Did they all promise that, no matter what, they would leave their classrooms at 11:30 a.m.?

 

Duh.

 

“There’s this stereotype that young kids don’t know what we’re doing and should let adults handle things because it’s their fight more than ours,” said Jahi Spaloss, a senior at Boston Green Academy. “But we’re the ones in school. This fight is ours.”

 

Elected officials were sure that adults were behind the protest. Wrong. The students organized it and carried it out. It was their idea.

 

The notion of a walk-out was hatched on Feb. 27, when three sophomores at Snowden International High School attended a leadership conference at Harvard University and felt inspired after they learned about successful college protests against racism and sexism.

 

“We knew that all the schools in the district would be impacted by the budget cuts,” said Jailyn Lopez, a sophomore at Snowden who helped organize the protest. “We knew at our school that we might lose foreign language programs and teachers we liked. We decided to do something about it.”

 

Their first step was writing a letter explaining the budget cuts, which they posted to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on Feb. 29. In the letter, they warned: “Your school will have less extra-curricular activities, if any at all. If students are engaged in school, there would be less cracks for our youth to even look towards violence. We have lost too many young lives already.”

 

The students used social media to communicate, plan and reach other students.

 

Over the weekend, the district sent out a series of robocalls and texts to inform parents that students would be marked absent if they walked out of class. But that only increased the students’ determination.

 

“It gave us more motivation,” Lopez said. “This was something we organized and we felt like people were trying to discourage us from standing up for what we believed in. And after all the calls, we felt like even more people knew about it and wanted to stand up for their schools too….”

 

At 11:30 Monday morning, the mobilization began.

 

Students from grades 6 through 12 stood up and walked out of their classrooms, chanting: “They say cut back, we say fight back,” and “What do we want? Education!”

 

In the end, more than 3,600 students flooded the streets, a number that amazed even the organizers themselves.

 

Afterward, Mayor Walsh said he’d like to find out who organized the protest and hoped the adults behind it “start to feed the young students in our city with accurate information.”

 

The mayor’s office tried to mollify the students by saying that there would not be $50 million, as first reported, but only $30 million.

 

A student leader responded.

 

But [Brian] Foster said the students don’t feel as if that’s true—which is why they decided to take a stand.

 

“It’s kind of like they’re saying, ‘Don’t worry it’s not $50 million, it’s $30 million,’” he said. “That doesn’t answer anything. Even if it’s a $1 deficit, it’s the idea that you’re taking away from students’ futures.”

 

Students said this was not a one-time event. If the city goes through with cuts, they will be back on the streets again.

 

 

 

 

 

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