Report Cards Should be About Kids Not Data

Did you know that for the New York City report cards you can enter a comment code in lieu of an actual personalized comment?

These codes are aligned to the comment core and produce comments like the following:

“Struggles to meet deadlines”

“Low scores on assessments”

“Requires academic assistance”

“Demonstrates satisfactory skill in analyzing, interpreting and evaluating master works and own works of art”

“Far below standards in following a standard format for citations”

These are options for a first grade report card. If my first grader was sent home with comments like this I would storm the school. While comment codes may be good for aggregating data, they are not necessarily good for children. Some of these comments are so clearly impersonal and inappropriate that they either fail to communicate anything useful or they serve only make children feel bad for not meeting expectations that are unreasonable to begin with.

Teaching is a human act. It is a process of forming and building learning relationships. At no point should selecting from a drop down menu be part of how we communicate with students and families. Especially with choices like these. We are not robots.

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Class Dojo and Other Ways We’re Preparing our Children to Live in a Surveillance State

I hate class dojo. I hate it and all the other apps, and monitoring systems, and zero tolerance policies and discipline ladders- they all make me queasy.

For the uninitiated, Class Dojo is an app that teachers can use to monitor student behavior through a point and demerit system. Parents get notified daily with how many points students earned throughout the day and for what. And yes, many teachers were doing this same thing before the app, and I too have concocted incentives and point earning systems out of desperation. But I knew then and certainly know now that that was not good teaching. And now Class Dojo is rampant and it all makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Why?

Well first off, we’re quantifying behaviors and habits of mind that really can’t be quantified- yet another way we’re turning our children into data that is often meaningless but can still follow them forever.  And of course, there are many privacy issues when data about a young child is tracked by a large tech company and made public to an entire class, often without parental consent.

Second, fear should not be a daily teaching strategy, neither should complete surveillance and disempowerment. Children will not learn to be good, thoughtful, creative and critical people by getting negative points when they talk out of turn or fidget in their chairs. Instead of empowering children to make choices, instead of creating community and building trust, all of these apps and systems shift the emphasis away from the children toward teacher centered control, as if control= learning.

Although organization, clear expectations, and routines are a part of learning, controlling children is not the same as teaching them. So many of us, especially Reformers, buy in to the myth that the quietest classroom is the best- even though deep down we know and research has shown that that is FALSE. Rather, real learning is noisy, messy,playful, circuitous, involves mistakes and is highly social. Keeping kids quiet and sitting still does not equal good teaching, nor does it actually give students practice with authentic self control and compassion- which are the real end goals of behavior management.

Being scared into silence does not breed empathy, nor does constant monitoring from above. When these kids graduate from high school, is there going to be someone to monitor their every choice? Who will give and take away their points? Who is taking away points after school? We need students to be self aware, to self monitor their actions, to be reflective, to understand that they have a role in a community which comes with certain considerations and responsibilities- that they have a responsibility to themselves. We want them to be engaged, to love learning, and to be motivated to learn from something deeper than a desire to hear an app ping.  Control via app is not engagement and it is not learning.

What’s more, the worst thing about class dojo is that it is often public- students are getting points removed or earned in front of a whole class. All that teaches is shame and resentment, two feelings already enjoying a renaissance in public schools thanks to the culture of education reform and high stakes testing.

It makes me queasy every time I hear another teacher tell me they are trying class dojo, because it “works.” If by “works”, you mean that your students are quiet, maybe it does. But are they engaged? Are they empowered? And most important, what exactly are they learning? If children learn by doing, all they learn from Class Dojo is fear and obedience, two qualities valued by the powerful and useless to everyone else.

And that is why, I will never, ever, ever use class Dojo.

…. the NY Times seems to agree with me Class Dojo Times,

and Alfie Kohn : “This is just a flashy digital update of programs that have long been used to treat children like pets, bribing or threatening them into compliance,”

Housing and Education Inequality- Again

Research tells us that socio-economically and racially integrated schools are better schools. But if we want truly diverse schools, we need equally diverse housing.

At my public school in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn we are fortunate to have a uniquely diverse student body. About 40% of our students are high or middle income and mostly white. Around 60 percent of our students come from low-income Dominican, Puerto-Rican or Mexican families. The resources of our upper middle class families gave us a music program, after school programs, art and science supplies, a school garden and unlimited free trips. Our Spanish speakers make our dual language program possible. At the same time, all of our students benefit from engagement with children and families of different means as well as cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

But every few days, I hear about another student who is leaving the neighborhood to move to the Bronx or Queens because they can’t afford to stay in the area. The students who are leaving are almost all recently immigrated, low income, native Spanish speakers. There goes our diversity and there goes their education. Going from a warm, nurturing and resource rich environment in an integrated public school in Brooklyn to a “failing” school or network charter in the Bronx does not bode well for their future. We know what schools they are headed for and we know that they are underfunded, overcrowded and either slated for shut down or newly privatized.

This is yet another reminder that the real issues in education today are poverty and inequality and that the worst facets of education reform disproportionately affect low income students of color. Nothing will get better for these children unless we address housing inequality and give ALL schools the resources they need to cultivate successful, critical, happy and healthy students. Every neighborhood needs affordable housing and every public school with a segregated, low-income population should be getting triple the funding of schools in high income neighborhoods.

I’m going to miss my students who abruptly left after years in our community. I’m worried about them and hope they land somewhere with teachers who can see how wonderful they are and the potential they have. I hope they get to do more with their days than ELA and Math. I hope they are not made to feel like failures. They are not failures and neither are their teachers- the only failure is a system that punishes the poor for being poor and recklessly allows corporate power into children’s lives.

New York already has one of the most segregated and unequal school systems in the country. If we don’t tackle housing soon, it will only get worse.