Why I don’t Care that Test Scores Went Up

My coworkers and I just found out that all of our ELA and Math scores went up this year. According my administration, I am supposed to be thrilled. But I could really care less. If anything, I’m concerned.

Higher test scores do not equal higher quality learning. Some amazing things did happen at my school this year- projects, events, celebrations, experiments, performances, parades, presentations, and yes some quality reading and math instruction. But that’s not why our scores went up. Our scores went up for at least one of the following reasons that have very little to do with meaningful learning:

  1. The demographics at my school have changed and continue to change. Like many schools in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, we started as a school serving entirely low income students of color with a high population of English language learners. A recent influx of mostly white, middle and upper class students has brought many changes- including, I would argue, these higher test scores. Because test scores first and foremost correlate to income, I worry  that prioritizing test scores inevitably makes those mostly white, upper class children more valuable to the school. Which is dangerous.
  2. While standardized tests can never truly capture authentic learning, they can and do reflect how much test prep a school is doing. And this year was all about testing. We sat through meetings about how to introduce testing language in kindergarten, powered through 2 months of “rigorous” test prep in the upper grades, sent home packets and packets of ELA and Math for homework and  stopped teaching science and social studies for weeks at a time. And I guess it “worked.” But at the expense of experiments, collaborative projects, joy, community building, field trips, meeting the individual needs of students and teachers- in short at the expense of what I would consider real learning. Not to mention healthy child development.
  3. These tests are opaque and corrupt as can be, but it is becoming clear that it was easier to get a 3 on this year’s test than last year. Meaning they were scored differently. So kids did better, justifying a future of even more common core test centric”rigor. ” Read this by Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters.

Yes I want all children in NYC to be proficient readers and mathematicians. And I am proud of how hard our students worked this year. But these high test scores have nothing to do with the quality of children’s learning. Moreover, looking ahead, this bump in test scores does not bode well for me, my fellow teachers or my students because it will undoubtedly lead to a renewed emphasis on mindless test prep and data come September- in my school and citywide.

Success Academy schools scored the highest in many grade levels this year.  What they do “works” according to their test scores. But what they actually do  is weed out needy students, endorse abusive classroom management techniques, and prioritize testing and data above all else.This is not real learning, it is not respectful of children and  families  and I would never send a child to a Success school, let alone teach in such an autocratic, inhumane environment.

So, with progressive schools with high opt out numbers like Central Park East under fire, all this celebration over high test scores has me worried. What if more and more schools are compelled to do what “works” to get those high score accolades? What if the few remaining progressive schools that champion child-centered, project based learning instead of test prep are also forced to do what “works”  to get those high scores? What if there is no where left for me to teach?

 

 

 

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To the Billionaires Destroying Public Ed

Between Netflix, Facebook, the Koch brothers, a slew of corporate loving politicians and some other billionaires , public education is being systematically destroyed.

Why do all these people care?

Charter schools and “reformed” public schools have a way of funneling money to tech companies with ed products, publishing companies, test prep companies. Companies, companies, companies. Money, Money, Money.

Charter schools have a way of segregating and dehumanizing children of color. Keeps them in their place you might say. Hmm, I wonder why all these white billionaires would want to do that?

Charter schools have a way of de-professionalizing teaching and paying young inexperienced “teachers” – mostly women- to work long hours without any labor protections. Most of these people end up leaving teaching after a few years. I wonder where they end up working?

Charter schools have very little oversight and discriminate against students with disabilities. Billionaires love not having oversight. That’s how people become billionaires!

Charter schools cost the states less money than public schools because they raise so much privately. ( AND SOME OF THEM ARE FOR PROFIT- HOW IS THAT ALLOWED?)  That means millionaires, billionaires and gazillionaires can give tax deductible donations instead of oh, paying a lot more in taxes to help keep public schools open for all students. That makes them feel really good about themselves.

Well, here’s what I want to tell all these CEOs, in a moment of desperation at 6:17 am before I leave for the public school I work at every day.

You are not helping.

In fact, I think you are not good people.

You are motivated by your deepest prejudices and self interest.

Why don’t you go open a library or museum? That’s what rich people used to do. It was cool.

I would totally go to the Koch Brothers Memorial Library. Or the Mark Zuckerberg Museum of Something.

You want to know about some actual good people- I invite you to come to my school. You can arrive with the teachers at 7 am, see the thriving PUBLIC school community we’ve created, see a school that is actually racially and economically diverse ( 1 in a million!), see a public school building that is beautiful and kids are excited to come to every day, see a group of teachers who work 12 hour days partly to compensate for all the bullshit we have to deal with from the politicians in your pockets.

Yes that’s right, in everything you have done you make schools worse and you are WIDENING the achievement gap. You are making it harder to be a teacher and harder to be a learner. With all your obsession over standardization, accountability and school “choice” you are relegating the poor children you presume to help to days of uniformed, segregated, boring, scripted and ultimately useless test prep.

And you know what, I bet you would never send your white, billionaire children to a public school anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESSA and Teacher Training: Disturbing Indeed

It makes no sense that in the midst of a national obsession with teacher quality and “accountability” the new ESSA law makes it easier to become a teacher.

From the Washington Post: ” Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.”

Apparently, accountability and teacher quality are only important when you want to bust up the teacher’s union and fire all those lazy tenured types. But when it comes to who we certify in the first place, we revert to the idea that anyone can be a teacher as long as we hand them the right script. However, any real educator knows that teaching is an art and it takes years of reflection and experience to refine your practice.  If we actually cared about students succeeding, we would make sure only qualified teachers made it in to classrooms.

I know people who “graduated” from TFA , Relay and Teacher U, some of the non-profit charter indoctrination camps that pass for teacher training these days. Every single one said that their “training” was useless. Some refer to it as brainwashing. And guess what, many of those people are not teaching any more.

If reformers actually cared about teacher quality and all students succeeding they would mandate that every teacher get a masters degree from an accredited institution with a balance of theory and practice, including at least a year of student teaching or other experience in the field.

Imagine if the government decided that doctors don’t have to go to 4 years of medical school anymore to practice.  Instead a bunch of venture capitalists can put them through unregulated, non-university programs for 6 months and then send them out to heal the masses. People would be outraged, as we should be. Moreover, white upper class people would make sure they were treated by the real doctors.

The white privileged elites in private schools and in demand public schools will always have qualified teachers from Bank Street, or Harvard or Teacher’s college. It is and will continue to be the low income students of color who are being taught by unqualified, brainwashed 23 year olds who will inevitably leave the profession after a few years.

Every student will not succeed until as a nation we learn to respect teachers as professionals, not technicians. Qualified and empowered teachers make for qualified and empowered students. Until we realize that, no amount of legislation will undo the damage done by Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/23/gates-foundation-put-millions-of-dollars-into-new-education-focus-teacher-preparation/

 

 

 

 

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.

Why I Voted Against the UFT’s New Contract

New York City teachers just voted on the proposed new contract and I voted no.

Why? Because this contract did nothing to address any of the sweeping, systematic mandates that are alienating students and teachers alike. Although the proposed contract may reduce the amount of paperwork involved in the new teacher evaluation system, it does not challenge the more egregious components of the new system, most notably, the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. System wide, test scores correlate to income or lack thereof. Thus tying teachers’ careers to test scores will drive teachers in low-income communities to either wholly abandon meaningful learning in favor of test prep or to leave struggling communities for higher income, aka higher scoring schools. Neither of these outcomes is good for the children we teach, nor for the profession we’ve chosen. If we don’t take a stand, who will?

Black History Month; The Shortest Month of the Year

At this point in the year, teachers are deep into their curriculum and inevitably far behind.  There are 7-9 units of study in our reading, math and writing curricula, and pages of teaching points in the NY scope and sequence for social studies and it is nearly impossible to get to it all.

In the midst of this constant battle for our time and attention, comes black history month. In addition to our regular curriculum, we also have to try to do justice to centuries of history in one short month.  This does not lead to meaningful learning about what should be an interdisciplinary and crucial topic. This is tokenism via curriculum. And a false token at that. Each year, we bring out Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks read alouds, and take 45 minutes or so to celebrate Dr. King. But that is the most we do because we’re constantly racing to teach the parts of the curriculum that we “have to cover” by the end of the year.

I love reading about Ruby Bridges, Parks and Dr. King. But that is not enough. We should be devoting whole units of study to the history of African peoples in America, to slavery, to emancipation and the Civil Rights movement. Every month should be black history month. African American history deserves more than a few read alouds. In the scope and sequence for NY state elementary school students, there are many units that focus on colonial America and the Revolutionary war, many units about communities around the world and at home, but nothing that focuses on the African American experience over time, slavery or the Civil Rights movement. Kids should be learning about this. It is important, it’s part of our heritage, and it particularly resonates with upper elementary school students’ innate interest in fairness and equality.  We need to teach history in a way that fairly represents our nations past and also consistently incorporates the perspectives and experiences of minorities and historically oppressed peoples, no matter the month.

As someone who works with mostly students of color, this feels even more urgent. Likewise, in a city with one of the most diverse student populations in the world, we should all feel uncomfortable with token read alouds in lieu of meaningful curriculum about a major component of  American history. Whether it means we need to loosely interpret the scope and sequence or change it all together, we should be immersing ourselves in African American history throughout the year, not just in February. It should be part of our curriculum, so that we teach and learn about it  in a meaningful way that empowers our students and fosters both critical thinking and empathy in our classrooms. And it should be coupled with investigations of many cultures and traditions.

Needless to say I feel the same way about women’s history month. After all, half of our students will be women one day.  They should be learning about their historical counterparts all throughout the year, not just in March.

It’s Inequality Stupid

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Yet another reason why tests are stacked against low-income kids. Test prep courses and tutors are all the rage among upper middle class families eager to get their kids into a good middle school. Guess what happens when low-income kids, already facing innumerable other challenges, can’t afford this extra prep? Well, they probably spend their days at school entirely on test prep, being alienated from learning and deprived of fun and meaning and/ or perform poorly on tests. Then their teachers are put on probation and their schools  lose funding. Meanwhile test and policy makers can justify how developmentally inappropriate the tests are because higher income kids get tutors and score well . ( 4rth grade reading passages on the 3rd grade test anyone?) Sounds fair right?

How is a system that is inherently unequal supposed to “close the achievement gap”? Even without tutoring, test scores correlate to income level, which makes high stakes testing inherently discriminatory. Maybe if low income schools could spend more time and money on providing a rich and relevant curriculum, community building and outreach, support and resources for teachers, and meaningful learning experiences for their students we could actually do something to mitigate the increasing segregation and inequality in our schools.  Not to mention that what all kids should be doing on Saturdays is playing and getting outside, not filling in multiple choice questions.