When Cuomo Pretends He Cares

17353378_10100395925024913_884817314304257965_nLast night I attended Central Synagogues “action” to raise the age of criminal accountability in NY State, featuring several inspiring speakers, and the night’s big draw, Governor Cuomo.  Of course, no questions (and no boos) were allowed during the presentation even though Cuomo shamelessly used the pulpit to veer off topic and champion shutting down “sub-par” public schools.

He also weirdly equated quality of education with how many devices are used in a given classroom and talked about the poor, failing public schools in which first graders don’t have access to “any electronics.” (Definitely an issue adequate funding from HIS OFFICE might address. Also, I’d prefer my first graders use less electronics in schools, not more.)

Since I didn’t get to ask my question, here it is, ready for Cuomo when he decides to actually face his constituents and host a real town hall.

Thank you for appearing in this forum and providing the space to discuss the urgency of raising the age in NY State. Unfortunately, if we really want to address the tragedy of teens and young adults traumatized by the criminal justice system we must face the fact of the school to prison pipeline.

Yet, your record and your proposed executive budget will perpetuate the school to prison pipeline by  failing to allocate the recommended amount of foundation aid due to NYS state schools, thereby continuing to underfund schools in low-income communities, depriving those schools of the resources they need to support all of their students academically and emotionally.  Your budget also aims to do away with the foundation aid formula all together, meaning NYS public schools will never get the 3 billion dollars they are owed to meet the NYS constitutional requirement for equity in education as determined by the 2006 ruling. As a teacher, I know all to well that overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and support and a high needs population is a nearly impossible challenge even for the most qualified and experience educators. Funding matters. 

Your proposed budget also lifts the current cap on charter schools in NYC, despite evidence that many charters intentionally weed out students with disabilities and behavioral challenges through suspensions, expulsions and “counseling” at a much higher rate than their public school counterparts. Your proposal also ignores evidence that charter schools are more segregated than public schools and more likely to promote “no-excuses” disciplinary approaches that disproportionately result in expulsions and suspensions of students of color and students with disabilities. For these reasons, both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a “moratorium” on charter schools. 

Raising the age is essential and I ask that you support Senator Montgomery’s comprehensive plan to do so. But if you want to truly help NYC teenagers stay out of our already over crowded jails, you MUST fully fund public schools and keep the existing cap and funding rates for charter schools in NYC.  Will you commit to doing this? 

I called and left my question as a voicemail today. I encourage you to leave your own message. Tell him to be a real progressive and stand up for public schools. Meanwhile, I’ll keep that question in my pocket for his next appearance.

 

This is Not Normal- And the Kids Know it

This is not normal. Deep down, we all know it’s not normal- down to my 4 year old pre-k students. So please stop telling me it will be okay. Stop telling me to calm down.

A destructive, vengeful, unqualified sociopath is about to become the most powerful man in the world and his every act confirms his intent to destroy the institutions that safeguard our democracy- from a free press, to a just judiciary, to our electoral process, to civil rights, to public schools, to national security, to our health and to the safety of our planet. Armed vigilantes are raiding pizza stores, hate crimes are spreading like wildfire, (not to mention the wildfires that are spreading due to drought) white supremacists and conspiracy theorists are primed to have the presidents’ ear, and the man himself refuses to attend national security briefings and instead is intent on getting rich off public office, rewarding corrupt cronies and gas-lighting a nation via twitter.  This is the guy who’s getting nuclear weapons and unprecedented executive power.  This is not normal and it will only be okay if we all fight like hell to make it ok.

90% of 10,000 teachers say the tone has changed in their classrooms since the election- with new fears, cruelties and tension permeating classroom culture. I feel it too. There is more anxiety, more distraction. My students talk about Trump every day. Every day. On a field trip to a museum in Manhattan yesterday one 6 year old said, “Oh I hope we’re not going near Trump tower, are we going to be near Trump tower? I hope not, that’s bad luck.” Kid is 6 and riding a bus over the Queensborough bridge freaks him out because of the proximity to Trump Tower.  Not normal.

Election results should not make roomfuls of 9 year olds cry, but this year’s did. Presidents shouldn’t terrify children, but this one does. Cabinet appointments shouldn’t worry elementary schoolers, but these do.  I’m talking about 10 year olds actually discussing cabinet appointments in worried tones during lunch.

The kids know. They know something is at stake beyond the grown-up world of politics- something essential to their safety and future. They know this is the life or death of our institutions- our schools, our social services, our constitutional rights and the urgent movement for our planet. The kids know that this is not normal. They know that we should all be terrified and that pretending will not make it okay. That nothing will make it okay unless every progressive, every moderate, every apolitical go about my business type, every worker, every leader, every thinking conservative and for God’s sake already- every Democrat official, stands up and fights back.  Kid’s know how urgent this is. And they are counting on us, the grown ups, to make this right.

 

Trump Vs. Democracy and Education

Donald Trump is threatening to destroy public education and American Democracy. If you don’t see that- it’s time to wake up and check your sources.

I have spent over three years writing about the impacts of Ed Reform in the classroom. But with Trump-Pence in the white house, John King looks like a sweet angel. This new presidency threatens to destabilize our democracy, civic institutions, and the rights of all Americans.

All signs point to the rise of a dictator- the press is already being silenced and discredited, our president elect is an impulsive, reactive tyrant who has no regard for knowledge, science or reality, hate crimes are flaring up across the country unchecked and public education could be completely destroyed.

Education has long been regarded as a cornerstone of democracy- the goal being to learn to question, think critically and cultivate a sense of responsibility to others and to society. But Trump is doing everything he can to discredit those who think critically- journalists, educators, instituions of learning, everything he can to undermine our sources of knowledge and information in both his treatment of the press and his views on public education.

Trump and his cronies are spreading lies to discredit news sources, higher education, and the truth.Without a free press, and without trusting sources of information and institutions of higher learning we will lose our tenous grip on democracy. As educators, we know the difference between opinion and fact and we teach our students to always find sources and provide evidence for their claims. Meanwhile, as president elect, Trump has already backpedaled on countless promises, he has lied and complained about the press on twitter, limited press access and threatens to stock his cabinet full of ignorant, corrupt crazies who think facts are debatable. Including Ben Carson. And if Ben Carson has his way with our public schools, democracy will die.

Trump himself has referred to public schools as “monopolies” that need to be broken up, (meanwhile he has vested business interests in the dakota access pipeline and wants his kids to get security clearance) and Ben Carson has said that the best school is homeschool. Yes that’s right. Home school. AKA no school. Our new possible secretary of education doesn’t really believe in schools.

Not to mention- he thinks the world is 7000 years old, he doesn’t believe in climate change, he has no experience whatsoever in education  and worst of all he wants to defund colleges and universities that are “too liberal.” Meaning he wants to use the education department to silence enemies. This is fascism.  All teachers- no matter who you voted for- need to stand up against Trump, Carson and  for our schools. Democracy depends on public education and science, civility and respect are the cornerstones of a democratic education. Democracy is depending on us.

We teach our children to give evidence to support their claims and we need to hold ourselves and the president elect to the same standards. Read more than one newspaper. Check your sources. Watch more than one news show. Ask yourself- am I really going to accept at face value what a billionaire pseudo populist who has been charged with fraud, rape and discrimination says? Is Ben Carson qualified to hold any position in government at all?

Stop believing everything you read on the internet and stop buying into the attacks on journalism and the press. There are many creditable news sources out there. Find them. Read AP and Reuters. American teachers- remember what we teach our students. Find multiple sources of evidence for your claims. Know the difference between fact and opinion. Be kind. The earth is 4.5 billion years old. Stand up against Donald Trump and his cabinet of horrors.

Here are my sources.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/egads-ben-carson-dept-education

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-could-replace-president-trump-with-little_us_5829f25fe4b02b1f5257a6b7

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/heres-big-trump-media-story

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/donald-trump-holdings-conflict-of-interest.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=b-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/ultimate-inside-job-donald-trumps-transition-team-sordid-new-swamp-lobbyists-donors

https://newrepublic.com/minutes/138669/brace-yourselves-education-secretary-ben-carson

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/ben-carson-has-odd-plan-the-dept-education

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/11/us/politics/what-trump-wants-to-change.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=b-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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?

 

 

 

The Stories We Tell

As an educator, as a white person, as a New Yorker, I need to say again, black lives matter. We all do. Because the voices of educators shape the stories we tell ourselves about race, about our history and about how our fractured, violent society came to be.

There is  much to say and do within ourselves and in our communities. What educators need to say is this: until we address segregation in schools and adopt curricula that teaches truth about our history, there will always be people convinced that they are not privileged by their whiteness and that we can in fact “make america great again.” (Let’s translate that: Make white people great again- America was never great for anyone else)

In schools all across the country, we continue to teach American history through the lens of great white men, too often in monocultural classrooms. The narrative has widened slightly to acknowledge the existence of slavery, but it remains an aside- an regrettable afterthought that is often not really addressed until college level history courses or not even then. In my own elementary school, we adhere to the New York state scope and sequence and teach about New Amsterdam, the Colonial period, the Revolutionary war, and industrialization with only cursory attention to the enslaved and then oppressed peoples who enriched the white men who founded and ran this country.  I have written about this before but in this moment- with so many shootings, with Trumps’s blatant empowerment of white supremacy, with tragedy and protests flooding the news I want to say it one more time.

This is what we should be teaching our children.

New York was founded on slavery. America was founded on slavery. America is a nation that owes its wealth and power directly to the brutal oppression of African peoples. Slavery drove colonization, it built Wall Street and paved the way for American independence and wealth.   For 400  years,  America exploited, murdered, abused and silenced black people to make itself great.  And now it is clear how deeply we are still broken- how many systems and institutions continue  to segregate and oppress- from police to prisons to our increasingly segregated schools. We cannot pretend to anything else- to any greatness, to any innocence.  American history can never be undone.

And if as an educator, I tell the same old story to my students, if I don’t fight for equity and integration, if I don’t add my voice and say black lives matter, we will remain mired in the consequences of our history without insight or compassion. Black lives matter. Black children matter. Black history matters. Its time to bring truth to our curriculum in every state and to desegregate our schools. It’s time to stand up as educators, fight for our students and change the stories we tell. Especially now.

 

 

 

 

Why isn’t Kindergarten like Pre-k?

From what I’ve seen, pre-k is a success- developmentally appropriate, nurturing classrooms with lots of exploration, play, growth and joy. Why should kindergarten be any different?

When I walk into the pre-k classrooms at my school I enter a veritable learning and happiness wonderland.

Picture this: While some students count or match shapes and patterns, others build a city out of  blocks. More explore foam at a sensory table and 4 eager, smiling kids observe insects and worms at a science center. In dramatic play, a circle of friends dress up in butterfly wings and pretend to pollinate flowers, and a few more draw, write and paint to their hearts’ contents at an art table.

Later that day, they will sing, dance, listen to a story and play outside. Outside they can choose to dig in the dirt, run around, blow bubbles, slide, jump, ride tricycles, build with stones or draw with chalk.

They eagerly discuss letter sounds over lunch, and are excited to choose books or math games during the short “center time” before dismissal. Some of them have started to read picture books on their own. Whenever I visit, they teach me about plants and seasons, animals and neighborhood features. They say please and thank you and independently solve problems among friends. There is a class “comforter”who makes sure that when a student is sad, they get a hug or pat on the back. There are 2 caring adults in each class, and only 18 students so everyone gets the attention they need.

Sounds pretty idyllic right?

And they are learning so much- socially, academically and physically. Students who didn’t know the letters in their own names are now spelling and reading words. A student who couldn’t throw a ball at the beginning of the year can play baseball. One little girl who did not speak a word of English in September is completely fluent and a leader in the class. Last time I visited, she explained a bee’s life cycle to me in detail, using vocabulary like pupa, larva, hive, nectar, pollinator and drone. 

At this point in the year, the pre-k students are four or five years old. Many will still be four when they enter kindergarten in September. Some of them will not turn five until December of next school year. Which begs the question- if students are the same age or just a few months older than pre-k students, why on earth is kindergarten so different from pre-k? Is the experience of being four and a half really so different from being four?

In kindergarten, there can be 25 students and only one teacher. That is a huge jump from 18 kids and 2 adults.  In kindergarten, students are expected to sit, read, write, put pencil to paper to meet common core standards, and yet we know that many kindergarteners lack the fine motor skills to hold a pencil.  In kindergarten, outdoor play and sensory exploration become secondary to “real learning” aka academics, as does social emotional and physical development. Although in some lucky classrooms students still do get “extra” play time- is is thought of as distinct from learning rather than essential to it.  In kindergarten, kids sit through tests that they often can’t even read.Why is this transition so abrupt?  The kids are virtually the same and no person in their right mind would put a pre-k student in front of a bubble test. ( although I know it happens)

Kindergarten is still very much part of early childhood. Four and five year olds cannot learn or function without movement, sensory stimulation, singing, joy, play, choice and time outdoors. We have a structure for pre-k that has produced at least a few fabulous, developmentally appropriate classrooms.

Kindergarten needs to get on board. In fact, maybe all grade levels should be more like pre-k. Choice, play and happiness for all.

 

 

 

 

Chuck the Tests- Project Based Learning is Better

We have effective, research based models for assessing student learning that do not rely on standardized testing. So why aren’t we using them?

A friend of mine recently got hired at one of the city’s performance assessment consortium schools. What is unique about these schools is that the students only take 1 test- yes that’s right, just 1 standardized test in four years of high school. So, instead of wasting valuable time on tests and test prep, portfolios of authentic student projects are used to assess learning and determine eligibility for graduation.

Also unique about these schools- Despite a population comprised of high numbers of English language learners and low-income families, these schools have far higher graduation rates than traditional high schools and an 91% college attendance rate.

How do they do it?

Teacher autonomy and “in depth” project based learning. That’s how.

I met a teacher from Brooklyn International High School at a workshop recently and wistfully listened as she described the year long  history and ecology project about water pollution she had designed with her students.  Meanwhile, in depth, interdisciplinary projects with real life relevance are few and far between in my elementary school because testing and data take priority over everything else.

Which begs the question: why can’t we have portfolio assessed middle and elementary schools too? Why can’t elementary schools apply for the same waiver these schools receive and use performance based assessment instead of torturous tests?  Especially when excellent progressive schools like Central Park East are under threat, why not use these successful alternative high schools as a model and give all schools the opportunity to choose project based learning over testing?

We know skipping standardized tests in favor of deeper learning works with our neediest high school students. And we know testing is far more cumbersome and developmentally inappropriate for young children than it is for teens. So there is no reason not to bring this successful model down to our youngest students.

If we really want to offer parents “school choice” we need elementary, middle and high schools that go beyond data factories. Alternatives like portfolios, project based learning and performance assessment should be an option for children of all ages- not just high school students.