Election Promises and the Myth of “Grade Level”

Last week after Mayor De Blasio sailed into a second term, he made a lot of bold promises to New Yorkers, including repeating a vow to get ALL third grade public school students up to grade level standards.

SIGH.

I just finished my report cards so I can tell you Mayor De Blasio, there will never be a time where ALL NYC third graders will be on grade level. There are nearly 150,000 students with IEPs in NYC and the same number of English Language Learners. The whole point of an IEP (Individual Education Plan) is that it is INDIVIDUALIZED to that student’s abilities and needs, not based on arbitrary standards.  Unless you expel all students with disabilities and ban immigration to NYC, our public schools will always be full of students of all stripes and at all levels.

Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that you recognize that it would be bad pedagogy to hold students with IEPs and those just starting to learn English to the same standards as general education students. In that case, perhaps you meant to promise that a majority of third graders will reach grade level.

Not likely.

Why?

Well for one thing, not all children learn at the same pace.  Especially for students as young as third grade, even typically developing / gen-ed children may be below or above “grade level” with no cause for alarm. In fact, being on grade level has nothing to do with whether a child is learning, which should be what we prioritize.

Second, does POVERTY and increasing inequality ring a bell?

Because academic performance– particularly test scores– is linked directly to income levels (which also mostly correlate with race). NYC public schools right now are home to hundreds of thousands of students who live in poverty.  Many of these students move frequently, live in unstable conditions and lack support at home or outside school. Not a recipe for academic achievement.

Worse, as you may have noticed, NYC is only becoming more unequal as housing in neighborhood after neighborhood becomes prohibitively expensive. This year, nearly 1 in 7 of the city’s 1 million plus public school students is homeless. That is approximately 100,000 homeless CHILDREN in NYC alone.

In my school, record homelessness means multiple students commute to my school in Brooklyn from shelters in the Bronx. These 7, 8, and 9 year olds have to wake up at 4 in the morning to get to school and then it takes them two hours to get home at the end of a long day. They spend time outside of school doing things like cooking, cleaning and caring for younger siblings. They are often absent or late and when they do make it to school, they are frequently exhausted.

If you want these students to “perform” on grade level, Mr. Mayor, I suggest you set a different goal; Affordable, stable housing for ALL third graders. Then we can talk about academics and I can teach you about child development.

 

The Day After Trump

What do you do when students come into school crying because they are afraid for their families? Because they think they are going to be hurt or deported? What do you do as an educator when you’ve stayed up all night crying at home because our country chose hate and fear but you have a science lesson planned. What do you do?

I did what I could to reassure and assuage fears. I told my students today that they are safe in our school. That we are a community and we take care of each other. That all the grownups are here to take care of all the children, to protect them and they don’t need to worry about the future. But it feels like lying. I don’t know if my students and their families are safe. I don’t know if I can keep them safe. We elected an impulsive, egomaniacal, immigrant/women/people of color/science bashing demagogue and I have personally never been so afraid or so devastated.

The only source of solace in my day was the kids themselves. That after sharing feelings and wiping away their tears, they dove into our science boat building project and were kind to each other, patting their friends on the back, holding hands. They laughed and cheered when they were able to get their boats to float. Their smiles made me feel like the world hasn’t quite ended yet and that I really would do anything to protect them.  And then one group of students made this boat which brought tears to my eyes for the hundredth time today. At least they’re not giving up.

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Don’t Know Much About History

Is anyone else thinking that we should get over our obsession with job readiness and coding and start teaching civics, history and critical thinking again?

It is ironic that in an election year full to the brim with historical myth, deceit, ignorance and intolerance all anyone can say about education is “coding! More coding!” Remember when education used to be viewed as essential to democracy?

In the most elite private schools and liberal arts colleges students do more than math drills, ELA exercises and an hour of code. They learn how to think. They are empowered to express informed opinions. They are empowered to see themselves as agents of change, to think critically and engage in democracy.  But we continue to manage public schools like factories- with economic rather than human, democratic goals. Beneath this reality is an insidious assumption that only our elites should learn how to think and engage critically in the democratic process, and that all everyone else needs is vocational training.

But education should be about more than job readiness for everyone, not just the already privileged. If I’ve gained anything from watching this circus of an election cycle, its a powerful reminder of the importance of history, critical thinking and empowerment in education.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think — rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.- John Dewey

A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over the long period; it presupposes also an education for personal responsibility that too often is neglected. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Why Teachers and Parents Should Vote for Bernie

K-12 education has not been a topic in the democratic primaries, leaving public school educators and parents wondering who would be most likely to scale down federal and state education “reform.”

So why should public school teachers, opt-out parents and anyone who believes in public education support Bernie Sanders?

Here are 6 reasons.

  1. Sanders voted against No Child Left Behind, the grandfather of Ed reform. .
  2. Sanders is skeptical of “alternative routes” to certification: ex: TFA, Relay, Teacher U= replacing lifetime educators with short lived script followers.
  3. He said this: “Something is very wrong when, last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers. We have to get our priorities right.” He also has talked about investing more $ in public schools and replacing the use of property taxes to raise money for schools because of the inequality that system creates.
  4. Vermont is one of the few states that does not allow charter schools. Rather they allow for school choice within the public school system. This brings a valuable perspective to the table.
  5. Sanders is the only real pro-labor major candidate in recent history. If anyone is going to support unionized teachers- at public schools or unionized charters, it is Bernie.
  6. Neoliberalism has been very bad for education. Hillary is the quintessential neoliberal. Think the punitive test and punish/ test and underfund of Race to the Top, think school closures, think corporate consultants invading schools, think Bill Gates and his campaign for testing and the common core, think the de-professionalization of teaching and the feds buddying up to tech companies and big business to “reform” schools. Think about what has been like to be a teacher for the last 8 years- punishingly demoralizing and frustrating. While Hillary has managed to make statements both for and against public schools, and for and against unions, it is likely she’ll ride the Obama/ Duncan/ King train to fully “reformed” schools.  We don’t want that.
  7. And finally- Reformers would have you believe that education is in crisis because of teachers and their unions, but want to know the real crisis in education today? POVERTY. Bernie Sanders has been fighting for equality and against corporate greed for his entire life, and is the only candidate truly seeking to address the rapidly increasing inequality in this country. If we really want to do what’s right for children, we’ll choose the candidate who is fighting for their futures and their families- free college tuition, a living wage, affordable housing and free healthcare.

Forget the NEA, AFT endorsements. Bernie Sanders is a better bet for teachers.

 

http://prospect.org/article/what-would-sanders-administration-do-k-12-education

http://edexcellence.net/articles/bernie-sanders-quotes-about-education

http://www.aft.org/election2016/candidate-questionnaire-bernie-sanders