I have a pretty unique job. I am a teacher on an inpatient psychiatry unit for children and adolescents in Chicago. My students come from all over the Chicagoland area, with a majority of them from various inner-city neighborhoods around the city. I work with kids from neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, suburban schools, alternative schools, and some have dropped out and have no school at all. Every day I have new students in my class. Most have some sort of significant behavioral or emotional disorder which contributed to their hospitalization. Basically, you name it, I’ve seen it.
Today, I had an interesting conversation with one of my high school girls. This girl told me she went to a new “turnaround” high school. Here in Chicago, thanks to Arne Duncan and NCLB’s legacy, many low-performing schools have been closed and then “re-opened” as a brand new school. Usually this involves firing the entire staff and hiring mostly new teachers and administrators. As we talked, the girl admitted that the school was much better the year after the turnaround. This comment stopped me in my tracks. Was I wrong to be against turnarounds? So I asked what the difference was. “The kids,” she replied. “They don’t go there no more.”
She went on to explain that any kids that “fight too much” are told to leave. “Where do they go?” I asked. She shrugged and said, “Some other school, alternative school, maybe no school.”
Ah. When they say “turnaround” they don’t just mean the staff. They “turnaround” the underperforming students too.
I am marching on July 30 because I want to stand up for those kids getting pushed out. I am standing up for the countless children who are counseled to leave their charter school or their turnaround school, but often have nowhere to go.
I am marching against the incentives that the testing obsession gives schools to throw these kids out.
I am marching to say turnarounds, charters, and other such “miracles” are not real. Just teaching the kids who are easy to teach is NOT miraculous.
I am marching because my kids have no voice. I have asked my students to share their stories with me, and so they write essays, draw pictures, brainstorm ideas on what would actually improve their schools. They have something to say.
I am marching because my students need consistent, caring, experienced teachers and staff to be their role-models and mentors. Two-year “education tourists” are not enough.
I am marching for my colleagues in the public schools, who work so hard, sacrifice so much, and still get no respect for the amazing and impossibly challenging work they do.
I am marching because I had to LEAVE the school system in order to find the freedom and flexibility to teach in a way that met my students' needs. Teachers everywhere should have that autonomy.
I am marching because it’s not fair that my students from the suburbs talk about their art, music, sports, and after-school activities, do homework from their brand-new textbooks, and have computers at home to do their assignments, while my inner-city school kids talk about their crumbling buildings and lack basic textbooks or even moderately interesting curriculum. And it’s not OK that I sometimes can’t tell if the kids are describing a school or a jail.
I am marching because I believe in educating ALL children, even my behaviorally-challenged young people.
Lastly, I am marching because I believe in the goodness of humanity and of us as Americans. I want desperately to believe that if average people just understood what is actually happening in schools, they would no longer support the ridiculous education “reformers” and their laughable policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
I am marching to finally be heard. Will America listen?