Friday, July 15, 2011

Why I am Marching in the Save Our Schools March in DC on July 30

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?

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Top Links for the Week 7-8-11

(a.k.a  The links I liked enough to leave open in my browser all week and now really want to close) 

“PISA:  It’s Poverty Not Stupid” --2010 article on PISA scores, disaggregated by income level.

David Brooks, Diane Ravitch, and the education wars” by John Merrow—Another take on the Ravitch/Brooks debate.  Look for my comment!

“Invitation to a Dialogue: Fixing the Schools” by Diane Ravitch—Calls for reader responses.  Haven’t had a chance to write mine yet L

“Choosing the wrong drives for system reform”—Interesting paper saying Australia should not use the U.S. current reforms as a model.  Hell no!

“Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success” by David Berliner--#povertymatters

“Why US education deserves our praise (and funding)”—Give teachers the respect they deserve!  Why is it only people married to teachers or raised by teachers that get this idea???

7.  Speaking of our longs hours…
“Number of the Week:  U.S. Teachers' Hours Among World’s Longest”—And from the WSJ no less…

“The Offensively Defensive Ideology of Charter Schooling”—Awesome data showing the cracks in the charter school hoopla. 

“Chicago Parking Meters funding charter schools”—I mean, really?

“Atlanta Cheating Scandal:  Arne Duncan ‘Stunned’”—Almost punched the computer screen when I saw this one!  Bad culture??  The schools didn’t want to get shut down.  They wanted to be there for their students.  They wanted their stinking jobs.  Should they have cheated?  No, of course not.  But they shouldn’t have been put in the position where they think they have to cheat.  Dumb NCLB...

 “The Best Post & Articles Raising Concerns About Teach For America”—Great resource from Larry Ferlazzo posted in February.  The more I know about TFA, the more I hate it. 

“Stand for Children:  A Hometown  Perspective of its Evolution”—So scary how the ed deformers continuously trick people into following them by using positive-sounding messages.  This parent wised up to SFA true agenda.  Good for you, Ms. Barrett!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Response to David Brooks and all the Education Deformers

(I wrote this as a comment to )

I disagree that an entire re-vamping of American education is necessary.  As some commenters have posted above, "the reformers" are not complaining about the state of education in our affluent suburbs or stellar private schools like Sidwell.  I wish that charter schools were the answer, but unfortunately they are not actually performing miracles even with "superhuman effort".  (See  and )  (And by the way, I worked in a public school and we worked OUR BUTTS OFF!  Superhumanly, you could say…)

Teachers are very clear about what could actually make a difference (although not necessarily eradicate the achievement gap) and none of them are the current reforms du jour.  The organizers of an upcoming march on Washington talk about four guiding principles including "equitable funding for all public school communities" and "an end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation".  (See  Diane Ravitch will be there :)

Diane Ravitch is not against testing.  She worked for years with NAEP, for goodness sakes.   All she is opposed to is tying in high-stakes to the test (i.e. punishing schools, firing staff, teacher evaluations, ultimately closing schools, etc.).  The tests are designed to be diagnostic tools.  The current NCLB punishes schools that are struggling instead of giving them EXTRA help, which is what they need.  We need equal funding, we need an experienced well-trained teaching force (TFA is NOT the answer ), and we need rich curriculum with full resources!

I don’t fully understand the current pushback which demonizes anyone who acknowledges that poverty is a problem.  (Watch the clip:  It is a real barrier to learning.   The data is clear (although as in any bell curve, we are talking averages here.  Any one individual can fall anywhere on the curve--See Class and Schools by Richard Rothstein.  By the way, this phenomenon contributes to the outlier “miracle” schools.  They are skimming off the higher achievers or pushing out the lower performers.)

Teachers support Diane Ravitch because she is one of the few voices who actually seems to “get it”.  I became a teacher later in my career so I understand partially where all these “non-educators” are coming from.  Before I worked in the schools, I too thought charters were a great idea and even considered applying for TFA.  But now that I see what the real barriers are, I KNOW more about what reforms are needed.  The fundamental problem is NOT our teaching force.  Listen to the teachers!  Listen to the principals!  Listen to the unions who speak for us and are staffed by us!  And most of all, listen to Diane Ravitch.