Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can civil rights groups and public educators both be right? And what if Dyett became a model?

The battle between those who support common core and those who don't is fundamentally based on the way education has been for the past 200 years.  There are concerns about local control vs federal control of education. 

A case for federal involvement goes back to Brown vs Board of Education as there must be oversight to allow fair treatment of all students especially those who have been denied equal education in the past.

A case for those against common core is that a singular standardized test is not an adequate way to assess kids as it does not indicate real achievement, falsely determining whether teacher are teaching and learners are learning.

Both have valid points and both must be taken seriously.  Let's first explore the impact on students forced to a standardizing mentality.  It is clear that obstacles in the way of learning exist with many of those in poverty and that especially affects their ability to take tests in a group setting, regurgitate answers given to them and see complex issues as having simple answers. 

The reality is that the test, as the outcome demanded, drives the curriculum.  And here is how it does damage: Children in the burbs, who have less obstacles in their way do better on the standardized test, are more at ease taking it in large groups and are more adept at seeing simple answers to complex questions as well as giving answers that satisfy the requirements of the artificial norm.  Thus they are able to spend less time studying for the test and more time with innovative learning. Creative learning such as the arts, and hands on activities as well as broad experiences in the community are more readily available ,

However, in urban areas where success at the test is limited, the scope becomes narrow.  The arts, physical education, hands on activities like shop and home economics as well as innovative activities in the classroom are lessened or even eliminated.  The end result is that those children are forced to learn in the way that they are least capable before they are allowed to learn in the way they are most capable.  This is not only unethical, it is immoral!

Now we explore the concerns on those civil rights organizations that are focused on fairness and equity in education.  It is clear going back to "Brown vs Board of education" that the lack of fairness is an issue and must always be monitored.  To go back to a day when education was thrown out for students to catch in a bushel basket does a dis service to those who need us the most.  Look what it is doing to voters rights.  It is unimaginable to take education back to that era. However, the question becomes, does the test really determine achievement?  Dr. Angela Dye digs deeply into this when she states "traditional school outcomes as level "B" achievement can occur in the absence of learning how to work and learn independently; {A-level learning includes} learning how to synthesize, transfer and apply knowledge to the world beyond the classroom;  learning how to value self as subjects and not as objects; and learning how to engage in and share power in democratic spaces". 

Therein lies the crux of the argument.  And here is how both are right in the best interest of students. Whole child assessment may soon be allowed to drive the curriculum as the rewrite of ESEA includes the Collins - Sanders amendment.  That amendment allows innovative assessment away from the test that gives a more accurate picture of what children are learning and how useful it can be to their future beyond the classroom.  The definitions around this amendment can be read at

This is not a "be all and end all" for education but it is a big step forward.  Although assessment must be local, over sight will be at the state and federal level assuring all students are treated fairly.  Thus satisfying the needs of both communities and more importantly the needs of children.We still have to take an individualized approach to assessment and education.  Children still learn at different rates and their genius will unfold at different times, not on a common core schedule.  But the beginning of an educational revolution is at hand.  A revolution that puts the agenda of children in the forefront. 

And what if Illinois was one of the 5 states that was allowed to implement that model; and what if Dyett School would be the model for that amendment; and what if Duane Turner were to be the principal?  Just sayin'

Empower parents, empower students teachers take back your profession

Or New Orleans?  or Detroit?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Public Education, change or perish!

There are those among us that feel that simply going back to the old days of public education is just fine.  I am not among those.  I have been in education since the late 60's and it is clear that we were not serving all children successfully.  Merely stating, as did Carol Burris,  that public ed existed before NCLB is not sufficient and is detrimental to the kids we serve.

I recall being an assistant principal at an urban high school in 1990.  Their were 400 freshmen in that class.  I went back to their graduation and their were approximately 170 graduates.  Now my math might be a little shaky and there were some variables but that is not a sign of a good school.  Another high school in the same city had approximately 650 freshmen of which 250 were failed second year freshmen.  In a school where the enrollment was listed as 1400, I counted 200 students in the cafeteria during lunch.  This is not ok!

As an administer at one of the high schools, I was struggling to support a student who was having difficulty.  A teacher approached me and stated that he was 16 years old.  I didn't understand the significance of that.  The teacher responded, "don't you understand? , He's 16, he'll drop out soon. We don't have to worry about him.  That was also the prevailing attitude of that day toward this difficult black young man.  I didn't buy that but the teachers wishes came true.  He disappeared.

Not only were expectations low  especially for black males, but their was a minimal effort to teach in the way kids learn the best.  Before NCLB there was a chapter test mentality and, by design, an approach that demonized black youth.  There was an all white honor role and the senior classes were primarily white as most black students left before the end of the year.  Freshmen classes had 35 to 40 students in the class while mostly white senior class had very small class sizes.

No, the good old days were not the good old days with students passing through with a D- just to make the data look good.  The school was said to have 1400 students had a graduation of slightly over 100.  And one of those students had attended my middle school.  She had special needs and attended the high school for three years before dropping out.  I was surprised when I attended that graduation and saw her walk across the stage with a full diploma.

So to say things were ok back then is a blatant lie.

And then came No Child Left Behind and things went from bad to worse.  Those who did well on the test, who had no obstacles in front of them were allowed to have the arts and do innovative classroom activities.  Those who were damaged by obstacles that were devastating often did not do well on the test.  As the test drives the curriculum, and those kids needed to do well on the test, the scope was narrowed.  The arts were eliminated as well as home ec, shop and innovative activities in the classroom and kids were forced to learn to the test, learn in the way they had the most difficulty learning before they were allowed to learn in the way they learn the best, often with hands on activities.  This whole child learning is innovation that has the teacher finding the best way for individual children to learn.

The setup is children are forced to learn in an outdated manner, not in the way they do best.  This is not only unethical, it is immoral.

So, should we accept the NCLB way of learning?  Of course not.  Fight it with every fiber of our being.  Should we accept the public school of old?  Of course not, improve it with the skills and abilities public teachers have.  Public school teachers are the best at innovation, allow us to do that.  The Collins amendment may open the door a crack.Are  public school teachers ready to jump through that door and make it happen?  Or will we sit on our asses and whine about the good old days.