Monday, October 20, 2014

Educational and Economic Issues in Rural North Carolina- A Local Educator Worries about a Future with Charters and Common Core

I'm from a small town called Gaston, North Carolina. It sits on the North Carolina/Virginia border in Northeastern North Carolina and at one point in time textile mills were king. Fast forward to 2014 and those jobs are long gone and the only thing left in terms of viable jobs are working minimum wage jobs at your local fast food/retail stores or working at Lowe's Distribution Center and International Paper(local paper mill). In regards to education thankfully I was finished before they(the school board) really started pushing common core and now the county only has one local high school(it was two when I was in school) besides KIPP Pride High. The school was founded in 2001 in what used to be a peanut field and has since been a shining spot in our community with the successful graduation rate of students and the college graduation rate. But after reading up on how TFA and KIPP schools operate I can't help but question why do these organizations put profit over the progress of students and teachers of those schools. 5 weeks is not nearly enough time for a TFA recruit to be trained and then sent to teach at a school where students have bigger issues than just a lack of textbooks and school supplies. I say TFA and KIPP should revise their procedures and put the students first. While I'm glad that the  current generation of kids are getting a somewhat better education than I did through some people that are staffed at KIPP that I either went to school or grew up with I just want the current kids to be able to grow into progressive thinkers who won't just go with status quo and know when to stand up for what they believe to be right. Hopefully a child in my hometown in the future won't have to stand up on a desk in a classroom in protest and scribble on paper equal education just to get the basics and then some.(That was a nod to Sally Field's role in the movie Norma Rae which was based off of an incident in my hometown with one of the local textile mills back in the 70's)

To Those Who Blame Schools For Poverty- A View From the Bronx

I watched the flower of Bronx youth be shipped off to Vietnam,
some returned, some didn't, and some who returned were never the same

The public schools stayed open

I saw the Bronx burn from the 4 train and the 3rd Avenue El
when I first started teaching at Fordham

The public schools stayed open

I watched landlords torch their buildings for
insurance money

The public schools stayed open

I watched the business districts of the Hub, Southern Boulevard
and Fordham Road go up in smoke during the Black out riots of 1977

The public schools stayed open

I watched all the music clubs of the Bronx shut down while hip hop
rose in parks, and school yards and community centers

The public schools stayed open

I watched crack sweep through the Bronx in the late 80's and destroy
countless lives

The public schools stayed open

I watched large sections of New York gentrify and their poorer residents
move into the Bronx because it was the only place they could afford

The public schools stayed open

And you tell me that public schools and public school teachers are to blame for poverty and inequality.

Where were you when War, Disinvestment, Arson and the Crack Epidemic wrought havoc on Bronx communities?
What were you saying then?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Teacher Educator Mitchell Robinson Reports on his meeting with TFA Recruiters:

One of my students was contacted by a TFA recruiting representative, and asked if she was interested in getting involved with the organization. She sent me the note, and I replied that TFA was not welcome in my teacher preparation classes (a la Mark Naison!). I received a reply asking for a meeting, to discuss my "problems with TFA." 

 Well, the 2 TFA recruiters just left, and the discussion went just about as well as I thought it would. They wondered how they could work more effectively with traditional teacher ed programs, and I asked them how they justified sending out recruits with 5 weeks of "training" into some of the more challenging classrooms in our state.

There appears to be a massive disconnect--either real or constructed--between the national organization and the workers on the ground when it comes to the group's goals. When I suggested that TFA was contributing to the displacement of veteran teachers in Chicago, Detroit and other urban centers, there was a look of shock and disbelief on their faces They claimed that was not their goal.
When I asked the one young woman (both recruiters had taught for 3 years, then moved into leadership/management roles with TFA) what TFA's goal was, she said it was to improve education in urban schools. I asked her what were the factors contributing to the "problems" in those schools, and what was TFA doing about those problems--there was nothing but silence.

I suggested that the (manufactured) teacher "shortage" in some urban schools just might be the result of poor teacher working conditions and a destabilizing of teaching as a profession, causing more teachers to leave the classroom--and that TFA played a major role in creating these problems. She denied this was the case, but acknowledged that the "perception is there" that this is the case--to which I replied, "Its not a perception. That's your business plan, and if you aren't doing anything to actively combat that "perception," then you are part of the problem. When traditionally prepared teachers leave the profession, its a bug--when TFA recruits leave, its a feature." She disagreed, and I asked her what the average length of service was in Detroit for TfA recruits--she "wasn't sure."

We finished our discussion with a last question: "What would you say to my student teachers--who decided they wanted to be teachers while they were in middle school or younger, elected a major in education, and then spent 4 or 5 years preparing to enter the profession--if they asked you why someone with no degree in education and 5 weeks of summer training should be competing with them for the same job?"
Her response was that some people decide to become teachers at different times, and that should not preclude their entry to the profession. I agreed with her and suggested that these persons then enter a post-BA program in teaching--which takes 2 years of coursework and includes a full student teaching placement at my institution--and that the students in high-need schools deserve nothing less.

The look of horror on the other woman's face was priceless. (She had majored in journalism and Italian, and then taught English and Social Studies for 3 years.) I asked her what was wrong and she said, "I just wanted to get in to the classroom in the worst way."

"You did," I replied.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Would You Rather" - A Call for Parent/ Teacher Resistance by Stacy Biscorner

Your child's teacher:
Spend 3 hours writing weekly lesson plans
Spend an extra 3 hours teaching your child?

Your child's classroom:
Be filled with projects on display, motivational posters and children excited 
about learning
Be filled with data walls, I Can Statements and children who dread going to 

Your child's technology lab:
A place to learn keyboarding skills and research topics of interest
A place where students go to use computers to take standardized assessments?

Your child's music class:
Where students go to sing, play instruments and dance 
Where students go to take standardized assessments?

Your child's P. E. Teacher:
Someone who instills healthy choices, the love of sports and exercise habits
Someone who gives your child standardized assessments?

Do you see a pattern here?

Now, would you rather:
Sit back, do nothing and hope it goes away
Join in the efforts to stop it?

Your child and his/her teacher need your help! Fight for them! Attend your local 
school board meetings, contact your state legislators. Take back your child's 

Stacy Biscorner, MA, LLPC, NCC

"Root Shock" Why the School Closings of Today Resemble the Urban Renewal of the Past

Several years ago, a Mindy Thompson Fullilove wrote a book called "Root Shock" on how the destruction of neighborhoods through urban renewal had a devastating effect on millions of low and moderate income people in America's cities in the post World War II era Here is the description of her book:"They called it progress. But for the people whose homes and districts were bulldozed, the urban renewal projects that swept America starting in 1949 were nothing short of assault. Vibrant city blocks—places rich in history—were reduced to garbage-strewn vacant lots. When a neighborhood is destroyed its inhabitants suffer “root shock”: a traumatic stress reaction related to the destruction of one’s emotional ecosystem. The ripple effects of root shock have an impact on entire communities that can last for decades".
Today, the same process is being repeated through school closings. Thousands of schools which have served neighborhoods for generations have been closed in cities all over the US, leading to mass firings of teachers and staff who grew up in or lived in those communities and disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. In some cities, the result has been exposing young people to greater risk of violence; in others, the process has promoted gentrification. But the disruptive consequences of this policy have been enormous and totally ignored by policy makers who have ironically claimed this strategy is promoting education equity
I will say this. Destroying neighborhood institutions and the historic memory invested in them is a form of psychic violence that should not be underestimated. School closings, and displacement of the people who worked in them are wreaking havoc with the lives of people who need stability, continuity and support more than continuous upheaval,

Thoughts on a Weekend of Resistance in Ferguson Mo- A Guest Post by Texas Educator Lindy Cavness

As the events in St. Louis have been constantly changing and unfolding, so have my emotions. I, like many people in the nation, have been glued to Twitter, livestreams, and independent news sites to stay informed day and night. Everything seems surreal and chaotic. My emotions are constantly jumbled because nothing makes sense anymore. The world seems to have turned upside down.
The Weekend of Resistance in St. Louis this past weekend calmed my scattered thoughts and raw emotions for a few days because everything seemed under control. The spirit and energy of the youth there was awe-inspiring. The marches, trainings, seminars, and meetings were all very well-planned and organized and went off without a hitch. Everyone was kept updated with current plans via text and fliers. Cellphones were lifelines.
At the marches, I was somewhat comforted because I saw white people there. Before you nod your head knowingly, please understand why I am saying this. The racism and police brutality that we are seeing right now is not a black people problem. It is absolutely a white people problem. I wanted to be there to show solidarity with black people who are being killed for the color of their skin. To show them that I know this is a white people problem. To let them know that I care. And that I’m sorry. And to show other white people that I will not be silent and that they shouldn’t be either. And to show the police that I know what they’re doing and that I despise them for it. And to help bring about change.
So I wanted to see other white people there who also realized that it is a white people problem. The white people there definitely seemed to understand this. I felt like there should have been much more white people-this is not the time to be silent-but I also feel like this event was mostly planned for black people to come together, plan, and get ready for what lies ahead. And black people turned out en masse. To be there for the cause. Though the Friday march occurred in wind, rain, and 40 degree weather, these were the true believers. Inclement weather didn’t faze them. Some wore rain slickers; some didn’t. Some carried umbrellas; some chose to brave it without.
If I had to choose one thing that I was most impressed with, it was the personalities of the young leaders. Make no mistake about it-these are a new breed of leaders. These leaders take pride in the fact that they’re paving their own way. That they’re not necessarily going to take the same path that Martin Luther King, Jr. took. The emerging leaders of the black struggle are vibrant. They’re charismatic. They’re passionate. They’re angry. They’re respectful. And they’re respected. The protestors followed their every lead. The leaders set the tone for the marches and the meet-ups. And the protestors followed it. Their rhetoric was fiery, but their behavior was controlled. Their oratorical style was impressive. Their call and response powerful.

I left St. Louis with a sense of calm. For the first time in a couple of months, I felt like everything would somehow be ok in the hands of these capable youngsters. My thoughts and emotions were finally soothed. Yes, we have a problem in America. A very big problem. But, if anyone is up to the task of confronting this problem and bringing about change, it’s these leaders. They’re organized, energetic, fired-up, intelligent, skilled, and ready. And being ready is undervalued because it is so necessary. In the words of the Dream Defenders, we ready.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Los Angeles Unified School District Stonewalls Researcher Asking for Demographic Data on Its PAR Program

 One of the unacknowledged tragedies in education policy is the United States is the systematic marginalization and forced retirement of  a generation of veteran teachers, many of them teachers of color, who could play a valuable role in helping young teachers adapt to the challenges of their new job. Done in the name of "improving teacher quality," a variety of strategies have been implemented which have directly or indirectly forced the firing of veteran teachers or pushed them into a reserve labor pool.  One such strategy, approved by the major national  teachers unions, has been PAR  the Peer Assisance and Review Program. Originated with the professed goal of identifying low performing teachers and giving them the help they need to improve their skills, the program has, in all too many school districts, been implemented in such a way as to allow school districts to sharply cut costs by removing teachers with the most seniority and highest salaries.

 One of the scholars who has done the most to reveal the discriminatory dimensions of PAR, as it has been implemented in California School Districts, is BAT Research Team member Brian Crowell., Looking at data in the Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco school districts, Brian Crowell has not only documented a sharp decline in the percentage of Black teachers in all three districts in the last ten years, he has gathered data from the PAR program in all three districts which show that teachers with the greatest seniority have been the ones overwhelmingly placed in that program, making a prima facie case for age discrimination, and quite possibly race discrimination, that may well be the subject of future litigatio

 Now Brian Crowell has turned his attention to the Los Angeles Unified School District and has asked for demographic data on teachers in their PAR program. After being stonewalled for several weeks, he received a letter saying he would have to pay $1,200 for the information he requested. Clearly the LAUSD is not anxious to have this data made public.  Which suggests that they are not anxious for people to see the age and race distribution of teachers referred to PAR.  Here is Brian Crowell's memo on his Los Angeles data request:

My name is Brian Crowell. I am a member of the CTA Union. On September 11, 2014 I made a Public Records Request to the Los Angeles Unified School District. I requested the age, race, gender and placement on salary schedule for teachers referred to Peer Assistance and Review. I request the calendar years of 2003-2013 for this data.

Los Angeles Unified School District responded to my query on October 10th, 2014. In their letter to me, LAUSD stated that they would comply with my request if I paid a fee of $1,200.00 for compiling the data into an electronic format. The Public Records Act does allow for the institution to charge for the labor to compile the information, however $1,200.00 is absolutely outrageous!

My theory. The time period of a month to respond to my query tells me the LAUSD legal department was trying to find a way to exempt disclosure. I have no evidence of this. The data itself, I believe will suggest massive age discrimination particularly of teachers over the age of 46. I think the $1,200.00 fee is to also dissuade me from getting the information.

I have been in contact with members of the UTLA Leadership who have shown interest in this issue. I hope they help me in endeavor to obtain this information.

  Brian Crowell's research calls for a very careful analysis, by local and national leaders of teachers unions,ly, whether this highly touted program has been used in a discriminatory fashion. It is not unknown for once promising ideas that teachers unions supported to be corrupted in implementation. Just look at Charter Schools.