Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Collateral Damage of Testing

Many people testifying before the Senate Committee on Testing seemed to suggest that the only way to assure that special needs students, students of color and students in poverty are assured of a sound and equitable education is to test them constantly and compare their performance to others on a national data grid. They propose this even though such testing is incredibly expensive and will force class sizes to rise, lead to cuts in the arts, libraries and counseling , turn instruction into test prep and lead to the disappearance of recess and play. Is this collateral damage worth the "accountability" or will the cure be worse than the disease

The Personification of Pearson- A Guest Post By Lucianna Sanson

The Personification of Pearson: Always Earning

My daughter was in Kindergarten when she first met Pearson. According to my daughter, Pearson was the bully that chased you around and around the playground until he finally got a grip on your blue denim jacket- and- with a mighty heave, stopped you dead in your tracks, spun you around, grabbed you by the collar, put his face right up close into yours, demanding not only your lunch money, but anything else you had in your pockets: coins, pencils, rubber bands, erasers, paper scraps, chewing gum, jawbreakers, even lint. Even Lint. Yeah, Pearson was THAT kind of bully. It seemed that he wanted everything that every kid had- all of your money, paper, ABC gum- you name it.

Needless to say, I marched myself down to the elementary school and discussed Pearson with my daughters teacher. I was told that Pearson was a challenge but that he had been adopted by the state and would be staying in my daughter’s school. As a ward of the state, there was nothing the teacher could do about that; however, she would make sure that my daughter was exposed to Pearson as little as possible and that she would never have to be in the same room with him during testing. Time passed- and my daughter- through lack of contact- rarely saw Pearson during the remainder of elementary school.

Fast forward to Middle School. Orientation. Guess who greets us at the door???? Yup. Pearson. This guys is everywhere AND suddenly he is popular!!! POPULAR! He is the darling of the new Teach for America teachers and old school testing gurus alike. He is still a bully, only now he is a sly one, a sneaky one, a slithery serpent of a bully who insinuates himself into the good graces of both Guidance and Gradebook alike. My daughter is wary of him, but this time, they are in every class together. She said that he doesn’t pick on her anymore but sitting next to him still makes her uncomfortable. I told her to just do her work and ignore him unless he becomes a real issue during testing and essay writing time. Thankfully, other than his overbearing and popular persona, Pearson doesn’t influence my daughter much during middle school. High school, however, will be a different story.

In high school, as luck would have it, my daughter actually began to enjoy spending time with Pearson. I don’t know what she saw in him, but she liked working with him on the school computer programs. The more time she spent with him, the more she began to like him. She had no problem with how much personal information he wanted from her. As much as it creeped me out, it didn’t seem to phase her. Perhaps this is due to a “generation” gap, but I can’t seem to shake the image of that pilfering bully on the playground all those years ago.I can’t stand the thought of his nimble fingers picking her pockets, rifling through her purse, or picking her brain.

These days, Pearson isn’t so much a bully as he is nosey. He wants to know everything about my daughter. He asks her questions about her name, ethnicity, her likes and dislikes, questions about her parents. He records all of it in his data-bank of a brain, squirrelling it away for use at a later date. What is he going to do with this data? Where is it going? Who sees it? My daughter has even told me that he asks about us, her parents. Where we live, how much money we make, our phone numbers, our email addresses. I told my daughter our personal information is none of Pearson’s business and she doesn’t have to tell him anything about us- or her- if she doesn’t want to. She can refuse to answer any of his questions.

Hopefully, my daughter will take my advice about Pearson to heart. She will start college before too much longer, to become a school teacher, and Pearson will be at the same school. Pearson, it seems is EVERYWHERE. Apparently, Pearson isn’t going to a four -year college; high school (and some dual enrollment classes) gave him all the tools he needed to be college and career-ready.

Ironically, although he isn’t going to be attending my daughter’s college as a student, he IS going to be there. He got a job working for a company where he is in charge of monitoring the student teachers at my daughter’s college. Although he has no formal degree, he is working for the company my daughter will be PAYING to grade her student teaching experience! So Pearson, with his lack of education and lack of teaching experience, will be making money grading videos of my daughter ( which she has to pay money to upload ) while evaluating her as a student teacher. Wow. Pearson certainly does get around. In fact, you could say that from the moment my daughter met him, he was always earning.

by Lucianna M. Sanson

Lucianna Sanson is a high school English IV and AP Literature teacher in Franklin County Tennessee. She is a public school parent and she is married to a public school teacher. She is FCEA President, and the Associate Co-Producer of the War Report on Public Education internet radio show. She is a warrior goddess activist for students and public education. She is admin on several FB pages and she can occasionally be found on twitter. You can also find her delivering nasty bits of edu-reform wisdom via Honey BADger Blurbs.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What We Had At PS 91 in Brooklyn in the 1950's

  I grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn shortly after World War II, in a working class neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish and Italian, with a handful of Black and Irish residents . Our local public school was PS 91, on the corner of Albany and East New York avenues, a formidable five story brick building that was taller than any of the surrounding houses and apartment buildings. Right next to it was a huge schoolyard that  took up half the rest of the block that had the equivalent of two diamonds that could be used for softball or punchball, along with some basketball hoops.

 PS 91 was my home for 6 years, from 1951 to 1957, and while it would be foolish to say all the teaching was inspired ( there was a lot of memorization and writing on the blackboard) and all the kids got along wonderfully ( I had more than my share of fights), my overall experience there was positive because there were so many out of classroom activities to supplement the classroom teaching.  

  There was a tremendous amount of physical activity. There was a free play time before school when kids were lining up for class and a recess right after lunchtime where we also played games. Those were in addition to physical education which we had in the school gym. We also had the chance to participate and attend school plays, which broke the monotony of school assemblies. I remember writing a play about the English conquest of New York City from the Dutch which was performed before the entire school. We also had regular film showings in class, and regular school trips, sometimes to a show at a place like Radio City Music Hal, more often to a museum.  We also had annual science fairs at which students could display innovative projects, along with art shows.  If you look at the sum total of these activities, students had an opportunity to showcase their talents in many other ways than performing well on classroom assignments or citywide tests, plus the sheer range of this activities build camaraderie in individual classes and in the
school as a whole

  Finally, the school featured an amazing free after school program, from 3-5 and a night center 7-9, open five days a week, were students could play basketball, nok hockey, jump rope, do arts and crafts projects or practice musical instruments.

  This culture and exercise rich environment helped created a tremendous sense of optimism in the young people who went to the school, most of whom had non-college educated parents, a few of whom were genuinely poor. Not everyone was academically gifted, or adapted well to classroom instruction, but almost everyone had a talent that was recognized within the school community, and given an outlet or a means of expression.

   And I wonder. Are there schools like this today. Or has the testing pushed out the art, the music, the science, the trips, the recess and the play.

   If so, a precious spark has left public education, and it makes me sad to think that young people growing up in working class families now don't have the opportunities I had 60 years ago.

Lessons from 45 Years of Teaching that No one in Power Listens To

1. Teaching in one school for a long time and remaining in touch with your former students can be a very powerful asset to your current ones. Former students can be extremely helpful, sometimes with making classroom presentations, more often in advising students on research projects and helping them find employment.

2. Sometimes the most powerful events in a class take place when you throw away the script and let students talk from the heart about subjects which excite them or intrigue them. If you don't leave room for those moments, you miss an opportunity for students to get emotionally connected to the material and experience their own power to launch new ideas.

3. Any time you can use the arts to enhance understanding of a subject, do it. Having students write songs or poems, perform plays, make films are all ways of bringing material to life. Give students that option whenever possible. And don't hesitate to use music, film and video in your daily instructional routine.

4. Whenever possible, give students the option of substituting independent projects for standardized or even in class exams. Some students thrive when given research projects; others would rather have a test on a fixed body of material. If you give them both options, the quality of work, and the level of engagement, is likely to be higher than when you have a one size fits all assessment.

Do you think that these instructional strategies make sense?

If so, just compare them with what teachers are now asked to do.

And weep.

BTC Resolution on Civil Rights and High Stakes Testing

The Badass Teachers of Color categorically rejects the idea that the current practice of annual, high-stakes testing of public school students advances the cause of Civil Rights and will lead to better instruction and greater achievement for all  students, especially for students of color and those living in poverty

Friday, January 23, 2015

No Room For History in Our Public Schools:

Last night, I gave a lecture on the history of the Vietnam War to a cross section of Catholic high school students from Bergen County who had joined together to put on a performance of the musical "Miss Saigon." This was the fourth history lecture I had given to high school students in the last two years. My other lectures, where the topic was the multicultural origins of Bronx hip hop, were given at West Catholic High School near Hartford Conn, at Trinity School on Manhattan's Upper West Side, and at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn.
If something sounds strange to you think about this: Only one of those three schools was a public high school! Is it that the subjects of these lecture, the history of the Vietnam War, and the history of Hip Hop, have no interest to public school students? I think, if you spoke to public high school teachers, that the opposite is true. Public high schools students would love to talk about these subjects.
So what is getting in the way? TESTS! Public high schools, especially those in working class and middle class communities, are so desperate to have their students score well on standardized tests- under the threat of closure- that they simply have no time to have lectures on subjects which may get students excited about history, but will not translate into higher scores on high stakes tests
This situation is in huge contrast to what I experienced 10 years ago when I joined with scholars and community leaders to launch the Bronx African American History Projects. Within three years of the projects founding, I was invited to give lectures, presentations and tours to students at more than
20 Bronx public schools. Among these were lectures at at least five Bronx high schools, including small schools located at Evander Childs,
Taft and Morris High Schools.
These lectures, some of which were attended by upwards of 500 students, were incredibly well received, in part because I affirmed cultural traditions the students there viewed as their own. Students were clapping, shouting, joining me on stage, I even got invited to speak at one high school graduation
So what happened? I haven't received an invitation to speak from a Bronx high school in more than 6 years
Testing happened.
School grades happened
School closings happened
And a whole generation of Bronx high school students, and their teachers were made to feel that the only thing that counted in their education were scores on their tests.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Cuomo Fallacy-Public Schools Showcase the Society's Failures- Not That of Teachers

This year, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo will be trying to make his mark on New York and national politics by attacking the public school system as "the greatest single failure" in New York State.
His attack will not use arguments invented out of whole cloth. The public schools of New York display vast disparities in performance between children by race and class, both within individual schools and between entire school districts. And you don't need a battery of new tests to reveal those disparities. They were documented 20 years ago when there was far less testing and in fact are highly visible to any intelligent observer who visits schools around the state.
What the Governor will not say however, is that these disparities in educational performance precisely mirror disparities in income and personal wealth around the state, which if anything are sharper than performance disparities in the public schools. Since public schools, unlike private schools, religious schools or charter schools, have to take everyone who applies and cannot throw students out who perform poorly, they end up being a fairly precise mirror of how middle class, working class, and poor children are doing in the state of New York, in cities, small, towns, and rural areas. And if what the mirror reveals, not only on tests, but in attendance records and in the atmosphere in classrooms, and hallways and auditoriums, is one which has more than its fair share of rage and pain and confusion, then that ends up being a telling commentary on what is happening in our homes and neighborhoods.
In placing the blame for that rage and pain and confusion on teachers and school administrators, Governor Cuomo not only masks the real causes of poverty and inequality in our state, which lie in local and global labor markets, tax and housing policies, and the continuing impact of racism on people's lives and communities; he sets up convenient scapegoats for our collective failures.
But more than that, Governor Cuomo is setting up an opportunity for massive profit taking and career building at the expense of the public schools he plans to transform- to test makers, publishers, consulting firms, charter school entrepreneurs. There are hundreds of millions of dollars, eventually billions of dollars, to be made as teachers are removed, schools are closed, and charters schools are put in their place, all to the accompaniment of a rising crescendo of testing and teacher evaluation systems which are conveniently created by private companies.
And when all this is done, and tens of thousands of union teachers have lost their jobs, to be replaced, in the most part, by easily intimidated teacher temps, the middle class in the state will have shrunk; wealthy companies will have reaped more profit, and the underlying inequalities in the state, those in income, wealth and educational performance, will have been reduced not at all