Saturday, November 16, 2013
What Schools in NYC Need- A Message from the BK Nation Education Forum
On Thursday, in Judson Memorial Church, a group of students, parents, teachers, principals and education researchers brought together by the new organization BK Nation had a frank discussion of what can be done to improve the public schools of New York City. Most of those on the panel and in the audience worked at, taught at, or attended schools in high poverty neighborhoods, and spoke with great eloquence about what is happening in those schools, how misguided current policies are, and what needs to change. Here is my summary of the points of agreement of people at the Forum. They represent a chilling commentary on everything that is wrong with dominant Education policies not only in New York City, but cities across the nation
1. Students in the city's poorest neighborhoods and lowest performing schools, especially those designated for closing or phasing out, feel that they have been abandoned, disrespected, and deprived of real opportunities to improve their situation. The pain they feel has no real outlet and never finds its way into the media or into the calculations of those shaping education policy. We have to find a way of inspiring them, caring for them, and giving them an outlet for their talents.
2. Teachers around the city, especially veteran teachers and teacher of color, feel almost as marginalized and disrespected as their students. The last administration has done terrible damage to the morale of the city's teaching staff by derogatory comments about the city's public school teachers. We need to celebrate our teachers, not constantly denounce them
3. We have to get away from scripted curriculum and start creating culturally relevant pedagogy to inspire our youth. If that means ditching Common Core, it means ditching Common Core. We need to connect young people to their families, their neighborhood and school traditions, and to cultural traditions that empower them rather than marginalize them. And school cultures should be built around those traditions.
4. We need to recruit and retain teachers of color, and teachers of any background who grew up in high needs communities, who students can relate to and encourage them live in the communities they teach in. This may mean radically revising patterns of teacher recruitment, as well as incentive systems to keep our best teachers
5. We need to ways to assess student performance that are more flexible and holistic than the one's currently used. That means moving away from bubble tests for rating students, and eliminating them entirely as way of rating teachers. We also need to expand the number of schools who use such alternative assessments and are exempt from state tests
6. We need to do everything in our power to encourage student and parent activism and transform schools into community institutions where both of those groups feel they have a voice
7. We need to nurture community building within schools, and relationship building as a central component of teaching. This involves respecting freedom of speech and freedom of expression among everyone in schools- teachers, students, parents- and encouraging cooperation, not competition, as the most important value in school communities
8. We need to stop the destructive practice of closing allegedly "failing" schools, and find ways of helping them serve their students and families better. Closing schools sends a profoundly discouraging and destructive message to teachers and students
9. We should look up schools as places where activists and change makers are nurtured, not conformists who seek individual mobility at the expense of those around them