Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Untold Story: How Immigrants Have Helped Revitalize Bronx Neighborhoods

Most Americans probably still think of the Bronx through metaphors of decline and decay, epitomized by the phrase, "the Bronx is Burning," but that phrase doesn't begin to describe what is happening in the borough today.. Yes, from the late 60's through the late 70's, large portions of the Bronx south of the Cross Bronx experienced disinvestment, arson and elimination of vital services, leaving vacant rubble filled lots that attracted huge media attention. But in the last 30 years, through the hard work of local residents and community organizations, almost all those vacant lots have been filled with one and two family homes, apartment buildings and shopping centers. In fact the Bronx has become a great American Success Story, perhaps the only large urban area in the nation ( and there are many) where neighborhoods ravaged by de-industrialization and disinvestment have been completely rebuilt. If you think I am exaggerating, go visit Buffalo, Camden, Detroit, Gary Indiana, Baltimore or Philadelphia and then drive around the Bronx. The contrast will make your head spin
One of the major factors contributing to the Bronx's revitalization, and one which is little discussed, has been immigration. Recent immigrants from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, the West Indies, Mexico and South Asia compose a sizable proportion of the people who have moved into the new housing placed on once vacant lots, and run many of the businesses serving the residents of those areas
If you want to see that influence brought to life, drive up the hill from Yankee Stadium to Highbridge and Morris Heights, two neighborhoods hard hit by the abandonment cycle in the 1970's. Not only will you see lots of newly built housing, if you observe the street traffic, and walk into neighborhood businesses, you notice the presence of the neighborhood's large West African and Dominican population. You will also, if you observe carefully, notice some mosques and Islamic centers, as most of the West African immigrants are Muslim. Their peaceful interaction with their neighbors has won them great respect and helped contribute to the neighborhoods revitalization.
If you go Southward and Eastward into Mott Haven and Morrisania, you will see similar immigrant influences, only in these communities the Mexican presence is stronger than the Dominican one. Once again, the business district is a key indicator as these neighborhoods contain a growing number of Mexican groceries and restaurants.
As someone who teaches, does research and works with community organizations in the Bronx, these images are ones I see almost every day. But I feel compelled to share them with people who may be influenced by rhetoric painting immigrants, particularly Mexican and Muslim immigrants, as a destructive, even dangerous force in our society.
From what I have seen in the Bronx, that rhetoric veers far from the mark. In Bronx neighborhoods, and in Bronx public schools, these stigmatized groups have been major contributors to the Bronx's revitalization. This is a story which must be told, and hopefully, my own university, Fordham, will commit itself to help telling it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Will Fordham Be Part of the Problem, or the Solution, to Income Inequality?

If Fordham wants to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem in relation rampant income inequality in the US- it needs to start changing its admissions policy to de-emphasize SAT Scores and place economic and racial diversity among its students ABOVE raising it's US News and World Report rankings.
Fordham has been spending too much of its financial aid money attracting students with high SAT scores and not enough on attracting smart children from working class and moderate income families who may not score at the Ivy League level on their SATs.
Why? Because SAT scores are strongly correlated with income and family wealth. You make high SATs your primary criteria and all things being equal you are going to attract students from high income families.
Should Fordham, with its historic mission of serving ambitious children of immigrants in the New York Metropolitan Area, be reinforcing social hierarchies in a society where the top 1 percent of the population now commands 23% of the wealth.
This is a question everyone who loves this great university should consider at this historic moment

Fordham Alumni For Change Moving Forward

Great meeting last night of Fordham Alumni for Change. We had alumni there from the class of 1971, 1979, 1997, 2000, 2004 along with one Fordham senior and several more recent grads Marlene Taylor-Ponterotto brought the food and we had many productive discussions about strategy. For those alums who weren't able to make it, or who live in other parts of the country, here are a few highlights of the discussion
1. Some kind of permanent organization is going to be created in the next few months, either by reviving and transforming the Black and Latino Alumni Association or creating an entirely new group. Either way, the group will be open to ALL alumni who want Fordham to be a more diverse community, a place where people of all back grounds are welcomed and where the Bronx, its people and culture are honored rather than walled off and shunned.
2. Some time in April there is going to be an Anti-Racism/ Anti-Gentrification vigil organized outside the gates of the Rose Hill Campus organized by alumni, students and community groups. More information about this will be available as plans for this event proceed
3. One of the biggest goals of the group is to entirely change the Narrative about the Bronx that shapes student recruitment, campus tours, student orientation, and campus life generally.
To this end, Alumni all over the country can push for the following policy changes on the Rose Hill Campus:
1. A one hour session on the Bronx, its people and its culture, be a REQUIRED part of every Freshman orientation at Rose Hill, starting this summer.
2. The admissions office staff, including guides for campus tours, should be exposed to workshops on Bronx history and culture, which point out how the Bronx is a GREAT AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY in terms of rebuilding once devastated neighborhoods, creating new musical forms, and providing a home for immigrants from every part of the world.
3. Fordham should begin providing walking tours and bus tours of Bronx neighborhoods jointly led by community leaders and Fordham faculty.
4 The resources of the Rose Hill Campus, including the library, should be made more available to community residents, and more events held on the campus which are open to community residents
4. The group will be involved in long term efforts to change admissions and financial aid policies to recruit more talented students from low and moderate income backgrounds from the NY Metropolitan area. This will require years of effort, but there is no better time to start than the present.
More later. Fordham Alumni for Change is HERE TO STAY.F

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Why Why Need Betty Rosa As Regents Chair in New York State

One of the reasons we need to have Betty Rosa as the next Regents Chair in New York State is because she can help shine a light on the damage the whole "Receivership Schools" program is doing to education in the state. The damage is not only being inflicted on teachers and students in the schools already in the program, which number well over 100, but on all those which fear being placed in the program if their test scores go down. Basically, the threat of state mandated school take overs is a source of constant pressure on schools in low and moderate income districts or communities to emphasize test scores above all, and to apply their limited resources to test prep. This means sacrificing art music, gym, recess, school trips-- but it also means creating an atmosphere of near panic among teachers, students and families,a panic you can see most expressed by principals and superintendents when parents choose to opt out their children from tests. I know several districts in Eastern Long Island where this is the case, and I am sure it is happening all over the Bronx.
We cannot really claim to have released the vise grip of testing in New York state while over hundred schools are in "receivership" and hundreds if not thousands more fear being taken over by the state.
This is why we need a Regents Chair who has worked as an educator in a high poverty district and understands the damage being done in such districts by excessive testing and the threat of school takeovers by the state.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teachers and the President: Love Meets Indifference and Condescension

Yesterday, I was sent a photo by an engraged teacher from the state of Michigan who I have been communicating with regularly for the last few years It showed a picture of President Obama with a huge smile on his face in a Detroit pizza shop preparing to visit the auto show in that city. it was dated January 20, 2016.
To my teacher friend, a picture of a smiling President visiting a city where there was an ongoing sick out of teachers protesting intolerable conditions in the schools they work in was like a huge slap in the face. Did the President care that thousands of teachers were putting their jobs on line to fight for decent conditions for their students? Did he have anything to say about the desperate conditions in Detroit schools? What kind of President visits a city in crisis and not only refuses to acknowlege that such a crisis exists, but has a huge smile on his face amidst the turmoil?
The sad thing about this is that this is exactly the behavior that my friend would have expected from George W Bush. It was the behavior he displayed during Hurricane Katrina. But from Barack Obama, who was swept into the White House with teacher votes in 2008? This came off as a complete betrayal
Yet unfortunately, it is part of a pattern
Did President Obama say a word during the great Chicago Teachers Strike of 2014? Did he come to the defense of teachers who lost their collective bargaining rights in the state of Wisconsin a few years earlier? Has he ever said or done anything to let the nation's public school teachers know he appreciates their efforts, or encouraged them to play a major role in shaping education policy?
If the answer to these questions is "No" there must be a reason. Why, given the overwhelming support he has gotten from the nation's public school teachers at the polls, and the love many feel for him as a leader, a husband and a father, has he supported policies which weaken the nation's public schools and refused to reach out to teachers as a positive force in the nation's political life and the bulwark of its middle class?
While the President has never spoken to directly to these issues, we may have enough information from the President's close friend, Arne Duncan, to get some clue to his underlying attitutdes
What Arne Duncan said, over and over again, in his official position of Secretary of Education is that the nation's public schools teachers were not up to the challenge of preparing children for global economic competition because they were weak students from lower level colleges who entered the profession by default. Not only did hey not deserve respect, they had to be REPLACED if the nation is going to progress.
This contemptous view of public schools teachers has guided every single education policy of this administration, from test based teacher accountability, to support for charter schools, to efforts to revamp teacher education. Basically, this administration doesn't want to support public school teachers in cities like Detroit in Chicago, it wants to get rid of them! If you think I am exagerrating, just remember what Secretary Duncan said about New Orleans- that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in that city because it allowed city officals to fire so many teachers and start over again
Now it is true that it was Secretary Duncan who said that, not President Obama, but whose policies was the Secretary carrying out? At the very least, the President is responsible for the Secretary's statements by default. At the worst, he might share the contemptous attitude toward teachers they embody

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Emerging Model for Public Education

The model for public education being developed now--with a huge green light from ESSA- is packaged instruction offered by scripted educators. Some of this will be offered on computer terminals, some in conventional classrooms.; but it is a low cost, data driven model that depersonalizes schooling in ways which we have never seen before. The huge savings in teacher training, teacher salaries and teacher persions ( it is presumed there will be high teacher turover) make this overwhelmingly attractive to policy makers and budget conscious politicians even though it defies every theory of child development worth its salt and deprives children of the sponaneity, creativity, play, critical thinking and opportunity to develop personal relations with teachers and peers. It is a chillingly futuristic vision being brought to life right now in real space and real time. Just read Peggy Robertson's posting about her school in Aurora Colorado to see what this actually entails. Yes, hers is a "turnaround" school, but after the powers that be finish with low income schools and districts, they will set their sights on middle class communities, especially since the middle class is shrinking fast.
Be afraid. Be very afraid. As bad as you think it was, it's worse.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How Oakland Should Respond to the Closing of It's Wal-Mart- Guest Post By Brian Crowell

With the closing of WalMart in Oakland, one must ask the question? Do we need WalMart in America at all. The WalMart in Oakland was always busy. The other Walmart in the area is literally 1.5 miles per way in the San Leandro Suburb neighboring Oakland. The WalMart in Oakland brought in 4,000 jobs. It was also in the top 25 for tax receipts for the City of Oakland.

So what was the problem? Was is the fact that the City of Oakland raised the minimum wage to over $12.00 per hour? How can a store that was profitable be a problem? Its part of WalMarts Macro Scheme to close 269 stores world wide.

What can Oakland do? Why use the empty space and open its own retail store? The City Manager could make the deal with the distributors and import the same products. We have the Port of Oakland in the same city where all the products came from China anyway. Oakland has population, tax receipts and demand so its not like true store would be any less empty. Also the City of Oakland could pay the employees MORE than the WalMart Employees were getting. We can call the store OakMart.

Oakland could probably undercut WalMart in its distribution and WalMart might cry bloody murder. If so, then Oakland could take WalMart to court for violating anti trust laws. City Municipalities don't have the profit mandate that corporate models necessitate. Its time for Government to serve its people and not these companies who cut and run when the numbers are bad for a quarter. Although I'm certain this was not the case in Oakland.

Brian Crowell

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tragedies in Poor Communities which "School Reform" Strategies Make Worse

In the nation's poor communities, we have an epidemic of homelessness and overcrowding ( New York); gun violence and police abuse (Chicago); collapse of basic infrastructures and public health emergencies ( Flint and Detroit)
In the face of these calamities, test based school reform and the teacher evaluation rubrics and school turnaround strategies that accompany them, all of which DESTABILIZE public schools and create a revolving door teacher force compound the tragedy
What children living in the midst of poverty and turmoil need above all is STABLE public schools; TEACHER MENTORS who nurture and protect them as well as teach them; and schools which are places where community residents can gather safely and organize to improve their situation.
Every major education reform strategy promulgated by the last two administrations has been based on the application of what Naomi Klein calls the SHOCK DOCTRINE- a strategy for destabilizing institutions to make them more easy streamlined and privatized
In education, it has been an unmitigated disaster.
This is a time to change course in high poverty neighborhoods
No more school closings
Stop putting schools in receivership
Drastically reduce testing
Stop scripting and humiliating teachers
Stop charter expansion
Start programs to recruit and retain teachers of color
End alternative certifications programs ( TFA etc) which require less than a 5 year teaching commitment

Friday, January 15, 2016

Reflections on Dr King in a Difficult Time

The Dr King I love was a restless tortured soul, a brilliant man from a privileged Black family whose identification with the poor and the victimized was truly global in scope. Marked for death from an early age- he was only 26 when he was tapped to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott-  he drew upon intellect, experience, and the prophetic traditions of his church to speak with unmatched eloquence on the issues of the day. Living with fear of assassination every day of his adult life, achingly aware of the tens of millions who looked to him for leadership, appalled by the cynicism and corruption of those who headed governments, he spoke from the heart on subjects many refused to touch and in the process gave courage to countless people. No person in modern history changed lives more with his speeches, both during his lifetime and after his death. He had an uncanny ability to describe how broad historical process enter the lives of individuals, confronting them with choices and decisions they never thought they had to make. In those situations, he warned us, the right choice is rarely the safe choice. I have tried to take this lesson to heart and share it with my students. Dr King remains an integral part of my teaching, and of my life, and will do so until I join him in what ever awaits us in Eternity.

Three Sports Moments- Thoughts on Coaching and Parenting

One of the things I learned from coaching and parenting is that children choose their own sports to excel in. I exposed both of my children and my grand daughter Avery to many sports. But THEY were the ones who figured out what sports they would most make their mark in. Here are three moments when I realized each had found their sport
Sara and Tennis.
I taught Sara how to throw catch and hit from the time she was three years old and she was a star in boys baseball and basketball from an early age. She showed little interest in tennis until she started taking group lessons with the best boy athletes in the neighborhood and started beating boys who were actually better baseball players than she was. Then, the indoor tennis facility where she took lessons was abandoned by owner and was basically run by the pros who taught there, especially Steve Carberry and Joanne Bongiorno Sheeler. They worked out an arrangement where kids who took lessons with them could play for free on off hours. During that winter, Sara, who was 8 was "adopted" by the best older kids at the bubble, including R.j. Sheeler, Andrew Magidoff and the Adan family, who were taking lessons there and encouraged to hit with them when they were on the court. And then her game started taking off. I discovered how much when the pros ran a tournament and in first round of the girls tournament, Sara played a 16 year doubles player on the Midwood Tennis Team. Sara beat her and the girl ran off the court crying, something that would turn out to be a typical pattern among girls who played her. That's when I knew that tennis was likely to be her best sport.
Eric and Baseball
My son Eric, like Sara, was exposed to many sports, baseball basketball and soccer. He was good in all of them but when he was 5 or 6, in seemed like he was going to most make his mark as a left handed hitter in baseball. Then, when we was 7, I had him play "up" in an 8 and 9 year old league where the kids did the pitching. Eric was one of four or five pitchers on the team all of whom were pretty good, but I still thought of him more as a hitter. Then one day, we played a team made up of some of the best 9 year olds in the neighborhood. Eric was the third pitcher to take the mound and I didn't expect too much. But something happened to him out there. Faced with kids who were two years older and much bigger, Eric became a different person. He struck out hitter after hitter with left handed pitches that moved all over the place. The kids he faced looked helpless against him. And then I knew, along with every parent and coach watching the game. It was as a pitcher that Eric was going to have his greatest success.
Avery and Track
When Avery was three or four years old, I tried to teach her to hit and throw and catch the way I did Sara and Eric. She was not particularly enthusiastic about this and didn't make much progress. However, she kept wanting to race me. By 4 or 5, she was just as fast as me and by 6 or 7 she was just as fast as her very athletic mother. Finally, through a friend of Sara's we found a track club in Brooklyn, Prospect Park Youth Running Club, who tried her out and decided to make her a middle distance runner. I went to a few of the practices and thought she was good, not great in comparison to the other kids her age. Then Liz and I went to her first meet, an 8 and under 800 meter race at the Prospect Park Armory. When the race began, Liz and I said to each other "Please don't let her come in last." At the beginning of the race, which was 4 laps, Avery, who was a terrible starter, was at the back of the pack. Then to our great relief, by the beginning of the third lap, she was in the middle of the pack. By the end of the third lap, Avery was in second, about 20 yards behind one of her friends who was an excellent runner. Then to everyone's astonishment, Avery found a gear no one knew she had, passed her friend and won the race by 50 yards. That's when we knew. Avery had found her sport

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Disturbing Trends in the Last 7 Years

1. Virtually all gains in income have accrued to the top 1 percent of the population
2. Over 90 million adults remain out of the labor force
3. Most new jobs created have been part time and without benefits
4. Student debt continues to mount
5. Gentrification has accelerated in all the nation's large cities- poor people are being pushed into the suburbs
6, More and more people are living doubled up or taking in borders because incomes have not kept pace with rents or mortgage payments
7. Public schools have been destabliized and teacher morale is the lowest on record.
8, The prison population continues to grow even though crime rates have fallen.
9. Police community tensions are rising sharply.
10. Large numbers of people see racism and racial tension as rising.
11. Huge numbers of undocumeted immigrants are being deported every year

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Robert Snyder's Great New Book:"Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City"

" am in the middle of reading Robert Snyder's 'Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City' and will tell you straight out, it is one of the best pieces of New York City social history I have read in a long time. It contains incredible interview material as well as displaying a familiarity with every documentary source available and is written with clarity, insight and occasionally with eloquence. Few people have written with greater insight about how race, religion and nationality shape life in rapidly changing New York City neighborhoods. The book begins at a time when Washington Heights was a predominantly Jewish and Irish neighborhood, discusses the sometimes fierce resistance to Black and Latino migration inside its borders, covers years of disinvestment and drug epidemics and deals in great depth with the huge Dominican presence within its boundaries which is now threatened by gentrification. It was extremely helpful to me in writing the introduction to my book of Bronx Oral Histories, but I recommend it to anyone interested in NYC neighborhood life.

Why the Coming Supreme Court Decision Might Not Be The End of the World for Teachers Unions and Labor

The coming Supreme Court decision elminating mandatory dues check off by public employees unions will create a crisis in the labor movement- especially for the big national teachers unions- but it need not destroy them
A look at labor history suggests why labor supporters, and teachers union members should avoid a doomsday scenario.
The greatest gains in the history of the US labor movement took place between 1933 and 1941 when unions, without any government support for dues collection, and sometimes in the face of violent attacks from police and private armies, fought an heroic battle for workplace rights, freedom of expression and higher living standards for the nation's industrial workers. To secure these gains, they not only had to convince workers and their families to take unprecedented risks, they had to convince a majority of the people in the communities where they organized that labor's gains would improve living standards for them. Without that community support, the unions could never have won the great strikes that marked labor's struggle for recognition, especially the Minneapolis Teamsters Rebellion of 1934, and the Flint Sit-Down Strikes of 1936-37,
The labor leaders of that era were not career bureaucrats with comfortable salaries. They didn't hold conventions at fancy hotels or resorts.. They, along with their members, risked beatings, imprisonment, even death, to win security, respect, and better wages, for the workers they were trying to organize.,
While conditions of those times were very different, there maybe a few lessons for today's labor leaders embedded in that history. First, labor can only progress when it convinces people outside of its membership that it speaks for the greater good and defends all people under duress. Secondly, it must have leaders who suffer alongside members and share their hardships and sacrifice.
Will today's unions rise to the occasion, win back public trust and set a model of courage and heroism.
Time will tell. But what we see happening in Detroit right how with teachers putting their bodies on the line to fight intolerable conditions for their students, gives me some hope

Friday, January 8, 2016

Support for Co-Naming Lymon Place "Elmo Hope Way"

Dear District Manager Dudley
As founder and director of the Bronx African American History Project, I would like to offer my enthusiastic support for efforts to co-name Lymon Place, "Elmo Hope Way." This is an important part of the BAAHP's efforts to have the jazz history of Morrisania commemorated so that a new generation of Bronx residents can understand an important portion of their borough's musical history.
Elmo Hope was a brilliant jazz pianist and composer, a leader within the "Hard Bop" jazz tradition, who spent many of his most creative years as a resident of Lymon Place. One of the people we interviewed for the Bronx African American History Project, Jacqueline ("Jackie") Bonneau Smith, talked with great passion about the hours she spent at Elmo Hope's apartment on Lymon place watching him jam with her uncle, Thelonious Monk. She also described Elmo Hope's encouragement as an important influence on her own decision to become a musician and composer
Elmo Hope played with some of the great musicians of his era, among them Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Lou Donaldson, and his recordings are prized by jazz historians and jazz afficianados. We feature his song "Hot Sauce" on the "Music of the Bronx" CD we play at Bronx African American History Project lectures and tours.
I look forward to this great musician being commemorated with a street renaming as has been done for Maxine Sullivan and Henry "Red" Allen.
It is deeply gratifying for us to see the Bronx African American History Project's research on Bronx Jazz History be transformed into living reminders of a great tradition.
Dr Mark Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Founder and Director, Bronx African American History Project

Thursday, January 7, 2016

BK Nation Forum Defuses Stereotypes About Opt Out as a "White Movement"

The BK Nation Forum on Testing and the Opt Out Movement,held at Judson Memorial Church in lower Manhattan last night, represented a powerful challenge to education policy makers who claim testing is a civil rights measure and that the opt out movement is strictly a white middle class initative
Of the 60 plus people in the audience, at least 70 percent were people of color, with the majority being African American, and over half the group was under 40 years of age.
Although the panel was excellent, including people like Jamaal BowmanAixa RodriguezJesse Turner and Shamma Dee, the audience's commentary and participation made the evening special. Anybody who thinks that Reform policies such as testing, school closings and the Common Core Curriculum are popular in Black and Latino communities needed to be in that room. Parent after parent, teacher after teacher, administrator after administrator spoke eloquently about how excessive testing and culturally insensitive curricula were making students in their communities hate school. Equally harrowing were stories about how excessive scripting and humiliating visits were making the best teachers in high poverty communities leave their jobs.
What came across loud and clear was that a climate of fear emanating from city, state and federal policies,, especially school closings and receivership, was creating a toxic atmosphere in many schools in Black and Latino Communities,
What people called for was less testing at all levels, the rewriting of curriculum to include the experience of students in their communities, more portfolio schools exempt from state tests, and adequate funding of schools to reduce class size and make sure students have full access to science, technology, the arts and sports.
Anyone who attended this meeting could not fail to be moved by the sense that the entire Reform Movement had made things WORSE, not better for students of color, and that testing and scripted curriculum had become a nightmare for students, parents and teachers in the communities represented in that room
I think everyone at this amazing event felt empowered to know that they were not alone, that many other people around the city shared their concerns and were ready to WAGE WAR to see that all children got the education they deserved.
A Huge thanks must be given to Carla Cherry and Kevin Powell for organizing this event, and for everyone who attended and helped make it such an inspiring experience,

Tom Porton's Parting Shot: Why One of the Bronx's Most Brilliant Teachers Decided to Retire

To all my friends and supporters:... It is with mixed emotions that I announce that I will be retiring from the New York City Department of Education on February 1, 2016.

Looking back on 47 years in education (46 in the James Monroe building), I see a mosaic of thousands of faces…students, parents, colleagues. I have so many great memories of those years, from the excitement of the classroom, to the applause for shows I directed, to the impact of my many school and community projects. My heart is filled with so many great relationships that came from those years…so many of which I maintain even to the present day.

It is because of the joy I feel when I think of my teaching career that I have such mixed emotions about retiring. And yet, as this new year began and I took inventory of my daily routine, I realized there was a need to make a change in my professional life.

First and foremost, I do not feel that I have the same impact on young people that I have had in the past. The reason I continued teaching at Monroe for so many years was the fact that I really thought I was making a difference in the lives of my students, not only in the classroom, but especially through my work in school and community activities. It was that energy and excitement of creating and working with motivated, committed young people that kept me young and vital.

However, beginning this school year, my opportunities for continuing that impact have been lessened to the point where each day has become a struggle. For over 35 years, I began each day with my Leadership class, where I was able to create a core of 40-50 students who would facilitate a wide variety of school and community events in the Monroe Campus. Now, with that class programmed away by the current administration, making those events continue becomes harder and harder. I realized this during the past several months where I struggled to continue such projects as the Blood Drive, the Thanksgiving Community Dinner, the World AIDS Day commemoration, and the Holiday Caroling Celebration. Although I made them happen, each event was met with no support from the current administration.

Also, in the past, I was given time during the day to coordinate school and community projects, which were considered valued parts of our school community. Now, based on new programming by the current administration, it has been made virtually impossible for me to find the time to keep my projects going. As an English teacher, having to teach more classes, especially those based on EngageNY, the Common Core English curriculum that allows students to go through high school without reading a single complete novel, play, or biography, is torture for me. I’m sure my former students will attest to the fact that my classes were always filled with my own enjoyment of the subject matter and my ability to bring unique and creative materials (films, music, art) into the classroom. Now, having all materials dictated by an outside source, the joy of teaching English has all but vanished.

Finally, going to school each day and facing an atmosphere wherein my very presence is greeted with animosity by my supervisor is not a pleasant experience; and one that I have decided not to continue.
For those of you who know me well, you know that my workaholic personality will not allow me to stop working. I am currently searching for venues in which I can continue to impact the lives of young people and, at least in some manner, continue the humanistic education upon which I have built my teaching career. I certainly welcome suggestions from those of you with ideas about places and/or positions where I could continue this next segment of my career.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has been part of the mosaic which has been my career at Monroe. I hope to continue those thousands of relationships which are so meaningful to me and which have kept me committed to the Monroe tradition for so many years.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Magic of Community History-What Test Based Accountability and School Closings Ruined in the Bronx

Yesterday, while going through my files to do the footnotes for a book of African American Bronx oral histories I was completing, I came upon a document that filled me with great sadness. It was a speech, and powerpoint presentation I gave in February 2006 to over 600 Bronx social studies teachers assembled at Lehman college about the musical traditions of the Bronx- supplemented by nearly 20 songs.
The response from the teachers, principals and assistant principals in the audience was incredible- some of them were dancing in the aisles- and out of this experience came the opportunity to work in over 20 Bronx schools doing community history projects, lectures and neighborhood tours. In every school I entered, the teachers, administrators, students and parents took ownership of the material I presented, creating amazing projects, presentations ,displays and musical performances. So incredible were these teacher/student developed projects that I decided to showcase them at the 2008 Organization of American Historians Convention at the New York Hilton. as an example of the kind of community history projects scholars all over the nation should be doing.
Little did I know, when I organized the program for the OAH, that within two years, all of these programs would be gone. By 2010 my invitations from Bronx schools would shrink to nearly zero, with one school in Morrisania, PS 140, being the only hold out.
What happened?
In 2007, under the aegis of a misguided Columbia law professor named James Liebman, who was appointed the NYC Department of Education's first "accountability officer," the DOE began giving schools letter grades to schools based on students test scores and threatening to close schools which received failing grades two yeas in a row. This began what amounted to a "reign of terror" in Bronx schools. Principals who once joyously set aside two full months for community history projects in the spring suddenly realized that if they didn't devote almost every moment of school time to test prep, their school would be closed and their staff dispersed. And they were not wrong in this assessment. Betweeen 2008 and 2014, the NYC closed 168 schools in New York City, nearly 70 of them in the Bronx.
But the damage done was not only in the schools that were closed. It was done in every school in the Bronx, and in other high poverty districts of the city, where arts, physical education, community history, even recess, were sacrificed to make room for test prep and where everyone worked in fear.
I look forward to the time when this fear will lift, and I can bring community history back to Bronx schools.
But based on what I see happening with receivership schools, which are still being threatened with closure, I fear I will be waiting a very long time.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Health and Safety Violations in Bronx Schools

Just had an epiphany. The reason there are so many safety violations in Bronx schools- as documented by Kathy Cole- is the same reason that there are so few athletic teams and so little gym and recess. Ever since 2006 or 2007, Bronx schools have been given the message that the only thing that really matters are test scores; that if they don't raise test scores they are going to be closed and the careers of their administrators and teachers destroyed. That message was sent by the Bloomberg DOE, the state and the feds and it is still being sent! So what do some principals conclude? Nothing matters other than test scores. Everything else can be sacrificed. Health, safety student well being? No one with power cares. I can neglect those with no consequence. Legal mandates mean nothing. The only mandate that REALLY matters is to raise test scores. Flawed gym doors? Not a problem. No athletic teams for kids who want them? No real recess? Not something those with the power to rate and close schools care about.
In high poverty areas of New York City, among which the Bronx is one, it takes real courage, even heroism, to place the health and safety of students foremost since education policy makers have made it clear that is NOT a priority. Some principals and administrators rise to the occasion and make sure their students total array of needs are met. Too many don't.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Flawed Logic of Testing as a Strategy to Reduce Inequality

Anyone who studies economic data, or carefully examines social conditions in low and moderate income neighborhoods knows that families are under extreme stress. As wages remain stagnant, as jobs with security and benefits disappear, and as larger and larger portions of the adult population remain out of the labor force, more and more American children are living in stressful circumstances. A growing number are homeless or in foster care, but a much larger number are part of families that are doubled and tripled up or are forced to take in borders to pay the rent. Such conditions in the worst instance lead to physical and sexual abuse, but more often result in sleep deprivation, anxiety, and stress related disorders.
Given these conditions, what young people most need is schools which provide them with stability, security, nurturing, strong relationships with teachers, access to counseling and ample opportunities for exercise, and self expression.
What they are getting instead, especially in high poverty neighborhoods, is schools which are tense and stress filled as a result of relentless testing and test based accountability, which makes teachers and administrators fear for their jobs and students feel that their performance on tests is the only thing that matters.
A more ill considered and destructive strategy in current economic conditions could not be imagined
We are putting intolerable pressure on young people who already live with far more pressure than they should.
This is inhumane. This is wrong. This is profoundly destructive.
We need to change course, and fast. Parents, students, teachers. Stop the testing machine. Now.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Three Problems With the Argument That Testing Is a Civil Rights Measure

1. Advocates for this position say we need to test every student in every grade to know which schools are failing. In truth, anyone with a modicum of common sense can visit schools in a district and tell which ones are doing a good job serving their students and which ones aren't, Testing is only one indicator of school performance and not necessarily the most effective one.
2. Testing every student in every grade turns all instruction into test prep, crowding out activities which promote student engagement and student creativity. In high poverty schools which fear being closed if test scores don't rise, the damage is even more far reaching. Recess, gym and the arts are eliminated to make room for test prep and in the worst instances students who perform poorly on tests may be pushed out of schools
3. High stakes testing is likely to increase performance gaps by race and class. Schools who fear the consequences of low test scores will create such a tense and authoritarian atmosphere that the best teachers leave, depriving students of the mentoring from lifetime educators they need to succeed, Teacher temps, and revolving door terrorized teaching staffs will not help students in low income neighborhoods acquire the self confidence and skills they need to succeed. Nothing could do more to increase inequality than the punitive regime of turnaround and receivership schools which exists in almost every state. The result of this policy is a growing contrast between schools in high income communities  which have lifetime educators and a full variety of arts and sports programs while schools in low income communities have revolving door teaching staffs and round the clock test prep. That is where an obsession with testing is taking us.