Education war officially delcared

More on this later, but for anyone who had any doubt there was a war against public education in this country, so-called reformer Geoffrey Canada makes things explicit:

“someone has to make war.”

This comes from a piece in a really scary NY Times piece by Anna Phillips about the creation of new lobbying group organized to influence NYC’s mayor election and education policy in NY:

On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; Mr. Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.

This is yet another example of what Joanne Barkan recently showed in Dissent: education “reformers” are now trying to buy political elections.


How NY is Screwing Up the Common Core

Previously, I’ve explained why I like what the Common Core does for Social Studies learning and teaching.  My latest piece for the New York Times’ Schoolbook takes on the implementation of the new standards:

Teachers who focus on content and test-prep are sadly doing all that is necessary to prepare students for the exam. A recent study by Gabriel Reich of Virginia Commonwealth University found that the Global Regents Exam does not call for any historical thinking skills, but rather knowledge of history content, basic literacy and “test-wiseness.”

The history Regents exams do not ask students to do anything that meets the overwhelming majority of the new Common Core standards.

It is particularly troubling then to find that the state does not seem to have a concrete plan in place to change the history regents exams.

Please read the whole piece, and add your comments here or there.


The Education of Amani A: Education (Calling)

I’ve never asked this before, but please share this piece with as many people as you can. My students’ poem deserves a wide audience.  ~SL

I never lack for reasons why I love my job, but none of them ever supersede the privilege of seeing young women and ment take hold of the views and positions they will carry with them into their adulthood.  In rare cases, I get to bear witness to a student who not only attains a mature and nuanced understanding of a complex issue, but finds her voice to share that position with the larger world.

This past Thursday, Amani A., who I am proud to be able to call my student at the Academy for Young Writers, took 3rd place at the annual Knicks Poetry Slam at a sold out Broadway theater.  I am hardly an aficionado of performance poetry, so I won’t comment on the quality of the poem nor its performance (though I can only assume she was robbed of first place), but I do want to engage with the content of her poem: the education of young men of color. There is much to admire and love in her message.

Amani starts by juxtaposing the media attention given to acts of violence committed by students against teachers with the lack of attention given to the violent results of  abdicating the responsibility for actually educating young men of color.  She notes that a Google search for “students hitting teachers” leads one to read, “A student hitting a teacher is a serious incident that merits a serious response.”  Yet when searching for “teachers miseducating students” all she found relevant was “Lauryn Hill” (an allusion to Hill’s 1998 modern classic, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill).  It is a powerful and attention grabbing opening.

Amani then goes on to describe the young men she has observed throughout her education, who “think fists are words” and that “they have to play God to make change.”  This is the most powerful and effective stanza of the work.  She rebukes the young men for their reliance on violence as she simultaneously calls to question society’s failed attempts to promote role models in the guise of Great Men (King, Malcolm X, WEB DuBois, Booker T. Washington, etc) who are taught typically as saints, or naturally gifted, or the product of remarkable circumstances, but nonetheless, as people who are far greater than you or I ever could hope to be.

Later in the poem, Amani attacks the classroom culture of criticizing mistakes.  This leads young men to build up “tension in his body” when condescended because of a wrong answer (something I hope I rarely do when it comes to my content, but must plead guilty to the crime when it comes to lack of math skills in my students), or worse, leaving the anger “caught in their throat.” This leads them to “package the silent treatment into their fists/ [to] make sure they’re heard.”  One could easily extrapolate that experience to apply to binary standardized tests that tell students they are wrong or lacking in skills.  Good teachers know that mistakes are wonderful, because they are the most powerful opportunities for learning and growth.  It’s disheartening to see that Amani has witnessed something different throughout her education.

My lone criticism of the poem is that the solution it posits is slightly simplistic; her diagnosis is far more sophisticated than her prescription.  Amani calls her audience to “Call these boys / Call their voice / Tell them its time / Tell them we’re listening.”  Giving students more voice in and outside of classrooms is an important step, but it is only one of the panacea of steps that are necessary to actually improve the four hundred year history of individual and structural racism in this country, let alone the educational component of it.

The full text of the poem is below, which Amani generously shared with me to publish, but this is a poem meant to be seen and heard, so please watch the video, and share with others you know. Continue reading The Education of Amani A: Education (Calling)

Updated: My Blood, My Sweat, My Test Scores

After two years of court battles, it seems that the release of NYC Teacher Data Reports will happen any moment now.  For the life of me, I cannot understand the journalistic justification of publishing individual teachers’ results.  I would like to applaud Gotham School schools for choosing not to do so, and express my disappointment that the New York Times seems prepared to. I would further ask the Times why they are choosing to publish teacher’s scores when they have not published principal’s ratings in the past. I do not expect integrity from the Daily News or the Post.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I serve on an advisory board for Gotham Schools, though was not consulted on this decision.  I also write for the Time’s Schoolbook site.)

I wrote the following piece over a year ago when the DOE first announced they would share the results, and stand by it today.  I would be willing to update results, but I do not have access to my students scores from 2011 (I believe about 60% of my students passed the Global exam. This was extremely disappointing to me, though the results can partially be explained by having to teach the two year Global curriculum in one year).  This past semester, I worked with seniors who had failed one or both of the history exams.  Of the twelve students I worked with on US History, six passed; for Global History, eight out of eight passed.

From October 20, 2010:

As you might know, this week the NYC DOE said it would release 12,000 teachers’ names and their students’ test scores on State ELA and math tests in grades 3-8. I teach high school, so I am not directly affected, but here are my students’ Regents test scores from my four years teaching in NYC, anyway. I put them out there in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who are about to be put under the microscope.

You can have the scores, just please remember they are almost meaningless. They tell you about 5% of what I do. Here’s what they don’t tell you:

  • They don’t tell you that last year I taught 100% of our juniors who are special education students and/or English Language Learners, even though I only taught 50% of our juniors. They also don’t tell you I requested these most challenging students.
  • They don’t tell you that last year I taught our 15 seniors most in danger of not graduating for two periods. In that time, I prepped them for English, Global, and US Regents, as well as helping them earn credits in a wide variety of areas. Continue reading Updated: My Blood, My Sweat, My Test Scores

On the beating of a former student of mine by the NYPD…

If you’re in New York, you’ve undoubtedly heard by now about two cases of police brutality in the Bronx in the past couple weeks.  In one incident, an 18 year old was shot while unarmed in his home.  The other, is captured in the video below:

The young man that was savagely beaten by four Bronx cops was a student of mine for three years, and my advisee last year.  The student who was killed also attended my old school, but I did not know him.

I’ve been trying to come up with something thoughtful or intelligent to say about this for a week now, and I just have nothing coherent to offer, probably because I’m of many minds here.  The remaining parts of this writing are somewhat disconnected: Continue reading On the beating of a former student of mine by the NYPD…

What the Common Core Means for History Learning & Teaching

I’m part of a roundtable on on the question, “What do the Common Core State Standards mean for history teaching and learning?”  My take:

I am pretty sure I am supposed to be against the Common Core Standards…[but they] offer us an opportunity to broaden the conception of our discipline from one that focuses on helping students acquire an established body of knowledge to one that emphasizes the historical thinking skills that are central to constructing this knowledge. What the standards do in a simple and elegant fashion is clearly articulate the disciplinary skills necessary not only for reaching the relatively low bar of “college and career readiness,” but also for the much greater calling of creating an informed and critical citizenry.

Read the rest of mine here, and the whole series of insightful posts here.

3 Ways to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have Your Students Participate in the Manning Marable “Along the Color Line” Speech Contest
While there is more to the contest than just writing about King, one of the suggested lessons focuses on King’s legacy, and Dr. Marable’s view of it.  The King lesson is here, and full contest information and suggested lesson plans are here.

Remember King’s Reality
Last Martin Luther King Day, I wrote about four lessons students, and their teachers, can learn about Dr. King that challenge common misconceptions about his life and work:

  • Sometimes, history happens by accident
  • King dreamed of a whole lot more than white and black boys and girls joining hands
  • King fought against terrorists
  • King was a human being, with flaws
Learn about the People Who Made King’s Work Possible, and Lessons we Can Learn From Them
My most recent article on Education Week Teacher tells the story of the Septima Clark and Bernice Robinson, whose work became the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement.

Teaching World-Changers: Lessons From the Civil Rights Movement

Seven years ago I fell in love with two wonderful woman named Bernice Robinson and Septima Clark, who founded the Citizenship Education Program, the little known backbone of the Civil Rights Movement.  Without these two, I am certain we would not be celebrating Martin Luther King Day this Monday.  We in education have much to learn from them:

The primary goal of the Citizenship Education Program was to teach and develop first-class citizens. And every aspect of the program was grounded in this goal—from teacher training sessions to day-to-day practices to the rhetoric of staff correspondence. Dozens of adult literacy programs had targeted African-Americans in the South—but none were as successful as the CEP, because too many narrowly focused on the skill of literacy, rather than its application in citizenship.

In my opinion, we have made a similar mistake with skill-based competency testing under No Child Left Behind. A curriculum and testing regimen that only focuses on skill development outside of meaningful and relevant application cannot prepare students and communities for 21st-century success. I hope that with the implementation of the Common Core standards, we will not make the same mistake again. As teachers, we need to develop a clear sense of our own purpose—and make every effort to ensure that how we teach each day aligns with that purpose.

Read the rest at Education Week Teacher. It’s an honor to share part of their story.

Three Things I Used to Think About School Reform

Two months ago, Nancy Flanagan wrote a great piece about changing her mind when it comes to school reform, which inspired me to do the same at the New York Time’s SchoolBook:

I used to think that if I didn’t know the solution to the problem, I could figure one out. I now think some problems are so complex that there can never be a silver bullet.

I used to think we needed to create model schools that could then be replicated. I now think that it is so hard to sustain a model that each school needs to be invested in its own unique vision.

I used to think our goal should be to create systems of great schools. I now think great schools are so hard to create and maintain that our goal should be to create good and sustainable ones.

Read the rest here.

World History for All of Us

Last year, I found myself teaching a Global History course for the fourth time in my career.  Like many history teachers in the US, most of my historical training had focused on American history, and it was my passion for it that led me to become a Social Studies teacher in the first place.  The first time in my life that I was in a classroom learning about Ancient Greece and Rome was when I was teaching it as a student teacher, in East Greenwich, RI. There, the course was still “Western Civilization”. I later taught “World History 1” in Virginia (Beginning of Time -> Renaissance), and “Global History 3/4” in New York (Renaissance -> Now).  What was evident to me in all courses was that a dominant narrative of the progress of western civilization was the backbone of the course: River Valley -> Ancient Greece & Rome -> Middle/Dark Ages -> Renaissance/Exploration/Scientific Revolution -> Enlightenment/Atlantic Revolutions -> Modernity.  The Rhode Island curriculum basically took that as the story, while Virginia and New York used that to organize chronological periods, then adding in units about other portions of the world, often leading to illogical breaks in the stories of other regions, particularly China.  I realized there was something problematic about this conception of World History, but did not have the vocabulary or knowledge to articulate anything more than “this seems Eurocentric.”

Thanks to a recommendation in the October issue of Social Education, however, I now have that language.  Ross Dunn’s article, “The Two World Histories” is the most important piece I’ve read about teaching World History, and needs to be required reading for anyone who teaches the subject.  It clearly articulates two camps on World History:

  • World History A: This is the home of most current scholarship on World History, where the focus is on major trends, patterns, and changes on a global scale.
  • World History B: This is the home of both conservative Wester Civilization preservationists and those, like my least-thoughtful self, who want to see more attention paid to all cultures, particularly those that are the heritage of the students I teach.  This is history as the history of civilizations, cultures, nations.

Nearly all political argument around history, and therefore the development of all state standards, occurs in domain B.  The New York Global curriculum and its Regents exam are no exception.  Of the 85 terms that are assessed most frequently in the Multiple Choice portion of the exam, 75 represent people, places, periods, achievements, or events that take place within specific regional or national histories.

Dunn argues that what is needed instead is:

to study the history of humankind writ large, recognizing that the Earth is a “place” whose inhabitants have a shared history. To be sure, important developments have taken place within the confines of continents, regions, societies, and nations, but those ver-changing human aggregates remains parts of the globe in all its roundness.

He recommends the AP World History and World History For Us All curriculums as good models of World History A, as well as the National Standards for History.  It’s also clear though, for those like myself without a strong background in World History, that further reading and professional development is needed.  Though I didn’t fully realize until now why I found it so insightful, I would recommend World History Connected as a good place to start reading.

I hope you will take the time to read the article in its entirety and let me know what you think about it in the comments.