Connecticut: Say No To Charter Schools

The principal of Achievement First Amistad High School, the centerpiece of Connecticut charter schools, has quit after a video showing him being physically aggressive to a student  surfaced. 

This reaffirms for us as Connecticut taxpayers that our money should be put into public schools not into charter schools because:

  1. Charter schools take public money (our tax dollars) but have no public oversight. Public schools have public oversight through state regulations and local school board policies and controls.
  2. Charter schools provide an education that is separate and unequal because the students are overwhelmingly students of color.
  3. The quality of education is inferior to public schools because the emphasis is on test prep rather than critical thinking.
  4. The “success” of charter schools, as measured by standardized test scores, is falsely reported because students who do not test well are counseled out of the schools.
  5. The “success” of charter schools, as measured by graduation rates and college acceptance data, is falsely reported because the attrition of students who do not have the credits to graduate or be accepted to college is not included in the reported data.
  6. The “no excuses” discipline practices which make for high suspension and expulsion rates in charter schools seem commensurate with racial prejudice.

The NAACP has called for a moratorium on opening any new charter schools and for better oversight and accountability for existing charter schools. Connecticut should listen to the NAACP.

In Connecticut, we have a budget crisis which is only aggravated by supporting charter schools. We should spend our tax money wisely. We should fund public education. Making our public schools the best schools in the nation is the key to the future of the state of Connecticut.

We have the visionary educators. We have the knowledge. Let’s do it.

For The Children: End Gun Violence

This is a sculpture done by Manuel Oliver whose son, Joaquin, was killed in the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
May we have a President who cries over the loss of the children to gun violence.
May we have legislators who refuse to take money from the gun lobby.
May no parent ever again have to suffer the loss that Manuel Oliver has suffered.
May children be safe in school.
May we, as citizens, cry out: No more loss of children. Enough. We are a better county than this.

MLK Speaks To Educators and Parents

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The function of education is not to make students successful takers of timed, standardized tests which correlate with only one factor: the socio-economic status of the test takers’ parents.
Education is our best means for creating learners and thinkers who are impassioned to imagine and create the world anew.
We can design schools in which the curricula is learning centered and character building, but first we must put aside the mind-numbing Common Core and assess students in ways other than by timed standardized tests that serve only one purpose: to make money for those who produce the tests.

The Privilege Of Teaching

This painting by Joan Baez celebrates the courage, commitment, and articulateness of Emma Gonzalez of Margery Stoneman Douglas High School. It also reminds me of so many bright and beautiful students I have taught in public high schools. Their names and faces flash before me. I thank Emma Gonzalez and my students for who they have become. I am grateful for the privilege of having been a teacher.

To be part of helping our students to discover and shape their own values,
To encourage and guide our students to be critical and creative thinkers,
To give our students effective and thoughtful ways to respond to what life does to them,

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When The Season Offers Challenges

“There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, ‘Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.’ This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, ‘I am the wilderness.’” – Brené Brown

Finally! These Are What I Call Standards.

12 Girls Created a Solar-Powered Tent to Tackle Homelessness


They didn’t know how to sew. They didn’t know how to code. They didn’t know how to solder. And they had never used a 3-D printer before. But 12 girls at San Fernando High School taught themselves all these skills — and more — to create a solar-powered tent for homeless people.

It’s a feat of scientific ingenuity that shows how much potential is squandered every day when girls aren’t encouraged to pursue STEM careers as much as boys traditionally have been. And it shows the astonishing imaginative reach of young people.

The girls had been invited by a teacher to come up with a science project to participate in the Lemelson-MIT Program, a highly competitive science fair for high schoolers. Most of them weren’t friends beforehand. But they all had common backgrounds and when they got together they knew they wanted to do something about the rising problem of homelessness in San Fernando, according to a profile in Mashable. Homelessness grew by 36% in the San Fernando Valley last year and many of the girls witness the suffering caused by this daily.

“Because we live here, we see it growing constantly,” Maggie Mejia, a student on the team, told Mashable. “If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too.”

They tossed around ideas such as tackling pollution and water quality, but ultimately agreed that creating tents with power sources was the best solution.

Then DIY Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to unlocking the scientific potential of girls, began guiding them through the process of applying for grants.

After receiving a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program, the team got to work figuring out how to create a solar-powered tent and what that means exactly.

Starting from scratch was a struggle, but the team depended on early insights from DIY girls and soon realized that tutorials could be found online.

They learned how to sew, code, operate 3-D printers, and more through youtube videos, Google searches, and other platforms.

“You’re learning new things you’ve never even heard of or even thought of,” Chelly Chavez, a student on the team who learned coding languages for the tent’s technical aspects, told Mashable.

A hashtag was developed that captured their enterprising spirit: #wegetitdone.

Soon a prototype was developed and after working for a year, the team has a finished product that they’ll present at MIT in a competition with 14 other teams.

They were able to raise the funds for traveling to MIT through a Go Fund Me.

The solar-powered tent has button-powered lights, USB ports, and a sanitizing UVC light. It features insulated fabric and has a safety locking system. Taking into account the vagrant experiences of most homeless people, the tent even collapses into a backpack that can be rolled around or worn with straps.

For the entire team, the experience has been transformative. Many will be the first in their families to go to college. They learned valuable skills. And all of them will be challenging a status quo that routinely denies STEM opportunities to women.

“Me and her, we’re the only two junior girls in our AP calculus class, which has way more guys than girls,” Paola Valtierra told Mashable. “But we’re gonna change that.”

Amazing! These girls created a way to address the problem of homelessness in their community. These girls will inspire other girls to take on challenges in the sciences. These girls demonstrate what real national standards for learning should be.

Let’s throw out the those minimalist Common Core Standards and make these the new standards:

  1. Being informed about societal, political, and environmental needs.
  2. Posing and shaping questions
  3. Accessing one’s own imagination
  4. Demonstrating innovative thinking and ingenuity
  5. Conducting research to explore one’s own questions
  6. Collaborating with diverse thinkers
  7. Thinking critically
  8. Constructing new knowledge
  9. Acquiring technology skills
  10. Demonstrating effective oral and written communication
  11. Learning from one’s own failures

These are the standards with the power to make students into learners and thinkers. These are the standards worth insisting upon.  These are the standards that will transform the world.

For Young Children: Age Matters

How can it be that children born in a certain month are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than other children? Was it the weather in the month of their birth? Was it their astrological sign? Was it just bad luck?  And why did it happen in only some states and not in others?

The answer lies in knowing the kids.

 In a study, released in November 2018, Harvard Medical School researchers examined data from 18 states in which children who turn five by September 1 are enrolled in kindergarten. Children, therefore, born in August are almost a year younger than their classmates who were born the previous September.  The study concluded that a significant number of August babies were  being diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication for it simply because they were younger than their classmates.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that students born in August had a 34 percent higher rate of ADHD diagnosis than their older classmates born in September.

Essentially, that means the youngest children in school are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Furthermore, younger students are more prone to receiving longer, more intensive medical treatments for ADHD than older classmates. That especially surprised the study’s main author, Timothy Layton, an assistant professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.

“Our assumption was that, for those cases, there would be fewer prescriptions and less intensive treatment,” Layton said. “We found the opposite. They’re not getting mild diagnosis and treatment for ADHD. They’re being treated intensively, which is more concerning.”

According to a 2016 CDC report, nearly one in 10 children between 2 and 17 years of age — over 6.1 million total — have been diagnosed with ADHD across the nation. And the rates of ADHD diagnosis have increased by more than 40 percent over the past two decades.

But Layton believes normal maturity differences between younger students versus their older classmates are being overlooked as a factor in ADHD diagnoses, especially among young students.

“The difference in normal behavior between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old is actually quite large,” Layton explained. “But that’s probably not something [teachers] are really thinking about. They just observe that they have a class of children who are about the same age, and they may attribute frequent misbehavior to ADHD rather than to normal variation in child behavior based on age.”

“Our work definitely shows that the diagnosis of ADHD is far from an exact science,” he says. “We have more objective ways to diagnose this condition especially because this condition is so often tied to drug treatment.”

Layton hoped this data will encourage doctors, parents and teachers to view child behaviors with more context.

“My hope is that when parents come in and say ‘my kid’s teacher says he has symptoms condition consistent with ADHD,’ that the physician pauses,” Layton said. “And if that child had a summer birthday, they say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s consider the child’s age relative to their cohort.'”

This is a serious situation for those August babies who are being misdiagnosed with ADHD and put on intense medication for their childhood years. It is also a serious situation for all children who are younger than others in their grade if they are being judged by behavioral and intellectual standards for children a year older than they are. The younger students can develop a negative self-image as learners and thinkers if they are made to feel less adequate than their older classmates who can sit still longer and have greater focus than they do.

One size does not fit all. Context matters. And for children in the beginning years of school, age is a vital part of their context. Recognizing that as parents and educators is our job.