Call An End To Closing The Achievement Gap

 

We hear so often, including from the new Connecticut Commissioner of Education, that the most important goal for K-12 education is to close the achievement gap. Well, what if it isn’t? What if that goal to have students affected by poverty and racism achieve standardized test scores as high as students of privilege is not only an impossible goal, because standardized test scores are correlated with family income, but one that is damaging to all K-12 students in this country?

Equating achievement with high standardized test scores does a terrible injustice to all of our children. What if we gave up on closing the achievement gap and gave up on standardized testing? What then could our schools look like?

A picture of what those elementary, middle, and high schools could look like is provided by James Hatch, a first year student at Yale who is a 52 years old retired Navy SEAL, covered with tattoos and accompanied by a service dog. Read his story here. 

James Hatch began his college education afraid of the academic competition from his classmates but left that behind when he became engaged in shared inquiry with a broad range of learners and was encouraged by a professor to recognize his own good mind and not see himself in competition with other students. He developed an appreciation for the diversity of experiences that the other students brought to class discussions and valued their questions and their passion. Through both the subject matter of his classes and interactions with his classmates, he began to think in new ways and see the world differently. He determined his life’s goal – to lead by building bridges between those who are different. He was transformed by his education.

From my experience as a teacher and an administrator in elementary, middle, and high schools, I know that we can offer that kind of education to all of our students. In grades kindergarten through grade 12, students can be taught to learn in collaboration with others so that they see that there is more than one perspective or one interpretation. They can be taught to question rather than merely to answer so that they become deep and innovative thinkers. They can see themselves as learners and thinkers because that is what their teachers encourage them to be. They can develop skills that lead them to believe in themselves. They can fall in love with learning. They can be transformed.

But none of that will happen if the students’ learning is measured by standardized tests. And none of this will happen if closing the achievement gap is the national goal.

 

Correction

In my post entitled “The Cost Of The Dalio Deal Is Too High”, I did not write the correct figure for the amount of the Dalio Foundation donation and the amount of taxpayer funding. The correct amount for each is one hundred million dollars.

Here is the blog post with the correct figures:

https://reallearningct.com/2019/10/03/the-cost-of-the-dalio-deal-was-too-high/ via @reallearningct

Charters and Dalios: What Do You Have To Hide?

True enough:

A Hartford Courant editorial (Sunday, July 14, 2019) strongly criticized the stipulation that the Dalio Foundation put on its offer to Connecticut public schools. The Dalio Foundation has committed 100 million dollars to Connecticut public education if we taxpayers also contribute 100 million AND agree to not being given any information about how the decisions will be made about how our 100 million will be spent. That is not a deal that we, as taxpayers, should take. It is giving our blank check to the billionaire Dalios. The Hartford Courant rightly points out that we, as taxpayers, have the right to know how 100 million of our tax dollars is being spent or we should not give the 100 million.  Our money can be misspent and do damage to our children. We have an obligation to our children to demand information about how decisions will be made about how the money is to be spent.

We have to wonder why the deal rests on exempting the Dalio and state partnership from Freedom of Information regulations and agreeing to no transparency and no accountability. As appealing as money always is, Governor Lamont should say NO to such a deal.  We don’t want Connecticut to repeat the mistakes that Newark made with the Zuckerberg money.

Also true and even scarier:

We, as taxpayers, give the same kind of blank check to charter schools. Charter schools take taxpayer funds and refuse transparency and refuse to give any accountability about how those tax dollars are spent.  Connecticut charter schools defy Brown vs. the Board of Education and Sheff vs. O’Neill by increasing racial segregation in Connecticut. Charter schools in Connecticut restrict the number of students with special education needs and students who do not have English as their first language. Charter schools in Connecticut suspend students as greater rates than public schools. Charter schools in Connecticut take money and resources from the 98.5% of Connecticut children who attend public schools. And charter schools do not have any better results than public schools, even with the questionable measure of standardized  test scores.

The Connecticut State Board of Education should join with the NAACP, which has called for a moratorium on opening any new charter schools and called for transparency and accountability for existing charter schools. Most of all, The Connecticut State Board of Education and Connecticut taxpayers should wonder what charter schools have to hide by refusing to be open and honest about their use of our money. 

Philanthropy: Not The Answer For Connecticut’s Public Schools

The news is full of the story of the Dalio Philanthropies donating $100 million to the Connecticut public schools. But is private philanthropy the best way to fund public education? I think not.

The Prize by Dale Russakoff documents the disaster it was when Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million, which was matched by another $100 million from other philanthropists, to improve public education in Newark, NJ.  The failure has been attributed to the “parachuting in”  of outside consultants rather than rallying the forces within the school system and to the political football the $200 million became among local officeholders, among them Cory Booker and Chris Christie. Similarly, Bill and Melinda Gates gave over $400 million to design, promote, and implement the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards, designed without input from educators,  have greatly reduced the quality of education for students and produced absolutely no increase in student achievement, even by the weak measure of standardized test scores. The results of these well-intentioned philanthropic efforts: NOTHING.

The way to create a state of the art public school system is not found in hand-outs, no matter how generous or how headline-worthy. Instead the way to create a state of the art public school system is:

  • To engage the professionals, the educators, in determining how students best develop as learners and thinkers and then creating curricula to maximize that development.
  •  To provide students in impoverished neighborhoods the same advantages that children in affluent suburbs have: small class size; libraries; guidance counselors, social workers, and special education teachers with reasonable case loads; ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators; adult mentors for students; and clean, well-supplied facilities.
  •  To provide dependable and equitable tax-supported funding from the state and federal governments, funding that can be counted on year after year because it is from the tax base and approved by the voters.

In a democracy, it is the moral responsibility of the citizenry, through their taxes, to fund public education and the moral responsibility of the government to make sure that the allocation of those funds is equitable and the education is of the highest quality for all students.

Philanthropy cannot replace the responsibility of either the citizens or the government. Philanthropy cannot produce the complete and effective K-12 education for all children that a democracy requires.

…………………………

Please read the following article from CT Mirror in response to the donation of the Dalio Philanthropies:

        Philanthropy to the rescue? Not in New Haven schools

 

Snow Days For Everyone

I loved snow days when I was teaching high school English. I would make hot chocolate and share it with my kids coming in from playing in the snow. I would catch up on reading and responding to my students’ essays, whittling down the pile. I would start to make a dinner in the mid-afternoon instead of as soon as I arrived home from a busy day in school. There would be sun and snow and a happy mom.

When I became an administrator, except when snow was up the window sills and the school offices were closed, there was a late start to the day, my kids were too old for wanting hot chocolate snacks with their mom, and I got lots of work done in the school empty of teachers and students.

The words “snow day” are an invitation to freedom and the fun of the unexpected. Wherever you are in life, take the invitation offered by these school administrators and enjoy the snow days.

https://www.facebook.com/CBSNews/videos/2331017863596580/” /]

 

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

English Teacher Humor

This is the tee shirt I wear in December. Maybe I am desperate for some levity in these grim times in our national life so have a low bar, but this sentence cracks me up. Doesn’t take much.

Questioning As Learning Strategy And Survival Skill

The White House has announced that it is banning the asking of follow-up questions at Presidential news conferences. 

As we educators work to develop our students’ skills in asking questions because we know that asking multi-layered, deep questions is a powerful learning strategy for them and allows them excellent opportunities in critical thinking, the President of the United States prohibits exactly the kind of questions we are teaching our students to form and to shape on their own.

Follow-up questions are at the heart of all innovative endeavors in the workplace and are at the foundation of a functioning democracy. We educators must redouble our efforts with our students because now it is even more important that students learn to question one another and to question what they read than it has been. Questioning is the survival skill of our democracy.

Hey, Talking Heads, Listen Up.

Words matter. You know that as journalists and newscasters.

So please:

1. Do not use the word “caravan”. Say what that group really is. They are women, men, and children seeking political asylum from violence and threats of death

The word “caravan” is defined as group of Middle Easterners crossing through a desert. So when the asylum seekers are called a caravan, not only does it stoke fear of brown people coming from the South of the border but taps into Islamophobia as well.

2. When the President declared in a speech from the White House that the caravan is ” marching” towards us, correct that statement with words and/or photos showing that the asylum seekers are not “marching”. They are holding onto one another, walking or hobbling, and carrying their children for mile after mile. They are unarmed and hungry.

3. When the President goes on to claim that he understands women and speaks for women in this country and then articulates what women fear from the asylum seekers, laugh your heads off. When you stop laughing, show on the screen the list of women accusing him of assault and the list of women he has publicly humiliated with his savage tongue.

And maybe, after a commercial break, show a clip of an Obama or Biden rally where they speak the truth about the asylum seekers. Just for a contrast.