Friday, August 18, 2017

Surprised by Charlottesville? You Haven’t Been Paying Attention by Steven Singer

Originally posted at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/surprised-by-charlottesville-you-havent-been-paying-attention/

America is a funny place.

On the one hand, we’re one of the first modern Democracies, a product of Enlightenment thinking and unabashed pluralism and cultural diversity.

On the other, we’ve built our entire society on a cast system that is the basis of our economics, politics and cultural mores.

We’re the land of Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Duke Ellington, Toni Morrison, and Sandra Day O’Connor.

But we’re also the land of Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Charles Lindberg, Bull Connor, and David Duke.

Tolerance and love are as American as apple pie. But so are racism, sexism, prejudice and anti-Semitism.

“It is not as though the United States is the land of opportunity, or a hypocritical racist state,” says sociologist John Skrentny. “It is one or both, depending on context.”


So this week when people saw Nazis marching openly in Charlottesville, Virginia, the only thing that was really so surprising about it was how surprised so many people seem to be.

“That’s not my America!” they seem to be saying.

To which I reply, “Hell, yes, it is! Where have you been the last 241 years!?”

We base our salary scales on genitalia! You think we’re really so freaking advanced!?

The shade of your epidermis determines the likelihood of police arresting you, charging you, even killing you regardless of your having a weapon, whether you resist arrest or simply lay on the ground with your hands in the air.

Regardless of the evidence, if you’re convicted, the length and severity of the sentence are all partially determined by the amount of melanin in your skin. The cultural derivation of the name on your resume determines the likelihood of employers calling you back for an interview. In many places, your rights are legislated based on whom you love.

Our schools are segregated. Our taxes are levied most heavily on those with the least means to pay. Our prisons house more black people today than did slave plantations in the 1860s.

Yet a bunch of white dudes carrying Tiki torches shouting hate filled puns (“Jew will not replace us”? Seriously?) somehow doesn’t compute?

Come on.

This is America.

Racism and prejudice are not threats smuggled in past border security. They’ve always been here. At least since Europeans came offering trade and peace with one hand and guns and smallpox with the other.

The land of the free was stolen from the Native Americans. Our national wealth was built on the backs of slaves. Our laws and electoral system were built to empower one group at the expense of others.

Yet reformations in this process are rarely met with celebration. Instead of memorializing the end of slavery, we embrace the institution with fond remembrance.

Nor did prejudice and bigotry end when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, after Brown vs. Board, the Voting Rights Act, Freedom Rides, sit-ins or civil rights protests.

America has always been a place hostile to the under privileged, the second sex, religious dissenters, the brown skinned.

At most, we had become less confrontational in recent years, but we never really changed our core values, our social structures, who has power and who does not.

During my lifetime, people started to equate having a black President with the end of racism. Somehow they ignored the everyday reality for most black people.

They ignored the constant prejudice against the poor, the continued bigotry against LGBTs, the Islamophobia, the increase in hate crimes.

If there has been any change during the past eight months, it hasn’t been with the degree to which Americans are prejudiced. It’s the degree with which we’re willing to hide it.

Whereas before racists would claim to be colorblind, that their actions were completely devoid of racial bias, today they sigh and repeat the dusty slogans of Jim Crow Alabama or 1930s Berlin.

And somehow people are actually surprised about this.

It’s because too many of us have swallowed the lies about living in a post-racial society.

You thought we were beyond all that. It was a brave new world, morning in America, and we were finally treating everyone equally – unless you looked at what we were actually doing.

Mainly this is the reaction you get from white people. They rub their eyes and just can’t believe it.

You don’t see this too often from people of color, Muslims, LGBTs and some Jews. Why? Because they never had the luxury to ignore it.

That’s what we white folks have been doing since the beginning.

Whenever these issues come up, we have a knee jerk reaction to minimize it.

Things aren’t that bad. You’re just blowing it out of proportion.

But, no. I’m not.

That’s why you’re so damn shocked, son.

You haven’t been looking reality square in the face.

So when we’ve got undeniable video footage of angry white males (mostly) marching through Southern streets brandishing swastikas and assault rifles, it catches many white folks off guard.

They’re not prepared for it – because they haven’t been doing their homework.

We’ve been living in a bubble. Especially those living in major metropolitan areas.

That kind of thing never happens around here, right?

Of course it does!

Just because you live above the Mason Dixon Line doesn’t mean you’re safe.

You have a black friend, you like authentic Mexican food and you laugh while watching “Modern Family.”

But you haven’t opened your eyes to the reality outside your door.

You send your kids to private school or live in a mostly upper class white district. You have an exclusive gym membership that keeps out the riff-raff. You work in an office where that one token person of color makes you feel sophisticated and open-minded.

You’ve got to wake up.

You’ve got to educate yourself about race and class in America.

Because those people you saw in Charlottesville aren’t an anomaly.

They are an authentic part of this country, and if you don’t like it, you have to do something about it.

You can’t hide behind denial.

You have to take a stand, pick a side, and be counted.

Because one day soon, the torches will be outside your door.



You have to decide now – do you want to brandish or extinguish them?

A Student's Thoughts On: Forced Class Participation by WhateverHerNameIs


Personally, with teachers orbiting my life at nearly all times-- in home, at school, etc.-- I believe I’ve come to understand the why to it. The who they (innocently, I might add, absolutely no direct hate meant by this) think it helps.


And at times I try to sympathise. Understand, and work with it. Because afterall I, at this time in my life, am a student. And students fall under teachers-- we listen to them, learn from them, and when done right I can attest to the fact our lives can absolutely be positively shaped by them.


Teachers can do incredible things. They can make incredible students incredible people, and the jobs they do and the things they deal with are unsurpassed.


I know that. I stand by that. I probably will forever.


But when you’re a student-- a kid-- with little to no vote on lesson plans and how your day will go… sometimes it’s hard to be so big in a situation. I feel as if we’re allowed to be the children we are. We should, can, and definitely always will take things to heart. We’re emotional, and all built different. And please, please please, teachers everywhere, try and understand that when you’re planning your day.


Because I’m thirteen.


I’m shy. And quiet. I’m not exactly famous for my constant participation or eagerness to share my thoughts with the class, and often I can go days without raising my hand. It’s just who I am. Guess. It’s just the way I’m wired. The way I tick.


And I can almost guarantee that you have a handful of students (or peers, if you’re not a teacher) in your mind that match that same description. The kids who mind their business, take their notes, and leave. We don’t cause trouble. More often than not, we’re probably good students. And when the bell rings we don’t magically turn into new people, we’re still us, so we’re probably good kids too.


But despite all that, I know it can be frustrating teaching shy kids.


I’m not desperately trying to relate to a demographic I have no knowledge on, either. Just in case you doubted me. I got you. I’ve definitely had, and do have, my fair share of quiet folk in my life, and I know how badly you can want to know what they’re thinking. What on earth could be going inside their head. Why they keep it to themselves all the time….sometimes, you really wish you could just magically make them talk. Which isn’t a super evil or anything. Of course, not. It’s normal! And there’s nothing bad about it.


So long as you understand that that’s just a thought.


An unrealistic, unachievable thought. Because you cannot change a person yourself. The second you start trying to is the second things go from normal to wrong, and the second my school day gets a little bit longer and a lot more unbearable. The class with the random participation clogs my thoughts and even when I’m happy, I’m anxious. Even after you called on me and my heart started pounding, I’m thinking about it. And it sucks.


Even if you’re not trying to change me, after a few months teaching classes and years of past experience you can probably pick up certain traits of certain kids and things that makes them uncomfortable. Things that stop their ability to learn, and do it comfortably.


You can probably tell I’m shy. You can probably tell randomly calling on me makes my stomach drop. And hopefully, you’ll probably figure out a way to teach me that isn’t random selection, because it’s not helping me, and it’s not benefiting you.


‘Oh, don’t be dramatic,’ the figmented opposing side may in my mind cries, ‘it’s not even that big of a deal. You have to participate in life anyway, they’re just trying to help you!!’


To that I say... I’m happy for you. I’m happy you’ve never experienced a full forty five minutes of downright panic because you’re afraid the teacher will shine a spotlight on you out of nowhere, and you’ll be unprepared. You won’t know the answer. The entire class will be waiting for you to do the simple task and you just can’t.


If I wanted to answer, I would have raised my hand. If I knew the answer, I would have raised my hand. If you think somethings else, talk to my parents. Talk to me. We can work something out. But I promise you, I promise you, randomly deciding I want to change my entire self and become an outspoken social butterfly has never helped me. Deciding to force me into talking will never help me. Justifying it by saying ‘oh, well, she’ll have to talk in the real world’ won’t help me, because middle school? High school? Aren’t my future. Middle school, and high school is my education. I should be learning, and when you’re teaching me, I am. But putting me in uncomfortable on the spot situations that I worry about all day because you want me to be someone else (being quiet is part of me) is not helpful.


You may not be able to relate to this but there is absolutely someone in your life who can. And please remember, when you’re teaching, you’re not teaching yourself. You’re teaching a group of thirty or so children/teens who are all different, all with the same range of emotions, and all deserving of respect in the classroom.


Please, let us teach you a couple things.

If you want to be a good teacher you need to recognize you are teaching a spectrum of wildly different students. I cannot attest to those unlike me, but they also deserve your attention, and if there is something that makes their lives worse in your classroom-- a teaching style that stops them from learning try and find your way around it. It’s just the right thing to do. We are all equals.


So, if you ever spot a kid like me, please make their lives a little less stressful. Just be careful who you call on. Please.


Sencirely,

WhateverHerNameIs

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pennsylvania Proposes Smaller Tests, Same High Stakes by Steven Singer

Originally posted at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/pennsylvania-proposes-smaller-tests-same-high-stakes/

t’s not the size of the tests, it’s how you use them.

And that’s kind of the problem with Gov. Tom Wolf’s new proposal for Pennsylvania public schools.

Wolf wants to reduce the amount of time students are taking standardized tests, but he seems to have little problem using those tests to hold schools accountable for all kinds of things that are beyond their control.

The proposal released today applies only to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests – those taken by students in grades 3-8. Keystone Exams taken by high school students are unaffected.

It would cut one of three reading sections and one of three math sections – two total. Wolf also wants to cut some questions from one of the science sections.

Such a move is estimated to eliminate 48 minutes from the math test, 45 minutes from the reading test and 22 minutes from the science test. However, judging from my own students, these times vary considerably depending on the individual taking the tests. I’ve had 8th grade students finish a PSSA section in as little as 5 minutes or as much as two hours.

Most schools give either a section a day or two in one day. Therefore, this proposal probably translates to 1 to 2 fewer days testing in most districts.

Um. Thanks?

Look I don’t want to seem ungrateful here, but these suggested modifications are little more than fiddling around the edges of a massive problem.

Yes, it will be helpful to reduce testing times, but this does very little to address the fundamental problems with test-based accountability in the Commonwealth.

At best, this proposal will allow students to spend two more days a year learning. Assuming most districts don’t use that extra time for test prep, that IS a good thing.

But tacitly committing students throughout the state to taking these tests almost guarantees that test prep is exactly how these additional days will be used.

The problem with standardized testing isn’t just the number of raw days it takes students to complete the tests. It is how the tests deform the entire year-long curriculum. Students don’t just learn anymore. They learn what’s on the test – and anything else is purely optional.

Regardless of the size of the assessments, they are still being used to sort and judge students, teachers and schools. Shortening their length does nothing to address the fundamental unfairness of the evaluations. Rich white kids still tend to have high scores and poor minority kids still tend to have low ones.

At best, they reveal structural funding disparities between poor and wealthy districts. At worst, the cultural bias inherent in the questions favor those from dominant, privileged ethnicities while punishing those who don’t fit the standard.

That’s what “standardized test” means after all – defining normal and punishing those who don’t fit the definition. Most questions don’t assess universals like the value of 2 and 2. They evaluate cultural and social norms required to understand the questions and easily find an answer that another “normal” student would choose. (Don’t believe me? Watch “Black Jeopardy” on Saturday Night Live.)

This is true whether the test takes one day or 100 days.


The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains provisions to circumvent them. States are supposed to be given leeway about testing. They may even be able to replace them with projects or other non-standardized assessments. THAT’S what Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education should be exploring – not half measures.

To be fair, the state Department of Education is attempting reform based on the ESSA. This year, the department introduced Future Ready PA, a new way of using test scores and other measures to assess school success. To its credit, The Index does place additional emphasis on academic growth, evaluation of school climate, attendance, graduation rates, etc. However, for my money it still gives far too much importance to standardized testing and test prep.

Like reducing the size of the PSSAs, it’s a positive step but won’t do much to get us to our destination.

Neither measure will have much impact on the day-to-day operations of our public schools. Districts will still be pressured to emphasize test prep, test taking strategies, approaches to answering multiple choice questions, etc. Meanwhile, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity will still be pushed to the side.

Moreover, since schools and teachers will be assessed as successful or not based largely on these test scores, districts will be under tremendous pressure to give countless practice tests throughout the year to gauge how well students are prepared for the PSSAs. The state will still be providing and encouraging the optional Classroom Diagnostics Tools (CDT) tests be taken several times in reading and math throughout the year. Trimming off two days from the PSSA will affect that not at all.

In addition, today’s proposal only applies to the PSSA. While that assessment is important, the Keystone Exams given to high school students are even more so. According to existing state law, passing the Keystones in Algebra I, Literature and Biology are required in order to qualify for a diploma. However, that condition has yet to go live. So far the legislature has continuously pushed back the date when passing scores become graduation requirements. The Governor and Department of Education should be proposing the elimination of this prerequisite before anything else. Other than education funding and perhaps charter school accountability, it is the most important education issue before Commonwealth lawmakers today.

Don’t get me wrong. The Democratic Governor is somewhat hamstrung by the Republican-controlled legislature. Partisan politics has stopped lawmakers from accepting Wolf’s more progressive education measures.

Though Wolf has gotten Republicans to increase education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars during his term, K-12 schools still receive less than they did before the previous GOP governor’s administration. Moreover, there have been absolutely zero inflationary increases to keep up with the rising cost of doing business. Pennsylvania schools receive less funding – whether you adjust for inflation or not – than they should, and that has a real world impact on our public schools. Moreover, how that money has been allocated by the legislature still – even with our new better funding formula in place – benefits wealthy districts more than poor ones.

If you want to talk about accountability, that’s where the majority of the issue belongs.

And primarily it’s out of Wolf’s hands. One can understand why he is proposing changes where he can and trying to do whatever good is possible given the political climate.

Shortening the PSSA tests would benefit our students. It is a step in a positive direction.

However, it is far from solving our many education problems.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Board Of Regents Does Right By Kids And Taxpayers In Rejecting Early Charter Renewals by Lisa Eggert Litvin



In a pointed response to NY's Board of Regents, the NY Post recently wrote that "you'd have to be nuts" not to fast-track renewals of a number of charter schools. Actually, the opposite is true.

As background, NY's byzantine charter school rules authorize the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, a group of four men (3 lawyers and a businessman), to decide whether to renew many of NY's charter schools. NY's highest education body, the Board of Regents (a 17-member diverse group, including many life-long educators), is relegated to merely reviewing the SUNY Committee's recommendations and giving feedback. Ultimately the SUNY Committee has final say.

Over the past months, the SUNY Committee recommended that a total of 19 schools be pushed ahead for early renewal. The Board of Regents responded that these requests were premature, and that to ensure full accountability, a school's renewal should be assessed in the year when its current term would expire, so that the most up-to-date data can be used.

The Board of Regents was right to advise against the rush. In fact, the data submitted by the SUNY Committee shows problems so deep running through these schools that the discussion should turn to whether the model used by these charter networks is even sustainable.

While the 19 schools are attaining high scores on the state's standardized English and math tests, far too many of these schools are experiencing financial losses, negative assets, high suspension rates, and under enrollment.

Specifically, over 40% of the fast-tracked schools are unable to cover their expenses, and are operating at a loss. In addition, over a quarter of the schools have been managed in a such a way that they report having negative net assets. Rather than pushing fast-track renewals of these financially stumbling schools, the SUNY Committee should be assessing whether these schools are financially viable and are worthy of taxpayer funding.

Further, despite the claim of extensive wait lists, every one of the 19 recommended schools has failed to meet its target enrollments for struggling children, i.e. children with disabilities, English Language Learners, and economically disadvantaged children. This dereliction should be challenged, not rewarded with early renewal.

Making matters even more profound, the suspension numbers are strikingly high, and against the trend in education to reduce suspensions and end the "suspension-to-prison" pipeline. The average suspension rate of these schools -- none of which includes high school students -- is a stunning 10%, with some schools as high as 20%, and even k-3 schools with rates of 12% and 14%.

Several of the schools on the list have made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Success Academy Fort Greene is infamous for its "got-to-go" list of troublesome children. The situation at that school is so dire that the local Community Education Council asked that the school be reviewed and that its authorization be revoked if needed.

Success Academy Harlem 3's problems were brought into the spotlight via a NYC Comptroller's audit, which found a number of issues, including double payments to Success Academy's management corporation and billing for more special education services than it may have provided. Alarmingly, the audit also found that over 65% of the school personnel sampled at Harlem 3 hadn't had their criminal background checks completed before starting work.

So was the Board of Regents "nuts" to say no to fast tracking these schools? No, the Board rightly looked out for the best interests of the children and the taxpayer and said hold off. Unfortunately, the SUNY Committee can still move forward with its ill-advised renewals, to the detriment of everyone else. Perhaps it is time to consider whether to remove renewal powers from the SUNY Committee and give full authorizing power over charters to the far more appropriate and qualified Board of Regents

**************************************************
GENERAL SUPPORT
Schools submitted for early renewal (submitted in March 2017),
https://www.regents.nysed.gov/co…/regents/files/417p12a5.pdf
1.Success Academy Bronx 1
2.Success Academy Bronx 2
3. Success Academy Crown Heights
4. Success Academy Fort Greene
5. Success Academy Harlem 2
6. Success Academy Harlem 3
7. Success Academy Harlem 4
8. Success Academy Harlem 5
9. Success Academy Prospect Heights
10. Success Academy Union Square
Schools submitted for early renewal (submitted in July 2017),https://www.regents.nysed.gov/co…/regents/files/717p12a1.pdf
1.Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
2.Success Academy Bensonhurst
3.Success Academy Bergen Beach
4.Success Academy Bronx 3
5. Success Academy Bronx 4
6.Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen
7.Success Academy Rosedale
8.Success Academy Springfield Garden
9.Success Academy Washington Heights
Members of the NY Board of Regents: https://www.regents.nysed.gov/members
Members of the SUNY Charter Schools Committee:
http://www.newyorkcharters.org/suny/suny-trustees/
"Got to go" list: https://www.nytimes.com/…/at-a-success-academy-charter-scho…
Local Community Education Council asking for a review and possible revocation of Success Academy Fort Greene:https://www.dnainfo.com/…/stop-success-academies-from-openi…
Audit of Success Academy / SA Harlem 3:https://comptroller.nyc.gov/…/audit-report-of-success-acad…/ (Executive Summary)
https://comptroller.nyc.gov/…/uploa…/documents/FK15_092A.pdf (full Audit report -- see page 9 for duplicate payments to the Success Academy network. See page 20 for billing for special education services that the school may not have actually provided to the children. See page 36 for failure to complete criminal background checks.
Here's where the percentages come from. All info is based on the most recent year of data provided in the SUNY report for each school. And the specific numbers and data are listed in “Detailed Support” document:
Schools operating at a loss (8 out of 19 = 42%):
1.Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
2.Success Academy ("SA") Fort Greene
3.SA Harlem 2
4.SA Harlem 3
5.SA Harlem 4
6.SA Harlem 5
7.SA Union Square
8.SA Bronx 3
Schools with negative net assets (5 out of 19 = 26%)
1.SA Crown Heights
2.SA Fort Greene
3.SA Union Square
4.SA Hells Kitchen
5.SA Rosedale
Schools that have met enrollment targets for all categories of ED, ELL, SED:
None
Suspension numbers specifically cited:
SA Fort Greene (k-3): 14.8%
SA Bergen Beach (k-2): 12%
Additional suspension numbers are in the Detailed Support document

About the Author: 

Lisa Eggert Litvin, Esq.
Hastings-on-Hudson Board of Education President (my piece is written by me and doesn't represent my BOE)
Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Emerita