Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Trauma of Bad Education Policy by Renegade Teacher

Originally posted at: https://renegadeteacher.blog/2019/01/25/the-trauma-of-bad-education-policy/?fbclid=IwAR1B26NM64eMQY1EJYbm5ZmhYZJFjUEmwLkCHCKBpAjFuyzqJYCEivDexUM


In America, “teachers and other public education employees, such as community-college faculty, school psychologists and janitors, are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate on record, government data shows,” the Wall Street Journal proclaimed last month.
The WSJ article continued to cite Labor Department statistics and reference “a tight labor market.” Phrases appeared such as “voluntary departures,” “unemployment rate,” and “public education budgets.” Quoted experts included a labor economist from ZipRecruiter and the executive of Teach Plus (a hedge fund and Gates-funded group).
There seemed to be a perspective missing from this article: what it feels like to be part of that reality. While national labor statistics and teacher shortages in states such as Michigan paint a certain ‘speaks-for-itself’ picture, I want to shed light on the visceral experience that accompanies a sinking education landscape in America. Again, numbers alone do not tell the story of what it feels like to be a beneficiary of America’s bad education policies; and we need to humanize the trauma felt in order to carve a path forward.

A Different Perspective

Eve Ewing’s book “Ghosts in the Schoolyard” is incredible for many reasons, but one thing she does really well is to juxtapose the cold, technocratic process of identifying which schools to close in Chicago with the people who are most affected by the closings.
Here is an example of Chicago Public Schools Officials justifying one school’s closing:
  1. “…The enrollment efficiency range is plus or minus 20% of the facility’s ideal enrollment…As I stated, the enrollment of Mayo as of the 20th day of attendance for the 2012-2013 school year is 408. This number is below the enrollment efficiency range, and thus the school is underutilized” [1].
Ewing masterfully picked at the seemingly inevitability of the statements: “These numbers are taken to be unbiased and a truer representation of what happens in a school building than more qualitative measures (teacher observations, for instance), which are seen as overly subjective or unreliable”[2].
The overuse of data in education can have the effect of stripping away feelings and humanity from the conversation.
Ewing gives voice to several people who are actually affected by the school closings:
  1. “My name is Ke’Shaun…the school is like my home. And the teacher is like my, um, mother. And…the students like my brothers and sisters and my cousins. That’s the reason I do not want Mayo School to close”[3].
  2. “This is real fast without taking into consideration real people, real babies, okay?…I consider us a community, a family. Okay? We’ve come a long way…Coming over here from Africa and going through what we went through in terms of the slavery and our ancestors and so on and so forth…”[4].
  3. “Now, one of the things that I have looked at from after the first speech to the final speech is that this school is based on family. And i know because as I stated I have four decades of it. To tear down this family will be one of the biggest mistakes that Chicago Public Schools has done in years”[5].
While using numerical criteria such as “reading value-added scores” and “enrollment efficiency ranges” to choose which schools to close, the school officials seemed to forget about other factors that determine the effectiveness of a school. What type of environment does a school have? How does it feel to go to a school? What is a school doing to create good, moral people? What is going on at home that affects what happens at school?  Does a school have the resources to succeed? Does a school have the capability to magically transcend poverty and racism in its student outcomes? What is the history that leads a school to perform good or bad on standardized tests? These are much harder factors to quantify, so perhaps education evaluations must include factors that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature.

Trauma

Eve Ewing also recounts the grieving process for teachers, community members, and students that goes into dealing with the trauma of a school closing. She touches on the “fear surrounding the process, followed by the collective efforts to fight the closing, then the startling realization that their efforts wouldn’t succeed, followed by feelings of futility or voicelessness and then resignation”[6].
I can’t help but relate to this perspective in my own teaching career. I have taught 8 classes per day in a failing Detroit for-profit charter school, I have seen the disparity in educational resources to urban and suburban schools, I have watched Black students get suspended and expelled at higher rates than their White counterparts, I have experienced students dying and arrested, and I have watched as edtech products and standardized tests have systematically degraded the teaching profession. I certainly have moments of futility and hopelessness, coupled with many of the feelings identified by Psychology Today regarding trauma: fear and anxiety, anger, sadness, guilt, and feeling numb.
Education provides other traumas for American students. In a society that 21% of all students live in poverty, students at many school systems are convinced that their self worth is measured and defined by test scores and compliance with rules. Rather than focus on student engagement or helping students to approach the real life problems that face their communities, too often students are stuck preparing for standardized tests or learning curriculum that does not relate to their lives. Sadly, this reality is far more common for students in poverty and students of color. To enforce this regimen of standardized testing achievement and false meritocracy, tactics such as control, fear, victim-blaming, manipulation, gaslighting are regularly perpetrated onto students. To many students, school itself is another perpetrator of trauma instead of a way out of trauma.
In one underserved school I worked at for instance, the principal got on the PA and said, “This month I will expel 10 students. Have a great day!” Then he got on the PA 10 minutes later and said, “1 out of 10! Have a great day!” How are students supposed to handle that? What type of environment does that produce?
Is it any wonder that students numb themselves with with their smart phones and video games when school does not connect to their realities? Polls regularly find that an increasing number of students do not find value in school.

The Path Forward

Whenever I get negative, I remember how much light there is at the end of the tunnel.
Public education is an amazing social construct that has the potential to be radical and revolutionary, and it already is in many cases! I think of some of the teachers I have met in recent months in the Detroit area who are fighting the power in big ways and small. I have taken a concerted effort to network with other teachers in my area who value social justice and want to humanize education. Guess what? If you look around, there are a TON of people rebelling against school being an oppressive force. One of the keys is finding ways to band together and discussing the path forward. Find your network. Just one example is MIStudentsDream, a Detroit-based group that meets and organizes around issues of education justice and immigration justice. This group has monthly potlucks and various political organizing opportunities, and is a great way to band together with like-minded educators from other schools. A great way to deal with the trauma of bad education policy is to find other people to share in dealing with the trauma.
Next, be a helping hand to have students tell the truth about themselves and our society. Do not shy away from controversial issues or current events just because students have trouble calmly debating. Rather, students need to engage in the tough questions of today in order to create a better world for tomorrow. It is also paramount to get students outside of whatever bubble they occupy. Especially in the segregated Detroit metro area, it is easy for schools to perpetuate the bubble mentality through an insular and individualized outlook. We must find ways to connect students to broader communities and communities of people who don’t look like them and who don’t think like them. That is how a multi-cultural democracy survives.
And of course, on a systemic level, we need to truly invest in education, not standardized tests. As of a few years ago, the average student in a big-city takes 112 standardized teststhroughout their pre-school-12th grade school career. We know that this destroys the love of learning for students, and unduly creates unfair evaluation measures upon which schools are forced to acquiesce.
As for Michigan, it is simply unacceptable that school funding has fallen more sharplythan any other state in America. Worse yet, the report by Michigan State shows us that funding for “at-risk” students has fallen by 60% per pupil. Worse yet, there feels to be a resounding educational culture of pushing students more and more on educational technology and less on socialization and teachable moments. Despite me having countless moments of joy in the classroom and creating lessons that are making a difference in students’ lives, it often feels as if these moments are going against the system rather than being a part of it. As teachers throughout America strike for better conditions, when will it be our turn in Michigan to stand up for our students and to fight for our futures?

1. [1] Ewing, E. (2018). Ghosts in the Schoolyard. The University of Chicago Press. Pp 100.
2. [2] Ibid, pp 101.
3. [3] Ibid, pp 107.
4. [4] Ibid, pp 108.
5. [5] Ibid, pp 109.
6. [6] Ibid, pp 139.

Charter School Teachers Are Not The Enemy by Sergio Flores



Charter school teachers are not part of the problem that public school teachers face. Arguably, they are victims as well. Charter school proponents and defenders have created a movement premised on neoliberal principles --creating a system of arbitrary competition alleging that is needed for school improvement, choice as a necessary condition for parents and students to have alternatives, and a strict accountability system to keep score. 

Ultimately, this system has been used to create a system of unwarranted rewards and punishments that have enable corporate reformers to implement privatizing policies. All teachers in public and charter schools have been trapped in this neoliberal frame that has promoted the notion of managing public schools as business, and subjecting them to the free-market rules. 

The results are nothing less than disastrous. In this century charter schools have proliferated mostly by hiring underpaid labor with little or no working rights, and boasting about it. 

Corporate reformers set up the unfair competition between charter and public school teachers, and have artificially worsen it by investing millions of dollars in charter schools. 

Teachers, all teachers are pawns in a rigged game that only those who profit from privatizing the replaceable common good called public education

Texas Public Schools are in the Portfolio District Crosshairs by Thomas Ultican

Originally posted at: https://tultican.com/2019/01/26/texas-public-schools-are-in-the-portfolio-district-crosshairs/?fbclid=IwAR0C0bcSX61cdAv601zJC1_8sLaY8nWpu4jzgtMEOrYjqiDwUP9FAz7qwIA

Radical market theorists are reshaping Texas education governance by instituting the portfolio district school model. It is a scheme promoted by the University of Washington based think tank, Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). To advance this design, the accountability system and justifications for closing public schools is adopted from Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Public Schools. This top down plan is being guided by Mike Morath Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
A quick glance at the CRPE web site reveals they see Texas as a target of opportunity. It states,
“We’re currently working on: Analyzing how state education agencies can support local leaders on the portfolio strategy, such as through the Texas Education Agency’s new System of Great Schools Network.”
Here are a few of the benefits that TEA claims for the System of Great Schools (SGS):
  • “Membership in a professional learning community of superintendents and senior staff that come together regularly to build understanding of the SGS strategy, …”
  • “Regular connection points with Commissioner Morath.”
  • “The district increases access to school choice options and helps families identify and attend their best-fit school.”
The SGS web site offers a complex excel file with a roadmap for implementing SGS strategies.
Image of SGS Roadmap Excel Page Labeled “Top 12 Deliverables”
The “School Performance Framework” hyperlink in the Excel sheet opens Chicago Public School’s “School Quality Ratings Policy (SQRP) Handbook.” Much of the “objective” justification used for closing 50 schools in Chicago in one year is in the handbook. Those 50 schools were almost all in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and employed mostly African-American teachers.

Enacting Unproven Agendas like this is not Conservative

On January 20, 2015 Republican Greg Abbott became the 48th Governor of Texas. One of his early decisions was the appoint Mike Morath Commissioner of Education. The very conservative Donna Garner – a Trump supporting retired school teacher and education policy commentator for Education View – was not impressed. She wrote,
“As a conservative, I appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott for the many courageous positions he has taken for Texas; but he really missed it on this one!
“I cannot think of very many people whom Gov. Greg Abbott could have appointed who would have been a worse choice than Mike Morath as Texas Commissioner of Education.”
mike_morath
Mike Morath from the TEA Biography Page
Morath’s appointment continues a more than a decade long period of Texas Education Commissioners lacking proven education training or experience. His education background consists of serving four years as a Trustee for the Dallas Independent School District and teaching an advanced computer science class at his high school alma mater after the previous teacher resigned suddenly. He completed the year.
Morath has referred to himself as a “super-nerd.” In 2015, the Dallas News stated“Morath, 38, is a numbers whiz who excelled academically, earning his business degree in 2 1/2 years at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.”
Morath started a company that developed a management information system that streamlined federal food programs for low-income families. At age 36, he made enough money selling the company to semi-retire. Dallas Magazineshared,
“His next goal: searching for his special purpose. An evangelical Christian, Morath believed God would lead the way to this discovery.”
The same Dallas Magazine article also reported that his fellow Dallas Trustees found him “an arrogant wonk who won’t listen to others.” They were especially alienated when Morath tried to privatize the entire district using an obscure never used 1995 law called Home Rule. The Texas Observer reported,
“The idea came from Mike Morath, a Dallas ISD trustee since 2011, when he ran unopposed for an open seat. He’s part of the new generation on the school board, an entrepreneur and policy wonk backed by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Educate Dallas PAC.
“Morath tells the Observer he spotted an off-hand mention of home-rule charters in a news story about another Texas city….  
“Drafting a home-rule charter, he figured, could be just the thing to give Dallas ISD the freedom it needs to make real changes. Morath shared the idea with a handful of local lawyers and businessfolk, and they in turn founded Support Our Public Schools.”
There were several big dollar supporters for Support Our Public Schools which is a 501 C4 organization meaning it is not tax exempt because its main purpose is to promote a political agenda. Only Houston billionaire John Arnold openly admitted giving large sums to the group.
Garner made an interesting observation in her piece denouncing Morath’s appointment. She defined two types of schools:
  • Type 1 Education: More than a century of children educated in democratically run public schools by certificated teachers. They used technology like Big Chief Tablets and pencils to learn reading, writing, mathematics, science, and civics. They participated in physical exercise and team sports. They attended the school in their neighborhood which likely had several generations of history. “Americans became the leaders of the world because of the many scientists, inventors, technicians, entrepreneurs, engineers, writers, historians, and businessmen who used their Type #1 education to elevate themselves to great heights.
  • Type 2 Education: A philosophy of education that opens the door to subjective, digitized curriculum and assessments found in Common Core the Bill Gates financed national education standards pushed by the Obama administration and CSCOPE the Texas attempt to impose standards based scripted lessons on all teachers and schools. It is the same “innovative” school model pushed by the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators; their 21st century transformational “visioning” approach to education. An approach that embraces the technology industry’s future ready agenda which supports greedy consultants, lobbyists, and vendors who make a fortune off education’s “Golden Goose” of public dollars.
future-ready-pledge
Promotion for the Future Ready Pledge by the Office of Education Technology
Garner’s article about Mike Morath’s appointment concluded,
“Mike Morath is not the right person for the Texas Commissioner of Education. He will not support whole-heartedly the Type #1 curriculum standards that the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education have worked so hard to adopt.  Morath’s philosophy of education is very closely attuned to that of the Obama administration’s Type #2 Common Core.  I am terribly disappointed in Gov. Abbott’s choice of Mike Morath as the Texas Commissioner of Education.”

Test to Privatize

Standardized-testing is NOT capable of measuring either school or teacher quality. The only strong statistical correlation related to standardized-testing is family wealth. In a paper on the limitations of standardized-testing the non-profit organization FairTest wrote,
“Test validity, experts explain, resides in the inferences drawn from assessment results and the consequences of their uses. Relying solely on scores from one test to determine success or progress in broad areas such as reading or math is likely to lead to incorrect inferences and then to actions that are ineffective or even harmful. For these and other reasons, the standards of the testing profession call for using multiple measures for informing major decisions – as does the ESEA legislation.” (Emphasis Added)
It is not an accident that 100% of schools designated as failures and slated for intervention are in poor communities. Likewise, it is not surprising that there has never been a school in a middle class community designated for closure or other interventions. It is only the schools in poor and almost exclusively minority communities that are slated for state intervention in Texas.
To evaluate a school, information about the accreditation of its teachers and their years of experience would be meaningful. As would information about class sizes, art programs, music programs and physical training. A review of the condition of the facilities would also make sense. Surveying students, teachers and parents would yield actionable information. Evaluating schools on the basis of standardized-testing is indefensible.
In 2012, TEA promulgated a rule that required any school designated a failure five years in a row based on State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) testing must undergo state intervention. In 2018, the first 52-schools that require intervention are now on the states to-do-list.
An example of the interventions to expect comes from San Antonio. The Rivard Report shared,
“One of the schools that received an “improvement required” was Ogden Elementary in SAISD, which now has received a failing grade for five consecutive years. However, because of a partnership SAISD leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education, state law permits Ogden reprieve from accountability consequences for an additional two years.”
Relay Graduate School of Education is a fraudulent school started by the charter school industry. In 2015, Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:
“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”
The San Antonio Relay Graduate School is led by Dean Annie Hoffman. Prior to joining Relay, Hoffman completed her Masters of Education in Language and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her teaching career at Sherman Elementary in the Houston Independent School District.
In Houston people are fighting mad about the threat to turn 10 schools over to a charter management organization to avoid state sanctions. Last spring, the Chronicle reported,
“HISD administrators sought to stave off potential sanctions by giving control over the 10 schools to a charter school operator, Energized For STEM Academy Inc., but district leaders retreated from that recommendation Wednesday. Their decision came less than 24 hours after a raucous school board meeting ended with two arrests and about 100 members of the public, nearly all of whom opposed the charter proposal, temporarily forced out of the administration building.”
“Had HISD trustees voted to surrender control over the schools, all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic student populations in high-poverty neighborhoods, the district could have received a two-year reprieve from any state sanctions.”
Six of the schools with a long track record of low tests scores were able to meet the required standards to have the threat removed. However, four schools still need to score well to ensure the district is not taken over by Mike Morath’s TEA. January 3rd, Governor Abbott tweeted,
“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”
Charles Kuffner weighed in at Off the Kuff. He speculated,
“It should be clear why the state has been reluctant to step in, despite Greg Abbott’s nasty tweet. If the TEA takes over, then the TEA owns all of the problems that HISD is trying to solve. … That’s not their job, and there’s nothing in the track record of past takeovers by state agencies, here and elsewhere, to suggest they’ll do any better at it than HISD has done. There’s a reason why Abbott hasn’t had much to say about this since his Trumpian Twitter moment.

Even Bigger Money is Driving the Portfolio School District Model

In July of 2018, former Enron trader, John Arnold, joined forces with San Francisco billionaire and Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. They each pledged $100,000,000 to a new non-profit dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. It is called City Fund. Gates and Dell have also contributed to City Fund.
William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner, University of Colorado Boulder wrote a short paper “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.” Their basic definition explains,
“Generally speaking, four reform strategies are combined, in varying degrees, in portfolio districts:  (1) performance-based (generally test-based) accountability, (2) school-level de-centralization of management, (3) the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools, and (4) the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools.”
The portfolio model promotes disruption as a virtue and posits no value for stable neighborhood schools. As schools are closed or reconstituted, the new schools are not democratically controlled. For example, the portfolio district in Denver, Colorado has 204 schools but 108 of them are no longer governed by the school board. They are governed either by private charter school companies or non-profit organizations.
texas portfolio model map
Map from the Texas Systems of Great Schools Web Site

Concluding Observations

In 2016, the highest paid Superintendent of Schools in Texas was Mark Henry from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He received $383,402 to administer a 116,000 student district. At the IDEA charter school chain which has less than 36,000 students, that same year CEO Tom Torkelson made $513,970 and CFO, Wyatt Truscheit got $435,976. Plus, President JoAnn Gama took in $354,484 which is still more than all but three public school superintendents in the state of Texas.
It is clear why charter school executives are for them, but data says charters do no better than public schools and are creating havoc with the public education system.
It is not just conservatives who are having issues with privatizing the public education system. Three Democratic Texas legislators, Gina Hinojosa, Mary Gonz├ílez and Shawn Thierry reported,
“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children. Neighborhood schools are required by law to enroll all kids, regardless of disciplinary history, special needs or family challenges. Educating children who face more challenges in life is more expensive; the cost falls disproportionately on local public school districts.
“Yet, charters receive more funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas. In El Paso, charters receive $1,619 more per student than El Paso ISD. In Austin, charters receive $1,740 more per student than AISD. This funding disparity holds true for many of the largest school districts.
“This lopsided funding model results in increasing funding for charter schools and decreasing it for traditional public schools. In the 2018-2019 biennium, charter schools received $1.46 billion more than the prior biennium, and traditional public schools received $2.68 billion less.
“Ultimately, this parallel system of exclusive schools, funded with increasingly more public money, is often a false promise that results in less access and less funding for many of our kids.”

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia by Greg Sampson

Originally published at: https://grumpyoldteacher.com/2019/01/27/marcia-marcia-marcia/?fbclid=IwAR3MV5tlCDZUhyQPWaXwaeieNS9sOAEWmG4Wuu2WKdOuBFNX2hYhW0DchPE


“All I hear at charter school everyday is how great Manny is at this, how great Manny is at that, oh, Manny, Manny, Manny!”
Oh, Manny, Manny, Manny! Your fellow legislators chafe at your never-ending attempts to pass the dumbest laws possible. Give them a chance, why don’t you?
Today we learn that Manny Diaz, Florida Senate Chair of the Education Committee, Vice-chair of the subcommittee for Education Appropriations, and if that isn’t enough, also on Committee for Ethics and Elections as well as the Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining, has filed a bill proposing a constitutional amendment that would exempt persons 65 years and older from paying school taxes.
Senator Diaz
Official pic from the website.
Manny doesn’t hold his special positions because he is an outlier with bold ideas. He holds his committee assignments because he has been a consistent ally in the attempt to privatize Florida education. He was a chief supporter of Richard Corcoran’s signature efforts, HB 7069 and HB 7055.
Those laws allowed charter schools to grab construction funds from local public school levies, out-of-state charter chains to start ‘Schools of Hope’ in an effort to close public schools in poor neighborhoods, and parents to claim a new voucher if only they allege (not prove) that their child is being bullied.
A look through Manny’s Form 6 financial disclosures (required by Florida law and legislative rules) reveals that he lists Doral College as a primary source of income.
Doral College operates charter schools, among them Somerset Academy Silver Palms, one of the lucky ‘Schools of Hope’ identified by the Florida Department of Education as qualified to expand under the law that Richard Corcoran, now Commissioner of Education, rammed through the legislature in the dying hours of the 2017 legislative session.
Now that we have reminded ourselves of the self-serving politician we are discussing, let’s move on to his latest proposal.
Manny proposes a constitutional amendment that would grant an exemption from paying school tax levies to every Florida resident 65 and older as long as they have continuously resided on their homestead property for 25 years or longer.
An outcry has already begun with the theme that it is another attempt to defund public schools. While the amendment would reduce school district revenues, GOT has to wonder how extensive that would be. Few people spend 25 years living on the same property.
Perhaps Manny is crafting something to benefit a few, select people he has in mind. It wouldn’t be the first time a state legislator wrote a bill to benefit a few particular persons but had to write it in a way that it could survive judicial scrutiny.
Or perhaps Manny is more subversive than we are giving him credit for. If approved, the Florida state constitution would grant tax relief to persons 65 and older. What is the philosophical underpinning, the rationale, for saying senior citizens don’t need to pay taxes for schools?
Charlie. Manny appeals to the Charlies in the state. By doing so, he believes his amendment will pass, an amendment that will say that people who do not have children in schools do not need to pay for those schools.
Every citizen, whether they have school-age children or not, benefits from having a system of high quality public schools. Even GOT, who has no children of his own, happily pays his school taxes because he realizes that he benefits from the education of all children.
Manny’s amendment undermines that belief that is enshrined in the Florida constitution. The “paramount duty of the state” to see to the education of its children would be contradicted by his amendment that is based upon a philosophy that people who do not have children in school receive no benefit from educating the state’s children and therefore should be excused from supporting education.
And that, combined with the tilt of the Florida Supreme Court to the right, would be enough for a constitutional challenge to the system of public schools, at least, enough to redefine that paramount duty that lies upon all citizens as the state derives its power, existence, and legitimacy from us.

Teaching Through Lockdown by Steven Singer

Originally published at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.com/2019/01/27/teaching-through-lockdown/?fbclid=IwAR1396v9yUr2c4-hSNk_T7BIOWd45GDgNSEQkhsFMckz8yIuK5uHdOzqlNY

“Excuse the interruption. We are under a lockdown.”

That was it.

Not an explanation of what caused it.

Not any idea of how much danger we were in.

Not any idea of how long it would last.

Just a vague warning that teachers knew meant to keep all their students in class until further notice.

As an educator, you’re expected to teach.

It doesn’t matter what’s happening around you. There can be yelling or screaming. There can be a scuffle in the next room. The lights may flicker off and on.

None of that matters.

If you have students and aren’t in immediate danger, you’re expected to teach them.

And that’s what I did. Even then.

I teach mostly poor and minority students in a western Pennsylvania school near Pittsburgh.


My 8th grade language arts class was in the middle of taking a final exam on The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.

Most of my students were finished, but it was still quiet as two or three students struggled through their last responses.

Then the announcement came over the PA.

“…lockdown.”


The voice was the high school secretary. Since the middle and high school are connected, she rarely makes announcements in my building – only when something is important happening for both buildings.

The kids looked up at me with worried faces.

“What’s going on, Mr. Singer?” one of them asked.

I told them the truth – I really had no idea. There were no drills planned for today. In fact, it would have been a really poor time for one. We had just had ALICE training the day before where the resource officer and the principal had met with students to go over what to do in case of an active shooter. The program is named for the courses of actions it recommends – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

So we were apparently in the L.

During the assembly, the resource officer had said quite bluntly that there would be no coded messages. If a school shooter entered the building, officials would tell us in plain language what was happening so we could make an informed decision what to do.

But there was no additional message over the PA. That was it.

I went over to my computer to see if there was an email. Nope. Nothing.

I pressed refresh a few times. Nothing.

I asked the students to hush and just listened.

It was extremely quiet. Even the hallway was silent and it’s never that silent except during standardized testing.

My room has no windows to the outside. It’s a brick box with one wooden door containing a sliver of window.

The door was already closed and locked. We’re told to keep it that way just in case. But there’s an additional deadbolt you can click to make it even harder to gain access to the room.

“It’s probably nothing,” I said as I walked over to the door and surreptitiously clicked the deadbolt.

I asked student to finish their tests.

It seemed the best course of action. We could either worry about an unknown that was extremely unlikely or else just take care of our business.

It was hard getting the students to calm down. They were scared, and, frankly, so was I.

But this seemed the best thing we could do – Seek normalcy but stay vigilant in case things changed.

“Mr. Singer, may I use the bathroom?” asked one child.

“I’m sorry, but no.” I said. “Not until the lockdown is over.”

Somehow I quieted them down and the remaining students finished their tests.

It seemed to take them forever.

I stood by those who were finalizing answers in the hope that my physical presence would get them to concentrate.


But they were soon done.

So they handed in the tests and we went over the answers.

“May I use the bathroom?”

“No. Not yet. Sorry.”

For about five minutes things went as they would on any other day.

But as soon as there was a lull in the activity, the fear and worry returned.

Students wanted to take out their cell phones and call or text home.

I told them not to.

“Why?” asked a boy in the front.

I knew the answer. We had nothing we could tell parents other than that there was a lockdown. We didn’t know what caused it or what was happening. If there was something bad going on, having parents come to the school would only make things worse.

But I just told him to put it away. I didn’t want to debate the situation. I didn’t want them (or me) to think about what might be happening.

We hadn’t finished watching the movie version of “The Outsiders” so I quickly put that on.

We only had about 15 minutes to go. And watching Dally get shot down by policeprobably wasn’t the best choice under the circumstances.

Still, the kids were focused on the film and not the lockdown.

We discussed how the movie and the book differed for a few moments.

But inevitably there was a lull.

We all got quiet and just listened. Nothing.

No. Down the hall we could hear something. Maybe a scuffle. Voices. It was hard to tell.


Still no email. No message. Nothing.

I could call the office on my school phone, but that just might make things worse.

“Mr. Singer, I’ve GOT to use the bathroom!”

I looked around. I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t let him out there. It would literally be better if he peed his pants.

He must have seen my confusion. “Can I just pee in a bottle or something?”

“Do you have a bottle?”

“No.”

I was about to tell him to take the garbage can into the corner and pee into it but there was no empty corner in the room.

Before I could remark any further, he said, “It’s okay. I’ll just hold it.”

That’s when I noticed the time. We had already spent more than the 40 minutes in the allotted period. The bell should have rung to get students to move to another room. That meant the bells were off.

The students noticed, too.

I kept telling them that everything was probably fine and that I wouldn’t let anything happen to them.

Then we noticed something weird out of the window in the door.

One of the school custodians was standing right outside the room.

He didn’t seem alarmed. He appeared to be looking for something.

Then another custodian walked up to him and they conferred in the hall.

We heard talking. Perhaps the principal in the distance.

Whatever was happening they seemed to have it under control and didn’t appear worried.

I had nothing planned for my students to do. We were well off book here. I couldn’t just start a new unit. I had no idea how long we’d be here.

So I asked them to take out there self-selected books and read.

They groaned.

“How are we going to concentrate on that?” someone asked.

I didn’t really have an answer but it was better to try than to worry needlessly.

So after some cajoling, they dutifully took their books out. Most just stared around the room listening to every nonexistent sound. But some at least appeared to be reading.

“Mr. Singer…”

NO YOU CAN’T USE THE BATHROOM!

Then not long after, the announcement came that the lockdown was over and students could move to their next class.

There was no explanation. Kids just breathed a collective sigh and went to their classes.

I let anyone use the restroom who asked. And I tried to teach through another class.

I truly expected a printed letter from the superintendent to be hand delivered to the room so the kids could take it home. But no. Perhaps there hadn’t been enough time to write, print and disperse one.

After the students were dismissed, I expected administrators to announce a staff meeting to let the teachers know, at least, what had happened. But there was nothing.

I went into another teacher’s room and saw a group talking. THAT was when I found out about what had happened.

A group of students in the high school had been fighting.

Apparently it was pretty bad – almost a riot. One child had been knocked cold and taken out of the building on a stretcher. The others had been remove by police.

When teachers had broken it up, some of the kids had run and were hiding in the building. That’s why the lockdown.

There was more on the 11 O’clock News. Some of the kids had filmed the fight with their phones and put it up on Snapchat.

We eventually got a letter from the superintendent and an email from another administrator saying that it had just been a minor fight.

Parents were on the news saying that administration hadn’t handled it properly, but no one showed up at the next school board meeting to complain.

And so life goes on.


It probably won’t ever come down to the worst case scenario. Yet the fact that it might and that no one really seems to be doing much of anything to stop it from getting to that point – that changes what it means to be in school.

We live with this reality everyday now.

It’s not fair to students. It’s not fair to teachers or parents.

But when you live in a society so broken that it can’t even begin to address its own problems, this is what you get.


Still can’t get enough Gadfly? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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