Sphere of Influence

Today I have a guest blogger, my esteemed colleague, co-author and friend. She writes about a sphere of influence we all have and may choose to act on or not every day.

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With the recent events in Charlottesville, Houston, and the current impact of Irma as it hits Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the people in my life who live and work all over the United States. It’s not that I forget about them when their specific cities or states are not blasted all over the morning news and radio programs, but at times it’s easy to be lulled into thinking our lives are progressing in forward-thinking momentum. Yet when natural catastrophes, violent human behaviors, and unpredictable incidents occur, it often serves as a harsh reminder that this world does not always operate in positive progress. These events clearly impact huge numbers of people – time seems to stand still, lives are changed in an instant. These events also give us individual opportunity to truly consider our own thoughts, words, and behaviors – our proactive and reactive responses. What are the ways in which our thoughts, words, and behaviors impact and influence others?

In recent years, my research on preparing pre-service teachers to work in environments with diverse students and families led me to examine some of the social structures and interpersonal dynamics present in other areas of scholarship, such as psychology and government.

In government, sphere of influence is defined as a country or area in which another country has power to affect developments though it has no formal authority. In psychology, it is a systematic way to view how one’s surrounding environment influences who one is and will become. I would argue that each one of us can not only be acted upon by these outside forces, but each also possesses the potential to act upon, within, and even beyond our spheres of influence.

So the sphere of influence as a concept is not a new notion, but applying sphere of influence to the field of education is a new opportunity to address the intersectionality of our lives as learners, teachers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, administrators, professors, family members, and friends.

It’s been said that a teacher has a ripple effect on human lives. Specifically, a teacher in Year One teaches 25 students, then in Year Two teaches a different 25 students, in Year Three teaches a third unique set of 25 students, and so on. And for each individual life a teacher touches, this individual grows up and takes the lessons learned as a young person into a whole other sphere which comprises their adult lives. So as a pebble thrown into the middle of a huge lake, the original point of impact ripples out to reach, eventually, the farthest edges of the shore.

Yet educators are not the only ones with a widespread sphere of influence. Each of us, and our own families and homes, neighborhoods and communities, workplaces and professional organizations, possess a great potential to powerfully contribute toward creating a kinder, more respectful, inclusive world. This potential power within each of us centers on our choices. Quite simply, each morning when we wake up we have choices – choices such as how we greet the people we encounter, whether we will stop and help someone in need, how we will respond to that one person who is always complaining. These interactions stem from the specific spheres of influence each of us occupy.

So the questions surrounding sphere of influence are really WHAT and HOW.

WHAT: What do you represent? What beliefs are worth the effort of standing firm? As educators, many of us believe in developmental growth and learning. As a mother, I advocate for all children to receive equitable access and opportunities to quality healthcare, education, and housing. As a human, I greatly value respect for and acceptance of all people.

HOW: How will you use your sphere of influence? Will it be something you acknowledge and capitalize upon in your life? Will you use it to propel positivity or harbor hate? Or will you pretend your life and choices bear no impact upon others’ lives, refraining from action?

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I urge you to think. I urge to you act. The world cannot survive with our silence.

Cori Brown, Rowan University.

9/8/17

 

 

 

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A mediocre teacher in every classroom

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In what may be considered a blessing, charter schools are having trouble staffing their schools. To solve that problem in New York, the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter School Institute is going to make it easier to “certify” teachers to staff their charter schools.

Currently in New York, to obtain a teaching license one must earn a graduate degree in education from an accredited university and pass some sort of test or performance assessment. Other states require either a 4 year degree/certification program or a two year alternate route as many states offer as well as the test and/or performance assessment.

According to the New York Times the SUNY proposal states, along with a Bachelor’s Degree, “candidates must have a minimum of 100 hours of ‘field experience’ under the supervision of another teacher, a requirement that could be fulfilled in about two and a half weeks of school.” The  proposal under consideration includes a minimum of 30 hours of classroom instruction. “If, when its charter comes up for renewal, the school is able to show its teachers are producing successful students, the program would be allowed to continue” (Times Union). This certification would apply only to teachers in SUNY charter schools.

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers hammers back:

“The state requires prospective cosmetologists to receive 1,000 hours of specialized instruction and real estate brokers to get 120 hours of instruction and two years of field experience,” Mulgrew said in his letter to Joseph W. Belluck, the chair of the Charter School Committee at SUNY in Albany. “But SUNY’s proposed regulations would, in essence, let charter schools — many of which have admitted having difficulty hiring and retaining certified teachers — create their own special teaching licenses for anyone who finishes one week of specialized instruction and works only 100 hours in a classroom under the supervision of another teacher or administrator, including those who are not themselves certified” (UFT.org).

Charter school advocates say the proposal would help schools struggling to find quality teachers who are certified in New York.

This begs the question, what defines quality teachers? Put it simply, would you rather have a teacher who graduated from an accredited teacher education program who has passed all the requirements for graduation and state licensure? Or would you rather someone with a Bachelor’s degree in anything and 30 hours of classroom instruction on teaching and no certification, no passing score on a performance assessment, and no pedagogical training? This will not produce quality teachers.

The question I continue to ask, because it frustrates me the most is why aren’t these charter schools opening in affluent suburban communities? (*most charters in NY are in NYC).  Because I have taught in both urban and suburban areas, I am confident when I say a charter school in a middle or high income district, staffed by unlicensed and inexperienced teachers would go over like a lead balloon. But that’s not where the charters are opening.

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Maria Bautista of the Alliance for a Quality Education said the proposed changes are racist.

“We know they’re going to disproportionately impact black and brown children,” Bautista said at a recent SUNY Charter School Committee hearing. “You would never have uncertified teachers teach your children. Why is it OK for black and brown children? That is not OK” (wbfo).

On every level, that is not OK. It’s not okay for the teaching profession, and it’s not okay for the minority and low-income children this will directly impact. Is there an expectation of ignorance with these decisions? Is the SUNY Charter Institute counting on this being an 11th hour decision when no one is paying attention? Yes and Yes.

The following statement comes from the 1983 report from President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. This report was considered by many to be a landmark event in modern American educational history.  “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” was controversial at the time, as many believed it did not go far enough to report on the effects of poverty, as low achievement was equated to poor schools instead of neglected communities.  

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people (ed.gov.).

a rising tide of mediocrity – We have persistently failed to address the economic and social injustices that created these communities and then blame schools and teachers for students’ failure. The solution is not to lower the bar of teacher qualifications, rather we should do the opposite. Teach and train more people to be effective in our classrooms-both urban and suburban. Hold teachers to a high standard, and give them the tools they need to succeed.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) a French moralist and essayist once said, “Mediocrity is excellent to the eyes of mediocre people.” As a nation, we must expect excellence in our teachers who will bring out excellence in our students. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

These are my reflections for today.

8/4/2017

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Finding Common Ground with Teach for America

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As a teacher educator, my stomach roils at the very mention of Teach for America (TFA), yet for some reason it keeps coming up in my life. My argument against this organization stems from my belief that the most effective urban teachers come from traditional teacher preparation programs, which include a solid foundation of theory, pedagogy, and fieldwork experiences in urban environments. Training effective teachers to work in urban classrooms may bring sustainability to these schools, and bring teachers who understand how to narrow the achievement gap that exists between high and low income schools. Staffing schools with college graduates who aren’t required to have a degree in education or a teaching license, and have only five weeks of training, as is the case with TFA is a disservice to students in urban schools. This is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

About a year ago, a former student who was about to graduate from our teacher education program asked if I would serve as a reference for TFA as she was beginning to seek employment after graduation. I told her I would, but she had to listen to me for five minutes while I explained why I wanted her to have a very clear understanding of the organization before she applied. She came to my office and before I even spoke, she said, “I know you don’t like it, I know it’s not good for urban schools to hire inexperienced teachers, but I think I can do this and I would like the opportunity to try and change their approach.” Knowing my opinions should not impact her choices, I found the common ground and agreed to write a glowing recommendation. I completed the online recommendation, and being a good sport, on the form I checked yes they could contact me with additional questions, but no they could not contact me for networking opportunities. I’m all about supporting my teacher candidates, even if they feel strongly about pursuing employment with an organization I do not support. But discuss networking opportunities with TFA? No, thank you.

This student accepted a position in New Orleans, and came back to campus to visit me at Thanksgiving. I asked how it was going, and her response was, “It’s worse than you think.” I was disheartened, but not surprised.

Last spring I attended accepted students day with my son at the university where he would attend. During the day, two people from two different programs offered this to parents and students, “We encourage our students to take advantage of service opportunities, such as Teach for America.” Each time, my son looked at me as if to say, “Mom, please don’t stand up and debate this.” The voices in my head are screaming, don’t those children deserve the best trained teachers, and not just college students looking for service opportunities?” But for my son, I swallowed the urge to stand and scream in protest, and mentally began writing a letter to the president of the university.  The letter is written in my head, but that’s as far as it’s gotten.

The next encounter was while I was attending a post-memorial service luncheon in honor of my godfather. I was introduced to one of his granddaughters. In casual conversation I mentioned I am a college professor. She asked what I teach, and I told her I am a teacher educator. “You’re not going to like me very much, then,” she said. I tell her I’m sure that’s not true, and she goes on to tell me she was a TFA corps member for two years, worked in staffing for a while after that, and now is co-founder of a program bringing early childhood education programs to urban children in a large metropolitan area. I begin pontificating on the research my colleagues and I have done, our recently published book and how we feel so strongly about our work. I tell her the book comes from work each of has done in providing urban field experiences for our students, paralleled with course work, and activities, which support how our students need to first understand themselves and the cultural lens through which they see the world. In order for teachers to be effective in an urban classroom, they must also understand the students and the environment from which they come. It is only then they can begin to understand their students, and how the culture of these children differs from their own upbringing. She appears to be intrigued by this. Sadly this was news to her.

Somehow what happened next even surprised me. We found a way to reach common ground. She left TFA because she didn’t completely agree with the organization’s plan, said she didn’t need to read any of the exposés written by disgruntled former corps members who admitted to being ill-prepared to teach these students, and in this environment. She already knew about it first hand. I was happy to hear this. She made a point of saying not all corps members are horrible teachers, and I agreed, but countered with why our most needy students deserved our very best teachers. She agreed. We agreed that suburban schools would never be staffed with TFA corps members, and we recognized the issues surrounding why only urban schools employ them.

At the end of the conversation, she told me she would read the book on the flight home. She mentioned a friend who is the Director of Corps Member Development and after reading our book would speak with her friend about our conversation and the book.

I begrudgingly acknowledged I would be willing to discuss the book with her friend, and how it might be implemented in TFA training (still only 5-weeks, but whatever).  In this conversation I learned how something good came out of her work with TFA. I would like to think something good might come of my conversation with her. This got me thinking further. Perhaps the common ground is more approachable, than the defining line in the sand. Am I selling out by agreeing to have a conversation with TFA? Could I be like my student who believes maybe she can affect change within the organization in New Orleans ? I don’t know. But the fact that I found common ground and we could agree, disagree, and agree to disagree was tremendous growth for me.

My most recent encounter was last month when I reached out to TFA looking for data on the growth of charters in New Orleans pre- and post- Katrina – specifically the number of TFA corp members were in the New Orleans Schools. Honestly, the information I was looking for was for research purposes only. I got a response from the Managing Director of External Research asking me to complete a research partnership request. “Once you’ve submitted this request, we will review the information provided and make a decision as to whether or not to release the data.” On the same day I submitted the form, there was a lot of search activity on my research publications from…. guess where? New Orleans. Not sure how they felt about my research, but I guess I can understand the hesitation to provide the data to anyone, as most of it is used against the organization.

This week I got a response. “We are happy to provide historic placement data for TFA in New Orleans.  I am working to assemble those numbers now and should have them to you soon.” 

I will only use the information I receive for the intended use- research for a book. For as much as I take issue with TFA, it keeps coming up in my life. Maybe some day I’ll understand why.

Sun-Tzu wrote, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

These are my reflections for today.

7/28/17

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Hide and Seek

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It has been a few weeks since I’ve written about the Secretary of Education. She hasn’t been seen or heard from much since she dropped a few bombs in DC. If you want to ask Mrs. DeVos what she’s been up to, you’ll have to find her first. She might be hiding and this might be why:

First, the attorneys general of 18 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia are suing the Department of Education over a rule to protect student loan borrowers that was supposed to go into effect July 1. According to the New York Times, “An existing federal law allows borrowers to apply for loan forgiveness if they attended a school that misled them or broke state consumer protection laws. Once rarely used, the system was overwhelmed by applicants after the wave of for-profit school failures. Corinthian, a for profit school collapsed and led to more than 15,000 loan discharges, with a balance of $247 million. ITT Tech, another for-profit with nearly 40,000 students, shut down in 2016.”

Ms. DeVos froze Obama Administration rules that would have shifted some risk back to the institutions by requiring schools at risk of closing to put up financial collateral. They would also ban mandatory arbitration agreements, which waived students’ rights to a class action lawsuit in cases of misconduct. According to the Los Angeles Times, “No one should be surprised that the Trump administration is going after federal safeguards that protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.”

Second, Superintendents across the country are speaking out against the deep cuts in Medicaid as it will deeply impact low-income students in a loss of healthcare and special education services.

Third, according to NPR, On July 1, interest rates on federal student loans will cost 4.45%, up from 3.76 %. Graduate Stafford loans will  cost 5.31 % to 6 %, while PLUS loans are up to 7% from 6.31 %.

Fourth,  the budget proposes to cut $143 billion from federal student loans.

And a few more

  • DeVos announced an intention to appoint A. Wayne Johnson, who runs a private loan refinancing company, as the new head of the Office of Federal Student Aid. (Isn’t that like asking the fox to watch the hen house?)
  • She has loosened the rights on civil rights investigations, including issues around transgender students as well as sexual assault at institutions of higher education.
  • She revoked guidance that protected transgender students.
  • And finally, she cut $76 billion by creating one plan for new borrowers to pay their loans based on their income. This would require borrowers to pay a larger share of their income each month than most plans available today.

The Chronicles of Higher Education reported on DeVos’ silence since these devastating  proposed changes were announced.

“There has been a public silence from Ms. DeVos. It has been several weeks since her last open news event. There were two events listed as open on Ms. DeVos’s schedule in the middle of June, but when a reporter inquired about them, he was told they had been incorrectly posted by the department’s web team. The schedule was updated to reflect that the events were closed. There are no public events listed on the secretary’s schedule this week.”

Recently, she said, “My first priority is to protect students”. What students? These proposed cuts impact those who need government assistance the most in order to earn a college degree. I don’t see how students are protected in any of these cuts. Back in the day, those who attended college were wealthy white landowners. Is this the direction we’re heading? Those who are privileged can go to college and those who own loan companies, and open for profit schools are protected from cheating anyone who attends their school and borrows money to do so? That protects investors-not students.

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DeVos finally turned up this week in Denver to speak to one of her favorite conservative groups – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).  ALEC is a business-backed group that writes conservative legislation at the state level and advocates for limited government. Her connection to ALEC is deep but not surprising. Her family’s organization, the American Federation for Children, is a financial contributor to ALEC. Her father in-law received ALEC’s “Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award” in 1993, for his promotion of market-based school reform.

DeVos was met by hundreds of Denver teachers, students and administrators who walked in protest from the capitol to the Hyatt where ALEC was meeting. The protesters argued the expansion of vouchers and charters, as they will ultimately destroy public education.

Two recent studies from credible universities came to similar conclusions regarding the success of voucher programs:

The first study, a joint project from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance and the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project, found that voucher programs did not produce improvement on students’ test scores.

A second study examined the statewide school voucher program in Indiana, one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the U.S. The unpublished study from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky, which is pending peer review, found that Indiana’s 34,000-student program had a negligible effect on educational performance for children in third grade through eighth grade from 2011 to 2015.

According to NPR, “Her rhetoric was more fiery than it’s been since she assumed her post, as she talked about a “fight”, a “struggle,” and being on the “front lines”. She invoked Margaret Thatcher’s famous line that “there is no such thing” as “society” (NPR).

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She argued this tweet from the AFT. “They have made clear that they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than about individual students. They are saying education is not an investment in individual students. And they are totally wrong. What, exactly, is education if not an investment in students?”

Back in March, DeVos criticized Denver Public Schools for a weak agenda when it comes to school choice. She said Denver does not provide parents with a voucher program, which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. The irony here is that her speech  in March was to the Brookings Institute in Washington, which ranked the DPS school choice system as top in the nation for the second straight year this year. She doesn’t know who she’s talking to or what she’s talking about.

ALEC creates a yearly report card on the success of states’ public schools. Criteria for grading includes the level of access to charters and vouchers. Massachusetts and Connecticut are at the top of the list for student performance, but earned a C or C- because of voucher and charter accessibility. The top two states receiving A’s for this are Florida and Arizona, two states with many failing public schools, and a growing number of questionable charters. A successful model employed in these two states (and so many others) which increases student performance gets a C, and states failing miserably but encourage charters and vouchers get A’s.

She argues that her ideals and those shared by her family and other billionaire philanthropists support public education, when their actions support their lack of understanding of public education, and the consistent lack of a model of success for the very ideas they’re supporting. Look at what she’s done in the last month. These decisions do not support public education, nor do they support students.

Meanwhile, back in Washington…

At an event on Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said school voucher programs were the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation” (USA Today).

These are my reflections for today.

7/22/17

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A microphone, an audience, and truth

Every once in a while I come a cross a story about someone doing something awesome, and it restores my faith in humanity. Here is an inspirational story about a recent high school graduate from New Haven, CT. Her name is Coral Ortiz.

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While in high school, Coral was elected to the Board of Education as a student representative, and served a two-year term. During her time on the board she questioned the inception of an all black boys charter school, saying it didn’t make much sense, and how could the school ignore Hispanic students? Rather, she suggested creating a program within an existing school to offer extra attention and help for boys of color (New Haven Independent). The charter school never got off the ground.

Coral was named valedictorian, and this is the commencement address she gave. Her story is in her words.

I would like to start by first and foremost thanking God and every person who helped us get where we are today. In particular, thank you to our friends and families who supported us as we worked towards this moment, and who are here supporting us as we graduate. I would like to personally thank my teachers, mentors, counselors and all of my peers and friends. Lastly and most importantly, my family: I could not thank my parents enough for the support they gave me.

I’ve thought a lot about this day; about what I want to say, and what message I want to send. I thought about preparing something different, but as I thought, I decided it was best to share the truth. The truth about what this day actually means. The truth about what we as a class represent.

When we were young, we were taught that we were “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Our country taught us that no matter our income or race, we would all have the same chance to achieve our dreams. We were taught that there would never be a bias against a certain group of people, and that society believes in each and every one of us. These lessons of equality were taught as self-evident. These lessons of equality have and continue to be a lie.

The reality is that despite the fact that we recite the words “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” it has been 50 years since the civil rights movement that our country has never been equal. We—a class mostly made up of minority, low income, and first generation students—have had the odds stacked against us, but here we are standing at this graduation with 3 state championships, college acceptances, and one of largest increases in graduation rates in the State, because we didn’t let the inherent inequality stop us from achieving our goals.

I would be lying if I said today is like any other day, because today is not like any other day. Most importantly, Today is not your typical high school graduation; it is more than that. Today is the day when we walk across a stage and take our diplomas, as an act of defiance to those who said we could not. We have had many students, administrators, and teachers come and go. We have had heart break; we have had our nation turn its backs on us, through supporting those who support hate. So, to those that believed my classmates and I were incapable, I have decided to leave a message for you:

To the teacher who said my classmates and I would fail and that the taxpayers wasted resources on our education -– Today, we teach you that you were wrong.

To the counselor who told me students at this school never get into prestigious colleges – we didn’t let your perception of us define who we are.

To the people who assume we are robbing their stores because of the color of our skin – don’t judge a book by its cover.

To the people who told us that only boys were good at math – Girls are more than just pretty faces.

To the people who violated our bodies – no means no.

To the people who questioned our dedication to the things we were involved in – you didn’t see our sleepless nights and three championship trophies.

To the person who believed that our socioeconomic status would define us – you do not need to be a millionaire to succeed.

To the lady on the bus who told me my peers and I would go to jail because of the high school we attended – we are still free.

To the politicians and corporations that refuse to address gun violence because it might cost them money- life has no price.

To the people who assume that our names are too ghetto to be qualified – our names have taken us farther than you could have imagined.

To the leaders who thought it was okay to make decisions that forced us to go to classes without textbooks – it is far from okay.

To the person who told us we only got into college because we were minorities – the color of one’s skin does not determine intelligence.

To the people that talked poorly about us in the newspaper – you taught us how to be fearless.

To the people who thought it was okay to experiment with our education – the math of 5 principals in 4 years just doesn’t add up.

To the people who want to privatize education – public education is the reason we succeeded.

To the politicians who choose unqualified people to affect our lives because you feel loyal to your party – you did not take a vow to serve a party. You took a vow to serve the people.

To the person who believes my classmates and I are dangerous – we are human.

To the people who told me my friends and I are not beautiful – black is beautiful.

To those who believed that my peers and I would drop out – looks like you were wrong.

To everyone who voted for hate – love wins.

I could go on for hours talking about the people who defined us as something other than successful. But today is not solely about the obstacles that were placed in front of us. Today is about the truth. The fact that there were several times people underestimated us and we were able to prove them wrong. We stand here and take our diplomas not only as an act of defiance, but also as an act of gratitude. Thankful for the adults that cared, thankful for the teacher that spent hours educating us, thankful for the parents, family members, counselors, friends, politicians, and mentors that believed we could make it to this moment.

We could not have done this without you because it takes a village to raise a child. Despite the fact that our education was treated like an experiment, lacked in resources, and was marked by the presence of people who stopped believing we were capable, we did it. In 6 years we were capable of going from a 51 percent graduation rate to a 91 percent graduation rate. Today we acknowledge the fact that our country is not equal and that we have it harder than many other people. We acknowledge that, despite this inequality, we beat the odds. We did it, and now we have the chance to not only reach our own dreams, but also to help others reach theirs.

If we were able to overcome all of these obstacles, then there is nothing that can stop us. No one that can stop us, no dream that we can’t reach, and no adversity that we cannot overcome, because in the end, they said we couldn’t, so we did, and when they say we won’t, we will. Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2017 (New Haven Independent).

With a microphone and an audience Coral Ortiz spoke truth. Much of what she said might be argued or denied by those who don’t agree or don’t want to hear her truth.  She spoke from her heart of her experiences, and the experiences of her classmates. Brava.

Coral has a bright future ahead of her. Regardless of what she studies, she will succeed. Where will she study? She’s staying close to New Haven and will attend Yale University (rumor has it she turned Harvard down).

These are my reflections for today.

7/14/17

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The School to Prison Pipeline

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  • The drop out rate for urban high schools in the U.S. is 40%.
  • 70% of prisoners in the U.S. are high school drop outs. (Coherent Education).

The connection between high school drop out rates and incarceration is known as the school to prison pipeline. Some people believe it begins with a disproportionate number of students of color who are punished, suspended, or expelled from school. “Black students are suspended or expelled three times more frequently than white students. And while black children made up 16 percent of all enrolled children in 2011-12, according to federal data, they accounted for 31 percent of all in-school arrests”(justicepolicy.org).

This is the result of a zero tolerance policy. Students affected by the zero tolerance policy begin to fall behind academically, suffer emotionally, and often give up and drop out of school. These students are given their first exposure to the criminal justice system and so begins the cycle. Other believe the cycle starts when under-performing students are pushed out of high schools because their standardized test scores would not help the school increase their overall performance. Regardless of the reason, the problem exists.

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This is the cost to the dropouts. What is the cost to taxpayers?

  • High school dropouts cost taxpayers $300,000 over the course of their lifetime.
  • The average cost to incarcerate one prisoner per year in a federal prison in 2015 was on average $32,000.
  • If all of the high school dropouts from the class of 2011 earned diplomas, the nation would benefit from an estimated $154 billion in income over their working lifetime (thinkprogress.org).

As if the importance of universal preschool has not been stated enough, one way to break the school to prison pipeline is to support preschool for all children, and educate teachers on how to use positive reinforcement with all students.  Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation found that many of the problems children have in school might begin in preschool, and have a lot to do with how white teachers view behaviors of white children differently than black children. What might be acceptable for white children, such as pushing another child down in frustration- the same action from a black student might be seen as the beginning of aggressive behavior and dealt with more harshly (thinkprogress.org).  Potter found one resolution to this is to help teachers understand what motivates children to react as they do, and address this before it becomes a problem. How important is this? Wilson (2017) found that, “preschool improves poverty level kid’s achievement and high school completion” (Coherent Education).

  • The average per pupil spending amount in the U.S. is $11,000, but can go as high as $20,000 (New York) or as low as $7000 (Utah) (census.gov).

What strikes me about the studies and data is the disparity of dropout rates and incarceration with students of color when compared to white students. If you carefully consider the amount of money spent to educate a student compared to how much it costs to incarcerate a prisoner, why aren’t we spending more time and energy ensuring all students have a quality education in this country – an education that begins with preschool?

My dad used to say figures don’t lie, liars figure. Rather than supporting the idea of strengthening our public schools to reverse these trends, the plan is to take this per pupil spending amount, funnel it towards charters and vouchers and see if that fixes the problem. The reformers figure they have the solution but the problem goes deeper than per pupil spending and charters. The problem seems to be rooted in racism and discrimination. Maybe we start there.

These are my reflections for today.

7/7/17

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What happened to 9,000 low-income students in North Carolina?

Effective teachers know how to challenge students academically, and do so on a regular basis. Students enjoy the academic challenge, and will rise to the level of expectation placed on them by their teachers. The benefits of students placed in academically appropriate classes can be seen later in school as they qualify for Advanced Placement classes. Students on an AP track likely move on to college, for example.

In many districts across the country, qualifying students in public schools are offered academic enrichment or gifted and talented classes. These G/T courses go above and beyond what is taught in the classroom. Students are identified  for G/T courses through a process which may include test scores, grades, and teacher recommendations.  An investigation in North Carolina recently revealed a systemic disparity in the children who were being offered opportunities for academic enrichment.

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Two newspapers in North Carolina, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer conducted a six year investigation on which students were qualifying for gifted classes based on end of year test scores. “From school years 2009-10 through 2014-15 across the state, a lower proportion of low-income students with superior scores on end-of-grade tests were placed in math classes for gifted students the following year than their classmates from higher-income families” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer). Specifically, 9,000 low-income students were left out of opportunities for gifted classes even though they qualified for them. Why were so many students in North Carolina being denied these opportunities?

What this investigation revealed is disturbing on so many levels- most importantly the investigation found a consistent pattern over six years (2009-2015). This was noted across rural, urban, and suburban districts across the state.

Analysis of data collected revealed:

  • In 2015, one of every three low-income students with superior math scores was labeled gifted, compared to one out of two high-scoring students whose family income was too high to qualify for federal lunch subsidies.
  • In Wake County, 24 percent of low-income third graders scoring a 5 in 2014 were labeled gifted in math the following school year. The percentage for their higher-income counterparts was more than twice as high: 54 percent.
  • In 2015, Wake County filled 291 gifted slots with higher-income fourth graders who had average end-of-grade math scores. At the same time, 228 low-income children with superior scores were left out. This also occurred in several other large districts, including Durham, Guilford and Forsyth.
  • These high-potential, low-income students are less likely to take high school math in middle school, an important step toward the type of transcript that will open college doors. Only one of every two low-income third graders who scored above grade level in 2010 took high school math in middle school, compared with three of four more affluent students with the same scores.
  • Even those low-income students who start high school math in middle school are far less likely to take Advanced Placement math classes in high school than classmates with similar scores but more family income (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

What are the ramifications of students not taking AP classes?  Students who only take Math 1 in eighth grade in NC, fall behind their college-prep counterparts, with many teachers believing that once students fall behind, they aren’t able to catch up.  “Among low-income students who test above grade level in sixth grade but don’t take high school math by eighth grade, only one in 14 go on to take four advanced math courses in high school. For those who do start high school math by eighth grade, the numbers are better: two in five.” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

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While the investigators made recommendations based on the study results, I present a few of my own:

  1. Criteria for inclusion in G/T courses must be consistent and monitored -from within and outside the program. Administrators and curriculum supervisors may be well-suited for the task. This would ensure ALL qualifying students are given equal opportunities.
  2. Training for teachers who teach honors courses. AP teachers are required to meet certain criteria by the College Board.  Honors teachers may benefit from training to ensure they possess the tools to assist students who want to succeed, and are given every opportunity to succeed.
  3. Professional development for K-12 teachers to better understand how to meet the academic needs of all students in the classroom. Every student should be provided with academic challenges.
  4. Counseling students in and out of higher level courses- providing scaffolding and support for students placed in these courses for the first time. If a student qualifies in 6th grade for a G/T course, or 9th grade for an honors or AP course, this may be quite an academic shock as they have not performed in such a course. Facilitating their growth and success would ensure they are succeeding in these higher-level classes.

There are varying opinions on gifted and talented education. This study is not about the value of gifted and talented classes, rather it is about the equal opportunities afforded to all children.  This investigation revealed a weakness in the system in North Carolina. In response to the study, Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for academic advancement, said what the investigation revealed  was “disturbing.” “I think there is a sobering punch in the gut about what is happening here,” she said (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

“Students who show promise need to be challenged,” said Keith Poston, executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan advocate for better schools. “Schools need to see their promise and push them into more rigorous classes early so they aren’t left behind and left out.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Ann Clark says the key is individual tracking. In high schools, for instance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg now has counselors reviewing each student’s transcript every year to make sure the student is getting appropriate classes to meet his or her goals, whether that’s earning a diploma or building up advanced credits to be competitive for a top university. (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

It may have been easier to understand one or two districts demonstrating such bias, but a six year study revealing state-wide systemic bias such as this is unacceptable. Regardless of how NC got here, the question is how do they get out? Perhaps a non-partisan study every year similar to the one in this investigation would ensure ALL students who qualify for gifted/talented and AP courses are offered these courses. Accountability would be a good first step.

These are my reflections for today.

6/10/17


Post script:  Since I started Reflections in Education in November, I have had 900 visitors with almost 1,300 views of 43 posts, and my site has been viewed in 10 different countries. That may not seem like a lot to you, but it does to me – I didn’t think anyone would read it.  So, thank you for reading, sharing and re-posting. I hope my blogs have got you thinking, talking, reading more, and reflecting. I will keep writing if you keep reading. I appreciate your support. Thank you.