Parent Alert!

Parent Alert! Do you really believe the nightmare of high-stakes testing of children as young as 5, the grade retention policies that fly in the face of decades of research, scripted curriculum, narrowed offerings, larger class sizes and lack of classroom resources is going away on its own? Have you heard of ALEC, Broad, DeVos, or Whitney Tilson? Are you aware that the rich and powerful want to privatize public education, close public schools and turn them over to big business, remove the authority of local school boards, get rid of experienced teachers who will be replaced by short-term neophytes and that they are doing it with the help of the US Department of Education?

There is something you can do to stop this travesty. It is small, but significant. Thousands of parents and teachers have signed a letter to President Obama calling for an end to high-stakes testing and the punitive actions associated with them. The letter calls for the involvement of parents and teachers in the policy decisions of the USDOE. Finally, the letter calls for the dismissal of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the man who should be defending your children against privatization efforts, but instead is complicit in the dismantling of the public education system. To read the letter, go to http://dumpduncan.org/. If you agree with the premise, sign the letter and speak out for your children.

Pro-Reform

I am unabashedly pro-reform, and proud of it. The public schools in the U.S. are headed in the wrong direction and must be redirected to a new course. The evidence is clear that things have gone unquestionably wrong. Failing schools, increasing drop out rates, a badly deteriorating infrastructure, and demoralized teachers are all indicators that we need to look at the policies and procedures that have led to these declines, stop them, and turn things around.

Here is the data-based reform required to improve our public schools.

1. Stop the standards-based curriculum mandates. We have been doing this for more than 10 years and no one can argue that things haven't gotten steadily worse. More schools are judged as failing every year. Replace the current one-size-fits-all model with the research-based protocol of meeting individual needs and helping each child reach their full potential in a whole-child approach to education.
2. Decrease the overemphasis on a narrow range of curricular goals, unproven high-stakes testing, increasing class sizes, and underfunding school programs. Instead, expand the curriculum to include interest areas of all students, provide multiple forms of assessment designed to help each student grow both in areas of strength and weakness. We must replace the rote learning required by the current emphasis on testing and instead include problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking in our arsenal of instructional techniques. Further, we must provide assistance in meeting curricular demands and help each student monitor their progress toward their own goals.
3. Current efforts are designed to cut school funding, both by direct budget cuts and by pulling money away from local school board control and hand it over to private interests to run charter schools, provide vouchers to private schools, and bring under-trained staff in to local schools to replace experienced teachers. The outcome of this combined money drain has been to concentrate the hardest to solve problems in schools serving primarily minorities and the poor and to provide these schools with an ever-declining revenue stream. The result is deteriorating facilities, lack of up-to-date books and other instructional resources, and large class sizes. Our reform efforts must be directed to ending the corporate takeover of school functions by ending the use of public dollars to fund charter schools, vouchers, and privately run teacher replacement programs. The dollars saved must be returned to the control of local school communities. Further reform efforts are needed to identify revenue streams that will ensure the maintenance and replacement of outmoded school facilities.
4. Current school policies have resulted in a workforce that is badly demoralized. Teacher bashing through the use of unproven “accountability” measures, school closings and the resulting teacher layoffs and firings, legislative efforts to end teacher bargaining rights, increasing class sizes, top-down control of both curriculum and instruction, and efforts to replace experienced teachers with short-term, unproven neophytes all must stop. Reform efforts must be made to reverse these disturbing trends and rebuild a professional teacher presence in our schools. Lower class sizes, reliance on the professional judgment of trained staff, and school supported professional development are all steps that must be taken to improve teacher morale.

What is outlined here is just a sample of what must be done to turn around the failed, top-down efforts to operate our public schools. It is time to end the experiment on children being perpetrated by the U.S. Department of Education. It is time to take back our local schools and institute REAL reform. Join us in this effort to turn around an attempt to steal our children's future. http://dumpduncan.org

Farmers Call it "Sucking Hind Teat"

There are lots of ways to organize a school and provide a curriculum for the students. Take a look at the curriculum described below and think about how this might work for your children and grandchildren.

Elementary School

The school provides an academically challenging curriculum with flexibility to meet the needs of individual students. The faculty works to instill a feeling of self-worth and self-confidence in each student while also requiring that he or she recognize the needs of others. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal with a balance between freedom and discipline.

The program is geared to the mastery of basic language arts and mathematical skills and encourages individual creative expression. Teachers use a thematic approach to learning which gives students an understanding of the relationship between disciplines. Scientific and artistic exploration as well as physical activity are important parts of the curriculum. The computer is used to enhance the teaching of many subjects. Students often visit the wider community on field trips and for service projects.

Middle School

Philosophically, the Middle School seeks to develop students in the following ways:
Middle school is a key period of individual growth and identity development. Students in grades 5 through 8 are beginning to discover their talents, interests, learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. They are in the process of forming values and making choices that will define them into adulthood. They are eager for, and increasingly ready for, greater autonomy and independence.

At the same time that middle school children are beginning to define themselves as individuals, they are also exploring how they fit into the larger group. Peer relationships become increasingly important to them. They also seek to develop meaningful interactions with adults, including teachers, coaches, and advisors. The Middle School encourages students to become critically aware of their roles and responsibilities as members of the school community.

High School

The curriculum provides a broad foundation in the humanities and sciences, develops critical and creative thinking, stresses competence in oral and written communication and quantitative operations, and stimulates intellectual curiosity. Each student's personal and social growth is fostered by promoting self-confidence and self-esteem and by stressing personal integrity and physical fitness.

The faculty offers students opportunities to develop self-reliance and to undertake independent study and strives to promote world citizenship, multicultural understanding, and peaceful conflict resolution.

Is the kind of program you would like for your children along with an average class size of 7.6? Many people would, including the following:

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States
Theodore Roosevelt, 29th President of the United States
Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States
Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States
Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States
Rodney E. Slater, 13th US Secretary of Transportation
Douglas Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland
Hunter Biden, Son of Vice President of the United States Joe Biden and former chair of AMTRAK Board of Directors
David Gregory, Host of Meet the Press on NBC
Debra L. Lee, President and Chief Executive Officer of Black Entertainment Television
Robert L. Johnson, Co-Founder of Black Entertainment Television and former owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats
Sheila Johnson, Co-Founder of Black Entertainment Television and owner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics
Doreen Gentzler, Evening news anchor at WRC-TV
Seth Goldman (businessman), Founder of Honest Tea
Merrick Garland, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Federal Judge
Seth Waxman, 41st Solicitor General of the United States
Bob Woodward, Washington Post investigative reporter who broke the Watergate Scandal
Wanya Morris, Member of the R&B group Boyz II Men
Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist
David A. Vise, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist
Judy Woodruff, former host of Inside Politics on CNN
Al Hunt, Executive Washington editor for Bloomberg News
Charlie Sheen former main character on two and a half men CBS

If your children or grandchildren attend a public school in America, this is not the kind of education the power elite want for your children. What your kids get is a steady diet of test-prep and test where everything is measured by scores on the test. Can being rich and powerful be the only way to get a decent education for your children? What is going on here? Why do the elite choose the Sidwell Friends caviar brand of education for their own children and “hind teat” for yours? Why do you stand for it?

Coming soon to a school near you.....

Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham's Urban Studies Program. He recently posted a letter from a teacher in a New York City high school that illustrates what is happening in schools across the country. We introduce it here:

Letter from a Teacher in a School Designated for Closing by the DOE in order to receive "Race To The Top Money"
I am a teacher at ...... one of the PLA schools. .... has been a "Transformation School" since September 2010. I have been a Social Studies teacher at this school since September 1990.

Yesterday, we were summoned to the auditorium for a special faculty meeting. Our very well-liked principal, . . . conveyed the information he'd received from his superiors: the City intended to change our school to a Turnaround Model. The implications were not completely clear, but it almost certainly meant that we teachers and our supervisors would have to re-apply for our positions to come back in September 2012, and around half of us would not be re-employed.

This news was shocking and deeply distressing to us. We have done everything we were asked to do by State and City. We have learned and implemented new technology for the classroom, spent hours in Professional Development, devoted an hour a week to working in Inquiry Teams, decorated our classrooms with student work, differentiated instruction, and redesigned all our lesson plans to introduce the Common Core Curriculum. We have done this conscientiously despite the doubts many of us had as to the efficacy of these innovations.

The State has been extremely impressed by our progress, writing strongly positive reports, available on the PLA pages of the NYSED website. Our Quality Review last spring was favorable, and we raised our 4-year graduation rate last year by about 7 percentage points.
Despite this, the City had decided to subject us to this awful and humiliating process, in which perhaps an arbitrary figure of half of us would be dismissed from the school.

Our students were given letters to explain this to their parents, describing the school as "Persistently Lowest Achieving" and conveying the message that it is the teachers' to blame, and that the City will "measure and screen existing staff using rigorous standards for student success. . ." and rehire only a portion. One teacher commented in our meeting that distributing these letters to our students was "like cutting our own throats."

I'm certain similar events played out in the other two dozen plus schools hit by this news. Regardless of his intentions, Bloomberg is seriously demoralizing hundreds of hard-working and gifted teachers, making it harder for us to enthusiastically adopt any future changes. He is creating a negative image of their schools and their children's teachers in the eyes of parents and community. The damage will persist long after this spat between DOE and UFT has been resolved.

Two Scenarios

For centuries, the ways of the world were nearly static but change began to accelerate with the industrial age.  By the advent of the 20th century our parents and grandparents faced a world of increasing ability to communicate rapidly, travel great distances in short periods of time, and to rely on mechanical aids to perform work at unprecedented levels.  By the end of the century these changes were taking place at blinding speed and visionaries began to question our ability to cope.

For example, a number of futurists have taken a look at the emerging world of work and projected the type of skills workers will need to be successful in the coming economy. The North Central Educational Laboratory developed a list of skills based on eight nationally recognized skill sets as well as literature reviews and input from a wide variety of practitioners. The result is called the enGauge 21st Century Skills and is provided here.

Digital-Age Literacy includes basic, scientific, mathematical, and technological literacies. Visual, information, and cultural literacies are also implied along with global awareness.

Inventive Thinking is the name given to adaptability and the ability to manage complexity. It includes curiosity, creativity, and risk taking as well as higher order thinking and sound reasoning.

Effective Communication includes but goes beyond interactive communication to include teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills. Personal and social responsibility are also part of this skill set.

High Productivity refers to the ability to prioritize, plan, and manage for results. It includes the use of real-world tools and the production of relevant, high-quality products.

Keeping these ideas in mind, please take a look at the following two scenarios describing the model classroom of 2012 and an example of a classroom in 1992.

2012

In room 22 the children are busily filling out worksheets and practicing filling in bubbles on an answer sheet.  The teacher makes sure each child stays on the same pace and ensures that her lessons follow the syllabus provided by the district.  She checks the calendar to make sure she is on the same lesson as other teachers at her grade level throughout the district.  Those children who fall behind are kept in at recess and do not participate in art or music while they practice skills needed to pass the next test.  Time for science and social studies are diminished to add time for reading and math, which are the only subjects emphasized on the district and state assessments.

1992

Students in room 15 are working on a community problem, encroachment of non-native species into local wheat fields.  They read about the invasive species and possible effects on wheat production, calculate acreage, study rate of change, and predict possible outcomes.  They read about characteristics of mono-culture of wheat and other crops, exam the pros and cons of various proposed remedies for the invasive weeds, and prepare presentations including art work to make the case for their proposals.  Reading and math are integrated with science and social studies in this unit of study that lasts a few weeks.

The students in room 22 will likely do well on the bubble-in tests mandated by the district and state.  If the current tests had been given to the students in room 15, the results would not likely be as positive.  Given the needs outlined in the enGauge 21st Century Skills study, however, one might question the efficacy of the “reforms” of the last 20 years.

Ask yourself the question: Are my children being well served by the drill and test curriculum now in place across the U.S.?  Is it preparing them for life in the new century, or should we listen to the futurists and prepare our children to be problem solvers, able to adapt to a rapidly changing world?  Which classroom do you want for your children and grandchildren?  What are you going to do about it?