Two things to read

I’ve realized that part of the reason I don’t post much anymore is that whenever I do think of something to write about (which is all the time), it just feels too big to dig into with the limited time I’ve got.

So I’m just going to start posting tidbits, whenever I can.

Here’s two awesome articles today that excited me because they are both about topics I  care deeply about.

  1. We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does., Alvin Chang / Vox

Some amazing work with the interactives on this one. It tailors to the data of your own school district.

2. Public school buildings are falling apart, and students are suffering for it, Rachel Cohen / Washington Post

We need to keep banging the drum on this one. The greatest overlooked area of education reform.

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Smorgasbord: Unity, Faction, and Learning

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Don Shalvey calls for more learning, rather than competition, between charters and districts

“Let’s leave crushing the competition to the National Football League and not act like it’s the reason educators create and work in charter public schools.”

Sounds good to me. I think the fractious debates between charter and district are largely a distraction from the real work of how to best serve families and educate kids. And I will happily learn from and collaborate with any of my colleagues working in the charter sector.

It’s important when such collaborations do occur to frame them as a two-way street, rather than one sharing “best practices” to another. We all have things to learn from different contexts, structures, and approaches.

Shalvey: Dramatic Support for Educators Rather Than Political Drama, The Alumni

Or maybe districts need to be a little more competitive with charters

“In their rush to score cheap political points, both camps sidestep the reality that districts and charters are in a high-stakes competition for students. The truth is that unilateral opposition to charters has never stopped them from growing, just like it hasn’t stopped thousands of parents from enrolling their children in private schools or finding ways to get them into neighboring school districts. The futures of local charters and districts hinge on the same thing—the decisions parents make for their children.”

Don’t Complain About Charter Schools, Compete With Them, Education Next

Celine Coggins advises teacher leaders to be willing to push policymakers for disagreement

“Most educators’ natural instinct is to keep the peace. Your average local politician won’t be as impolitic as the President. They’ll say they care about equity, meaning a great education for all kids. You need to get beneath the hood on that.”

Good point. I’ve met with a number of policymakers to advocate for better policies, and the tendency for these conversations is typically for teachers to share, policymaker to nod and then politely push away any accountability, everyone to get photo ops. The best conversations are when you can have a reasoned argument about something that helps to clarify where everyone stands.

Also good tidbit here from Coggins:

“Which are the policy problems and which are the relationship problems? The battle for greater equity for disadvantaged students is a war on two fronts. Some parts of the problem are best solved at the individual-level through relationships (i.e. influencing a leader’s thinking, getting invited to the decision-making table). Some parts of the problem are best solved at the system-level through formal policies (i.e. who has access to certain support services and programming; how funding gets allocated across schools). Separating the two types of problems, will help you get clear on the issues you can tackle next on each front.”

Equity is Everything (and Nothing), Eduwonk

Diana Senechal asks, “What is a civics education?”

“Civics education conveys, develops, and enlivens the premise that a country is built on principles, structures, realities, and interpretations, and that each of these has internal contradictions and contradictions with other elements.”

“This will require, among other things, renewed dedication to secular education–that is, not education that denies or diminishes religious faith, but that builds a common basis and mode of discussion among people: a basis of knowledge and a mode of reasoning, imagining, and listening.”

What Is Civics Education?, Take Away the Takeaway

A notable lack of transparency from De Blasio’s DOE

“Let’s talk about the New York City Department of Education,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, which oversees open meetings and public records laws. “Terrible. Terrible. They’re terrible. They’re terrible.”

De Blasio, before becoming mayor:

“The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” de Blasio said at the time. “That’s the last thing New York City can afford right now. We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”

485 Days and Counting: NYC’s Education Department Stymies Public Records Requests, Both Big and Small, The 74

Remember I said to watch how people spin NY state test results? Chalkbeat rounds up official reactions so you don’t have to

Ranging from “meaningless” to “delivering on the promise of closing the achievement gap.”

‘Virtually meaningless’ or ‘steady progress’? New York City reacts to this year’s state test scores, Chalkbeat

What makes math unjust?

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and TODOS: Mathematics for All are “calling on math teachers to assume a “social justice stance” that “challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics.”

If assuming a social justice stance means developing greater coherency in what and how a rigorous, sequential math curriculum is provided to all students, then sure.

Math is unjust and grounded in discrimination, educators moan, Campus Reform

Speaking of math, here’s sage advice from an 80 year veteran math teacher

The key to teaching math, says Miller, boils down to one thing — repetition. “Repetition is one of the foundations of learning.”

Repetition and rote memorization aren’t exactly cutting edge these days, but it’s hard to disagree with the advice Miller gives teachers who are just starting out: “Be sure that you know your subject.”

Paul Miller Loved Teaching Math So Much That He Did It For Nearly 80 Years, NPR

But it can’t be all memorization. At least when it comes to learning a language

Do not use flashcards! Do not emphasize memorization of the characters (bùyào sǐbèi dānzì 不要死背单字). Learn words in their proper grammatical and syntactic context. Learn grammatical patterns and practice them in substitution drills (that was one of the best ways Chang Li-ching used to train her students, and she was extremely successful in getting them up to an impressive level of fluency in a short period of time).

For examples of the kind of drills that would be really beneficial to all kids in teaching them grammatical patterns, refer to the Hochman Method.

Learning languages is so much easier now, Language Log

Speaking of learning a language, why is the US so bad at producing bilinguals?

“…it’s ironic that we have students walking up staircases at one end of their school building to attend Spanish foreign language classes while at the other end of the same building native Spanish speakers are being taught English and content in ways that lead to their loss of Spanish.”

The true failure of foreign language instruction, The Conversation

The problem with special education

Learning Disability | Learning Disability Stock Photo When u… | Flickr

There’s a problem with special education in the US. Marc Tucker tries to get down to the bottom of things

“The most likely explanation is that the very act of formally designating a student as a special education student lowers the expectations for that student’s performance held by everyone whose expectations count: teachers, parents, the student and their peers.”

I think Tucker’s hypothesis bears some truth. From my own experience as a special education teacher, I’ve seen how the label introduces its own set of psychological burdens. And we have a lot of kids being labeled who are simply struggling with academics, but not with any overt “disability” that can be clearly discerned.

“Far from suggesting that the top performers should learn a thing or two from us about helping special education students, we should be learning from the top performers how to keep students who do not truly need it out of special education by doing what they are doing to enable them to reach high standards in the first place.”

So how do other countries keep students out of special education?

“The top performers provide far more support than the U.S. does to families with young children—everything from cash awards to nutritional assistance to pregnant women to very long and well-supported family leave for fathers and mothers to universal, high-quality child care and early childhood education. But it does not stop there. It also includes a higher ratio of teachers to students in schools serving low-income, minority students; extra funds for schools serving large numbers of vulnerable students; coordinated social services; strong incentives for their best teachers and principals to serve in schools with large proportions of vulnerable students; more time for students who need extra time to reach high standards; close monitoring of student progress to make sure that students who start to fall behind get the help they need to catch up quickly and more time for teachers to work one-on-one and in small groups with students who need extra help.”

Reading this list, it just seems so common-sense, doesn’t it? Yet the tragedy is that there is little political will nor ideological support for these kinds of investments in the US. You start saying this kind of stuff too often, you get labeled as some kind of socialist or union shill. The reality is that when it comes to things like public education and social services, the people in the US who have the money and/or power to make things happen are most interested in things that sparkle and that offer the promise of a quick fix.

Yet Tucker also provides an interesting point in his conclusion, when he brings up the outlier in special education labeling, Finland, which labels upward of 38 percent of their kids:

“In Finland, they solved the problem by simply saying that many kinds of students need special help. Some may be gifted and some might have a hearing or vision problem. Some might need one-time-only help and others might need continuous help. In Finland, most students get “special education” help at least once in their school career. Because that is true, there is no stigma. Every school has a “special education” teacher trained to provide a wide range of special help to the students in that school who need it. This is an idea worth conjuring with.”

This definitely bears promise. In fact, this is how the special education team at my former middle school began approaching services. We recognized just how much of a stigma being labeled “special ed” had on kids, so we set about rebranding our work. We called ourselves Student Support services–because at some point, every student needs some kind of support.

Sounds a lot more positive, doesn’t it? Maybe special education as a system needs to be rebranded in this way.

Have We Got Special Education All Wrong?, Marc Tucker on Huff Post

Segregation, Diversity, and More

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This week is the last week of this legislative session in NY. While the political hoopla is around mayoral control, don’t let the noise detract you from something that has been simmering for decades: NY’s pervasively, deeply segregated schools.

There’s been some great momentum on the issue, at long last, both from NYSED and NYC. Yet the fact remains that there is no existing legislation on the issue that has been passed.

There is a bill that can begin the first steps in addressing that deficiency: Bill S3794 in the Senate and Bill A5795 in the Assembly.

Since I wrote my last post, there’s been some promising momentum: Senator Jesse Hamilton co-sponsored the senate bill, and Assemblyman Walter Mosley co-sponsored the assembly bill.

But the bill still needs to be put on a very busy agenda and made a priority in order to make it to the floor. Please call your senator and assembly person and ask them to help move this bill forward.

Thanks in advance. On to other news related to school diversity:

NYSED drafts a stronger statement against segregation than NYC

“Last week, the mayor’s drew headlines — and criticism — for his long-awaited diversity plan. Among the concerns — the mayor chose not to use words like “integration” or “segregation” to define the problem.

The state, on the other hand, isn’t mincing words. On Monday, the Board of Regents discussed its own draft diversity statement. “More than sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education,” it states in its opening paragraph, “New York is the most segregated state in the country.”

The use of the word “segregation,” vs. the more general word “diversity,” is a flashpoint in conversations about integration. Advocates stress that the word must be used because it acknowledges the history of discriminatory policies and choices in loans, housing, zoning, and schools that have led to and perpetuated segregation. Others, such as Mayor De Blasio, view the terminology as secondary—and even a possible impediment to—in moving forward to address inequities as they exist now.

I can see both sides on this, and when I’ve advocated for increasing diversity in schools at a policy level and to the wider public, I tend to phrase it exactly like I just did: increasing diversity in schools. Why?

I think it comes down to whether we are talking about the past, or the future. When discussing the historic conditions and policies and choices that have led to pervasive segregation, we need to call it what it is.

But when looking forward, I think it makes sense to call for increasing diversity. Because it’s not only about race and class, it’s also about making our schools into inclusive spaces, rather than exclusionary places.

Maybe that’s making the bucket too big, but the fact is that active exclusion of others who are “different”—by both children and adults—is a key issue, and that’s a problem that exists in a school of any racial composition.

State’s draft diversity statement addresses ‘segregation,’ a word the mayor’s plan avoided, Chalkbeat NY

How many white students need to attend a school before it can be declared officially desegregated?

Seems like an important thing to define. Though I also think if we end up getting caught up in talking about numbers we’re focused on the wrong thing.

What Defines a Segregated School? Debate Over Connecticut Integration Policy Heading to Court, the 74

New research from Ohio puts integration advocates who aren’t pro-choice on the spot

There’s a tension between being pro-desegregation and anti-school choice. Many advocates for integration are also opposed to school choice. A recent study out of Ohio suggests that interdistrict choice can promote improved academic outcomes (and integration).

New Research: Student Gains in Ohio’s Open Enrollment, but Top Districts Remain Closed, the 74

A rezoning effort in Baltimore reveals the difficulty in implementing integration

“Research shows that racial and socioeconomic integration benefits students of all races and backgrounds — but experience reveals the difficulty of achieving it.”

Redrawing school districts could redefine two Baltimore County communities, The Baltimore Sun

The school board ended up passing a compromise between the NIMBYists and the original rezoning plan.

Baltimore County passes compromise redistricting plan for eight schools

Two high school seniors design and publish their own curriculum to teach teachers how to talk about race with students

“Putting the project together required a huge time commitment outside school. Guo and Vulchi often met up at 4 a.m. to work on the book before classes started, and they have spent many hours traveling to schools to train teachers in how to talk about race and host class discussions on the topic.

And their work will only continue after their June 21 graduation. Vulchi has been accepted to Princeton University, and Guo plans to go to Harvard University, but they hope to defer their enrollment for a year to work on a third edition of the book. A crowdsourced fundraising effort is in the works.

“We don’t mind losing sleep for this. We feel the need. We feel the urgency,” Vulchi said.”

2 NJ High School Students Create Racial Literacy Text to Help Schools and Teens Learn to Talk About Race, the 74

Idea for increasing teacher diversity: elevate paraprofessionals

K-12 Teachers Are Disproportionately White and Monolingual. Here’s One Way That Could Change., Slate

Let’s do something about segregated schools, New York

Dear NY readers,

There has been a bill proposed that can provide a solid first step towards a statewide conversation about desegregating our schools here in New York.

The bill number is S3794 in the Senate (sponsored by Senator Bailey), and A5795 in the Assembly (sponsored by Assemblymember Sepulveda).

The bill would establish a commission to examine segregation in primary and secondary schools across the state, specifically to investigate the degree of segregation and it’s relation to funding and long-term economic impacts.

The fact is that there are no existing state-level bills on the issue. Along with the momentum that is happening in NYC (the Chancellor and Mayor announced a diversity plan on Tuesday!), we can leverage this bill to push for future legislation.

The end of the legislative session is fast approaching, and this is an opportunity to make state-level change happen. We have the next two weeks to advocate for the passage of this bill.

If your Assembly members and Senators hear more from all of us about this bill, then it is much more likely to move forward. If you aren’t sure who your assembly person or senator are, you can check here.

Here is a draft form that you can use to speak to or write to your representative:

Dear [state representative],

I am [writing/speaking] to you today to ask for your support of bill S 3794 (Bailey) / A 5795 (Sepulveda), which establishes a temporary commission to examine and review the degree of segregation in primary and secondary schools.

New York operates some of the most segregated schools and districts by race and class in our nation, according to a 2014 UCLA Civil Rights Project and 2016 EdBuild report. There is a substantial body of research that suggests there are benefits for all children from learning in socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms. Yet there are no existing legislation to promote greater diversity in New York schools.

Therefore, I strongly support the passage of bill to begin a statewide discussion of how greater diversity can be supported in our schools and districts. This bill will help to firmly establish and clarify the relation between segregated schools and funding. Furthermore, the bill will start an examination of the long-term impact of a segregated education on students.

Establishing a commission to examine the segregation in New York schools will provide a clear direction for future policies.


Thank you for your leadership.

[Your name]