Categories
Charter Schools Civil Rights Education Education Reform Parenting Politics School Choice Teaching

School Choice Matters Most for Poc (People of Color)

School Choice:

One of the main concerns that I hear from school choice pundits is “charter schools and other choice type schools take away valuable resources from school districts.” To those pundits, I ask these simple questions: What should parents do if traditional public schools do not work for their children? Should they allow for their children to be sacrificial lambs in failing schools while educators work toward fixing the problem? How long should they wait? How will they be viewed if they decide not to wait?

Many parents that exercise school choice are products of traditional public schools. They speak rather candidly about the failures of said schools. These schools have left parents with animous based on their own experiences. Even with this expert knowledge, we still have folks questioning the rights of parents to make informed decisions about the education of their children. There’s nothing more offensive than reading parents are choosing to send their students to charter schools because they are uninformed. That couldn’t be more from the truth.


School Choice Matters to PoC:

As educators, we should never question or second guess a parent’s choice. Why? Because parents have the right to make the decisions that they feel are in the best interest of their kids. We can have conversations with parents to ascertain why they made their choice, but we are in no position to make that choice for parents. Parents are experts when it comes to their children. While educators also have a level of expertness, its more broad view expertise, while the parental knowledge allows parents to be laser-focused on the needs of their children. The goal should be to support a parent’s choice, not to question it or undermine it.

School Reform:

I think we are all school reformist in one way or another. Currently, “reform” is such a dirty word that when its heard, it immediately forces some to take offense. For those offended by the word ‘reform,’ I ask if the district schools are failing, what are parents supposed to do? I’m an idealist. I don’t ever want to call someone anti-school reform. I hope that we can all agree that all schools can improve and that its the job of educators to ensure that improvement. If we can agree to look at it from that perspective, then we can all agree that in theory, we want the best for children. I don’t expect for us to agree on what “best” looks like, and that’s the beauty of it all. We don’t have to agree, because it is the parent’s choice to determine the best fit.


Animus towards School Choice:

Moreover, if you have hatred towards those that exhibit their right for choice, I ask why? Affluent parents exercise school choice all of the time. When politicians in Washington, DC decide that they want to send their children to Sidwell Friends, or other elite private schools throughout Maryland and DC, they are exercising their choice. When families on NY’s upper east side decide they’d instead send their kids to private schools with 50k yearly tuition, again it is their choice. No one unfairly persecutes these parents. I’ve never read any literature recommending these parents send their children to district schools. However, when people of color exercise their options, they become bad parents?

I have heard enough about blaming parents. We provide parents with a product. If parents are unhappy with the product, they have every right to go after the best product that will work for them. We are in no place to judge them for that. We should all support their right to choose. In my opinion, those that exercise their right to choose & stand out is because they aren’t afraid to stand up.

Categories
Education Politics Teachers Teaching

Quality Education is a Civil Right

But Here’s What You Are NOT GOING TO DO This!

Firstly, I work on Long Island, as a school superintendent of the only K-12 charter school in Suffolk County. A quality education is a civil right.

Given the history of our school; the power of the teacher’s union on LI; and a total lack of knowledge and/or understanding of what school choice means, there’s a great deal of animus towards our school and the work that we do. We have accepted and embraced this, and vow to impact as many students and families as we can, as we get them on a path to college and beyond.

For those of you unfamiliar with Long Island, it is the epicenter of the Opt-out movement. The opt-out movement was designed for parents to allow their students to opt out of NY State tests. These tests were once mandatory.


The Evidence:

Moreover, there’s an idea being floated around by state officials, & Governor Cuomo that would tie teacher evaluations to their student’s performance on NY State exams (ingenious if you ask me). Accountability put suburbia in an uproar, thus creating one of the most successful campaigns of educational defiance of the past 10 years.

Exhibit A: A prominent school superintendent on Long Island writes a letter of reassurance to his principal regarding the school’s 2017-18 growth index scores. These scores tell you if a teacher is Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, & Ineffective (HEDI). To have a score of zero (HEDI) score leaves me at a lost for words. To have a superintendent that encourages this is also very telling as well. The level of entitlement that’s exuded in this correspondence is something that won’t be afforded to a leader of color.


Letter of Assurance

More Evidence:

Exhibit B: The following is the level of proficiency of students from Tremont Elementary School in the 16-17 & 17-18 school years on the NY State Math exam. Given the 2017-18 NY State exams have now become the new benchmark, it’s unfair to compare the 2016-17 results to the 2017-18 results. However, based on this data set, twenty-eight students took the exam in 2018. One student out of the twenty-eight students who tested scored proficient. Seventeen students scored at a level one. Even though this is a minor glimpse of the overall performance of the school due to a high percentage of students opting out of the test, I don’t think anyone should be put up on a pedestal based on these results.


2018 NY State Test Scores

Here’s what we know:

We know kindergarten students from middle-class families, and upper middle-class families come to the table with different skill sets than kids that are the same age, but from a lower socioeconomic status (SES).

• We know that standardized tests are written in a manner that highlights the experiences of the middle and upper class, therefore immediately putting students with the lower (SES) in catch up mode, with the constant need for remediation.

• We also know “Children raised in homes with low income or low levels of parental education are at an increased risk of struggling academically in school” (e.g., Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Duncan & Murnane, 2011; Magnuson, 2007).

• We also know regardless of if you are for/against standardized testing, you can find reasons to substantiate your viewpoint.


Education as a Civil Rights Issue:

Quality education is a Civil Right. Some would say it is the single most important issue of our time. Pre & Post Brown v. Board, education for black and brown students was and still is inadequate. Funding formulas, nor allocated resources can make up for a system that was never designed for the disenfranchised to be successful. I don’t want to make this an issue about race, but I don’t know very many superintendents and/or principals of the minority persuasion that would be allowed to continue their employment with these results.

Works Cited:

Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1), 371–399. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev. psych.53.100901.135233.

Duncan, G. J., & Murnane, R. J. (2011). Whither opportunity?: Rising inequality, schools, and

children’s life chances. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Magnuson, K. A. (2007). Maternal education and children’s academic achievement during middle childhood. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1497–1512. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1497.

Categories
Education Education Reform Teachers

Teaching the Underserved is a Privilege!

Teaching the Underserved:

Teaching in underserved communities is an Honor, a privilege if you will…

I’m sure there are many roles that we could have starred or co-starred in, but we chose to become educators (not by default) to make a difference in the lives of our students.

There’s a level of trust that exists in black and Latino communities that are unparalleled when it comes down to the respective parents hold for educators that interact and show interest in their scholars. A simple phone call home from a teacher to a parent still means something in these communities and can be the catalyst to change student behavior.


If No Change Occurs:

Even if the scholar’s behavior doesn’t change immediately, we (as educators) should never outright give up on our scholars or their parents. Lately, I’ve been seeing way too many adults throwing in the towel on our scholars and their families.

I tell all of my scholars’ parents that education today is extremely different then it was 25 years ago. The trust that our parents had in teachers isn’t the same trust that we should have in the teachers that teach our children. Why?

Teacher mindset is different. 25 years ago, teachers were optimistic and taught to make a difference in the lives of their scholars. Nowadays, we have educators that are simply unfit to teach our kids. Some of these teachers believe that they are doing us a favor by teaching our scholars. I am not, nor will I ever be okay with that sort of thinking.


Reverse Discrimination

It is an honor to teach in communities of the underserved. If you don’t feel this way, then you should not, under any circumstances accept placement in these types of schools. Is it challenging? Of course, but nothing in life that’s worth having will ever come easy. If teachers don’t feel a badge of honor making a difference in the lives of students, I want them far away from our scholars, because some of the damage that they unleash upon our kids, can never be undone.

Categories
Charter Schools Education Education Reform Parenting School Choice

School Choice, Here’s Why.

Teach the Babies:

My thoughts on public education are simple, cut out the bureaucratic red tape and “teach the babies,” as my friend and Parent Advocate Gwen Samuels would say. Parents entrust in all educators, albeit public, private, parochial, charter, with their most valued assets, their scholars.  School choice is a parent’s right.

Truthfully, I find honor when a parent makes a choice to send their scholar to our school, under our care. I also take it personally when we aren’t doing right by our students/parents. I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that we correct our wrongs- reflect- and put forth a more concerted effort when we face similar challenges. Our failures aren’t failures, they are opportunities to grow.

The best two years of my professional career (thus far) were when I was able to be both principal and parent for my 12-year-old scholar. I take great pride in being his father.


Positive Imagery in Schools:

Moreover, I took almost the same amount of pride in being an educator that mirrored my son’s image, because all too often Black kids aren’t able to see those positive images enough to make a difference in their lives. It gave me the oy to know that if his professional athletic career fails, he plans to go into education as his fall back plan.

Reluctantly, I recently had a conversation with a friend that is adamantly against charter schools. I always hear my friends out before I respond. My goal is never to listen to respond but to actually listen to a person’s concerns. Sometimes it takes me a while to get back to people because I really care about how I respond, and I don’t want it to seem like my responses are transcribed.


Anti-Charter friends:

My friend, as well as many other friends of mine, dislike charter schools. They feel large charter networks, also known as Charter Management Organizations (CMO’s) prey on the disenfranchised, and disguise themselves in the name of “school choice.”

Those against school choice oppose charter schools.

Another area of contention regarding charter schools are the harsh disciplinary policies, and the ability to part ways with unruly scholars. Their argument is if public schools were able to expel students that weren’t a good fit for their program, charter schools would be obsolete. I explained with great enthusiasm that most charter schools have moved away from harsh disciplinary measures, and have moved to a restorative justice model. Every time there’s an incident of mistreatment of a scholar in any charter school nationwide, I get an email or a text message with the link and the word “see”…


For the Love of School Choice:

Rather than respond to my friends using my “pro-charter school notes,” I respond to them with my heart. My first question to my friend that is an NYC Public school teacher is always, would you let your children attend the school or attend a school in the school system (besides the specialized NYC high schools) in which you teach? There’s always this awkward silence.

So you, as a teacher in the system are okay with parents sending their scholars to you, yet you would not make the same choice to send your scholars to a school within your network? I love it when my friends repeat my questions aloud. I hope that when they hear how detached they’ve become, they would self correct their anti-charter stance. Their response is usually, well your charter school is different, you actually care. I accepted the compliment, but other charter leaders care the same way that I care.


Why we Teach:

Education is one of the most thankless jobs, and I have no desire to take shots at other types of schools if they are doing right by scholars. I dream of an education system where there is no charter vs. public school rhetoric. How awesome would it be for scholars if adults on both sides of the choice argument could put their differences aside, and put the scholars at the forefront? How awesome would it be if there was more collaboration between districts and charter schools that are within that district? Seems like a win-win for parents, scholars, and educators.


Fair Criticism:

Is the criticism on CMO’s Fair? I don’t think it is. Having worked in a couple of CMO’s I’m thankful that each of the networks that I worked in had no problem putting students first. Are some CMO’s better than others? Of course, but with governmental oversight, random state auditing, many things are put in place to ensure that money is spent on educating scholars. Will this response to my friends’ criticism of school choice change their minds, probably not. However, this will give you proper insight on why it’s essential to not infringe on other folks school choice, even if you don’t support it.

Consequently, some folks have gotten to the point in their lives to where they are financially stable enough to dictate the zip code where they live. For those that have reached that pinnacle, you’ve exercised choice and had the purchasing power to ensure their voices were heard. Please don’t take away the views of those that can’t buy houses in your neighborhood. Many of these folks leverage school choice and their ability to select from schools that fit their needs. They may not have earned enough money to be your neighbor, but they’ve definitely made the right to choose where their scholars attend school.


A choice for Some:

Lastly, you’ll have some people that will say, “they (parents that choose choice) aren’t smart enough to make those choices for themselves”. Please know that this response is offensive to all parents, and you are in no place to make this choice for parents. I ask that you stop doing this and disguising it in the name of care… because the fact that you feel it’s okay to reprimand parents for the choices they make is a riddled absurdity, to say the least.

My choice on where I send my scholar to school is exactly that, my choice. It’s okay to debate on which option is better, healthy debate and competition make for more competitive schools. But don’t you dare tell me where to send my child to school, because that is my choice!

Categories
Education Parenting Teachers

Controlling Your Classroom

Controlling Your Classroom:

Firstly, make no mistake, there will be a ton of things that you can’t control as a classroom teacher. Instead of focusing on the things outside of our control, why not put all of your energies into the things that you can control.

Moreover, by focusing on controllable factors, it allows you to put more emphasis on your development as a teacher. Focusing on things outside of your control puts you in a negative stratosphere, creating an environment of complaining while sustaining a learning atmosphere that’s, not in the best interest of students.


Managing Your Classroom:

As a classroom teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools, my classroom was my peace. It was my escape from all of the ails that existed in the system. I was able to establish classroom norms, and create systems geared toward a normalized learning experience for students.

In fact, I could not control the trauma experienced by some of my students in their homes. Rather than focus on the uncontrollable, one thing I could control was establishing a safe space for my students to learn.


High Expectations For Students:

Students that experience trauma in their homes more than likely has self-esteem issues. These students don’t want you to feel sorry for them. Students want you to show them a way out of their current situation. Kids want you to believe in them and their abilities. They want consistency, as in you at work every day. Children want to be at the forefront of your thoughts, and they want to know that they can count on you no matter what.

Notwithstanding, I wouldn’t dare ask you to try and control the trauma experienced by your students. Here’s where apathy for your students should automatically activate itself. Your students need you to be clear headed, to raise the bar, and keep it raised. They will rise to the occasion if you believe in them.

 


Bloom's Taxonomy | Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

Believing in Your Students:

It is easy to become overly consumed by the things you can’t control. After all, we’re only human. Students don’t need humans, they need superheroes. Kids need you to see the future and help them in maximizing their potential. Students are going to make you mad. Students are going to do everything in their power to test your resolve, but as a superhero, take their antics with a grain of salt, as you are doing this work for the greater good, and your belief in their ability supersedes anything else. Once they know you’re in it, and willing to do anything and everything they need to experience success, relationships move from being contentious to that of admiration.


Not Being a Bore:

Easier said than done. I refused to be a bore in my classroom. When students experience boredom in schools, they become talkative (unaccountable talk). In the classes that were actively engaged, my full attention was on that teacher. Pardon my candidness, but a lot of teachers (at least from my experience) use their classrooms as their soapbox. Students don’t want to hear you talk. The faster you embrace this fact, the faster your superhero senses will activate, allowing you to create “rock star” lessons that your students find engaging.

For more research on utilizing teacher leadership as a catalyst for change in your schools, read this article: https://goo.gl/NY52ca