First Person

Week of 11/29/10: Teaching & learning tidbits

Colorado’s charter school law gets a B

The Colorado Springs Gazette analyzes a report that gives Colorado a B for its charter school law.

A report from the national Center for Education Reform has given Colorado a B grade for its charter school law. It’s not too bad, considering 29 other states received a C or lower because of the weakness of the laws. Colorado was sixth in the ranking behind Washington, D.C. Minnesota, California, Arizona and Michigan. The report lauded the first three because the laws promote growth of the charters.

Here, kids are encouraged to dream, not drop out

CBS Evening News covers a Chicago charter school that’s breaking new ground as part of its series, Reading, Writing and Reform.

Did your school day ever start with dancing, clapping and cheers? Not likely, reports CBS News chief national correspondent Byron Pitts. But Chicago Talent Development Charter High School is not like most places. Centered in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, it’s a new approach to an old problem.

“Our goal is to make it a game changer,” said Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins researcher.

What’s next for Michelle Rhee

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on the next job for Michelle Rhee, the now ex-school reforming head of Washington D.C.’s struggling schools.

With a controversial, hard-charging school reformer’s name topping the list of Gov.-elect Rick Scott‘s Education Transition Team, South Florida teachers’ union officials braced themselves Thursday for an assault on teacher tenure and a radical restructuring of the education system. Rhee resigned in October as chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools amid outcry from unions after she fired more than 200 teachers largely over student performance.

Gates urges school budget overhauls

The New York Times reports on billionaire Bill Gates’ latest suggestions to school districts interested in improving. He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.

School effort aims to engage parents

The Denver Post reports on a new initiative to get parents involved in school reform.

Much of the talk around educational reform has focused on the role teachers play in students lives, all but ignoring another big player: parents. One Denver high school is changing that narrative, creating a multi-school system that empowers parents with the goal of getting more students into college.

Colorado foundation secures nearly $2 million to fund educator effectiveness

The Colorado Legacy Foundation has secured $1.9 million in grant funding to support efforts by the state and local school districts to improve educator effectiveness.

“For the first time, a new state law requires Colorado to identify what makes an effective teacher and principal,” said CLF Executive Director Helayne Jones. “It also requires that at least half of every public school teacher’s and principal’s evaluation is based on their students’ academic growth. The need for resources to assist this work is urgent, and we’re pleased to be able to bring those resources to the table.”

In total the grant funding secured by CLF comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($1.75 million); the JPMorgan Chase Foundation ($51,000); the Daniels Fund ($70,000); and the Donnell-Kay Foundation ($30,000).

More U.S. teens getting high school diplomas

MSNBC reports on the increasing numbers of students earning high school diplomas.

blank high school diplomaATLANTA — The number of so-called “dropout factory” high schools in the United States has declined since 2002, translating into at least 100,000 more students getting a diploma, a new report shows.

But the report from America’s Promise Alliance released Tuesday also said that progress needs to increase fivefold for the country to graduate nine out of 10 students by 2020, a goal of the Obama administration.

Colo. students to be part of global math, science study

7 News reports on Colorado’s role in a new study that could shed light on America’s ranking globally in science and math education.

Colorado is among eight states chosen to have students tested in math and science for a study comparing their performance with students in more than 60 countries.

State education officials said Monday that the U.S. Department of Education chose Colorado, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Carolina to participate in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. In Colorado, a sample of eighth graders in about 50 schools would be tested between April 4 and May 27. Individual test results won’t be available, but participating schools will receive school-level reports.

Student assessments to get overhaul

The Pueblo Chieftain tackles standardized testing revisions in Colorado.

The boards governing K-12 and college education in the state ratified an agreement Monday to change the way Colorado assesses students. The new model aims to better align the expectations for proficiency to enter college with the tests that measure growth through high school.

“Waiting for Superman” educator challenges Colorado business leaders

The Denver Post records comments of one of the nation’s leading education innovators during a recent Denver visit. Notable education reformer Geoffrey Canada looked out into a room of Denver’s business leaders Tuesday and pinned the future success of the country squarely on them.

“If the business community doesn’t get involved in this game, you are just going to watch this country decline,” said Canada, founder and chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone. “It is going to be your fault.”

Colorado foundation teams with Pepsi to help students in math and science

Colorado is competing for $250,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project to help students succeed in college and excel in math and science. For the entire month of December, the foundation encourages the public to support public education by voting for “Colorado Legacy Schools” daily. The two projects with the most votes on Dec. 31 each win a $250,000 grant.

The initiative is focused on high-poverty, high-minority high schools and their feeder middle schools and aims to impact statewide policy with respect to the preparation of all students for college and careers in math and science.

Exclusivity of Greeley charter schools debated

The Denver Post reports on a charter school flap in Weld County.

A showdown is brewing over charter schools’ responsibility for educating low-income children. On Dec. 6, the Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education will hold a special meeting to hear proposals from two charter school organizers asking to expand or build from scratch.

Union Colony Preparatory — the district’s first charter school — wants to expand its sixth-to-12th-grade school to include kindergarten through fifth grade. Newcomer West Ridge Academy wants to start a kindergarten-through-ninth-grade school.

2010 Centers of Excellence Schools announced

Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones this week announced the 32 schools identified as “Centers of Excellence” for the 2009-2010 school year.

Established by the Colorado State Legislature, the award recognizes schools that demonstrate the highest rates of student longitudinal growth as measured by the Colorado Growth Model among those that have at least 75 percent at-risk pupils in their student population.

The 2010 Centers of Excellence Schools are:

  • Adventure Elementary School, Mapleton School District
  • Atlas Preparatory School, Harrison School District 2
  • Beach Court Elementary School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Boston K-8 School, Aurora Public Schools
  • Bryant-Webster K-8 School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Bruce Randolph School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Centennial Elementary School, Harrison School District 2
  • Centennial High School, Centennial School District R-1
  • Center High School, Center School District 26 JT *
  • Cole Arts and Science Academy, Denver Public Schools
  • Cowell Elementary School, Denver Public Schools
  • Edison Elementary School, Colorado Springs School District 11 *
  • Fletcher Interm Science & Technology School, Aurora Public Schools
  • Force Elementary School, Denver Public Schools
  • Greenwood Elementary School, Denver Public Schools *
  • KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy, Denver Public Schools *
  • Martin Luther King Middle College, Denver Public Schools *
  • McMeen Elementary School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Montview Elementary School, Aurora Public Schools *
  • Moore K-8 School, Denver Public Schools
  • Nikola Tesla Education Opp. Center, Colorado Springs District 1 *
  • Nisley Elementary School, Mesa County Valley School District 51
  • Stedman Elementary School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Stein Elementary School, Jefferson County Schools *
  • Stratmoor Hills Elementary School, Harrison School District 2 *
  • Tollgate Elementary School, Aurora Public Schools *
  • Virginia Court Elementary School, Aurora Public Schools
  • West Denver Prep, Federal Campus, Denver Public Schools *
  • West Denver Prep, Harvey Park Campus, Denver Public Schools
  • Whittier K-8 School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Wyatt-Edison Charter Elementary School, Denver Public Schools *
  • Yale Elementary School, Aurora Public Schools *

*Denotes also 2009 “Centers of Excellence” award.

First Person

As historians and New York City educators, here’s what we hope teachers hear in the city’s new anti-bias training

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio just committed $23 million over the next four years to support anti-bias education for the city’s teachers. After a year in which a white teacher stepped on a student during a lesson on slavery and white parents used blackface images in their PTA publicity, it’s a necessary first step.

But what exactly will the $23 million pay for? The devil is in the details.

As current and former New York City teachers, and as historians and educators working in the city today, we call for the education department to base its anti-bias program in an understanding of the history of racism in the nation and in this city. We also hope that the program recognizes and builds upon the work of the city’s anti-racist teachers.

Chancellor Carranza has promised that the program will emphasize training on “implicit bias” and “culturally responsive pedagogy.” These are valuable, but insufficient. Workshops on implicit bias may help educators evaluate and change split-second, yet consequential, decisions they make every day. They may help teachers interrogate, for example, what decisions lead to disproportionately high rates of suspension for black children as early as pre-K, or lower rates of referrals to gifted programs for black students by white teachers.

But U.S. racism is not only split-second and individual. It is centuries deep, collective, and institutional. Done poorly, implicit bias training might shift disproportionate blame for unequal educational resources and outcomes onto the shoulders of classroom teachers.

Anti-bias education should lead teachers not only to address racism as an individual matter, but to perceive and struggle against its institutional and structural forms. Structural racism shapes the lives of students, families, and communities, and the classrooms in which teachers work: whether teachers find sufficient resources in their classrooms, how segregated their schools are, how often their students are stopped by police, and how much wealth the families they serve hold. Without attending to the history that has created these inequities, anti-bias education might continue the long American tradition of pretending that racism rooted in capitalism and institutional power can be solved by adjusting individual attitudes and behaviors.

We have experienced teacher professional development that takes this approach. Before moving to New York, Adam taught in Portland, Oregon and participated in several anti-bias trainings that presented racism as a problem to be solved through individual reflection and behaviors within the classroom. While many anti-racist teachers initially approached these meetings excited to discuss the larger forces that shape teaching students of color in the whitest city in America, they grew increasingly frustrated as they were encouraged to focus only on “what they could control.”

Similarly, at his very first professional development meeting as a first-year teacher of sixth grade in Harlem, Brian remembers being told by his principal that neither the conditions of students’ home lives nor conditions of the school in which he worked were within teachers’ power to change, and were therefore off-limits for discussion. The only thing he could control, the principal said, was his attitude towards his students.

But his students were extremely eager to talk about those conditions. For example, the process of gentrification in Harlem emerged repeatedly in classroom conversations. Even if teachers can’t immediately stop a process like gentrification, surely it is essential for both teachers and their students to learn to think about conditions they see around them as products of history — and therefore as something that can change.

While conversations about individual attitudes and classroom practices are important, they are insufficient to tackle racism. Particularly in one of the most segregated school districts in America, taking a historical perspective matters.

How do public school teachers understand the growth of racial and financial inequality in New York City? Consciously or otherwise, do they lean on tired but still powerful ideas that poverty reflects a failure of individual will, or a cultural deficit? Encountering the history of state-sponsored racism and inequality makes those ideas untenable.

Every New York City teacher should understand what a redlining map is. These maps helped the federal government subsidize mid-twentieth century white suburbanization while barring African American families from the suburbs and the wealth they helped generate. These maps helped shape the city, the metropolitan region, and its schools – including the wealth or poverty of students that teachers see in their classrooms. This is but one example of how history can help educators ground their understanding of their schools and students in fact rather than (often racist) mythology.

And how well do New York City educators know and teach the histories of the communities they serve? Those histories are rich sources of narratives about how New Yorkers have imagined their freedom and struggled for it, often by advocating for education. Every New York City teacher should know that the largest protest of the Civil Rights Movement took place not in Washington D.C., not in the deep South, but right here. On February 3, 1964, nearly half a million students stayed out of school and marched through the city’s streets, demanding desegregation and fully funded public schools. Every New York City teacher should know about Evelina Antonetty, a Puerto Rico-born, East Harlem-raised advocate who organized her fellow Bronx parents to press for some of the city’s first attempts at bilingual education and just treatment for language minority students in school.

Even if they don’t teach history or social studies, educators can see in the 1964 boycott and in Antonetty’s story prompts to approach parents as allies, to see communities as funds of knowledge and energy to connect to and build from. The chancellor’s initiative can be an opportunity to help teachers uncover and reflect on these histories.

Ansley first taught at a small high school in central Harlem, in a building that earlier housed Junior High School 136. J.H.S. 136 was one of three Harlem schools where in 1958 black parents protested segregation and inequality by withdrawing their children from school – risking imprisonment for violating truancy laws. The protest helped build momentum for later educational activism – and demonstrated black Harlem mothers’ deep commitment to securing powerful education for their children.

Although she taught in the same school – perhaps even the same classroom – where boycotting students had studied, Ansley didn’t know about this history until a few years after she left the school. Since learning about it, she has often reflected on the missed opportunities. How could the story of this “Harlem Nine” boycott have helped her students learn about their community’s history and interrogate the inequalities that still shaped their school? What could this story of parent activism have meant for how Ansley thought about and worked with her students’ parents?

Today, teaching future teachers, Ansley strives to convey the value of local and community history in her classes. One new teacher, now working in the Bronx, commented that her own learning about local history “taught me that we should not only think of schools as places of learning. They also are important places of community.”

The history of racism and of freedom struggles needs to be part of any New York City students’ learning as well as that of their teachers. Some of the $23 million should support the work of local anti-racist educators, such as those who spearheaded the Black Lives Matter Week of Action last February, in developing materials that help teach about this history. These efforts align with the chancellor’s pledge for culturally responsive education. And they offer ways to recognize and build on the knowledge of New York City’s community organizations and anti-racist education networks.

Attitudes matter, and educators – like everyone – can learn from the psychology of bias and stereotype. But historical ignorance or misrepresentation has fed racism, and history can be a tool in its undoing.

That would be a good $23 million investment for New York and all of its children.

Ansley Erickson is an associate professor of history and education at Teachers College, Columbia University and a former New York City high school teacher.

Brian Jones is the associate director of education at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library and a former New York City elementary school teacher.

Adam Sanchez is a teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City and an organizer and curriculum writer with the Zinn Education Project.

First Person

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, 8 essays from educators who raised their voices this year

PHOTO: Incase/Creative Commons

Teachers are often on the front lines of national conversations, kickstarting discussions that their students or communities need to have.

They also add their own voices to debates that would be less meaningful without them.

This year, as we mark Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re sharing some of the educator perspectives that we’ve published in our First Person section over the last year. Many thanks to the teachers who raised their voices in these essays. Want to help us elevate the voices of even more educators? Make a donation in support of our nonprofit journalism and you’ll have the option to honor an important educator in your life.

If you’d like to contribute your own personal essay to Chalkbeat, please email us at [email protected]

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

After racial violence erupted in Virginia last year, New York City teacher Vivett Dukes called on teachers to engage students in honest conversations about racism.

“We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away.”

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

Too often teachers are blamed for bad curriculum, writes Tom Rademacher, Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. And that needs to stop.

“It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human, and teaching is both creative and artistic, would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power.”

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

Two of Ilona Nanay’s best students started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. But their educational careers came to an end after graduation because both were undocumented and couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition.

“By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”

I’m a Florida teacher in the era of school shootings. This is the terrifying reality of my classroom during a lockdown drill.

K.T. Katzmann is a teacher in Broward County, Florida. In this essay she shares what it’s like knowing that you could be the only thing between a mass shooter and a group of students.

“The experience of being isolated, uninformed, and responsible for the lives of dozens of children is now universal to our profession, whether because of actual emergencies or planned drills.”

I’m a Houston geography teacher. This is my plan for our first day back — as soon as it arrives.

Alex McNaughton teaches a human geography course in Houston. After Hurricane Harvey, he decided to move up a lesson about how urbanization can exacerbate flooding.

“Teachers have a unique power — the power to shape the minds of future generations to solve the problems that we face. Houston’s location means that it will always be susceptible to flooding. But by teaching about the flood I hope I can play a small role in helping our city avoid repeating some of the tragic scenes I witnessed this week.”

How one Harlem teacher gave his student — the ‘Chris Rock of third grade’ — a chance to shine

Ruben Brosbe, a New York City teacher, has a soft spot for troublemakers. In this story, he shares how he got one of his favorite pranksters, Chris, to go through a day without interrupting class.

“Dealing with him taught me a valuable lesson, a lesson I’ve had to learn again and again: At the end of the day, everything that we want to accomplish as teachers is built on our relationships. It’s built on me saying to you, ‘I see you,’ ‘I care about you,’ ‘I care about what you care about and I’m going to make that a part of our class.’”

Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

Being a black educator can be isolating, writes William Anderson, a Denver teacher. He argues that a more supportive environment for black educators could help cities like Denver improve the lives of black students.

“Without colleagues of the same gender and cultural and ethnic background, having supportive and fulfilling professional relationships is much harder.”

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

For years, Memphis teacher Carl Schneider walked his students home to a nearby apartment complex. Then a photograph of him performing this daily ritual caught the attention of the national media. In this essay, Schneider reminds readers that he shouldn’t be the focus — the challenges his students face should. His call to action:

“Educate yourself about the ways systemic racism creates vastly different Americas.”


Thanks to our partners at Yoobi for supporting our Teacher Appreciation campaign.