Monthly Archives: April 2015

Tiger Beat: Education Activist Edition

Quiz: How Obsessed with fighting Education Reform are YOU?

If your answer is a) A LOT, then you were probably in Chicago last weekend, for the 2nd annual Network for Public Education conference. 

I was there too. Wasn’t it just the best ever?!

Sadly, all good things must end. Boo. Just as I was getting used to being surrounded by some of the most incredible ed activists raising hell today,  I found myself back home alone in my little kitchen, chopping onions and sorting the mail.

But I’m not ready to let go yet.  No way. Instead, I am stealing a page from Tiger Beat magazine as a way to capture the giddy joy I felt all weekend, in the presence of greatness.

True confession: Tiger Beat meant a lot to me as a kid,  when we used to have to anxiously wait (what’s that?) for the latest edition to come out. We would then bike up to the local Tom Thumb convenience store and buy it, along with a package of Bub’s Daddy gum. Oh the joy of paging through the mag, highlighting our fave singers and actors!! Now, my attentions have shifted from the big screen to those who occupy school board meetings and fill up my Twitter feed with fighting words, but I still kind of dig the Tiger Beat format. Especially the quizzes!

Quiz: Which education activist is YOUR ultimate soul mate?

A) Diane Ravitch. She’s funny but serious, all at the same time. Diane is smart and not afraid to be seen in a NPE t-shirt! Woo-hoo! She also did a great job with Chicago’s finest, Karen Lewis.

Jitu!

B) Jitu Brown. This Chicago activist is so cool it’s hard to look away (so don’t!). Jitu is super smart and dead on, with loads of practical experience and a tireless commitment to fighting for the community schools all kids deserve. Everything he says just bounces off the walls and sticks right to you. Love it! 

C) Neshellda Johnson. Neshellda is a new activist on the national scene, and she is definitely worth getting to know better. Neshellda is a teacher from Memphis and was caught on tape this year, giving hell to the forces of privatization trying to charterize her school district. Neshellda!! (I can’t find the video; if anyone has it, I’d love to see it again.)

D) The Triple Threat: Jose Luis Vilson (The JLV), Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster), and Peter Greene (Curmudgication). Don’t try to counsel these three out of their activism! All of them are a hoot, with depth of knowledge and pushback to spare. Smart, funny, and totally rad, their lunchtime convo on Saturday was tasty.

E) Tanaisa Brown from Newark, New Jersey. All year I have been bowing at the feet (virtually, of course) of Tanaisa and her fellow student activists, who got big props at the conference for occupying the office of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson! Tanaisa opened the NPE conference with a soul-stirring speech that included the chant, “I believe that we will win!” With Tanaisa in the lead, I totally agree!

Tanaisa and her activist crew!

Poll: Which national union leader is your fave? Randi Weingarten or Lily Eskelsen-Garcia?

Both promised not to accept any more “funny money” for the AFT or the NEA, respectively, so it’s kind of hard to choose. This one might be just too hot to handle, so maybe we’ll let our good friend Mercedes Schneider advise us this time around…

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Where do Randi and Lily stand on the Opt Out movement?

QUOTE-WORTHY! Jesse Hagopian, Seattle high school teacher extraordinaire, led a super inspiring breakout session on testing, opting out, and the connection to the Black Lives Matter movement, along with his fellow Seattle education activist Rita Green, education chair of the Seattle King County NAACP. 

At their session, someone floored the room with this tidbit:

Testing has become a cover for society’s inability to deal with poverty and inequality.

Feel it, and watch this:

 

So accountability should start with politicians fully funding our schools, huh? BREAKING NEWS!

Hope to see you next year! Until then–carry on, everyone.

 

Roosevelt Rising

I’m in Chicago right now, for the 2nd annual Network for Public Education conference, but I left my heart in Minneapolis, at Roosevelt High School. 

RHS Kids 1

“I Am Roosevelt”: Shahmar Dennis, Lewis Martin, Saira Rivera, Maria Sanchez

Right now, students (estimated to be 175-200 of them) at Roosevelt are raising their voices and engaging in some good old-fashioned democracy in action, by walking out of school to protest what they say is a “lack of equity” in their school’s budget for next year. 

This is significant.

I interviewed many of the students and parents leading this protest last week, just before the April 14 Minneapolis school board meeting (where Roosevelt advocates were headed to voice their concerns), and one thing that stood out to me was pride.

Roosevelt students, parents, and staff care deeply about their school, and they’re ready to stand up and fight for it. Displaying RHS Walk out.jpeg

The budget details are gnarly, but the students, many staff members, and Roosevelt parents contend that their school has been given an inadequate budget, just as the school is on an upward swing. 

Note: MPS was contacted for their perspective on Roosevelt’s budget issues on Friday, April 17 but they have not yet responded with an official statement.

Here are the main issues, according to a press release and information provided by Roosevelt parent Jeanette Bower, who is a member of Roosevelt’s site council:

  • Without enough funds, Roosevelt will not be able to meet the needs of its DCD students (Developmental and Cognitive Delays) who need significant support. Right now, the program is understaffed, according to a Roosevelt teacher.
  • Staff positions have been cut, and the school may lose its librarian.
  • Roosevelt is short over $240,000 and won’t be able to adequately continue the Spanish Immersion program the district placed at the school in 2013.
  • Roosevelt switched from a 6 period day to a 7 period one a few years ago, in order to more fully implement their IB model. They did this without financial help from MPS. Now, MPS has made 7 period days mandatory for all MPS high schools, and has provided funds for this, but not to Roosevelt. (MPS Interim Superintendent Michael Goar called this an “error” at the April 14 board meeting, but I have not heard yet how–or if–this error has been corrected.)
  • Roosevelt is the only high school in Minneapolis without a theater program. (To be fair–well, actually, it’s not really fair–no high school in Minneapolis that I am aware of has a district-funded theater program. They might have a theater teacher, but that’s it. Everything else comes from parent/booster club support, partnerships, grants, or other outside sources, but Roosevelt does not have these, and some might say every kid should have access to a theater program–no matter what.)
  • The school wants to offer a well-rounded, viable program to its students, with adequate arts and world language classes (currently, the Roosevelt population is 80% students of color and 76% qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch).

This is what the Roosevelt community is saying about their budget. What the “facts” are may be up for debate, but what the students are feeling and saying about Roosevelt is what has really caught my ear. Displaying 20150424_142338.jpeg

Here are the voices of four students I interviewed on April 14, as they prepared to head to the school board meeting:

Lewis Martin, 9th grade

  • Roosevelt High School is seen as a ghetto school, but we’ve changed. We’ve changed internally, but the district hasn’t changed.
  • We’re losing our community liaisons, but that’s how we’ve changed the Roosevelt story. They would go out into the middle schools and talk about Roosevelt, so people would want to come here.
  • We headed to the school board so they can see we do have a voice, and we’re not afraid to speak up.

Shahmar Dennis, 12th grade, president of the Roosevelt student body

  • We’re a school on the rise, but we’re losing our theater program. We have no teacher, even though there will be a new auditorium at Roosevelt next year.
  • Our music program will suffer with these budget cuts. We can’t buy new instruments, even though we’ll have our biggest class ever next fall (100 new students are expected in Roosevelt’s 2015 freshman class).
  • Our students shouldn’t be punished for doing well.
  • We’ve only received vague explanations for our budget and why its low. We got the lowest bump of all Minneapolis high schools, at 3%. We want to know why.
  • I’m going to the University of Minnesota in the fall. I won’t be here next year, but I want to see Roosevelt growing, and doing well academically. I want to see it have a good theater program.

Maria Sanchez, 10th grade

  • I want the school board to realize Roosevelt isn’t ghetto.
  • Our percentage of graduates is increasing.
  • It’s a nice community here, vs. the stereotypes and preconceived ideas about our school. 
  • Roosevelt High School has a voice, and we’re not going to take whatever they (the district) say. 

Saira Rivera, 11th grade

  • This is important to me because my school is my life. This school is going to get me places.
  • It’s such a tight community here. High school has been the best for me, and we shouldn’t have to lose programs or have 45 students in a class. 

Roosevelt, rising, looks good–even all the way from a hotel room in Chicago.

From the media release for today’s walk out, provided by Jeanette Bower:

Students at Minneapolis Roosevelt High School have planned a peaceful walk-out of classes on Friday, April 24 at 2:10 p.m. to express frustrations over the Minneapolis Board of Education’s 2015-16 budget. In it, the school district allocated $11 million to Minneapolis high schools. At the high end, South High received 24 percent of the budget or $3 million and Roosevelt received the lowest at 3 percent or $324,136.

Displaying 20150424_141144.jpeg

Roosevelt, on the rise

No Glitch Grit: Minnesota suspends Pearson tests

Uh oh. 

Image result for opting out of testing

But tests should be!

There will be no MCA testing today in Minnesota. Like so many schoolchildren who can’t sit still, the tests have been suspended.

Naughty, naughty, naughty.

The super high-tech $38 million online only delivery system for the MCAs has been behaving badly, by seizing up and freezing and otherwise not allowing the testing high season to define the school day across Minnesota.

Now, teachers and students will be like estranged family members forced to look at each other across the Thanksgiving table:

Who are you again? How do we know each other? What do you want from me?

Without mandatory marches down to silent computer labs, what will teachers and their scholars in training do all day?  Get to know each other, or something?

What’s the point?

I wonder if these suspended Pearson tests will be punished harshly, under a zero tolerance policy, especially since this latest episode of techno-glitches is far from the company’s first offense:

January 2015: Pearson, MN Dept. of Ed sort through testing breakdowns 

May  2014: A history of Pearson’s testing problems worldwide

April 2013: Pearson fails the test, again and again

Is there a prison for these bad tests, their flawed online delivery systems, and the gigantic beast of a company that packages and sells all of this? Some kind of debtor’s prison? Haven’t they promised to help us, the all important taxpayers, hold our schools accountable? And haven’t they failed us one too many times?

Can we counsel Pearson out of our public education system?

Oh wait– I almost forgot:

Pearson has aggressive lobbyists, top-notch marketing and a highly skilled sales team.

What a surprise. There is always money for Pearson, and always money for test coordinators and test prep and special Spring Break Academy test prep sessions, even as Minnesota legislators contemplate just how little money they can get away with spending on E-12 education in the state.

Unfunded special education mandates? Who cares?

Growing child poverty rates? Not our problem. 

But Pearson? Pearson? We can’t live without them! And they’ll probably be really super mad at us for suspending their tests.

At least, if our Gopher State scholars drop out of high school in droves because they get suspended too many times, or because they can’t hack learning in a classroom of 45, or because they have failed to find the pursuit of rigorous standards thrilling, they can take Pearson’s GED test someday.

Bonus section! Read all about it:

K-12 superintendents and college administrators alike struggle to boost enrollment, raise graduation rates, improve academic outcomes — and to do it all while cutting costs.

In this atmosphere of crisis, Pearson promises solutions. It sells the latest and greatest, and it’s no fly-by-night startup; it calls itself the world’s leading learning company. Public officials have seized it as a lifeline.

“Pearson has been the most creative and the most aggressive at [taking over] all those things we used to take as part of the public sector’s responsibility,” said Michael Apple, a professor of education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

–from Stephanie Simon’s 2015 Politico piece about Pearson, “No Profit Left Behind”

Anna Ed Justice

Top Down Change in Minneapolis, Part 2: When they look up, it will all be in place

Minneapolis’ Nellie Stone Johnson school, a high poverty K-8 site in north Minneapolis, was named after a pioneering African-American woman who had a “long and distinguished record of public service in support of the advancement of minority concerns.” Johnson was in fact a labor activist and the first “Black person elected to citywide office” in Minneapolis. 

But, will the school named after her survive a bout of “autonomy”?

On Tuesday, April 14, the Minneapolis school board will vote on whether or not to allow Nellie Stone Johnson (NSJ) school to become one of four “autonomous” district schools in the city. This is being pushed forward under the Community Partnership Schools (CPS)  concept, which the district and the Minneapolis teachers union agreed to embrace during 2014 contract negotiations. (The CPS model is intended to pair district schools with outside partners, as the schools are given more “freedom” in how they structure their days and hire staff members, etc.) 

In the fall of 2014, Nellie Stone Johnson school had a new principal and a mostly new staff, after a few years of leadership change and the loss of some experienced teachers. The school also had a new relationship with a nearby community organization called the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), which is run by Sondra Samuels, wife of current Minneapolis school board member Don Samuels. NAZ won a federal “Promise Neighborhood” grant in 2011, worth $28 million. (It is important to note that this five-year grant is set to expire in 2016, or before the three-year “trial” period would be up for NSJ’s experiment with autonomy, should it become a CPS site.)

All of this “newness” is making it harder to document the community’s involvement in the push to turn Nellie Stone Johnson into a “partnership” school, which would further connect it to its proposed partner, NAZ. If this goes through, NAZ’s “scholar coaches” would be placed in classrooms throughout the school, as support staff.

In fact, behind the scenes and under the cover of anonymity–which seems to be the only way to puncture the “Come on get happy!” promise of these partnership schools–employees with inside knowledge of Nellie Stone Johnson are speaking out and raising questions.

Yesterday, I published a post that included excerpts from a NSJ staff member, who has sent an emailed list of concerns to school board members. The email included this blunt statement:

“This movement was forced from the district down. From a Union meeting I attended at NSJ, it should have come from the community up. It did not.”

These assertions are backed up by recent conversations I have had with other people from the school, including another employee who isn’t satisfied with the plan to “autonomize” NSJ:

  • People at NSJ “don’t seem to understand the concept” of the Community Partnership School model
  • The presentation to families about converting to a CPS site was “not professional” or thorough, and included leading questions, such as: “Do you want your children to go to a better school?”
  • The budget for next year is uncertain for NSJ, as it will depend on how many students actually show up at the school (because of MPS’ requirement that all CPS sites also pilot a new “student-based” funding model).
  • “A lot of positions at the school have been cut,” and people were told it was due to seniority. But, this employee is suspicious of that because of the proposed partnership with NAZ and their “scholar coaches,” who will be paid half of what the district pays associate educators to work at the school. 
  • The whole NAZ connection is worrisome. The organization’s presence at Nellie Stone Johnson has been growing since last year, leading to the impression that the “whole partnership thing has been in the works for a while.” Still, this employee maintains, “Nobody can explain what NAZ’s role is in the building.”
  • Another concern: there is no engaged, informed parent body at Nellie Stone Johnson (the principal herself made this clear at a fall 2014 staff meeting, when she introduced the CPS model). “Parents don’t really know” what CPS is about. This employee’s fear? “When they look up, everything’s going to be in place, and they (parents) won’t have a say in it.”
  • Final question on this employee’s mind: “Is CPS a pretty package with an empty box inside?”

The tricky thing is, if NSJ becomes a partnership school, it won’t really have autonomy, as in, independence. Instead, it will be bound to the same accelerated, test-based “accountability” guidelines laid out by the district’s new strategic plan, Accelerate 2020. (I believe this is what former MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson used to call “bonded autonomy.”)

Nagging questions: What happens if Nellie Stone Johnson becomes a Community Partnership School but can’t meet the “accelerated” pressure from MPS to boost student test scores? What are the consequences of “failing” at autonomy? 

Reflection time: Why might MPS be pursuing this? Is it because Minneapolis became a “portfolio district” back in 2010, under the guidance of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE)? The CRPE was started by Paul Hill, and is built around a market-based reform model of school choice (autonomous, independent schools as far as the eye can see).

Here is a video of Hill describing the portfolio district concept, in which he states, among other things, that “diversity is a problem that districts have to solve in new ways,” that the purpose of schools is to serve the economy, and that “collective bargaining agreements further constrain schools.” It also says that districts should be “seekers of the best schools for children, no matter who runs them” (This starts with “flexibility” in hiring practices, and requests for deviation from the union contract–kind of odd for a school named after a labor activist….)

Inline image 1This is the language of the market-based, privatization movement for public schools (privatization=independent, non-public entities managing public schools and public money). And this is the guiding light and structural framework for the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Community Partnership School model. 

Don’t believe me? Just watch.

(Side note: The union may have signed off on this for a variety of reasons, including a documented preference for alternative school models, such as the “Site-Governed Schools” concept it helped bring to MPS in 2009. To date, however, there has been only one site-governed school in Minneapolis, Pierre Bottineau French Immersion. This school will cease to operate as an independent school this fall, after just a few rocky years in existence.)

All That Glitters: Top Down Change in Minneapolis

Top down reform is all the rage in education these days, from Arne Duncan on down to individual districts, like Memphis (taken over by the state), Little Rock, AK (wrestling with an attempted takeover by the Walton family and their Wal-Mart money), and New Orleans (all charter schools, all the time). 

Panic button? Image from Alternet

And, it is set to sink in further, here in Minneapolis.

Under the guise of wanting to provide schools “more autonomy,” the Minneapolis Public Schools is set to roll out four “autonomous” Community Partnership Schools (CPS), including north Minneapolis’ Nellie Stone Johnson (NSJ) K-8 School. In this CPS model, traditional schools will become more “autonomous,” and partner with a community organization. In Nellie Stone Johnson’s case, the presumed partner is the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), which is run by school board member Don Samuels’ wife, Sondra (lingering question: will Don recuse himself from the school board’s vote regarding this intended partnership, from which his wife’s organization stands to gain?).

Autonomous schools–which promise greater freedom and independence to a school, in theory, in exchange for more “accountability”–do have an appealing, “rugged individualism” sound to them. Many schools, in Minneapolis and beyond, are of course being suffocated by too many mandates, while simultaneously being starved by too little funding (public funding for schools in MN has declined significantly, since 2000, when, surprise!, demands for greater accountability began ramping up).

And, I can imagine that many schools desperately want and need greater flexibility in how they run things, given the constantly shifting demographics and needs of today’s public school students, staff, and families.

Thus the PR appeal of Minneapolis’ intended shift to a decentralized school district, with the big dream of lots of empowered, individualized school sites throughout the city. The problem, however, is that in an era of school district CEOs and politician-friendly top down management schemes (and “what if we dismantled the Minneapolis Public Schools” queries), this proposed push towards “independence” may not be as liberating as it seems.

Case in point: Nellie Stone Johnson. This K-8 school, which serves a population of “high needs” kids, is slated for big changes next year: 

Nellie Stone Johnson demographic info from ProPublica

Nellie Stone Johnson demographic info, from ProPublica

  1. It is supposed to become a Community Partnership School (the school board will officially vote on this at an April 14 meeting; let’s hope we see democracy–and not rubber stamping–in action).
  2. It will become a K-5 school, and will therefore lose staff members and send older students to a different site. (This is it’s own form of upheaval, of course).
  3. It will also have to pilot a new, more “autonomous” funding model, called Student-Based Allocations (this has connections to an ALEC bill, where public school $$$ is supposed to “follow” a student–this is ALEC’s way to undercut funding for public education). 

All of these changes are to be made all at the same time, and a clear question that should be asked is, “Whose idea was all of this?” The Community Partnership Schools’ “MOA” (Memorandum of Agreement) between MPS and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers states that a key purpose of CPS sites will be:

Creating conditions where mutual respect is demonstrated by local decision making, effective collaboration, shared trust and meaningful relationships.

The MOA also states that any school wishing to become a CPS site must submit a detailed plan that documents the following:

Parent and community involvement in developing the plan; (ii) Staff involvement in developing the plan; (iii) Collaboration to establish buy-in and commitment to the model;

Recently, however, an email written by a Nellie Stone Johnson employee was sent my way, and it definitely raises serious concerns about whether or not Nellie Stone Johnson staff and community members were actually involved in the decision to become a Community Partnership School. (The email was also sent to school board members, I have been told.)

This could deal a serious blow to the claim that the Community Partnership Schools model is being designed from the ground up for all four of the schools slated to try this model on for size next year.

Here are some excerpts (tweaked by me, for clarity and privacy) from the email, which outlines concerns about the CPS model and how it landed at Nellie Stone Johnson school (NSJ):

  • This movement was forced from the district down. From a Union meeting I attended at NSJ, it should have come from the community up. It did not.
  • The principal sent in the letter of intent without direction from her staff. Less than thirty minutes after introducing it to the licensed staff, she told them she was going to send in the letter of intent. She asked for no discussion or feedback on this decision.
  • This CPS “opportunity” was announced at the very same time that the staff was told their school was going to go from a K-8 to a K-5. This information shocked staff, as they dealt with the blow that half the members would be gone at year’s end. (Several of those teachers were tenured teachers,  removing even more teachers of experience.)
  • The only people that the principal consulted with (on the CPS proposal) were licensed staff members.  Non-licensed staff members had little opportunity to discuss this plan or have a say in it.  
  • The CPS design team consisted of primarily new staff members, and some have questioned whether they were given all of the information to adequately understand the CPS model.
  • NSJ staff were told that the school was going to be a CPS no matter what and that questioning the plan would cause undue unrest amongst teachers.
  • At least two staff members were reprimanded for asking questions.
  • Most of the staff members can not adequately tell you what it means to be a CPS or autonomous school.
  • The principal told the staff just prior to the vote that if they voted No, she and the design team would revise the plan and hold another vote and another until they voted yes.
  • Many are worried about the quality of the Scholar coaches that NAZ will bring to the table. They are worried they are going to be in their way.  They will have to train the NAZ members. They worry about the school not having any say in who NAZ hires.
  • There was little to no parent involvement in the plan.  
  • No public/parent meeting was held that was specifically about CPS. A survey given to parents had questions that led to positive answers.
  • There is no parent/staff site council at NSJ. Community Partnership Schools are supposed to be parent and community focused and should have strong community support.  

I wonder if these concerns will be enough to stop the “autonomous” PR machine and compel the school board to pause and consider this: What will a Community Partnership School that has been designed without community input look like?

Sidwell Friends or Success Academy: Opting out or doubling down

“Mom? It’s me. My teacher wanted me to call to tell you that I learned decimals today.”

1295742

Slaying math with a single arrow?

Ahh…sigh of relief. My 4th grade son called from school today, and it was good news this time. More than that, it was good news about math (I’ve written about my son’s rocky relationship with math before). He has had some pretty serious math anxiety this year (which looks like pretty disruptive and avoidant behavior in the classroom), and I had even suggested to his teacher that she not worry about teaching him math for a few weeks. She and I both agreed that a break from math lessons might be just the trick for him. 

It seems it was. Taking a break took some pressure off, and his confidence is coming back. First, it was fractions. Now, it’s decimals. What I am most happy about, though, is that he is, hopefully, learning how to learn, and stick with something that seems impossibly difficult (such a struggle for a kid who is an unyielding perfectionist).

It is important to note that his math breakthroughs are coming just as the annual testing season is ramping up at his school. Because we have opted him out of all high stakes testing, he has not been down in the school’s only computer lab this week, staring at a screen and clicking on answers. Instead, he has been digging in to what he truly needs to work on: his own patience, confidence, and citizenship as a member of his classroom community (there have been a few outbursts this year…). He’s doing this by learning math, and I think it’s great.

Yesterday, in the car, he brought up the topic of testing, and said, “I can read so fast that my brain can’t keep up” (he’s a language arts kid, like I was). 

Exactly, I told him. That’s why the tests don’t really seem necessary. Between me, you, and your teacher, we’ve got a pretty good handle on what is going well and what you need to work on.

He got it, and agreed.

Turns out we’re kind of like the Obama family, whose kids also don’t take high stakes standardized tests. Check out this paragraph, from writer Alan Singer’s recent blog post called “How the Obamas opted their children out of high stakes testing”:

It was easy for Barack and Michelle Obama to opt-out. They send Sasha and Malia to the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C. where tuition is about $35,000 a year and students do not take high-stakes Common Core-aligned tests. The Obamas chose this school in part because it offers children an enriched curriculum, not constant test prep.

Image from Sidwell Friends School website

Additionally, Singer notes, “Wealthy celebrities are unwittingly part of the opt-out movement because their children attend or attended expensive private schools where they do not have to take high-stakes state-mandated standardized tests.”

My son and his siblings go to public schools that do not offer quite the level of enrichment that the Sidwell Friends school does (there’s got to be something “rich” to show for that $35,000/year fee), but they are still pretty good places to be. Sure, the classes are often too big and the support services often too few, but my kids still get to do a fair amount of the good stuff, like project-based learning and collaborative work. Here is a recent photo of my daughter and her friend, standing with the mural they made in response to To Kill a Mocking Bird, which they read with their Language Arts class:

Greta and Kawsar

In my mind, all kids around the world should have access to a Sidwell Friends-like public school experience, full of hands-on learning, dynamic projects, and outstanding, intriguing field trips and opportunities. Because, as John Dewey said:

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

Now, contrast this idea with what is going on at New York City’s Success Academy charter school chain, according to a recent New York Times article about these “high performing” schools. Witness the sick, scary devotion to standardized testing: 

At any given time, multiple carrots and sticks are used in the quest to make sure every student does well on the standardized tests. This system goes into overdrive in late January, as the annual exams, which begin this year on April 14, approach.

Success did not allow a reporter to observe test preparations, but teachers and students described a regimen that can sometimes be grueling.

Students who do well on practice tests can win prizes, such as remote-controlled cars, arts and crafts kits, and board games. Former teachers said that they were instructed to keep the prizes displayed in the front of their classroom to keep students motivated.

Students who are judged to not be trying hard enough are assigned to “effort academy.” While they redo their work, their classmates are getting a reward — like playing dodge ball against the teachers, throwing pies in the face of the principal or running through the hallways while the students in the lower grades cheer.

Heartbreak. The kids profiled in the article are subject to wetting their pants (they aren’t allowed to take bathroom breaks during testing or test prep, apparently), having their test results (as young children) displayed in front of their peers, and being shamed, manipulated, coerced, and punished into performing on high stakes standardized tests. It comes across as sadistic and abusive, and not just for the kids; many teachers share stories of fleeing from this “no excuses” nightmare, which, of course, lurks as a dream for the deep pocketed investors behind Success Academy. 

Image from Success Academy, home of high test scores and strict discipline policies

I would love to know where these investors send their kids to school. 

Circling back around to my son, I am very grateful for the support and love his teacher sends his way, even though I’m sure it can’t always be easy for her. 

And, I want every parent and child to have this, too (and, to be clear, I do not blame parents for wanting something better for their kids). We haven’t achieved this yet, but which path is more likely to get us there? Success Academy, or Sidwell Friends?

Which education model should we collectively invest in, for the sake of everyone’s children?