"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, April 22, 2022

North Star Academy Students Are Fed Up with Racist Charter Schools

The dominant KIPP Model for racist chain gang charter schooling, i.e. "No Excuses," has spread to other charter corporations wanting a piece of the pie.  One of the largest knock-offs is the charter school corporation, Uncommon Schools.  

What black and brown students have found is that they are uncommonly racist and de-humanizing:

. . . . North Star Academy, which is part of the Uncommon Schools network of charter schools, is one of New Jersey’s oldest and highest-achieving charter schools. In the 2019-20 school year, 83% of North Star students were Black, 15% Hispanic, and more than 86% were economically disadvantaged, according to state data, yet the students routinely outperform their peers in wealthier districts on state standardized tests.

But like other so-called “no excuses” charter schools, North Star has long had a reputation for strict discipline along with its demanding academic program. In 2019-20, the most recent year with available state data, nearly 19% of North Star students received suspensions — a rate about six times higher than the average across New Jersey or in the Newark school district.

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 drew widespread attention to anti-Black racism in all facets of American society, many young people took to social media to recount instances of racism at school. Current and former students and staff members at Uncommon Schools began sharing their experiences through an Instagram account called Black at Uncommon, where many described a school culture that felt overly controlling and occasionally unwelcoming to Black people. . . . .

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Describing Whole Language: Response to Wexler

 Describing Whole Language

Natalie Wexler’s characterization of the nature and effect of whole language in her article in Forbes (April 12), “Let’s not make phonics political,” is inaccurate. Whole language is not “memorizing words” but is based on the hypothesis that we learn to read by understanding what is on the page. Knowledge of phonics contributes to comprehension, but so does background knowledge and knowledge of language.

Wexler clams that whole language was responsible for a “serious plunge” in California’s reading scores in the 1990’s. There was no “plunge.” In his book The Literacy Crisis, False Claims and Real Solutions, Jeff McQuillan points out that California’s reading scores had been low well before whole language was introduced. The low scores were due to high levels of poverty, which means lack of books in the home. Both California school and public libraries were well below the national average in the size of book collections, and well below average in the number of school librarians per student.

Stephen Krashen

Wexler’s letter: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliewexler/2022/04/12/lets- not-make-phonics-political-again/?sh=6f20d43a122d

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Over 1,000 Books Banned During the Past Nine Months

From PEN America

Book bans in public schools have recurred throughout American history, and have long been an issue of concern to PEN America, as a literary and free expression advocacy organization. Over the past nine months, the scope of such censorship has expanded rapidly. In response, PEN America has collated an Index of School Book Bans, offering a snapshot of the trend. The Index documents decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

 . . . .

It is not just the number of books removed that is disturbing, but the processes–or lack thereof–through which such removals are being carried out. Objections and challenges to books available in school are nothing new, and parents and citizens are within their rights to voice concerns about the appropriateness and suitability of particular books. In order to protect the First Amendment rights of students in public schools, though, procedural safeguards have been designed to help ensure that districts follow transparent, unbiased, established procedures, particularly when it comes to the review of library holdings. Of 1,586 bans listed in the Index, PEN America found that the vast majority (98%) have involved various departures from best practice guidelines outlined by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association (ALA). Such guidelines have been designed to ensure rigorous standards and to avoid ad hoc, highly irregular acts that could run afoul of relevant legal doctrine. These guidelines include the filing of written, formal challenges by parents or local residents; the formation of review committees, generally comprised of librarians, teachers, administrators, and community members; and that books are to remain in circulation during the reconsideration process until a final decision is made. Challenges to library books and curricular and classroom materials are meant to happen first at the school-level, and then, if a decision is appealed, at the district-level. While the Supreme Court has recognized the “broad discretion” granted to local school boards in the “management of school affairs,” that discretion does not negate the responsibility of engaging in proper, considered processes concerning selections or removals. Rather, per Pico, school boards must exercise their discretion with respect to matters of education “​​in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.” News reports from school districts around the country indicate that this directive is being eschewed, as the responsibility of local school boards to employ appropriate  safeguards and best practices in these decisions is being widely abrogated.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Ah, Deprofessionalization


Teachers Welcome Deprofessionalization

NEPC Newletter, April 1, 2022
Teachers Welcome Deprofessionalization

Nancy Morrison, a social studies teacher at Atwood Middle School in Miami, Florida, was experiencing burnout this past fall, entering her ninth year of teaching. On top of the pandemic, she was feeling crushed under the weight of responding to students’ educational needs and overall well-being.

But help was on the way.

Morrison’s relief came in an unlikely form: the national push to deprofessionalize teaching. Scripted curriculum, forbidden knowledge, banned books, outlawed discussions, and hovering oversight have combined to transform the job of teaching. In doing so, this deprofessionalization has thoughtfully relieved teachers of the awful responsibility of having to make decisions that might impact students’ education.

Morrison said the first sign of hope came back in June of last year, when the state Board of Education banned what they called “critical race theory” from all public school classrooms. “The Board’s rules told us that we had to teach that racism is merely the product of prejudice—we couldn’t teach that racism has roots in American society or its legal system.” 

After that, Florida’s legislature passed the “Stop Woke Act”, which adds that teachers should be trumpeting “principles of individual freedom.” The Act gives students the option of suing schools for violating their civil rights if those students feel that a class is teaching that “virtues” like “neutrality, objectivity, and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex, or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex, or national origin.”

Meanwhile, Florida also passed HB 1557, titled, “Parental Rights in Education” but commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which gives parents the right to sue school districts if they think that a teacher is encouraging a classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity that’s not age-appropriate. “This is a clear warning to teachers in my position,” Morrison told us, “that we risk losing our jobs if we talk about LGBTQ issues or people.”

For Morrison, the state’s overall message was also clear: Students should no longer be learning or talking about race and gender issues in school. “I teach Civics, Government, and U.S. History,” she explained:

Obviously, we can’t examine American history or civil rights without discussing the experiences and viewpoints of historically marginalized people. Yet if we do have those discussions, then a parent or student will inevitably claim that someone said something that puts us on the wrong side of these laws.

“Since I can’t safely teach what I was hired to teach, Florida’s policies have freed us to go outside and toss around the Frisbee,” she said with a relieved smile.

“Oddly,” she added, “these are the same legislators who a few years ago wanted us to carry guns to class. Now they’re scared to trust us with some words.”

In Indiana, fifth grade teacher Karen Maus has been enthusiastically keeping an eye on a similar bill that adds a requirement that teachers post all their lesson plans online, so that parents can review them. “This is terrific!” exclaimed Maus.

I decided to pursue teaching because I wanted to be in a controlled, deprofessionalized context where every move is criticized and I could be fired at any moment because I’ve inadvertently offended some repressed parent with nothing better to do than whine about a mention of the mating ritual of blue-footed boobies.

Maus explained that she feels blessed by the deprofessionalization:

Soon, all the responsibility and blame will fall on the parents, where it belongs. I’m liking that Frisbee idea. I’ll just keep posting lesson plans involving tossing around the Frisbee. If any parents want to object, let them write up their own damn lesson.