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  1. I share this conversation from Facebook. It is in reaction to my reaction to Kam's review of Rhee's book. I thought it would be interesting to share -- since everyone is not on Facebook (for now) and it is a rare occassion when I spark an interesting conversation with smart people (like here). It is interesting how many of these reformers come in, arguably making things worse, leave and are heralded as great. They go on to write books and secure lucrative speaking engagements. If there is a teacher or administrator from a DC or New York City Public School who believes Rhee has made a lasting, positive, impact please let us know. Radical: Fighting to Put Students First by Michelle Rhee -- Book Review. Dolen Perkins-Valdez Troy: Rhee was controversial, and I didn't agree with all her beliefs and methods. But she definitely didn't make things worse. Of course, I'm not a teacher, just a concerned parent. My kid is in DC public schools, and I frequently visit the city's toughest schools through Writers in the Schools. I wholeheartedly believe in education reform. Radical education reform. Tamara Coleman-Brown I'm not sure about her, but you have to admit that our current educational system is failing.We can't continue to do the same things expecting different results. What worked yrs ago apparently isn't valid anymore. Chris Burns Troy, I've had this conversation so many times, but it always leads to these things for me... It is not the school system or the schools that are failing, it's the lack of parental involvement, lack of student motivation, and teachers who are not capable of engaging the students in a more modern way. What I mean by modern is that kids no longer have the ability to sit still and be taught without the teacher actually being part teacher/entertainer/motivational speaker/entrepreneur instructor. A great teacher can overcome the shortcomings in the system, a moderate teacher is going to need help and can't be in a situation greater than their talents. English courses have to teach Shakespeare, but to access it the teachers have to be well versed in current poets who actually utilize meter and form. Math teachers have to connect math to computer technology and explain why math is the gateway to millions of dollars in programming and coding. Kids are enamored by the visual culture of wealth and riches and if what is being taught doesn't in some way generate a connection to being able to be successful, not just knowledge for the sake of knowledge kids tune out. I could go on and on about this because while I said it boils down to a few things, those few things have roots in deeper issues. However, a strong involved parent can counter even the worst school system. Troy Johnson Dolen did you go to public school for your primary education? If so how was it? Tamara I'm not a teacher, though I currently teach a GED prep class and have given countless workshops and seminars or a wide range of subjects, but it seems to me the problem is that we keep reinventing the wheel. For example, schools have changed the way they teaching reading (dropping phonics), getting rid of rote memorization of vocabulary words, even eliminating grammar in favor of picking it up in the content of reading and mixing kids of widely different abilities into the same class. It seems students are increasingly victimized by any newfangled idea some inexperienced 20 something dreams up. And don't get me started on measurement systems like ARIS or high stakes test with completely pervert the incentives... Chris I hear you man. But I'm not so quick to let schools of the hook. To be clear I lay most of the blame with the school's system's leadership not the teachers or even principals. Consider this "radical" thought; parental involvement is overrated. Parents don't have to help with homework, don't have to show up at the school for every event, they don't even have to be educated themselves for the kids to achieve in school. It is the unfortunate circumstance we find ourselves in a situation such that the parent HAS to be ACTIVELY involved in their kids education for the hope of a positive outcome. The problem is most parents, particularly in our most needy communities, are not prepared for this challenge -- due largely to the educations they received. It is a self-perpetuating problem. Tamara Coleman-Brown The school system isn't failing?? We have hundreds of students that do well in high school, but get to college that can't test out of basic educational skills. When special needs programs have tripled, when all they really needed was a better understanding.When there's no tutoring available unless you're failing a class. Where schools are segregated based our income.I can go on and on.. Schools fundamental duty is to prepare students for a successful future although where you live is a bigger determinant than we believe. Tamara Coleman-Brown Troy, I agree. Troy Johnson Tamara I guess I should be clear in how I define "failing". In NY City, for example, 40% of Black boys get a HS diploma in 4 years. Most of those that do are ill prepared for a vocation or college. The best public schools high schools have single digit percentages of Black boys; in a city where the Black population is better than 25%. This situation is reflected in virtually nonexistent corporate exempt employment and college graduation rates particularly in the the STEM courses (both colleges and employers complain about a "pipeline crisis". I would even go as far to say this impacts incarceration rates and the stability of families in these communities. So for the community that I can about the failure is so abysmal is should be considered a crime. Now go back 40 years in the same NY City environment where the conditions were FAR worse financially and the City was one of the most dangerous in the country the schools were better. higher graduation rates, more Black kids in the specialized high schools, vocational schools, arts & music program, more athletic teams, an so on... Tamara Coleman-Brown It is a crime but as long as we continue to blame parents and students we will forever be blinded from the truth. Institutional racism is alive a well, I'm sure you've read, The New Jim Crow where it examines the issues we're discussing. So, do you agree that schools need reformed? Dolen Perkins-Valdez Troy Johnson: Yes, I went to public schools my entire life. I'm a product of the Memphis City Schools, yet another citywide system in dire need of major reform. I loved my school largely due to its racial and socioeconomic diversity. Even then, I knew these things were important to me. As I write this, I'm thinking of our phenomenal principal, who missed his calling as a motivational speaker. Without ever raising a paddle (as they did in the old days), he was clear that fighting would not be tolerated (in those days, guns weren't the issue they are now). Gosh, this is such a tough subject, largely because the solutions are divergent depending on the region, student body, school culture, student needs, and available resources. I say, let's take it one school at a time. Troy Johnson Dolen is say, simply, lets go back and do whatever your public school was doing. I'm certain your school was not unique. I feel the same way about my high school and Jr High School too; and I went to high school in the 70's. Speaking of HS violence I think everyone here will be touched by an "This American Life" program on the subject: http://aalbc.it/hhsp2 Harper High School, Part Two | This American Life www.thisamericanlife.org Dolen Perkins-Valdez Someone just told me about this program today!!!! Now I must watch it. Chris Burns To Tamara and Troy, I blame parents and students because after teaching for over 17 years at every level except elementary, and in every income level, and at the collegiate level as a tenure track professor, I have proof of what a great teacher can do. A great teacher is able to overcome a poor administration, lack of funding, poverty and the systemic issues that are prevalent to run a successful program and improve the ability of students who are considered at risk or special needs (special needs meaning that people gave up on the kid although the kid is capable.) Troy proves my point in blaming parents and kids in stating that 40 years ago, in much worse situations, the graduation rate was higher and students were attaining an education and learning. Troy could even move that to 25 years ago and the numbers would be better than today. THE SYSTEM has always been in place and Blacks overcame the system to earn their place into society, so your complaint that schools are failing and the system is at fault, I consider that a copout. A parent does not have to be educated or know the homework a kid is doing when a parent is present. 40 years ago fathers may not have been in abundance, but there was always someone in the home. Children were held accountable. Even in the worst income situations (hood ghetto, whatever) children were held accountable and parents SIDED with the teachers. Today parents will fight teachers, administrators and stand behind their kids before even getting the real story in many instances. Also, because of the hell that Blacks went through to be educated, Blacks were able to attain jobs and wealth that isn't comparable to the station that Blacks were in in the past. Now that Blacks can pursue more income or wealth, the children are the ones being left behind and not made accountable because there isn't a Big Momma, a father or mother in the house holding the children accountable. A great teacher can only do so much before getting burned out. Without the influence and care of a parent, the likelihood of success diminishes for kids. I am not naive about systemic issues, but I'm a realist who has been in the fire and in the worst schools in different regions of the country and I know what a good teacher can do, when a child has the support of a parent. Blaming the system is a waste of time and accomplishes nothing. Throwing money at the education system won't help, throwing computers in the school won't help. Accountable parenting (which is obviously hindered by societal issues) should be the foundation on which reform is made, but that is impossible. Sorry for being longwinded. Troy Johnson No worries about being long winded your perspective as a full time, veteran educator in good to read. A "great teacher" is rare (otherwise they would not be "great"). We cannot hope for a system full of great teachers. We have to work with the available resources that will include average and mediocre teachers. In the context of a complete institution this is fine. No one will argue the benefits of a great teacher. "THE SYSTEM" Chris has changed and that is the basis of my argument. I've watched lower standards be applied to our kids in the name of compassion. I've watched red pens be cast aside as not to offend the fragile sensibilities of students. As a result our kids are ill prepared to meet the challenges of life Lets look at the good teachers: How many good, bright teachers do you know who left the job quickly, or who are completely demoralized and burnt out due to the bureaucracy itself? Over burdened by dumb initiatives and mandates which changes with the administration. Often the principals and teachers KNOW these things will not work but they are COMPELLED to implement them. Do you think Rhee, for example, left DC teachers and administrators better off, happier as a result of her tenure? Parents can only do so much. The PTA (remember those) is not going to go into walk into a school and demand an art program when the school is mandated by the state to get students to pass a standardized test. Again the parents themselves are a product of a crappy "school system", as were their parents and their parents before them. I'm not saying these are bad people, they have been victimized by the government, in much the same way millions were victimized by predatory mortgage lenders or cigarette companies. Parents fight the teachers because the system is perceived as the enemy. Understand, it is the same rationale many people in the community have for not trusting the police. It is a natural reaction to a system that is doing you a disservice -- hostile even. Sure the anger and frustration may be misdirected. But the people are not stupid. They eventually learn they were done a disservice and they are very angry. Does this make sense to you? AGREED: Throwing money at the education system won't help, throwing computers in the school won't help. There is ample data to support this. This might sound cynical, paranoid even, but I beginning to believe the government actually wants schools to fail. So that the public will become so outraged that they demand all schools become privatized. Of course this would be a financial windfall of corporation and they’ll get to educate students to do whatever job they need. Donna Whiteman Troy, thank you. well said and not at all paranoid. Though well spent money does make a difference.. Many of the "good" public schools are thriving on large sums of parental dollars. Chris Burns Well presented argument that on the surface is logical and correct. However, the testing and mandated guidelines that have been set forth, only appear to lower standards. I can only speak from my experience, but that experience extends from being a teacher and high school coach in San Diego, in the poorest, most diverse school in San Diego, to the poorest rural area in Benton County Mississippi. In the San Diego school over 70% of the students at this school were second language and all lived in the City Heights/Southeast San Diego area of he city which has one of the highest gang rates in Southern Cali. These students were immigrants were all on free lunch which is the measuring stick for Title 1 funding. Anyway, those students had to take all of the tests and they had programs removed and still those immigrant students moved on completed college in many instances. They did not drop out of school. I'm trying to understand why the SYSTEM didn't fail those kids and I don't think you can explain that to me. On to my experience teaching in Mississippi. If you can find a county or city near you or anywhere that is at the same poverty level of the school I taught at in Mississippi I look forward to seeing. This school was 100% Black. I chose to leave a charter school as a favor to a friend who was terrified of the school being taken over by the state due to their test scores decreasing for 3 years straight by 18%. Mississippi's English State test is hands down one of the most difficult standardized test I have seen. It was in no way lowered standards. If anything it challenged the students to learn as much as possible. At this school I came in at the midway point of the year after Christmas break. I was given the book for the test and told by my peer/principal to save these kids (basically to save the school). I only two months to do so and for the students to get used to my teaching methods. I had to actually teach 9-12th grade since it was a small rural school. The 10th grade class had to take the SATP. I implemented strategies within the framework given by both the state, district and the school. However in teaching to the test, I also taught the students screenwriting, how to write poetry, how to write their research papers and how to use scansion to analyze poetry. I didn't care that these kids had people who dropped out before them. I didn't care that they supposedly were behind 3 years, I dug in and taught these kids like first year college freshman. What does the SYSTEM have to do with that? Nothing. Long story short, they took that test and for the first year in 4 years they increase 36% passing the test, to 70% passing. In the fall, the rest of the students that didn't pass in the spring passed in the fall. That class of 2012 was the first class at the school since standardized testing to have a 100% graduation rate. I left that school after that and went back to the college level. I write all of this to say, I used the old raggedy books the school gave me and a chalk board. The SYSTEM is a crutch. I know that racism and the commodification of the schools are in effect. I know that the barriers are out there, but after 17 years of education at every level, I have come to realize that if the parenting is not there nothing, nothing will fix the schools. A school only has a child for 8 hours out of the day. When they return to their homes those are the influences and characteristics that the students take on. The lack of nutrition, the culture of poverty, all of those things have always been with Black people and for years we strived to overcome and accomplish great things. In the last 20 years almost every win has been nullified by the crack epidemic, jail system, and the nihilistic mindstate of the new Black person. If by SYSTEM you are stating that the choices that Black men make in impregnating and leaving Black mothers to raise children on their own then I agree. If you are saying SYSTEM and you mean the Black family that has made and doesn't return to help others then I agree. If you are saying the SYSTEM and you are saying these false prophets in the pulpit who are now opening schools to get that government funding and still taking tithes and not producing jobs for their congregations then I agree. But the schools are what they are because the people in them are afraid to be great. The kids demonize intelligence. The teachers demonize the kids. The administration demonizes the teachers, and the school boards sit on their hands with six figure salaries and argue over meaningless titles. That part of the system sucks, but you can't tell me that one dedicated parent can't make a way for their kids. Chris Burns Excuse the mistakes I was typing fast. Troy Johnson Chris I'm going to have to print this out and get back to you tomorrow. I'm trying to get the February eNewsletter mailed tomorrow morning. Peace Chris Burns I understand Troy. I know I'm writing a lot. I'm going to share a paper with you in a moment that one of my students wrote when I asked her what was wrong with the schools. I think her ideas were right on point. This student is about to graduate from Texas Southern and wrote this paper her senior year. I'll tag you. Peace Troy Johnson Chris, your experience is terrific and highly commendable. The problem is that your experience however lengthy and varied is merely anecdotal. We can trade personal experiences all day and still not shed any meaningful light on the subject. When you related your experience with the immigrants students you failed to account for the fact that they were immigrants. There is plenty of data to explain why immigrants groups do better than native American and how after a generation or two these differences evaporate. When you related your successful experience in Mississippi you did not mention anything about the changed behaviors of the parent in raising test scores. You wrote a great deal about what YOU did as a teacher to make a difference. Then you concluded by saying, "... if the parenting is not there nothing, nothing will fix the schools." I think if you truly felt parents were such a big factor you would have shared something about what the PARENTS did differently and what the impact was. More importantly, as with the less than effective Teach for America program, you came in for a brief period made a impact and then left. Usually what happens next is things go back to the way they were before often getting worse as a dependency formed is abruptly removed. We can certainly agree on two things; (1) "The [bad] teachers demonize the kids. The [bad] administration demonizes the teachers, and the [bad] school boards sit on their hands with six figure salaries and argue over meaningless titles. " Yes, that is the system I'm talking about and it starts with at the top. (2) "one dedicated parent can't make a way for their kids." I, for example, sent my kids to private school. Do you realize in places like Baltimore and NY City for example anyone with the resources sends their kids to private school? Have you also noticed that the people with the greatest impact on the pubic school systems do not send their own children these shitty schools. If they are not in a private school they live in a communities with taxes and real estate so expensive that the public schools there are indistinguishable from a private school. As a result these people have no problems experimenting with our Black kids. We should ALL be outraged, but most of are too selfish to care about anyone but ourselves... Also, Chris did you understand my explanation for why parents give teachers a hard way to go?
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