Archive for October 2009

I'm catchin' hell….   1 comment

Those of you over 30 may recognize that line from one of Natalie Cole’s hits…I wonder if Michelle Rhee has whispered those same words to herself? Probably not because I doubt she has ever even heard the song before. Oh well, she may not know the song but I am sure she was able to relate to the sentiment as parents, community members, and teachers made their voices heard at Thursday’s council meeting to protest the mass layoffs from early October. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Firing large numbers of teacher will not solve the problems in D.C., no matter how you ‘dress’ the ‘solution.’ Although Rhee claims the firings were due to budget cuts, anyone who has been following her regime (at least, that’s what I think it is) knows that she hired a large number of Teach for America grads, then decided to layoff veteran teachers. You know how the saying goes: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck then by God, it’s a duck. Those within the Education circles know exactly what she is trying to do: Build her ‘Fantasy Education Team’ to keep the money rolling in, nevermind the hostility, animosity, and deep distrust built-up along the way.

You know what? I stand corrected. Perhaps Michelle can’t relate to those words because she doesn’t care. She knows that as long as she ‘appears’ to address the issues, no one will question her. As long as our society perpetuates this Great White Hope mentality and someone (Rhee) swoops in to save these poor, uneducated Black and Brown kids, making philanthropists feel good in the process, no one will question a damn thing. A master plan that requires dedicated educators be kicked to the curb because they refuse to go along with the overseer is just wrong. On so many levels. Too many to dissect in a blog. If you know anything about History, then you know the point I am trying to make.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

Posted October 29, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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I’m catchin’ hell….   1 comment

Those of you over 30 may recognize that line from one of Natalie Cole’s hits…I wonder if Michelle Rhee has whispered those same words to herself? Probably not because I doubt she has ever even heard the song before. Oh well, she may not know the song but I am sure she was able to relate to the sentiment as parents, community members, and teachers made their voices heard at Thursday’s council meeting to protest the mass layoffs from early October. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Firing large numbers of teacher will not solve the problems in D.C., no matter how you ‘dress’ the ‘solution.’ Although Rhee claims the firings were due to budget cuts, anyone who has been following her regime (at least, that’s what I think it is) knows that she hired a large number of Teach for America grads, then decided to layoff veteran teachers. You know how the saying goes: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck then by God, it’s a duck. Those within the Education circles know exactly what she is trying to do: Build her ‘Fantasy Education Team’ to keep the money rolling in, nevermind the hostility, animosity, and deep distrust built-up along the way.

You know what? I stand corrected. Perhaps Michelle can’t relate to those words because she doesn’t care. She knows that as long as she ‘appears’ to address the issues, no one will question her. As long as our society perpetuates this Great White Hope mentality and someone (Rhee) swoops in to save these poor, uneducated Black and Brown kids, making philanthropists feel good in the process, no one will question a damn thing. A master plan that requires dedicated educators be kicked to the curb because they refuse to go along with the overseer is just wrong. On so many levels. Too many to dissect in a blog. If you know anything about History, then you know the point I am trying to make.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

Posted October 29, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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If arts education programs work, why are they withheld from those who could benefit the most?   Leave a comment

The Center for Arts Education recently released the findings of a 2-year study on the correlation between participation in arts programs and high school graduation rates at more than 200 New York high schools. The study identified nine key indicators for conveying a school’s commitment to offering quality arts programs:

  • Certified Arts Teachers
  • Dedicated Arts Classrooms
  • Appropriately Equipped Classrooms
  • Arts & Cultural Partnerships
  • External Funds to Support The Arts
  • Coursework in the Arts
  • Access to Multiyear Arts Sequence
  • School Sponsorship of Student Arts Participation
  • School Sponsorship of Arts Field Trips

For those high schools demonstrating a strong presence of the nine indicators, graduation rates were higher over the 2-year period. The study also points out the fact that access to arts is unequal. Students attending schools in low socioeconomic or majority-minority neighborhoods have less access to quality arts programs than students attending schools in more affluent neighborhoods. This is problematic, especially since students in those groups have higher drop-out rates. Furthermore, these student-groups are at the center of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as academic achievement, attendance and graduation rates are significantly lower than those of White and Asian students across the country.

CAE is not the first organization to publish such a study so why, then, do our public schools look to arts programs first when faced with budget cuts? Some districts claim that having comprehensive arts programs would be too costly; others insist that it is not possible to offer a variety of arts programs during the traditional school day. I wonder, though, if the real reason has anything to do with the fact that disadvantaged students may actually begin to perform as well as, or better, than their advantaged peers. Perfect example: DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts – DESA (formerly Hooper Elementary), a magnet school located in the DeKalb County School System. For the 2008-09 school year, DESA’s students outperformed their peers at traditional schools without an arts focus. There were 345 students who took the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), where passing scores are required for both Mathematics and Reading/Language Arts1. Of DESA’s 331 Black students tested, 14.2% Did Not Meet (DNM) the standard, compared to 28.8% for the district’s Black students. Sixty percent of DESA’s Black students met the standards, while only 53.6% of the district’s students met the standard. Students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch at DESA also outperformed students in the same group at the district level.

I have my opinion of academic disparities, especially when many students (victims of their zip code) can be helped with something as simple as access to quality arts programs. Unfortunately, those in charge of making important curricular decisions tend to be ignorant of research in support of such programs. As a result, more kids suffer through less-than-engaging curricula, from minimal opportunities at differentiated instructional practices and superficial arts exposure masquerading as ‘arts-integration.’

1 All of the students attending DESA for the 2008-09 school year were classified as Black.

Mass firings not a magic bullet for D.C., other struggling districts   1 comment

In just a few years, Michelle Rhee has become a household name. Appointed Chancellor of the D.C. Schools, Rhee has become well-known for implementing her tough top-down management style in an effort to improve academics and teaching quality in the struggling school district. One of Rhee’s more radical tactics is firing ‘ineffective’ teachers (Read: Those who refuse to be bullied to keep their jobs) and replacing them with Teach For America alums, a program which Rhee also completed. I do not discount the improvements Rhee has orchestrated since assuming her responsibilities as Chancellor; however, I do disagree with the manner in which she is attempting to exact large-scale change.

I am concerned about assigning the ‘ineffective teacher’ moniker haphazardly, especially given the fact that private funding is a substantial motivator in demonstrating academic improvement at the expense of dedicated teachers. Before a teacher can be deemed ineffective, we must first ask ‘Who determines a teacher’s ineffectiveness, and by what means?’ Every state has some procedure in place to both evaluate teachers and correct any deficiencies, usually by developing a Professional Development Plan (PDP). For argument’s sake, let’s assume that every principal in a D.C. school evaluates every teacher, the prescribed number of times, each and every school year. (Note: If this happened anywhere, NCLB likely would not be necessary.) Given this ideal situation, how would a supposed ‘ineffective teacher’ manage to keep the same teaching job for 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years? The answer: He or she would not.

Here is the million dollar question: How does a teacher become ineffective, under the direction of an administrator who is supposed to evaluate this teacher every year? That’s the easy part. There are, in my opinion, three possible explanations. First, the teacher may have never received an official evaluation. For those who wear rose-colored glasses, this does happen more than anyone may want to know. Second, the teacher may have received an unsatisfactory evaluation, but never received a PDP either because the administrator did not feel like doing the paperwork or this teacher was a part of the ‘in crowd.’ Lastly, the teacher could have very well been an excellent teacher, with outstanding classroom management skills and the ability to interact with students and parents. For the upcoming year, the principal may need to hire an additional coach but does not have a teaching assignment. Guess who suddenly becomes an ineffective teacher?

With the case of D.C. Schools, Rhee wants to replace the ineffective teachers with recent TFA alums, who will earn lower salaries, work longer hours, and fall inline with her regime without asking any questions or making any waves. Recently teachers, whether ineffective or otherwise, have essentially been thrown under the bus in the name of closing the achievement gap or improving schools. Do I believe that there may be some ineffective teachers? Absolutely. Will mass firings solve that problem? Absolutely not. If schools and districts wholeheartedly implement and follow-thru with effective practices, teachers would not be the scapegoats for what ails public education. In her efforts to make change, Rhee is alienating students, teachers, parents, community members, and some politicians. As public education faces scrutiny and tougher accountability measures, those are not the people she wants as enemies.

This has been on my mind for awhile. I felt the best way to release it was to out my thoughts on paper. Of course, this is the condensed version! As I said in my first post I am not an expert, just full of common sense.

Thanks for reading!

 

Additional links on Rhee and D.C. Schools:

Probe demanded in teacher firings

Rhee’s firing streak continues

Anger over layoffs vented in 18-hour meeting

Posted October 20, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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Is your state’s Department of Education misleading parents and constituents?   Leave a comment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing results for 2009 were released this week. The NAEP is the only nationally administered assessment that randomly tests America’s 4th and 8th grade students’ to measure whether students know what they should at those grade levels, with special attention on the Mathematics assessment. The exam is actually administered every 2 years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a component of the U.S. Department of Education. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on the question at hand: Is your state’s Department of Education misleading parents and constituents?

The practice of reporting ‘half-truths’ or omitting important data is very disturbing to me, both as a parent and an educator. According to the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia’s students showed ‘significant improvement’ on the 2009 NAEP; the state was one of 15 to show such improvement. By Georgia standards, what constitutes ‘significant improvement?’ Apparently for 8th grade students, only three points. In 2007, the average score for Georgia’s students was 275 compared to 280 for the nation. This year, Georgia’s average increased by three points to 278, compared to 282 for the nation. Over a 2-year period, Georgia has managed to close the performance gap between the national average by only one point. Fourth-grade NAEP performance remained relatively the same, with only a one point gain over the same 2-year period. In 2007, Georgia’s 4th graders averaged 235 compared to 239 for the nation. Two years later, the score increased to 236 for the state but the national average remained the same.

Despite the small gains made by Georgia’s students overall, there still exists a significant achievement gap for Blacks, Hispanics, Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible (FARL), and Students with Disabilities (SWD) when compared to White and Asian students. Of the 8th grade students performing ‘Below Basic,’ 72% were reported as having a disability, 50% were Black, 47% FARL, and 41% Hispanic. When compared to White and Asian students, the disparities are magnified because 18% and 14%, respectively, scored ‘Below Basic.’ For more detailed information about the performance of AYP subgroups, click here.

As parents we must remain vigilant in finding and demanding the truth from our education officials. If parents do not have full disclosure they are essentially prevented from making informed decisions about where and how their children are educated.

Posted October 17, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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Not an expert, just full of common sense   Leave a comment

This is my first blog. I was hesitant to start one since I spend so much time on Twitter and Facebook (and even adjusted to the word limits), but I thought now would be a good time to expand my social networking repertoire..so here I go!

I have spent the past 2.5 years developing a Visual & Performing Arts Charter School in Snellville, GA, approximately 35 minutes northeast of Atlanta. To say the chartering experience was filled with ups & downs, twists & turns, roadblocks & deterrents would be an understatement. Despite all the obstacles, frustration, and politics I am glad that I assumed the challenge. I have learned a considerable amount about the inner-workings of school systems: The stuff they do not want the general public to know. I gained a little insight by working as a Special Education Teacher for 5 years, but even that experience did not prepare me for the lessons learned in developing a charter school. (See, I am a little long-winded for Twitter & Facebook!)

As I continue to revise (ok, completely rewrite) the charter petition, I have spent more time researching and ‘decoding’ much of the Education mumbo-jumbo, e.g., AYP, NCLB, etc. I have also noticed that districts and state departments of education tend to mislead parents and community members by not truthfully reporting on student performance and issues. I will cover these topics as truthfully as I can, because I believe that informed and educated parents will ensure that their children, as well as those of other parents, will receive the highest quality education, regardless of race, socio-economic status, etc. Hence, the title of this first blog. I do not claim to be an expert, but I do have enough common sense to know that the elected officials will not always provide us with the most accurate information.

If you have a topic of interest or comments, I will gladly welcome them!

Thanks for taking the time to read. I hope to share some new information and keep parents informed!

Posted October 16, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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