I’m back. The Twitter and blog hiatus did me a lot of good. I had the opportunity to rest, evaluate, recharge, and regroup. At least that’s what I have told myself! Participating in various education-related chat groups on Twitter (BlackEd and EcoSys) have provided me with the opportunity to ‘hear’ what others are doing in the their respective classrooms, both K-12 and higher ed. I will admit that it is easy to become disillusioned after interacting with other teachers/educators. For the most part, we all seem to have viable and feasible ideas for seriously addressing eradicating the ‘opportunity gap’ that exists for many minority and economically disadvantaged students; however, few of us have the opportunities or resources to share our ideas on a large scale. My observation: Far too many teachers are concerned, not enough administrators, superintendents, and knowledgeable policy makers share the same urgency. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not give credit to Principal El, Principal Kafele, and Dr. Steve Perry, for they are in positions to initiate, cultivate, and nurture change within their respective environments. Furthermore, those leaders foster leadership in all stakeholders (students, parents, etc.) How many of us can honestly say that our building leaders have done the same? How many committees within your building are chaired by the exact same people, year after year? This type of leadership is one of the reasons why we continue to have the same discussions; nothing ever changes. When demographics change, our instructional and leadership styles need to change as well. Some of us ‘get it,’ and the rest, well….But I would like to know how we are supposed to keep the fire lit, given all the elements that work against us? How can we ‘Choose to Stay’ when greener pastures present themselves?
I will ponder those questions as I listen to my girls’ piano lessons. I hope that the answer presents itself soon, as I feel myself running out of steam and I have grown tired of bumping my head against the wall known as public education bureaucracy.
Yes, the presidential election is over but people are still using the word change when describing anything from politics to education. I can’t help but wonder: Do most people really want change? I think a lot of people talk a good game, but when it comes to walking the walk, folks start to disappear or get really, really quiet. Yeah, I think I may need to go a little ‘rogue’ in this post because there are some things that need to be said because a lot of people are oblivious to what’s going on in the world, especially as it relates to education.
Barack Obama was elected the first African American President of the United States. He made history. We must move on. I did not hold any unrealistic expectations for this president because I understood (to a certain degree) the mess he inherited: two wars, a crappy economy, a broken-down educational system, and hatred from other countries of the world. As David Letterman would say: I wouldn’t give his problems to a monkey on a rock. Obama definitely has his hands full and he needs our help. First and foremost, we all need to be realistic: He is not going to come close to fixing all of these problems during his first term (yeah, I am claiming a second for him). Secondly, there are things we can do to be the change we want to see (Ghandi).
How? You might ask. Well, for starters, there are thousands of educators on Twitter who have an opportunity to participate in ‘professional development without walls’ like never before via various weekly chats. We can communicate and share best practices with people from all fifty states and many foreign countries. However, simply talking is not productive. Let me go a little deeper: Ignoring the real issues facing our educational system will not make them go away. Since I was a little late to the chats, I thought I would ‘observe’ first to get a better understanding. After observing for a few weeks, I started to notice a recurring theme: Technology. Now don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great, especially since I can connect with other educators. Unfortunately, technology is not solely responsible for the opportunity gap (or achievement gap, as others call it) that exists for millions of students. Let me be more specific: Lots of African American, Hispanic/Latino, English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, and kids eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch. You may know those students as members of the AYP subgroups. I don’t doubt for one second that Interactive White Boards (IWB) are great educational tools but let’s keep it real, shall we? How may schools actually have them? Do they have enough for every teacher? Better yet, how many Title I schools have them? I have said it before and I will say it again: Too many kids have to dodge pimps, whores, crackheads, and dope dealers on the way to school. Reality check: School is the safest place for a lot of students, whether you care to accept and acknowledge that fact or not. Ignoring it won’t make it any less true. I seriously doubt they give a damn about whether their teacher is effective at using an IWB. Reality check: Yes, technology can be a great teaching tool, but when I am hungry and my stomach is growling, I am only focusing on how/where I can get something to eat.
So this brings me to my issue: I suggested that we discuss a real educational issue, like what different schools are doing (besides talking) to address the opportunity gap. Well, the question submitted was completely edited/altered and in no way reflects the one submitted. Hence, the point is completely missed. If ‘professional’ people are too uncomfortable with addressing the issues, are they really competent enough to be in front of the student groups in question? I am reconsidering my opinion on that one because you cannot enter a classroom with the notion that you don’t ‘see color.’ If something is right in front of you, how do you not see it? That’s something David Copperfield could master, but the average teacher, I don’t think so. But here’s a better question: Why do people attempt to stifle the dialogue of those who are interested in addressing these issues? Whether the stifling comes via completely ignoring or changing the question posed, it’s ignoring nonetheless. And it’s not right. It’s unprofessional, offensive, and dismissive. Certainly counterproductive in any attempts to address and eliminate the opportunity gap. I guess we are not as far removed from D.C. as we’d like to believe, huh?
Million dollar question: Do my honesty and directness make you uncomfortable? If I were a man, would you be less uncomfortable? Do you genuinely care about your students’ success? Do you care enough to acknowledge that they may not pay attention to you because they are wondering if they will eat when they get home? Or they could be worried about whether they will have a home at all. Did you ever stop to consider that? If not, you need to at least acknowledge that, as of today, you are not equipped with the knowledge necessary to adequately deliver any content to your students, whether you use an IWB, iPad, Mac BookPro, or not. Period. Before you can take them anywhere, you have to know and acknowledge from whence they came. Yep, it really is that simple. By the way, notice there was no mention of one (racial) group not being competent enough to educate another. I know some of you were looking for it (and probably found or interpreted it somewhere) but I never said it. I will not stop discussing the real issues just to make people feel more comfortable. Sorry, there is too much at stake for me to live in oblivion. If my stance means I have to talk to myself, then so be it. I usually get more done and better answers that way anyway!
Tonight I had the pleasure in taking part in a ground-breaking chat on Twitter that focused on issues facing Black children and their families. BlackEd, as it has been coined, is an opportunity for parents, graduate students, educators, administrators, and community organizers to meet and discuss strategies on addressing the opportunity gap (we are rejecting the term ‘achievement gap’ as it implies that students cannot learn or are responsible for not learning) that exists for Black students, regardless of whether they are from low-income neighborhoods, single or two-parent families.
More importantly, BlackEd was born out of a desire to move past ‘blaming the victim’ e.g., students, and start focusing on feasible solutions. What can we, as communities (not just the group of neighbors) do to help students succeed in school? How can we address the obvious school-to-home disconnect? What role does the school curriculum play in the opportunity gap? Why do schools or teachers have low expectations for Black students? These were just some of the issues raised in tonight’s chat.
I think it is important that I acknowledge we had a ‘mixed’ group of participants in the first chat. Both Black and White educators were present. I will admit that I didn’t expect very many to participate because many people are, in fact, uncomfortable about discussing the issue of race, especially its role in education and perpetuating the opportunity gaps. I am hopeful that those who attended will be regular participants and encourage others to attend. I am especially hopeful that everyone will be able to process the dialogue, recognize how (if) their school/teaching methods may contribute to the gap, and how they can begin making small, yet measurable, changes for the sake of their students.
Although some people may beg to differ, I do not consider myself to be a pessimist. Simply stated: I am a realist because I have enough motivation and common sense to look at things as they actually are, how they could/should be, and then I compare the two. I believe that I am fair in my comparison of the two; perhaps even a little lenient at times, but fair nonetheless.
As I browsed Maureen Downey’s GetSchooled blog for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, I came across several quotes by State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox that caught my attention. Cox was speaking at the DeKalb Rotary Club and discussed how Georgia’s new Math Standards (based on Massachusetts’ 10 year old standards) will allow our state to surpass the model state. Hmmm. Let me make sure I understand this: Georgia has adopted standards 10 years after another state, and not only will we surpass that state, but we will also ‘lead the nation’ in academics? Pick-up any research book on educational change, and chances are you will read something to the effect of meaningful educational change only taking 3-5 years. We missed the bus 5 years ago.
Cox also alluded to Georgia’s performance on the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administration. According to Cox, Georgia is keeping up with or outpacing the nation in almost every demographic. Talk about double-talk” keeping up with or outpacing and almost. Those vague words and phrases should automatically make everyone (or maybe just me) run to the NAEP web site to see exactly how much ‘out pacing’ Georgia is actually doing. Since NCLB was supposed to address the opportunity gap for certain groups (Black, Latino/Hispanic/ELL/SWD/FARL), education policy experts and administrators focus on the scores of those groups first.
Let’s look at the NAEP Math performance of the 3rd grade Students with Disabilities. The national average score is 220. Here is the breakdown of performance by state:
- 24 states performed above the national average, with Massachusetts having the highest average of 227;
- 6 states performed at the national average of 220;
- 21 states, including Georgia, performed below the national average, with D.C. having the lowest score of 193 and Alabama with a 194.
This is only one example of a state-by-state comparison. Anyone interested in looking at scores for other content area/grades can do so at the site. You can generate very specific reports for any subgroup.
It is great that our state’s education leader wants to emulate the success experienced in Massachusetts, but I believe that we waited too late to implement the necessary changes. I can’t help but wonder:
- How my kids were retained during the 10 year ‘wait-and-see’ period?
- How many of those retained kids could have been successful with the new curriculum?
- How many kids dropped out because they felt hopeless?
No, Cox has not been in office for the last 10 years, but what Georgia needs to improve education now is a leader who is abreast of research, policy, and not afraid to make executive decisions. In my opinion, Cox does not possess any of those. She is better suited for a position at the local level. If Georgia plans to be a serious contender in education reform, we need someone who will roll-up their sleeves, hire people based on education, experience, and ability-not someone who is under pressure from his or her political party. A real leader knows that you can only mislead the public for so long with vague statements, such as ““No matter how you measure it, our graduation rate is improving,” (Cox, 2009). In reality, the graduation rate is only improving for certain groups, but when you use the average rate, it does imply that our graduation rate is steadily increasing. A leader who knows that only 44% of its SWD population graduates would not insult the constituents with false prophecies. Yes, Georgia is ready for change, but leading the nation will require considerable change within the infrastructure-from the top down.