Category Archives: Uncategorized

Should Poverty Be Acknowledged in Measures of School Accountability? If We Acknowledge Poverty How Do We Avoid a Two-Track System?

After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:

The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.

Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?

About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.

For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.

The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
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Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?

A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?

Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.

Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?

A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?

On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.

Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.

Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?

The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?

If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.

What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?

Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?

Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.

Superintendents? Networks? How do You Manage a 1600-School System? How Do You Lead and Empower?

How should schools be “managed?”

Elected community school boards? Mayoral Control? Superintendents? Mega Regions? Empowerment? Networks?

Should Chancellors drive educational policy in a top-down hierarchical system? Should superintendents, selected by an elected school board, or appointed by the chancellor, have wide-sweeping authority over day-to-day school operations?

Joel Klein, after moving from one management idea to another settled on the theories of the UCLA Management professor William Ouchi in “Making Schools Work” (2003)

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur
2. Every school controls its own budget
3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets
4. Everyone delegates authority to those below
5. There is a burning focus on school achievement
6. Every school is a community of learners
7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools.

Klein created an odd mix, 60 thinly staffed networks to support, not supervise schools, and, as required by law, superintendents, with no staffs, who conducted Quality Reviews, rated principals and made teacher tenure decisions.

The 25-school networks varied widely in quality, some prospered as schools flourished while others stumbled, the department began to replace network leaders and permanently fold up networks.

At one of the innumerable mayoral candidate panels in 2013, sponsored by the CSA, the principals union, the moderator asked, “Superintendents or Networks?” Each of the candidates, with the exception of Christine Quinn, responded “superintendents” Quinn turned to the audience and asked for a voice vote, the audience, an auditorium filled with principals were divided, and passionate. Many clearly favored returning to a superintendent structure while other strongly favored remaining with networks.

At the rollout of the newly selected superintendents the Chancellor gave a cryptic explanation of the new structure, Chalkbeat reports,

What she didn’t reveal was a plan for overhauling the city’s broader, complicated system of school support, which includes superintendents and school-support networks. But she did say that anyone looking for a full return to old systems in which district superintendents oversaw large staffs might be disappointed with her plans.

“Networks are very important in terms of assisting [schools] with doing their job,” Fariña said.

Meanwhile, Fariña offered plenty of specifics for how superintendents should approach their management of individual schools.

School visits should always be announced, she said. Getting coffee with principals is great, though not as important as visiting classrooms. Taking notes on index cards is a good way to keep track of standout teachers and principals.

Index cards? Do they still make index cards? Please, can someone show the chancellor how to take notes on an I-Phone or an I-Pad or a tablet?

The new UFT contract requires an extended professional session on Tuesdays, with a principal-UFT committee determining the focus of the professional development. 62 schools were approved to make sweeping changes in the contract rules, and half of schools report that curriculum is in place in all subject areas. UFT president Mulgrew announced that superintendents will be doing joint walk-throughs of schools with union reps in the future. At the union delegate meeting many delegates were enthusiastic, others clearly not.

My former district was fully engaged in school-based management, school-based budgeting. A third of the schools jumped on board; parents, teachers and the principal worked together to address both school management and instructional issues, a third of the schools struggled and a third couldn’t care less.

In earlier days a few highly competent superintendents lead; however, does the leadership at the district level create sustained leadership at the school level? The chancellor’s district was a completely top-down model that initially showed substantial academic gains; when the schools were returned to their district the gains rapidly eroded.

In a school system of over 1600 schools what we do know is “one size fits all” fits no one. Some schools may require a structured environment while in others ideas percolate up from classrooms.

Jeff Latto was a middle school principal and I was invited to the school’s Leadership Team meeting. An issue was being vigorous debated, most of the committee favored the idea, and the principal didn’t. At one point the principal declared, “I clearly disagree, everyone else favors the idea, you want to try it, go ahead, just make it work.” I have forgotten the idea, not the role of the school leader. He trusted his staff, and, clearly the staff respected him.

I’ve seen superintendents surrounded with sycophantic staffs, an “emperor with no cloths,” ordering this or that, everyone nodded and nothing actually changed.

I’ve seen angry and hostile staffs that “complied,” reluctantly, and the culture of the school was toxic.

I’ve seen superintendents on hall patrol, superintendents leading professional development sessions, superintendents leading teacher “think tanks,” and others who were great at issuing dreary memoranda.

As the taking heads and the sages criticize Tweed for not coming up with a management strategy the important element is creating structure that both leads and empowers principals and teachers to lead and innovate.

Fred Koury was the founder of City as School High School, one of the first truly alternative high schools. At his retirement party everyone praised Fred, the school was wonderful, Fred was the principal, and, a member of the UFT Executive Board, but Fred demurred; he said, “Wait until we’re two more principals down the road, if the school is still great then I deserve applause for creating something worthwhile.”

The chancellor has to get it right.

Will School Districts Create and Support Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs? Will Parents Demand the Creation and Support of CTE Programs?

The Board of Regents is a policy board, teachers, principals and superintendents work for elected school boards and mayors. The gap between creating policy and implementing policy is yawning.

The number of CTE seats in New York State have been declining and the seats in New York City drastically reduced. The Bloomberg/Klein administration closed the vast majority of vocational high schools for poor academic performance. For decades vocational high schools were a combination of students seeking career skills and a dumping ground for low performing students. City administrations made no investments, equipment deteriorated, the schools were shunted aside, with the phase out of the local diploma vocational high schools were doomed, there was no way students could earn 44 credits, pass five regents exams and the 10-12 technical credits.

On the national scene the emphasis was on the “college” part of college and career ready. David Conley, Educational Policy Information Center defines career ready as “Individual possesses sufficient foundational knowledge, skills, and general learning strategies necessary to begin studies in a career pathway.”

The US Department of Education supports CTE programs and lays out a detailed plan in “Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Career and Technical Education.”

The Business Council of New York State strongly supports Career and Technical Education programs.

The teachers union advocates for CTE education by hosting a major conference,

Some 400 local and regional educators gathered with business, higher-education and union leaders at a Career and Technical Education Summit at UFT headquarters … to explore ways for schools to build high-quality CTE programs to meet the needs of the city’s future labor force.

UFT leader Mulgrew and business leader Wilde wrote a joint op ed in the Daily News supporting CTE and state actions.

From Washington to Albany, from the business community to the union, all support CTE education, yet, of the 210,000 K-12 classroom teachers in NYS (2011-12) only 2200 teachers are Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers.

For a few years the Board of Regents has been grappling with the paucity of students in CTE programs around the state. The Regents took two actions this week in an attempt to jump start CTE programs.

* A “4 + 1″ option – in lieu of passing five regents exams students can substitute another option, including a CTE assessment (see details: http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/October2014/Pathways.pdf)

* The certification process for new CTE teachers will be streamlined.

Will the new emphasis encourage school districts to increase CTE seats and encourage students to enroll in CTE programs?

There are three models of CTE programs in the state,

The BOCES Model:
The state runs 37 BOCES centers around the state that provide educational services for several categories of students with disabilities as well as career and technical education programs. The student attends his or her regular district high school and takes the CTE courses at a regional BOCES site – the district pays the BOCES a set amount for each student. This is the “standard model” outside of New York City. In these trying financial times districts do not want to incur additional costs and the CTE option is frequently not encouraged. Coop Tech is a BOCES-type model in New York City – student take academic courses in their home school and CTE courses at Coop Tech on East 96th Street in Manhattan – unfortunately there is only one site. (Read about Coop Tech: http://www.co-optech.org/)

The Stand-Alone Model:
In New York City and a few other cities there are long standing “stand alone” CTE schools that are high performing, The Department did open a High School for the Building Trades and a few a few small high schools (Advertising and Media, Film-Making).

The Strand Model:
Large high school might have a CTE strand in the school, for example Park West High School, a 2000 plus seat comprehensive high school had a 60-student elevator repair program in the school. As the large high schools closed the strands disappeared. Due to complexity of the state approval process the strands were not approved by the state and not eligible for special funding, (The Perkins Act)

New York State approval process for new CTE programs is enormous complex, in fact, onerous.

An approvable program contains a related and continuous series/combination of courses/experiences in a career and technical area and academic and technical knowledge and skills in preparation for further education/training and/or employment in a career. The program is taught by appropriately certified and qualified teachers and is supported by work-based experiences, integrated and/or specialized instruction, a Work-Skills Employability Profile, technical assessments and data on student performance in academic and technical areas.

The state must streamline the approval process.

Will the state actions result in the expansion of CTE programs?

Outside of NYC, yes, if parents demand more seats.

Inside of NYC, CTE programs have to be recreated, the infusion of significant funding to rebuild the programs is crucial.

For example, Coop Tech has to be replicated in each borough; new CTE programs must be coordinated with industries and community colleges, all possible if supported by the mayoral administration.

The Regents can create policy, the business sector can offer political support, the unions can offer whatever is needed, the problems are at the local level, do school districts and cities have the desire and the ability to create and support CTE programs.

I asked a school district, “How many students do you send to CTE programs at BOCES?”

The district, “10.”

Me: “Why only 10?”

The district: “We only have 10 seats on the bus.”

Hopefully, in the future, districts will reply, “We’ll support all kids who wish to avail themselves of CTE BOCES programs,” and New York City will offer a range of CTE programs across the city.

Unfilled jobs because schoosl aren’t graduating qualified students is simply unacceptable.

Getting Better: Professional Development is Not a “One-Shot,” Building Learning Communties Builds Highly Effective Teachers

How many times have you sat in an auditorium listening to some “expert” tell you how to teach?

I was one of those cynical high school teachers who resented anyone telling me how to teach, and, I was wrong, learning is a lifetime activity. In my era we learned to teach by trial and error, we learned from our colleagues and, mostly, we learned from our students.

The principal handed out a thick packet of faculty conference notes and then preceded to begin to read the notes to the staff, I raised my hand rather vigorously and interrupted, I suggested: “Maybe you can read one line and we can jointly read the next, responsive reading, like in church.” The principal moved from boring faculty conferences to a committee meetings structure.

It was the rare school and the rare principal that supported a professional development structure.

Over time I became a reflective teacher, moving from blaming kids to constantly tinkering with my lessons and adding tools to that teacher toolbox.

In the last few years the Department of Education encouraged common planning time and the new teacher contract actually embeds planning time in the contract. Common planning time without a context may be meaningless.

Professional development, mentoring, guiding teachers and principals are complex processes. To be polite, highly effective principals measured by test scores do not always make highly effective professional developers; in fact, too often they’re ineffective teachers of teachers.

A principal hired a retired principal to work with new(er) teachers; we were chatting in the principal’s office. The retired principal: “These new teachers are impossible, they think they know everything, they refuse to listen, I’ve been doing this for forty years and they’re only going to spend a couple of years in teaching …”

I wandered down to a teachers’ room, a couple of new(er) teachers were working on a project … I asked: “How’s it working out with Ms. X (the retired principal)?”

A new(er) teacher: “She’s sounds like my mother … all she does is criticize, she can’t listen, she hasn’t been teaching in a classroom for thirty years …”

Professional development is an art and a science. Simply hiring a retiree to work with teachers or hiring a vendor to speak at a faculty meeting is not a professional development system.

The excerpt below describes the elements of a professional development system,
:

Elements of Quality Professional Development

Appropriate Content
Professional development should incorporate content knowledge and specific research validated practices that support demanding content standards (such as cooperative learning techniques for math within the heterogeneous classroom). Professional development should link this new knowledge to the prior knowledge of the participants. Professional development should deliver content appropriate to the needs of participants. Where these include process or management skills, links should be made to the teaching of (or establishing an effective learning environment for teaching) rigorous content.

On-going and Sustained
Professional Development should be long-range in nature, recognizing that learning is incremental and meaningful learning needs to be supported over time. This allows participants to experiment with and reflect on their practice in a supportive setting. … and not consist of single events, weekend conferences, or activities that recur over a year with different people. Such activities can be useful as initiating events (e.g., to introduce ideas); they are not strategies through which deep growth and change are accomplished.

Active Engagement
Participants should experience through first-hand and active engagement the curriculum / pedagogy / assessment activities as a model of what needs to occur in the classroom. Activities must be inquiry-based and be as varied and engaging for the participants as they are for students. The facilitators of the activity should model the practices that they advocate.

Collegial
Teams of professionals should work together on real work: development of curriculum, problem solving concerning classroom practices, reflection about pedagogy, development of common language, and engagement in reciprocal observation and feedback. This element also requires that the participants be actively involved in the design and implementation of activities that have direct application to their work.

Job-Embedded
Professional development activities occur as a natural and normal aspect of a professional life. It is embedded in the routine organization of the school day and year and viewed as an integral part of the life of the school. It represents a mutual obligation: on the part of the system to provide opportunities for and on the part of the individual to engage in life-long learning. Professional development should require participants to plan and reflect upon their professional activities and practice.

Client-Focused and Adaptive
Professional development should be based on the interests and needs of the participants and the schools in which they serve. Professional development activities, just as people, should grow and change over time adapting appropriately to changing needs and changing people. Professional development should be based on formal analyses of needs. There should also be a balance between the support for institutional initiatives and the support for those initiated by participants, individually and collectively.

Incorporates Reflection
• Participants must have time to analyze and reflect, with opportunities for the infusion of new information and perspectives, as well as criticism and guidance from external sources. Professional development should not attempt to deliver practices simply to be uncritically replicated in the classroom or school. They should challenge, enhance, and make connections to their current practice. This creates a cycle of experience and reflection that promotes continuous improvement.

Other models below:
Five Key Elements to Successful Embedded Teacher Professional Development: http://www.nwea.org/blog/2013/five-key-elements-to-successful-embedded-teacher-professional-development/
Teachers as Learners: Elements of Effective Professional Development: http://images.pearsonassessments.com/images/NES_Publications/2002_08Dunne_475_1.pdf

Half of all teachers, 70% in high needs middle schools, leave within five years; one of the primary reasons is the lack of support system, the absence of a professional development system. Under the current school management model superintendents only exist because the law requires superintendents, they have no pedagogical staff, networks are lightly staffed, only 7 or 8 pedagogues on the staff supporting twenty-five schools. Grants provide a range of support services and some principals hire retirees or vendors. A few organizations, NYC Outward Bound, the Internationals High School Network (http://internationalsnps.org/), the UFT Teacher Centers and the Partnership Support Organizations (PSOs) provide more structured, targeted professional development. Others schools have embedded a culture of collaboration, a culture of on-going professional development, for too many what is called professional development is a top-down, rigid, punitive and, ultimately ineffective.

The current close relationship between the Department and the Union offers a window, an opportunity to move the school system from a paramilitary structure to a collaborative structure; windows are only open for so long.

Teachers thrive in safe settings that allow them to experiment, to stumble, to gain expertise, in thoughtfully constructed professional development systems.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with school district leaders and principals who engaged with staff and with kids; superintendents who ran faculty conferences, who walked the halls of schools, who talked to kids. Superintendents who “rule” by edict, who model imputence, destroy cultures of collaboration, destroy learning communities.

How many superintendents have you worked with who were comfortable talking with teachers not talking down to teachers?

Picking a High School: The Anarchy of School Choice and Building Communities

Eighth graders families in New York City will soon be absorbed in picking a high school from over 400 school choices.

The Borough High School Fairs will take place on October 18 & 19. Speak with school representatives and learn more about high schools in your borough.

The deadline for Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and LaGuardia audition registration is Tuesday, October 21st. Please speak to your guidance counselor or visit a Borough Enrollment Office to register!

High School applications are now available through school guidance counselors. Applications are due back by Tuesday, December 2nd.

The online High School Directory and the encyclopedia size print version is overwhelming you can check out a one-page attempt to clarify the process here.

The entire process is part of the Bloomberg-Klein choice initiative – to provide a wide range of school choices for every family, charter or public, and at the high school level access 700 programs in 400 schools.

Prior to the Bloomberg era the city had a mix of large comprehensive high schools and small schools – some were called alternative high schools with roots in the sixties and others replacing schools closed in the nineties and early 2000s.

Large comprehensive high schools had geographic zones and, in addition, many had what were called education option programs that were open to all students. For example Midwood High School has a Bio-Medical Program with academic standards; eighth graders can apply to the program. Other ed op programs were open to all students without preconditions. A school opened a fixed number of seats – the school chose half the students; the computer randomly chose the remainder, and the students reflected a range of abilities based on state test scores.

With the exception of the few remaining zoned schools, the 400 small high schools are unzoned. A few score of schools are “screened” schools – the schools utilize a combination of middle school grades, state test scores and attendance and punctuality to select students, the remainder are “limited, unscreened,” the computer spins and chooses students. Arts schools can require a portfolio or exhibition in addition to academic requirements.

Families can select up to 12 schools, if a zoned school is selected the student, if not assigned other choices, will be assigned to the zoned school. If a student does not select a zoned school the algorithm selects student.

If a student lives a block from a school, s/he must “compete” with all other students who apply to the school regardless of address.

The High School Directory provides information provided by the school as well as some data about the school. The only other source of information is Inside Schools (http://insideschools.org/), a website associated with the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, the site provides more data and in a comment section allows prospective parents/students to both read other comments and ask questions – extremely useful. (See Comments from Columbia Secondary)

The system, in my judgment, has a fatal flaw, the system discourages neighborhood schools. It is difficult to build school cultures when students travel to the school from across the city. It is commonplace to travel by bus or subway or both, traveling and hour or more, lateness is endemic, after school programs are not available to students who trek across the city.

The Center for NYC Affairs report,
Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor Can Prepare New York’s Students for College and Careers, recommends,

Strengthen the remaining traditional zoned neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.

All unscreened high schools should have a geographic zone; families should have the option of attending a school near their home and/or applying to any other school.

School culture is at the core of school effectiveness, and, students who live in scores of zip codes across the city mitigate against building strong school cultures.

The Bloomberg-Klein guys created a market-driven, competitive school system, low test scores led to school closings and high test scores guaranteed success. The result has been that schools located in high poverty zip codes have been closed and students “encouraged” to flee neighborhood schools. While high school graduation rates have risen college and career readiness rates for black and Hispanic student hover around an astounding 15% and community college six-year completion rate are equally appalling.

A core strategy for improving schools and reducing poverty is creating coordinated services – chasing students out of their neighborhood is antithetical to building communities.

Let’s facilitate families who want to educate their children in their community and, at the same time, allow parents any other school choice – let’s create zones for every unscreened school.

How Do We Teach About Columbus Day? A Brave Explorer? The Annihilator of Indigenous Peoples?

How do we teach about Columbus Day? How do we teach children who come from Latin America? Was Columbus a brave explorer who discovered the New World, or, is Columbus Day, as a friend of mine suggests, more properly called Indigenous Peoples Annihilation Day?

The Governor’s message treats the day as a celebration of immigrants,

Columbus Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of those who came before us – immigrants who faced untold hardships throughout history, yet persevered to build the world we inhabit today. From language barriers to harsh labor conditions, those men and women surmounted every hurdle to become a dynamic force in society.

Or, as Italian Pride Day,

As the grandchild of four Italian immigrants, I am extremely proud of my heritage and the values of family, hard work, and the promise of American opportunity that my grandparents passed along. This Columbus Day, I encourage all New Yorkers to reflect on the legacies of those who came before us and built the Empire State we know today. May we follow their example and leave a New York State that is even better for our children.

Across the country the day, if it is celebrated at all, is celebrated differently,

Not all parts of the United States celebrate Columbus Day. It is not a public holiday in some states such as California, Oregon, Nevada and Hawaii. Moreover, Native Americans’ Day is celebrated in South Dakota, while Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated in Berkeley, California.

In Latin America the celebration take on a different tone,

The date Columbus arrived in the Americas is celebrated in many countries in Latin America. The most common name for the celebration in Spanish … is the Día de la Raza (“day of the race” or “day of the [Hispanic] people”), commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and Native Americans … The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad (“Hispanity Day”), and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance), … Día de la Raza has come to be seen by some in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans in the Americas and of the native races and cultures

The just-released New York State Social Studies Frameworks (See Frameworks here) avoids controversy at every level, the Frameworks are heavy on standards and light on content; the new College Board Advanced Placement American History test, is far more content specific and for some, highly controversial: See APUSA curriculum here.

Columbus Day is actually an opportunity to teach about “first contact,” almost akin to discovering an alien civilization.

A few years ago a PBS documentary presented a creative view of the “first contact.”

The PBS documentary, When Worlds Collide, (Watch Vimeo here http://vimeo.com/14861182 or U-Tube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9jLxKPnSN8) does just that as it takes the audience through the first one hundred years of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Instead of casting the Spanish as murderers or heroes and the indigenous population as victims or savages, the program explores the set of entangled exchanges and negotiations that occurred between these peoples. Although there is truth on both sides concerning the initial contacts between inhabitants of the New and Old Worlds, the aggregate is far more complicated than what is often presented in popular culture.

As teachers we must seize opportunities to encourage students to analyze, investigate and sift through evidence, to act as a guide, a critical friend, to probe, to challenge, to use our skills to encourage our students to research, write and argue their positions.

I was filling in for a friend in an American History college class, the lesson was the dropping of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima – was the dropping of the bomb a war crime, or, did we save hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives? I provided a number of readings supporting both positions and a few pages of raw data. A young kid immediately called the dropping of the bomb a war crime and a Vietnam War vet was just as vigorous on the other side … I probed, pissed them both off (“Where does it say that? How do you know? Is that opinion or fact?”) … some of the class jumped in, others were intimidated by the passion of the debate … I must admit I thought how I would handle threats of physical violence. When the class ended some students applauded … from my perspective it was the lesson I hoped for…

“Pride” Days, whether Italian, Irish, Hispanic or Gay should be left for parades, the classroom should be the forum to debate, to stimulate those neurons dulled by too much mindless texting and video game playing.

If we hope not to be replaced by online learning or 3-CPO we had better make sure we are the teacher who is both challenging and nurturing, probing and listening, a teacher who is far more interesting than a computer screen.

Separate But Equal or Ending Segregated Schools: A Conflicted Vision for School Improvement

(Note: Stan Litow, the IBM VP in charge of the Watson Teacher Mentor program clarifies, “no data mining …, says he’ll ‘write it in blood'”” and, a contest for teachers to select a name for the program)

The New School University and the Nation co-sponsored an intriguing event, Chris Hayes, MSNBC, acted as the moderator, Dana Goldstein, the author of the highly acclaimed Teachers Wars (Read NY Times review here ), Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education, Pedro Noguera, NYU and AFT President Randi Weingarten, mused about the future of public education.

The panel was a follow-up to the current issue of the Nation, “Saving Public Education.” Read the Nation articles here, they are excellent.

This is the sixtieth anniversary of Board v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that reversed Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the prior decision that confirmed “separate but equal.” There have been a number of events looking back over the sixty years since Brown and the arc of school desegregation. In the spring NYU hosted a two-day conference, “Brown at 60: Has Desegregation Stalled?”

A Report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA confirms the title of the conference.

Segregation for blacks is the highest in the Northeast, a region with extremely high district fragmentation.

 Latinos are now significantly more segregated than blacks in suburban America.

 Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.

 Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students.

Hayes asked the panel: Are we retreating to a pre-Brown era? Is “Separate but Equal” the new norm in our schools?

Noguera has spoken loudly and frequently criticizing New York City and national policies that foster racial isolation. In an interview prior to the “Brown at 60″ event he explained his position,

Q: Many school districts have essentially re-segregated now that they’re no longer under court supervision. Is it time to reconsider legally mandated racial percentages to guarantee integration once again?

A: You need a comprehensive approach. You need to make sure that there’s affordable housing in many communities, and not just concentrate it into certain areas—which reinforces the segregation of schools. But then you also need things like magnet schools and other strategies to produce voluntary integration. We have learned that you can’t force people to participate in a desegregation effort, but you can do things to make it more attractive…

Q: Why are New York State schools the nation’s most segregated?

A: What New York did wrong is it did nothing. People attribute a lot of this to the idea of choice—that individuals are choosing where to live and where to put their kids in school. That’s not an accurate reading of history. We have a history in New York of legally sanctioned housing segregation—so that people of color, particularly blacks, were not allowed to move into certain areas. Those areas have stayed white. And that’s reflected in schools. By not taking those issues on through policy, New York State now finds itself singled out as among the most segregated in the country.

Panelist Zakiyah Ansari disagreed, to paraphrase, why do children of color have to attend a white school to get a good education? With equitable funding, a diverse staff and culturally relevant curriculum our kids can prosper. The panelists probably agree on almost everything, the almost, however, is significant, questions of race and class are the subtext of every conversation.

A few days later the Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosted a discussion of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (2014) by Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter. (Read book summary here). Gerald Robinson, the former Commissioner of Education in Virginia and Florida was the commenter and David Steiner, the Dean of the Hunter School of Education was the moderator. Oddly the discussion was a continuation of the discussion at the New School.

Kahlenberg reminds us that the charter school concept began with Al Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker saw charter schools as incubators for new ideas, schools freed from school district regulations and union contracts that could experiment and share findings with public schools. In reality charter schools have been established to avoid union rules and create competition for public schools. Kahlenberg, in a book filled with sources for every assertion finds that charter schools at best are no better than public schools and in many occasions much worse. Sadly, there are only a few examples of schools that espouse the Al Shanker vision, schools with significant teacher voice and also that integrate children by race and class,

Kahlenberg backs up his assertion that children of color in integrated school setting are higher achievers. “Research suggests that students learn a great deal from their peers, and it is an advantage, on average, to have a strong core of middle-class peers for a variety of reasons.”

Low income students attending economically diverse schools benefit from the larger vocabularies, greater knowledge and more positive attitude toward learning found, on average, among middle and higher-income peers. It is an advantage to have classmates who are academically engaged and aspire to go to college. Peers in middle class schools are more likely to do homework, attend class regularly, and graduate – all of which have been found to influence the behavior of classmate.

The authors single out charters that both value teacher voice and have created student enrollment patterns that secure both racial and economic diversity, and, encourage the creation of charters that follow this pattern.

Gerald Robinson, the commenter, echoing Ansari, using an almost hip-hop lyric, pronounced, “Its place not race.” Kids are failing in inner city communities of color, that’s where we should place charter schools.

It is fascinating to me that Ansari and Robinson accept that we are living in a “separate but equal” world of schooling and we should move on and ignore the consequences of racial segregation. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor got is right in her fiery dissent in the Michigan affirmative action case.

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?” regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

Clearly, a post-racial America is far, far down the road.