Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
grade and Advisory Mentor
for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
would be "altering
physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:51
I really appreciate this
blog entry. Our roles as
teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:33
Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:15
No need to worry about
Others all around us are
debasing our [...]
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Monday, May 7. 2012
Dear Mr. President,
I'm not one for the Hallmark Holidays. I don't make a huge deal over Father's Day. My wife and I agree every year that Valentine's Day is a good excuse to have a nice dinner and not much more. So I wasn't going to make a big deal over Teacher Appreciation Week. It's a lovely thing, especially this time of year when teachers are pushing through to the end of the year, but it isn't usually the kind of thing I usually really think that much about.
Except this year.
This year, you chose National Teacher Appreciation Week as the week you also chose to declare as National Charter School Week.
Why would you do that, Mr. President?
I've wracked my brain all night long trying to figure out why. It's not like you didn't know it was National Teacher Appreciation Week - after all, Secretary Duncan posted about it on the Department of Education blog. So why conflate the two, Mr. President?
This is the week we could be celebrating all teachers - public, charter, parochial and independent. All over this country, every day, teachers in all kinds of schools do their best to help America's children, and this could be a week where we don't care about the management divide of schools, but rather took the time to simply be thankful that over four million Americans choose to make their career's work teaching America's children.
But that idea - or at least the idea that your Administration supports all teachers - rings hollow now. When you - in the same week - celebrate one kind of school, when you say that one management structure serves "as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country" to the exclusion of other kinds of schools, you - intentionally or not - send the message that the rest of us count less, matter less, innovate less, teach less.
And you did that the same week that we could be elevating all members of the profession. Why?
If this was not a deliberate attempt to marginalize those of us who choose to teach in the public school system, then it was exceptionally poor timing. If it was a deliberate attempt to do so, why would you choose to do that? I really don't know how many body blows public school teachers are supposed to take. Here in Philadelphia, for exampe, we are feeling more than a little frustrated lately, so these kinds of mixed messages are particularly hurtful right now.
Most teachers do good work in anonymity. Every now and then, we get mugs or ties or thank you notes, and honestly, they make a difference. You, as leader of our nation, could have simply said thank you to all of the wonderful men and women who teach America's children. Instead, you let us know that some teachers are more equal than others, based simply on the kind of school they teach in.
And as a public school educator, all I can say is this:
Tuesday, January 10. 2012
[This is the first guest post I've ever had on Practical Theory in eight years of blogging. Today's post was written by SLA senior and co-founder of Phresh Philadelphia Rashaun Williams. There's been a lot of talk at SLA about the Gene Marks piece and how angry it made us. Rashaun's piece speaks to how I've felt better than anything I'd written, so here it is. You can follow Rashaun on Twitter at @DJReezey.]
A Response to If I Were A Poor Black Kid by Gene Marks
by Rashaun Williams
If I were a wealthy man, I would ensure my children go to the most prestigious schools available. I would move to the suburbs, because then I could ensure safety, excellent property value, and always surround myself in beauty. I would be financially comfortable enough to take time from my work schedule, and participate greatly in my child’s schooling, help my children with their homework every night, cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for them daily, and help them financially all the way through college. I would show them the importance of home equity, maintaining great credit, balancing a check book, and how to be a man or a woman. In conclusion, they would be fed. They would be safe. They would be supported in every way imaginable. They would be American citizens. But I’m not a wealthy man. I am a “black kid” in the inner city, and by some standards, you could even say I’m a “poor black kid”. Considering all the experiences that have created my current station in life, being a model of success in a broken community hasn’t seemed anything close to possible. But I still try.
There are parts of my city that are chronically susceptible to unemployment, low property value, illegal activity, informal markets and so many other things that plague minority communities in American cities. Unfortunately, decades of black settlement in the inner cities after the Great Migration haven’t yielded the promises of success so many people dreamed of when they fled an inhumane South. Many cannot afford to send their children to prestigious schools, and due to the mismanagement of public schooling, ensuring their safety is literally no longer in their hands. Our communities, the ones you allude to being a “world away” from you within the very same city, suffer in ways you and your children will hopefully never know. After all, you said you have been lucky enough to live an economically comfortable life, nor do you suffer from the generational struggle to ensure the education, well-being and proper growth of your children. You have had the luxury of not focusing on the bare essentials and the time to contemplate options beyond simply making monthly bills, paying rent. As you suggest, your salary has been more than suffice to set up a future.
As a people, African Americans have remained strong-willed, even after losing some of our greatest leaders in the most tragic and sickening ways. We’ve continued to fight for success, even though barely a mediated allusion in our own Constitution, to the point where “one of our own” is able to sit in the White House. But what does one man’s success, albeit empowering, mean to millions of others who are simply not afforded the same fundamental opportunities to pursue such lofty aspirations. Being black in this country, in 2012, still does carry a heavy weight. This has not been an easy struggle, and quite frankly, many of “my people” are tired of fighting. They are tired of being numb to daily reports of fresh violence against our own people. Tired of various forms of oppression, which now seem to be ever so invisible because a black man is at the helm of the nation. But this is no excuse for us to quit, and quit we have not. Being an inner city black kid in Philadelphia, I know that education is my liberation, but the journey to such a thing in a neighborhood where poverty grows almost exponentially with each seems less than possible.
In order to have a mind stable enough to interpret information, receive knowledge, and regularly apply oneself to school, one must have the proper necessities of living. When talking about those who are poor in the inner city, we must understand that they are experiencing multiple levels of poverty. A body without nourishment is a brain out of commission, and a brain without knowledge is a body without a mission. In response to what the number one priority is for most people living in poverty, it is a hot meal every time. Without it, it’s impossible to progress both as a student trying to learn without food, or as a teacher trying to nurture knowledge in those who simply cannot concentrate on the task at hand.
Yes, it does take the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available to make progress, but what resources do individuals in poverty truly have? How can one be well- informed about what the Internet truly has to offer if they have no in-depth access to the world-wide web? Why would one even consider making time to go online when their mind is preoccupied with simple things like their next meal and/or survival? How can one think of a future via college, when simply traveling to high school is an issue? When does a school have time to give students external opportunities when overwhelmed with the process of teaching basic reading, writing, arithmetic to maintain foundational federal funding? How can a teacher help nurture a future citizen when their evaluation of progress is enslaved to standardized testing? Where does a school get the money to purchase the resources necessary for learning when city, state and federal governments consistently apply severe austerity measures? How can a city hog tie their most important resource to a property tax system when the property they tax is left to rot? How can a child utilize recreational facilities when their Mayor wants to cut funding that makes them available? How is a “poor black kid” supposed to access the Internet when their public library is closed more often than not? The answers to these questions lie deep within the structure and development of unsupported communities that struggle to develop conducive environments for learning, economic opportunity and business development.
Above all things, the most important question is, how do we restructure? This will takes brains. This will takes hard work. This will take a little luck. And a this will take a little help from others. Most importantly, this will take reform and action. In order to restructure communities where “poor black kids” live, education needs to be based on individuals. If our government creates districts to section regions of the nation’s states based on the individuals’ living in certain areas, why wouldn’t the school system work the same way? If the needs of citizens vary based on their location and living essentials, why wouldn’t the approach to education be fit for students as individuals? After all, we will eventually become engaged citizens.
Citizens develop jobs. Citizens become teachers. Citizens become parents, business owners, civic association members, citizens start for profit and non-profit organizations, citizen become politicians and citizens become our future leaders. If impoverished minority communities don’t have the schooling that supports this type of localized citizen-growth and eventual harvest, we will still have people writing blogs about "if they were a poor black kid" from the inner city. Citizens aren’t just the very fabric of America, they are America. The real problem is that “poor black kids” aren’t treated like citizens. Maybe we should change that.
Wednesday, September 21. 2011
[Ever since I became a principal, I've blogged much less about my personal politics. I hope folks who read this blog understand why I felt the need to write this and respect that I am asking that the comments do not become a place to argue about the case itself.]
Tomorrow morning, I'll go into our school with its incredibly diverse population of wonderful urban kids.
Tomorrow, I'll have many conversations with kids who are trying to make sense of fact that the state of Georgia executed a man whose guilt was very much in doubt. Sadly, the best I can offer them is that so am I.
Tomorrow the best I will have to offer students is that I don't have any more answers than they do. That I am as confused and angry as they are.
Tomorrow I will be reminded - even more than most days - of how troubled we are as a nation… how far we have to go in the ways we talk about and deal with race…. and I hope, as I often am, that I will be reminded of how this next generation will be more understanding, more honest, more accepting than my generation is.
Tomorrow I will share Chris Emdin's words about how urban kids can learn from what happened to Troy Davis.
Tomorrow I will remind kids to be smart and to be safe in the choices they make and to never put themselves in situations they cannot get out of.
Tomorrow the best I have for kids is that we must try to live our lives with compassion and wisdom.
Tomorrow I will believe that the way we learn at SLA might just give us a pathway to change the world.
Tomorrow I talk about how I believe that changing the world starts when we try to be the best versions of ourselves and move outward from there.
Tomorrow I will listen to kids as deeply and openly as I know how.
Tomorrow I will tell the kids how much I love them.
Tomorrow I walk back into the building that represents my best answer to how to create a more just, more kind world.
Tomorrow I will make sure the kids know that they are my best hope for a solution.
Tuesday, August 9. 2011
Dear Secretary Duncan,
I am concerned. On the surface, the executive decision to unilaterally lift the 100% proficiency requirement of NCLB for states that meet a set of as-yet-unnamed requirements seems like a great thing.
But can't shake my sense of doubt.
It's the only states that agree to meet a high bar will receive the flexibility they need to improve education on the ground for students line that worries me. What is that high bar? Changes to charter law? Teacher tenure? Merit pay? Common Core adoption by the final few states who haven't yet -- and the Pearson / Gates Foundation designed assessments to match?
You see, I've tried to look at this move in the most charitable light I possibly can. I mean, you're lifting the nearly impossible NCLB requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 - a requirement that not one school in Pennsylvania has hit yet. That's got to be good, right? As an educator, I should be thrilled. But the way you are going about it just doesn't sit right with me.
Politically, my hat is off to you. It's a brilliant strategic move to get more states to pass laws in line with your agenda. I mean, the pressure on state legislators will be immense to do so, because any state that doesn't will have every school categorized as a failing school by 2014.
And that's the move, isn't it?
"Enact our agenda at the state level or every school in your state will be labeled as a failing school in three years."
And that's not really a choice, is it?
So while the political move is impressive, it strikes me profoundly anti-democratic play, and it is not a gambit worthy of a great nation. The reforms you promoted during the Race to the Top process are controversial, and many states engaged in vigorous debate about your ideas. Those debates should continue, and with every high-stakes lever you press, you push harder that those debates will be profoundly influenced by the carrots and sticks you hold.
But I understand not wanting to see these reforms battled over in fifty statehouses. There are those who would make the argument for increased federalization of American education. And if that is what you believe, then you should argue for it. I know that Congress is more than a little frustrating these days, and with everything else going on, reauthorization of NCLB seemed like a low priority for many lawmakers. But that's the process we've got. Doing an end run around it, even in - perhaps especially in - the name of the children, is a poor idea, no matter which party is in power.
Again, I admire the politics of the move. I really do. But I urge you to consider what you are asking states to do. Reprieve from a Draconian law should not be dependent on adopting more controversial policies.
Let's have a great debate about education in this country. Let's have an honest discussion about how our educational system needs to evolve. The pace of change in a democracy can be maddening, especially, perhaps, when compared to what folks like Bill Gates and Eli Broad experienced when they were in the corporate world. I get that. And I think I speak for many Americans when I say that I too am frustrated by Congress, so I understand the move to circumvent them.
But that doesn't make it right.
This isn't about whether or not I agree with what expectations you eventually set for the state waivers. This is about our democratic process. Please don't make states choose between your agenda on the one hand or damning all their schools to being labeled failures on the other. Please don't legislate major changes in federal education policy from the Executive branch of government.
No Child Left Behind needs reform, of that we profoundly and deeply agree. Let's make sure we do it the right way.
Wednesday, July 27. 2011
I saw some really poor teaching the other day.
Doesn't matter where.
The kids were great… in fact, they were incredibly tolerant of the poor teaching.
The teacher sat in a chair in the front of a classroom where the desks were neatly in rows.
The students had their notebooks out, and many - I'd say most - of them were diligently taking notes as the teacher went over notes from some kind of curriculum guide.
It was almost as if someone had transported me to the classroom from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, ("Bueller… Bueller…")
I watched the classroom for about ten minutes, just wondering if things would change… was this a warm-up to something else, although the tone in the teacher's voice suggested to me that it wasn't.
After ten minutes, I called a student out of the class and asked, "Is this how class is most days?"
I was assured that it was.
I asked, "What do you think of the class?"
"Honestly, I chose to take the class, so I guess I just have to put up with it," was the response I got.
And I was angry, because I wanted to know how this teacher could possibly have thought that this was an o.k. way to teach. Who could possibly think that kids could learn that way?
And I thought of a point I've made in dozens of presentations - "Put a good person in a bad system and the system wins too often."
What created a system where an adult thought that sitting in front of students and lecturing in a monotone voice about any topic could possibly inspire a child to learn? To care?
How was this teacher educated? Did a teacher ever inspire her?
What has this teacher's experience in the classroom been? Was there a time where she cared and had that care disrespected?
Was there a principal who said, "Just follow the curriculum?"
Was there someone to mentor her who was able to offer profound advice, not merely survival tips?
Was / is there space for her to continue to be a learner?
Was there a specific moment when she just got tired? When she gave up? When it became "just a job?" When she stopped seeing the kids in front of her? When someone told her that the only way to be a "good" teacher was to give up every other moment of her life?
I want to be angry at that teacher - and, to be clear, a big part of me is - because she was missing an opportunity to really teach with kids who were choosing to be in what they had hoped would be a learning environment.
But to be angry at one teacher and not look at the system that created the moment I observed is to miss the larger moment.
We have to do better at creating profound, caring institutions of learning for everyone who spends time in the thing we call "school." After I got over being angry, I wanted to sit down and talk to the teacher and ask her about her teaching career… about what she values… about why she teachers… about what still inspires her… about her pedagogy… and if she thought what she was doing in the classroom was effective. I don't want to ask those questions as a "gotcha," but because I really don't understand, and I want to.
The question, I suppose, is this - was this teacher one of "those" teachers that we hear so much about in the media? The "bad teachers" who should be removed from the profession because their test scores aren't high enough, their classroom not inspiring enough?
I don't know. I honestly don't. I watched for ten minutes, and listened to one student. That's not enough time.
But even if, at this moment in her career, that teacher is not someone I would want to teach my own children, I don't think identifying that is enough.
Because I don't think she went into the profession to be a bad teacher.
We have to find a way to make schools healthier places.
We have to find a way to make it easier for teachers to get better at their craft.
We have to make sure that we never lose sight of the humanity of all the people who inhabit our schools.
If we want teachers to see the kids in front of them, we have to see the teachers in front of us.
As a principal and a parent and a teacher, I want to know who broke this teacher. I want to know why. I want to understand… and I want to help her see that it doesn't have to be that way… that hurt doesn't have to be permanent… that the kids are still there, waiting for her.
We can't Wait For Superman. We don't need more martyrs. We have to understand that there are over 3,000,000 public school teachers in this country, and we have find ways to repair the damage that has been done to them over the past decade. We all have to find ways to heal. We must do it for two reasons - first, because to attack and abuse those who have gone into a caring profession is an act of cruelty, but second - and even more importantly - because teachers are human, and if they are made to feel dehumanized, attacked, unsupported, those feelings will inevitably come through in the way they teach.
We have to make sure that people who want to care for children, can. We are wasting the energy, good intentions and care of thousands… and then we're blaming them for the systemic failures that they were not heroic enough to overcome.
The challenges our kids face will require us to be the best versions of ourselves. We need to be alive, awake, aware and empowered to face those challenges head-on… co-conspirators with our students, so that they can feel our passion - not for our subjects, but for them. And we need to be able to do that over a career, not for a two year stop-over before law school, and not just for a few years until we have our own children and can't work 70-80 hours a week.
If we want students to believe that learning is, indeed, life-long, then students must see that teaching is life-long as well… and that learning and teaching are forever linked, necessary and beautiful.
And that's not going to happen with the current trends in educational policy. In fact, the current movement will engender less empathy, not more.
And because I believe that, I stand in full support of the Save Our Schools March.
Our schools - and the people, young and old, who inhabit them have a lot of work to do.
We're not going to get there by simply going through the motions, but we're also not going to get there by punishing the people who are trying to do the work - students and teachers alike.
We're not going to get there by hoping that businesses find the right profit margin to want to open schools or thinking that schools need to be just like busines, but we're also not going to get there without being willing to innovate from the best of old ways and the best of new tools.
We will never, ever get there by thinking we can bully adults into caring for kids.
I want to say that one again.
We will never, ever get there by thinking we can bully adults into caring for kids.
And we're not going to get there without all of us being willing to do the hard work of teaching and learning every day with and from each other every day.
Thousands of educators are going to Washington this weekend to say - Yes, we are ready to do the work for and with our children. But you can no more make schools something that is done to us than we can make classrooms something that is done to children.
Schools must be empowering for all its members if we want our children — and therefore our society — to thrive. And for that reason, we must Save Our Schools.
Wednesday, May 25. 2011
[I was asked to speak today at City Council during the public testimony about the School District of Philadelphia budget crisis. What follows are my remarks.]
Thank you to City Council for holding these hearings and being willing to be part of the solution. Thank you for being a supporter of the School District of Philadelphia and of the Science Leadership Academy. I am honored to speak here today on behalf of the communities of schools and the students, parents and faculty who inhabit them.
All over the city, principals are working together, trying to figure out how to preserve the gains they have made... Trying to close budget holes in the most humane ways possible... To keep the teachers who come early and stay late to help our children... To keep the programs that we know enrich the lives and empower the minds of the children in our charge.
At Science Leadership Academy, we have spent the past five years building a school that this city could be proud of. We have been named one of the Ten Most Amazing Schools in the US and featured in many education publications and in a PBS documentary as a model for how schools can and must evolve. We believe that our existence - our ability to thrive - along with the many other outstanding schools in the School District - proves, beyond doubt, that the School District can and does support innovative educational solutions to the problems facing our children today.
But Harrisburg's draconian cuts to education will make what we do much harder. SLA will receive $430,000 less in funding next year - which represents a 13% budget cut. These cuts mean that we are losing our support staff who run the internship program that allows all students at SLA to have hands-on experiences in the Philadelphia community with organizations in line with their interests. These cuts mean that we will have to close our after-school program earlier every day, even though we know that providing a safe haven for our students is an essential part of what we do. These cuts mean that a school built on inquiry and research will not have a working library. We are concerned that the budget crisis may mean that we will lose our talented young special education teacher who has made a profound difference in the lives of his kids due to the system-wide reductions. The cuts to the district means that a school known for its inquiry-based science program had to cut an extra science teacher just to keep the second counselor we originally received through Imagine 2014.
We know that Philadelphia is not immune from the cuts against public education that we see nationwide, but a vibrant city needs successful, modern schools to help students fully realize their potential as citizens of their city and their world. We need City Council to increase funding to ensure - among the many priorities we have - that counselors who were added under Imagine 2014 remain, ensuring our students have the social emotional support they need. And we need City Council to be the voice of our schools in Harrisburg so that we restore monies lost so we can continue to create meaningful educational experiences for and with our children. I thank you for your support in helping the School District solve this crisis, and please know that we at SLA stand ready to help in any way we can.
Tuesday, May 10. 2011
Sean Avery is a hockey bruiser who plays for the New York Rangers. In the very macho world of professional ice hockey, Avery has made a career out of using whatever tactics he needs, physical and mental, to give his team the edge. He's the kind of player you love if he is on your team, and you hate if he's not.
Against that back-drop, Sean Avery joined the Campaign for Marriage Equality in New York.
A month after Kobe Bryant used a homophobic slur to insult a ref in a basketball game, Sean Avery publicly stated his support for gay marriage.
He even made a video about it.
In the still homophobic, overly macho world of professional male sports, Sean Avery spoke out for marriage equality.
And hockey agent Todd Reynolds, of the Uptown Sports Management agency, said he was sad to see Avery do that when he tweeted out:
Very sad to read Sean Avery's misguided support of same-gender "marriage". Legal or not, it will always be wrong.
And when he got called out for doing so, he answered by saying:
To clarify. This is not hatred or bigotry towards gays. It is not intolerance in any way shape or form. I believe we are all equal... But I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. This is my personal viewpoint. I Do not hate anyone.
Now, see... this isn't about whether or not Todd Reynolds hates someone. It is about how he would use his position as a sports agent to try to silence those who would speak out for equality, understanding and love.
I care that he, as an agent, would publicly express his viewpoint that Sean Avery's support is "misguided." If I am a player represented by Reynolds, do I feel comfortable supporting gay marriage or Avery's stance? Do I wonder how that will affect the way Reynolds will promote my career?
I care that one of the first professional male athletes to make a public stance supporting gay marriage got immediately called out for it by part of the "business" of sport. And I care that will make the second athlete who might publicly support gay marriage think twice.
And most importantly, I worry that there are thousands of young, gay athletes who stay in the closet because of the homophobia of too much of the sports world.
And I worry that Todd Reynolds either doesn't know or doesn't care about any of that.
So let's make it better.
According to both his agency page and the NHLPA.com agent page, Mr. Reynolds' email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's help him see how important it is that he understands why Sean Avery wasn't misguided, he was right. He was brave. He was strong.
And he was needed.
Let's all send Mr. Reynolds our favorite It Gets Better videos. Let's tell him the stories we know of kids who need to see gay as normal, as o.k., as accepted.
I'm going to send him one of my favorites. This one:
Let's make it better.
Friday, April 22. 2011
Finding this site broke me today: http://www.federationforchildren.org/
There is nothing new there. Same pro-voucher, anti-public education stuff that we've seen in two dozen places.
But the name... The American Federation for Children.
I've had it with hearing teachers who dare to be in a union be called "thugs" by the governor directly to the east of me. I've had it with facing down massive cuts in education that are decimating schools across my state and across the country.
I'm tired of reading that people making $45,000 a year and working 60 hours a week are "the problem."
And if someone thinks it is cute or funny or poignant to name a national organization in a way that mocks the organization that has worked to support teachers in some of the most challenging situations for decades? And does so in a way that suggests that they speak for the kids in ways that those who have taught the kids cannot? Do not?
It's the same mindset that would let Davis Guggenheim claim that Michelle Rhee has "suffered" for her stance on education.
You know what... we need to have some really profound conversations about pedagogy on a national scale.... about how our teaching profession must change and grow to meet the needs of a changing nation. But it must be a dialogue, not diatribe and not mockery.
I'll give you an example - and it might surprise you.
Chris Christie's educational plans aren't all wrong.
There. I said it.
I agree - LIFO is destructive.
And seniority-based hiring in our big systems does no one any favors.
And while I think his tenure reform plans have way too much emphasis on standardized testing, for any number of reasons, I think looking at a new way to evaluate teachers is important... and I think teachers have to understand that tenure the way it has traditionally been defined is going away. And I even think that his four tiered rating system that would not focus on immediate removal but merely create a structure by which it would create the classifications of who would be eligible to be removed might be a good place to start that conversation.
But how do you sit at the table and feel like you're going to have an honest dialogue with Chris Christie given his rhetoric?
How do you sit down and have a dialogue when Michelle Rhee and others claim that they speak for the kids, and the people who spend every day with kids don't? When the rhetoric is "We love teachers... the good ones..."
Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine have an amazing piece in the Nation today about how teachers aren't the enemy. And in it, they argue that, yes, we need to reform many aspects of labor relations in education. I'll go one step further. We need to put the way we teach and learn on the table. But we're not going to get there this way. We aren't going to get there when those arguing for a market driven educational system in this country demonize those who are arguing for a public educational system as "anti-reform" or "anti-student."
It is insulting. It is demeaning. And it is destructive.
No one group - no one side - speaks for children.
No one group - no one side - has it 100% right.
So let's talk.
But leave the overheated, insulting rhetoric that would demean the other side, rather than support your ideas, at home.
Sunday, April 17. 2011
I had the opportunity to be on a panel out at Swarthmore College this week with Rich Maraschiello of the PA Department of Education and Diane Castebuono of the School District of Pennsylvania. Rich is one of the folks actively involved in the implementation of the Keystone exams in Pennsylvania, and Diane is a self-described "policy wonk" who has worked both for the School District and the state. We had some prepared questions, but an honest-to-goodness debate broke out.
Let me start by saying that both my panel-mates are thoughtful education policy folks who are tasked with the unenviable task of trying to figure out how to create policy at both the district and state levels that will have a positive impact while minimizing any potential damage that "blunt instrument" policy (Diane's term) might do. A challenge, to say the least.
It was an amazing discussion, and really, we had an incredible number of moments where we agreed as much as the moments when we disagreed. If nothing else, it highlights the challenge of this work in that most of the folks involved are good people trying to do right by the kids in the public school system. I think a lot folks at all levels have a hard time accepting that. What this should remind us is this - this is hard work. We are trying to educate a nation, and we don't know how to do that, not really. Not for every child.
But by the end of the panel, I found myself frustrated that so much of the national debate is centered around outcomes - test scores. We spent much of our time that night talking about the coming keystone exams and graduation rates and measuring schools and such. And yes, we should be talking about outcomes - but not exclusively. If we only focus on outcomes - especially, but not exclusively, test scores, then we become incredibly susceptible to Campbell's Law. We need a better policy conversation than that.
I think the key to school reform is pedagogical reform, and policy reform has done little to nothing to deal with that.
I believe deeply that we lose so many kids because schools are mini-fiefdoms where the language of teaching and learning can change from classroom to classroom. Sadly, the scripted curriculum is a really, really bad idea that is meant to address that, when what is needed is a way for teachers and students to talk across disciplines, across subjects, across grades, so that students get to build their meta-cognitive skills over time.
But how does policy reform move us to that? Perhaps there is a rational solution that could allow policy reform to deal with process and outcomes:
By focusing on process, authentic student work, and allowing for sampling for standardized test data, we could create policy that would put the focus on teaching and learning at every school, in every classroom. This could create the environment for schools to have the so desperately needed dialogue about what teaching and learning should look like, with schools still being held accountable for how students learn and demonstrate their learning, only in a healthier way that re-values the work of the child, every day, not just on the one week a year that they are tested.
Tuesday, March 22. 2011
Are unions perfect? No. Ask anyone in one.
But it comes down to this: Do you believe that people have the right to a say in their own workplace?
If you do, do you believe that their voice will be stronger collectively or alone?
If you believe that teachers have more ability to have a say in their schools collectively than alone, then you believe in unions. Whatever frustrations, whatever issues, whatever problems you have with the manner in which a specific union may or may not have acted, so be it. You believe in unions.
We should have a great debate in this country about what teaching and learning looks like. Part of that debate should be about what the role of teacher looks like and how that life is sustainable, livable and just. The teachers unions will be at the table for that conversation. They should be. They need to be.
In our schools, it is very easy to run roughshod over the rights of adults. “It’s for the children… you’re for the children, aren’t you?” It’s an easy sell, and it tugs at the heartstrings of all but the most hardened of hearts. But it’s too often a cheap line, and too many people have used it to push teachers too far, burn them out, abuse their compassion and care.
Teachers unions make sure that individual teachers don’t have to do that every day. They remind administrators that there are limits. And they remind administrators that for teachers do be able to do this job, day in and day out, year after year, teachers need to be taken care of as well.
And they remind politicians, as unions always have, that a fair day’s work is worth a fair day’s wage. And that contracts are not just platitudes, but binding documents.
And they remind all of us that those on the front line of the teaching profession have a right to a say in their working life. And that teacher voice is an important - in fact essential - piece of how we will make our schools better more humane places for students, teachers and even (heaven forbid) principals.
And teachers unions remind us that when you say, “We love teachers… the good ones…” you demean the profession, and you demean the hard work that millions of teachers do across America every day.
Unions remind us that whatever those who are recent to the struggle of educating a nation may have some good ideas, but that they must work in concert with the teachers, not against us. Because in the end, they are our schools as much as they are our children’s schools. Our work, our passion, our energy, our lives are in the classroom walls. And we have every bit as much of a right to a say in how our schools will evolve as those who would take our voice from us.
So because unions fundamentally fight for teacher’s rights to have a say in what a democratic education in America looks like, I stand with teachers unions.
[This post is part of the #EduSolidarity postings, started by Stephen Lazar and supported by an incredible group of teachers.]
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The Quote File
"The Celts say that all teachers should be poets because knowledge is dangerous unless it goes through the heart"