In the past few days, the issue of tracking (separating students into different classes based on some measure of ability or aptitude which almost entirely replicates the inequities of our society in terms of class and race) and GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) has been the hot topic among SFUSD’s guardians of social justice and the savvy, crunchy, funky, techie, gentrifying, intellectual parent crowd. The ensuing debate has been difficult and edifying for all of us at the middle school and high school level. A group of parents, a few of them my friends, went to this week’s Board Meeting to propose pathways (and clear accountability) to get more kids the challenging curriculum they need. The parents feel that the district has taken away 8th grade Algebra, thus creating difficulties for students to reach Calculus and STEM classes in high school, while replacing it with differentiated learning that seems more theoretical than achievable in the city’s heterogeneous classrooms. Continue reading →
I am a public school teacher in California and I am opting my 5th grader out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Tests this year.
Here is a link to the Opt Out form for San Francisco Unified.
Here is why:
The tests will not help my child’s teacher know my child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Test scores will not be out until the summer. My child’s current teacher will not be able to use the information to improve instruction in any way for my child this year.
My child will lose many hours of instruction in order to prepare for and take the SBAC tests. This time could be used for more meaningful instruction, such as doing an interesting reading project, a social studies, math, art, music or science research project or doing an end of the school year play. Continue reading →
One of my newcomer Guatemalan students comes from a Mayan community that observes an old Mesoamerican tradition of dental beautification – he sports gold decorations in his front upper teeth that have been carefully drilled in. The decorations are pretty, and quite unique – he shared with me that two of them form the shape of his initials. As a high school student, he is notoriously good-humored, adolescently forgetful, and a bit lost in his new land, but he has come a long way since January when he wasn’t sure if he should come to school at all. Continue reading →
In 2002 when I became a teacher, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became the new name of public education in the United States. This law had a huge effect on how teachers and students would teach and learn together, and how the federal government would recognize, reward and punish individual states, school districts, individual schools, teachers and students for achieving and failing to achieve state assessment standards.
NCLB was a powerful reauthorization of an older federal educational act called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, signed into law under Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. The underlying goal of both ESEA and NCLB was to ensure a quality education for all children regardless of zip code and demographics.
Unfortunately, after 2002, it soon became clear to most teachers working in the public school system, particularly to those who worked with poor kids in poor neighborhoods that NCLB was set up to fail all children rather than to set them up for success. Continue reading →
Several years ago, I sent an email to my aunt to defend public schools and my role as a public school teacher in the service of our children and our society. This is my story. This is that letter. Please share, and let’s fulfill the hope of public education and honor the wisdom of our teachers.
I know that you value me and have honored me before as an educator and teacher in a publicschool in California. I don’t want to have to respond to this email because I have a fieldtrip to finish planning for, grading to do, a counselor to send an email to, and some parents to call (not to mention lesson planning to finish). My school workday, which started at 7:00 a.m., just ended and most students have left, however, in many ways my day is only half-way over as I will be working on and off for the rest of the afternoon, evening and into the night.
I write to you because I cannot agree with the statement that “the educational system is broken.” I work within the confines of this system everyday, and I know its weaknesses and strengths, its disasters and its triumphs. Continue reading →
Even though some days I take a sick day so that I can write letters of recommendations for my seniors, I realize how brilliant my job is to know the young people that I know and to realize that they know people that they would never otherwise get to know . . .
Yesterday Kyle Gold (not his real name) came to my classroom after school and sat down with a group of newly arrived immigrant students from Guatemala and Mexico to learn how to make paper flowers for the school Day of the Dead Altar. The students spoke almost no English. Kyle listened to them, asked questions and used his Spanish to join the small group and find out more about how they celebrate Day of the Dead in their home communities. Kyle’s paper flower was a flop, but the newcomer students were very kind and encouraging, impressed with his Spanish and his interest in participating in this ritual. Continue reading →
(gathered from my own and close colleagues’ personal professional experiences)
I can advocate for students when I stand up and talk to my administration and make a complaint when they are not giving recent newcomer refugee students access to qualified teachers and curriculum. I can take this complaint to others and make my administration change course.
I can advocate for students when I write a letter to the PTO and complain about an administrator not managing students well at a dance, and thus allowing sexual harassment to occur.
I can advocate for students when I complain that it is 15 degrees hotter in my room than it is outside and that learning isn’t happening and the students need a fan. Continue reading →
It’s been a long time since I posted to you all. I am going to try to distill my on-going emotional and professional thoughts on teacher tenure, teacher pay and teacher greatness over the next few postings.
I had a great deal of sadness when the Vergara trial won in California to eliminate teacher tenure. And yet, there are some bad teachers out there. We’ve all had them, and our kids have had them. But, in spite of this, most teachers are fairly good, and most just want more support, better working conditions for themselves and their students, and hey, many of them want better pay.
I am so blissed out to be done with final exam grading – and off to Spanish language environmental science/inquiry/play/non-standardized test summer camp with five kids out on the beach tomorrow and a brilliant Colombian teacher! Okay, I’m only partially excited about that – in reality, I am really looking forward to my massage at Kabuki Hot Springs on Wednesday. I love the children. I am sick of the children. And teacher mama needs a massage.
So on with my message (not massage)! This past semester I met some people with a Bay Area organization called Evolve, who are trying to build support to repeal aspects of Prop 13 and get corporations to pay more taxes to support public education. Continue reading →
I wish I weren’t still reading about education on our spring break trip to Venice, Rome and Pompeii, but I can’t be stopped!
We had a wonderful guided tour today of Pompeii and Herculaneum with a historian named Francesca. Of course I asked her about Italian education, as I do every parent I talk to from another state or country. She bemoaned the lack of history and geography lessons in her elementary school aged children’s schooling. I commiserated with her on the issue- what can I say? This seems to be a common theme for us as well.
Vergara vs. California.
This is the case that will make or break teacher tenure in California, and possibly the rest of the country.
Is it because teachers get tenure that poor kids in poor districts have bad teachers? Or is it bad administrators and bad teacher working conditions that cause underfunded schools that serve poor kids to have more than their fair share of bad teachers? There are so many issues here, and the court’s decision next week may, in fact, get rid of teacher tenure in California. This is hugely important to me, to my son enrolled in an underfunded school district, and to all of our kids throughout CA. Continue reading →