Power and Privilege and the Boiling Frog

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America, the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”–A Nation at Risk, 1983

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All schools have a choice. My schools have a choice. Bayfront Charter High School and Mueller are at a familiar crossroads, and the world is not waiting. On January 20, Trump will begin to govern as he promised and we can prepare our students to compete in that game or we can soldier on—business as usual.

And as usual, we ain’t taking that chance.

Inside my building are Latinos, immigrants, girls, African Americans, LGBT kids, Moslems, Jews and children of democrats. At least that describes 99% of them. And of those, 85% qualify for the free federal lunch program on the basis of their parents’ income. They are–if we falter– the next generation’s working poor. And they are all in our new government’s crosshairs to either deport or demoralize.

America’s educational system has experienced multiple defining moments during which sweeping social or political events have led to ideological and transformational change in the direction of our schools.

Think US History 101:

In the earliest days of our country’s founding, there was a clear religious motive behind teaching kids to read. As waves of Christians colonized the new world, they brought their Bibles and handed down their favorite verses to children who were expected to spread the good news. After the Revolutionary War and the subsequent ratification of the US Constitution, our Founders banked on an “informed citizenry” to nurture and grow the new experiment in democratic governance .

Fast forward 100 years and the industrial revolution churned kids out of farms and prairie schools and into factories that prepared kids for the factories.

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Then in 1958, the Russians launched a rocket into space, and the subsequent race to the heavens was on. Sputnik scared the crap out of America’s post-WWII “Greatest Generation” who realized in the span of one evening newscast—that their kids had somehow been passed up in math and science. So the education pendulum swung to math and science with a vengeance—and schoolkids paid.

Then there was the Civil Rights era. The malaise of the 70’s. Forced desegregation and bussing and waves of white flight to suburbs and private schools. And education was the medium for maintaining the sociocultural and economic advantage that was a perceived birthright of white families.
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The ominous warning of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 unleashed the pendulum again. Reagan’s ‘rising tide of mediocrity’.

Then the Apple IIe drove a whole generation of post-Viet Nam War era teachers to ask “what am I supposed to do with an Apple IIe?” And they used them as door stops on the theory that this too shall pass.

By the early 2000’s Bush had appropriated no child left behind from the Children Defense Fund and we were awash in still another pet project of Republicanism: “back to basics” and the core belief that what we really need to do in schools is just test the hell out of kids and fire the teachers and the schools that can’t produce evidence of extraordinary achievement.

Public education. America’s whipping boy. Always something.

So now what?

George Bush’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” has given way to trump’s straight up, bold-face racism. And our students have heard every word.

ap_77642174753What is the purpose of schooling in a trumpian culture where bluster and lies and bullying and misogyny are rewarded with keys to the White House; when shadowy election schemes and gerrymandering and voter suppression and an archaic electoral “college” are intentionally designed to undermine democracy; when in 2016 it is harder for citizens to cast their ballot then it was in the era of poll taxes and literacy requirements; when it is impossible for citizens to believe that their vote is even really counted; when half our nation considers it anarchy to remind ourselves that black lives matter?

unknownRemember the parable of the boiling frog:

If you place a frog in a pan of hot water– he’ll jump right out. But if you place that same  frog in a pan of cold water, then bring it gradually to a boil—he will be oblivious to the changing temperature. Pretty soon it’s too freaken hot to jump!

Our schools move too often like the boiling frog. They wait until it is too late to jump, and for our children, even generations at a time, the results are fatal.

One thing this past election has taught us is that our students need the skills to navigate a massive sea of propaganda and misinformation that seems to routinely persuade the adults to vote against their own best interests. They need a discerning eye that separates entertainment from “the truth”; that rejects Facebook’s brand of political discourse and revives the tradition of deep critical thinking and informed debate.

They need to compete in a workforce that demands higher levels of thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

They will need to find their generation’s “true North”. And then their voice. And then a spirit of activism which is in their DNA: empathy, vigilance, authentic patriotism, and advocacy for others.

Our kids will need the armor of resiliency– in the face of an apparent national sentiment that their success, their future…their very lives may not matter at all.

So in our school at least, at Bayfront Charter high School, EVERY student will be…

  • Ready for college whether they go there or not; and they will be
  • Equipped with the real 21st Century skills: including the ability to think, create, communicate and play nice with others; and they will be
  • Masters of technologies that are befitting of digital natives; and
  • Keen and curious observers of their community– with a depth of civic literacy and   global awareness; and finally, they will be
  • Beneficiaries of learning that is confined by neither time nor space.

In defiance of who this president promises to be, we will be proactive. The water’s on the boil… but our children rise.

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Liberty’s Re-teachable Moments

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“Struggle is a never ending process,” said Coretta Scott King. “Freedom is never really won– you earn it and win it in every generation.”

And so it was on September 11, 2001, when America woke up from its gentle malaise to a very uncertain new world order and a decade of endless war.

Similarly, the election of Donald Trump on November 8, 2016, has scorched the landscape for– among many others– our children of color.

Our first African American president will be replaced by a blustering bully appealing to the worst nature in all of us. 3 steps forward. 5 Steps back.

imagesAs educators, we don’t know what it is all ultimately going to mean. But we know what he has said. He called Mexicans “rapists”, advocated for a ban on all Muslims, argued that a federal judge was unqualified because he was a Mexican, and questioned the citizenship (and thus the legitimacy) of our first African American President throughout his two terms of service. “Why won’t he show us his birth certificate?” asked Trump– as if he were citizen/slavemaster.

And of course, he promised to send millions of immigrants back to whatever hopelessness they fled to get here. “I’m gonna build a wall,” he promised. “I’m gonna send em all back.”  That’s what our children heard. That’s what they saw. And for many, he’s talking about their parents and grandparents.

And we know what his actions mean too.

His first appointments as President-elect included a governor who passed some of the nation’s most discriminatory laws against the LGBT community in his home state; an avowed white nationalist; a Southern KKK sympathizer who has challenged the Constitutional principle of birthright citizenship; and a retired general who has echoed Trump’s own threat to ban an entire religion from US soil.

All of this…while the nation’s most respected media outlets intensified their light on conflict of interest laws, international business ties, and the specter of an American president mired in graft and corruption. Trump’s response is to rail against the messenger. Indignant. Entitled.

And even children begin to wonder why he wanted to be President. Why he wants to be King.

We can’t predict the future or how our nation will move to protect its citizens. We only know what we know:  that the civil rights of others can be sold for votes. And in the 15 days since the red states spoke— we know, that Coretta Scott King was right. Again.

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What The Red States Teach Us

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I’m at the tail end of the election-induced grief cycle… and that grief has yielded to action. So I have dusted off this blog page to channel my rage and trepidation– for however long it roils.

I hate what our country did on Election Day. I hate the fascist monster that was elected, and the frightening nest of characters he is weaving in to critical roles… and I will fight every day to the protect the civil rights of my friends and students.

But today… I looked in the mirror and realized just how complicit I may have been in this debacle. We learned that this was–in part, at least–  a revolution of disaffected voters who put their own economic interests ahead of the moral and cultural arc of our nation.

Their disaffection must be profound. And it is. And at least on one level, it is owed to the schools they attended– because their disaffection was, at the core, as much about job preparation… as it was about disappearing jobs.

Alvin Toffler said:  “Our job is not just to prepare students for the future… it is to prepare them for the RIGHT future.”

And this is where my epiphany lies.

In 2014, I founded Bayfront Charter High School in the heart one of the most economically depressed pockets of Chula Vista. 95% of my students are children of color—90% are Latino and 85% qualify for free and reduced lunch. A healthy percentage of those are the subject of the country’s rage about immigration and building walls (which by the way we already have.) This school is organized around preparing our students for College and Career pathways that they might not have otherwise discovered in the other overcrowded neighborhood high schools. And that’s the backdrop for this election.

In the run-up to Election Day 2016, I was, like most Americans, shocked and outraged (and at times amused) by trump’s antics and vitriol. I tuned in every night for the latest daily outrage waiting for him and the Republican cabal to implode.  Then, just as we settled in to celebrate the election of America’s first female President and dismiss trump to the footnotes of history, the nightmare unfolded. I was numb. And livid. I had dismissed trump’s backers as bigots– but that was too simple an analysis.

So I started connecting the dots…

This is the electoral map:

 

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Bayfront Charter High School sits squarely in the blue on the southwest corner of the United States. All that red? Those are the middle class/working class voters we heard so much about. The white, male, non-college educated citizens of Michigan, Alabama, rural Florida and points in between. The ones that were so angry about lost jobs that trump could have thrown babies off a roof top on one of his reality tv shows and they still would have voted for him. It’s the economy, dumb ass!

The problem, however, isn’t necessarily the scarcity of jobs in that red sea.

It’s a lack of jobs that align with the skill sets and education level of the available work force. In fact, according to America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have Nots, 2016– published by the Georgetown Center on Education and The Workforce, “a quarter-century of U.S. economic growth under Democrats and Republicans alike has added 35 million net new jobs.”

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But the number of jobs held by Americans with only a high school diploma or less has fallen by 7.3 million. The disparity is striking. The country has experienced a doubling of jobs for Americans with a four-year college degree, while the number of jobs for those with a high school diploma or less has fallen by 13 percent.”

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This trump can’t bring jobs back to an unskilled or undereducated work force. But that’s his problem.  And theirs.

Meanwhile, the large swath of blue on the two coasts is not coincidental. California is the largest state in the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy… fueled by rapid innovation in technology, energy, and STEM in general. And many of the companies driving that growth—can’t find enough skilled candidates—American or otherwise—to keep up with the job opeings.

It’s not just a demand for folks with a specific degree– it’s the degree plus some very distinctive skills: like the ability to adapt, solve problems, collaborate, make stuff, innovate, and exercise creative and critical thinking.

Those skills. Soft skills. The ones we have been talking about since the SCANS report of the 1990’s. The ones that the Common Core actually demands and develops. And the ones that are still not front and center in our schools. The ones required in every community of America that can’t quite figure out how to reinvent itself– short of importing a regional arm of Amazon.

So at Bayfront, we are sharpening our focus around preparing our students for the right future.

Yes, they live in a country filled with racism and intolerance that has bubbled to the surface– and at least for the moment it is personified by our bigot-in-chief.  They are the very students who trump wants to deport and to whom he would deny fundamental civil and constitutional rights.

But we intend to fight; to launch our own counter-revolution to assure that the cultural direction of our high school positions our students to compete in an entrepreneurial economy.  We intend to prepare every student to achieve whatever they imagine…whether its a career in Silicon Valley, or their own community,  or one right there in the White House.

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Napalm in the Mourning

I’m pissed.

I’m disgusted.

Americans have elected a monster and they are jubilant.

The adjectives are endless. Authoritarian. Racist. Bigot. Mysogynist. Narciscist.

Dangerous.

He has come from the same party that gave us George W. Bush and the inevitable world chaos that spun from 9-11 into an endless war that had been planned long before he became Cheyney’s puppet.

He has been elected by otherwise good people who would wave this ugly flag with the sole objective of denying Hillary Clinton the presidency.

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The republican party has aligned itself around a man so vile that even their own leaders are repulsed. They pushed a few predictable candidates out on the stage and Trump annhialated them by saying things that—in previous years— would have lead to instant revulsion and elimination from serious contention for any public office—let alone the Presidency. Think George Wallace. Think David Duke.

Anything to deny Ms. Clinton.

The entire party is complicit in this. They smeared Hillary with every possible lie they could muster—as they would have even if one of their other weaklings would have been selected: Vince Foster, Whitewater, Lewinsky, Benghazi, emails. Hundreds of millions of dollars, senate investigations, and

Liar… criminal… unethical… unaccountable… above the law…

So she will not be President. Trump will be. And I am disgusted. I hate that this has happened in our country. This is beyond politics.

When Americans voted for George W. Bush, they did so fully knowing that he was maleable and not real bright. But he ran on the illusion of family values and the right to life and all the platitudes of phony evangelicalism— in spite of the Constitution’s commitment to the separation of church and state. When Cheney appointed himself vice president, and the right wing arm of the Supreme Court anointed them all in 2000—we should have known we were in for trouble. And it started on September 11.

When Obama was elected in 2008 Republicans vowed to block him at every turn and undermine and emasculate his presidency—and they stayed true to their promise. To justify their treasonous opposition they peddled the lie that he wasn’t an American and that his Presidency was illegitimate. He served 8 years and made some mistakes—but led our nation out of the deep deep ditch into which Bush ran our nation.

He succeeded in spite of them. But he succeeded because he is honest, intelligent and deeply committed to serving all Americans—including (and especially) the haters.  Obama has righted the ship in the face of very public opposition—not opposition to his ideas as much as to his race. So the counter-response is Trump. The birther.

Friends, we are all accountable for the votes we cast. If you voted for Trump, if you made an “informed and rational” decision that he is best suited to lead our nation, then whatever happens next is on you.

You knew full well that he promised to build a wall on our Southern border, to deport millions of American born children, and to ban immigrants from the United States on the basis of their religion and you voted for him anyway.  You heard him express disdain for woman, people of color, veterans, judges, media, elected senators and congressmen of both parties, and you voted for him anyway. You know he simply refused to illuminate the concerns raised by trusted journalists about the state of his financial affairs and his international ties and you voted for him anyway. You heard him bully and bullshit his way through debates and interviews and you voted for him anyway. You heard him claim to know more about our enemies than our generals do and you voted for him to be our Commander in Chief.   You listened as he defiled and embarrassed our country and you chose to award him with the presidency. You heard him threaten to use nuclear weapons, because, “that’s what they’re there for.”

And maybe all of this will be ok some day. But when democracy is at its weakest, when people are deluged with so many lies, conspiracies and hoaxes that they begin to believe them– and when a strongman is given power he has not earned, we pave the way for fascism.

So while republicans celebrate and wave their flag and shout jingoist chants about the good old USA—it all repulses me now.  We are now supposed to respect the democratic process that he was contemptuous of.  We are supposed to suspend judgement, give him a chance, get behind the new president-elect…while he quickly assembles a transition team of alt right renegades who are as deplorable as him.

I won’t fly or salute or even possess a flag that flies above this shit pile. I wont stand or even listen to the National Anthem again until I am convinced our country has the courage to protect its own people and that the Constitution—upon which it was founded—is not trampled on by this cartoon character that poses such an existential threat to our national security and civil liberties.

This is not my America. This monster will never be my President. I’m with Kapernick.

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EL MILAGRO GROWS

images-1Sometimes we have an idea… and we search for a pathway to bring  that idea to fruition. And sometimes we don’t.  And sometimes our ideas just roll off the edge of the keyboard like once-familiar coins that have long since lost their shine.

So that drive along Bay Blvd. last October was not one conducted with any great promise.  There was no urgency to find this building– dropped so neatly by the side of the road.  There was no expectation.  I was just driving– and sometimes that’s all it takes.

I wonder if the universe reached into the driver side window and grabbed the wheel and pulled me to the curb.  Or whether it was the building itself.  Or the magnetic force of ideas stacked for years and waiting to take wing.  Seabirds…pinned to the wind and pushed as if flying sideways would always be their lot.

But then in instant those ideas are all set free… because that is what we live for.

So I was in the moment and Bayfront Charter High School was born. By providence.

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United States University is a half mile away from El Milagro.  It is a newly renovated 30,000 square foot building with 18 colorful classrooms, and meeting spaces.  They are a small private university that caters to working adults.  75% of their students are on-line and the rest come at night.  They could have leased a double-wide storefront in the strip mall; built a one room virtual schoolhouse sandwiched between 7-11 and the beauty supplies.

But they didn’t. They rolled the dice on a business model built for agility and open to change. And that decision contributed to Bayfront Charter High School, too.

So there it sits.  A gorgeous building with exquisite functionality– architecture in search of its own meaning along an undeveloped bay front– and instantly, it became the face of a dream that had been incubating for years.

In 2007 we launched our middle school called  Mueller Charter Leadership Academy (MCLA) because it broke our hearts to graduate six graders and send them off to a two-year under-performing school that was public education’s answer to purgatory.  The traditional middle school is that two year wasteland that promises neither rigor nor relationships.  So we built our own bridge and by-passed it all together.

Then we started to take a closer look at the comprehensive high schools with nearly 3,000 students.  In those schools kids have to compete for every inch of support. They compete for attention, for opportunities, for services, for lunch, for access. They compete to get into the freaken rest rooms.

images-2Maria went to one of those neighborhood high schools and was told by a counselor that she needed to go to the community college because her grades weren’t good enough for a four year university.  She disagreed and today she is a sophomore at USC. Aldo was the class valedictorian last year but they decided not to let him deliver the valedictorian speech because it didn’t conform to their expectations.  He’s at Dartmouth.  Jose’s parents called multiple times to speak to a counselor and were consistently instructed to leave a voicemail message.  They never called back.  Alejandra wanted help in her math class– but the tutoring times she was given by her teacher were actually the teacher’s lunch time.  And he ate lunch in the faculty lounge.

We decided that if these high schools aren’t going to teach the students that we send them– if they are not going to inspire and lead and love and counsel and advocate and push and support and celebrate the children we have invested nine years in– we will take them all back.  And we will do it ourselves.

But this building had to fall out of the sky on that October morning in order for us to do that.  And then other stuff had to fall out too.  And so it did.  And now its March and we are on schedule to open the doors in July to our first 150 freshmen.  The Class of 2018.

El Milagro grows. Bayfront Charter High School.

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Learning From Lucero: Another Face of the Dream Act

249026_166056856898935_354667876_nIn thirty-some years as an educator, I have never seen a child quite like Lucero Chavez.  My first recollection of her is not just her dark eyes, wide open and ready to learn.  Not just her extraordinary drive– that silent motor that hummed somewhere from deep inside her.  Not just her willingness to push mountains of assignments and projects and papers and essays and school tasks faster than her teachers could assign them. Not just her manners, though she has those in abundance. Not just her excellence.

Instead, my first recollection of Lucero Chavez is of her indescribable grace. I clearly remember, mostly as she got older, that she was a presence, in any room or gathering.  A very quiet presence. Even mysterious.

At Mueller Charter School, we have had thousands of children blessed with many different gifts and talents– some discovered but most still incubating.  The longer they are with us on their journey from kindergarten through middle school, the more we become aware of them: kids that are funny, or athletic, or bright, or troubled, or loud, or musical, or demanding, or engaging. Leaders, followers, drivers, entertainers, statesmen.  Individually, they emerge from their self-imposed shadows on the strength of those unique qualities.  Indeed, the great joy of teaching is watching a young person begin to flower and evolve.  And we have had so many students who were blessed in so many different ways.

But none of those were the gift that set Lucero apart.

It was her grace; an almost-haunting presence that was part intellectual, part spiritual.  Inside any classroom, and in the hundreds of weekly assemblies in which Lucero participated over the years– even gatherings outdoors– I can still see her.  Always as close to the front as she could get, always sitting up straight—not for the sake of perfect posture—but so that she could more efficiently absorb every word that was spoken. No matter how crowded, no matter the climate of the room–wherever you stood or walked or paced, if you were speaking– her eyes were riveted.  Eerily attentive.  As if she were dependent on every syllable and teaching for her very breath—no matter how nonsensical, or vapid, or routine, or insignificant.  As if you and Lucero Chavez, were the only two people in the room.

Lucero Chavez has an extraordinary desire to learn from people and places and events around her.  Her thirst for learning is both palpable and insatiable.

It would be so easy to mistake her devotion to learning as simple compliance, or a young girl’s blind obedience to authority.  But from the moment Lucero Chavez first realized that she had a power within her to literally change the world—somewhere back in her first years at Mueller Charter School—she has been on her own remarkable journey.

In her junior year of high school, while the ever-shifting economy was grinding down so many families across America, it was grinding down Lucero’s family too.  Soon they lost their home and a place in the market.  All the while, in tragic and silent dignity, she endured.  Endured the ambiguity that poverty creates—the uncertainty of the train derailed.  Endured her parents’ pain and the loss of her room and her kitchen table and the hallway lined with her honor student certificates and photos dancing in the ballet folklorico.

But she embraced homelessness with the same dignity and attentiveness that she embraced all her other learning experiences.  She sat up straight, her dark eyes wide open and fixed on going forward, and she continued her journey.

UnknownBy midway through her senior year, she had been accepted to every college and university to which she applied.  Her first choice was Dartmouth.  And because her family was still reeling from homelessness, she would need financial assistance to go so far away.    So like thousands of other high school seniors, she began the process of applying for financial assistance. And in piecing together her life history in response to the many prying questions written to ascertain whether Lucero Chavez was diligent and deserving enough to pursue her dream of attending such a prestigious Ivy League college – she discovered something about herself she never knew.  Something her parents had never told her.  Something potentially more debilitating to a kid than sudden homelessness. Something that in the present light of divisive national politics and racism—would destroy a weaker person and all her dreams.

Lucero discovered she was not an American citizen.

She had been brought to the United States illegally as an infant.  Brought by parents who could look beyond the border walls and see Unknown-1the lights of America and know that that is where they wanted to raise their little girl.  And so they came.  Like your forbearers and mine.  Not for their own gain, but for Lucero.

And she has consistently rewarded her parents and family and teachers and friends– giving back to them through her remarkable academic and personal excellence.

In June of 2013, Lucero Chavez represented the 700 graduating seniors of Hilltop High School as their class valedictorian, and delivered her message of resilience to the world.

It was extraordinary in what she didn’t say.  She didn’t describe her struggles through poverty.  She never once mentioned her acceptance letter from Dartmouth or boast about her extraordinary academic achievements in multiple languages.  She didn’t mention that she opted to attend University of San Diego– partly out of fear that, as a result of her now-public dilemma,  her parents could be deported.  She didn’t rail on our policy makers for their inability to deliver a definitive message or compassionate safeguards through the so-called Dream Act.

Instead, she delivered a hopeful and familiar message that spoke for the common and routine experience of every high school kid in the room: the insecurities of adolescence, the joy of Friday night football and prom, the relative accomplishments of student leadership groups, and of course, the relationships.

Grace.

Beyond that, for Lucero Chavez at least, the future is less certain.

I sat at the edge of my chair and listened.  I hung on every word.  And as she spoke, I could not take my eyes her.  Could not fight back the tears of pride and regret that I was not more of a light for her– this extraordinary young woman grown before our very eyes.

Twelve years ago I wrote the vision statement that defines our school today: “Our Children Will Change the World.”  It was not meant to be a just another cheesy slogan with which to decorate school stationary.  It is our collective vision.  It means that these children– mostly Latino, mostly from high poverty homes where parents sacrificed everything for the education that they never had—these children who are easy to ignore and discount and write off and deport—will have the capacity and opportunity to literally change our world for the better if we position them to do so.  If we provide them with the caring and support.  If we maintain high expectations.  If we provide them with opportunities to fully develop their gifts and their voice.

imageIn the weeks leading up to her Valedictorian speech, Lucero was beset with media outlets requesting interviews and longing to tell her story.  Even CNN.  She is the face of homelessness.  The face of an immigration policy in desperate need of a champion.  And ironically, the face of American excellence.  She is single-handedly changing the world.

And now, after thirty some years in education, and tens of thousands of students– most now grown to adults—my own personal mission is fulfilled.  By none, more remarkable, more courageous, more resilient, more blessed… than Lucero Chavez.

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CORKING THE BATS: WHY THE ATLANTA SCANDAL IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE NCLB ICEBERG

images-7Cheating is such an integral part of baseball culture that it is almost endearing.

Stealing bases when nobody is watching can get you into the Hall of Fame, for sure.  But I’m talking about real cheating.  Knowingly violating the rules of the game  to gain some perceived advantage– which, in baseball’s long history, takes on many forms and variations. And some are more compelling than others. Like George Brett and his pine tar bat, for example, producing one of the modern game’s most dramatic and memorable highlights.   Or the notorious spit ball.  Or Phil Niekro slipping a fingernail file into his hat so he could scratch out a better knuckleball. Or corking the bats.

images-2But then there are the extremes. Pete Rose bet on his own team.  In 1919 the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to intentionally blow the World Series.  And more recently, there are regular accusations and suspicions about players  juicing.

Baseball is America’s game.  And so is the cheating that goes on that makes baseball baseball.

And so it was fascinating to watch the shockwaves ripple across the nation when one of our preeminent superintendents and a fistful of teachers were all indicted for their elaborate scheme to doctor their students’ test results.

The horror.  The scandal.  The betrayal. This is public education, for God’s sake.  Not baseball!

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But for those of us who work in schools everyday, it should not be surprising at all that educators went to such unethical extremes to gain an advantage.  When you threaten people with their jobs, their livelihood, their professional careers… they become resourceful.  Welcome to the legacy of No Child Left Behind. High stakes testing is when you have everything to lose and nothing to gain.  When a system that we KNOW is bad for kids is treated as if it is worthy of our outrage when it is violated.

But the real question we ought to answer is this: What exactly is “cheating” when it comes to testing our kids?  When do we cross the line from stealing the catcher’s signs or corking the bats– to intentionally losing the World Series on a bribe?

This week, for example, I discovered the extreme degree to which many of the schools in my district are engaging in test prep with only three weeks remaining until the California Standards Test.  Test prep includes practicing sample test items and drilling in the strategies for how to select a correct answer in a multiple choice item.  The entire school throws out the rest of the curriculum and locks in on a single imperative.  All day.  Every day.  It’s legal.  Even encouraged with a wink– because it can definitely inflate results.

But it’s not good teaching.  It’s not good for our kids.  It doesn’t advance learning.  It doesn’t promote thinking or collaboration or communication or entrepreneurialism or any of the other 21st century skills that will soon be treated as the coin of the realm when the Common Core is ushered in.  In fact, devoting any more time at all to the various state assessment  packages that are now all but obsolete… seems to be the worst form of cheating.  It’s cheating our students of their time for authentic learning. Wasted days and weeks and months in pursuit of a mission that has nothing to do with our children’s future.

So ok… “test prep strategies “are not quite the same as calling for pizzas as you hunker down and change all of your students’ test booklets to reflect correct answers… but it’s still a hoax to pretend high test scores mean our kids are actually  learning.

imagesProfessional baseball is intensely competitive and the rewards are great for those few who excel in it.  So great in fact, that it creates a climate where cheating is inevitable.  But the game is pure and it will survive the scandal.

Educators, on the other hand, are typically driven by an instinct for service and advocacy.  Teaching a child is its own honest reward.  But NCLB was never  designed to promote performance as much as to punish the status quo.  It wasn’t really intended for teachers to improve instruction or close the achievement gap among our children- as much as it was for politicians to quantify their competing ideologies about what they believe matters in our schools.

Atlanta reminds us that we’ve lost our soul as a profession–and as a nation– not because of cheating scandals, but because we legislated the game away.

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