Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind

WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA WILL BE OUR GUEST SPEAKER AT EL MILAGRO

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On Tuesday morning President Obama will be speaking to children in schools all across America.  He will deliver the messages that we have spent our careers delivering to our students:  stay in school.  Work hard.  Take responsibility for your education.  Do your homework.  Dream big.

He’s the perfect person to sing such a hopeful tune.  By now we all know from whence this man has come.  Born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up, at least for a time, in poverty.  He struggled as a youth to maintain a focus on his education. But ultimately, he graduated from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet– including Harvard Law School.  He became a community organizer to parley his education into some good for others.  He served his community.  He ran for public office.  He expanded his influence.  And in one of the most inspirational stories in our nation’s long tradition of resilient  citizens, he rose above the odds to become the first African American President of the United States.

He’s the guy that wants to step into our classrooms and tell kids that if they work hard and persevere and not make excuses they too can achieve their dream.  He’s an orator.  He is a poet.  He is compelling.  He is engaging.

Tuesday morning when the sun rises on the first day of school across most of America, children will meet their new teacher and new classmates and the televisions will click on and the President will welcome them back.  At least some of them.

gunzjpegAs is the case with all things now in American politics, this too has been spoiled.  The President has been demonized and his intentions sullied by another fight.  The same group of unhinged people who question our President’s legitimacy as an American citizen (Dred Scott?), who challenge his authenticity as an elected official, who carry guns to his public appearances, who freely and publicly characterize him by the twin hot button n-words: “nigger” and “nazi”, who muse that he “is not one of us”, who simultaneously suggest he wants to kill our elders… now suggest he wants to get his hooks into our children’ minds. Christians… sowing the seeds of hatred.

beckKnuckleheads from the far (and not so far) right wing of the Republican Party have managed to cast so many shadows on the President’s address to school children, that most will never hear the message.  Even elected officials have gone so far as to suggest that the president intends to use his “bully pulpit” to foment socialism and spread his radical ideologies  to an unsuspecting captive audience of school kids who just want to know where to store their lunch pail in their new classrooms. 

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power. While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”  —  Jim Greer, GOP Chair, Florida

“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” — Oklahoma Republican State Senator Steve Russell

North Korea?  Are you freakin’ serious?

What is it about these people?  How far does their hypocrisy go?  I remember when their guy was in office… if you questioned his judgment (?)  or direction you were no less than a traitor to America.  I remember him trying to string two coherent sentences together on any topic.  I remember all the members of his party suddenly running for office on the “family values” ticket… then demonstrating none of the values most families I know would ever espouse.  

I remember their education showhorse called No Child Left Behind.  It was going to spur school reform in America once and for all.  It was going to resurrect our schools and get us back to the basics.  We would be able to expose those schools that aren’t taking care of children– fire the teachers and the principals and allow parents to cut bait if need be and send their kids to schools that were really teaching.  We would even close the achievement gap across racial and socio-economic lines.  And the truth would be told in test scores.

And it was.  And the truth is that No Child Left Behind was never intended to close the achievement gap nor improve the quality of public education for children in all communities across America– which may explain in part why it has done neither.  

So while parents fret over whether they should “allow their child to be exposed to the message from the White House” on Tuesday– the irony is most schools won’t have time to air it anyway.  

And the “lesson plans” and other prepared materials designed to assist teachers in framing class discussions after the President’s address?  The one’s that really have created a collective aneurism among Republicans?  The ones that actually have the audacity to challenge kids to think… that prompts them with such radical questions as “How might you help the president?”  

I can guarantee that schools won’t have time to delve into those either. They will be far too busy with drilling students on basic skills and jumping through the hoops crafted by NCLB.  They will be preparing students to answer the standardized test questions that they will confront in May.  

obamaWhat a shame.  What a loss for those children and their naive parents.  They will miss the point that Barack Obama did not rise to the station of the American Presidency because he can take standardized tests or survive a curriculum so narrowly tuned to reading and math.  He rose to the presidency because he can THINK. He is a reader, a writer, an orator, a lover of art and music and people.  He is a leader.  Spiritual.  Self disciplined and self made.  He is the embodiment of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. He is the very model of what our public schools should strive for. And perhaps that is the biggest fear of all for those on the right:  That our public schools might actually work!  That we might, if untethered from the yoke of mindless standardized testing, reach across the great socio-economic divide and actually raise children from every community and race and ethnicity and gender group– to compete.  Anywhere.  Against anybody. Even to be President of the United States.

DSC_0260This Tuesday the televisions will be on at El Milagro.  We told teachers if they can fit it into their schedules they should.  But it is up to them.  And if parents don’t want their children exposed to this man…  they can opt out.  It is their call.  Their conscious. They can be complicit in the very blatant educational malpractice that began during the Bush presidency if they so choose.  Or they could actually seize the teachable moment and model for their own children that rarest of gifts these days:  the ability to THINK for oneself.

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Filed under El Milagro, President Obama, public education, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing

5 PILLARS TO SAVE A NATION

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“Every so often, throughout our history, a generation of Americans bears the responsibility of seeing this country through difficult times and protecting the dream of its founding for posterity. This is a responsibility that has fallen to our generation. Meeting it will require steering our nation’s economy through a crisis unlike any we have seen in our time.”

This past Tuesday  morning, President Obama presented his proposed education reforms to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC.  If the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is going to advocate at all for Latinos and their children in the United States, they should take great confidence away from that bright, bright morning at the Marriot Ballroom.  In the background of the President’s message  is an economy that has been ground down to the core by too many individuals who were entrusted to leave the machinery of commerce better than how they found it.  But once they got their hands on the wheel, the temptation to achieve personal gain, the lack of compassion, the lack of regulation, the lack of restraint, the lack of moral guidance, the lack of patriotism–  led the country and the rest of the world– right over the cliff toward economic collapse.

stock-mrktjpegThis happened on the last President’s watch, the one that talked about patriotism and Christian values and keeping America safe.  The one that imposed No Child Left Behind on America’ s schools and accelerated an era in which the illusion of accountability and achievement has merely driven schools to gun the motor, spin the tires in the mud, and lurch forward in the wrong direction in a cloud of spent energy and system-wide exhaustion. Just like the economy.  President Obama said:

“Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we’ve let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. Let me give you a few statistics. In 8th grade math, we’ve fallen to 9th place. Singapore’s middle-schoolers outperform ours three to one. Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should. And year after year, a stubborn gap persists between how well white students are doing compared to their African American and Latino classmates. The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it’s unsustainable for our democracy, it’s unacceptable for our children — and we can’t afford to let it continue.” 

So President Obama  connected the dots on the moribund economy and our bankrupt schools and the illusion of academic progress for a nation leaving virtually all of our children behind.  The two systems are inextricably bound.  

While there may have been too few voices signaling our economic demise with any authority or passion, we have been signaling the alarm from within our schools for 8 years:  educating children, particularly those who are severely impacted by our nation’s recession, requires a lot more than threats and bullying over standardized test results. But just as opposition to the war in Iraq was regarded as unpatriotic, warning of the dangers of such a myopic view of teaching children was disregarded as “excuses by educators who are afraid of being held accountable.”

We merely linked the academic future of our children to the economy and to the federal government’s responsibility to help ameliorate  those punishing risk factors that inhibit children’s learning.  And we were right.  In fact, two important studies were released this week that neatly framed President Obama’s vision for public education.  The first was a joint study from the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and ASU’s Education Policy Research Unit.  That report described seven “out-of-school factors” that profoundly influence students’ academic success and lead to inequalities among children: prenatal care; health care; food insecurity; environmental pollutants; family stress; neighborhood characteristics; and lack of extended learning opportunities, such as preschool or summer programs.  The report’s conclusion is that schools cannot address these variables alone.

And we’ve been saying that too.

20090323_107The second study came from the National Center on Family Homelessness who now estimate that one in every 50 American children is homeless. In summarizing the report  Time Magazine’s stated, “The consequences of homelessness are profound. Homeless children are twice as likely as other children to be retained, or held back, one academic year, or to be suspended or, ultimately, to drop out of school altogether. School districts across the country report a growing share of students who are highly mobile — who move multiple times within a school year. With each move, experts say, such students are at risk of falling some six months behind, or more, in their studies.” And as a result of our economic downturn, the trend of homeless children is growing.

Under the leadership of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama, we have an opportunity to reverse the downward spiraling course of public education as we simultaneously address childhood risk factors associated with our volatile economy.  And in fact, Mueller Charter School has been on that path for years– not because of any inspiration from NCLB, but rather, in spite of it!  From the energy and innovation and subversive entrepreneurialism that comes from being an independent charter we have created a school environment that models– at least in part– the President’s Five Pillars of Education Reform as he presented them on Tuesday: 

First Pillar:  Investing in early childhood initiatives like Head Start;  
 
Second Pillar: Encouraging better standards and assessments by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;         
“We will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools and instead spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments.  That’s why I’m calling on states that are setting their standards far below where they ought to be to stop low-balling expectations for our kids. The solution to low test scores is not lowering standards — it’s tougher, clearer standards.  And I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.” 
Third Pillar:  Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers; treating them like professionals and holding them accountable;
 
Fourth Pillar: Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools… supporting charter schools… reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day;

“Now, even as we foster innovation in where our children are learning, let’s also foster innovation in when our children are learning. We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day.  That’s why I’m calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -– whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it. “

Fifth Pillar Providing every American with a quality higher education–whether it’s college or technical training.

 

The ground shifted beneath our feet this week, as the President’s message signaled a change in course that favored children.  At nearly the exact same moment, 62 seventh graders from El Milagro were climbing the steps to a university that they had never laid their eyes on before. Our students visited San Diego State University, University of San Diego, University of California at San Diego, Cal State San Marcos and the Arts Institute.  In two weeks, our 8th graders will spend three days in Los Angeles visiting USC, UCLA, Cal State Long Beach and UC Irvine. They will see themselves in the faces of students on those campuses and their life course will be fundamentally altered: from their choice of friends to the goals they set and the courses they take in high school. They will likely be the first in their families to attend college. Their pathway will be made more clear as President Obama’s vision of education comes to fruition, and the unforgiving decline of America’s economy is halted.  

“We have a legacy of excellence, and an unwavering belief that our children should climb higher than we did,” the President said. 

In the meantime, we rise to the greatest challenge of our generation, to right the course of our economy and our public schools, and literally save our nation.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, President Obama, public education

JOY OR DANCING

An article by Iris C. Rotberg, a research professor of education policy at George Washington University, in Washington, appears in the June 11 edition of Education Week.  It is entitled–  “Quick Fixes, Test Scores, and the Global Economy: Myths That Continue to Confound Us”.

 In part it states:  

Our policy deliberations are dominated by a belief that we can cure our educational problems if only we can find a magic bullet—“scientifically proven” teaching methods, school choice, increased student testing. If we succeed, our students will rank higher on international test-score comparisons, which, in turn, will enable the United States to compete in the global economy. These beliefs are based on a set of loosely coupled myths about U.S. education. The myths form the basis for much of our rhetoric and many of our policies.

The first of these myths is that we can “fix” our schools without addressing the problems of poverty. We can’t. The achievement gap based on family socioeconomic status is the most significant problem in all countries, and accounts for about three-quarters of the variation in student performance among schools in the United States.

 

And I thought…

75% of the children at my school qualify for free or reduced lunch. We serve a community of the working poor. We are on the border to Mexico. We consider ourselves to be the most innovative school in America: a bold, independent, autonomous charter school that refuses all efforts from external agencies to defines us. We have created our own brand. We have never missed a single NCLB-AYP goal and have gained over 240 points on California’s Academic Performance Index… PRECISELY because we refuse to try and raise our test scores. We are in the business of raising children.     

We have shouted from the rooftops that you can not improve public schools by 1) calling them names (i.e. “Program Improvement”), 2) ignoring schools that excel even in the face of daunting economic challenges, 3) stripping critical thinking, problem solving, creative writing, the arts, joy, or dancing from the curriculum to make room for the short-sighted, publisher-driven, “fundamentalist” agenda that is myopically constructed on the pillars of math and reading.

And you cannot improve public schools if you try to do so in isolation from the complex social problems that inevitably creep onto our campuses and into our daily work: unemployment, health care, social services, recreation, mental health, lead paint, and drugs and gang violence and childhood obesity and poor nutrition and crime and homelessness. And while it has been an effective strategy for federal and state legislators to accuse educators of MAKING EXCUSES when we point these circumstances out… it doesn’t absolve them from their moral and legal responsibility to create public policy that serves American children as zealously as their policies that favor…say… wealthy adults. And we should hold them accountable for that. And identify those politicians and lawmakers who fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress in this endeavor, place them on improvement plans, call them names like “Program Improvement Governmental Agency”, and ultimately replace them with individuals who are committed to the welfare of American children and who refuse to allow a single one to be left hungry or homeless or isolated or lacking in health care. Or behind.

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