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‘The Shame of the School District’
How can we allow our traditional public schools to continue to fail black and Hispanic students? Why aren’t failing schools met with outrage and skepticism?
When I initially read about the state designating Riverhead School District as a Focus District, I immediately thought about Jonathan Kozol’s book, “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.”
Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton has been zoned to receive most of the district’s Caucasian students while black and Hispanic students are relegated to attend schools that have failed them perennially. Please read the recent letter signed by Christine Tona, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, explaining Riverhead’s designation as a Focus District. It takes a high degree of arrogance and privilege to shape the narrative to blame others for what’s clearly a lack of progress.
The following schools were designated as Focus Schools this year due to their inability to show growth in the following subgroups of students:
- Roanoke Avenue Elementary School: economically disadvantaged (Hispanic).
- Riverhead Middle School: economically disadvantaged (Limited English Proficient).
- Riley Avenue Elementary School: students with disabilities.
- Riverhead High School: economically disadvantaged (Hispanic).
- Phillips Avenue Elementary School: economically disadvantaged (black and Hispanic).
- Pulaski Street Elementary School: economically disadvantaged (black, Hispanic, and Limited English Proficient).
How is this not a Civil Rights issue with black and brown students consistently not showing academic growth? Academic plans (local assistance plans) being put in place, failing miserably, with little to no accountability? Everyone can’t be rated effective when certain subgroups of students clearly aren’t learning. Why aren’t black and Hispanic leaders in Riverhead and around the country up in arms about what’s transpiring in this district?
The NAACP recently passed a referendum calling for a moratorium on charter schools nationwide. However, the Riverhead School District is a perfect case study to show why a referendum such as this in inherently wrong and will ultimately do more damage to black and Hispanic students.
The NAACP, Black Lives Matters (BLM) education platform, etc. need to focus on failing schools period. There shouldn’t be this move to isolate charter schools and use them as scapegoats for America’s failing schools. Charter schools educate 6 percent of students nationwide.
After doing a statistical analysis of the test scores, we found the Riverhead Charter School outperformed both Riley and Aquebogue schools.
More than half of our public charter school’s population comes from the Riverhead School District. Let me be the first to say that those students are showing academic growth.
The option for students in a Focus School to transfer to a school in good standing is legally required by the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law requires districts to notify parents no later than 14 days before the start of the school year of their option to transfer from a Focus School. What’s being done to improve these schools? Have there been any changes in leadership? These are all questions I ask because I know what accountability should look like.
The district had known of their responsibility to inform parents of their choices for months — why wait until the state mandated deadline of 14 days prior to the beginning of the school year to inform parents of their rights?
We can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s occurring in these schools. I know first-hand that if schools are integrated through parent choice, then all kids can learn. Our charter school is a perfect example since we have made progress with the toughest subgroups of students, including economically disadvantaged, black and Hispanic students.
We’ve reached out to the Riverhead School District on numerous occasions to foster a relationship and share best practices. It should be second nature for a relationship to exist since over half of our K-8 student population attends Riverhead High School. Quite frankly, I’m a little scared for our future high school students. It may be time to petition the state to expand our charter school to include high school grades in order to give parents yet another choice for their children, as well help with classroom sizes and overcrowding.
Lastly, as I’ve read comments posted online about Riverhead school district’s designation as a Focus District, I saw remarks that were blatantly racist. The mere thought of blaming migrant workers for failing schools speaks to the regressions that are occurring regarding race relations in our country. Migrant workers, poor Caucasian families, black families, Hispanic families, all families have a right to a quality education. Race should not play a role in what we offer to students.
While I know this column won’t go over well with a lot of people on Long Island, I hope it starts the conversation to discuss ways to improve schools for all students.
Raymond Ankrum is the executive director and principal of Riverhead Charter School in Calverton.
This post/article was published in the Riverhead News Review http://riverheadnewsreview.timesreview.com/2016/09/75963/guest-spot-the-shame-of-the-riverhead-school-district/
Opt-Out Isn’t Black and/or Brown
The goal of analyzing this report is as follows:
- To discuss quite frankly how the opt-out movement has a color to it, and the color isn’t black or brown, it’s white.
- The significance of the Opt-Out Movement. Why is this movement so important to everyone, including Black and Latino families? It’s a movement centered around the traditional public school system, and their need to protect middle class jobs by ensuring teachers have little to no accountability for the learning of students, especially poor, minority students who have been inherently disenfranchised.
- Lastly, this opt-out movement has little to no effect on people with the financial means to provide supplemental education to their children. The leaders of this movement can afford tutors, such as learning centers, SAT/ACT prep classes, etc. All to leave minority students holding the bag, taking remedial classes for the first couple years of their college careers.
It should be noted “the vast majority of the participants in the opt-out National survey (92.9 percent) indicated that their children attended public schools” (Pizmony‐Levy, Saraisky, 2016). The majority of these children are not from charter schools. The reason being, is because the sole viability of the worthiness of a charter school, (at least in NY state) is a point by point comparison of how the charter school performs in comparison to the district school. In most cases, if a charter school does not consistently outperform the district in which it is located, the question becomes why is there a need, when the district performs at the same rate or better?
Additionally, “nine out of ten (92.1 percent) respondents who are parents or guardians of school‐aged children said they are likely to opt out in the future” (Pizmony‐Levy, Saraisky, 2016). NY State responded accordingly to the feedback it sought out to change the tests for those that exhibited concerns. Initial concerns were, test were punitive to teachers because they were tied to evaluations, the tests were poorly written, and the tests should be untimed. All feedback lawmakers took into account and changed. So, if many of the changes they requested were made, and they’re still opting out of testing at higher than 90%, what is this really about?
The study notes that “the typical opt out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average” (Pizmony‐Levy, Saraisky, 2016). According to the research, we have highly educated white people, making decisions that could ultimately effect students of color, without any of the parents of the students of color even being able to voice their outrage. So, if you look at the statistics, how is this different from the 1% wealth argument? It really isn’t. The people with the money are now driving Ed policy for the poor. And they’ve went so far as to say, not only do we drive policy, but we don’t want charter schools, blacks and Latinos should not have choice in where they send their kids. They should send them to the schools where they have traditionally gone. The schools that for decades have failed these students. This kind of thinking is the thinking that perpetuates generational poverty. The “haves” continue to have, while the “have nots” continue to not have.
Consequently, “they also are protesting the narrowing of the curriculum, corporatization/privatization of education, and the implementation of the Common Core State Standards” (Pizmony‐Levy, Saraisky, 2016). For those that oppose common core, is the thought process on its opposition the fear of raising standards? Every profession does quality review, in hopes of having continual improvement. There’s a high percentage of students that get to college unprepared, and are relegated to taking remedial classes their first year of college. Usually by the end of year one, you have anywhere between 24-42 credits. So, by the end of year one, if you’ve only received between 6-12 credits, you’ve lost a year of education, and a year of funding. Thus leading to many minority students never finishing college, because it circles back to money, which many first generation college students of color just don’t have.
Moreover, “teachers (45.0 percent) say that they are opposed to tying teacher evaluation to student performance on standardized tests while non‐teachers were more likely to mention opposition to ‘teaching to the test’ and to the Common Core” (Pizmony‐Levy, Saraisky, 2016). There are of course many different ways to analyze teacher effectiveness. One such way is student performance on summative assessments. Who wouldn’t want to know how much their students have grown? I’ll tell you who, those people that don’t believe in kids. Research supports that it’s harder to move black and Latino subgroups. Black and Latino parents aren’t the parents in opposition of these policies. Is/will education ever be about the needs of “all students”? Or will we continue to use words like all, when we know good and damn well we mean the select few with money and resources.
Lastly, “opt out activists’ view increasing school funds as an important idea for improving schools” (Pizmony‐Levy, Saraisky, 2016). The irony with this assertion is that in the epicenter of the opt-out movement, Long Island, NY, schools receive per pupil funding, but are also able to raise additional capital for school budgets by raising the real estate cap. Charter schools on the Island receive about 90% of per pupil funding, with no ability to raise additional capital to compete with the finances raised by tradition school districts. There is little to no collaboration between districts and charters on the Island, with some districts being quite adversarial to their charter neighbors. All of this to say, every charter school on Long Island outperforms its district, and they do it with less funding. So this isn’t necessarily an issue about money, but I can totally see how those that have money in abundance would like to invest in their children.
Pizmony‐Levy, O. and Green Saraisky, N. (2016). Who opts out and why? Results from a national survey on opting out of standardized tests. Research Report. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Do Great Teachers Really Need a Teachers’ Unions?
The untimely death of Chief Justice Antonin Scalia may have bought teachers’ unions some time, but at some point the teachers’ unions will have to take a closer look at how they conduct their business in order to maintain relevancy amongst its constituents.
Re: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, AFT President Randi Weingarten, CTA President Eric C. Heins, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry issued a joint statement condemning the court’s consideration of the case. “We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life,” they said. Is it too much to ask that not only do you have to play by the rules, but that you also have to show/prove consistent student gains in order to continue benefiting from this middle-class lifestyle (we as taxpayers) have afforded you?
I am speaking solely from the first six years of my teaching career, and from the experiences that I’ve had with one of the most powerful teachers’ unions in the US, The Baltimore Teachers Union, affectionately referred to as the BTU.
As a former building representative in the BTU, I can honestly say I didn’t know or fully understand how the union worked until I was able to get hands on, practical experience with dealing with union issues. As a building representative, I was amazed at the things that I would see and hear.
I grew weary of the building representative position very fast. It seemed as if I was constantly talking and referring the same group of misfit teachers to union attorneys. These weren’t teachers that were “rock stars”, putting students first, and going above and beyond for students. These were the teachers that hated their jobs, hated kids, and had too much time on the job to start another career, so they were willing to bide their time, and ride the system out until retirement.
BCPSS knew that these underperforming teachers were a detriment to the system and to the profession, which is why there was a substantial push to pay teachers to retire. I became overly frustrated with the system. I thought education was meant to put students first but sadly I was mistaken. I left to work in a different type of public school, a public charter school. This is not to say that charter schools don’t have their own set of problems, they do.
In my experiences, charter schools do a better job with making students the focal point. Charter schools also give parents, especially (Black and Latino parents) school choice. A no cost alternative to the traditional public school system. A choice that would not be afforded to most if it were not free.
Teachers that work in schools with kids that are historically disenfranchised should not be paid the same as teachers who do not. Teachers that take on the largest challenges, and have success while doing so are the teachers that deserve to top the teacher pay scales. I’m not taking anything away from teachers in suburban school districts, however working with the neediest students in poor, disenfranchised schools (usually students of color) has become the hardest schools to staff.
The key word for me these days is accountability. Of course accountability looks different depending on your lens, but it’s importance is still relevant. There needs to be a uniform way to hold teachers accountable for student achievement. If nationally, normed standardized testing is what’s agreed upon, and then let’s do it.
As a professional, do you think you should be held accountable for the teaching, learning and progress of your students?
In closing, I circle back to my initial question, do great teachers really need unions?
For the most part, I think we’ll have some folks that say yes, and we’ll have some folks that will say no. But for the kids that I’m responsible for, I want teachers that aren’t watching the clock, teachers that know children raised in poverty need more, and are willing to give these students what they deserve.
What say you?
Who do you want teaching your kids?
*This is only meant to be a conversation piece.
Dear NAACP, (National body and ranking officials),
I write this open letter to you to express my concern with a recent resolution passed at your National convention (2016) that called for a moratorium on Charter Schools.
As a School leader of a Charter school, and an African-American father, I see first-hand the impact that our charter school has not just on students of color, but for all students. We are located on Long Island, in Riverhead, NY. Our school was founded in 2000, because parents were fed up with the education offered by the local school district. They fought day and night to have an alternative option for their children to receive a quality education.
Circa 2016, Riverhead Central School District (RCSD) still has its problems. RCSD was recently cited by NY State for having four of its schools receive a failing grade, due to their inability to properly educate the most difficult subgroups, Black and Latino students. This is a persistent problem in education, not just relegated to the Riverhead Central School District, but a real-life problem that plagues many communities of color. Your constituents in these historically underserved communities are the very ones that are in search for better lives through school choice.
As a father of three future change agents, choosing an educational program that is the “right fit” for each of our children will require constant family discussions. Since we are a family of moderate means, we have the financial ability to make choices to educate our children. If we are fed up with the bureaucracy of the public school system, we could choose private, or parochial schools for our children without skipping a beat.
In the case of our son, the best fit for him was Riverhead Charter School, the school where his father is the school leader. Not only do we talk the Charter School talk, we also walk the walk. We’ve seen this 11-year old 8th grader challenged, held accountable, and intrinsically motivated to always do his best. I’m not saying that he could not have been equally challenged at a Traditional Public School (TPS), what I’m saying is that we were able to make a family decision based on school choices, not just being relegated to attending only one option for schooling.
What about the parents that can’t afford to send their kids to private or parochial schools due to a lack of affordability? The same parents that are fed up with the offerings of traditional public school. Should they not have choices as well? Of course they should, especially in a Democratic society that prides itself on choice. School choice is no different.
Your resolution does not come without backlash. I’ve read previous articles that cast the NAACP as out of touch with the Black Community. I’ve also read past articles stating that the NAACP was and has been mortgaged by the teacher’s union. I recently watched a conversation on TV1 in which a fellow school leader, Dr. Steve Perry, Shavar Jeffries, & TV One News host Roland Martin spoke candidly on how the NAACP got it wrong with calling for this resolution for a moratorium on charter schools.
There’s an extreme divide in Black and Latino communities on the relevancy of the NAACP. Actions like this resolution add to the divide. It’s time for the NAACP to galvanize around more relevant 21st century issues that plague our community. The NAACP should not be determining where we send our students to school.
Further, if any member of the NAACP would like to visit our school, to see the impact that Charter Schools have on students of color, I am extending an open invite.
Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr. Ed.M. (School leader and father of a Charter School scholar)
Most people “flat out” feel uncomfortable when conversing about race in sports, politics, education, media, law enforcement, etc. In just about every facet of our lives, there are elements of race and social injustice that exist in our country.
To turn a blind eye to it, or to think that it is simply going to go away is insulting to those that have faced and continue to face racism in this country. Race issues exist, and permeate throughout American society, and they will continue to do so, until we come from behind the proverbial “steel curtain” (awesome foreshadow), and have candid conversations about the importance of racial diversity Educational Leadership.
The Rooney Rule requires that an NFL team with a head-coaching vacancy must interview one or more minority candidates for the position; given the NFL’s woeful history of considering and hiring minority candidates to fill head-coaching slots until the implementation of the Rooney Rule, the question can be reasonably asked as to whether Pittsburgh would have even considered Mike Tomlin as a candidate for the Steeler head job without the Rooney Rule (Proxmire, 2008).
Moreover, what about a Rooney Rule in public education? I mean– real, organic, purposeful conversations centered on school leadership in areas that serve high poverty families of color. Urban school districts would benefit greatly from having more minority male candidates as teachers, leaders, superintendents etc.
Recently, NYC has acknowledged the need for more African-American, Asian, and Latino male teachers, and they have pulled out the think tank in order to make this a reality. http://www1.nyc.gov/site/ymi/teach/nyc-men-teach.page.
What are all of the other school districts in the country waiting for? This is a common sense move.
Diversifying the field of teaching will take a high level of commitment from Districts. NYCDOE should be commended for taking the initiative to create and promote high levels of diversity in its teachers. The success of this venture will be measured on NYC’s ability to retain these male teachers. I’d certainly be interested in interviewing a group of these teachers after several years on the job, to assess the levels of additional support offered to them by NYC.
I hope that they will make the same commitment to recruiting, retaining, and supporting school leaders of color as well.
What if for every principal and school superintendent vacancy, urban school districts had to (in good faith) interview a qualified minority candidate? The action alone would mean the world to minority families that have lost faith in the system.
The Rooney Rule casts a spotlight on several critical workplace diversity issues, including the importance of having managerial leadership reflect the diversity of a workforce, strategies for ensuring that the best people for the job are considered, and tools for combating unconscious bias in hiring and promotion decisions (Proxmire, 2008).
If we can do this in a sport, why can’t we do this in education? Why can’t a school’s staff mimic the population of its students?
Works Cited: Proxmire, D. (2008). Coaching diversity: The rooney rule, its application and ideas for expansion. American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, 1-9.
When I first met Master Joseph Parker in 2008, I knew there was something special about this young man. He had that “it” factor. It took us a while to figure out what “it” was, but he remained steadfast and enthused about learning. He was one of those students that was very forthcoming about what he didn’t know. He was also a self-advocator. One of those students who would tell you the truth about your teaching and how you should teach him.