student engagement

Opting Out of Standardized Testing Now Has a Name and a Face.

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Opt-Out Isn’t Black and/or Brown

I’ve provided insight on the data found in a recent Columbia University survey on the National Opt-Out Movement.

The goal of analyzing this report is as follows:

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Income levels effect opt out choice

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.

Reference:

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.

 

Relationship Building w/ Parents of Color By: Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr.

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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.

 
When Joseph came into 5th grade he was not on grade level.  He struggled with basic comprehension which led to immense struggles in both Math and ELA.  A confident young lad like most people, he became frustrated with failure.  The teachers didn’t have any answers.  The school leader at the time, Ms. Laurie Werner suggested that Joseph be referred to a child study team to conduct a battery of tests to determine what issues may or may not exist.
 
Insert Gennifer Parker (Jennifer with a G), Joseph’s mother and number one advocate.  I remember her pulling me to the side and saying, “Ankrum, hell no, they aren’t referring my kid to no God dang special education”.  
 
For those that don’t know; The label “special education” has been a stigma in the Black community for decades.  Research has stated that special education was used to marginalize students of color.  Labeling students “special education” was seen as the easy way out.  This is particularly true when educators didn’t want to do the necessary legwork to find out what was really stopping Black and Latino students from learning.  They’d just categorize them.
 
I remember pulling Ms. Parker to the side and having an in-depth conversation with her about the special education process and the benefits of testing her son to see if he qualified for services.  I explained that today’s mainstream special education services were nothing like the services that once haunted communities of color.  She trusted me. Ms. Parker permitted her son to go through the process of testing.  He was found to have difficulties and was issued an individualized education program (IEP).
 
Initially, Master Joseph was bothered by the findings.  He wasn’t his normal, jovial self. He wanted to learn and be like everyone else.  I remember giving him pep talks, reminding him that he wasn’t like everyone else.  In my opinion he was better than everyone else.  I Was honored to become his mentor.
 
After I left the school in 2011 we kept in touch.  He would fly down to Baltimore to visit my family and became a part of my family.  We would regularly touch base on his progress, struggles, etc. Whenever he messed up in school “Jennifer with a G” would call me and say, “call Parker”, or “please call your boy”.  I would oblige of course because Joseph had grown on me like he was my own flesh and blood.
 
As Master Joseph was going through his struggles, his mother became a parent advocate for parents who had students with disabilities.  Amazingly this woman who was once opposed to the process was now walking parents through what services they should ask for.  This is an example of what building a connection with a parent can do for the lives of students and families.
 
Did I mention “Jennifer with a G” dropped out of college to raise Joseph.  In order to show her son he can accomplish anything if he sets his mind to it, she went back and finished college.
 
Fast forward to last night, 6/23/16.  Master Joseph Parker walked across the Harlem Village Academy high school.  True to form, he did his “prayer dance”.  It was super authentic, “reverend like”, but typical Joseph.  Last night I was beaming with pride.
 
This summer Joseph is attending a Morehouse summer program With hopes of being fully admitted as a freshman in the fall.  In 2008, I made the following promise to Ms. Parker, “if he makes it into Morehouse, I’ll purchase his books for the first semester”… Boy am I glad you can now rent books…  Congratulations Master Joseph Parker on your accomplishment.   This is only the beginning.  With the grace of God, you can conquer anything…
 
I share this story to highlight the importance of building relationships with students and families.  If we truly desire students to go out and change the world, we have to be transparent and actionable in how we interact with students.  
 
 

Keeping Scholars Engaged in Teaching and Learning by Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr.

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1. Build authentic connections with students. Students learn from the people they know care about them. If you care, show your students by being tough on them. Be consistent with your students, and be present in their lives. Do not make assumptions about your students. Simply meet them where they are. “More recently, Dantas and Coleman’s (2010) study addressed the complexity of diverse families’ lives and also illustrated how miscommunication between teacher, school and families from all backgrounds can lead to teachers’ own reality and perceptions being influenced by their ‘uninformed assumptions’ (p. 170).”
2. Just because you are qualified to teach doesn’t mean that you are qualified to teach me. A four-year degree, and passing pedagogical tests do not qualify you to teach, at least in my opinion. It takes more. It takes a willingness to continuously improve, challenging yourself year in and year out. “In addition to the many challenges associated with educating students living in poverty, the teachers in these schools are generally less experienced and have much higher rates of attrition (Ingersoll, 2004).” Show your students you want to be there, and stay, “ride or die” with the students, in other words do not be afraid to overly commit to your students.

3. Find out what your students are interested in, and build your lessons around their interest. It takes very little time and/or creativity to change a word problem to reflect what’s happening in the lives of students. Students should be able to take learned skills from the classroom and make that learning adaptable to real life situations. “Instructional modifications that involve individual interest necessarily involve prior knowledge—learners are likely to have high prior knowledge about their interests (Renninger et al., 2002).”

4. Have frank and honest conversations with students about high expectations. Having high expectations for students should be a classroom normality. In urban areas, some of these students have been a part of cyclical generational poverty. That cycle can end by showing students the importance of education and instilling passion into student learning. “Culturally responsive teaching offers ways to best support diverse learners in an inclusive classroom as it approaches education by looking at the whole child where students are empowered intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Ladson-Billings, 2009).”

5. Lastly, make the parents apart of the learning process. Parents want to be involved in their students’ lives. “Teachers should think of parents as thought-partners in providing rigorous, meaningful education to students (Ankrum, 2016).” Make parents a part of the process. Make them feel welcomed in the school environment by creating trusting, long lasting partnerships. Parents are not the enemy.

Works Cited:

Ankrum, R. J. (2016). Socioeconomic Status and Its Effect on Teacher/Parental Communication in Schools. Journal of Education and Learning, 5(1), 167.

Dantas M and Coleman M (2010) Home visits: Learning from students and families.  In: Dantas M and Manyak P (eds) Home-School Connections in a Multi-Cultural Society: Learning from and with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. New York: Routledge, pp. 156–176.

Ingersoll, R.M. (2004). Why do high-poverty schools have difficulty staffing their classrooms with qualified teachers? Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The Dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African-American children. (2nd ed.) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Renninger, K., Ewen, L., & Lasher, A. (2002). Individual interest as context in expository text and mathematical word problems. Learning and Instruction, 12, 467-490. Doi:10.1016/S0959-4752(01)00012-3