Why I’ve been silent

I know my last post was March 2015. This is not an excuse; it’s an explanation, and a poignant lesson on speaking out, especially in these dark times we find ourselves in. Now, I may have gotten busy after my trip to the Freedom Writer’s symposium in Washington D.C., which was nothing short of amazing, by the way; I was finishing up my master’s work, a principal internship, and moving halfway across the country to join the love of my life who relocated for work while I chose to stay in the Northeast completing my degree. These are all excuses to stop writing, for a short period at least, but it’s not why I stayed silent until now, and I’ve never stopped thinking about starting this blog up again. Now here’s the explanation I promised and you deserve. You see, I felt somewhat like a hypocrite. I had accepted a position as an 8th grade humanities teacher at a no excuses charter school, and I spent the past year working there, much to my own disappointment. The truth of the matter is, I needed a job, and I believe in giving kids opportunities to go to college, which they promised we would do. They were the first offer, and I was excited to get back into the classroom. I mean, how bad could it be?

Mostly, I felt like a hypocrite because I never believed in charter schools and I certainly don’t believe that they are any way to close the achievement gap, although many of them certainly claim they are doing just that. They don’t close the achievement gap because they don’t serve all kids. No, I’m not referring to the popular argument that they hand-pick their students and kick out kids that don’t “fit” their no excuses policies and procedures, I mean they don’t serve all American children. Education is supposed to be free and public. When we build charter schools, we take students and funds away from the traditional public schools, we give parents options, but parents often believe that sending their kids to a charter is the only way to give them an opportunity to go to college, and they’re devastated when they don’t win the lottery. Charter schools don’t fix the traditional public schools that are failing to give kids opportunities; they don’t serve the population, therefore contributing to even more inequality within the American educational system. I felt horrible for the students who weren’t being promised an opportunity to go to college in the schools I passed on my way into the charter school every morning (it ironically, probably purposefully, had been built across the street of a public school district’s central offices). So given this, I didn’t feel like I should be writing about closing the achievement gap while I was contributing to widening the gap. Additionally, I was scared to discuss anything in the school openly, as writing negatively about charter schools while paying my bills with money I earned from one, in a state where collective bargaining is illegal, probably wasn’t a good idea. Here’s how the story ends; I could never have prepared for how oppressive the regime in that organization was, and I quickly found myself depressed, disillusioned, and fighting for a way out.

I am happy to report that I have since been liberated from the shackles placed on me. While working there, I completed my first year in a doctoral program in educational leadership and policy studies. This year, I was awarded a fellowship and am continuing my research and coursework as a full-time student. I couldn’t be happier. I don’t plan to get into the cornucopia (hey, it’s November) of anecdotes I have about my sobering experiences working for a charter school and being a doc student in this particular post, but say stunned for lots to come. I’m sorry I stayed silent for this long, but I’m also grateful for the experience I got at the charter school, which I believe will allow me to further expose some of the inequities in our system and advocate for revolutionary change. I look forward to sharing with you again, and thank you in advance for your support of this little project.

Why standardized test scores are virtually useless to teachers

I spent the better part of the morning on Friday reviewing my student’s standardized test scores and here is what I learned:

  • My 2013/14 8th graders scored generally better than my 2012/13 8th graders in English Language Arts
  • My deep analysis of interim assessment data and focus on reader response writing seemed to pay off in 2013/14
  • Some students made great gains
  • Some students scores dropped from 7th grade to 8th grade
  • 69% of my students were proficient while only 44% of the 8th graders at the school were proficient
  • 79% of 8th graders in the state were proficient; while I’m narrowing the gap in my school, my students are still falling behind when compared to the state

Now, none of this really matters at this point.  These students are off in high school with some other teacher looking at their scores who knows very little about them at this stage in the school year.  To compare the 2012/13 students with the 2013/14 students seems odd to me since one of the classes I taught last year had higher scores overall than my classes the previous year.  I had more special needs students in 2012/13 and in 2013/14 I had zero special needs students and a handful of English Language Learners.  Also, the students I had in 2012/13 had different teachers in 7th grade than the students in 2013/14 did.  How can I truly tell that what I did differently from one year to the next made a difference?  There are some other clues, like interim assessment data that I received throughout the school year that do point to successes in my practice, but overall, to look at my data from one year to the next is comparing apples to oranges.

And this is why standardized test scores are meaningless to teachers.  Administrators, politicians, and parents want to hold us accountable, but how can you hold us accountable when we test students in the Spring and don’t receive the results until the Fall while we have a whole new group of students in front of us?  My point is that while the scores may tell us a little bit about our teaching practice, they tell us a lot more about our students; and by that time it’s too late.  I’m so proud of the students who made gains last year in my class, I’m also proud that I had a higher percentage of students proficient than my school did, but I won’t ever get the chance to see what went wrong with the kids who’s scores dropped or did not score proficient.  To reasonably hold teachers accountable for this data, we either need to receive the data while the students are in front of us or teach the same cohort for more than one year; otherwise, its a total waste of time and money.