Does Anybody Know What’s Going On?

What will be the impact of the ending NCLB will be for public education? When I started teaching in 2002 I taught on the community college level on both an urban and suburban campus. I remember quite clearly the level of work the students. This was the year NCLB was implemented. Over the years I taught full time on the college level, I felt that the student writing deteriorated. I wondered what was happening in the school systems, and I was frustrated with what the outcome was. After going to work in public schools, I very quickly came to understand the impact of NCLB. One school year I taught an entire year of a test prep class. Every class I taught was to prep the students to take the HSPA exam (this was in New Jersey). Every student in eleventh grade took one core class, and one prep class in English and math, therefore two of their classes each day were test prep. There’s some kind of crime there. My experience is of course, purely anecdotal, but in speaking with other long time educators, there is this general sense of a deterioration in academic abilities, especially thinking critically and writing authentically. Whether this is true or not, or if true, it may be because of other factors, such as the use of technology, but I think would be an interesting research study.

I recently spent an entire day at a transfer school conference in Manhattan. I was with school administrators and other teacher leaders. One avenue that we are working on is transforming schools into a fully blended, asynchronous schools, so we’re having intense discussion and bantering ideas. When the discussion turns to Common Core, I had to bring up that it may very well be possible that this will all change, or change somewhat, and soon. New Jersey is already backing away, and the New York press is speaking about New York also changing their use of Common Core standards: Cuomo Taskforce Signals Retreat from Common Core. How can we plan effectively? Who knows what will be coming in the future? Does anybody have a clue what is going on in public education? We live in interesting times.

Dear Mayor, we need computers!

Mayor Bill de Blasio

City Hall

New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor,

As an educator for New York City students, I have been thrilled with your vision and fortitude to implement life-changing actions for the children of New York City. The start of universal pre-k is very empowering and surely will put children on s strong road to success in their education.

There are many ambitious plans in your recent announcement for your education plan for students over the next ten years. This includes AP courses at all high schools, all students reading on grade level by 3rd grade. I applaud these effort and more.

I would like to call attention to one area that has not been seriously discussed. That is the ability to all student in New York City to be able to truly address 21st century skills by having access to some form of computer in every one of their academic classes (as well as appropriate internet connectivity). Simply being able to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is not enough to ensure students are being educated using technology platforms. In fact, I find it a derelict of duty to ask students to provide their own technology, as we know some simply cannot.

Our students will need to be able to compete in a global 21st century, and we cannot even imagine what careers they will have. However, amongst the skills needed will definitely be a native ability to use computer systems, and navigate the increasing online connectivity that is on 24-7. As an English teacher, I understand the importance of literacy, and this includes digital literacy, technology literacy and information literacy. Students need these skills and unless they have the ability in their schools, they might never achieve full fluency in them. Needless to say, STEM skills also rely heavily on the ability to use computers and software in many different iterations.

I do hope you take into consideration the need for New York City to ensure every single student has a computer available to them in all their academic classes in order to provide for the strongest possible foundation that they will use for the rest of their lives.


Guinevere Shaw

Digital Natives

Educators need to use new technologies every day in the classroom, where it is not considered a novelty. Our time is revolutionary, on par with the industrial revolution. It amazes me that educators, people who should be the purveyors of new knowledge resist technology. It is insane to think that chart paper and markers are the way to go in today’s world where everyone has a computer in their pocket. To add to this, why are schools themselves digitally deficient? I am appalled that school administrators spend money on other things rather than technology. Every student in every school must have access to a computer in every class they are in, every day. If it is a laptop cart of Chrome books for each classroom, so be it. But they must be available. In what scenario are our students going to not need to use computers? I can’t think of too many *current* jobs that do not use computers, let alone what will be the norm going forward. I didn’t have a smart phone until six years ago, I didn’t have an Ipad until three years ago. They are my total and complete norms today. Things just happen very rapidly, and I don’t see that slowing down.

Students who are digital natives are most often not that savvy with technology. Young people always need to be taught how to think. Just because someone has always had the ability to Google something certainly doesn’t mean they can discern quality sources. Students will figure out how to use and manipulate different technologies, but the skills to be literate in those technologies is what we need to concentrate on. Every educator needs to be literate themselves in different technologies in order to bring their expertise to the students. Educators also need to use these technologies every day in their classroom. As a function of the classroom itself, students should be self-directed, know where to look for assignments, have an ability to experiment and try different technologies to demonstrate different literacy skills.  It is the blending if skills attainment and technology that is the driving force in the 21st century classroom. As is often said, who know what jobs these students will have? It is our job to prepare them to be malleable, resourceful and comfortable tackling whatever new changes will certainly come their way (and ours too!).

Why Do We Have “Poor” Schools?

There is the constant cacophony of complaints about testing, and common core, and teacher tenure, that rattle my head. Time and again in these discussions I hear arguments from both sides that basically goes like this – teachers who teach in poor schools will leave in droves (if you rely on tests for teacher evaluations, if you implement Common Core, if you take away tenure); or teachers who teach in poor schools just suck, that’s why the kids are poor (and why we need to rely on tests, and the Common Core and take away tenure).

Why is the conversation never about the acceptance, that damn, there just are poor schools? How is it that the people continue to talk about “lower socio-economic schools” and what to do about THEM? Do we just accept that there is no way in hell school can ever be integrated along socio-economic levels? So let’s just accept that poor kids will go to poor schools in poor neighborhoods – and isn’t that just a shame? And their teachers suck too.

Americans are very comfortable with this kind of segregation (and they also are comfortable with racial segregation, which is often is de facto in socio-economic segregation). There is simply no conversation that there should be no POOR schools, that all classes of children should be present in every public school in this country, in every classroom, and that this structure will benefit all the children from all classes.

Can you imagine an America with no more poor schools?

Think on that one.

“Teaching” Diversity

When diversity is mentioned it often is framed in a way that tries to suppress the dominant culture, however because of intensely segregated schools I see that the dominant culture is not as overbearing as completely not understood. This follows socioeconomic lines. And forget about any understanding of “foreign” cultures that exist. So I view teaching diversity as a way for students who are mostly isolated to have some exposure to others who are not like them. Overall I think the best way to address diversity is to enforce integration along socio-economic lines.  A New York Times article on May 4, 2015 (Why Mobility Matters) discusses how children who integrate above their socio-economic status into neighborhoods which is in a higher socio-economic bracket do much better in life. Besides the economic value, it is high time this country face its balkanization. Do we see the need reflecting this in the news about every day? We can teach diversity, and awareness is certainly a positive, but until we have true diversity in schools, I’m not sure how large of an impact diversity lessons really have over time.

Keeping the above in mind, I would teach diversity by immersion. The school where I teach high school shares space with four other high schools. These schools are diverse themselves. My school is a transfer school and is mostly comprised of Latinos of Dominican descent and African-Americans; and the majority are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Another high school, which is traditional, also has the same demographics. There is a school that could be considered in the middle, with a bit more diversity, with finally the last school that is much more diverse racially and economically, and they are higher performers.

How interesting would it be to have classroom intervisitations? Students should be able to work on assignments and projects together. What could happen? I asked a high performing student of mine what he thought of this idea and his response was that there would be more conversation and exchange of ideas, some surprising information learned, and perhaps a beginning of understanding people who are different, on both sides.

This usually is attempted by having “sister” classes with a global partner, but I am more interested in the idea of getting to know your neighbor first. I can envision not talking via Skype but working on a project that is using a foundational technology, like an LMS (always my big push) and for students to be able to collaborate in person and online. The project could be many things, it could be a research project, a multi-media blog, a video production, etc. there are many ways to focus. The idea is for students to have a common goal and by working together, they will get to know each other. It’s an organic way of teaching diversity.

There are many conversations about preparing students to be global citizens, but some of the most provincial students I have had are in Manhattan –  a diverse and global city for sure. It is imperative that students interact with people outside their neighborhoods and start to break down the racial and economic barriers that continue to separate them. At home, using simple technology to connect, is a way to start.

Amplify Your Lesson with UDL

Universal Design can be, simply, a way to diversify your teaching and empower as many students as possible. It is not, and should not be considered, a way to dumb down your lessons. It is a way to engage everybody and increase the learning potential of everyone.

Technology is not Cheating

I have heard in meetings teachers lament the use of online dictionaries (amongst other technologies). Why? Because then students will never know how to use a real dictionary. I’m not sure that that is the case, but also I can’t envision a world where a person must spell a word correctly but not be able to access an online dictionary. The Zombie apocalypse? The only “world” that may happen in is a school. So what are we testing? If spelling is the test, then I can see the use of any dictionary would be “cheating” but if the assessment is for other purposes, why not? I’d rather a student concentrate on higher level critical thinking than be a super speller. But there are always those who lament the loss of the old world to new technologies.

The argument that these supports will not be available to students once they enter the “real” world rings false too. It’s an advantage in the private sector to know how to use technologies. We all use tools to help us, why when we’re in school is this a “crutch”? I suppose I could pop popcorn on my stove like it’s 1973, but I microwave it instead. It’s still popcorn. If educators take a one size fits all approach, then I can see why they do not like supports, it can give advantages to some students, who say are great spellers, but not to the “bad” spellers or whatever label you want to insert here). But if a teacher gives dynamic assessments, then the use of individual support fades away, and true assessment can be had.

Technology is not cheating, use the tools!