If You Have a Voice, Use It

Have You Heard road trips to Lawrence, Massachusetts to hear what students have to say…

On a frosty spring Saturday (does New England have any other kind???), Have You Heard co-creator Aaron French and I piled in the car and motored to Lawrence, Massachusetts to spend the day listening to students who, it turns out, have quite a lot to say. These student writing leaders and story tellers, part of an organization called Andover Bread Loaf that I’ve written about here, are determined to write a different future for themselves and their city. You’ll be dazzled by their eloquence… But wait – there’s more! The students also have something to say about the city’s schools, subject to a state takeover five years ago, and widely recognized as a turnaround success story, and a model for struggling districts elsewhere. Except that no one appears to have talked to the students in Lawrence who were being turned around. Working with the Lawrence Youth Council and Elevated Thought, a local arts organization, students surveyed more than 600 of their peers across the city, asking them questions like *what kind of subjects would you like to study?* *how do you like to learn?* and *what opportunities are missing for kids in Lawrence?* Their findings, and the months they spent researching education, inspired this remarkable film called What Is Education? In other words, episode #4 of Have You Heard is a multi-media affair both eye-opening and ear opening.

Don’t forget that sharing is caring, and feel free to send comments to jennifer@edushyster.com. You can also find the Have You Heard team on Twitter: @EduShyster and @AaronMoFoFrench.

How Parental Power(lessness) Distinguishes Suburban Public Schools from Urban Charters

By Emily Kaplan

This is how you get your child into a public school in an affluent suburb:

1. Make a lot of money.
2. Buy a house in an affluent suburb. 

Congratulations! Your child will now receive a top-tier education!*

*If you ever feel that your child is not receiving the education to which she is entitled, exercise your right to go directly to the administration and complain. (Your tax dollars pay their salaries, after all.) Work with teachers and administrators, many of whom have decades of experience, to create an individualized education plan for your child. Do not fear retribution: your child cannot legally be driven from the district in which you have chosen to live.**

**If you still feel that your child is not receiving the best education property taxes can buy, you may choose among several courses of action, including: going to the school committee (an elected board on which sits one or more parent representatives like yourself); running for a seat on said committee; sending your child to a private school; or moving to another suburb, where you may repeat the steps above until you are satisfied.


This is how you get your child into a Boston charter school:

  1. Possess the social capital to be informed about the existence of— and application procedures of— charter schools. (Good luck to recent immigrants, particularly those who do not speak English!)
  2. Make the harrowing decision that the education your child would receive in the local district school is so under-resourced and/or deficient, academically or otherwise, that you are potentially willing to tolerate one or more of the following characteristics of many charter schools:draconian discipline; an obsession with testing; a developmentally inappropriate curriculum; a curriculum which is not culturally representative of your family; an inexperienced team of teachers and administrators, many of whom have never taught in any other environment; treatment as a pawn in a drawn-out political ruckus about charter schools’ right to exist and/or expand (or not.)
  3. Attend lottery night, at which you will be informed by a charter school administrator that if— and only if— your child “wins the lottery,” he or she can have the chance to graduate from high school, gain acceptance to college, and succeed there. (According to her, if you “lose,” of course, the chances of your child having a fair shot in life are slim to none.)
  4. Look around the room of parents and their children, all of whom are just as desperate for quality education as you are.
  5. Realize that, statistically speaking, 90% of them will “lose.”

If you “win,” congratulations! Your child has a chance of receiving a decent education!*

*If you ever feel that your child is not receiving the education to which she is extraordinarily lucky to have “won,” well… she can always go back to the district you fled, right?

Continue reading →

Holding Back to Get Ahead

Researcher Joanne Golann says that no-excuses charters are teaching low-income students to defer to authority and hold back their opinions—the opposite of what they’ll need to succeed in college and life.

walking in lineEduShyster: You’re one of the first researchers to spend an extended period of time inside a no-excuses charter school. Here’s where I ask you to sum up close to two years of research into a single sentence. OK—you can have a paragraph.

Joanne Golann: I found that in trying to prepare students for college, the school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college. In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. These are very different skills than the ones middle-class kids learn—to take initiative, be assertive, and negotiate with authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves. One of the students I talk about in the article learned to restrain herself to get through, to hold herself back and not speak her mind. She ended up winning the most-improved student award in 8th grade for her changed behavior. Continue reading →

Sit Down and Shut Up

I went to a high-performing charter school to become a better teacher. Instead I learned how to silence and punish kids.

Editor’s note: the following piece was written by a charter school teacher whose request for anonymity I honored. Leave comments or email them to me at jennifer@edushyster.com and I’ll pass them along. 

It’s sexy to be *woke* right now. Some schools are infusing social justice into their curricula, while others are scaling back on harsh discipline practices. At an individual level, an increasing (and still too small) number of people—including a growing number of teachers, most of them young—are posting pictures and statuses on social media about how #BlackLivesMatter.

seth-tobocman.jpg (750×199)I’m no exception. Indeed, this growing movement has had a profound impact on the way I view my role as the white teacher of all students of color. I know it’s vital that I’m aware of the cultural differences between me and my students. I want to show them amazing literature by authors who look like them and expose them to new perspectives. I’m aware of the disparate manner in which discipline is applied at schools along racial lines. I don’t want to contribute to that disparity, or to the school-to-prison pipeline.  In a recent meeting led by teachers of color at my school, I excitedly engaged in a conversation about a cartoon that juxtaposed a white officer yelling at a black man against a white teacher yelling at a black child.

But I have a confession to make… Continue reading →

Our Voices Were Heard, But They Were Ignored

Students at a Boston High School that grooms community leaders learn a hard lesson

By Bilal Lafta
BilalBoston Community Leadership Academy is very unique in that it has a mission to expose students to community service and focuses a lot on leadership. Students have a community service requirement in order to graduate, but many of them end up taking that requirement above and beyond and really becoming a leader. That’s the reason why when students first heard about the budget cuts back in January, we took it as an opportunity to fight back. That’s what we’ve been doing for months now. We’ve been speaking out at the School Committee, speaking directly to our city councilors, contacting the superintendent and protesting.

Our school has taught us that if you follow this path of leadership and you act as a leader and say what you believe in, adults will hear you and ultimately you’ll be able to bring about change. That didn’t happen in this circumstance, despite the fact that we had so many students protesting and voicing their opinions. Our voices were heard, but they were ignored. Continue reading →