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 →

In an Effort to Keep Our Kids Safe, We May be Silencing Their Voices

Parent and early childhood educator Jamila Carter warns that the emphasis on strict discipline and control in urban schools can stifle kids’ creativity and natural desire to learn…

By Jamila Carter

Philadelphia mom and early educator Jamila Carter.

Philadelphia mom and early childhood educator Jamila Carter.

There is a sentiment among some folks in the black community that teaching our children respect for authority through strict discipline will save them from falling victim to violence, jail or being killed at the hands of the police.

Historically, black parents, especially those of us in low-income communities have often used strict discipline coupled with love and support as a means to protect our children. So I’m not surprised when I hear of parents who welcome the *no-excuses* discipline methods employed at some urban schools.

The belief is that because of the color of our skin there is no room for mistakes, and in the real world we may not get a second chance. Therefore, the training ground for this dismal reality should extend to the classroom.

I understand why many parents feel the need to use discipline to protect their children, but I reject this notion in the classroom. I certainly believe that classrooms must be safe and orderly and that students must face consequences for misbehaving in order to maintain a healthy and productive learning environment. However, the emphasis on order and discipline, especially in urban schools where children of color are the majority, can be demeaning to students and their families. It can lead to a style of classroom management that excludes one of the key elements of education: engaging children. It may also give parents the false notion that strict discipline is the driving factor in their child’s educational success. Continue reading →

Disparate Measures

The author of a new study on charter schools, civil rights and suspensions says it’s time for charters to abandon the *broken windows* approach to discipline…

brokenwindowsEduShyster: Your new study on charter schools, civil rights and discipline hones right in on what seems like, um, kind of a big contradiction. That the self-proclaimed civil rights issue of our time so often seems to lead to a type of schooling that ends up violating students’ civil rights. Am I right?

Dan LosenThe main thrust of the report is this concern that you’re raising. That not only are there some really high-suspending charter schools, but that you have advocates for these kinds of schools resisting what is a really important discipline reform movement across the nation. Also, we have to be looking at school suspension rates when we’re considering performance. We can’t be making excuses or giving a pass to charter schools when we know there’s a consensus that we shouldn’t be suspending kids at really high rates, because it’s really harmful. What we see when we look at the data is that there are some really high-suspending charter schools that are embracing zero tolerance which they should be rejecting. Continue reading →

Signing Their Rights Away

A series of court rulings suggests that students who attend charter schools do not have the same rights as public school students…

scalesQuick reader: if you dramatically scale up schools in which students have fewer rights than students who attend traditional public schools, with what do you end up? If you answered *more students with fewer rights,* congratulations! You have won the opportunity to learn more on this important, yet little discussed topic. Our expert witness today: one Dr. Preston Green, a professor of law and educational leadership, who has been monitoring a series of court rulings regarding the rights of students in charter schools. Or make that the lack of rights. Dr. Green warns that both state and federal courts have issued rulings stating that students in charters do not have the same due process rights as public-school students. So what does this mean for cities like Los Angeles where a dramatic expansion of charter schools is on the table? *Half of the publicly-funded schools in Los Angeles might be legally permitted to ‘dismiss’ students without due process.* says Dr. Green. *We have to ask ourselves if such a scenario is acceptable.* Continue reading →

What’s the Point?

Even as the debate over charter schools in Massachusetts heats up, the ultimate goal of the experiment is anyone’s guess…

It’s time for a field trip, reader, and today we’re headed to a little place I like to call *an alternate reality.* Shall I summon forth the scene?

entering_brockton (1)A special meeting of the Board of Education is underway. Members have convened to discuss the single most successful school turnaround in state history: once failing Brockton High School, which 15 years ago under went a remarkable teacher-led transformation. Board chair Paul Sagan has allotted extra time to hear from teachers who helped lead the acclaimed literacy initiative, subject of national accolades (although, weirdly, mostly ignored in Massachusetts). Secretary of Education James Peyser has a question. Is it true that a third of each graduating class or some 300+ kids per year, at a school where 63% of students are considered *high needs* and 20% are still learning English, routinely qualifies for the state’s Adams scholarship, guaranteeing four years of funding to any public university in the state? Peyser does the math on his phone, then checks it on his other phone. He strokes his chin, musing aloud that this number dwarfs the combined total of grads from Boston’s charter schools, and, oddly, seems to include not just girls but boys too. Another question, this one from state Commissioner Mitchell Chester: this teacher-led concept sounds promising. Since every school has teachers is it replicable? At which point the Board members pause to check their calendars to schedule a visit so that they can see for themselves what lasting, teacher-led transformation looks like.

OK—so that’s not exactly how things went down. Instead, the Board voted to gift Brockton with a new regional charter high school that will compete against Brockton High by offering less—Look Ma, no art or music!—all the while draining an estimated 5% of the city’s total education budget per year.  Continue reading →