The games people play with other people’s children….

“A 22-year-old who says he graduated from high school at age 16, earned a bachelor’s degree at 18, and just earned a doctorate was given permission by the New York Board of Regents to open a charter high school in Rochester. But after questions arose over whether he told the truth about his credentials, he resigned as the founder, although others on his team said the school will remain on track to open next year…”– Washington Post

Ok, when I first read this article I really thought that this was one of those: “Onion” (fake news magazine), “Too silly to be true” spoof news stories. But then I thought: “This, after all, was the Washington Post, and they would at least practice the standard minimum of “fact-checking” to determine the authenticity of this story.” For if this sad tale were true, it would mean that some “responsible” people in positions of power and authority, exercised a callous disregard for the educational well-being of a selected group of children. But the sad reality is that this story is not a silly educational news spoof; it is very real, real common, and the victims of this, and similar charades are unfortunately real children. I can only wonder how long communities of color will allow this tragic joke on their children to continue. Social generalizations are always tricky; but in many cases generalizing is reflective of at least some form of “truth”. After three decades in education I have come to the belief that if something is “good for children”; there will be communities of active, inquisitive, aware and insistent parents, who will seek to acquire that which would educationally empower their children (That is why you had so many Black middle class parents placing their children in the: “Little Sun People” pre-school program in Brooklyn; its educational quality was spread by word of mouth, in similar social-educational circles!) On the other hand, while many Washington DC Black leaders, and many in the DC Black community, did not fully appreciate what was developed at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School. Delegations from school districts (both in and outside of the U.S.) visited the school weekly to gather information as to how they could duplicate the school’s philosophy and practices on behalf of their own students. I have always maintained an ethical standard that as a profession; we should assist and support all educators, and their students without prejudice; and so I made the school, the staff and myself available to them. This practice started even earlier, when in my tenure as a principal of Science Skills Center H.S. (SSCHS), in NYC. A delegation (one of many) from one of the city’s specialized high schools visited SSCHS. They came because they wanted to see our state of the art Robotics lab (made known because of the success of our Robotics team, which shocked everyone in the city by going to the national FIRST Robotics competition finals!) The parents and staff from that school (so I was told) insisted, after their visit; that their school should also have a state of the art Robotics lab. The lesson in summary is this: If something is really that good for children, the communities of power, information and enfranchisement will not fail to adopt that which will empower their children, they will insist in creating the same opportunity for their children’s academic success. And so following the logic of that hypothesis; why haven’t these politically powerful and financially wealthy American communities adopted the charter schools concept into their school districts? It is, at the very least a question worth asking. Meanwhile the children of the poor, the disenfranchised, the politically disconnected are subjected to any and every educational circus act that shows up; with of course an expensive price tag attached! And yet these same children continually bear the brunt of academic failure and disappointment in our public school systems. Perhaps these communities should copy some of the educational practices that take place in those affluent non-charter school districts. And that is, creating neighborhood schools that are well resourced, and peopled with school building leaders, support staff and teachers who are credentialed, competent; who are truly careful and caring about the educational success of the children they serve. Design schools that hold themselves primarily responsible for the academic success of children. Not excuses for: the economic status of the children; the formal educational levels (or English proficiency) achieved by the parents; or the socioeconomic state of the communities from which the children emerge. Now, that would be a real story; and a story that was really worth telling!

There should be no end to anger, and no end to learning what to do with anger.

Until now I have said nothing on social media about the Michael Brown case. First because, I promise myself to wait, and not write when I am angry. The problem (the truth) is that my anger never really ends; and like a river, it seems to flow unimpeded throughout my personal history in this nation. As long as I can remember, back to a teenage time when I became aware that many in this land found my Black personhood objectionable, and rejection-able. I have never felt like taking a break from anger. Oh I pretended (and have an intellectual) interest in sports, Scandal, HTGAWM and other mundane things; but in reality I don’t watch, or care how any of these distractions turn out. I spend most of my time in a state of creative anger. I care little about what a psychologist may have to say about this; (as I act in the spirit of James Baldwin, one of my heroes); as far as I am concerned I feel that it is the non-angry Black Americans, and not me, who are truly psychologically unhealthy, I feel fine. Second I don’t like simplistic and temporary solutions to what are complicated problems. Too often people just want to get “back to normal”; no matter how painful that normal might be; rather than engage in the serious work of meaningful change (silly sound-bites over serious solutions). The third reason I waited, is that throughout my entire professional life I have witnessed so much: angry, bold and threatening talk after each “incident”, insult and denial. This anger is of course a very rational response to an irrational state of ones humanity being denigrated. And yet I am suspect of this, and all collective “angry moments”. I have watched as majority Black schools, and school districts, all over this nation have gone (and some started that way and never left) into degradation, decline and dysfunction; even under the watchful eyes of Black district leadership, and cities under Black political control. What can one say when daily, a people send their children into school buildings that destroy their intellects, imaginations, self-esteem and life possibilities. The minds of young Black people are “murdered” every day, as their bodies are prepared like a form of raw material, for the criminal justice system. We say a lot, but do nothing, as the annual ritual of slow educational death is executed right before our eyes. This abdication does not go unnoticed by the Officer Wilsons’ of this nation: “if these people will not fight to the death on behalf of their children, why should I respect them, why should it matter?” For sure, we have the media sanctioned “black” leaders who are masters at generating a lot of anger, but they are oh so careful not to do the serious, and hard work of preparing young people to live out meaningful and productive lives; and at the same time organize the communities that gave birth to these children, to protect their most precious resource at all cost. And even as the media cleverly “denounces” these “incendiary black leaders”; they make sure that they give them plenty of media-face time, so that they can spew angry style rhetoric that lacks any hope of developing a long-term conditional change. These misleaders purposely avoid (because of the financial consequences, and physical danger) living out the historical activist-prophetic and principled tradition of a Harriet, Hamer, Mandela, Malcolm and Martin; these leaders who were not only willing to speak truth to an evil power; but spoke the organizing and actionable truth to the powerless. Perhaps we will one day reach the “tipping-point” of our sorrow; and then we will realize that our tears must not be shed in vain; rather they must nourish the soil of a righteous resistance, and the flowering affirmation of our humanity.

A brief study of animals across the species landscape will reveal that even the most normally “docile” animals will instinctively respond with great strength and vigor in defense of their young. How many times, after times, after times, do we say: enough? Officer Wilson spoke for all who believe in White supremacy, when he said he would not do anything different, that he acted properly. But when we fish, kill a mouse in our house, or swat an insect, do we have regrets or remorse? Michael Brown was not a fellow human to him, and therefore (and as the fake prosecutor and rigged grand jury agreed), not worthy of humane consideration. There is no hope that our truth, or any truth, will be exposed by the George Stephanopoulos and Don Lemons of the world. The truth is that we have not gone far beyond our statutory 3/5 of a person status; for what part of the level of disrespect hurled at Mr. Obama (aka POTUS) don’t we understand also represents the White supremacist view of everyone who looks like him? We need to fight, not by destroying our own neighborhoods, and looting stores; but by selective and focused boycotts and withdrawals from a key, targeted economic entity in this nation; actions that don’t hurt poor working class people (a national version of the Montgomery bus boycott!). We would then see the masters of this economic system move quickly (out of fear of being next); to correct the “correctors” (bypassing both the POTUS and AG Holder); not out of a sense of morality, but rather because the senseless killing of Black youth would be bad for business. Further, pressure must be exercised in the court of world opinion; our nation can’t be allowed to present itself as a beacon and model of freedom and justice; as we set international records for incarcerations, have selected populations lingering in poverty, unemployment, miseducation and despair; the “gerrymandering” and obstructive voting rights acts that relegate Black citizens into a politically inconsequential state;(as a nation we must measure ourselves against ourselves, not against a North Korean standard.) Folks who may care little about Black life and Black rights; may care a great deal about “America’s image” abroad. And then we must do some hard internal work. First we need to define and appoint our own leaders, rather than MSNBC, CNN, the White House (the city and state house); or who scores higher on the “sound bite volume meter”; making those decisions for us. We must educate an entire community, by first asking as in the police murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland: What did you expect to happen when you called the police (although you told them that it probably was a toy gun) on a young Black man? Did you really expect the police to come and protect and serve this young man as if he were an American citizen, and human worthy of restraint and respect? I understand (I did it in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park) that young boys like to play “army soldier” & “cops and robbers”; but putting anything that looks like a gun into a Black child’s hands, is putting them in grave danger of being killed by those sworn to protect them. As I often told my students, even when they did not want to hear it: “The world is not fair and just, deal with this reality responsibly!” As an educator, I fully appreciate that these “survival lessons” are not easy; as you try to balance between trying not to destroy the child’s self-worth and esteem; while at the same time trying to keep them alive; and yet it must be undertaken by every Black parent; and every educator of good will. We must teach young Black and Latino youth how to “pre-see” and preempt possible confrontational situations; understand how your actions are perceived, not by you, but by others; how to “manage” a police encounter. This is not a call to the surrendering of constitutional rights, cowardice or society’s concept of political correctness; rather it is the recognition of what it means to live under occupation, what it means when you confront, in any situation(the street, school, job, etc.), someone (anyone) who does not: “mean you well”. I have unfortunately attended the funerals of teenagers (“teenage funeral”, it does not even sound right.) Every parent, or family member I spoke to, just wanted to see their child’s smile and laughter again. The: Just to be alive. We must teach our children the why and how, we really need them to, just stay alive. Just stay alive, as we adults summon the courage and instinctual sense to demand, and create an educational system that would allow them to live with the hope and expectation of a positive and productive future.

The POTUS executive orders on immigration puts some of the best educational principles into practice

One of the most beautiful, rewarding principles, and indeed promises of public education, is our call to every child and every family, to come to school: Just as you are! We don’t care how, and why you came to the school; only that you are now in school. I have explained to so many nervous parents over the years, that my role as principal was not one of an extension of the government’s immigration enforcement efforts. And many (I have heard) high school principals have had to effectively deal with their own creative version of the “Dream Act”. It happens when some of their very capable students reach their junior year, and must now face the prospects of applying for college, when either they, or their parents don’t have the “appropriate” residency status. The principal is usually alerted to this situation when the college advisor comes into your office and says: “We need to talk?” (That opening statement almost always means that she is not bringing you good news). She is alerted to the student’s problem because the student is not turning in the scheduled college application process “documents”; and it is a student who faithfully follows the school’s rules, and that definitely includes when it comes to academic opportunity. There is then a meeting with the advisor the principal and the student, in what is often a very tearful session, the truth is revealed by the student. I often thought that these tears were a combination of being relieved to finally be able to tell the truth to people you trust, and you know care about you (imagine a teenager keeping and carrying this heavy and difficult secret for so many years); but also the tears are because of the uncertainty of what the future holds for them. Their dream for so many years of school was to attend college, and by doing so, give themselves a chance to realize their true human gifts and talents. These are some of the most difficult moments in education, when one faces the very heart and meaning of that Langston Hughes poem; “A Dream Deferred”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

And it is also the best moments in education when you can make those dreams possible, and change the course of a single human’s history for the better; in the service of a better nation.

Last night the POTUS properly presented himself as the: “History Teacher-In-Chief” when he reminded some of our more exclusionary and hard-hearted fellow citizens; that they also are not too far removed generationally from an immigrant status themselves. A welcoming nation let their ancestors in; provided them, and/or their children with a free education, and allowed them (and you) to enjoy one of the best standard of life on the planet. Don’t now pull the ladder up, and away from those still stuck below, who are now like you once were; struggling for survival and a chance at a decent life; a hope for a better future for their children through education. But Mr. Obama was also correct in emphasizing (and putting a face on) the importance of education as a transformational experience, that can move people from mere existence, to the full realization of their human potential. To be the authors and actors in the promise and progress of the human experience. As an African American educator, I can’t parse and hedge on my commitment to full human rights for all oppressed, disenfranchised and disinherited people. We must be the model, and the national leaders of tolerance, inclusion, compassion and the concern for the “left-out”, “kicked-out” and “kept-out”. For who but us in this nation, is more aware of the pain and suffering of that status; who is better acquainted with having our dreams and hopes denied? The big lie of the selfish corporate cultural thinking, is that the poor and disadvantaged must fight each other for jobs for which these obscene profiteers refuse to pay a decent living wage. Don’t believe it. (And definitely don’t believe that Republicans suddenly want Black Americans to have employment opportunities in this nation) There is more than enough wealth in this country to put everyone to work, who wishes and is able to work. And for sure, we as a nation have been blessed with enough natural and intellectual resources to educate every child who has a dream to be educated. Let us support the President’s efforts!

Response to the article: “A Teacher’s View on Tenure”.

Thanks Ayodele; I thought this article was interesting for several reasons; and it was these points in particular, that help to frame my response:
1. It was written by a teacher.
2. She is a department chairperson.
3. A teacher working in the Los Angeles USD (LAUSD).
4. It is a “different” discussion concerning teacher tenure.

I greatly appreciate that this article is written by a teacher; and that she does not rely on some of the old tired, and false clichés of “protecting academic freedom”. I won’t speak for all superintendents but in my experience (and in my own principal experience); I did not see principals rushing to get rid of teachers who were effective in the classroom; and thus aiding in the principal’s own “professional survival”! One of the great myths in public education is this idea of this drive on the part of principals of trying to get rid of good (effective) teachers. For sure, I have seen some principals who were ineffective in the role of being good school building instructional leaders; or some even not very good at being good building/staff/people managers. But these few people don’t make the case for the need for teacher tenure in the K-12 world. It would be much more productive, educationally (for the sake of the children), to professionally develop, or (if that fails) remove these ineffective principals. The response to a “bad” principal is not a bad regulation that would allow ineffective teachers to essentially keep a job for life, regardless of the quality of the professional product. Further a lengthy, expensive and distracting process of removal for reasons of incompetence, and in many cases criminality is also not in the best interest of a resource strapped public school system. It is important to note that the writer is a departmental chairperson. This fact goes a long way in understanding her thoughtful take on tenure as a teacher. (For those who may not know) As a departmental chairperson she has no doubt gained the respect of her peers, and administration for her effective classroom practice; why is this important? The discussion of tenure among educational professionals is almost always related to a: “personal situation” (Our stand on the topic is often based on where we stand professionally!). As a principal (and my entire professional life) I actually never thought about tenure; my focus was on the pursuit of professional excellence; “how well were the students doing?” was my primary question. Now, my life perhaps would have taken a very different professional, and monetary turn if I had been more of a “careerist”; but I make no apologies, and have no regrets, as to my singular focus on students. Further, the best (most effective) teachers I have supervised cared less about tenure, and more about their students succeeding academically. And the “best of the best” actually wanted to be challenged to improve their practice. Also important, effective teachers were not “impressed” with colleagues who were “poor performers” or “slackers!” The most effective educators I have encountered over the years; have in a sense, been driven by a set of core ethics; these ethical values would produce a great deal of discomfort on the part of that teacher, if students were failing, and they were just “collecting a check”. At the same time these individuals wanted to work in an environment where the leadership practices and evaluations, were driven by school building leaders with knowledge of teaching and learning standards; and who also evaluated them through a code of professional ethics. No professional should be judged by arbitrary, or unprincipled standards. I actually believe that the two principles of: “Do no harm to children”, and the good professional and ethical treatment of teachers can be balanced; but it would take a little more intellectual and political courage then has been displayed so far in this national conversation on teacher tenure. One of my primary critiques/concerns of the entire “teacher tenure” conversation is its limitations. This is due in large part to that fact that the conversation is being led to a large extent (on both sides) by people who have little, to no experience in the actual practice of school based teaching and leadership! Or, on the other hand by people and organizations who don’t have the educational interest of the children as a primary (not accidental) objective of the entire public education effort. This misguided conversation is also taking place in an atmosphere where the “solutions” to pedagogical problems are “oversimplified”, “sloganized”, and “dumb down”; or in the case of some printed journalistic efforts: insanely and provocatively sensationalized. And it is this: “one act solves all educational problems” approach that is responsible for so much harm, and misdirected behaviors presently at work in the profession. This confusion further contributes to a primary reason that public education continues to fail, and in particular, fail children and communities of color. Unfortunately, these same theoretically deficient “ magic-bullet solutionneers”, just take turns, by ascending and descending into, and out of power; and so we never get at the fundamental problems that cause so many children to not have a positive public educational experience.
Some very well-meaning folks have invested time-effort and money in legal challenges to state teacher tenure laws (thus the LAUSD point). I agree with the fundamental idea that they put forward, that “tenure laws” are inconsistent with creating learning institutions that affirm the child’s right to be safe, and to effectively learn; above the right of an individual adult to be employed in that particular job category. Now this is not such a strange or radical idea that people make it out to be. Every day our “rights” are evaluated in relationship to the greater “community good”; and the rights of others in the community. We have a right to own a car, but not a right to drive without a license, insurance, recklessly or drunk; “free speech” (as we are often forced to explain to students); does not mean any speech, in any place, at any volume, and at any time. “Rights” don’t exist in isolation, they are not absolute, there are “standards”, and a “hierarchy of rights” that must be taken into consideration. Society has even gone as far (and rightfully so) to say that your right to be a parent, is not greater than your child’s right to not be abused, to not be put in physical or psychological danger, or to not be educated. And so I agree with the fundamental premise of the “no tenure” folks. My concern is that too much is being promised with the removal of teacher tenure; promises that in reality can’t be realized by this single act. Even if a school district was able to remove 15% of its lowest performing teachers (assuming we created a sound standard-rubric based system to determine such people); we would still need to effectively and efficiently improve the practice of the remaining 85%. We would need to make sure that the 85% “good practitioners” had the materials and supplies they need to do their work effectively. We would need to come up with a plan to retain these effective teachers; and also come up with a plan to recruit replacements for the 15% that were removed (at the same time that a percentage of the 85% are also retiring each year). And particularly in middle and high schools, we would need to make sure that these 85% effective teachers could work in a safe, “teaching-efficient” and productive school learning environment. This would mean adding all of the much-needed out of classroom student support systems and resources (i.e. counseling, informal education programs, academic support, etc.) to complement all of this “good teaching”. Finally, to fully support the 85% we would need to develop a strong crop of effective school building leaders (SBL). These leaders would need to have a deep knowledge of how to build a strong, positive, safe and productive school culture, knowledge of pedagogical theories, strongly literate in content standards and teaching methodology; and be fluent in theories of personnel development. These SBLs would need to function as the “Chief Instructional Coach”, and primary professional developers in the school building. My hypothesis (based on experience), is that a school can survive a lot of things; but it is almost impossible for a school to survive, and thrive under poor and ineffective leadership. A bad SBL could even undermine the best work, of the best teachers!
Further, the terribly misguided and destructive approach of many of the “anti-tenure” crowd, to utilize standardized assessments to “weed out” bad teachers is just plain bad pedagogy. The role of standardized assessments is to serve as a diagnostic tool to better serve the needs of children; while at the time improve and sharpen teaching methodology. This means that the teacher evaluation process should be focused on discovering and developing talent, not “catching folks”. Therefore the “evaluation process” should be in three parts: standardized assessments, the formal and informal observations of teachers, (guess what) teaching; and the assessment of student work (product). Utilizing standardized assessments, and classroom observations as punitive tools; is to try to fix a political problem (the absence of the will on the part of politicians to declare children a “protected class”) with tools designed for student diagnostic/development purposes, and a teacher professional development tool. In education, when we use good tools for the wrong reasons; bad things happen to children and adults.

We are in an “instant” everything society; the age of “Calculus for Dummies”. But why must solutions all be easy (or why are they problems in the first place?). I once spoke to a military commander who was ending his brief, and not so successful “tenure” as an administrator in public education. He said: “Battle field leadership experience does not prepare one for the unbelievable challenges that is faced by a public school leader”. He came to realize that the simple act, of just “issuing an order”, as he did in the military, became extremely complex in a public education system, with its multiple, and often conflicting stakeholders, and chains of commands. The point: Schools from the inside are much more complicated than they appear to people on the outside, even those who spent years in them as students. The problems are complex, and so the solution to those problems are also complex. I truly believe that “tenure” is out-of-place in a K-12 world; and I don’t believe that one has a right to damage children. But I also believe that the elimination of teacher tenure (as we know it); is only part of the solution; for as the author explained:
“…We have to do a better job of fixing the other pieces of our education system that affect how well teachers can do their jobs, too—teacher preparation programs must be more selective, more rigorous and more pro-active in recommending only the best candidates for placement in classrooms…”

Why this is important: Because if a profession is purposely (structured) recruiting folks not up to the task; it means then that a great deal of organizational focus and energy, will be on the elimination of “bad players”; even professional and college organized sports realizes that they must identify and recruit the best, not the worst athletes in the game! But this also means that we will need to raise the stature and compensation for those who go into teaching (a fact the international educational comparison shoppers forget to mention, when they talk about places like Sweden and Denmark!)
And she goes on to say:
“…The ultimate solution to the issues raised in Vergara is to eventually produce a teaching force so effective that the conversation shifts entirely from tenure to teacher retention. In the long-term, districts should spend their energies looking for ways to compensate, professionally acknowledge and reward their most effective practitioners…”

Why is the: “districts should spend their energies looking for ways to compensate, professionally acknowledge and reward their most effective practitioners” assertion important? Because the discussion about effective teaching standards, and the rubrics that define, and identify those standards (oddly missing in a standards based profession) should come before any discussion of job retention, or “tenure”. What is good and effective teaching? And where is the professional consensus as to what it is, and what it is not. Well, an “unofficial” consensus already exist. Go to any elementary school, and just ask any 4th grade teacher which 3rd grade teacher’s children in her school, that she does not want to inherit; (or better, in whose 3rd grade teacher’s class would she put (or not put) her own children)! Somehow we need to bring that professional “unspoken” knowledge to the surface. One of the reasons we have so many “outside commentators” offering educational solutions, is because we as a profession have not established a code of professional ethics that we, and not external forces, can define and enforce. This problem is in part created by the fact that most people in America, particularly those who are in some type of profession (Plumbers, Nurses, Dentist, Firepersons, etc.) can’t fail at their work and keep their jobs. And even If they hear the “academic freedom” argument for tenure; I don’t think they are buying it. This “disconnect” with a public, who can’t understand why children who remain in school through the 8th grade, and still can’t read, makes no sense to them (Yes, they have heard the whole poverty excuse). But this public “disbelief” also destroys our credibility and encourages a disrespect for the field; and thus we continue to get wave after wave of “drive-by reformers”; who then latch onto simple themes like: “tenure is the entire problem”. These folks find that eventually they hit an academic achievement ceiling when they realize how difficult the work really is; or as one very effective veteran Black Washington DC teacher once told me: “What on earth did they think I was doing every day, all of those years; going to work, and trying to figure out how to get children who look like me to fail?”

The action needed must be different as the writer points out; but I would go a step further and say the plan must be “upsetting” and “disturbing” to the present state of affairs. “Nibbling” on the edges of the problem won’t get it. Things are not going well; and if so many children are not successful; then how can the professionals who serve them call themselves successful; or in our language: Proficient? The “teacher tenure” question, in my view is a professional ethics question (and the way it should be solved). If as professionals we declare that public schools are “High Reliability Organizations” (HROs); or as I also like to call them High Risk Organizations; an idea from the book: Managing the Unexpected, Sutcliffe & Weick. Although very diverse in their missions and structures; HRO’s all seem to have some fundamental organizing principles in common. In short HROs are those organization where a “failure” can lead to serious injury, great societal harm, or death; examples of these type of organizations are: Air craft carriers, Nuclear power plants, hospitals and fire departments. In these types of organizations incompetence could equal death, to either the professionals involved, or the public in general. Therefore, they necessarily recruit based on the criteria of “high competence”; and they also have an extremely low tolerance for incompetence. It is an important first step that these organizations recruit the best, and most skilled for the job description. Sincere outside stake-holders who are unpracticed, untrained and lacking in the technical professional knowledge; don’t make the personnel decisions for HRO’s. Second, there is some type of extensive internship program where after earning certification, the practitioner must further train under the watchful eye of an effective “master” veteran in the field (they never have their practitioners leave “basic training”, and then go directly into solo practice). Third, there is a great deal of constant attention to the upgrading, (and yes evaluation) and professional development of skills and competency. Fourth, since the emphasis is on competency; tenure (or right to a position) can’t be used to compromise the mission, the successful operation, the safety of the organization, the success and safety of the team, or the safety and well-being of the public it seeks to serve. Finally, these HRO’s all seem to have very powerful systems of review, monitoring, and “operational redundancy” (someone is always checking on the “checker”, so that nothing is missed); and have strong “self-evaluative-correcting procedures in place; (i.e. they honestly deal with the: “What went wrong question”. Now some of us believe that public schools fit the definitions of HROs. And if proof is needed, all one need do is to visit any state prison (and imprisoning a lot of people, is actually something we do pretty efficiently as a nation); and there you will encounter the casualties (prisoners) of a public education system that failed to capture the curiosity, talent and the natural inclination to learn that these prisoners had at a young age. There is a terrible societal price we choose to pay for so many poor educational outcomes. In an interesting and tragic way we have transformed “school failure”, into some very robust, financially rich and vibrant criminal justice-social service systems. However, I think that there is a more humane, positive and a safer path to economic development besides depending on school failure.
And that is why the answer to the “tenure” question will ultimately reflect our thoughts on the ethics of professionalism, and our responsibly to the nation’s future. If public schools were declared, and designated HROs, the tenure debate would be brought into a self-determining/defining focus. A hierarchy of “rights” will be established that in all situations favor the safety and educational well-being of children. The school system would then shift from a primary mission as a “business”, and an employer of adults; to a “prime directive” to do everything within its power to do no harm to children; which means to educate them as if we all saw every school child, as our own child; as if we need every child to cure, care and comfort us as we pass on the responsibility for the planet to them. As if our future well-being as a nation depended on them; and you know something; it really does!

A teacher’s view on tenure:

“U.S. to Focus on Equity in Assigning of Teachers”- NY Times… But, the D.E.V.I.L. is in the details!

A good first step effort, but as always, the D.E.V.I.L. (Distraction; Evasion; Vacuity; Incompleteness; and (intellectual and moral) Laziness); is in the details, and will in the end weaken this effort, and guarantee that it maintains a diminished and limited capacity for success. It will also leave our “two-tiered” intellectual apartheid system in place. One can only wonder how many children will be lost in this creeping and slow journey to get to what we know must be done to insure that all children have a chance at a quality education? The AFT “sign-off” suggest that this will be a dog that barks loudly, but in reality lacks even the potential teeth to bite. As long as “unqualified” does not really have a quality of practice definition attached to it; as long as we avoid the defining of: “what is good teaching?”; and then separate new, or veteran folks who don’t practice it, away from the children; we will continue to see the same sad and bad results for targeted segments of the U.S. school population. Once we identify our best practitioners, we must pay them (like we mean what we say about the importance of education) well; and provide them with safe, productive and inspiring learning environments; schools with encouraging and fulfilling cultural habits. To really do this job right, we must insure that every American child has access to a rich and inspiring educational experience; which means we cannot guarantee a “tenured” job for everyone who believes that education is the best field for them. The focus should be on recruiting, retaining and professionally developing good practitioners, regardless of “time on the job”. And here I agree with The New Teacher Project spokesperson who says: “There are going to be inexperienced teachers who are quite effective,”… “And there are going to be some experienced teachers who are quite ineffective.” Certification in the areas of content and teaching methodology is absolutely critical; but certification (like any professional license); speaks to exposure (course and test taking) and not the spirit, heart and mind that produces competence, professional ethics and, more important an interest in being excellent. This initiative with all of its positives continues the terrible trend in public education of avoiding the obvious, the easy, but morally difficult thing to do. As long as: The children of the politically and/or financially endowed; the parent-educated and resource rich children, who “picked” the right parents; the student for whom zip-code has determined a promise of a positive future; have an advantage of a decision made in their behalf, somewhere by some persons of power; and that decision is that: The educational well-being of their children will not be subordinated to the employment interest of any adult. In the end that is the most important initiative Presidential or otherwise that can be introduced; and as long as the children of disenfranchisement, poverty and color, don’t have powerful people, who can make that decision in their behalf, we will continue to work on the politically safe edges of the problem.

“The Obama administration is directing states to show how they will ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality teachers, with a sharp focus on schools with a high proportion of the poor and racial minorities.
In a letter to state superintendents released Monday, Deborah S. Delisle, an assistant secretary at the Department of Education, said states must develop plans by next June that make sure that public schools comply with existing federal law requiring that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers.”
States last submitted plans to address such inequities in 2006, but data shows that large disparities persist.
“It is important to remind our states that one step in front of the other is the way to begin to deliver for all our students,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, in a conference call with reporters. “We are all dismayed by the lack of compliance and lack of satisfaction and delivery on this point.”
The Education Department will send each state data collected by the department’s Office for Civil Rights showing rates of teacher experience, certification, absenteeism and salary by school as well as student access to taxpayer-funded preschool and advanced courses in math and science.
The administration is also urging states to look at teacher evaluations to determine whether those who receive lower ratings are disproportionately assigned to schools with high proportions of racial minorities and students in poverty.
But the only requirement of states is that they ensure that teachers are equitably distributed based on experience and credentials.
Education advocates said such measures could limit improvements in the quality of instruction in struggling schools.
“There are going to be inexperienced teachers who are quite effective,” said Timothy Daly, the president of TNTP, formerly the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that recruits teachers, “and there are going to be some experienced teachers who are quite ineffective.”
In an increasingly rare show of agreement with the Obama administration, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second largest teachers’ union, welcomed the guidance.
“We’re supporting this process because the rhetoric around this process has changed from ‘Just come up with the data and we will sanction you if the data doesn’t look right,’ ” Ms. Weingarten said in a telephone interview, “to ‘What’s the plan to attract and support and retain qualified and well-prepared teachers for the kids who need it most.’ ”
But other education advocates said they were concerned that the guidance could lack teeth. “The very real risk is that this just becomes a big compliance paperwork exercise,” said Daria Hall, K-12 policy director at the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minority students and low-income children, “and nothing actually happens on behalf of kids.”
Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s commissioner of education, said states could set policies that would make some federal funding contingent on districts complying with the guidance. “The feds, kind of between the lines, are saying, ‘States, we want you to take more action’ ” and “ ‘You can certainly utilize all of these federal funding streams to incentivize or penalize.’ ”
School administrators said that given union contracts and other factors, simply looking at how teachers are placed is not sufficient.
It is not enough to “just find the best teachers and best principals and put them where they need to be,” said Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. He said districts needed to think about creating supportive school cultures.
“A teacher works in an ecosystem,” he said.”


This midterm election is not about Barack Obama the president; it is about Barack Obama the person; but more important, it is about you.

What is missing from this entire “midterm election” discussion is the absence of knowledge of US civics history; and an absence of civility. If we start our study with a slave-owning president, and continue through to Mr. Obama’s predecessor; we would find that the idea of a perfect president is a perfect myth. Even the out-of-historical context comparisons, don’t allow us to fully appreciate the level of animosity and opposition that past “great” POTUS faced during their tenures. There is however, unfortunately an ugliness that is unfolding in this particular midterm election cycle; that sets an interesting and disturbing tone. I find myself asking the question: “What is the true underlining cause of this great dislike of Mr. Obama?” And if the “polls” are accurate, and voters want less gridlock and more cooperation in Washington; why would they vote for a party that lives and breathes confusion, gridlock, and a lack of cooperation and production. I am watching political TV ads; and the Republicans have all but abandon the idea of presenting even a whiff of an idea or plan. The entire strategy is saying their opponent’s name alongside of the word “Obama”; and that is it! It would seem that such an appeal would be insulting to White voters; and one can only wonder what these folks will do in 2016 when they don’t have Mr. Obama to kick around. The news media has unfortunately played the low-level fruit game here; I am amazed that so few news commentators have not dug deeper into Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu’s comments as to the real poll (and the real “race” at stake here) about the POTUS. Last night, even the normally even-tempered PBS/Newshour prognosticators (Gwen Ifill et al) were in a state of “giddiness” over the ascension (and condensation) of the Republican’s to the control of the senate. Say what you want about Harry Reid, but he is at least a decent person; but mean-mouth Mitch McConnell, well…… In a way I can understand the excitement of the news-chattering class; as a Republican takeover of the senate will introduce (for the next two years) a circus atmosphere focused on a single mission: To take obstruction, governmental dysfunction and civic disorder and destruction to another level. (That’s right, get ready: 2 years of Benghazi type hearings!) Some person(s) back in 2008 told President Obama: “Don’t worry, in the end these guys (the Republicans) are patriots, and will do what is in the best interest of the nation; they would never harm US citizens”; I want to know the name of that person(s). And now as the POTUS is cast in the role of a political “Willie Horton” (look it up); and his Democratic conviction-less friends are running away from him; and he gets hit by enough Leon Panetta like betrayals; perhaps the reality will set in: Since you are going to be hated anyway; you might as well act decisively and boldly in the service of those who really want, and need you to be successful. And so I am going out to vote Democratic not for the POTUS’s horrible policies in the area in which I have the most interest, Education. Rather because if a slap of an insult is intended for Mr. Obama’s face; then the back-hand side of that insulting slap, is at the same time intended for my face. I am not voting because the Democrats have the courage of their convictions; rather I am voting because the Republicans invested enormous amounts of energy in stopping me from voting. I am voting because so many of my ancestors paid a great price; not to insure a perfect quality of a choice; but rather for the quality of the right to make a choice, perfect. I am not voting for a POTUS who to be honest, has been tragically inattentive to his most loyal constituencies; I am voting for the respect of his personhood, and my own.


Wow….After reading these two articles I wonder, what it would take for parents and communities to say: “Enough!” Or, is it that they just not aware of the magnitude of the problems; and how these problems permanently damages their children? I am not sure how a high school seniors can “untake” a course they were incorrectly scheduled to take. Sadly these students are still going to be required to take the necessary courses needed for graduation (state education departments have been consistently unwavering on this point—The graduation requirements won’t be changed because of a “mistake”; it’s on the school district to fix it!). But further, the opportunity is lost to take a course that could have “strengthened” a H.S. transcript for a college admissions application.

“LAUSD has ordered that every high school senior’s transcript be reviewed and has called for counselors and administrators be present to ensure that computerized student data system records will not affect students’ chances to graduate or apply for college, writes Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times. At this time, it is unclear how many of Los Angeles Unified School District’s almost 38,000 seniors are affected…”
“The faulty data system launched in August has resulted in some students lacking necessary courses or being assigned to classes they do not need – and sometimes both. The computer system also produced errors in seniors’ transcripts as college application deadlines loom…”


Elementary schools eliminating: Learning resources, Art, Music, Dance, Library Instruction and Guidance /Counseling/Health services, are schools that are setting children up to fail miserably. Interestingly, the loss of the before mentioned programs, destabilized the learning atmosphere in the school; and it also weakens the quality of the instructional programs in all content areas… Translation: The children receive a multiple negative effect; that is reproductive, self-sustaining and permanent.

“We must still hate our kids: Philadelphia and “education reformers” fight demented war on elementary schools…No nurses, few textbooks, closed libraries: Money to urban schools is being starved, intentionally; It’s just wrong”….

Good intentions no matter how well placed, can’t replace good information

“Parents demand plan to fix failing Boys and Girls High School.”
“Schools were closed Monday, but two dozen parents showed up at Boys & Girls HS to demand that city officials disclose how they’re going to fix the troubled school. “We have been patient, waiting for a plan to turn around this institution — and now here we are with no principal, no leadership from City Hall, and no plan on what we’re going to do next,” said Darlene Boston, whose sons attended the Brooklyn school before dropping out. The Department of Education lumped the historic Bedford-Stuyvesant high school into a group of 23 struggling schools it plans to upgrade. But five weeks into the school year, no plan has been made public.”–NY Post 10/14/14

The good news is that the parents and community care; the bad news is that the type of plan they are seeking, is not coming…

A few basic thoughts…

I truly believe that these parents and community members are sincere in their efforts. And I respect what they are trying to do. But, there is no “central district office plan” to improve a school, and make it work for children. The most gifted and talented chancellor or superintendent can’t lead an individual school. The important role that the NYCDOE (or any central board) can play is to (1) provide the resources; i.e. materials, expertise (instructional and leadership coaches), partnerships, connections to city social service agencies, supplemental (in and out of classroom projects) funding, etc… (2) If the school has a shocking 35% graduation rate; that means there are probably a large number of students who are “under-credited” and “overage”. I don’t care if you bring John Dewey back and make him the principal; this group will continue to fail if they don’t receive a radically different “treatment” other than the present 9-12 grades, four-five year format. The 35% also suggest that a majority of students entering the 9th grade are not equipped with the ELA and Math skills to do high school work (this is the definition of programmed for failure). This means that a radically different curriculum, and bell, day, year schedule, is needed for these very weak students; that would allow for the bridging of pre-high school learning objectives, with high school learning objectives. Further, (there is the schools culture), without a pedagogy of empowerment (essentially when the entire school community goes on an educational success mission), most of the students will be doomed upon entering the 9th grade; they need a sense of a collective mission! And (3) here the parents and community can work together with the NYCDOE; but this may be hard for some to take. The school must be transformed into a productive learning environment for the majority of students, who do want to learn. Quality learning time is essential for these students to even have a chance to succeed. Students (more than likely the “under-over” group) know that the school offers no hope for them in its present format; therefore they are going to disrupt the learning environment; which means. More students are not going to be able to learn (a vicious cycle). Finally, (also a parents community, NYDOE effort) (4) Protect and defend the principal; as any plan that would raise the level of academic achievement in a school facing this level of challenges ; and because of B&GHS’s demographic profile, will definitely ruffle some feathers; and will absolutely place the principal in danger. But with a 35% graduation rate, any timid or half-hearted plan won’t work; no matter who puts it together.

“Educating kids isn’t rocket science. It’s harder.”

Educating kids isn’t rocket science. It’s harder.
– Valerie Strauss-Washington Post; October 10, 2014

This is an excellent and effective step in the right direction, if we ever hope to move beyond this era of simplistic solutions….But the start: As in any profession, the professionals must create a “prime ethical directive”(sticking with the space metaphor :-) to do no harm; even at the cost of adult employment. What he fails to say is that NASA does not promote a culture where the majority of the rockets, never leave the launching pad, or crash when they do. This unfortunately is the acceptable fail rate reality for too many of our public school children. Although (the truth not spoken) these schools really don’t do a good job with the majority of students (rich or poor); children of color and poverty suffer the most under this system of high acceptable loss. However, this is very, very good start!

“Many school reformers blame unions and entrenched bureaucracy for blocking school reforms that, they say, would have worked beautifully if they had been implemented as designed. Actually, as Jack Schneider explains in this post, most school reforms imposed over decades have been implemented but they never turn out to be as effective as promised. Schneider is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, the author of two books, and the father of a pre-K public school student. He tweets @Edu_Historian.”

By Jack Schneider
For the past two decades, self-styled education reformers—the newest of whom is journalist Campbell Brown, whose Partnership for Educational Justice seeks to “reform” teacher tenure—have been inundating the public schools with ineffective programs and imprudent policies. They’ve spent billions of dollars and millions of hours on their pet projects. And the simple truth is that they don’t have much to show for it.
Ask reformers about this and they’re likely to blame unions and bureaucracy. Reform fails, they would argue, because it gets blocked.
But most reform isn’t blocked. Just ask a teacher; reform has been raining down on the schools as long as most can remember.
The real question, then, is why does so much reform produce so little change?
The answer is that education doesn’t seem very complicated. To most observers, fixing schools seems more like baking brownies than like launching a rocket. Mix one good teacher with a solid curriculum; stir in a few books; add a pinch of snazzy technology; and bake for 180 days.
After all, what could be so hard? We’ve all been to school—most of us for at least 13 years—and we’ve watched teachers and administrators do their work. It just doesn’t seem that hard. Make sure the bells ring on time. Keep the kids quiet. Get some teachers who know the material.
By contrast, most of us have never been to a NASA center. And we’d be hard-pressed to guess what goes on inside one. Are they doing equations? Practicing maneuvers in zero-gravity simulators? Mixing up rocket fuel?

As a result, most of us—reformers, particularly—think we know what’s best for the public schools. But we would never presume to have answers about where to look for sources of Gamma-rays or about the importance of measuring Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Imagine Congress exerting control over NASA through a bill like No Child Left Behind, or coercing policy shifts through a program like Race to the Top. Or well-intended organizations like Teach For America jumping into the fray—recruiting talented college graduates and placing them on the job as rocket scientists. Or philanthropists deciding to apply lessons from their successes in domains like DVD rentals to “disrupt” the NASA “monopoly.”
How long would any of this be taken seriously?
The point here is not that various groups involved in school reform should disengage from the field. Their energy and financial support can play a critical role in supporting communities and their schools. And for all their arrogance and errors, reformers have helped turn the nation’s attention to the importance of public education. NASA should be so lucky.
But the egotism and ignorance of the so-called education reform movement are all too often on display. Because the work of improving schools isn’t as simple as reformers believe.
Reformers would know this if they spent their days in schools. But most do not. Unlike working educators, most leaders in the reform movement have never taught a five-period day, felt the joy of an unquantifiable classroom victory, lost instructional time to a standardized test, or been evaluated by a computer. And unlike the vulnerable students targeted by so much reform, most policy elites have not gone to school hungry, struggled to understand standard English, battled low expectations, or feared for their personal safety on the walk home.
Sure reformers may visit schools occasionally. But they see only what can be immediately observed and miss everything beneath the surface. Consequently, as I documented in my book Excellence For All, they tend to ground their decisions in anecdotal evidence and personal experience.
Because they believe that school reform is simple, reformers are also untroubled by their lack of familiarity with educational research. Most do not know much about test construction, cut scores, or measurement error. Most are not steeped in the literature on cognition, memory, or motivation. And most have never understood schools from an anthropological perspective or picked up an educational history.
At its core, education can be quite simple. To quote the ever-eloquent Mike Rose: “It’s the experience of democracy itself. The free play of inquiry. The affirmation of human ability. The young person guided to the magnifying lens, the map, the notepad, the book.” Intuitively, we all get that.
But bringing about the conditions that foster this vision of education? That’s among the greatest challenges I know of. As anyone who spends time in schools knows, good schools are thriving ecosystems—the product of strong relationships, high levels of trust, robust systems for knowledge-sharing, and a collective pursuit of personal growth. And those things simply can’t be mandated from on high or plucked off a shelf.
Schooling—our primary mechanism for promoting education in the United States—is plagued by a number of challenges. Some are relatively straightforward; schools need adequate funding, for instance. But most of these issues are dilemmas rather than problems. The difference being that whereas problems can be solved, dilemmas can only be managed. What, for instance, do you do about student engagement? That’s a question not easily solved by introducing new gadgets or by paying students to stay focused.
Want to put a rocket into space? No problem. Just get enough brains working on the task.
Want to educate 50 million students in a powerful, relevant, and relatively equal way? Now that’s a challenge.
As it turns out, educating kids isn’t rocket science. It’s harder.
And until reformers take that message to heart, it’s our job—as citizens—to speak truth to the simplistic answers pushed by the powerful.

Assistant Principals are Indispensable* to a School’s Success

(In 2000 when I arrived to take over the helm of CSD 29 Queens NY; I found a couple of schools with not one AP in the building. In one school the principal told me that on a rare “good day”, he could “steal time” and do some informal observations. I said to myself: This is planed educational underdevelopment; and immediately adjusted the budget to add an AP to each of those schools. When I informed one principal that I was giving him an AP he actual got emotional; because, he said: “I have been asking for an AP for years; and I knew that not having an AP in the building was hurting my kids”….In all of these schools with the addition of an AP, the quality and quantity of classroom observations increased dramatically, student “incidents” dropped, and student academic achievement would consistently improve each year!)

There is perhaps no greater misunderstood, underappreciated and unacknowledged important position in education than that of the Assistant Principal (AP). Although the principal is often the schools “headliner”; in every situation I have experienced as a principal (and if we are to be honest) the AP worked just as hard, just as long hours, and was as necessary, as the principal. Further, a great deal of what can go wrong, or right in a school is based on the expertise and quality of the AP(s). I have visited many schools over the years; and it is probably safe to say that the best schools of course have a principal with a vision and a strong strategic plan to make that vision operational; but behind every great principal I have observed; there stood a great AP(s).
As a result of our latest “pendulum swing” into (and hopefully one day out of) the era of: “professional pedagogical knowledge and experience doesn’t matter”. The important role of various members of a schools team, and how they impact a schools success has been lost. There is just no way that a school districts leadership team that lacks the critical input of experienced school based administrators, can fully understand what is truly needed to make a school work. The simplistic notion that the skills of a “fast-food” or grocery store manager was easily transferable to a school leadership position (with a few fly-by-night workshops), says a great deal about how we feel about the kind of people we want to lead our schools; but more importantly, the kind leadership we believe our children deserve. Perhaps no position has suffered more from this era of ignorance then the AP. As school budgets became challenged, or as in the case of one school, to enhance its varsity sports program; AP positions were eliminated; without a single strategic thought as to how the task performed by that AP would get done. In places like Philadelphia, schools have been forced to cut positions like that of the AP, and school guidance counselors, simply to be able to have enough teachers to barely cover overcrowded classes. This can happen because the public is not aware of the critical role of these non-teaching positions; and of course the least aware communities, are the ones whose children will see the greatest eliminations and harm done to their schools. Many of the struggling schools I now visit, in truth need more, not less school based administrative support; as the children who attend these schools, bring a plethora of challenges with them into the school building; even the most talented and gifted principal can’t be in two places at once; and so we are watching the devolution of the principal’s ability to be effective because of the absence of an AP colleague in the building.
The physical and emotional support that students need is obviously (to the trained observer) missing as that necessary AP is missing. But there is another short, and long-term loss to a school when there is a shortage of school based leadership. The AP (at least in all of my schools) serves as a critical instructional leader/staff developer in the school building; this role is essentially indispensable for teachers in the first to third years of their practice; but it is also necessary for “veteran” teachers, so that they can continue to improve in their teaching methodology. The same schools that suffer the most financially; will more than likely be the schools with either high teacher turn over, and/or a constant influx of 1-3 year teachers; thus these children suffer a triple “penalty” of: having a principal who is now devoting less time to students and instruction in order to do the work of a missing AP (just because a position is eliminated that does not mean that the essential work of that position is eliminated); the “building-calming”/management of the AP, the socio-psychological student support of an AP; and the diminished attention being given to the improvement of the quality of instruction, created by the shortage of an AP.
A further problem that is caused by the absence of understanding of how a school operates; is the long-term harmful effects this lack of attention to the AP position will cause in the future. It is the AP position (and not the fast-food restaurant manager’s position) that is the best, most efficient and most effective training ground for future principal’s. A school system essentially receives free principalship training as the AP, over time is professionally prepared by the principal by performing: manageable “principal duties” (i.e. the budget, crisis management, personal support, etc.) Over time the AP grows in knowledge, success and confidence. This “on the job training” perfectly complements the course work of the principal’s graduate school study programs that lead to certification.
I understand that a lot of principal’s (who like their colleagues in Philadelphia) are between a rock and a budget hard place; they are often forced to choose between two bad choices for children. And so the decision that would give them the ability to properly, and effectively staff their buildings is “above their pay grade”. There will probably not be a public “ground swell” for AP’s, as there is little general understanding of their important role in the academic success of children. But a start would be for those of us who do know, to explain why these school based leaders are necessary for a school to even function properly, let alone improve.

*Absolutely necessary, essential, incapable of being: disregarded, neglected, disrespected; and should be well compensated!