AN ALL TOO FAMILIAR AND MUCH TOO COMMON CORE OF CRIMINALS

“Feds charge 12 Detroit principals in $1M kickback scheme”

“In its latest crackdown on school corruption in Detroit, the federal government today launched a legal bomb targeting 12 current and former Detroit Public School principals, one administrator and a vendor — all of them charged with running a nearly $1-million bribery and kickback scheme involving school supplies that were rarely ever delivered.”— Detroit Free Press

Unfortunately, I have seen this show up close and personal when as a principal I had to leave my school in the middle of the 2000 school year, in order to take charge of a school district (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/02/nyregion/ex-queens-school-chief-charged-in-6-million-bid-rigging-scheme.html?ref=topics) where the leadership had abandon the children. Children most of whom, looked a lot like those same abandoning and thieving administrators. These failed educators sadly turned an entire district into a criminal enterprise. And what troubled me the most by what I saw, was the cynical and callous combination of the pilfering of the much-needed monetary funds, plus the educational theft the children suffered.

That district needed every penny it could get since it had a large number of title 1 students, academically struggling students, a large number of ELL- ESL (Latino, Asian, Haitian) students, and the highest concentration of students in any NYC school district, living in temporary housing. People can go to jail, and some of the money can even be recovered. But the educational resources needed in a specific time and situation are lost forever. That learning “moment in time” is lost to the children, forever. Children, many of whom sat in front of missing, dead and/or unworkable computers every day for years, saw their educational opportunity become irreplaceably lost, forever.
And that part is often understated when we have the noisy-news-media braking up of these criminal projects and test cheating scandals; the missing part is the permanent damaging effects of educational lost to the children, that no jail time or fine can fix.

Quite honestly, over those three years (and throughout my career) I often wondered: What the heck is wrong with some Black educational leaders? Did they grow up and live in some alternate American reality that was different from my own? Did they not even flip the TV channel one evening and accidentally land on the TV series: “Roots”? Or by chance see either of the “Stand” movies: “Stand by Me” or “Stand and Deliver”? Did they ever pick up a copy of the: “Autobiography of Malcolm X”; Cornel West’s: “Race Matters” or Baldwin’s: “The Price of the Ticket” by mistake, and read a couple of chapters? Stumble upon “From Slavery to Freedom” (John Hope Franklin); and wonder on which end of the Slavery to Freedom spectrum they stood. Read: “Mis-Education of the Negro” (Carter G. Woodson), and think about if whether they were promoting the “Mis”, or the “Education”? Did they glance at MLK’s: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and wondered why he was sitting in that jail cell? Heard “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, and mistakenly thought that after all of the sacrifices of the elders and ancestors, it was a call to: Still I Fall into personal greed. Thought about what it was that was worth dying for to cause Claude McKay to pen the poem: “If We Must Die” (Hint: it was for our children!) Ever looked at a child for whom school is their only chance for achieving a good and decent life, and wondered: “What happens to a dream differed?”(Langston Hughes) Or maybe, just maybe, they flipped through a pew Bible once between sermon-naps in church, and accidentally landed on Proverbs 1:19- “Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it.”

A word, phrase, a passing hint somewhere in life that would suggest to them that these children, who are up against the worse the nation can dish out, somehow needed them the most. Something, anything that would lead them to feel bad about cheating and stealing from their students, and cheating and stealing from their own truth and calling.

And if not human, what of professional ethics? Did they read Mike Rose’s: “Lives on the Boundary” or his: “Possible Lives”? Were they asleep in their education classes, when the professor covered Paulo Freire, Lisa Delpit or Jonathan Kozol. Did they not once hear of Booker T. Washington, Ron Edmunds, WEB Du Bois, Lorraine Monroe, Asa Hilliard, Adelaide Sanford, Barbara Sizemore, Mary McLeod Bethune, J. Jerome Harris, et al, at all?

Something, anything, even a brief fading memory. Anything instead of nothing, not a clue, not a thought, not a single idea that would help them to understand while they were looking in the morning mirror, that hurting the children, who look like the person they saw in the mirror, was not the way to go. Did it ever occur that these children who are the most hurt by our society, the kids living dangerously on the perimeter of the American dream; that stealing from these students is probably one of the most horrible and destructive things an educator can do.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal and superintendent.

Let’s give the new NYS Regents Chancellor, Dr. Betty Rosa (knowledge and experience) a chance!

This issue is important and personal for me…

Betty

Amateurism as pedagogy, has enjoyed a very long and unsuccessful run in many city school districts of our nation. Poor children, English Language Learners, and children of color, have borne the brunt of this failed experimentation; which is badly misnamed as “school-reform”. We have had uninformed, under-informed and poorly informed: “drive-by” teachers, school and district leaders, harm the hopes and aspirations of entre communities. The most vulnerable children of our nation, have received the greatest amount of this malpractice; perpetuated by those who lack both the knowledge, skill and experience to either truly reform, or improve schools.
What has tragically emerged is a bad education philosophy that consist of either closing struggling schools, or to transform the children into commodities; (turning children into commercial objects, marketed to quality education seeking desperate communities and parents as: “school-choice”) and then sharecrop them out to educational entrepreneurs. Now in the spirit of: “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. Not all of the critiques of these so-called reformers are wrong. For too long public education has placed itself in the professionally unethical position of serving the interest of a lot of people, other than the children. People with: political aspirations, commercial vendor interest, politicians, political parties, consultants, and the dictates of labor unions. The interest of the children will come last, if at all.

Parents are not stupid, they see what they see! Their children are not learning, while the adults in the system continue with ever-increasing financial earning. If for sure: “it takes a village to educate a child”; then these parents realize that public schools are not holding up their end of work. For even when these parents do “all of the right parental things”; the schools they are forced to send their children, underperform and underserve the intellectual needs of the children. Neither are these parents fooled by this ‘not really a choice’, choice situation. They are actively seeking out Charter schools because traditional public schools have provide no evidence in the least, that they truly care about the children of these suffering parents; and those parents are voting against these traditional public schools by finding, and walking through the only exit available!

Further, public schools that primarily serve poor children, have in many cases been transformed into educational practice and training centers for teachers on their way to more affluent school districts and schools. Or, these poor (and poorly politically defended) schools are a good place for educators who are seeking a financial safe-harbor, as they wait out the bad economy; and while waiting, earn a commendable resume filler.

In other cases the schools of the disenfranchised have become the financial battle ground for some very bad and harmful (and very expensive) educational plans and policies; these “school improvement strategies”; are poorly conceived and poorly executed by both liberal and conservative ‘educational policy’ experts. On the surface their policies apparently (at least to some of us) seem silly like: “evaluate”, reward or punish, an eighth grade English teacher based on one standardized exam; when the child will have many other teachers in that eight grade experience, and surely would have had many different teachers in their K-8th grade life-time. But because these deformers lack both formal pedagogical course work-training and/or practical on the job experience; they are not aware that a child’s learning is a cumulative exercise, not a learning assessment snap-shot in one single grade.

Meanwhile Black and Latino educational experts (Like Dr. Rosa) have essentially been excluded from the school “reform”, “improvement” conversation. And to be “fair and balanced”; it is also sadly true that a great deal of the faux “reform” movements damaged has been carried out by people of color, whose interest, heart, commitment and concern, is not for the children who look like them; but rather to ratify, reinforce and enhance systemic educational inequality!

The news media seems to be singularly focused on the “standardized testing issue” and the new Chancellor. Unfortunately, that topic is only one of many challenges that confront public education. Should we not hear a little more reporting about Dr. Rosa’s ideas on: teaching and learning; school based leadership, school improvement; closing the parent resource gap, closing the access to ‘informal education’ gap between students, the standardization of quality learning standards (people get nervous if I say ‘common core curriculum’), and the systemic absence of support required for Black and Latino students, and poor students of any color and ethnicity, who are meeting and exceeding the grade level standards; and yet these student are academically under-challenged and under-prepared for a post K-12 public school life?

Concerning the apparently hugely popular standardized testing controversy: I don’t think that we can “test” children into meeting the curriculum standards. For example if a child has not mastered a particular behavioral or conceptual standard; testing them over and over again on it, won’t help their understanding; we need to understand the cause of their misunderstanding, and correct it, especially if that cause is external to the child. At some point, we must arrive at the obvious; there is no substitution for quality efficacious instruction; combined with a strategic, thoughtful and visionary school based leadership team. I also don’t think that we can use standardized assessments for disingenuous purposes; applications for which they are not pedagogically useful, or even connected; like firing people, or, labeling children, schools, a school’s staff, and even whole communities, and racial-ethnic groups, as failures.

There is a positive and productive role for standardized assessments!

We need to use standardized assessments to let us know if there is any inequality in the quality of instruction, measuring the ability of a school to effectively deliver the curriculum standards. We need to make sure schools are covering the generally accepted content standards like: how we determine the age of the earth, or the laws of physics. We need standardized exams on the “front-end”; where we can learn the “gaps” and deficiencies a child brings to a particular grade or class. For example something I instituted for students entering the 9th grade algebra class; a pre-course standardized assessment that could measure a student’s mastery of pre-algebra concepts that the student learned, or did not learn in the elementary and middle school math instructional experiences. And then set up an immediate and appropriate intervention program to address those issues. Testing a student in Algebra at the end of the school year has some value; but it is of little teaching and learning value to either the teacher of that class, or those students who are now moving on. Standardized assessments can eliminate “teacher made test” that could obscure “classroom teacher blind spots”. Standardized assessments should be “useful” and “timely”; such that they can inform teachers in the same learning cycle (semester), what they need to “reteach”, review, clarify and confirm what students have, or have not learned. In essence, standardized assessment must be used to inform our instructional methodology and practices, and to professionally develop teachers. Any assessment that does not seek to accomplish the above objectives, is at best a political talking point; and at worst it will improperly drive instruction in the wrong direction. Children in certain “struggling” schools will not be sufficiently exposed to art, creative writing, music, STEM, dance, library and reading for fun, and other intellectual, inquisitive and exciting learning activities (activities that ironically raise academic achievement levels!) “Underperforming schools”, out of staff fear, will be turned into never-ending and ineffective test-prep centers; which also ironically suppresses and distorts the very academic learning and achievement we are seeking. And this is why the “anti-testing movement” is essentially led by parents and communities where the children are currently receiving a “standards plus” curriculum, mastery instruction, combined with high teacher expectations. These “anti-testers” correctly in my view (even as they may express it incorrectly), reject the false allegiance to testing for reasons other than raising academic achievement. The fear-focused “test-prep” model is not only redundant for these schools; (the schools instructional commitment to the learning standards is the best, and most efficient method of test prep!) It is also a waste of valuable real learning time.

And so I think it might help to give a chance to a Chancellor who at least understands pedagogy from a theoretical and practical perspective; and who can articulate, the problems and challenges that different children encounter on the road to academic success. We need to offer children for whom public education is their best and only option for generational improvement, a pipeline to prosperity, not to prison.

This issue is important and personal for me, because despite the systems public acknowledgement in 2000-2003, of the ability of my CSD 29Q team to redirect the focus to teaching and learning; put a stop to a putrid political patronage system; stabilize a brutalized and neglected school district, and then dramatically raise academic achievement levels in every testing grade; but we never got the chance to finish the job.

From my experience with the new Chancellor I truly believe that she cares deeply about children. Particularly for the “left-out”, discarded, ignored, and the poorly served, or never served children of the system. Despite all of the disappointments I have experienced in this profession, my cup of hope is never empty. I am hoping that Dr. Rosa gets, and makes the best use of her chance, and that she gets a chance to finish the job; for which our children so need and deserve!

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal and superintendent.

End The Annual NYC Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) Drama!

It’s almost that time of the year, when well-meaning non-educators put on the diversity passion play around the NYC SHSAT eam. Unfortunately, all of the energy does very little to actually raise the academic achievement levels, and thus the test-taking readiness of Black and Latino 8th graders. It’s like those wise residents of Flint Michigan who keep wishing folks would do less talking, and take more action to truly solve the problem!

For sure, there is a very valid educational debate that can be had about the use of a single test as a tool for high school admissions. And a good case could also be made for the intellectual, social, ethical and moral value, for all students, of studying in a diverse educational setting. However, as a Black educator I find the argument, even when it is unintended, that is singularly focused on eliminating the exam, allegedly because Black and Latino kids can’t pass it, condescending and dismissive.

The truth (and my professional experience) is that there is nothing wrong with the brains of Black and Latino students. The “problem” can be fixed with a little thoughtful school leadership, certified-mastery and efficacious teaching, a standardized curriculum, high expectations, and a supplementary (after-school, weekends and summer sessions intervention). And herein lies the problem, political courage. First, based on a zip code a student may be exposed for one or more critical school years to a: “first-year”, an uncertified, or not fully certified, or even an ineffective or disinterested teacher. In fairness to teachers I should say that even the best and most sincere practitioners face a major challenge to being successful, when they have large numbers of struggling students in one classroom who require large amounts of their time and energy; the children in the class who are meeting and exceeding the grade-level standards, could end up not receiving the educational instruction they need to excel.
Also, there is no system-wide strategic plan to address the needs of Black and Latino students who meet and/or exceed the grade level standards. So much of the education equity conversation is focused on closing “achievement gaps”; that we forget, and don’t effectively plan for the many students of color who are performing well in school; and yet may receive a “remedial-type”, sub-standard, and/or an uninspiring educational experience. These students more than likely (that zip code thing again) attend schools with a challenging tipping point of students who are struggling from academic deficiencies, and/or serious social-economic challenges; these schools will more than likely not have the academic, and social services support needed to effectively address the needs of these struggling students. The historical political problem of not matching the weakest students, with the strongest teachers is a recipe for (any test) failure. But we also fail the students in those same schools, who are performing at a high academic level. It’s not so much that the test is unfair, it’s the K-8 academic preparation that is unfair. Black and Latino high performers are not given the fair opportunity to compete with their academic peers in schools, with the expertise, expectations, time and capability to offer rigorous academic programs. And so we don’t really know if the SHSAT is unfair, if students of color are unfairly eliminated early (before the 8th grade) from the competition.
Further, schools will need to step-up and provide their students with the informal, “out-of-school” educational experiences that are standard in the schools with more affluent parents. That means school days, weeks, year, must be longer; not just in quantitative time, but in qualitative time. Students must be exposed to museums, libraries (school and public), art, music, dance, debate, creative writing, chess, STEM, etc. All of the elements that go into making students perform better on exams, in school, and in life. Finally, something we did with much success in CSD 29Q. Build the “pipeline” in K-5, with a strong reading, science and mathematics developmental program. And starting in the 6th grade, students need a professionally taught (Princeton Review type) SHSAT test-taking skills class after school, and on weekends. (We also expanded K-8 formal: art, music, drama, and dance education, to give students a better shot at getting into LaGuardia High School.)

We mislead parents, the public, and worse the children, when we suggest that eliminating the SHSAT, will result in the rise in academic achievement levels for Black and Latino students; it is a cruel shell game. And so why not just give these students the “clean water” of good and effective teaching, rigorous standards, academic-cultural support to off-set the parent enfranchisement gap; and a school environment where these students can effectively learn. More will do well on the SHSAT, and gain admission to specialized high schools; but for those who don’t, it’s a win-win, for they will be on track to perform better, no matter what high school they attend!

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC public school teacher, principal and superintendent; and a former mayoral appointee as a Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library. Twitter:@majmuse… Blog: http://majmuse.net/

Why exorbitant “Suggested Donation” request at the entrance of “Free Admission” museums, and other cultural institutions are a problem.

met-web

“Critics slam Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new ‘suggested’ admission deal.”— NY Daily News 3/1/16

Let me say first of all I pity the citizens who would elect me to any political office; seeing that I have neither the skill set, nor the patience to put up with the requirements of that profession. But if in some fantasy scenario I was elected to public office, I would push for the major public and civic financial support for what we call in the education profession: Informal education-learning institutions: Libraries, Museums , Dance, Music, Art cultural centers. I believe that these institutions represent the best collective cultural expressions of any society.

Now having said that…

Growing up in the Brooklyn of the 1950’s, in what is now I hope an illegal a “cold water flat” apartment. A large part of my day-dreaming at P.S. 9 and JHS 294, consisted of wanting to grow up, go to college so that I could move into an apartment that had never-ending heat, and hot water! A common mistake made about people who are not financially well off, is that they also live impoverished family, spiritual and emotional lives; that they don’t have rich expressions of love, hope, dreams and in this particular case, pride. Or even worse, that they don’t have creative and artistic interest. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have found that most people I have met in the world, all want both “Bread and Roses”. But poverty carries both scars and medals; and one of those medals is the desire to realize the full expression of ones humanity. To be given a fair opportunity, and not a condescending dismissal.

As a young adolescent growing up in Brooklyn I spent a great deal of my time at the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The Brooklyn Zoo and Prospect Park. In part because of the Caribbean emigration experience of my family, meant that every adult in the house was working very hard and long hours; and so I had to take myself to those institutions. They represented places that to me had a true free and welcoming admission policy. Most people rightfully interpret (and that’s the institution’s intention) that “A suggested donation”, is a suggestion in name only. And feel that anyone daring to enter a museum without paying the “suggested amount”, was behaving like a “freeloader”, “moocher”, “poor”, or even worse, a thief. Somehow it seems that in 2016 we should be able to balance the financial needs of these important cultural institutions, with our need to see that all of our children can receive a rich learning legacy; especially those who are in the most fertile and fragile stages of the developmental learning process; some of whom may need to visit these venues without a parent, to do a school assignment.

As a life-long professional educator, I want to see the informal-education-learning gap disappear in our society. I also believe that this lack of access and exposure to these rich out-of-school educational experiences, accounts in part for the great academic achievement divide we see in our school based settings.

I want very much for these important cultural institutions to survive and thrive, (but borrowing from a former POTUS) I also want them to: “Tear down that wall!” that separates the children and families of advantage, from their disenfranchised peers. And besides, equal (meaning non-intimidating “Admission fees suggestion signs”) access is a good “audience development” technique; after all, poor and working class kids, could grow up to be adult visitors and financially supportive patrons!

Full Disclosure: Michael A. Johnson is a former mayoral appointee as a Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library.