Yes, I think we should arm teachers!

I understand that our Secretary of Education, Ms. Betsy DeVos would like to allocate funding to school districts so that they can arm teachers with deadly force weapons.
Was she misquoted, or a victim of Russian fake news ‘hackers’? As a professional educator, I am always searching for a way to correct misunderstandings.

And so, I think that maybe she meant something different, perhaps she was speaking in a metaphorical context, meaning something more positive when she said, “arm teachers”; after all no thoughtful, serious and experienced educator would suggest giving school teachers guns. And that is because our ‘professional memory’ allows us to envision all the terribly tragic things that could go wrong. There is some historical sense-making for designating the areas in and around schools: ‘gun free zones’, except for trained law enforcement personnel.

This is the classic wrong response to a problem by the faux ‘re(de)form’ crowd. Like: if you can’t improve a school, just close it. And then move the underperforming children to another school building without improving their academic performance. This is what you get when you put an amateur in charge of a classroom, school, district or governmental education department; wrongly giving them a ‘positional-power’, that really requires the knowledge and expertise of a professional.

But make no mistake about it, particularly for those of us who have chosen to spend our professional lives working in Title 1, urban and rural poor schools, with children of color, with poor children of any color; fighting for these children, and against the societal forces (inside and outside of the school system), that want to deny them a quality education, it has been something like a ‘war’! And for those reasons then yes, I think that we should arm our teachers with:

• Adequate supplies so that they don’t have to take money from their already insufficient and inadequate paychecks to purchase classroom materials, and student educational, health and grooming supplies.

• The necessary student and instructor technology equipment and technical support that would make teaching and learning more enjoyable and successful.

• A housing-homesteading subsidy program to bring them within some reasonable range of professional pay that reflects their importance to our society. And it would be nice, a community asset, and inspiring to students, if teachers, particularly in many of our urban school districts, could afford to live where they teach.

• Free ridership on public transportation (this would help with traffic congestion and reduce the negative stress on our environment and ultimately on our health).

• Schools fully staffed with guidance counselors, clinical psychologists and social workers; and school-community-based organizations partnerships that could provide greater social support services.

• Certified Elementary Reading Specialist at the middle school level. (I found as a superintendent that my request in our Readers to Leaders Program to have middle schoolers read: ‘Lord of the Flies’ was problematic because too many of the students could not read the words “Lord” or “Flies”; and so that’s when I decided to send elementary reading teachers into the middle schools!)

• More full inclusion classroom based Behavioral Modification Specialist (not necessarily linked to an IEP), English Language Learners Dual Language Immersion Paraprofessionals, and classroom Educational Support Paraprofessionals (again, not just for students with IEP’s).

• A teacher instructional support center and full-time instructional coaches in every school. (The number of coaches based on a school’s Title 1 status, and the number of 1-3 years of teaching staff members).

• Smart, flexible and strategic approaches to professional development that can respond to the individual teacher’s level of need, skill and ability.

• Every K-8 classroom (and high school ELA classes) with a ‘leveled’ in school reading and take home lending classroom library.

• A full service (for parents and students) school-based medical, dental, (eye exam to glasses) ophthalmological services, and clinical psychological counseling, clinic.

• An end to the silly, uninformed and unprofessional “check-off” boxes classroom teacher observation forms; professionally develop principals to write serious and thoughtful narrative lesson plan-presentation observations. And the necessary complementing instructional coaching follow-up procedures.

• Districts and Schools that allocate the resources to close the: “parent resource and student access to opportunity gap”.

• A Better first year (like a professional learning internship e.g. medical doctor residencies) teacher mentoring-support program, rather than the present “jump in, sink or swim” system we presently use with first year teachers. (Yes, I am proposing the radical idea that first year teachers ‘team-teach’ for a year with an experienced master-proficient teacher. And although expensive in the beginning, my hypothesis, is that over time this approach would be more cost-effective then the price we pay, educationally and financially, for our present annual teacher staffing ‘churn-over’ system).

• More teacher collaborative planning time; for team-taught SPED/Regular ED inclusion classes, across classes, subject areas and departments.

• A system of ethical and performance standards that could quickly, and cost effectively remove the incompetent, the criminal, the emotionally and morally unfit, and the ‘immune’ to professional development ineffective; as the pay of the remaining good practitioners is raised dramatically. This could have the effect of attracting higher GPA capable college undergraduates into pursing an education major, as well as attracting more Science, Mathematics, Computer science, and Foreign Language majors to the field of K-12 education.

• Well stocked and budgetarily supported school libraries, staffed with a licensed school librarian.

• A professionally trained and specialized Substitute Teacher Corps (and program). The present system in most districts leads to: ‘coverage teacher burnout’ and missed lesson planning time, the loss of student learning time and quality, and the deterioration of discipline conditions in schools.

• Art, music (vocal-instrumental), dance, drama programs and teachers in every school.

• Serious high school summer school, not the present “if they have a pulse, pass them!” credit recovery a.k.a. ‘credit giveaway’ programs.

• A free lunch, since public schools throw away tons of edible food every day any way!

• An end to the misuse of standardized testing. That means teachers being able to use standardized learning assessment exams for their true educational purposes; that is to improve instructional practices, and raise student academic achievement.

• K-8 dedicated Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) laboratories and certified teachers.

• After school, weekend, school break and summer enrichment and tutorial programs that compliment, reinforce and strengthen classroom learning.

• Visionary and ethically strong Principals, who are instructional leaders, ‘chief professional developers’, good operational managers, thoughtful and strategic planners; and who are also able to create a safe and respectful school environment where teaching and learning can go forward in the most positive and productive way.

• Having, “educational decision-makers”, on the national, state and local levels who actually know and understand what the heck they are doing!

Teaching is hard enough, and so don’t give teachers the added responsibility of having to inflict deadly force on an intruder; or, by accident shoot an innocent parent who mistakenly got lost on their way from a parent conference to the school building front door exit!
Rather, arm them with: effective district and school based leaders, a positive and peaceful school environment, professional knowledge, good methodological coaching, better and focused instructional professional development and the resources to inspire the life, light and love of learning in their students.

And just an interesting life-long working hypothesis of mine; growing more and more effective K-12 schools, by improving the quality of teaching and the teaching profession, might actually succeed in producing more young people who as students or as adults, don’t become the kind of people who want to go into a school (or anywhere else), and shoot other human beings.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

Support Bill for New Gifted and Talented Programs

A new bill could throw a lifeline to large numbers of underrecognized and underserved NYC students. It requires the NYC Department of Education to create more Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs and classes and New York parents need to contact their state senators right away to urge them to support it.

As a former NYC Superintendent, I expanded G&T classes in my district. An anxious bureaucrat from the central office called me: “You can’t just open up G&T classes on your own,” he said. “Really?” I feigned ignorant surprise: “I did not know that. If you could send me the regulation that restricts the expansion of G&T classes, it would be helpful when I explain to the parents in the new G&T schools why I must dismantle their G&T classes!” It’s 2018, and I am still waiting for that regulation memo from that nervous NYCDOE bureaucrat!

An opportunity can emerge as the result of a crisis—in this case, basing an 8th-grader’s admittance (or not) to one of the NYC Specialized High Schools (SHS) on a single exam, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). One problem is the small number of Black and Latin students who are admitted to SHS and the test is being portrayed by some as the culprit. I made my position clear in an earlier OTP column as to why I see Black and Latino poor performance on the SHSAT as a symptom and not a cause. So I won’t repeat that argument here.
But I do believe that state Sen. Tony Avella’s bill (S9141A) is an opportunity for parents living in neighborhoods where the schools are not meeting the diverse academic needs of their children. Those students who are performing on or above grade level, including non-wealthy white children, may also want to read this bill and get behind their state senator on it. It’s not ot early to become an advocate!
All students need to be pushed to their academically “personal best” selves and struggling learners need all of the support that the school system can muster. But students who are meeting, and/or above grade level learning standards are students, too! And it must be frustrating for their parents to not see their children being pushed to their personal intellectual best.

S9141A, at the very least, honestly gets at the real causes of the SHS diversity problem (and it’s not Asian students!). The 800-lb. political problem in the room is the inequality of access to quality K-8 school learning experiences, the absence of G&T programs in designated (“G&T deserts”) parts of the city, and individual Title 1 schools not effectively responding to the Educationally Savvy and Informationally Rich Parent Resource Gap!

I am not a NYS Senator, but I do have a few recommended “amendments” to the bill:

That the state and city seriously (not symbolically) fund a comprehensive K-8 SHSAT Pipeline Program:

Allow for “quality numbers” of on and above grade level students in all elementary and middle schools in the city to be exposed to classes taught by G&T teachers professionally developed and eventually certified in G&T techniques. Invest in a resources-rich G&T Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STREAM) curriculum. I would send the best of these teachers to serve in the lowest-performing schools, the schools producing the smallest number of viable SHS candidates, those districts and schools with the highest number of Title 1/ELL/ESL students. I would pay all G&T certified teachers a bonus pay scale above their regular pay!

Provide these students with the type of after-school, weekend and summer SHSAT test Prep Programs (academies) we developed in CSD29Q in partnership with Princeton Review. There are a lot of test-prep companies which already have a bank of knowledge on the “technology of test-taking.” There is no mystery to helping students to do well on standardized exams. You combine good test-taking techniques with a rigorous and standards-based daily school instructional program and administer in school-classroom exams that mirror the standardized exam (in this case the SHSAT) in difficulty and language, then the student’s test performance scores will predictably improve.

Create (don’t rely on parents) opportunities for these students to engage in quality informal (out-of-school) educational experiences including such things as: independent reading for fun, creative writing, visual, graphics, instrumental, dance and the performing arts classes; STEM, chess, “nonstereotypical” sports (e.g., gymnastics, fencing & archery) programs; weekly trips to cultural institutions, museums, the opera, dramatic plays, dance and music performances.
Passing Senate Bill S9141A, along with my “amendments,” would allow Black and Latino students to hold their “academic own” with any and all students in the city.

But there are additional benefits: Students who emerge from a real SHSAT Pipeline Program will be higher academically performing high school students even if they, by test score or choice, don’t attend a Specialized High School. Quality H.S. graduation rates citywide would dramatically increase. Senate Bill S9141A, a response to a political crisis, could actually create the opportunity for the introduction of a real high academic achievement diversity movement in the NYC school system.

Reprint From 8/13/2018, Our Time Press:

Michael A. Johnson has served as a Public Schoolteacher, Science Skills Center director, principal and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently published a book on school leadership: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership”…