Friday, February 26, 2016

As you read this, keep repeating to yourself, "second graders"

The following is from Boston area teacher Emily Kaplan's account of her earlier experiences working for a no-excuses charter school. If you've been following the Success Academy story, parts of this will sound very familiar:
 Sixteen seven- and eight-year olds sit in a circle on the floor. On the wall to their left— the first thing they see upon entering and exiting the classroom, always done in complete silence— is a list of individual “Assessment Goals.” (This “no excuses” charter network creates its own high-stress tests, which all students take at least five times per month, beginning in kindergarten.)

The teacher speaks to them in a slow, measured tone. “When I left school here yesterday, after working hard all day to give you a good education so you can go to college, I felt disappointed. I felt sad.”

Shoulders drop. Children put their faces in their hands.

“And do you know why?” The teacher looks around the circle; children avert their eyes.

One child raises her hand tentatively. “We didn´t do good on our tests?”

The teacher nods. “Yes, you didn´t do well on your assessments. Our class average was very low. And so I felt sad. I went home and I felt very sad for the rest of the day.”

The children nod resignedly. They´ve heard this many times before.

Suddenly, one child, an eight-year-old who has been suspended for a total of sixteen days for repeatedly failing to comply with school rules, raises his hand. The teacher looks at him. “I am noticing that there is a question.”

The child tilts his head. “What does average mean?” Several children nod; it seems that they, too, have been wondering this, but have been too afraid to ask.

The teacher sighs. “It´s a way to tell if everyone in this room is showing self-determination. [This is perhaps the most maddening part for me. Good teachers live for these kind of pertinent, engaged questions. I don't care if your desk is on fire, you make time to answer them. At the very least, you say "that's a great question, but we'll  have to come back to it later." -- MP] And what I saw yesterday is that we are not. Scholars in Connecticut College” —at the school, children are “scholars,” and classrooms are named after four-year colleges— “are not less smart than scholars in UMass. But the scholars in UMass got a 78% average.”

One girl pipes up. “And we only got a 65%!”

The teacher moves the child´s clothespin a rung down on the “choice stick” for speaking out of turn.

“And the scholars in Lesley got a 79%. The scholars in UMass and the scholars in Lesley are not smarter than you are. They do not know how to read better than you.” She looks around. “They do not know how to write better than you.” Suddenly, her voice rises in volume. “Scholars, what can we do to show UMass and Lesley that we are just as smart as they are?”

The children look to the list of “assessment goals” posted on the wall. They raise their hands, one by one.

“I will read my work over so I don´t make mistakes.”

The teacher nods.

“I will begin every sentence with a capital letter.”

“I will do my best work so you don´t get sad anymore.”

The teacher smiles. “Good.”

This teacher— with whom I co-taught a second grade class— is now a high-level administrator and “instructional coach” at the school. It is her job to ensure that the school’s instructors (almost all of whom are white) to “teach” using these dehumanizing, teacher-focused tactics with their students (almost all of whom are children of color from low-income families.)


At this school, children are deprived of a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and humane education; instead, they are subjected to militaristic discipline, excessive amounts of testing (well beyond that which is already mandated by the state), a criminally deficient amount of playtime (in a nine-hour school day, kindergartners have twenty minutes of recess) [I take it back. That twenty minutes of play is the most maddening part -- MP], and lack of access to social-emotional curricula— all so that the people who run their schools can make a political point.

Let me go a bit further. I've seen close up a number of educators, schools and programs that provided kids of color from poor families with "a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and humane education" and (once you get past the cooked data) did a better job closing the achievement gap than most of the no-excuses charter schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment