Ackerman takes a New Tack?

Dr. Ackermans editorial in the Monday edition of the Inquirer is correct in stating that “every Philadelphia educator and concerned citizen should take personal responsibility and appropriate action.” This is exactly what many have been asking the school district to do for several years. This is a huge change in opinion from Dr. Ackerman who previously complained this problem was taking too much of her time. A true change in opinion and action by Dr. Ackerman would be very welcome. Only cooperation can solve this city-wide problem.

Something wrong with the food in Philadelphia

I write this while watching Stephen Spielberg receive the 2009 Liberty Medal Award being given at the National Constitution Center here in Philadelphia. In his speech he saluted other artists and made note of the rhythm and art in historical documents such as Lincoln’s speeches and the Constitution itself.
The irony of course is teachers have no freedom to teach. We must follow the core curriculum and subjects like Social Studies are hard to find in today’s communist school system embraced by American politicians.
In Philadelphia administrators belief they can dictate academic results. Principals are now held accountable for how many children eat breakfast. Now doubt teachers will soon share the same fate regarding how many children do their homework.
These administrators have gone into the home, and instead of empowering parents, they have assumed parental responsibility.

From the Other Side of the Fence”; Sharpton, Gingrich, and Duncan's "Listening Tour" in Philadelphia

Students from PSU and YUC talk to Arne Duncan and Al Sharpton through a wrought iron fence.

A couple of weeks ago Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Reverend Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came to our city as part of their “Listening and Learning Tour” regarding a national agenda for public education reform. Students, parents, teachers, and community organizations were left wondering who the group was really listening to, since none of us were included in the tour’s agenda. We were only able to speak with them through a locked and guarded wrought-iron fence.

In the weeks leading up to the visit the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) sent several requests for the trio to meet with those who would be most affected by the reforms they plan to implement. PSU reached out through letters, calls, and emails on behalf of over 20 community organizations including Youth United for Change, Teacher Action Group, Education Not Incarceration, the Southeast PA Network, the United Taxi Workers Alliance, West Philly High Community Partners, Parents United, Radio Tlacuache, the Community Education Network, Labor Justice Radio, PA ACORN, and William Penn Community Stakeholders.

Because we believe in transparency, we attempted to get information to circulate to the entire community on the itinerary of the tour, but found that it was not public information. Every office assured us that someone else had control over the schedule. We received notice of the tour schedule at the same time the press did, approximately two days prior to the event. District leaders did not support our request to demonstrate to the members of the Listening and Learning Tour that there is an active, mobilized community in Philadelphia that supports our public schools.

Mr. Obama Tear Down That Wall

President Obama has won the Nobel Peace prize for changing the climate in global peace talks. Nothing tangible has yet been accomplished, and the day the announcement was made he was huddled in the “Situation Room” deciding how many more troops to send into Afghanistan, but none the less he is the winner of perhaps the prestigious award on our planet. Changing the climate is indispensable to progress.

Education: The Weakest Link

Many believe we can reform schools by paying teachers teachers based on certification and the subject they teach, that science and math teachers should be paid more than grade teachers. What this accomplishes is simply shifting the weakest link in education.

The most important and perhaps hardest working teachers are the K-3 teachers. They lay the foundation for successful reading. Imagine trying to teach science or math to a child who can’t read. It can’t be done. In building you can hire the best electrician, the finest carpenter, but if the foundation crumbles then the money was not well spent.

In education there is consensus based on research that the early grades are the most important. Paying other teachers more will only weaken our foundation.

In Education Less May be More

Many non educators believe the school day for teachers and students should be longer, but ignorance is no excuse for bad policy. Let us first examine an educators’ day, since so many underestimate the hours a teacher puts in.

Arne Duncan Fails in Philadelphia (Part 1)

Arne Duncan visited Philadelphia today and like the failed Educational Management Organizations whom we wasted over 120 million taxpayer dollars on, he promoted a one size fits all plan to fix education.
One aspect of his plan is to make school year round. I don't know about others, but from 10th grade on I worked after school and summers, knowing that my full time summer money was spending money when I got college. I expect for many in Philadelphia these funds are even more necessary than they were for me. Duncan's fix it may actually result in fewer people being financially prepared to attend college.
Sorry Arne, yours' is not the plan we need.
Use the summers off as incentive. Those who need it go, those who don't can work and earn money. As a teacher I tell my kids you learn more, you earn more. This is an opportunity to back it up.

Proposal by Senate Republican Caucus would roll back education formula

Federal economic stimulus funds designated for investments in education targeted at improving education and preventing job losses would disappear into the budget under a new political proposal unveiled by the Senate Republican Caucus today. They presented a 2009-2010 state budget proposal that undermines the Commonwealth’s funding formula. This move would force school districts to increase property taxes, thus counteracting the positive effects of the stimulus funds which – if used appropriately, would help prevent tax increases and maintain needed investments in targeted education reforms.

What's the right to speak without the right to be listened to?

When the district announced that they would be creating a 5 year strategic plan, they promised that it would be an open, transparent, and community-based process. I believed them at first. I even joined one of the strategic plan working groups- "Highly Effective Educators". I gave input, excited that the district was finally actively seeking out community input. After that process, which I felt really good about since we had come up with what I thought was an awesome and reasonable list of recommendations with clearly defined priorities, the district sent two people to meet with an organization that I'm a part of- The Philadelphia Student Union. My colleagues (other high school students) and I gave more input here. At this point I really was convinced that this administration was different, that the horror stories I had heard about life under Vallas and the horror stories I had been a part of under Brady were over. I knew Dr. Ackerman wasn't perfect but maybe she really was sincere about community involvement. And then the draft of the plan came out. Almost nothing from the Highly Effective Educators working group was a part of it. We had identified teacher equity and site selection as our top priorities, and neither was included. Nothing from the district's session with PSU was in the draft either. I was disappointed, but I thought that maybe the word "draft" would open opportunities for real engagement. I went to community meetings at schools, my working group reconvened, I was a part of another listening session as a member of City Wide Student Government. I got "engaged" every way I knew how. And that was just me. Student Union as an organization and other students as individuals spent countless hours trying to talk with the district. Our questions were ignored, marginalized and side-stepped. Our suggestions were faithfully written down and then ignored. When the revised draft came out (partly as a result of pressure exerted by PSU and other organizing groups) I wasn't surprised to see that again, none of the suggestions I had given or had heard given in any meeting I had been in were incorporated. In the end, Student Union and our allies did manage to get some of our issues addressed in the final version of the plan, although key language around the Renaissance schools and around teacher equity is still lacking. It was a bizarre experience, hearing Ackerman proclaim constantly that the plan was "all for the children", but then marginalize "the children" when we came to her door asking to be heard.

This is a long story to make a simple point: the right to speak doesn't amount to anything without the right to be listened to. We consistently demand "community processes" only to be given instead informational meetings and lip service. Since the various institutions in the city: school district, city government, etc. don't seem to understand what exactly a real community process looks like, maybe we need to be more explicit with them from now on about what exactly we are looking for. Simply put, we're looking for genuine dialogue. The only way to be sure that we have been listened to before we see the final result is to demand that we have a real conversation. Why aren't we able to give suggestions and then demand an answer as to why they weren't included? Maybe then some of the real motives behind including some ideas and not others would have to come out.

The district has another crucial "community engagement" process coming up with the Renaissance Schools, and this time we have to hold them accountable not just for "engaging" the community, but for respecting us as decision makers.

Review Essay: Corporal Punishment in Schools

Dahl, Roald, Quentin Blake (illus.) “Matilda” (Puffin Books, U.K., Jonathan Cape 1988) ISBN: 0-224-02572-4

Corporal punishment in schools has been a running issue of debate among parents and the academe. Historically, such disciplinary measure has been the subject of legislative bills opposing child abuse. On the contrary, several educational institutions and some parents support corporal punishment as it is regulated and conforms to state laws.

This essay explores the seemingly unconventional practices of corporal punishment depicted in Dahl’s novel to discipline primary school children and the possibility that these practices could happen in real life by citing related incidents of child cruelty in schools. It also discusses views regarding the psychological effects of corporal punishment on children.

“Use the rod, beat the child!”

Long on Imagination, Short on facts

Below is a link to the daily news article by Mensah Dean covering last nights community meeting in Olney regarding the implementation of Dr.Ackerman's Imagine 2014.
If you've read the draft report there is not much to disagree with: We all want the same thing, excellent schools. But the devil is in the details and at last nights meeting even the most basic questions went unanswered.
Few disagreed with the goals of the original SRC which claimed it would create an excellent school district by 2008. By chance it seems Dr. Ackerman needs the same amount of years they did, but using the same methodology, why should we expect different results.

What Do These Letters Stand For I.E.P., or What Do They Mean?

Many of you know me but may not be aware I post weekly for Teachers Count magazine at their blog. I post there because I am paid to. I believe this weeks post is among the most important I have written and hope it generates the discussion and action our students deserve. Please check it out. It outlines how our students learn not to snitch in schools and why they learn this.

What Do These Letters Stand For I.E.P., or What Do They Mean?

Many of you know me but may not be aware I post weekly for Teachers Count magazine at their blog. I post there because I am paid to. I believe this weeks post is among the most important I have written and hope it generates the discussion and action our students deserve. Please check it out. It outlines how our students learn not to snitch in schools and why they learn this.

Dysfunctional School District

I hope you've all read the article linked here.

The comments posted by readers were definitely interesting, but what is concerning is the school districts statement concerning why so many teaching positions are still open. Apparently they have so many applications they cannot process them in a timely bases. Thus over 100 classrooms are still without a permanent teacher. On average that means over 3000 children are not being served by the school district.

The School District is replete with bad managers who try and make teachers look bad. Their leadership style is based on condemnation and vilification. I had hoped it would change with Dr. Ackerman but apparently not.

Imagine a city where School District Leaders, Teachers, Parents, and Children were all sailing with the same wind at their backs instead of being in each other faces. I wish Philadelphia was that city.

Mayor Nutter to Give First Education Policy Address

Mayor Nutter will give his first Education Policy Address tomorrow (Thursday Sept. 11, 6:00 p.m., South Philly High). He has outlined two lofty goals: to cut in half Philadelphia’s 45% drop-out rate within 5-7 years and to double the amount of Philadelphians with four year degrees over the next 5-10 years.

These are great goals that families, parents, students, and community members who are advocating and organizing to improve public education can get behind. It is encouraging to see that the mayor is taking on these issues proactively, setting goals, and working with District officials and other elected officials to assert the role of the city in improving public education.

And with such lofty goals as these, it is clear that the mayor will need the support and therefore the buy-in not only of district leadership and elected officials, but of those most directly effected by the crisis in our public education system, the very same people I mentioned above. There are 167,000 public school students in our city, 55,000 of whom are high school students.

If we can trust that Mayor’s goals are not just about what looks good on his watch but what is truly in the best interests of students, parents, and families, then he and other district officials must recognize that these thousands of students and the families they represent must not merely be acted upon through policies and programs, but must themselves become the change agents who are driving the process. In recognizing this I would like to speak on some of the dynamics that arise when young people organize and advocate on their own behalf around public school issues. The points below reflect conversations I have had with youth leaders speaking candidly about the enormous obstacles that they face making their voices heard to elected officials and other leaders, transforming themselves from victims to change agents, reclaiming their education, and taking a stand for self-determination.

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