The recent announcement by Cami Anderson of her intention to ‘restructure’ the Newark Public School System by closing many neighborhood schools is a direct attack on public education in our state. She follows the lead of Governor Chris Christie who has made it his personal agenda to undermine teachers unions, even if it undermines the stability of schools and communities in the state’s largest city. Cami Anderson’s plan is a case in point –even blue ribbon schools and well-performing magnet schools are potentially on the chopping block. The dismantling of the Newark Public School System paves the way for private educational entities that run more like businesses than schools with responsibilities to the districts students and families. Kipp Charter Schools is one of the management companies set to purchase buildings and run schools within Newark. Kipp Schools have been plagued by lack of oversight, exploitation of teachers, non-compliance with Federal law as it pertains to students with disabilities, fiscal irresponsibility, and questionable hiring practices.
We were appalled to get a first-hand account from a teacher of Newark about how Superintendent Anderson proposed to implement her new policies. The superintendent’s team informed the staff that the entire faculty is essentially fired. They will all have to re-apply for their jobs for the upcoming school year with no regards to previous job performance. This is an appalling method of treating employees that have spent years of their lives working to educate a community of children. In no other profession, would such management techniques be allowed. People should be valued and treasured for their experience as well as utilized as mentors to support new teachers. Teachers that are not immediately re-hired by the administration staff will be given the choice to be placed in an “Employee Without Placement” pool to await a possible position.
Not only are teachers facing elimination of their positions, various programs within the school curriculum are also under scrutiny. With the current emphasis on high-stakes test results, it is quite possible that many programs that make for a well-rounded education will be placed upon the chopping block. Any school that is designated as a “redesign” school will face an overhaul of course offerings and selections. It is a very natural conclusion that any arts and music educational selections will be destroyed as emphasis will be placed strictly upon subjects that can be easily tested. To do this will destroy a part of a child’s education that can never be regained. Exposure to these outlets are what allows a child to explore any natural talents that may lie within. Such an agenda will be devastating to the children of Newark
New Jersey started the ‘school choice’ voucher program under the guise of allowing all students to have equal opportunities to attend schools that would best meet their learning and social needs. The program that is being set up under the reorganization of Newark Public Schools is going against this very principle. The very choice that these students are supposed to have is being taken away from them as they are being placed by the district itself into different schools. Parents are being told to complete an application to enroll their students in a new school. There has been little transparency about what is really going on within this district and parents have been given little say in the decision making process. Our public schools system was built upon the foundation of the creation of a structure that was charged with the purpose of meeting the needs of the community it served. Why is this role of our educational systems being ignored?
As I think about the recent release of the PISA scores, three different issues come to mind.
1) I cannot help but think about math. After all these scores are a set of data. When teaching fractions to my students one of the concepts that we discuss is that you cannot compare fractions that do not have common denominators. That is what this set of data represents, a comparison of things without common denominators.
2) To me, the latest results verify my need to eradicate high stakes testing. If our results are not favorable with our current educational policies, why are we allowing for a stronger emphasis to be placed upon these tests?
3) As a teacher ‘in the trenches’ I actually have little concern about these these results. These scores do not really effect my daily teaching concerns. I must first worry about whether my students we able to eat dinner the night before, about whether my students have coats for the increasingly cold whether, about whether my students have a home to go to. Only after those needs are met will I and my students be able to focus and concentrate on their education.
Dear President Obama,
I decided to undertake this project of collecting letters to you as an experiment. I wanted to see how many dedicated people I could gather together towards one goal in a short amount of time. I gave myself five days. On a Monday the call to letters was posted. By Friday, I only had a dozen letters. Up until then, I had been ambiguous about who was directly responsible for collecting these letters and trying to get them to you. Friday came and I let it all out. I told everyone that it was me that was collecting the letters, and that I was really sad over the fact that I had received so few. Within the next twenty-four hours, I received a number that is close to two hundred letters. This all during a time when people are trying to forget about their work lives and enjoy time with their family and friends.
Understand this, I have become an embodiment of what teachers all around the country are experiencing, are feeling, and are living. I have become the voice that will orate all of their fears, their anger, their questions. I take this responsibility very seriously. There are days where I feel like I have the weight of our whole world upon my shoulders. I can only imagine what you must feel like sometimes, knowing that you indeed do have the weight of our whole country on yours.
But given this opportunity that karma put in my path to try to get these letters to you, well, I could not let that opportunity pass by. I knew that it would weigh heavily on my mind if I did. Every sentence I voice, every teacher, parent, administrator and child that I speak for, deserves a chance to be heard.
I don’t really know what I was expecting when I asked for these letters. I guess I imagined some quickly typed email messages in my inbox that I would copy and paste into a document. Instead, what I received was a piece of many people’s hearts. Some letters are well thought out essays of research, some letters are emotional outpourings of descriptions of the life that is now being forced upon teachers all over the country. As president, I could say that it is your country, but it’s not. It is our country and we want to be given back the rights to it. At least in our own little corner, the educational world.
I compare the education of a child to a family unit. We all know that a child has a better chance to be successful if they have cooperating parental units that act in unison and accordance with what is best for the child. That is not what we are currently experiencing in our school system. Instead, we are looking towards what is best for the corporations, for the global race. When did the starting gun ever go off? Who declared it a race? Will there ever be a winner? Does there even need to be a winner?
instead, shouldn’t we strengthen our greatest resource, our future generations, by building a solid foundation underneath their feet, by providing them with what they need now, instead of what they may or may not need at some future point in their lives? We all know that poverty is the number one indicator for the future success of a child and that child’s education. I also know that poverty is virtually impossible to eradicate. But creating a “corporate” educational system, such as the monstrosity that has been developed, this will do nothing toward reaching that goal. Instead, it will only widen the gap between our lowest and highest income levels along with increasing the number of families that will comprise the lower income population.
As standards become adopted, districts feel the pressure to reach that unattainable notion that a mandated percentage of students can pass the test. Teachers are laid off as districts invest in new technology and new curriculums that they feel may be the solution. Class sizes become larger, teachers feel more pressure to rely upon scripted curriculums and “teach to the test” instead of having the freedom to teach to the individual child. Wasn’t that the purpose of doing away with NCLB in the first place, to allow teachers more freedom to teach? To allow them a chance to create their own set of best practices within their own classrooms based upon the needs of their individual students? Instead, teachers are being forced to standardize learning based upon the needs of our corporate world.
Many days I am in tears, not because I hate my job, but instead, because I love it. I feel the love that many other teachers feel for their jobs and I feel the heartbreak of many as they start to feel that love being stripped from them.
Two hundred letters may not seem like a lot. To me, they were heart-wrenching emotions a dozen times over. Thirty-four thousand members of the BadAss Teachers Association may not seem like a lot. But we are growing, every day. And every day more and more within our group are finding our voices, finding the courage to stand proud and to speak out for our profession.
We are just a drop in the bucket that represents the number of teachers and parents that are out there that feel just as we do. One day, they will find the courage to join us, or to join any of the various other groups that are out there forming to fight for and save our public educational system. One day they will find their voices.
The question is, one day, will you?
“One little teacher”