School’s out for summer, to the relief of millions of test-weary students, teachers and parents. Our children are spending less time learning, more time prepping for, taking and worrying about standardized tests.
Are you are concerned about the increasing influence of standardized testing on your children? Do feel your child is getting test prep while other kids are still learning a broad and deep curriculum that better prepares them for college and careers? Take heart. A national rebellion started this spring and is spreading rapidly throughout the United States.
In just a few weeks, nearly 400 organizations and 10,000 individuals have signed a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing, launched by 13 concerned organizations and some individuals.
Author Diane Ravitch, who helped write the resolution, explained, “Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers.”
If you haven’t signed yet, sign on today. Spread the word among family, friends and colleagues. Let’s make this bigger than it already is, so the important call for change cannot be ignored. Here’s the link:http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution/.
Submitted by Angela Chan on June 14, 2012
The last week of school is often dominated by the frenetic busy-ness of finalizing report card grades, packing up the classroom, and reorganizing for next year’s new classes. Just as important, though, is finding the time to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the past year and to use these insights as an opportunity to grow as teachers. In doing so, we will be able to more effectively plan for our students’ continued learning as they grow with us.
For me personally, reflection is also an opportunity to re-evaluate my hopes for students and my beliefs as a teacher, to look closely at my own approaches and to build on my learning to ensure my own seamless professional growth from year to year.
I believe that the classroom is a communal space that nurtures the holistic growth of children. School experiences are as much about the forming of character and development of citizenship as they are about developing skills in literacy and math. I have always envisioned a classroom in which my students love to read and write, and where their collective development as readers and writers becomes a community-building process. Every year, I see the spark of curiosity in my students and I strive to impart an eagerness to learn that I hope will last my students their lifetimes. Read the rest of this entry »
Notes from the Field
Originally posted on the Philadelphia Public School thenotebook blog
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission recently chose to ignore a great opportunity to encourage and support authentic grassroots school reform efforts in the District. They did so by rejecting a self-governance school reform plan submitted by the Creighton Elementary School community.
Members of this school community had sought the support of the School Reform Commission for their proposed self-governance initiative to bring parents, community members, and teachers together to work on ensuring that their school is moving toward greater success.
This notion of self-governance is similar to a model described by Research for Action’s Eva Gold and Elaine Simon in which community organizing can create a new forum for school accountability. According to Gold and Simon, public accountability “is essential for improving urban public schools. Broad-scale, collective responsibility increases and diversifies the resources available for improving schools and also permits new voices to participate in defining when a school is ‘successful.’” Read the rest of this entry »
Notes from the Field
Submitted on June 11, 2012 by Frank Murphy
Almost everyday, some bad news story concerning the School District of Philadelphia seems to be in the newspaper. Budget shortfalls, school closures and employee layoffs are commonplace events. The education of our city’s children has become a political football. It seems that nearly every person with some kind of power or title in our city and state wants to give a good kick to Philadelphia’s schools.
Everyone these days, powerful or not, proclaims to be an expert with their own ideas on how our schools should operate. They say our schools are “broken”. Are they really or have schools become the convenient scapegoats for our society’s unwillingness to take responsibility for all of its citizens? For all of these experts’ criticisms, none of them show any willingness to provide the resources necessary to fully support our public schools. What a depressing state of affairs this all has become.
Amidst this political bickering and acrimony, our schools are indeed taking quite a beating. But despite this sorry situation, there is cause for hope. Teachers, those inspirational people who do the real work of educating our children, haven’t surrendered to the chaos that threatens to overwhelm our school district.
Teachers continue to walk into their classrooms every day and help their children to learn and grow. They know how to plant the seeds of wonder and excitement in their children’s minds. They lovingly tend to their students’ needs, cultivating their development so that the habits of critical thinking and communication can take root.
Educators draw inspiration for their work from other great educators. Our role models aren’t famous business people, billionaires or ambitious politicians. We admire people who have both the commitment and skill to help children find the power of their potential.
It’s been another long and stressful school year. Thank you to all of the great teachers of our city who make our schools a good place for our children to learn and grow. And as you deal with the final details of closing out another year, take a moment to reflect on why you have chosen to be a teacher.
Here is a great song to listen to as you renew your resolve. It is a musical compilation of the words of Fred Rogers, a revered and truly inspirational teacher.
Notes from the Field
Submitted by Frank Murphy on June 5, 2011
If you haven’t seen Benjamin Herold’s recent post at the Notebook.org, you should take the time to read it. Ben is doing an excellent job of investigative reporting concerning the operations of the School District of Philadelphia.
Here is a slightly revised comment that I posted on the Notebook blog in response to his article.
According to Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon, “We lack the appropriate funding to provide our students with the education they deserve.” In practice, this means most schools have no full time nurses, fewer counselors and greatly reduced support staff (noon time aides, school police officers, school climate aides, etc.). In addition, music, art and extra-curricular activities are being reduced or eliminated. This is a sorry state of affairs for our public school children.
The situation however is much better at the Universal Family of Schools. They have already managed to operate their publically-owned school buildings by using custodial and maintenance workers who are employed by the School District of Philadelphia. This has cost the District $1.8 million of scarce public funds. Universal also occupies these facilities rent-free. They are doing well in these poor economic times. Now they have taken possession of yet another public school, Creighton Elementary School.
They acknowledged this latest acquisition with the following statement; ”We are excited and look forward to educating the children in a loving, holistic and nurturing environment, which we embody as the Universal Way.”
The “Universal Way” isn’t a very inclusive approach to dealing with the needs of the majority of Philadelphia’s school children. The agreements which this charter management organization continue to strike with the managers of the School District of Philadelphia, have been beneficial to their financial bottom line. They prosper at the expense of the majority of our public schools.
And they call this school reform? I call it shameful!
Notes from the Field
Submitted by Ray Murphy on May 21, 2012
All of us want Philadelphia to be vibrant. Which is why the current debate over Philadelphia’s schools is so important to Bread & Roses Community Fund stakeholders. But it’s not easy keeping up with all of the details.
Here is a quick summary of what’s going on:
Next week, the School Reform Commission (SRC) will vote on a budget for the School District of Philadelphia which will include a $218 million deficit.1
The School District has made some questionable spending choices in the past. But this year’s multimillion dollar budget gap is largely due to cuts at the state level. And Governor Corbett has proposed even more cuts in education spending, while increasing funds for prisons.
In the midst of this budget crisis, a few weeks ago, the SRC announced a plan to:2
- increase enrollment at charter schools to 40%
- close 64 schools in the next five years
- divide the remaining schools into independent networks to be run by private operators
This plan will not necessarily save the school district money. Nor does it address the lack of equity in public school funding. And it may cost teachers and other school staff their jobs.3 Read the rest of this entry »
Notes from the Field
Submitted by Frank Murphy on April 26, 2012
It has taken me a few days to process the latest radical plan offered for reforming the Philadelphia School District. This is essentially a blueprint for the dissolution of the district. At first I didn’t even want to think about this proposal. The notion that the entire district is broken and needs to be tossed out and then reinvented represents a new low in the language of school reform demagoguery. This commentary written by Helen Gym started to stir me out of my funk. But it wasn’t until another respected Philadelphia activist asked me what I thought of this newest plan that I started to put my thoughts to paper.
On one level, the idea of creating autonomous networks of schools that share a common mission and purpose sounds like an exciting idea. If I were an active principal I would consider reaching out to other school leaders that I respect in order to develop a plan. Read the rest of this entry »
Joy of Teaching, April 9, 2012
I often work with students in small groups providing strategies for improving reading. One of the activities I ask students to complete is a word sort that directs student focus on word features to improve decoding skills. Part of this activity involves students working together to decide how a group of words can be sorted. They must reach a conclusion and describe for me their thinking behind the word sort that they created.
Recently, I was observing students during this process, when one of the students shared that she thought this was fun. I asked her why she thought so and she replied “My teacher doesn’t let us talk!”
It reminded me that, in our classroom lives of school reform, so many important things have been pushed out of daily instruction. As adults we can surely recognize the importance of communication in our lives. We become successful through communicating with peers, employers and partners. Without good communication skills, we are usually unable to reach our best potential.
So why is that we forget to let our students do the talking. I learn so much about my students and their thinking through their impromptu conversations. Children develop language skills by using language. Yet, quiet classrooms are often perceived as ‘good’ classrooms. Noisy classrooms are perceived as ‘unruly’. A really productive classroom is a combination of both.
Teachers who direct students on a task and then allow them to work together to complete the task expect to hear a productive level of conversation. Sure, students get off task, but that is the teacher’s job to redirect the students. A teacher should monitor conversation, guide and engage in the conversations. Most importantly, the teacher should listen to the conversations. I actually learn from my students when I am part of the process. Students demonstrate their higher order thinking skills through language. My instruction is often guided by this enjoyable opportunity.
I hope we can all find the time in our busy instructional days to allow our students the opportunity to enrich their language development through the art of conversation. In my classes, we will continue to talk, talk, talk! After all, the skill of communication will largely determine a student’s success, now and in the future.
Notes from the Field
Submitted by Frank Murphy on April 4, 2012
During this electoral primary season, I have paid little attention to anything other than the hype surrounding the Republican presidential nomination race. Then last week I read this article in the City Paper that describes a “big money pro voucher group’s” attack on Pennsylvania House Representative James Roebuck. A second article also appearing in the City Paper, detailed additional attacks on Representative Roebuck that were initiated by a mysterious third party group. This group, Public Education Excellence claims Roebuck is responsible for just about everything that is wrong with public education in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania.
Roebuck has represented the 188th Pennsylvania House District in which I reside since 1985. He is an elected official who has won my respect and support. In my estimation, Roebuck is a government official who is focused on representing the best interests of his constituents. He is a humble, hard working legislator, who for the last 27 years without great fanfare has supported the special interests of the people who elected him to office. Read the rest of this entry »