A guest post by Dr. Denise Gordon November 22, 2014
I write this short essay to disclose what is happening within my own science classroom, I write to expose the demeaning work environment that I and my fellow colleagues must endure, and I write to give purpose to my years of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge in teaching science for the secondary student. I am not a failure; however, by the Texas STAAR standard assessment test, I am since this past year I had a 32% failure rate from my 8th grade students in April, 2014. The year before, my students had an 82% passing rate.
What happened in one school year? It does not matter that 2/3 of the student population speaks Spanish in their home. It does not matter their reading capability could be on a 4th grade level. It does not matter homework never gets turned in and parent phone calls bring little results. What does matter was that my students were required to develop a yearlong research project by stating a problem, thinking of a solution, designing the experimental set up, collecting the required data, and formulating a conclusion. Some of the projects were good enough to enter into the regional science fair. From a selection of thirty-five projects, twenty-four were sent to the regional science fair. Some of these projects won ribbons and a chance to go to the state science fair competition. Five of my students were invited to participate in the elite Broadcom Master Science Competition. No other 8th grader in my school district achieved this accomplishment. Other yearlong projects involved entering the Future City Competition sponsored by the IEEE. My eighth graders had seven teams to compete and three came back with special awards. Another science competition for secondary students is eCybermission sponsored by the NSTA and the U.S. Army. My only team of girls who competed in this program won first place for the entire southern region of the eCybermission Competition. Did any of my students get a thank you or congratulations from our school principal or the district about their science achievements? Sadly, the answer is a no. All I got was a call into the principal’s office at the end of the school year for the purpose of being pulled from teaching the 8th grade for the next school year due to my high failure rate on the state test. My students and I did receive two thank you letters from two community partnerships. The Potters Water Action Group, represented by Richard Wukich and Steve Carpenter were thankful for our educational brochure that my students helped design for their water filtration project. Krista Dunham, Project Director of Special Olympics in Fort Worth, sent a thank you to my students for donating the soap box derby race money that my students organized and who built three scrap box cars for this worthy affair.
I am now being monitored on a weekly basis within my 6th grade classes and their posted grades. I am required to have a 15% failure rate. All assignments must be pulled from the district’s online teaching schedule; therefore, no soap box races or water brochures this year. I am not allowed to take any of my students off campus for data collecting. Student project development does not flow well in the district school calendar, so I am being questioned by the principal about my scientific teaching philosophy. Action science with real world data is not on the district’s curriculum website. It does not matter that I have a Ph.D. in curriculum development. I must teach to the test since every three weeks all students will be taking a mandated district test. This means all teachers must review for the test, students take the test, and then we go over the test. That is three days out of fifteen teaching days dedicated to a test every three weeks.
Testing and retesting with documented lesson plans from the scheduled curriculum is what the district wants, but is it what the students need really to enjoy science? Our test scores are posted online and evaluated by the administration. Our performance on these tests weighs heavily into our yearly professional evaluation. I have been placed on a “growth plan” due to the fact that I teach what my students should know rather than what the district has posted. I am somewhat a rebel or just set in my ways; however, this growth plan gives the new principal her leverage to remove me from this school. If I do not meet her standards on the growth plan at the end of the year, then I must be relocated to another school. I teach my students math skills, writing skills, and research skills. I document this growth instead of monitoring their district test scores. I have been ordered to submit weekly announcements to the parent newsletter, but my submissions are deleted by the principal. I have been ordered to attend professional development at the level three tier within our district, but there is no level three offered because level three does not exist. I have been documented that 100% of my students do not understand my lessons when I teach because I use “big” words. The 100% came The Educational Delusional Scheme | educationalchemy:
Created as a creative and more rigorous alternative, charter schools tend to outpace traditional public schools in most areas, including on standardized assessment tests. Yet charter schools also lead their traditional counterparts in a more disturbing trend: the number of students who are suspended or expelled each year.
In Boston, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice released a report this week showing that the city’s charter schools are far more likely to suspend students for infractions such as dress code violations and insubordination toward teachers. The report found that of the 10 Massachusetts school systems with the highest out-of-school suspension rates, nine were charter schools, and most were in the city.
Ditto Chicago, where an analysis of suspension rates issued in February found charter students were more likely to be dismissed than students in district-run schools. One network alone, the Noble Network of Charter Schools, had a suspension rate more than twice that of the city’s traditional public schools.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a report issued in September about a similar examination of school discipline found that from 2011 to 2013, charters expelled an average of 225 students per year, compared with just eight students in the traditional school system.
The disparity has caught the attention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who warned charters last year that their higher-than-average expulsion rate was “not acceptable.” In a 2013 speech to the National Charters Conference, Duncan challenged charter schools to find “alternative discipline methods” to out-of-school suspensions that keep students engaged while maintaining accountability and order in the classroom.
But public education advocate Jeff Bryant says the disproportionate suspension rates are a symptom of a much deeper problem. Charter schools, he says, are using harsh, zero-tolerance discipline to weed out problem students and boost standardized test scores.
“I think there’s strong evidence from [studies] and anecdotally” that support that theory, said Bryant, director of Education Opportunity Network, a public-school policy center. “Charter schools discriminate and select their students in many different ways,” he added, including out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, to winnow out underachievers.
That’s because of the bargain that charter schools have made with the taxpayers that fund them. In exchange for taxpayer money and the freedom to innovate, charter schools are held to a higher academic standard, particularly on student achievement and assessment tests. But because they’re still public schools, Bryant said, they have to accept any kid who wants to attend.
“Here’s the problem: We’ve set up this system where we determine whether a school is a failure or not by the students’ test scores,” Bryant explained. “When you isolate one variable like that and make everything else contingent on it, you encourage schools to game the system.”
While bringing order and discipline to classrooms, education experts say get-tough school discipline can do more harm than good, leading at-risk students to disengage from their own education, thus feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. Moreover, Education Department statistics indicate minority students—specifically African American boys and girls—are several times more likely to face harsh punishments, such as out-of-school suspensions.
Though the statistics are troubling, charter school advocates say their expulsion policies have nothing to do with inflating their academic record. Every case is different, they argue, and suspensions of a relative handful of students wouldn’t move the achievement needle very much.