COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Phd

Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?

There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.

As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?

Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.

One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.

The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons,became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)

It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.”(Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)

Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.

The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.

The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.

Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.

Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one wayand should not be the onlyway to validate the teaching and learning processes.

There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.

As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.

There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.

When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.

*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).

This article originally appeared in New York Amsterdam News.

COMMENTARY: Assembly Workers and Widgets

COMMENTARY: Assembly Workers and Widgets

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

Have you ever felt frustrated and ill-equipped to meet the needs of the students in your classroom as well as the dictates of those who have never been teachers in a classroom?

Sometimes, we teachers feel like there is too much to do and not enough time or resources to do what needs to be done well. Standardized testing frenzy, No Child Left Behind, Common Core Curriculum, STEM curriculum, professional development relegated to one day make-‘n’-take or lecture sessions, and demands from school boards, legislators, and the business community all may contribute to teacher frustration, burn-out, and being ROJ (retired on the job).

Well, how can we feel more professional and less like factory workers producing widgets? First, we must clarify our mission. Students are not widgets. There can be no reject bins for human beings with different needs and varied learning intelligence!

Secondly, we must reach our students before we can teach them. By reach I mean to be willing to acknowledge cultural and personal idiosyncrasies and to be friendly, fair, and flexible. Not everyone learns—or teaches—the same way. Being friendly involves knowing our students’ names and greeting them as they enter our classrooms.

It also involves dressing professionally as a means of demonstrating personal and student respect. There are three B’s no student should ever see on a teacher: no bosoms, no belly buttons, and no backsides. Students need a professional appearance. They form their own perceptions the first time they meet us, and we do not get a second chance to make a good first impression.

The culture of our classroom community must be one of acceptance, rigor, and high standards, for our students will either stretch or stagnate according to our expectations of them. Teachers must not only have a lesson plan A and a back-up plan B but also a back-up for the back-up in order to take advantage of any teachable moment.

If we do not have a plan for our students, they will most certainly have plans for us! I assure you, their plans will make our lives miserable and learning and teaching almost impossible.

Fairness involves demanding standards for which everyone is held accountable. Certain rules must be observed. For instance, no one can be allowed to ridicule, to bully, or to be disrespectful or disparaging of anyone’s personal appearance, answers, questions, or opinions. We, as teachers, must take control of our classrooms from the first day until the last.

When we wish not to be perceived as factory workers producing widgets, we must acknowledge that our calling is a combination of science, art, and craft. TEACHING IS PLAIN HARD WORK!

Our diverse students are real human beings with real needs and varied skills and talents. We must take the challenge of our profession and equip ourselves with the content knowledge and the pedagogy skills in order to deliver what our students must have. As we teach, we must also remember that these same students may have to serve us or to teach our children or grandchildren at some point after they leave us.

As teachers serving humans, we cannot allow them or ourselves to be treated any way except as we would want our own children and family members to be treated. We must be actively vocal as we present ourselves as advocates for the teaching and learning process.

Raise your hand if you weresick and tired but now resolveto be well and full of energy as you go forward.

COMMENTARY: Color “Blindness”

COMMENTARY: Color “Blindness”

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

What is the fallacy when someone says, “I don’t see color?” Immediately, when someone says this to me, a woman of color, two thoughts cross my mind. The first one is, “Is there some congenital abnormality that negates the ability to perceive colors?” The second, if more visceral: “If you don’t see color, does that render me invisible, unimportant, or not worthy to be seen?”

This statement prickles the hairs on the back of my neck. For, too often, these words are spoken by a white person to someone black or brown.

It almost fits into the trite utterance of “I have some (or a) black (or brown) friends,” or, another, “You are not like them.” So, if you do not see color, how do you know you have some friends of color or that I am not like the illusive “them,” presumably others of color?

Many of us have prejudices and/or stereotypes of those we view as “other” or ones different from ourselves in some way. It might be that culture, religious belief, ethnicity, gender, class, marital status, socio-economic status, or one or more of the –isms influence our perceptions. Some biases are so inculcated that, from infancy, we are programmed to have fears, stereotypes, and negative views of those unlike ourselves.

One part of this kind of fallacious thinking may hinge on the fact that in order for some groups to feel righteous and superior, other groups must have to be viewed as dangerous and/or inferior.

Our perceptions of the value of ourselves and others often determine our treatment of and reactions toward those we view as less than or not as valued. Wars are fought over cultural and religious differences. Regardless of the injury, all people’s blood is red and all of us can hurt or grieve, regardless of color.

In the classrooms across the United States, many children of color—and we all have a color—are castigated, segregated, and under-educated by least-qualified teachers who are sent in to work with children most needy.

As our schools become more multicultural, many of their teachers are becoming more monocultural and unprepared to acknowledge cultural differences, different styles of learning, or ways of showing respect and tolerance. The resulting revolving door of teachers who hone their craft on these children not like themselves often exacerbates the underachievement of students and the continual decline of the public-school system as we know it.

Until all of us are willing to forego our color and cultural blindness, we perpetuate students being placed on an assembly line to mediocrity, frustration, and wasted, unacknowledged potential. This, in no way applies to all teachers, for many teachers are diligent, dedicated, and hard-working people who care and who have students, many of whom, succeed in spite of the odds against them.

However, to “not see color “is, to a person of a different color, the height of insult from an arrogant, insecure, ignorant, condescending—even if unintentional—racist person!

COMMENTARY: Classroom Culture Clashes

COMMENTARY: Classroom Culture Clashes

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

When cultures clash in the classroom, students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large all suffer. Education, or lack, thereof, can have a ripple effect on every facet of society. Not only are communities of color affected but also areas not considered “minority.” PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is an equal possibility.

Children whose culture and realities are devalued are often, as Gloria Ladson Billings so aptly expressed, “considered as deficient white children.” (1999) The children she described may become drop-outs, push-outs, or disaffected trouble makers. These disaffected students often feel disrespected, misunderstood, and devoid of hope. Some of them are test-weary and content lacking.

When they are continually designated at “below basic” on standardized tests and their culture not understood by teachers and test makers, their behaviors are almost self-fulfilling prophesies. Often these students suffer from PTSD as painful and as debilitating as any combat soldier.

They encounter the vagaries of the results of having little affluence and no influence, of physical and/or emotional abuse, and poor educational opportunities offered by a revolving door of new, career-change, or culturally unaware teachers getting their OJT (on the job training), student loans abated, masters degrees, and housing allowances before moving on to the suburbs or to becoming the next national “expert” authors and speakers on educating the urban, rural, or culturally different child.

These are the children whose apparent apathy and less than “perfect” behaviors encourage a revolving door of teachers who have the inability to relate to students of different socio-economic or racial differences. In these cases, no one is the winner, even though neophyte teachers may gain some financial benefits, for these teachers, too suffer the PTSD resulting from not knowing how to teach diverse students and the daily chaos of classroom disorder, disrespect, and disaffectedness.

Lowered expectations may cause challenges for administrators also, for they face scrutiny about how their schools function on many levels, from standardized test results to efficient use of budget to how many expulsions and suspensions their students receive.

They must also contend with trying to find substitutes or replacements for teachers who are absent for whatever reason. Their teachers often are faced with coverage, which saps the enthusiasm and energy of those forced to babysit some other teacher’s class. In addition, many states are trying to meet the dictates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Common Core Curriculum standards with inadequate funding and training for teachers and administrators in how to implement these mandated legislative programs. In the last few years, there has also been an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) schools.

Parents suffer when their children are disaffected and under-educated. Their children who are suspended or expelled are left to get into difficulties with the law and court systems. Further, drop-outs and push-outs often cannot get jobs and become economic drains on not only their families but also on the community at large.

So, in answer to the question when cultures clash in the classroom, who suffers, we all do! Poorly educated students make for a society that alienates its young, one that is unable to retain skilled and experienced teachers, and a country frustrated with unemployment, under-employment, and an ever-growing culture of violence, fear, and intolerance. Court systems and privatized prisons, along with mortuaries, result when the classrooms act as prep schools for these expensive alternatives.

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?

There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.

As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?

Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.

One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.

The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons, became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)

It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.” (Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)

Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.

The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.

The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.

Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.

Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one way and should not be the only way to validate the teaching and learning processes.

There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.

As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.

There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.

When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.

*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).

Racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Bronx private school

Racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Bronx private school

By Evando Thompson

A student at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a K-12 private school in the Bronx, announced that he and his parents filed a lawsuit against the institution Monday, April 1, in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, with the demand that the Head of the School Jessica L. Bagby and other administrators resign or be terminated.

Students from Ethical Culture Fieldston School CONTRIBUTED

Students from Ethical Culture Fieldston School CONTRIBUTED

The last straw for senior Malakai Hart, it is alleged, was when a student blatantly used the ‘n’ word. When Hart confronted higher faculty about the issue, no steps of further discipline were taken. One of the attorneys at The Cochran Firm, which will serve on the behalf of Hart’s family in the lawsuit, claimed that multiple grievances had piled up to that point. Hart’s mother Robin and father Carl alleged racial discrimination, retaliation, aiding and abetting unlawful practices and negligent hiring, training and supervision.

“The school failed to address the student involved in the incident, to be able to show himself [on a video recording] among other students and refer to my client as a ‘ni*r’,” said Derek Sells, one of the three Cochran attorneys. “For that reason, he wanted to sue and did not want to deal with the administration anymore as he felt they had let him down. Now, he is going to the courts to try and rectify this situation.”

For Malakai Hart, this is not the first incident in which he has been discriminated against by other students. He has attended the school since kindergarten and has faced similar situations before.

Last year, Fieldston also was in court for a similar lawsuit, this time in which a 12-year-old student voiced racial discrimination allegations, but the school retaliated by making false allegations to Child Protective services. The case is still ongoing.

“We had received some complaints from parents about bringing false claims to administration about what happened to the students,” said Sells. “The school claimed that the parent sent the kid to school hungry so as a result, there was an investigation launched into that. There was a threat that the child may be taken away from his parents, but the investigation found that the claims were unfounded. The school then sent a school wide emailing that they were sorry and had said untrue things about the family.”

Last week, a large group of students held a sit-in at Fieldston to protest the treatment of African-American students. Hart did not participate in the sit-in although he was very supportive of the students who initiated it. Hart believed that taking it to court would be more significant than the talks due to the lack of progress in the past.

The newly issued lawsuit echoes incidences of the past and reflects the issues that Fieldston School has had before. Head of School Jessica Bagby recently distributed an email to parents of students acknowledging that there has been a “multi-year racial trauma” at the school.

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School issued a statement, in light of the recent charges that have been put against them.

“One day we’ll have a better understanding about why this particular lawyer finds it productive to file frivolous lawsuits against Fieldston, but for today we can say without reservation that this is meritless and does not reflect the truth about our school,” said Clio Boele, on the behalf of the school. “Jessica Bagby is not going anywhere and does not deserve to be blamed or scapegoated for whatever this family’s concerns may be.”

Sells listed the specific reasoning for the lawsuit and what the family is suing for, among the future they hope to engender through the case.

“We alleged that federal civil rights were violated, human civil rights were violated, the New York State human rights were violated among other causes of action,” said Sells. “We are also asking the court not only for damages to be awarded for what my client has suffered but also, we are asking the court to tell Fieldston to stop discriminating against African-American students there.”

This article originally appeared in New York Amsterdam News.

A New Year’s Resolution for Children in New York: School Improvement

A New Year’s Resolution for Children in New York: School Improvement

By Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League

New Year’s resolutions are underway across the state of New York, and I’m one of those who are trying hard to keep the promises I made to myself. I’m focused on finding an exercise I like and can maintain, journaling more, and eliminating debt, but I am quickly learning that mapping out a clear plan with how to accomplish these will make my success much more likely. New York state officials are engaging in a similar exercise as they lay out our state’s priorities for 2019. As Governor Cuomo reflects on how our state is succeeding and where there is still room for growth, we must ensure that education and school improvement remain top priorities for New York. 

In his recent budget address, the Governor made a commitment to support an education system that distributes funding based on schools’ needs and fairness. Further, he also took the first steps to follow through on that commitment by allocating increased aid for our highest-need schools in his 2019 budget. While this can be considered encouraging progress, these priorities must remain at the forefront of Governor Cuomo and his administration’s to-do list for the upcoming year for the success of our state and our students. 

As President and CEO of the New York Urban League and a lifelong advocate for young people, I know that closing achievement gaps between our highest- and lowest-performing schools is one of the most pressing equity issues of our time. If we want to improve education outcomes and strengthen our state, we need to improve our schools and assure that every child has access to a high-quality education, no matter their zip code or the color of their skin. Especially as companies like Amazon bring more tech jobs to New York City, we must ensure that all schools promote skills like math, science, problem-solving, and innovation so that children across our city and state are qualified for such positions.

Under the most recent education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), our state has an opportunity to make the bold and innovative changes necessary to improve the trajectory of all New York students. A recent review of New York’s plan to improve low-performing schools by education experts and civil rights leaders found that New York has laid a strong foundation but can still improve the sustainability of its plan. Overall, New York’s plan focuses on equity in schools and ending segregation inequities. It also builds on proven, successful school improvement strategies and emphasizes school improvement at the local level, so that tools and techniques are tailored to local and diverse communities. However, while New York empowers local communities to lead turnaround efforts for low-performing schools, the state could take additional steps and use its authority to help ensure schools and districts make progress on their improvement goals.

As the Governor works with lawmakers on our state budget and embarks on 2019, I urge them all to put actions behind words and assure that our schools have sufficient support to increase equity and give every child a high-quality education. I also urge educators, parents, and community members to make your voices heard and advocate for the changes you want to see in your local school. We all play an important role in helping our students learn, and their success is our most important resolution for the new year.

Arva Rice is President and CEO of the New York Urban League. 

Irving students take flight to new adventures

Irving students take flight to new adventures

By: Rachel Hawkins, North Dallas Gazette Staff Writer

When you get on an airplane, it’s most likely that the last thing you’re going to think about in the midst of checking your over-weighted luggage, being held up by TSA, and the chaos of finding your flight on time is the mechanics of flight and how it works.

But luckily for some Irving students, they are taking a whole new meaning to taking flight.

Only offered at Irving High School through their aviation science program, these students are gaining the unique chance and experience to learn about different types of aviation, how they work, and why.

Craig Heckel is the program’s coordinator for the Irving High School of aviation science.

The program started in 2012 when the aviation industry was looking for more people to join the field.

“The industry is trying to grow, and it can’t grow because there are not enough people coming in the front door to match the people who are going out of the back door,” Heckel said. “The industry was recognizing that, and they were going to the colleges to do recruiting but that wasn’t good enough. So now they are going to the high schools to start these programs to get people interested, and let them know there is a huge umbrella of aviation that you can work in electronics, computer programming, or be a fireman under aviation.”

Many airlines came to Irving High School to ask, “what can you do?”

The program is open from ninth through twelfth grade. Everyone starts off by taking principles of aviation in ninth grade. In tenth grade, they will begin to expand more in-depth on various aviation concepts.

At the end of the tenth-grade students can choose which track they would like to pursue for their final two years. They can either choose from drone engineering, flight, and then the mechanical side.

“We teach about everything,” Heckel said. “In their freshmen and sophomore year, we look at GPS, learning how to fly, various principles and Newton’s laws. So all of the things that affect aviation.”

In addition to learning different aspects of aviation basics and principles, students will have an opportunity to practice hands-on engagement.

“In some cases, I had the students build the equipment like wind tunnels so they can actually get the experience of seeing it,” Heckel said. “They will see how it works, and when you put something in it, and how it’s affected. We have all the normal tools. We have a full workshop in the back for making things.”

The students will use everything from band saws to electronics with soldering irons.

Angie Maravi, a junior at Irving High School, takes drone engineering at the school. She is highly interested in drones and wants to go into aeronautical engineering.

In her class, she will usually use a computer-aided design system to make digital 3D models.

“For example, right now we are working on UAV, an unmanned aerial vehicle,” Maravi said. “We also do a lot of research about what is going on in the industry. We also do research from the past. One example is from the 1990s [when] there were a lot of aircraft crashes happening. So Mr. Heckel would talk to us about the importance of communication between captains and officers.”

Heckel stated he loves to have his students dig for topics that interest them to get them more involved and excited.

Each year the students will work on a Real Life Design Challenge. This is when the students are given a set of parameters and software and will work together in teams to take on real-world engineering challenges. They are able to make their own design where they will present it to the state first and if they succeed they will go on to nationals.

In the first year of competing, they were named the best team in the state while advancing to the national competition in Washington D.C. They were then named the Best First-Year Team.

This year they won state for the second year in a row.

Since the students have different classes they are hardly ever together to work on the project. Instead, they hold after-school meetings where they would work on the project at different times.

Right now, for their real-world design challenge, they are working on supervising the plant health of urban areas.

“We have to build our own UAV design analysis,” Maravi said. “We decided to do a hybrid, which is basically a drone and a fixed-wing aircraft. I am the design analysis manager and I am the one who does the math behind it. I really love the math and science behind it.”

In the program, there are several components involved. This can range from math, science, communication, and teamwork.

“I haven’t really done a lot of it this year, but I like for them to look at accidents because I believe we can learn so much from it,” Heckel said. “Also, safety is huge. There are two lessons I teach first: safety and ethics. They don’t really get a lot of ethics, and this being a career in technology education, we’re focused on running this very similar to a job.”

Just like an actual aircraft is built in places all over the world, the students will work on separate parts of their aircraft in groups, building the aircraft in sections, and then bring it together.

The students can also get a certification in safety through the program which will start later in the semester. Students can obtain this certification in as short as a week.