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Archive for December, 2011

While we are pondering our student-centered, positive, district-supporting response to the AF debate (and it is coming soon), we have run across the following blog posts and articles in the media. A theme emerges, which we will let speak for itself:

The first is a blog post from Keith Catone, a senior research associate at Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, written as a response to the presentations made at one of RIDE’s open meetings to discuss the AF application:

http://bottomupeducation.org/2011/12/09/achievement-first-is-racist-but-who-isnt/

The second is an article from Time.com:

http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/09/why-are-the-rich-so-interested-in-public-school-reform/

The third is an Op-Ed piece from the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/opinion/the-unaddressed-link-between-poverty-and-education.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

There is also an older Op-Ed from the Times that echo’s some of our previous comments about the need for all stakeholders, including teachers unions, to come together to support positive, student-centered reform:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/08/opinion/teaching-with-the-enemy.html

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Margarita Arentsen, a single mother of four and fairly recent transplant from Texas to RI, has, for all intents and purposes, held the Hope High School PTO together by herself since the beginning of this school year.

She has set up a Face book page:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hope-High-PTO/240600925985740

and attends PAC and SIT meetings, in addition to meetings with school administrators, Sodexo, Hope United (the activist student group at Hope), and others.

Several years ago the school department had a “Facilitator of School Support and Community/Family Engagement” at Hope that helped communicate with and motivate parents to participate in the PTO. Since that position was discontinued, the Hope PTO has been run (and essentially consisted of) a very small number of dedicated parents.

This is written to express great appreciation for all the Margarita has done, to ask both parents and students to chip in to support the Hope PTO (before it vanishes), and to ask the school department to really support parent engagement through the active assistance of a facilitator, rather than the passive placement of “parent zones” which, if there is no PTO, are little more than wasted space.

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Aaron Regunberg writes in GoLocalProv today about a letter sent to Governor Chafee, in opposition to Achievement First’s application to manage Mayoral Academies in Providence.

http://www.golocalprov.com/news/11665/

We were asked to sign on to the letter. Many members of our steering committee wanted to sign. A few did not. Ultimately, we missed our chance to be signatories to this letter.

I’m okay with that.

The letter spells out a number of very solid reasons why a network of Achievement First schools in Providence might have a negative effect on our schools and school children. We agree with most if not all of them.

We’ve asked why the Superintendent of Schools and School Board supported the AF application. We were told that students needed as many good opportunities as they could get, and that perhaps Providence could glean some “best practices” from being able to observe AF managing schools up close.

It makes you wonder though… If the school department sees many of the practices of Achievement First as desirable, or perhaps even something to emulate, why not introduce those practices to the Providence Public schools? And if you do bring in AF, don’t you establish two “classes” of education, where the AF kids get additional resources, longer school days, more flexible educational practices, and so on, relative to the kids in Providence Public Schools?

Aaron goes on to state that the letter is summed up by the last paragraph, which states:

“Our repudiation of Achievement First is not an affirmation of the status quo nor is it a condemnation of all charter schools. The persistent achievement gaps that exist in our schools must be addressed, but no organization or methodology should claim to close those gaps while posting mixed academic results and undermining democratic processes. We implore your help in creating education policies, developed in conjunction with parents, teachers, students, and other local stakeholders, that help all young people enrolled in our public schools.”

ESPEC provided the first sentence to that paragraph. And while we completely agree with the statements in the rest of that paragraph, some of us wanted to push the paragraph in a different direction.

Aaron states that “much of the pro-AF rhetoric I’ve heard lately has attempted to frame all opposition to Achievement First as coming from the teachers union and as being against educational change in general”.  Some of us wanted the last paragraph to state that positive change in our schools was not going to come given the union’s intransigence, or as a result of adherence to current contractual imperatives. Some felt that these statements would detract from the letter, and ultimately the group signing the letter (which includes union representation) did not want those statements included.

Our contribution was an attempt to honestly state the obvious. Unions are important. Unions provide protections to our students and our teachers. Unions though should not guide educational policy. A significant resistance to substantive change in how our schools are run comes from the union. Why do we still have ineffective teachers in some of our students’ classrooms? How many years has it taken to put a teacher evaluation protocol in place? How difficult was it to gain the concession to add 5″ to the school day (less than 1″ per period), still leaving Providence with one of the shortest school days in the State? Why, in order to have parent teacher conferences, do our children need to stay home two days in the middle of a school week? Why did the City sign on to a contract essentially guaranteeing all teachers their jobs for the next three years (in the face of the designation of PLA schools, a shrinking student body [which would shrink more if AF started competing for students], etc.)? How could Providence even begin to emulate some of the positive elements of a Charter school, given contractual constraints?

The most wonderful thing about this group’s letter is also perhaps the most distressing. What a large, diverse group of concerned citizens who signed on to this letter! And yet, this group came together to essentially say “no”. Yes, they make a plea in the last paragraph for the involvement of multiple stakeholders in developing policies to help all young people in our public schools, but who will operationalize this?

Hopefully, this group will continue to work together, and with the City, parents, and students, now and in the future, in an open, honest, and transparent fashion, to promote, support, and develop positive change in our schools, focusing on the needs of our students first and always. That’s something we’d sign onto in a heartbeat.

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