Vox populi

Comments of the week: A teachers strike in the second city

As the city settled into for its first full school week of the 2012-2013 school year, heads were turned westward toward a simmering dispute that boiled over on Sunday night. In Chicago, the teachers union announced that it was striking after negotiations broke down over terms for a new contract.

On Monday, Philissa wrote a series of explainers about what precisely that meant.

T Williams criticized both sides of the strike, blaming the conflict on a clash of personalities more than a fight over the interests of students or families:

The two groups that are most directly affected by the teachers strike are on the sidelines with no role or opportunity to play a role in helping decide the outcomes. Those two groups are the students and their parents/guardians. Far too much of what passes for educational reform is top down. Far too often approaches to resolving labor conflict is adversarial when it should be more collaborative. In Chicago the teachers have drawn their line in the sand and the Mayor and School Board have their lines in the sand and neither line seems to have been drawn with what is in the best interest of public school students. This strike will be a boom to charter school education in Chicago and elsewhere in the country depending upon the final outcome. There will be no winners.

Norm compared the union dynamics in Chicago to the one in New York:

One aspect of this strike is that [it] is also a referendum on the Randi Weingarten/Mulgrew/ Leo Casey “you have to collaborate due to climate of the times”  unionism which has dug such a hole here in NYC. But we are still many years behind the impact of ed deform which began in Chicago in 1994-5. CORE/CTU which has already won some minor concessions that the UFT would have jumped at and sold to the members as the best we could get. Note how class size, which the UFT has refused to put on the table since c. 1970 is a real issue.

Buried beneath Monday’s strike news was an item out of Albany from the New York State Education Department Board of Regents meeting. The state is hoping to overhaul the two-year Global Studies Regents exam because it was too hard for students to pass. Commenters disagreed that it was too hard but seemed to agree that changes were needed.

Travis Dove, a student at CSI High School for International Studies wrote:

Sure, the information is learned over a two year period, but from my experience with the test, most of the questions were from the modern age rather than things like the Neolithic era 14892374816 years ago. Also, the thematic essay GIVES YOU TOPICS TO WRITE ABOUT, as well as the DBQ. It couldn’t be spelled out any better. Kids that spend even a week studying for it on regentsprep.org could easily get an 80+.

One of Mayor Bloomberg’s more successful initiatives has been his anti-truancy campaign to improve attendance. This year he expanded its mentorship program, a move that earned some praise from a comment, but also led to a question about whether there were more systemic solutions:

ms. v. wrote:

I’m glad this is working well for many students, but it seems like yet another example of how sometimes the city is 10 years behind the curve on initiatives well-known elsewhere (and, to be fair, sometimes way ahead). As I read this, all I could think was, this is the role of an advisory program, except it encompasses ALL students. And anyone versed in the best practices of middle schools for sure, and many high schools, will already know about advisory.

On Thursday evening the city released a limited set of data about its Teacher Effectiveness Pilot. The number of effective teachers increased after two years worth of observations, a trend that the Chancellor Dennis Walcott said was evidence that it was a successful way to measure teacher performance moving forward. That struck one reader as self-fulfilling on the city’s part:

Of course an administrator who has spent time observing, conferencing and coaching a teacher is likely to feel that a teacher has improved. Maybe teachers did improve, but I’m not sure the DOE report proves much of anything.

 

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”