Thursday, October 9, 2008

Everything to lose

I am going to try to explain this situation without exposing too many details that may identify my school.  It is a critical situation that is so typical of the politics of education these days.  It is an example of top-down decision making, fear-based tactics, and a complete denial of academic research and real hard data.

Here is the story.  My school, like many in New York City, has many different programs.  Without naming my particular program, I can say that it was founded based upon sound academic research, and has been very successful in educating our language minority students.  In fact, students (almost 100% ELLs upon entry to K) in this particular program have repeatedly out-performed their peers in other programs in ELA (the state English Language Arts Exam) and are on-par with their peers in Math.  In addition, the good practices we use in our program were cited in both School Quality Reviews.  The case study we presented to the reviewer was based upon a child in our program backed by academic research of the practices we used.  The case study was one of the highlights of the review.  I might add that the quality reviewer, being from England, had never seen a program like ours in action and took a particular interest in understanding it.

The program has been around for over a decade and is one of the reasons why we have maintained our population of students.  Enrollment is overwhelmingly higher in grades K and 1 for this particular program than for our regular general education classrooms.  We also have extremely good teacher retention in this program.  In fact, it is the ONLY reason I am still at my school.  Over the last 3 years, since I have been in the school, we have maintained a high level of rigor and collaboration in this program despite a systematic loss of support for our teaching.  In essence, the teachers have been holding the school on their shoulders for 3 years.  

What happened?  Well, we have had a change in administration.  At first, we felt hopeful that maybe our program would be recognized for what it is and given more support by the new administration, but that has not been the case.  Instead, the administration has come out of NOWHERE with no data and no research and wants to essentially shut down our practices mid-year because of a personal feeling.  Our administrators feel, based on their own personal experience as language minority students themselves, that our practices do not work, even though they were not fortunate to have been in a program like ours.  They have not consulted our test scores (which show drastically different results), and have not even communicated with teachers.  They have not talked to parents who have had several children pass through our program.  They have not taken the time to even understand what we do and why we do it.  They have never spent time in our classrooms and I believe they have no idea how it even works.  They have no sense that if they get rid of this program, they will be losing ALL of the teachers that are dedicated to it along with a large population of students (including the indigenous mexican families).  They also have no clue about the history of the program, how hard it was to fight for and maintain it over the years.  If they get rid of it, they will NEVER get it back.  

Who loses?  The children.  

We as teachers will be fine.  We're all highly qualified.  Many have published in academic journals.  Others have presented at state and national conferences.  We will find jobs at other schools that have the program that we believe in.  We will never stop dedicating ourselves to the immigrant and language minority children.

The children will lose the consistency of a K-5 program that requires a commitment from families.  They will most likely switch schools which will mean that they will be separated from their friends and peers.  The professionalism in the school will take a nose dive if 20 teachers leave all at once.  

What are we going to do about it?  Well, we have scheduled an emergency meeting for all of the teachers in our program and have invited the administration (well, more like insisted that they be there).  In 40 minutes, we will have to teach them about our program.  Today is Yom Kippur.  I should be fasting and atoning for my sins, but instead, I am at home pulling out 5 and 10 year-old books from my masters degree, finding the parts which I think my administration might understand, scouring the online databases for more recent data and research, meeting with a colleague at a Starbucks to put this together so that we can advocate for ourselves and for the children at 7:30 AM tomorrow.   What other job requires you to educate your bosses like this?  THEY should be the ones who are up-to-date on the latest research.  

Okay, I have work to do!  I'll let you know how it goes.


Teacher said...

Good Luck with this. It's crazy the things that get piled on an already full plate of a teacher. Maybe you can enjoy your Monday off, since this one has been filled with extra work.

Ms. M said...

That is crazy yet at the same time so typical.

I don't know if it's just my curiosity getting the better of me because you didn't say what the program was,but now I am dying to know what this wonderful program is.

Ms. M said...

And, P.S. I hope your presentation has an impact for the sake of the kids!