Mar 29, 2009

The Haves And The Have Nots: The Strange and Unexplained In Rhee's DC Schools Budget

4/8/08 quote from Chancellor Rhee's City Council testimony "Sixty of our schools are either in corrective action or restructuring status for failure to consistently meet AYP. The only humane response to such a number includes a significant financial investment to find out what is going wrong in these schools, and correct it. By adding (increased aid) 4 million to create a school improvement cluster and 7 million increase to support reconstituted schools FY 09 funding will help us identify and correct problems that are blocking student achievement in these schools."

On Saturday, the WaPo featured a story- "Study Questions Disparities in Funding Among Some Schools" by reporter Bill Turque." This article was based on a study of 112 DC public schools conducted by Mary Levy, Education Finance Specialist from the Wash. Lawyers Comm. on Civil Rights. Turque's story featured several elementary schools and middle schools to make the illustrations of financial disparities that existed in DC schools '08-09 budget. Shaw middle school at Garnett Patterson received $12, 383 in tax dollars for each of its 257 students while Hart middle school only received $7,128 per pupil for its 619 students. It was noted that both schools have high concentrations of children from low-income families.Typically funding is provided to DC schools based on a per pupil rate between $8,700 and $10,000. Of course some of the funds go to the central office functions and the rest typically get distributed to local schools.

What is significant about Levy's study which by the way came out at the end of last school year is that it revealed that "gaps in support grew substantially over last year.... 31 schools ended up with less money than they were due." It was reported that this funding disparity is due to a failure to adhere to a new funding formula initiated by Rhee at the end of last school year which promised art teachers, librarians, school social workers, etc.

Unfortunately in schools where there are high needs, financial inequities such as those noted in the article adversely impact student achievement. Without the needed funding, schools like Hart faced teacher and staff shortages and over sized classrooms amongst a host of other ills. Of course the ripple effect as we have read about in the news and watched on television are school-wide safety issues, student discipline problems, students being taught by uncertified substitutes, and assaults on teachers. The news about financial disparities is too little too late for this school year. Noah Wepman, DC Schools CFO promises us that these anomalies will now be corrected in the proposed school budget before next school year. You tell me what is wrong with this picture. (Posted by The Washington Teacher). Story courtesy of www.washingtonpost.com , picture courtesy of flicker.com.

Mar 21, 2009

An Answer To A Mother's Prayers

My minister always says if you passed a test then you have a testimony. I am sharing this very personal story because recently I passed a test. One of my favorite biblical passages is aptly titled "For Everything There Is A Season." I have written about it here on my blog before. I hope that none of you will comment negatively on my blog this morning because today I am celebrating . Today is my season, my little boy, Blake (now five years older and a grown young man of 19 years) returned back home to his family of origin.

Blake was abducted from me almost five years ago this year. Many lies were told by a vindictive ex which propelled me into a legal court battle that defied reason. To fight this battle in court it cost me thousands and thousands of dollars and appearances before more than 12 judges . I was willing to pay whatever the cost so that I could continue to have a relationship with my son. Every legal door I opened somehow was closed on me despite the obvious evidence. In one instant of a judge's ruling- it felt like I had lost everything. I remember thinking in the parking lot that day- what is to become of me ? After all I had a full-time job but I also had spent the last 15 years being someones mommy. I imagined- what will I do now ?

I vowed to never become bitter or take out my anger on anyone because of what happened to me. I turned to God for guidance even though I didn't have a strong spiritual connection. I asked the question if not be a mother, what is it that you would have me do ? The answer to this question became my quest. I read the bible over and over again and even purchased many soul searching books. The answer eventually became clear to me symbolically. I was to use my talents to help others in need . I also developed a closer spiritual connection and joined a church.

Somehow many problems have landed conveniently at my doorstep. I use to say out loud- nobody's home, my plate is full, can't you see I 'm busy God ?

I remember thinking, what next? First my cousin Brice asked me to sign legal papers to be his medical power of attorney (MOA). I thought why not, we aren't going to get really sick before we are at least 90. Little did I know within 6 months, Brice was in a coma. Had I really took the time to understand my role as a MOA- I would have never signed onto this job at least not in my right state of mind. I made the decision that Brice would not be taken off a ventilator when the hospital and his grown daughters urged me regularly to pull the plug. I vowed to the hospital that like the legal agreement I signed, they would have to kill me or die trying to prove to me that there is not even a remote chance that Brice could regain consciousness ever. I studied the Internet on ventilator statistics . I became a resident expert on Brice's condition and questioned many of the doctors' questionable practices. They hated me but eventually came around to my way of thinking that there was a possibility that Brice would wake up. I think the medical staff only tolerated me really until one day I came to visit and there Brice was sitting up in bed. He winked at me and mouthed the words I love you. Later he told me this is why I picked you to be the MOA- you are fanatical in everything you do. I responded - I am, I didn't know that. I reasoned had I been a parent I would not been able to assume such a responsibility and help save Brice's life or develop a much closer relationship with him.

Even though I worked with Brice until he got released back home, the sad news is that Brice decided to give up on life without even telling me. He stopped taking his medication and all therapies unbeknownst to me, even though he had come such a long way. I was Brice's biggest cheerleader and he was mine. When I doubted my son would return home, Brice would light into me like I into him when he tried to stop believing that he would get better. I hope Brice is smiling down on me this morning. My only regret is he didn't live to see what he already knew would be.

Next came another challenge, I was asked to run on the union executive board slate on the Hicks/Nicholson campaign. Actually the race was quite close and we lost. I thought that was probably it for me as far as being a union officer. I convinced myself to believe I tried my best and it didn't work out. I had planned to spend some more time being a long earned couch potato. That didn't happen.

Challenge number 3- a colleague asked me to become the WTU Building representative after all she was retiring. I thought- hmmf are you kidding me ? She gave me a litany of reasons why I was the only one and I would be good for this job. At the time we had a lot of issues with one crazy, crazy boss. I knew that it could easily become another full time job. I longed for something to do while I mourned losing Brice. I was swamped with complaints from our members. I wrote emails into the night on members behalf. While I was burning the midnight oil, I enjoyed it immensely and ran 2 more times successfully. I was quite content just being a building rep. Then I was approached about running on another union slate as a board of trustee. I thought perhaps this would be a great opportunity to help our union, teachers and school related staff in a broader capacity. Of course we won and the rest is history. It lead to me writing this blog. Destiny ?

This past Friday, I was given an award titled 'Visionary' by my colleagues and program managers. While some other colleagues were given other awards- somehow the distinction of being a visionary humbled me. I was touched because I think that all that I have done for others was not of my own doing. I truly believe I was destined to be just who I have become. I had to lose my son for a reason so that I could be in this place. What's odd is that while I was just passing time awaiting Blake's return- I really wasn't waiting because I embraced my role and accepted my lot telling myself- it's not your season to be a mother. Time has really flown by fast. I cried through my pain the first 3 years of this ordeal. Sometimes, I didn't know if I was crying for Brice, crying for Blake or crying for myself. Heaven has many of my tears in a bottle to prove this. Little did I know while-I became engrossed in order to save my own sanity I found my true passion- the labor movement, albeit late.

This Saturday night I got a call from my aunt. Blake left of his own volition on Wednesday night from the controlling imprisonment of an alienating father. For those of you who don't know- there is a syndrome called parental alienation syndrome known as PAS where one parent tries to erase the other parent from a child's life by denigrating the other parent and brainwashing the child into a spiral of hatred against the targeted parent. In studies of thousands of custody cases, psychiatrists and psychologists have compared this syndrome to being in a cult. What we know about cults is that the cult leader (the father in this case) tries to deny contact from almost anyone from the outside world. The child complies in order to survive as well as others who reside with the cult leader. It leads to the child's virtual imprisonment and ultimate control by the leader or father in this case. This is what happened to us. After extensive research, PAS support groups, my participation in clinical studies , talks with my lawyers, I have better come to understand this syndrome.

I did not sleep at all last night. In fact I am still up and its 5:30 in the morning. I am not losing sleep for the same reasons that I did in the past. Tonight is the answer to a mother's long awaited prayers. Welcome home Blake! Thank you God- you're awesome ! I love and miss you too Brice- you will always be in my heart. For all of you who stood by me during these difficult times you know who you are and what you have meant to my survival. A 'special thanks' to my family. I thank you for all the times you listened and encouraged me to persevere. The names of my family members have been changed to protect them. (Posted by The Washington Teacher).

Mar 18, 2009

Two Thumbs Down To DC's Ron Brown Principal Darrin Slade


Attached is an open letter that I sent to Chairman Vincent Gray and all DC City Council members on March 13, 2009 regarding Principal Darrin Slade's violations of DC teachers' right to confidentiality in personnel matters. I requested that Chairman Vincent Gray in his oversight role advance this issue to the Office of the Inspector General, Chancellor Rhee, Mayor Fenty, Deputy Mayor Reinoso and other bodies for appropriate sanctions against Slade.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with several Ron Brown teachers who took the bold step of speaking publicly on the record regarding the assaults against not only DC teachers but students as well in the recent WaPo article "DC Teachers Claim Assaults, Face Doubt." So it seems that many teachers just like the Ron Brown teachers and Woodson Academy teachers who were featured are fearful of speaking anonymously and on the record.
Now more than ever threats of placing teachers on 90 day termination plans have been made against teachers even for making referrals for inappropriate student behavior to a host of other issues. Often teachers who make these referrals do so after being placed in impossible classroom situations. Some of these situations include having class sizes ratio's exceeding contractural limits as well as DCMR regulations. Some classes are as high as 41 and upwards ,as well as situations in which some schools like my elementary school are being forced to do mandatory inclusion for ALL students mid-year without regard to students' with disabilities needs., etc. Recently my school was informed that we had to place a student from a residential setting into one of inclusion classrooms despite the fact that this student had an extensive history of assaults and had been recommended by his former school to attend a 'special school'. Had my team and I, as well as the interim principal not protested this- I believe we would have been put in a no-win situation.
Teachers report that Principal Slade like some other DC administrators are engaged in 'covering up the truth' about the level of school violence. I am concerned that a pattern has emerged whereby DC administrators are retaliating against teachers who dare to speak up publicly regarding matters that impact student learning and ultimately have an adverse effect on students, teachers and related school staff. Could it be that these DC principals fear losing their own jobs if word gets back to Chancellor Rhee? Certainly this isn't a stretch because this is just what happened to the former Hart middle school principal when stories about school violence hit the newspaper.
Unfortunately, Principal Slade's efforts to bribe students as reported in the WaPo to give him information at the tune of $100 dollars a pop leads to another dilemma: some innocent students are being implicated while the guilty go free, according to my sources. Bill Turque's article is just the tip of the iceberg regarding school violence here in DC. If you know of issues regarding school violence in DC schools that are not being accurately reported by DC administrators, I implore you to report them before someone gets seriously hurt, be it a student or a teacher. In order to address any problem, we must first acknowledge that there is a problem. While the news coverage has been scant on school violence until recently, I applaud all those who have come to the forefront about city-wide school violence at Cardozo HS, Hart MS, Woodson Academy and Ron Brown MS.
Here's a copy of the letter that I sent to DC Chairman Vincent Gray and DC City Council members last week urging their intervention regarding Principal Slade's inappropriate comments to the press on teachers personnel matters:

Request for Council Intervention Re DCPS Principal's Comments To The Press

3/13/09


Dear Chairman Gray and DC Council members:

I am truly disturbed by the comments made by Mr. Darrin Slade, DCPS Principal @ Ron Brown Middle School in the 3/13/09 Wash. Post article on page A 1. Mr. Slade's comments that teachers in the article are in the process of being terminated seems to be a violation of teachers' rights to confidentiality. One teacher in today's article denies being on a 90 day improvement plan as suggested by Mr. Slade. These comments are also inappropriate and unethical. At no time should a DC administrator openly discuss employee's personnel issues with the press. Principal Slade is also quoted in today's Post as per his school guide as threatening teachers with placement on a 90-day improvement plan instead of helping to provide support to teachers who may be in need of assistance.

It is also troubling that in this same article that two other Woodson Academy teachers who were assaulted had to speak on condition of anonymity because they fear losing their jobs if they spoke negatively in the press about their experiences with school violence. I would like to request that the DC City Council address this issue regarding Mr. Slade's comments in your oversight role of the District of Columbia Public Schools. I hope that you will take the lead to publicly advance this violation to the Office of the Inspector General, the Office of The Chancellor, the Deputy Mayor of Education, the Office of the Mayor and any other appropriate bodies so that it can be properly handled with appropriate sanctions. If Chancellor Michelle Rhee states that her office is unable to provide the names of DC teachers on 90 day plans to the Washington Teachers' Union due to the confidentiality of teachers, how is it that Mr. Slade at his level as a DC principal can discuss teachers' personnel matters openly in the press ?

Certainly in so doing, Mr. Slade as representative of the DC public schools poses a liability to the school system for potential defamation of character. It seems that the District of Columbia Public Schools is headed down a very slippery slope that ultimately will do more harm than good for DC students, teachers, administrators and our school system . Let's hope that Mr. Slade's behavior does not open the door to other DC principals acting in similar fashion.

I along with other DC Public School employees have testified before you on a number of occasions to appeal for your help on a number of fronts. I appreciate that you have held city council hearings to address some of our concerns as it relates to our employment, school violence issues and other matters. I request a timely written response to my request. Thanks for your attention.

Candi Peterson
WTU Board of Trustees
WTU Building Representative/city-wide teachers and related service providers

(Posted by The Washington Teacher)

Mar 12, 2009

Inequality in K-12 Public Education

This one's for Chris L. @ A.U.

I think that
The Frustrated Teacher said it best on the subject of inequality in education: "There is no quick fix because the problem, whatever the problem is, is not the fault of public education; it's the fault of society to adequately take care of those in need. I think its pretty clear that the "haves" have been having at the expense of the "have-nots" for so long that we are where we are now; a rich/poor society; very little in the middle.The "poor" don't need better schools and teachers, they need better lives !"

On a similar note Public Education Defender made a number of key points about Obama's recent speech on education policy. Public Ed. Defender argues that Obama's plan like that of other well intended politicians will do little to significantly improve education in America. Here's what this teacher blogger said: "... President Obama gave a major speech on education policy. So far, I like him a lot. Who knows whether or not he will have a successful presidency, but he seems to have the potential for greatness. His plan to improve education in America, however, does not inspire me. It's not that I'm disappointed by the things Obama is proposing; it's exactly what I would expect from a good politician who does not really understand what happens in a classroom. It's not that I think the things he is proposing are necessarily bad things. "

"President Obama is endorsing merit pay, that's not a bad thing, but I think it is greatly overrated by its proponents. It might help a little, and I am all for doing whatever it takes to make sure we keep our best teachers, regardless of seniority, and get rid of our worst ones. "

"...America's teachers are often portrayed by our media and elites as being incompetent. This is unfair. There are some lousy teachers out there--no one can deny that--and we should get rid of them. But much of the so-called "bad teaching" is being done by teachers who have been put into impossible classroom situations. Once in a blue moon you might find an incredible teacher who can go into one of those classrooms and turn things around. Those teachers, however, are very rare. If anyone thinks that enough of them can be found to turn around those impossible classroom situations in large cities throughout the nation, they are dreaming. Something has to be done about those classroom situations, and Obama's policies don't. "

I can't help but agree with both of these education bloggers. Somehow I feel that many out there, although well-intended I am sure try to offer simplistic solutions to a very complex problem without considering the research. It seems to me that almost everyone is an 'expert' when it comes to education reform. Many argue that if we just get rid of teacher tenure, fire all of the incompetent teachers, offer merit pay, and get all parents to make their challenging students behave then all of our problems will be solved. All of these solutions seem to be rooted in a "schools only" approach to fixing the problem which is part of the problem.

A look at a Bolder Approach to Education website is quite insightful and is a deliberate effort by leaders from various fields in education, social welfare, housing, and civil rights. Their position statement reveals that ".. research has documented a powerful association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement." They argue that our national education policy has been crafted around the expectation that schools alone can offset the full impact of socio-economic status on learning. As an example they cite the No Child Left Behind Law. They support that schools can ameliorate some of the impact of social and economic disadvantage on achievement but not all.

Many including our DC schools chancellor denies that socio-economic status has a significant impact despite what the research states. According to bolder approach : "evidence demonstrates that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. What is crucial for all of us is to not get caught into the trap that many of our politicians have which as bolder approach states is a "failure to act on the evidence — in tandem with a schools-only approach — which is a major reason why the association between disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong. " Check out a bolder approach to education for solutions.

On Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of a dinner meeting with 17 American University students and their professor from the DC Education Project on the subject of systemic inequities in K-12 education in the District and the nation. Chris L. , sophomore student leader of this group contacted me through my blog to arrange this very delightful evening. Our meeting took place in a Adams- Morgan hostel where several college students prepared all of us an informal dinner of burritos while we dialogued on this very interesting subject. This took me back to my ole' college days which for me offer many fond memories.

What I learned is that these 17 students are part of an alternative spring break project which included visiting DC schools (Janney ES and Hart middle school), meeting with non-profits, a community activist parent - Maria Jones, and Chancellor Rhee and WTU President George Parker, etc. As a public education advocate, I did my best to answer their many well- thought out questions from my vantage point on the subject of systemic inequities. I think that a good starting point for our discussion was their recent visit to a school west of the park and another school east of the river. What a dichotomy ! As I shared with Chris, I look forward to seeing the final outcome of their project. At a time when college students could be enjoying all of the simple pleasures of their spring break- they decided to become a part of an interesting alternative educational experience. I applaud their efforts. I am sure it will provide many life-long academic and personal memories . I believe that we ALL can learn a lot from their project- even President Obama. (Posted by The Washington Teacher).

Mar 5, 2009

Got Any DCPS Inclusion Horror Stories ?

Well I do. The elementary school where I work in S.E. (it begins with a G) started 100% mandatory inclusion for ALL disabled students several weeks ago. Of course without the appropriate staffing or professional development and without regard to the needs of our students with disabilities. The powers that be have advised our staff that this directive has come from above where most of our half-wit directives seem to emanate. Go figure. Nothing in writing-just do it.

Obviously like many others, I 'm troubled by this. We have been advised that all our IEP's will be changed to reflect this new mandatory model. I guess because our school will no longer be able to accommodate mandated hours of specialized instruction. What I have surmised is that our two special education teachers will spend less time with their students than they did before because they will be required to go from classroom to classroom in what has been identified as a co-teaching model. The problem is that we already don't have adequate staffing to meet the needs of our students with disabilities. As I state many times here in the land of DCPS, our school system jumps from one educational bandwagon to another without regard to research based practices and often no forethought, planning, etc.

I would be interested to hear from any of you about what some of you are experiencing in your schools ? Any ideas about the new DCPS inclusion model ? Is it mandatory inclusion for all students where you are ? What do you need for inclusion to be successful at your school? What's on the horizon for next year ? (Posted by The Washington Teacher).