Rate My Teacher

In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I have a spirited back-and-forth with none other than Michelle Rhee. Jack asks her if she’s ready to admit that evaluating teachers on the basis of their student test scores has been a bad idea. I channel Gary Rubinstein and ask Rhee if the teaching profession has suffered as a result of the policies she and her advocacy group, Students First, pushed across the country. And we talk about what’s next for education reform in the time of Trump. So what does Rhee have to say to our questions? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out! Or you can skip ahead and read the transcript.

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Schools of LAst Resort

Could the only teacher in LA’s school board race pull off a surprise win?

Los Angeles teacher Lisa Alva

In this season of election surprises, could an upstart candidate win a spot on the Los Angeles school board, powered by little more than enthusiasm and word-of-mouth? *I think we might be surprised on March 7,* says teacher Lisa Alva, the upstart candidate herself. The school board election has attracted close to $5 million in outside spending, a not insignificant chunk of which has gone to Alva’s opponent, charter advocate Monica Garcia. Alva may not have glossy mailers or an army of paid canvassers going door to door, but she has something that all those independent expenditures can’t buy. She’s a voice of genuine resistance—to reform experiments gone wrong, to *choice* for the sake of choice, and for the kids, the parents and the teachers who are being left behind. Can you tell I have a bit of a crush?

I met Alva two years ago when I was in Los Angeles to talk to people about Eli Broad’s *bold* plan to move half of the city’s students into charter schools within six years. I did what I always do on one of these edu-reporting adventures: I asked anyone I knew with an LA connection to hook me up. Which is how I ended up spending an afternoon with Alva in her English classroom at Roosevelt High School in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood. A virtual edu-pal had introduced me to Alva; another contact, a documentary filmmaker, introduced me to Boyle Heights. Once the *Ellis Island* of LA, Boyle Heights was sliced apart in the 1960’s by the East LA Interchange. That would be the intersection of six freeways built to transport Los Angelenos to the new suburbs and the tract houses that were blooming across California, thanks to a young home builder named Eli Broad. But I digress… Continue reading →

States’ Rights and Wrongs

The rollback of civil rights enforcement in education is underway, says law professor Derek Black…

Jennifer Berkshire: The Trump Administration has just rescinded guidelines to schools banning discrimination against transgender students. There’s a lot of speculation about just how *joint* the joint letter from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions actually was. But you seem unconvinced by the portrayals of DeVos as a fierce protector of civil rights.

Image result for transgender bathroomDerek Black: The stream of bad news over the past few months has been steady. The Trump transition team said the administration would scale back the civil rights work in education.  At her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos was reluctant to take an affirmative stance on enforcing students’ disability rights.  Since taking the post, she has remarked that she could not *think of any* current pressing civil rights issues where the federal government has a role to play; things like racial segregation and exclusion of females were things of the past in her opinion.  

Now reports are coming out that Gail Heriot is likely to be the next head of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Heroit has been critical of the Office’s aggressive civil rights stance in recent years. With these individuals in place, it is hard to imagine much good happening at the federal level. Even if they do not rescind other Department positions on integration, school discipline, English Language Learners, and school resources, they are very unlikely to enforce existing regulations and policy guidance. Disparate impact enforcement, for instance, will be non-existent.  Rather than take on traditional civil rights concerns, I would expect they will identify fringe issues to pursue.  Continue reading →

School Turnarounds in the Age of Trump

When bad education policy and immigration politics collide, the result is uncertainty and anxiety for immigrant students…

Kristen Leathers with some of her students at Boston’s Brighton High School.

By Kristen Leathers
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Boston Public Schools informing me that I’m being let go from Brighton High School where I’ve taught for the past 10 years. I wasn’t the only one. Brighton High and two other Boston schools were deemed turnaround schools last fall and every staff member in each of these schools, from the headmaster to the paraprofessionals, was excessed. When faced with questions about the future, I told my students that I am still committed to working at Brighton High and teaching them, but I can offer them no assurances as I have none for myself.

We recently did a project in my intermediate ESL class where students wrote a letter about how the turnaround process was affecting them and what they felt would be needed to fix Brighton High School. We’ve been talking a lot about current events and I felt that it was important for them to find and use their own voices. Many of them talked about how devastating it is to be losing their teachers. They described this place as a refuge and a second home; losing that makes them feel frightened, anxious and confused. Continue reading →

You’re Fired!

The idea that schools can be fixed by firing teachers has become a fixation. In this episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I discuss the origins of the idea, which he has helpfully distilled here in this amazing graphic. We hear from three Boston teachers whose schools are about to be turned upside down, the lives of their immigrant students made even more chaotic in these unsettled times. As scholar Tina Trujillo explains, the turn-and-churn model of school reform reflects a larger erosion of the idea that public education is public good. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode (or skip down to the bottom of the transcript below), where we announce our guest for episode #3. Fine, I’ll give you a hint. She was in the running to be Secretary of Education… If you have a question you want us to ask her, flag us on Twitter at @BisforBerkshire or @edu_historian, or leave a comment here. And if you missed episode #1 of this season, Vouchers: a Love Story, you can catch it on Soundcloud, or iTunes.

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