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Re: [xmca] a teacher's resignation

That heartfelt letter could have been written by any one of us struggling in
a system that is killing an entire generation of our children and the adults
who love them.  I think this is where educational research has its moral
purpose.  Maxine Greene challenges us to "do philosophy," to move beyond
esoteric analysis and become "wide-awake" to the world; to confront issues
and critically question situations; to take a stance and act on one's
convictions.  If ever we needed a light in dark times, it's now.

Kim Cotter-Lemus

On 7/8/09 11:05 AM, "Louise Ammentorp" <lammentorp@hotmail.com> wrote:

> I recently completed my dissertation that focused on a six grade teacher and
> her amazing multimedia curriculum in an elementary school in Newark, NJ. I
> found the school to be a story of success - illustrating what is possible when
> teachers (and students) are given the freedom to bring their passion and
> creativity into the classroom. Unfortunately her letter of resignation below
> reflects an all too familiar story of education in urban America.
> Louise Ammentorp
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education
> The College of New Jersey
> 2000 Pennington Road
> Ewing, NJ  08628
> e-mail: lammentorp@gmail.com
> To: Secretary Arne Duncan
> CC: Commissioner Lucille Davey
> Dr. Clifford B. Janey
> Mayor Corey Booker
> June 13, 2009
> Dear Secretary of Education Duncan,
>  Very recently, I resigned from the Newark Public School System
> after almost 10 years. The conditions under which I left deserve
> specific attention, as the implementation of No Child Left Behind at
> the federal, state and local level is failing Newark¹s children.
>  As I am sure you are aware, Secretary Duncan, NCLB was passed into
> legislation in 2001, under George Bush¹s presidency. Had he understood
> the term, I would have guessed he was being ironic, touting education
> legislation, since the former president had every academic opportunity
> available to him and still emerged unable to negotiate object and
> subject pronouns.
>  The target populations of NCLB are underserved populations, mainly
> communities of color. As we all know, George Bush authorized more
> executions in his 8 years as Texas governor than the other 49 states
> since the death penalty was reinstated under states¹ rights in 1976.
> Again, targeted mainly at communities of color. I¹m not a politician,
> but considering these two factors, I wouldn¹t even hire George Bush to
> monitor recess for kindergarten, much less trust him to enact
> legislation that affects public education for the whole country.
>  A cursory look at NCLB shows that the authors either don¹t know
> any children or don¹t like them. Missing from the text are words like
> fun, joyful and play. I saw very little that proposed innovative
> teaching methods to make school a place where students actually wanted
> to be. Many politicians say they don¹t like NCLB, but thank God, they
> claim, it pointed out the discrepancy between race and class and public
> education. This, I¹m willing to bet, was pointed out for the longest by
> teachers, parents, Parent-Teacher associations, and unions and
> federations working on behalf of teachers.
>  I want to share my experience with you, since for 8 years, I had
> the unique experience of working under the leadership of a principal,
> Mr. Leonard Kopacz, who focused on creating an institution that served
> the needs of our students and their families in spite of NCLB. Here¹s
> the kicker: we were never in compliance, but we were an extremely
> successful school and our test scores improved during those 9 years,
> raising our scores from the bottom 3% in 1999 to an average 10% higher
> than the Newark Public School city average on the GEPA in 2007.
>  Thirteenth Avenue School, located in the West Ward of Newark, New
> Jersey, is surrounded by the most dire conditions of poverty. Drug
> abuse, gangs, and theft is rampant and many of my sixth grade students
> over the years had witnessed homicides, lost family members, lived in
> homeless shelters, under the terror of physical and sexual abuse, or in
> a temporary foster care situation. Despite all of this, our kids and
> their parents were some of the kindest, most generous, loving people I
> have had the honor of meeting. They want their school to achieve, they
> want their children to learn, to be disciplined, to be successful young
> adults.
>  Under Mr. Kopacz¹s administration, our school, The Pride, was a
> close knit community. We had one of the highest attendance rates in the
> district, and teachers didn¹t mind the extra work required, that is
> always required, because we understood that our boss had our back and
> was going to give us the resources we needed to do our jobs. You know;
> teach. This is in spite of the fact that we also suffered the same
> circumstances of many inner city schools: lack of resources, external
> conditions beyond our control, overpaid and underqualified staff who
> just showed up to collect a paycheck. But we did it, and we did it
> well. 
>  Under the leadership of Mr. Kopacz, my colleagues and I took our
> children on educational, field trips to reward good behavior. The sixth
> grade, was out of the classroom at least 8 times a year, which gave the
> students an incentive to behave and try to do their work. I mention
> this, because despite the abundance of research available stating that
> taking students out of the classroom improves classroom behavior and
> performance, Newark has recently implemented a laborious, time
> consuming, dopey process that can only be construed as a tactic to
> discourage teachers from taking their students out all together.
> I planned only two trips last year, and despite faxing the information
> back and forth no less than four times, the Board failed to provide us
> with a bus to go to the Museum of Natural History. I stood in the lobby
> for half an hour with 30 students and four parents who took off work to
> chaperone during one of the worst economic crises of our time.
>  Under the leadership of Mr. Kopacz, I was able to develop a
> literacy through photography program funded mainly through grants that
> I received. Mr. Kopacz often found funds to assist in these endeavors.
> This curriculum incorporated art, technology, literacy, communication
> skills and was the NCLB f word, fun Students in the lower grades
> couldn¹t wait to get to 6th grade a partake in this project that
> evolved over an 8 year time frame. This year, it essentially fell
> apart, along with the school. Just to give you an idea of a small but
> fundamental problem, the Board couldn¹t come up with a class schedule
> that was ³in compliance² and changed it no less than 4 times in the
> first 5 weeks of school.
>  Under the leadership of Mr. Kopacz, my colleagues and I took our
> students on field trips to art galleries in New York City and Central
> Park. Under the leadership of Mr. Kopacz, my colleagues and I were able
> to found and run a drama club for students between the ages of 9 and 12
> that added to the morale of our school community. Under the leadership
> of Mr. Kopacz, our classes had cook outs in the community garden he
> established in our court yard, (featured in a program on PBS). Under
> Mr. Kopacz, after school programs flourished, and our children were
> exposed to various guest speakers and presentations. They attended New
> Jersey Performing Arts Center at least once a year. Our students
> enjoyed actor and artist residencies. School work adorned the walls and
> was updated frequently. Our hallways were safe and quiet. Our students
> were civil and respectful, and in most cases happy.
>  Half of the reason for our success was a no tolerance disclipline
> policy. You put your hands on someone, you were out. You disrupted
> class, you were out. Additionally, Mr. Kopacz, unlike the
> administration following him, had the genius to understand that if a
> student was sent to him, maybe we, the teachers, just needed a break.
> And maybe that student needed to write down some times tables and have
> a stern, but fair discussion with the principal.
>  Suspensions and a no tolerance policy is effective for two
> reasons. The student either learns a lesson and comes back
> understanding the relationship between actions and consequences or, if
> that student is beyond what can be expected in terms of discipline from
> the classroom teacher, that student is not in the classroom taking away
> instructional time from everyone else. That student needs special
> attention. 
>  Unfortunately, our school didn¹t receive any funding from NCLB for
> a counseling initiative beyond the one social worker who had a magical
> relationship to time and managed to end the day accomplishing actually
> nothing and the one guidance counselor, who had to pick up all the
> slack from the social worker, who were employed at our school to assist
> these students. Fortunately, the crisis counselor saw the need for a
> mental health wellness clinic in our school and with the help of a
> former teacher at our school, raised most of the funding for it. Dr.
> Janey later allocated some funds, but it has been by and large a
> grassroots effort.
>  This year, suspensions were curtailed drastically. Instead, we
> were expected to write incident reports, because we have so much time
> to fill out sheets that ask for irrelevant information. And that are
> never followed up on. And waiting two, three, or even four days before
> addressing an incident in the classroom really sends a message, if the
> incident is addressed at all.
>  So, our discipline policy was destroyed, letting the problematic
> students know there was no ramifications whatsoever. Graffiti started
> appearing all over the walls. Fights occurred in the hallway, in the
> streets after school, in the cafeteria. I personally pulled apart two
> young men who were fighting in the street in front of the principal who
> did nothing about it. When I left, gangs were congregating in larger
> and larger groups outside the building after school, and picking fights
> with our often younger students. Female teachers were attacked in two
> instances, and nothing was done. The Newark Police started visiting the
> school regularly.
>  While discipline was thrown out the window, so was rewarding good
> behavior. Field trips were close to impossible to organize, teachers
> were expected to pay for all kinds of incentives, and told they
> wouldn¹t be reimbursed, and often, there was no monitor in the lunch
> room, so lunch just became a kind of free for all chaotic mess. Mr.
> Kopacz always insured there were rewards, from radios, to bicycles, to
> other kinds of gifts that kids who work hard in this environment
> deserve. Our students never even met the new principal since he was
> often pulled out of the school to go to meetings to discuss stuff that
> didn¹t really matter anyway.
>  While our school was visibly going down the drain, the Board, I
> guess, was too busy revamping our school structure, or what had been
> successful for 8 years, with revolutionary ideas like having the
> writing teacher be the same as the reading teacher, which now required
> one person to get students three to four years below grade level up to
> NCLB requirements. Previously, I was the writing teacher, and my
> colleague was the reading teacher, and that was a huge reason why our
> students excelled and improved like they did.
>  I could honestly write another 6 pages alone on how the food
> supplied and paid for by the state was I am sure, in violation of some
> human rights amendment somewhere, but I¹m sure that¹s evident in the
> high rates of disease and obesity evident in those communities. Or you
> could watch SuperSize Me.
>  Teaching was an incredible part of my life, and because I was an
> excellent teacher, I learned a lot from the families of Newark. They
> deserve educational institutions second to none, it¹s amazing that in
> the year 2009 the educational discrepancy in this country is still
> alive and kicking.
> Sincerely,
> Tracey Noelle Luz
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