Black and Smart: Stop Using Black Children as an Excuse to Open Your Schools (Gloria Ladson-Billings)

From the National Academy of Education: “Gloria Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was the 2005-2006 president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students.” This post appeared February 4, 2021 on the National Education Policy Center blog.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. The Corona Virus has forced me to address so many things virtually, that the last thing I’ve had the energy for was sitting down in front of the computer for yet another thing. I didn’t even want to think about an Op-Ed. However, the current chatter about returning to schools has me thinking about how Black children are once again being used to serve the needs of Whites. This is not a new slight-of- hand—claim something serves the needs of “the least of these” but in reality, the rich continue to get richer.

The current conversation regarding re-opening school is all about how closed schools are hurting the most vulnerable students—Black students, Latinx students, English Language Learners, poor students, and students with disabilities. But, in truth the parents clamoring the most about opening schools are the parents of the most privileged children. They are concerned that their children’s resumes are being tarnished by missing all of this school. They are comparing their children’s progress with that of their private school peers who they perceive to be moving ahead of them. They are concerned that their kids’ inability to participate in varsity sports and athletics may be hurting their scholarship chances. They are recognizing that having their kids at home and having to plan for each and every hour of their school day or perhaps having to sit beside them and assist with their virtual learning does not help one climb the corporate ladder. Actually, none of these reasons for wanting schools to be opened is a bad one. Just say that’s why you want schools to open!

Don’t pretend you have some deep conviction to the education of Black children. If that’s your motivation, where was it last year when school was in session? Weren’t Black children struggling then? Weren’t they over identified for special education placement? Weren’t they more likely to be suspended and expelled? Weren’t they least likely to be placed in honors or Advanced Placement courses? Weren’t their high school graduation rates lower than other students? The rush to open schools “for Black children” is disingenuous and merely a way to cover up the desires of the more privileged students.

I decided to write this blog because I was contacted by 2 different reporters who said they heard that Black parents were leery of sending their children back to school and they wanted to understand their rationale. The first reason Black parents are reluctant to have their children return to school is health and safety. More Black children are likely to live in multi-generational homes. This means that even though children are less likely to manifest COVID-19 symptoms, they can still contract and shed the virus and infect a grandparent or parent with underlying conditions. Given the high rate of COVID infections and death in the Black and Brown communities, Black families are not willing to take the risk of transmission. Also, many of the schools our children attend are in buildings that have problems with their HVAC systems. What evidence do Black families have that their children’s schools have been retrofitted with upgraded filters and proper air circulation systems? What is the evidence of improved cleaning and disinfecting in the buildings? Who is monitoring PPE in the schools?

Second, Black families are keenly aware that school was not the haven of comfort and safety that some professionals try to pretend they are. Yes, some children live in unsafe and unstable homes, but rather than solve their problems, some students find that school exacerbates their problems. School is the place some students are stigmatized by standing in the “free lunch” line or being pulled out of class for special services. School is the place where their academic struggles are magnified and what they don’t have (i.e., two parents at home. new clothes, fancy school supplies) is on constant display. School is a place where adults yell at them for not knowing an answer or not completing an assignment or project. No, school can be a place of a special kind of violence.

I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages students to return to school to address their social emotional needs. However, what has your local school said or done that suggests students’ social emotional needs will be a priority? How have Black students’ teachers conveyed that to them? Indeed, I have heard from a number of Black parents that their children are less stressed and less anxious in virtual school. Some Black parents indicate that the school has reached out to them more during the pandemic than they ever did when students attended face-to-face school. Many Black parents are finally having a school year that does not involve constantly running up to the school to deal with school personnel.

The decision to return to in-person school is deeply personal. We all have our own reasons for why we think it’s a good idea (or not). Just don’t pretend you want schools opened for those “poor Black kids” when what you want is school opened for your own kids!

Stay Black and Smart!

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Teachers on Dilemmas of Remote and Hybrid Instruction

After I wrote a post on the dilemmas of hybrid teaching a few days ago, I heard from two teachers for whom I have the highest respect. In my judgment, their comments are worthwhile for readers of this blog.

Steve Davis teaches in the San Francisco Bay area. I met Steve 15 years ago when I observed his lessons for a study I was doing at the time. We have remained in touch all of these years through email and his comments on posts to this blog. He gave me permission to use his comment.

I have been teaching remotely for 100 days.

When we go back to the classroom it will likely be in the hybrid model (with responsibility for teaching both in-person and remote simultaneously). We already know which students have opted to continue to learn remotely and which students will return for in-person instruction.

The majority of students will still be remote.

You can’t just teach to the 5-10 students in front of you. It’s unrealistic to expect remote students to just follow along with the broadcast of in-person instruction. You need to closely monitor the remote students and frequently check for understanding, which mostly happens through text (many/most remote students are loath to have their cameras on or speak). That leads me to believe that the best practice may be to continue teaching the whole class (in person and remote) through video conferencing and other digital platforms. I will be in the room, and some students will be in the room, but we will still interact in the digital world. I can’t see myself moving about the (windowless) room to talk to students in close proximity, and I can’t talk to them across the room, so better to talk to them through the screen. Better to do one thing well than two things poorly.

David Brazer is a former teacher, high school principal, university professor and author (Leading Schools to Grow, Learn, and Thrive: Using Theory to Strengthen Practice). He now works with TeachFX helping teachers across the country analyze classroom talk during lessons. I have known David as a graduate student, his dissertation adviser, and a friend for over 20 years. He gave me permission to use his comment.

Larry, what is most familiar in this blog post is seesawing (I would actually call it whipsawing) change. That alone likely depresses learning because of the uncertainty it generates. Additionally, what I hear from schools all across the country is that large numbers of students either don’t log on to videoconferences at all or never turn on their microphones and screens. It is my belief that a large proportion of such students were disengaged when school was face to face, but I’m sure virtual and hybrid have allowed additional students on the margins in “normal” school to check out. Teachers often put it to me, “How do we get students to turn on their microphones and cameras and actually participate?” The short answer is, I don’t know. The longer answer is that same for “normal” school”: do what you can to establish a personal relationship with each student. My hope (and it is hope, not proof) is that the fundamental principle that students perform best for teachers who invest in them will kick in. It’s not easy to do, but I heard from a teacher yesterday who has kept a laser focus on involving kids orally online since October that the effort is starting to pay off. Talk about patience and persistence!

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Hybrid Teaching: Classroom Dilemmas

With the pandemic, dilemmas have become legion. Is health and safety more or less important than the economy? Is wearing masks more or less important than personal liberty? When highly prized values conflict and parents and teachers have to figure out compromises to manage the internal conflict, dilemmas pinch.

Individual rights, family pressures, and community imperatives butt heads. Most schools shifted immediately to distance learning. With 13,000 school districts and no national plan for closing or re-opening schools, superintendents, principals, and teachers faced one dilemma after another. Some districts stayed open since March, closed and reopened and then closed again. Ditto for individual schools within districts. Concerned about their health and that of their families, many teachers chose remote instruction. Other teachers who could choose in-school instruction wanted to teach students they sorely missed. None of this, of course, is new to teachers who must figure out compromises that work when personal and professional values tug at one another.

Such difficult choices also occurred around one of the ways that teaching and learning has been reconfigured due to the pandemic: hybrid schooling. Many districts blend in-person classroom lessons with remote instruction. Some students sit in the classrooms masked and physically distanced while the teacher also deals with those students on Teams or Zoom. Variation in how much of each medium to use, how many students to accommodate in the actual classroom, and juggling both require teachers to dance on their toes.

Consider what occurred in the Edison Township Public schools (NJ).

I draw from an article by Tracey Tully, “A New Style of Teaching,” New York Times, January 22, 2021.

The district has 17,000 students of whom 65 percent are Asian, 11 percent Latino, 8 percent Black, and 14 percent white. Of the students, 15 percent meet the poverty criterion for free or reduced price lunch.

As the viral infection rose and fell during the past year, Edison schools closed and re-opened numerous times. District educators shifted to remote instruction initially and then developed different forms of hybrid teaching, that is, one in four Edison students come to school certain days of the week while everyone else is online at home. With fewer students attending they can be safe with six feet of space separating them at their desks, wearing masks, and not having close contact in hallways when classes change. Many Edison teachers do hybrid teaching, meaning that they simultaneously teach in-person to students arrayed in front of them while a computer monitor has 15-25 faces on a Zoom session. And this is why dilemmas cascade for teachers.

Consider Edison High School math teacher, Stephanie Rasimowicz’s lesson that journalist Tracey Tully observed.

This is Stephanie Rasimowicz’s daily dilemma: Scattered before her in second-period geometry class at Edison High School are a handful of freshmen, seated at desks many feet apart. Arrayed behind her are nearly 20 small, disembodied faces on a computer screen — her remote students, learning from home. Face-to-face instruction occurs four mornings a week for half of the students whose parents agree to arrangement.

Can the remote students hear the students in the classroom, and vice versa? Which group should she focus on today? And how does she know if those remote students are grasping her lessons — or paying attention at all?

“Even if their cameras are on, you still don’t know exactly what they’re doing at home,” said Ms. Rasimowicz, who has taught math at Edison High for 13 years.

Tracey Tully’s article continues:

Ms. Rasimowicz and the rest of Edison Township Public Schools, one of New Jersey’s largest suburban districts, are part of a huge, unplanned educational experiment: combining remote instruction with in-person classes, a system known as hybrid instruction.

By some estimates, hybrid learning has become among the most common approaches to teaching in the pandemic, with thousands of the nation’s 13,000 school districts using it for some or most classes.

In some places, most notably New York City, hybrid students come into classrooms for part of the week and study at home the rest of the time, with a different teacher for each group. (Most New York City students have remained all-remote.) In most other districts, hybrid involves one teacher simultaneously instructing in-person and remote students who shift places every second or third day. In Edison, in-person students come to class four mornings a week.

The compromises built into hybrid are intended to keep staff members and students safer — by slicing in-person attendance by at least half to enable six feet of distance in classrooms, hallways and gymnasiums — while also maintaining, at least in part, the widely acknowledged educational and emotional benefits of in-person instruction.

“There’s no book for this,” said Cyndi Tufaro, the principal of James Monroe Elementary School in Edison. “The word of the year is ‘fluid.’”

A growing body of research indicates that students generally have fallen behind educationally in the pandemic, with Black, Latino and low-income students, who are more likely to be taking classes remotely, faring the worst. Whether hybrid classes are helping to stem educational loss remains unclear.

Edison officials said they had no readily available data on failure rates or standardized test scores to measure the impact of hybrid learning.

Ms. Rasimowicz believes that the pandemic has wrought an educational toll, though perhaps not as significantly as she once feared. “I have the same number of kids who struggle,” she said. “The same number who have A’s.”

But the jury is out on hybrid learning, she adds. “The more difficult topics — you can’t push them as far,” she said.

Edison, home to a large Indian-American community about 40 miles southwest of Midtown Manhattan, is one of the most diverse suburban communities in the state. The school district is about 65 percent Asian, 14 percent white, 11 percent Latino and 8 percent Black.

The district has seesawed between different hybrid models as coronavirus cases have receded and spiked again.

School began virtually in September, reopened in October for willing students to attend in-person every other day, and then a month later allowed those students to attend class four mornings a week.

Only about one in four of the district’s 17,000 students come to school for in-person instruction; the rest take all their classes from home. Schools are closed each Wednesday for cleaning, and all students take their afternoon classes online.

Bernard F. Bragen Jr., the district’s superintendent, tried to maintain in-person instruction for as long as possible, even as most nearby districts closed when the virus began surging across the state late last year.

For nearly two months, there was limited virus spread linked to in-school transmission, and only one of Edison’s 19 schools was forced to shut down for two weeks. But by the first week of December, six additional schools reported outbreaks involving at least 22 cases, and Edison temporarily shifted everyone back to all-remote instruction. All schools are scheduled to reopen on Feb. 1.

The township remembers the risks of the virus well: During the spring, as many as 102 patients and one staff member at the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison died after confirmed or probable cases of Covid-19, according to state officials.

Dr. Bragen said he worried most about children at the fringes of poverty — about 15 percent of Edison students are poor enough to qualify for free school lunches — as well as those slipping deeper into emotional crisis. “The number of students in crisis has increased, and it’s concerning,” he said.

He is also concerned about teacher burnout from the incessant demands of instructing remote and in-person students simultaneously. “For a teacher to meet the needs of the students seated in front of them and to meet the needs of students sitting at home is a challenge,” he said. “One is always being compromised for the other.”

He and district leaders tried to develop a new hybrid model that would have enabled staff members who preferred to remain home to teach only virtual classes, while those in school would be responsible solely for the students who attend class in person. But they were unable to make it work because it would have required reassigning too many teachers.

Many of Edison’s elementary classrooms were outfitted with cameras suspended from ceilings so that students at home have the same view of the teacher as those in the classroom. Using federal CARES Act funding, the district also hung 25 thermal cameras costing $12,000 each in entryways to instantaneously measure body temperatures and check for masks.

Still, teachers and students face connectivity snags associated with adding new technology to old buildings.

Things I never, ever want to say after Covid-19?” Vicki Jenkins, a dance teacher, said into a MacBook Air propped on a shelf in her classroom studio last month. “I can’t hear you. You’re frozen. It’s lagging.”

The virtual holiday dance show was weeks away, and she had been kicked offline twice in 20 minutes while leading her students through their routines.

Is coming into the classroom for so few students worth it? “It’s worth it for that one child or the few children who are there,” Ms. Jenkins said. “But there are days — and today was one of them — when I ask: ‘What am I doing here?’”

For one of her students, Zaria Fogle, the frustrations of online instruction prodded her to return to the classroom when the district reopened in October. Zaria, a 17-year-old senior at Edison High, said that in-person instruction was key to maintaining honor-roll grades.

“I really could not learn math over the computer,” said Zaria, who hopes to study dance in college.

Showing up in person also offers at least a taste of a typical senior year and a chance to fulfill a responsibility: She was selected to give the school’s morning announcements over the loudspeaker.

But mostly, it’s the lure of the mirror-lined dance studio, where Zaria goes as often as she can.

“That’s one of the only normal things I get to do,” she said. “It’s better than just dancing in my room.”

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Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach, technology use

The Whole Truth about Kids, Schools, and Covid-19 (Derek Thompson)

The following article comes from The Atlantic, January 2021. “Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, technology, and the media. He is the author of Hit Makers and the host of the podcast Crazy/Genius.”

Those school boards and superintendents who continue to keep schools closed in light of this evidence have the duty of explaining to their patrons why district schools have not re-opened. Perhaps the rates of infection among adults in the geographical area are very high and they are waiting for rates to come down. Or maybe there are insufficient funds to prepare buildings to meet Center for Disease Control guidelines. Or there are too many teachers refusing to enter schools because of underlying medical condition. Or there is a lack of phase-in plans for younger children and then older ones attending.

Whatever the reasons are, district policymakers need to explain clearly and coherently why their schools have not re-opened in light of the preponderance of evidence for opening classrooms to in-person instruction. That is task number one.

Federal health officials at the CDC this week called for children to return to American classrooms as soon as possible. In an essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they wrote that the “preponderance of available evidence” from the fall semester had reassured the agency that with adequate masking, distancing, and ventilation, the benefits of opening schools outweigh the risks of keeping kids at home for months.

The CDC’s judgment comes at a particularly fraught moment in the debate about kids, schools, and COVID-19. Parents are exhausted. Student suicides are surging. Teachers’ unions are facing national opprobrium for their reluctance to return to in-person instruction. And schools are already making noise about staying closed until 2022.

Into this maelstrom, the CDC seems to be shouting: Enough! To which, I would add: What took you so long?

Research from around the world has, since the beginning of the pandemic, indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die. But the million-dollar question for school openings was always about transmission. The reasonable fear was that schools might open and let a bunch of bright-eyed, asymptomatic, virus-shedding kids roam the hallways and unleash a pathogenic terror that would infect teachers and their families.

“Back in August and September, we did not have a lot of data” to make a recommendation on schools, Margaret Honein, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 team, told The New York Times. Okay, but September was 100 days, 15 weeks, and several dozen remote-learning school days ago! Meanwhile, anybody paying attention has long figured out that children are probably less likely to transmit the disease to teachers and peers. This is no longer a statistical secret lurking in the appendix of one esoteric paper. It has been the repeatedly replicated conclusion of a waterfall of research, from around the world, over the past six months.

In May 2020, a small Irish study of young students and education workers with COVID-19 interviewed more than 1,000 contacts and found “no case of onward transmission” to any children or adults. In June 2020, a Singapore study of three COVID-19 clusters found that “children are not the primary drivers” of outbreaks and that “the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission among children in schools, especially preschools, is likely to be low.”

By September, many U.S. scientists were going on record to say that transmission in schools seemed considerably rarer than in surrounding communities. “Everyone had a fear there would be explosive outbreaks of transmission in the schools,” Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Washington Post. “We have to say that, to date, we have not seen those in the younger kids, and that is a really important observation.” Throughout the fall, the evidence accumulated. “Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19,” Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, wrote last October in The Atlantic, summarizing the conclusions of her national dashboard of school cases.

In a January 2021 paper, a team of Norwegian researchers traced more than 200 primary-school children ages 5 to 13 with COVID-19. They found no cases of secondary spread. The findings “demonstrate the limited role of children in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in school settings,” they wrote. Another study by researchers at Duke University of 35 North Carolina school districts with in-person teaching found no cases of child-to-adult spread in schools. They concluded that typical mitigation policies, such as masking and physical distancing, are sufficient to prevent school outbreaks. “Our data indicate that schools can reopen safely,” they concluded, as long as such policies remain in place.

If you have been intermittently following the news about COVID-19 transmission and children and remember only the scariest reports, you likely have two questions. What about that scary South Korean study? and What about that horrible summer-school outbreak in Israel?

Let’s start with South Korea. In July, a large Korean survey found that children ages 10 to 19 spread the coronavirus about as efficiently as, or even more aggressively than, older adults. (It found that kids under 10 did not transmit the virus as much.) This frightening conclusion was widely interpreted to rule out the possibility of in-person school for any children in fifth grade or above. But in August, the same Korean research team caveated those conclusions, saying it couldn’t prove whether the children in the study were infecting their parents, or whether those parents were infecting their kids, or whether entire households were being exposed by a third party.

More infamous was the reported outbreak at a Jerusalem high school over the summer, which made headlines around the world. The New York Times’ summary was representative: “When Covid Subsided, Israel Reopened Its Schools. It Didn’t Go Well.” Here’s how the Times described the outbreak:

The Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May. Within days, infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school, which quickly mushroomed into the largest outbreak in a single school in Israel, possibly the world. The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives.

The Israeli lesson seemed simple: If you open your schools, cases will explode, the outbreak will reverberate throughout the country, and people will die.

Except it wasn’t that simple. Last week, a follow-up study of the Israel cluster found that what had been universally described as a school outbreak was really nothing of the sort. At the same time that Israel reopened schools, it eased restrictions on large group gatherings. “Easing restrictions on large scale gatherings was the major influence on this resurgence,” the authors concluded. “No increase was observed in COVID-19 … following school reopening.” The causal chain described by The New York Times was backwards. The real story went like this: Relax social-distancing measures in your community without vaccines, see cases explode, and then watch the outbreak ripple into schools.

As the evidence of children’s COVID-19 risk has diminished in the past six months, the evidence that families are struggling with school closures has mounted.

“If you ask me whether we are doing our duty as a society to look after children, my answer would be ‘No, I don’t think so,’” Matthew Snape, a pediatric researcher at the University of Oxford, told me. “There is clear evidence that shutting schools harms students directly, in terms of both their education and their mental and social health.”

Although the long-term scholastic and social effects of a year of remote learning on this generation of children are not yet clear, what we know already is damning enough: Remote learning has gutted public schools as high-income parents pull their kids into private schools and bespoke learning pods. Calls to mental-health hotlines have increased. In Las Vegas, home to the nation’s fifth-largest school district, a cluster of student suicides has pushed local officials to phase in elementary schools. More indirectly, school closures also result in the delay of immunization programs, interrupt free-lunch programs, and make impossible the edifying effects of play.

Nobody should claim that children cannot transmit this virus, or that schools are “safe” during the pandemic the same way that, say, talking on the telephone with a sibling who lives 2,000 miles away is safe.

But people under 18, and young children especially, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, less likely to be hospitalized or die, and less likely to transmit the disease than older teenagers and young adults. Scientists aren’t entirely sure why, but one theory is that it has something to do with the way the virus docks with our cells. Coronaviruses are covered by a halo of spike-shaped proteins (that’s where the name comes from: corona, as in crown). These spikes are thought to attach to another protein on the surface of our cells called ACE2. Children have lower levels of ACE2 in their nasal tissue than adults do. That suggests that, under this theory, kids would provide fewer open ports for the virus to dock, invade, and ransack the rest of the body.

Overall, school cases are a reflection of their environment. If COVID-19 is running rampant through your town and you throw a bunch of kids and adults into a building without any safety protocols, the odds are pretty high that you’re going to exacerbate an outbreak. But as cases fall across the country we have to adjust the risk calculus. The choice before us is not between “Keep the schools closed until COVID-19 is eliminated, smallpox-style, from the face of the Earth” and “Open every school immediately.”

Instead, the United States needs a focused framework, guided by science and common sense, for how to open schools as safely and as soon as possible, considering the risk to students and parents from closed classrooms, while keeping teacher fears front of mind. That plan would look something like this.

  • Reopen the lower schools. Start with day cares and elementary schools, given their reduced transmission risk.
  • Enforce COVID-19 protocols both within schools and throughout the community. That means mandatory mask wearing in public and social distancing. It also means public officials should encourage “library rules” in public space—keeping quiet, or talking in whispers.
  • Accelerate vaccination procurement and distribution. The U.S. could be well below 100,000 daily COVID-19 cases by the middle of February, at the current rate of decline. The faster we vaccinate, the faster we can get back to normal.
  • Distribute high-quality scientific information. Most important, educate teachers about the lower transmission risk of young students—and the ongoing necessity of COVID-19 protocols—to get their enthusiastic buy-in, which will naturally be contingent on our success at reducing community spread and accelerating vaccination.
  • I don’t blame teachers for keeping schools closed—yet. I blame the government and the media. Public communication about this disease has been horrendous, and the Trump White House was a fount of nonsense. Meanwhile, some journalists and professionals, in an attempt to fight back against Trump’s disinformation, leaned too heavily into COVID pessimism and clung to outdated fears about secondary spread among young kids. That’s made a lot of people unnecessarily concerned that kids are silent vectors for this disease, and made teachers feel like they were being thrown to the wolves in a country that has failed in just about every pandemic test. If I were a teacher relying on information from the mainstream press—especially a teacher in a pandemic pod that included immunocompromised relatives—I might be pretty scared of going back to school.
  • Under the banner of safety, too many people have passed along alarmist information that has contributed to a lot of misery. Americans have to learn, and accept, that the preponderance of evidence simply doesn’t support the fears that govern school policy today.

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Filed under compare education and medicine, leadership, school leaders

Teacher Comments on Being Tech Skeptics

I am fortunate to have many readers who are classroom teachers. I have published posts over the past few years about my research on exemplary teachers who integrated technology into their lessons. Some of those posts triggered responses from teachers. Here are a few of their comments.

Louise Kowitch, retired Connecticut social studies teacher:

….The impact of technology can vary greatly depending on the subject matter (among all the other things you’ve addressed). While some pedagogical practices are universal, when “doing the work of the discipline”, content-specific practices,and by extension the impact of technology, might vary widely.

I mention this to say that as someone who lived through the IT revolution in the classroom (from mimeographs, scantrons, and filmstrips to floppy disks and CD-ROM, and finally to smart boards, Skype and Chromebooks), by the time I reached three decades as a full time classroom teacher, I was spending MORE time on my lessons and interacting with students, than less. Some tasks were indeed more efficient (for example, obtaining and sharing maps, artifacts, art, primary sources). Others, like collecting data about student performance for our superintendent, became arduous, weekend long affairs that sucked the life out of the joy of teaching.

That said, I loved how Chromebooks and Smartboards freed up my instruction to empower students to do their own research and conduct substantive debates. For example, a simulation of the post WWI debates over the Treaty of Versailles from the perspectives of different countries – something I had done before Chromebooks – became a powerful lesson for students in the art of diplomacy, the value of historical perspective, and the grind of politics, as a result of THEIR OWN RESEARCH, not my selection of primary sources. This was MORE time consuming (2 weeks of instructional time, not 8 days) and LESS EFFICIENT, but MORE STUDENT CENTERED and COLLABORATIVE.

Was it “better” instruction? Yes, if the point was for kids to experience “the art of negotiation”. No, if it meant having to drop a four day mini unit on elections in the Weimar Republic that I used to do after the WWI unit. Something is lost, and something is gained. Like you, I grapple with it’s a zero sum game.

Garth Flint,  high school teacher of computer science and technology coordinator in Montana private school:

My question has always been what effect does the increase in classroom tech have on the students? Do they do better through out the years? How do we measure “better”? We have an AP History teacher who is very traditional. Kids listen to the lecture and copy the notes on the whiteboard.
About the only tech he uses are some minor YouTube videos. His AP test results are outstanding. Would any tech improve on those results? At the middle school we have a teacher who uses a Smartboard extensively. It has changed how he does his math lectures. But he is still lecturing. Has the Smartboard improved student learning? I do not know. I have observed teachers that have gone full tech. Google Docs, 1-1, videos of lectures on line, reversed classroom, paperless. Their prep time increased. Student results seemed (just from my observation, I did not measure anything) to be the same as a non-tech classroom. It would be interesting to have two classrooms of the same subject at the same grade level, one high tech, one old-school and feed those students into the same classroom the next year. Ask that next year teacher if there is a measurable difference between the groups.

 David a high school history teacher

I think the one thing about technology that can’t be said enough is that it is NOT neutral. I so often hear “it’s just a tool” arguments, but it is more than that–especially digital technologies. These have embedded in them the views, values, and (often) misconceptions of the developers. If a school adopts a platform or LMS, it is also bringing on board those things…

Laura H. Chapman, retired  art teacher from Ohio:

“So answering the question of whether widespread student access and teacher use of technologies has “changed daily classroom practices” depends upon who is the asker, who is the doer, and what actually occurs in the classroom.”

Some other questions.
Who is asking questions about the extent of access and use of technology by students and teachers and why? Who is not asking such questions, and why not?

Is there a map of “daily classroom practices” for every subject and grade/or developmental level such that changes in these practices over time can be monitored with the same teachers in the same teaching assignments?

Are there unintended consequences of widespread student access and teacher use of technologies other than “changes in daily classroom practices?” Here I am thinking about the risky business of assuming that change is not only inevitable but also positive(e.g., invigorates teaching and learning, makes everything moe “efficient”).

Who is designing the algorithms, the apps, the dashboards, the protocols for accessing edtech resources, who is marketing these and mining the data from these technologies, and why? These questions bear on the direct costs and benefits of investments and indirect costs/benefits….

Jo Lieb, English teacher and poet from Connecticut:

2017 – it’s 2017

Who would think that in 2017
I would feel the need to have you read
a poem in favor of humanity?

I look out at my students
what do I see?

I see wires from teenage ears
red, yellow, black pods in and around their ears
talking to them
mesmerizing them
hypnotizing them

I see the omnipresent ChromeBook
on their desks – their laptop computer instructors
And on tables as stand alones
I see the Boxes standing tall –
They are Black
They are Powerful
They are Teaching my kids

And I am complicit….

Whoooaaa
What did I just say?
The black plastic and metal square heads
Are everywhere… scrambling
the brains of my students
teaching them to be compliant
malleable
common
ordinary
all the same
as
each
other

But my kids are the outliers on the scattergrams –
my rebels
my questioners
my thinkers
my doers
the next generation’s movers and the shakers

At least they used to be

……

They used to be when we treated them as humans
not data

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Being Skeptical of Technology

Over the years, readers and students have asked me about the work I have done on school reform and especially reform-laden technologies. I answer some of them in this post. But first some background.

I began doing research and writing on teacher and student uses of technology in the early 1980s when the first personal computers appeared in classrooms. That writing turned into Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology since 1920. I then began working on a larger study of teacher and student uses of new technologies in preschool and kindergarten, high schools, and universities. That became Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms (2001). In 2009, one chapter of Hugging the Middle: How Teachers Teach in an Era of Testing and Accountability dealt with teacher and student uses of technologies across four school districts. The last book I wrote exploring classroom use of technology examined over 40 teachers in Silicon valley who used technology in daily lessons. In The Flight of the Butterfly and the Path of the Bullet (2018), I described those teachers who, in my opinion, had mastered the technology to the point where it was in the background, not foreground, of a lesson.

Those writings on teaching and technology put me squarely in the bin labeled Skeptic. And comments early on were testy. Promoters of new technologies, be they vendors, practitioners or policymakers, would curtly dismiss concerns I and others raised by calling skeptics “Luddites.”

No more. Public scorn for anyone who would probe prevailing beliefs in the magical efficacy of computers in schools has become unfashionable.  I have found educators and non-educators who deeply believed in classroom computers as engines of learning, now willing to listen to critics when concerns are raised about the many goals of schooling in a democracy, implementing new technologies, and insufficient research to support wholesale purchase of new devices and software. I find these changes encouraging but hardly a game-changer.

Why? Because in my experience, there are fewer skeptics than true believers in new technologies. Perhaps because I am in the minority, the questions that I have been asked are more of a personal character seeking elaboration of why I have explored technology and school reform and what technologies I use.

1. Why did you begin writing about technology in classroom lessons? In the late-1970s, I began doing research and writing about the history of classroom instruction. In 1984, I published How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms, 1890-1980. In that book, I tracked the repeated (and failed) efforts of progressive reformers over a century to change classroom practice in urban, suburban, and rural classrooms from teacher-centered to student-centered lessons. In doing the archival research, seeing photos of teachers teaching, and reading accounts of how teachers taught different lessons, I saw the classroom use of different technologies from blackboards, stereopticons, and textbooks to overhead projectors, films, radio, and instructional television. The idea that reforming teaching was linked to the introduction of new technologies intrigued me. Was introduction of new technologies another way that reformers had in moving teaching away from traditional lessons? I discovered that the answer was yes.

2. Do you personally use any electronic technologies?

At home I have desktop and laptop computers and an iPhone. The desktop I use at home; the laptop and phone when I have do research and travel. I use all of them for personal, business, and professional work such as this blog. Please do not ask me how many times I check my email.

3. When you taught high school history and social studies and graduate classes at Stanford, did you use technologies in your instruction?

Yes, I did. I used regularly (daily and weekly) both old and new technologies between the 1950s and 1980s in high school teaching. Films (16mm), film strips, overhead projectors, and videocassettes. As a professor I used my laptop in seminars often to make points on screens, do quick polls of students, show video clips, etc. I did not, however, do PowerPoint presentations.

4. If you are (and have been) a regular user of technologies, why are you skeptical of their use in classrooms?

Like past electronic technologies, vendors and enthusiasts have hyped them to solve problems from low academic performance to alienation among students to traditional teaching practices. Hype is over-promising; over-promising inexorably leads to disappointment; disappointment builds cynicism. I am allergic to hype.

Second, new technologies are often experimental–alpha and beta versions–and used to find out whether they are workable, even useful on students who are compelled to be in school.. Combine hype and experimentation and that is a potentially toxic combination. Thus, hard questions must be asked of those policymakers who buy and deploy electronic devices for classroom instruction.

Third, the enormous amount of money spent on new technologies without much evidence of their effectiveness on teaching and learning means that other options such as investing in more teachers and their professional development are lost. That is not only inefficient but it is also evidence of data-free policymaking.

Given these three reasons, I remain skeptical of new technologies applied to teaching and learning in public schools.

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Cartoons on the “New Normal”

Here’s another batch of cartoons on what all of us have experienced since the pandemic upended our lives. I believe that smiling, chuckling, and even laughing during difficult times is helpful. So Enjoy.

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Remodeling the Age Graded School?

In July 2020, Eric Gordon head of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District released a report that would alter the 170 year-old institution called the age-graded school (see here and here). The 74 Million website summarized the report July 2, 2020. While there have been previous efforts to alter the age-graded school and such schools exist now (see here, here, and here), they have been largely confined to individual schools. Never a district especially a large urban one. For that reason I offer the proposal here. Because of the pandemic and mostly remote instruction, no implementation of the plan has yet occurred in CMSD.

A bold proposal in Cleveland could set the tone for how schools around the country could restart in the fall, one that takes into account students’ vastly different access to resources and remote learning during the pandemic and lets students learn at their own speed.

Cleveland schools would toss aside teaching many students in traditional grade levels this fall and dramatically expand the “mastery” learning plan it has tested for a few years.

Out would go the usual practice of students advancing a grade each year, an especially tricky issue to manage this year after schools shut down nationwide in March — to be replaced with a system of “grade bands” that combine students of a few ages and grade levels into the same classroom, school district CEO Eric Gordon told the school board Tuesday night.

“We’ve got opportunities here to really test, challenge and maybe abandon some of these time-bound structures of education that have never really conformed to what we know about good child development,” Gordon said.

Educators nationally are worried about the early school closures and how the chaotic shift to home learning will affect students, especially those from poor families. Most expect a “COVID slide” that magnifies the typical “summer slide” as student skills regress over summer vacation.

Many are debating extending the school year to have classes in person before break or returning early for “jump start” review sessions. Others look at intense online summer school.

In Cleveland, schools that use the system often keep K-8 students in the same grade band for a few years, instead of moving up a grade every year. Students then relearn and reinforce skills they need to succeed before advancing when individuals are ready to move on, sometimes mid-year.

At high schools, students in mastery schools can keep re-learning specific skills and receiving extra help until they know them well. As students learn, schools often avoid giving traditional A-F grades and rate students as “incomplete” or “developing” until they rate as proficient.

Gordon told the school board that by avoiding the normal grade levels, the district can help students catch up, learn what they need and not stigmatize students as failures by making some repeat grades.

He also said that his draft school reopening plan coming mid-June will offer the mastery system as an option for the community and individual families to consider, along with a few other choices described below.

As chair of the Council of the Great City Schools, the national association of big-city school districts, Gordon said other urban school superintendents around the country have told him they are using or are considering using mastery approaches. Some schools in New York City and some states are using the model, but more may take it up, he added.

For urban districts like Cleveland, which has the second-highest socioeconomic challenges of any big city in the country, according to Stanford researchers, students falling further behind is a real concern. The same researchers estimated that Cleveland students were two years’ worth of learning behind the national average, even before poor internet access put students at an even greater disadvantage when schools closed.

In his preview of the reopening plan to the board, Gordon suggested a few strategies for learning while keeping kids at safe distance. He said he will likely offer families a few choices for returning to school so they can pick what works for them.

“You’re going to see a menu that people can move through to adjust and meet their needs,” he said.

Among the possible strategies:

  • Having older students do much of their schoolwork online, while younger students come to class to work with teachers more often.
  • Having community groups that offer afterschool programs for students also work with some students during the day, while other students are in class with teachers. The different groups would then swap activities.
  • Having more year-round schools, on top of the nine district schools already using that calendar. Another 13 have extra days in their school year.
  • Schools could likely open later than their original Aug. 17 start date so that teachers have time to learn new learning systems and the pandemic has time to subside.

“Many of my peers tried to shut down early, in part because there’s a fatigue … and train teachers now,” he said. “My fear of trying to train teachers now is we haven’t built the plan.”

He also said he wants focus groups of students to review the draft plan and help craft the final version.

The district is polling parents and teachers about what has worked with the district’s emergency remote learning plan so far and what they want to see in the fall.

And the district’s plan is also subject to guidance from state health officials and the Ohio Department of Education, though Gordon has been part of discussions to set the state plan. Early drafts of the state plan also give districts wide flexibility to set their own approaches.

Gordon’s preview of Cleveland’s plan Tuesday centered on “mastery” or “competency” systems, coaxed by school board questions. It previously failed at two ninth-grade academies in Cleveland a few years ago, but it is an integral part of MC2 STEM High School, one of the district’s more popular choice high schools.

It is also at the core of the successful Intergenerational Schools charter chain in the city and the new private

The shift would take cooperation from the Cleveland Teachers Union, which is already familiar with the approach. It would take buy-in from parents, who won’t see their children promoted each year. That has sometimes been a source of conflict at the Intergenerational School when parents do not fully understand the model.

It also will need law changes from the state, which tests students annually based on their grade level and which gives districts lower grades on state report cards if students don’t graduate in four years. Gordon said the state focuses too much on days or hours of classes, not on whether students have learned material.

“We really see an opportunity that means an entirely new policy context at the state and national level that allows us the nimbleness to behave differently,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that CEO Gordon had proposed ending the practice of moving students up a grade every year, instead keeping them in the same band for a few years to relearn and reinforce skills before advancing. Gordon talked about using grade bands but did not specifically say how they would be carried out, though typically schools using mastery plans will keep students in grade bands for multiple years.

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Whatever Happened to the National Teacher Corps?

What was the NTC and when did it begin?

In the mid-1960s, I taught in and later directed a federally-funded teacher training program located in Grimke elementary school, Banneker and Garnet-Patterson Junior High Schools, and Cardozo High School in Washington, D. C. The Cardozo Project in Urban Teaching, as it was then called, prepared returned Peace Corps Volunteers to teach in urban schools. The paid “interns,” as they were called, taught for half-days under the supervision of master teachers, took university seminars on-site after-school, and in evenings and late-afternoons developed curriculum materials and worked in the community. At the end of the year the “interns”  were certified to teach in the District of Columbia and were on their way to earning a master’s degree in their field through two local universities (see here and here). Three-quarters of the intern teachers we trained became full-time teachers in the District of Columbia schools and other districts.

Within a few years, this district-based model of training new teachers became the poster-child for a federal initiative to put teachers into high-poverty urban and rural schools. Amid President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” education figured large–Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) remains a mainstay of funding schools enrolling poor children in 2021. The belief that minority and low-income students needed committed, smart, and well-trained teachers led Senator Gaylord Nelson from Idaho (his administrative aide’s wife taught at Cardozo High School) and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy to seize the Cardozo Project’s way of training teachers and expand it into a national program within the Higher Education Act of 1966 (see j-1748-5959-2009-00212-x-3.pdf).

The National Teacher Corps legislation adopted the model used for training teachers on-site but rather than fund districts, federal officials would funnel monies to universities that collaborated with nearby school districts and took responsibility for awarding degrees (see here and here).

What problems did the NTC seek to solve?

How to get more and better teachers into low-income, largely minority, low-performing schools?

In the mid-1960s, the high turnover of experienced teachers and absence of well-trained teachers in largely minority and poor schools had become obvious. The belief driving policymakers and donors was that young, committed, and better trained teachers working in both schools and the community could raise students academic achievement levels, reduce high dropout rates, and increase the number of high school graduates going to college . Thus, the NTC would help solve the problem of insufficient numbers of “good” teachers by recruiting, training, and supporting teachers committed to better teaching and learning in largely low-performing urban schools (see j-1748-5959-2009-00212-x-3.pdf).

Another problem was that universities time and again were turning out unequipped novices to deal with urban teaching and getting minority children and youth. Alternative ways of attracting and educating a more racial and ethnically diverse crowd of newcomers to the profession by having school-based training linked to university seminars (also held on site) attracted both donors and federal funds in these years. Solving the problem of inadequate university-based teacher education was part of the agenda of NTC (see 0042085911400340.pdf)

What did NTC do in training teachers?

Between 1968-1970, the federal government awarded National Teacher Corps grants to many universities. One went to the University of Southern California collaborating with seven school districts in the metropolitan Los Angeles area with large enrollments of Black and Mexican-American students. According to the federal General Accounting Office report on the project, of the 88 intern teachers that completed the program, 72 (82 percent) were teaching or had contracts to teach in predominately minority schools.

The GAO report (1971), described the USC program in the following manner.

Corps members were organized in teams, each consisting of a team leader and four to seven interns. In most cases the entire team was assigned to a particular school. In some instances the team members were assigned to more than one school,

Team leaders were responsible for the supervision of interns constituting the team. Their duties included acting as liaisons between the interns and school and university officials; coordinating and planning with the interns their individual and team activities; demonstrating teaching techniques to interns; and evaluating the performance of interns.

Program coordinators in two of the participating school districts informed us that team leaders had worked diligently in performing these functions and generally had been effectively utilized. The program coordinator in another school district stated that the performance of three team leaders was inconsistent in that they had been effective in some areas of responsibility but not in others. He stated that the fourth team leader assigned to his district had utilized his time effectively in meeting all the responsibilities of a team leader and had initiated a program designed to identify Mexican-American students who appeared to have college potential and to encourage them to develop their academic capabilities.

Interns generally worked at the schools to which they had been assigned for 3 days a week during their first year of internship and for 4 days a week during their second year. The interns spent 2 days a week attending classes at USC during the first year and 1 day a week during the second year, Interns also devoted varying portions of their time after school and in the evenings to participating in education-related community activities.

They generally started by observing classroom instruction during the earlier phases of their assignments to schools and later served as assistants to regular teacher. During their 2 years of internship, they sometimes were assigned to work in cooperation with more than one regular teacher and taught one or more subjects to children in various grade levels.

While assigned to regular teachers, the interns worked with individual, or small groups of, children…. In many cases such instruction was given to children who had language difficulties or disciplinary problems or who were slow learners. In schools in five districts, the interns either introduced or expanded the teaching of English as a second language or the teaching of regular classwork in Spanish to children who spoke little English or who came from homes where English was not the predominant language.

No doubt that there much variation in these NYC programs across the nation creating difficulties in evaluating the entire NTC (see evaluations of NTC here and here).

What happened to the NTC?

With the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980, one of his first bills sent to Congress consolidated federal grants for particular programs (including the National Teacher Corps) into bloc grants sent to states, letting each state determine which programs would be funded. With the move to bloc grants, NTC largely disappeared except for occasional states that continued the program.

Since then a few efforts to create a national cadre of well-trained teachers given close and sustained support in their internships and then being licensed and hired by urban districts have surfaced. But none have gained federal support for the past four decades.

For some researchers and policymakers, the appearance of Teach for America in the early 1990s, an organization that identifies liberal arts college and university graduates who want to teach, briefly trains them, and finds slots for them in big city school systems has been compared to the National Teacher Corps (see here and here).

While TFA does receive federal funds through Americorps, its training regime is only a eight week-summer program followed by minimal supervision of their first and second years (TFA-ers make a two-year commitment). Other criticisms of TFA insofar as producing “skilled” teachers and improving instruction as measured by student test scores are quite mixed, often coming from former TFAers (see here and here)

In my judgment, TFA is a weak facsimile of NTC. While occasional voices for creating another NTC have been heard, nothing substantial has materialized for 40 years.

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How to Teach American History in a Divided Country (Kristina Rizga)

Kristina Rizga is a writer based in San Francisco, co-creator of The Atlantic’s On Teaching project, and author of Mission High. This article appeared November 8, 2020.

For the past 26 years, Chuck Yarborough, the U.S. and African American history teacher at the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science in Columbus, has been surveying his students on how American history is taught. Students come from all over the state to spend their last two years of high school at this diverse public boarding school, and he wants to know what they’ve learned by the time they get there. The feedback from more than 1,400 students over the years has been consistent. In each class of about 18 students, an average of five come in with some basic knowledge of the Civil War, but very few have studied the role that slavery played in it—or the connections between the war, white supremacy, Jim Crow laws, and how this legacy continues to uphold racial segregation and inequities in Mississippi.

Yarborough has spent his career trying to fill these omissions in how U.S. history is taught—and thinking about his own role as a white educator in the Deep South, teaching about the roots of racial injustice. During my visit in the fall of 2018, I asked Yarborough to describe his approach. Our conversations have been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kristina Rizga: How are the Civil War and Reconstruction taught at Mississippi schools?

Chuck Yarborough: They are not taught for the most part, unfortunately. In theory, students are supposed to have been taught the Civil War and Reconstruction before arriving here, but the vast majority of them have not been taught Reconstruction. A few more learned something about the Civil War, but not a lot. They have been taught pretty well the horrors of slavery, but they have not been taught the complexities of those systems: how it developed and its continued effects to this day. So when they arrive in my classroom, I start with the end of the Civil War—1865—and then I teach Reconstruction for the first several weeks of the class.

I teach with the simple assessment of my professors in college, which I think is spot on: Slavery was the cause of the Civil War. And we begin this discussion by reading the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession, which makes it clear that the Civil War happened because white southerners desired to defend slavery as an institution for their own benefit.

I suspect that my generation—people in their 40s or 50s—were taught something different. They were taught that there were all these other constitutional issues and it was really about states’ rights. That’s a kinder and gentler reason for people to have fought each other. And if you believe that, then you believe that southern Confederates were just like the Founding Fathers of the United States who were fighting a political struggle.

You can’t understand American history without understanding the steps forward, racially and socioeconomically, that Reconstruction presented initially, and then the steps backward that were taken with the violent reestablishment of white supremacy. You can’t understand the present without seeing the connections between this history and the socioeconomic and racial imbalances it created. But Reconstruction is not on the state test. Therefore, the schools that are teaching the state tests are not teaching Reconstruction at all, and in today’s society, that’s particularly problematic.

Rizga: What kind of learning experiences have helped you bring out the best work in your students?

Yarborough: I think classroom work has to empower students academically and socially. School is so much more than academic content. Education is also about a sense of community, collaboration, empathy, and confidence. At some point, I’m a life coach—and this means that I have to show students that they matter and that their work matters. All of this helps them develop a sense of place and belonging. When that happens, they produce their best work.

With the research in the local archives and performance projects that we do in the community, we try to make history come alive. The reason this approach works for so many students, I believe, is that they see how the work they do matters to a bigger community: how it resonates, challenges the community to reach a new level of understanding, and sets a model for leading in a community.

Classroom work has to show students how to lead and succeed locally. Before the rise of social media, success meant stepping out of school to the next, broader community. Today, students are comparing themselves to global norms, like celebrities or people with loud voices on social media. That’s generated more stress for students. And it also creates anxiety in parents, who take it out on teachers sometimes. I try to remind my students that the world you can really change is the world that’s within your reach. I help students find excellence from within and realize that success is really about empowering yourself to shape your life, your family’s life, and your community’s life.

Rizga: In what ways has your teaching changed since your first five years in the classroom?

Yarborough: The first five years were about teaching content and going fast and making sure students learned a lot. I emphasized quantity over quality. Later in my career, I’ve really come to understand that while learning content is important, it is really only empowering for the students who are good at making the connections between the content and the process on their own. That process includes all of the procedures of being a critical thinker: doing the research, collecting data, finding and articulating connections. For many students, even some of the highest achievers, you have to teach them these skills. In the last 10 years or so, I’ve seen students who are more and more tied to the idea that they just need to learn content. That has led me to step up my game with the teaching of process.

Rizga: How do you do that?

Yarborough: First, students have to engage with primary documents. My students go to the archives, and while that’s not logistically possible for most teachers today, there are so many digital resources out there. You can engage documents through the Library of Congress or Ancestry classroom resources, like newspapers or census materials. And by the way, the students love it. They do not want to read a textbook—they want to create something themselves.

The second principle is that students must be able to articulate themselves in writing, because the discipline of writing is essentially the discipline of thinking. That has to be in your classes every day.

Daily discussion has to be a practice in a decent classroom. If students are not engaged in a discourse, then they’re really not learning. Students can’t just memorize information and then spit it back. If that’s most of what you do, then you’re not doing what you need to create critical thinkers. But you also can’t create the critical thinkers without having them practice the discipline of learning, and that includes memorization. I do exercises where I require memorization, because that knowledge base is how we discern truth in the moment. It is our fact-checking filter. In the 21st century, young people in particular are losing this discipline, because they have so much information available at their fingertips—but you need to have a base of knowledge and facts to understand whatever you are engaging with.

Rizga: In your classes, you often talk about the importance of collaboration and sharing what you’ve learned. Why is this important?

Yarborough: Living in and shaping a community is really about being in relationships with other people in constructive, collaborative ways. So in my classroom, I try to develop projects that emphasize those skills. We all have our talents to bring to the table. We all have stories to tell, and we can learn from each other’s stories. Historically, if you look at successful communities—and that includes successful schools—that’s the defining characteristic. People buy into a common good that they can collaborate to reach.

These two key skills—sharing and collaboration—have been disappearing in many classrooms in the past 10 years, with the growing emphasis on passing standardized tests. If students are not passing those tests, there is a cost for the school and for the teachers. And the end result of that has been a regimentation: Worksheets and everything else are targeted at passing those tests. I think we all have to remember that this is not helpful in preparing students for a constructive life in a community.

Rizga: What are some of the biggest shifts you’ve seen in education in the past two decades?

Yarborough: The devaluation of teachers and public education generally. Political leaders seeking to cut funding are incentivized to convince you that public education is not valuable.

The other challenge is the lack of mentorship by veteran teachers. When I started at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, most teachers had at least 15 years of experience. Today, very few do. I became good at what I do under the tutelage of older teachers. The lack of experienced teachers will have huge consequences for the current generation of teachers.

I also see one big, positive change: the empowerment of students of color; young women, particularly in sciences; LGBTQ students; and religious minorities. These students have voices, and those voices are being heard. This is really different today from when I was starting out.

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