First Person

The Editorial Divide

I’ve become increasingly alarmed at the growing divide between the news and editorial functions of major metropolitan daily newspapers (e.g., in New York City, the New York TimesNew York Daily News,  and the New York Post;  in Washington, DC, the Washington Post).  The functions are largely independent, and that is as it should be;  the ideological proclivities of the publisher and editorial board should not be shaping what counts as or is reported as news. 

To be sure, the editorial page of a newspaper should express a point of view, and a typical reader will likely agree with some viewpoints, and disagree with others.  But it’s a very dangerous thing when the editorials of a newspaper are not informed by the daily reporting of its journalists.  Ignoring the news, reported with a minimum of spin by “beat” reporters, leads to simple-minded and ignorant editorializing on complex matters of public policy.  It’s also insulting to the profession of journalism, and to the many reporters whose goal is simply to understand the news and get the story right.  (I talk to some of the reporters to whom I’m referring.)

A case in point is yesterday’s Daily News editorial, “Truth in testing.”  The editorial is an effort to shore up claims about the success of school reform in New York City under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein.  Last week’s revelations that the state testing system was dramatically overstating student growth and the closing of the achievement gap rocked the New York City Department of Education on its heels.  The Daily News editorial board, which has long supported these reforms, came out firing, citing four “facts”:  (1) The State Education Department defrauded parents and students;  (2) Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner David Steiner owned up to the deception;  (3) The drop triggered bogus charges that the schools have made no progress;  and (4) Only radical action will give New York’s kids a shot at the quality education they need.

Interesting points, although they can scarcely be described as “facts.”  The most provocative point is the third one.  To support the claim of great progress, the editorial states, “From 2006 to 2009, scale scores among city kids rose 23 points in math and 13 points in English.  Both held firm in 2010 … And city fourth- and eighth-graders improved on the National Assessment of Educational Progress by far more than kids in the rest of the state and across the country.”  To be sure, scale scores on the state assessment did improve over the period 2006 to 2010, although it’s not possible to calculate an average growth like this, because the scales for the state’s assessment system are not vertically equated.  (And “holding firm” is an artful way of saying that although the Children First agenda was in full sway in 2009-2010, test scores in New York City did not go up.)  If the editorial board had dug a bit deeper into its own pages (see here, here and here), it would have learned that testing experts are unable to determine whether scores rose because student performance improved or because the tests got progressively easier and more predictable over time.

But the question I have is, where did these numbers come from?  I’ve reviewed the reporting of the two primary education beat reporters for the Daily News, Meredith Kolodner and Rachel Monahan, and have found no evidence of these figures in their published articles.  If the editorial board of the Daily News is going to write about education in New York City, shouldn’t they draw the evidence from the news side of their operation?  Surely that would be better than simply parroting a set of talking points provided by the New York City Department of Education. (The figures do appear in a DOE PowerPoint deck released last week.)

Reporters such as Kolodner and Monahan (and their predecessor at the Daily News, Erin Einhorn) strive to learn from different sources, not just their cronies.  Talking to people with disparate points of view yields a more balanced picture of the world.  For example, if the Daily News editorial board had reviewed the paper’s reporting on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, they would have known that the claims that New York City students improved by far more than kids in the rest of the state and across the country was an out-and-out lie.

Below, I summarize the evidence comparing gains from 2003 to 2009 on the fourth-grade and eighth-grade NAEP reading and math tests in New York City with gains observed in nine other large urban school districts.  Overall, scores did rise in New York City over this period, and this is an accomplishment that should not be ignored.  But did scores rise faster than in other large districts?  You be the judge.

In the chart below, a green arrow indicates that the gains from 2003 to 2009 in a particular subject at a particular grade level were significantly greater in New York City than in a comparison district.  A red arrow indicates that the gains in New York City were significantly smaller than in a comparison district. And a grey circle indicates that the gains in New York City were not significantly different from the gains in a comparison district.

naep-comparisons

Out of 36 comparisons—nine urban districts, two subjects (reading and math), and two grade levels (fourth and eighth)—New York City gained significantly more than a comparison district in only four instances.  Conversely, there are ten instances in which another district gained significantly more than New York City over the period 2003 to 2009.  The remaining 22 comparisons show no difference in the rate of growth of NAEP scores in New York City and the growth rate for other urban school districts. 

It is just not possible to read these results and to conclude that New York City’s fourth- and eighth-grade students improved on the NAEP by far more than kids across the country.

If the Daily News editorial board is going to ignore the careful and thorough reporting of its education beat reporters in favor of talking points provided by the New York City Department of Education, I have a suggestion:  Place a black border around the editorial, and in small type at the top, print “Paid Political Advertisement.”  That way, we’ll all know the score.

First Person

To close out teacher appreciation week, meet the educators whose voices help shape the education conversation

From designing puzzles to get kids fired up about French to being christened “school mama” by students, teachers go above and beyond to make a difference. Chalkbeat is honored to celebrate Teacher Appreciation week with stories of the innovation, determination, and patience it takes to teach.  
Check out a few of the educator perspectives below and submit your own here.

  1. First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not by David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME.  
  2. First Person: What my Bronx students think about passing through scanners at school by Christine Montera, a teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence-New York.  
  3. First Person: What 100 ninth graders told me about why they don’t read by Jarred Amato, High School English teacher and founder of ProjectLITCommunity.
  4. This fourth-grade teacher doesn’t take away recess or use points to manage the class. Instead she’s built a culture of respect by Liz Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher at Sagebrush Elementary and Colorado Teaching Policy fellow.
  5. First Person: Why I decided to come out to my second-grade students by Michael Patrick a second grade teacher at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary.
  6. Meet the teacher who helped organize the Women’s March on Denver, a profile of Cheetah McClellan, Lead Math Fellow at Denver Public Schools.
  7. First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works, by Dave Mortimer, and educator at Bank Street School for Children.
  8. What Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher a profile of Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel and Teach for America fellow.
  9. First Person: ‘I was the kid who didn’t speak English’ by Mariangely Solis Cervera, the founding Spanish teacher at Achievement First East Brooklyn High School.
  10. First Person: Why recruiting more men of color isn’t enough to solve our teacher diversity problem by Beau Lancaster, a student advocate at the Harlem Children’s Zone and  Global Kids trainer teaching, writing, and developing a civic engagement and emotional development curriculum.
  11. Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message a profile of Eric Eisenstad, physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
  12. First Person: How teachers should navigate the classroom debate during a polarizing election year  by Kent Willmann, an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. He previously taught high school social studies in Longmont for 32 years.
  13. First Person: I teach students of color, and I see fear every day. Our job now is to model bravery by Rousseau Mieze, a history teacher at Achievement First Bushwick charter middle school.
  14. Pumpkin pie with a side of exhaustion: Why late fall is such a tough time to be a teacher by Amanda Gonzales, a high school special education teacher in Commerce City, Colorado.
  15. This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students by Andrew Pillow a technology and social issues teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle.
  16. What this teacher learned when her discipline system went awry — for all the right reasons by Trilce Marquez, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 11 in Chelsea.
  17. Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address by Erin Glenn, a U.S. history teacher at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts and Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
  18. An earth science teacher talks about the lesson that’s a point of pride — and pain a profile of Cheryl Mosier, a science teacher at Columbine High School.
  19. A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business by Shanna Peeples, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.
  20. How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate by Jean Russell, a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School,  2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year and TeachPlus statewide policy fellow.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.