Posts Tagged 'Ted Sizer'

OLA Workshop at BAA’s Center for Arts in Education

Last week, BAA’s Center for Arts in Education hosted Darcy Rogers for a full-day workshop on her Organic Language Acquisition (OLA) technique. I first met Darcy at her school, Crater Renaissance Academy in Oregon, and then I ran into her again at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum, where she presented her workshop on OLA- a kinesthetic approach to learning a language. I knew we had to get her in to BAA, so when I learned she was coming to the Parker School in Western Mass, I jumped at the chance!

We had about 15 educators from Boston and the surrounding areas as well as Boston Public Schools central office folks (including Yu-Lan Lin, the World Languages Program Director for BPS) attend the full-day workshop, which included BAA students actually learning the technique alongside the adults!

I see Darcy’s work as one of the many valuable techniques that innovative teachers develop to counter the increasingly high-stakes-testing-obsessed culture we live with in our schools. In my new role next year as Executive Director of BAA’s Center for Arts in Education, I am excited to sponsor more workshops and institutes featuring work like Darcy’s… We were so glad she could join us at BAA for this high-energy workshop!


Small Schools Leadership in Oregon

How can we prevent districts and school systems from reverting to the status quo? How can we encourage schools and school systems to truly innovate and to withstand the pressure of being sucked back to a laissez-faire time? How can we be unionized and have the protection of salary and benefits but not have “bumping”?

These were some of the questions that faced me this past week as I participated in the Oregon Small Schools Leadership Institute. I was the keynote speaker at the opening of the Institute and I titled my remarks, “Keeping the Vision in Tough Times.”

What an amazing group of educators!

For the past seven years Boston Arts Academy has had the privilege of working with schools and school districts in Oregon that have believed breaking up large high schools into smaller schools and creating new “start up” schools could dramatically increase academic achievement, especially among poor students and students of color. The data seven years later is very strong, but the pressure to return to the “good old days” of large high schools, with many electives, and the rule of advanced placement courses has continually threatened to turn back the clock for these forward-looking educators.

The small schools initiative, like so many others around the country, was spurred on by an influx, even an outpouring, of support from the Gates Foundation. Soon, however, that money dried up. The miracle of Oregon is that others stepped in to sustain the work. Most notably, those others are Duncan Wyse of the Oregon Business Council and Barbara Gibbs of the Meyer Memorial Trust. For the last three years, together with the recent leadership of Kathy Campobasso, they have forged a network of educators (principals, teachers, school board members and superintendents) determined to create a different paradigm about what education can be.

There are currently 34 small schools created through the Oregon Small Schools Initiative. I visited two of these high schools in Southern Oregon – South Medford HS in Medford and the Crater Campus in Central Point. South Medford – which just built a state-of-the-art high school that gave me terrible edifice envy – is comprised of four small schools: Freshman Academy, Discovery, Champs (Community Health and Medical Professional School) and BACH (Bridging Arts, Community and Humanities).

I had the chance to sit in on the BACH teachers’ weekly planning meeting, during which they discuss their students (there are 400 in each school), projects that students are engaging in, and ways to create more opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Like schools in so many states, the teachers are up against the constraints of high stakes testing. “How can we really create interdisciplinary curriculum when students will be tested on just history or just English?” a history teacher asked me. “It feels like the country is conspiring against us. We want to create more engaging curriculum but today’s classrooms seem all about just passing tests,” a math teacher told me. “I know my kids need the basics, but I so wish I could teach in a way that my kids need—and not just about bubble tests. Math is also about discovery—about process—not just right answers. I didn’t go into teaching to be an automoton!” And yet, classes have nearly stopped in South Medford as students prepare for the Oregon State tests.

Teachers and administrators agree that testing has shone a light on how all students are doing, especially the most vulnerable ones, and this has been a positive. There is no way to hide the scores of special education kids, English Language Learners, or poor kids. That is a good thing, but the pendulum needs to swing back a little so that not everything about school is geared towards tests. Learning is larger than testing. Teachers are looking for multiple indicators to demonstrate how students are learning. The Oregon Business Council has been working to develop and advocate for these other learning indicators – such as attendance, senior projects, number of community college, arts, and other co-curricular classes taken, and college admissions and retention rates – to supplement the information obtained from standardized state tests.

Along with the issue of testing, educators at the small schools are also concerned that just as they begin to get the kids and teachers on board with the idea of small schools, it seems like educational policies and regulations conspire to pull them back to the status quo. As I sat in on the administrative team meeting that brings together all the small schools administrators on campus, staff lamented that, “We have data to show how kids are achieving better in small schools and how relationships between faculty and students are growing, but there is such pressure to just do what has always been done—Carnegie units [counting credits and hours], tracked classes, academics around sports schedules, etc…”

Sadly, throughout the country, the pressure to return to large schools continues—just look at what is going on in Boston with the closing of small schools! Yet, one hopes that Oregon will buck the trend and recognize that small schools really do enable higher high school graduation rates and higher college admission and retention rates. In fact, a recent study by EcoNorthwest concluded, “We have no evidence to suggest that operating an OSSI (Oregon Small School Initiative) model school, once implemented, necessarily costs significantly more per student than a traditional comprehensive high school.” The report when on to say, “If a model OSSI school can, for example, boost graduation rates by three or four percentage points, as have the Wave 1 and Wave 3 schools, the model becomes less costly to operate on a per graduate basis than a traditional high school costs.”

At the Crater Campus, the Coalition of Essential Schools principles hung in the hallways of the three small schools I visited: Renaissance Academy (the most CES-identified), CAHPS (Crater Academy of Health and Public Service) and BIS (Business, Innovation, and Science). I didn’t get to visit CANS (Crater Academy for Natural Science), as it’s closing due to budget constraints. The CAHPS administrator, Julie Howland, told me that while she hadn’t finished my book, she greatly believed in the importance of a framework, or grounding philosophy, for her school. She proudly showed me a document that they had just finished which identified the Habits of Mind for her school, the traits or values that she wanted her students to possess – such as being respectful, civic-minded, and critical leaders – and the strategies that they hoped to use to “get there.” The list included Socratic seminars, advisory, etc… Julie explained that she wanted me to do a brief walk-through of classrooms with a few of her teachers and some representatives from the district office to see if we saw evidence of these habits, traits, or strategies. She also wanted help in bringing her faculty together to encourage them to engage in hard questions about teaching and learning. 

In a 20 minute walkthrough it’s nearly impossible to ascertain much more than whether there is chaos or a sense of purpose in classrooms and whether or not students are engaged and teachers focused. When we sat down after the whirlwind visit to AP Psychology, Digital Media, Health and a few other classes, I refrained from making any judgments about what I’d seen; rather, I asked the team what they had seen. Some were quick to critique and wondered about whether the classes were rigorous enough; others mentioned the difficulty of getting all the faculty on the same page regarding beliefs about their students. Later, it came out that many of the CAHPS faculty had been most resistant to the break up of the large high school, and that many faculty still feel that students are losing out. Julie is the 2rd principal in 3 years and she believes in the model but feels like she is fighting an uphill battle with how to get buy-in from all her teachers.

The mood and the classrooms were quite different in the other two schools where there hasn’t been a fight for buy-in. The conversations at both BIS and Renaissance were more about doing a better job recruiting from the two middle schools and getting the community at large to buy into the idea that small, themed schools do not limit opportunities for kids, but rather, that they give students a chance to identify with a certain style of learning and approach to teaching. For example, at Renaissance, students all take a core English/History course in a double period. (One of the fascinating things that Renaissance principal Bob King did was to encourage arts teachers to become dual certified in English and History in order to teach this core class.) At the 10th and 11th grade level, students loop for two years with the same teacher and each section has a particular arts focus such as Photography, Digital Media, Drawing, Painting, 3D, Music, etc… and the students use this art form to express their academic learning. This core teacher is also their advisor so that students (and teacher) are together for almost three hours daily. While some might say this is too much time with one group of kids and one adult, the teachers and the students appreciate the close intellectual relationship, risk-taking and career and college guidance that ensues. And for teachers, it means that they are only teaching 50 students a day. This class is also where faculty can focus on their instructional strategies together.

By creating this innovative structure for English/History/Advisory, faculty and students feel that they have prevented kids from checking out. “This is a school and a class that requires you to be engaged,” said one staff member. Students agreed. “We have a lot of say over how we want to learn. I’ve really liked learning photography at the same time as I’m exploring ancient mythology and reading Ramayama in my English/History class.” I asked what happened if students didn’t get their first choice of “lens”—i.e. music and not drawing/painting – but the administrator explained that this rarely happens, and if it does, students are usually willing to try out the class.

Another impressive feature of Renaissance is the way second languages are taught—both ESL for non-native speakers and Spanish as a World Language. There is a conscious attempt to push students to use the language orally and to become comfortable, versatile speakers. In the Spanish class, all furniture is pushed against the walls and students learn by standing and moving about the room. The teacher, Darcy Rogers, has coined this approach, “Organic Language Acquisition.” I didn’t want to leave her classroom and promised to introduce her to every language teacher I know since her approach was so innovative and appealing to me. “I don’t want students hiding behind their desks. Speaking a foreign language is all about taking risks and putting yourself out there and too often students just want to receive the lesson and not give themselves to the lesson.” She explained that after the initial shock of standing for 80 minutes, students truly enjoy the kinesthetic approach to learning. (And Darcy admitted sometimes they do pull chairs together to work in small groups.)

At the BIS school, which emphasizes learning through entrepreneurship, the first thing that greets a visitor is a huge jigsaw puzzle map of the United States showing where all the BIS alumni have gone to college. There are pegs pushed into the map with the college logo emblazoned. As Principal Todd Bennett explained, most students and parents in his community don’t really see college as an option, or even as necessary, so it continues to be an uphill battle.

Todd also talked with me about buy-in issues; he wants more of his classes to be project-based, but talked about the pull of the status quo and how hard it is to get teachers, students, and families to buy in to the fact that by doing and making you can definitely learn, and learn more. Todd took me into airplane-hanger-like classrooms where student work from engineering, English and math classes hung on the walls. He showed me the shops that all students can use for their projects and when I told him that his spaces reminded me of High Tech HS he grinned happily and said, “I’ve taken almost every teacher to visit there. That school is our inspiration!” One of the coolest examples of a project that students are working on is the creation of small wooden toys in a Spanish class. They are learning the Spanish vocabulary for the toys and then the engineering concepts of prototyping, designing, researching, building, etc. The BIS framework is expressed by the process of Problem Solving, Communication, and Teamwork.

While I saw wonderful classrooms, dedicated teachers and administrators, and hardworking kids at all the schools I visited in Oregon, I worried along with the administrators and teachers there about the pull back to the status quo—to the image that so many of us have in our minds about what the American HS is supposed to be like. Each of these small schools has worked on the development of a positive school culture; each is working on ensuring that all students, regardless of socio-economic level, race, language of origin, even sexual preference (which is a hard issue to discuss in deeply conservative Southern Oregon), will have the opportunity to succeed in high school and beyond. But the pulls to keep things the way they’ve always been; to just shut the classroom door and teach as an isolated, not collaborative, journey; and the pressure to perform on standardized tests all conspire to destroy the work of this 7-year initiative.

Perhaps the most plaintive call came from teachers, who said, “We’d give up seniority to be able to have some stability in our small school.” “Just as we begin to develop a culture among the staff, the budget crashes and we have to start again with all new colleagues. It’s just not fair. We need a different kind of unionism.” Again and again we asked one another, “How can we rethink our systems and have the chance and the time to make those differences take root and take effect?” I remain hopeful about what I saw in Southern Oregon. There is a recognition that the system is outmoded and must be changed.

However, when I traveled briefly to Portland, I was horrified by what had transpired there. How is it possible in a city with 45% kids of color that there is a high school (Lincoln HS – which is not part of the Oregon Small Schools Initiative) that is 98% white kids? How is it possible that the district has allowed this to occur? Where is the lawsuit? Evidently, Stand For Children is strong in Portland, and parents and teachers told me quietly that they hope Stand will take on both the District and the Union to save their schools.

As I left Oregon, I wondered about what a new Sizer et. al. five year study would show. Would the results be any different than when Sizer wrote his seminal book in the early 80s (Horace’s Compromise), based on the five-year study of high schools he and his colleagues had conducted? Have we been able to redesign the way we do education? Certainly, that has been the hope of Charter schools, but as many Oregonians told me, they don’t want to have to give up hard-fought wages and benefits to convert to Charter schools. (Charters, as a rule, pay much lower salaries and give much poorer benefits).

I want to believe in the durability of the changes that I saw in Oregon. I want to believe that systems can innovate. I want to believe that we can professionalize teaching by protecting salaries and benefits and creating a new kind of unionism. I want to believe, as the students and teachers I met believe, that these small schools are not just a blip on the screen, but a new way of approaching education and doing what’s right for kids.

Demanding Education that Matters: Notes from the CES Fall Forum

The 25th anniversary of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) Fall Forum opened with words from Nancy Sizer, Ted Sizer’s widow. Nancy spoke eloquently of Ted’s vision–the importance of conversations amongst friends and detractors from the ten common principles. Even in times of budget-slashing in schools and disheartening claims about the importance of high-stakes testing and racing to the top, CES and Ted remind us to keep the ten common principles in the forefront of our work. These ten principles could not be more relevant today 1. Less is more  2. Depth over coverage  3. Learning to use one’s mind well  4. Goals that apply to all students  5. Personalization  6. Student as worker, teacher as coach  7. Demonstration of mastery  8. A tone of decency and trust  8. Commitment to the entire school—teachers and principal should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars and artists in general education), and specialists second (experts in one particular discipline  9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning  10. Democracy and equity.

While these seem like simple principles, they are actually deeply complex and take a lifetime of work to truly integrate them into any school. That was Ted’s brilliance. What CES offers is not a quick fix brand or model. Rather, it is set of ideas to bring to schools, classrooms, students, and family members so that we all can continue to ask the hard questions: How are we doing (with these principles)? Where do we see the principles at work in our school? What would it look like if they were more evident? (For a full explanation of the principles, visit the CES website).

I appreciated the questions that framed this year’s conference: What does it mean to each of us to demand education that matters? To our communities? Our students and families? How do we organize with a stance to demand education that matters?

Pedro Noguera, from NYU, was the Fall Forum keynote speaker and he shared some sobering statistics: the achievement of African American males is worse since the implementation of No Child Left Behind. He demanded we think about this question: “How can we put the most inexperienced principals and inexperienced teachers with the neediest students in the neediest schools? That’s called Teach for America!”

Nevertheless, he exhorted us to not necessarily defend the status quo either. He asked that we engage in educational debates without allowing ourselves to become sandwiched into rhetoric, to not simply say, “I’m pro or anti-charter or pro or anti-union” without looking at the complexities, particularities, and nuances of each institution. Unions need to change andwe must acknowledge that some charters have done a good job, Pedro asserted. (Later Linda Darling Hammond quoted a Hoover Institute study that cited 17% of charters outperformed “regular” public schools serving similar students, about 37% underperformed public school counterparts and the rest (just under half) did about the same. Here is a link to that study). Pedro also warned the gathered audience about the challenges of electing public officials who truly know how to listen, or are affiliated with powerful interest groups, lobbies, or corporations. My sighs here were audible. How do we do that? The federal officials seem so far away and disconnected from what we need in urban schools.

These big ideas were the framework for our conversations over the next few days.

I was proud to have two outstanding teachers: John ADEkoje and Juanita Rodrigues, with me, as well as four remarkable students from Soul Element. All four had been well-trained as ambassadors by Corey Evans, Director of our Center for Arts in Education, and coached not only by their BAA theatre teachers, but also by a BAA theatre alum!

BAA students and faculty

BAA theatre students and faculty

On the first day, our students led a youth forum for 40 students from eight different schools around the country. The title of the workshop was “Transforming Through the Arts” and was about creating personal narratives using the methodology of Soul Element. I witnessed all of the scenes that students wrote and performed (under the direction of our students) and  they were excellent— exploring issues of race, culture, class, family dynamics, peer pressure, etc… When the workshop ended, no one wanted to leave. I was impressed by the power and focus of these young people, so determined to create a more just and equitable society.

Students learn from students

The next day I was privileged to have the students and John ADEkoje join me in my session–one that was specially featured at conference. We had again, about 40 people, including a contingent from the Netherlands. We spoke about BAA—both from places of pride and also of the places we wanted to improve—and our students were quite persuasive about the role of RICO and shared values in our school. We also shared how we think about creating artists-scholars-citizens. We began and closed with theatre warm-ups.

Students teaching teachers!

The students joined me for a book talk at Book Passage, an independent bookstore in Marin. There were about 20 folks gathered, ranging from a doctor who studies wellness with adolescents, a midwife, retired and current educators, to personal friends of mine.

We also had time for some picture-taking and fun, thanks to one of our supporters, Lilli Ouyang, who fought horrendous SF traffic, jamming all five of us into a small car to get us across the Golden Gate Bridge in daylight.

Classic Golden Gate Bridge shot of me with kids

We had a great visit to Marin Academy (a private school) which was an interesting experience for all of us. Yes, we  developed edifice envy seeing their jewel box theatre AND black box, as well as beautiful arts spaces—ceramics, painting and drawing, photography, dance and an outdoor ping-pong table area. Again, I was reminded painfully, about the ability to truly expand learning when the space compliments learning expectations. I kept saying to the kids, “Edifice envy is an ugly trait, but I have it badly!”

Marin Academy

In addition to the visit to Marin Academy, we also visited our 2010 Principal Intern, Michael Lee, now a Vice Principal at a large comprehensive high school. Mr. Lee took us to visit both Mills College and UC Berkeley, and also took us sightseeing. We also had an opportunity to visit another Principal Intern, Laura Flaxman, at the ARISE charter high school in Oakland. All in all, we (as usual) were able to squeeze quite a lot into a very short time!

On a more sober note, I do hope that CES will sustain these bad economic times. Educators truly need these opportunities to come together and engage in conversations at a national level. An example is a great workshop that I attended, lead by George Wood (Director of the Forum for Democracy and Education), Deborah Meier, and Linda Darling Hammond. Linda is such an inspiring educator and extremely knowledgeable about federal issues of education. It was not all gloom and doom, but their message was clear—everyone needs to sign up to be a member of the Forum and CES. We must have a voice in Washington, so that it’s not just the Gates Foundations and other big corporations directing policy.

Our students closed the conference on Sunday with their theatre piece “The Waiting Room.” Here is what Christina Brown, from the Center for Collaborative Education, wrote me about the kids and their performance:

Just wanted to say that I was on the plane with your amazing students.  I told them they were rock stars. Their performance was amazing, and their presence and eloquence in discussing educational issues was even more amazing. Their words truly were as powerful as their acting skills. [They] channeled their inner Ted Sizer or inner Linda Nathan, since you are both famous authors now. They said BAA was about RICO and described it and said students can’t learn unless you engage them first. What a perfect closing.”

Pioneer Institute Recap

Alright, I’ll admit it. Participating in this event at the Pioneer Institute on this panel was really hard. It was essentially a room filled with people (mostly older white men) who do not trust teachers and think a common core curriculum and high-stakes tests are absolutely necessary. These are some of the same folks who have bankrolled the movement (if you can call it that) supporting the use of school vouchers AND who have also vociferously supported MCAS in the name of equity.

Hmmmm… I haven’t seen urban schools improve because of MCAS yet. The amazing Christina Brown from the Center for Collaborative Education asked the best question of the day: How, if we value students learning at high levels and doing rigorous work, can we possibly think it’s alright to give a multiple-choice History MCAS test (as the Massachusetts Department of Education has proposed)? I paraphrase, but she was brilliant and of course by the time she asked this, there was suddenly no time left to answer (!). We must find a way to continue the struggle against History MCAS. I worry terribly about what is going to happen if our voices aren’t continually heard. This is important-essential even-for our students and our school.

As I often do in difficult educational/political situations, I tried to channel my mentors Debbie, Ted, and Vito (Perrone) as I spoke and tried to listen politely. I wished that they could have all been in the room. Debbie wouldn’t have stood a minute for the arguments the Hirsh allies gave!

Bill Schechter and BAA alum and Humanities teacher Dan Sullivan

Raleigh and Durham, NC (a slightly delayed post)

In February I visited the Raleigh/Durham areas of North Carolina all by myself-not nearly as exciting as traveling with kids and teachers! I was hosted at two bookstores—Quail Ridge in Raleigh and The Regulator in Durham. Lots of books were sold in Raleigh! And, my picture was put in the bathroom (I hope near the photo of Tomie dePaola!). Many fabulous authors have been featured at Quail Ridge and the bathroom is where the author photos are framed and hung!

Alice Verstrat (watch a nice video about her here), who did her student teaching with us at Fenway High School many years ago, helped set up the Quail Ridge event, and the book store did tremendous outreach. There were over 40 people there; teachers, administrators, and other various interested folks (including someone who had worked at BAA years ago helping in Development). But the most exciting guest was current BAA intern Pete Shungu’s MOM! That was so cool. I usually open my talks by asking what has brought people to the event: are they a teacher, parent, alum, interested community member, politician or policy person? Mrs. Shungu introduced herself as “the mother of one of your interns.” The audience also included members of the North Carolina state-wide PTA, who asked excellent questions about ways we involve parents/caregivers at our school. I was impressed with their organization and determination to find new and innovative ways to involve parents/caregivers.

The next night in Durham, three of six local school board members came and asked excellent questions about issues related to achievement, student engagement, and development of a professional learning community. I was impressed by how seriously they took their elected positions as leaders, and had to wonder about the wisdom of our appointed school board in Boston. I remember being in favor of it back in the 1990’s when we abolished the elected school board because they seemed to be more interested in political-not educational-agendas. But, if done well, elected school boards are a way for a community to experience living in a democracy. It can be messy and consensus is hard, but if one understands ones roles (as they appeared to do in Durham), perhaps it is a valuable exercise. One of the best questions of the night came from a community member who asked: “Do you think there is such a thing as a good school SYSTEM? There are NOT systems for independent schools, or really even for Charter schools: is it an oxymoron to think of good school systems?” The question gave me pause and I am still thinking about it. Other folks of interest included a teacher from Durham School of the Arts which sits on a huge campus and includes 6-12 grades (edifice envy again!). It has lottery-based admissions as with the other high schools in Durham. There was also a person who had studied with Ted Sizer, and was a founding teacher at a local charter school.

I continue to be perplexed by the world of charters and public schools, and of course the role of private schools (though those seem clearer to me—you pay!). Charters don’t have to provide bus transportation, so in many instances their population ends up being skewed towards those able to get their children to the school (we saw this phenomenon in San Diego at High Tech High School). In addition, a lottery system means that those in the know pick the school and so there is no sorting down for special education, ELL students, etc… One charter in Raleigh is decidedly middle class and white. I thought that in a county quite mixed by race and social-class, this seemed wrong. How can you use public money and not reflect the district from which you draw? And yet, if I were there and fed up with the public schools, would I start my own charter, too?

As I wrote in my LA/San Diego reflection, I struggle with the balkanization of the community. But maybe, if excellent systems are so hard to come by, at least in urban areas, this balkanization provides good schooling for some…

I also continue to struggle with what it means to work in a non-union state, like North Carolina. Often one hears that it’s because of the unions that there is such entrenchment and that unions impede school change. But North Carolina doesn’t have a union and I wouldn’t describe school politics, policies, hiring, or curriculum as any more enlightened than in Massachusetts. Perhaps even less so.

The issues of segregation by race and class seem exacerbated in North Carolina because of how county school lines are drawn. There is some bussing across the counties, but folks also choose to send their kids to schools closer to home. So in the end, you get schools that are segregated by neighborhood. Sound familiar? This is the story of “desegregation” in Boston.

The story in North Carolina is a story of tobacco and slavery and more recently, the research triangle. It is a story of urban decline and attempts to bring vitality back to cities that have seen better days. It is the story of newcomers coming South and “old timers” wondering about better and worse times. It is the story of folks committed to improving their schools and longing for vibrant and workable ideas. It is the story of committed teachers like my friend Alice (who is Teacher of the Year in her school), who asks hard questions about practices that might not be good for kids and figures out ways to bring her colleagues into the discourse. It is the never-ending story of trying to find better ways to ensure that kids get a good education. But there must be some givens, and these givens may be eluding some of the state policy makers in North Carolina and elsewhere:

•    If testing is the only way to deem knowledge and learning “stuff” worthwhile and important, we are in deep trouble;
•    Accountability can’t just mean more tests;
•    Teachers need time to work together collaboratively on curriculum and on issues of teaching and pedagogy;
•    Huge schools of 3,000+ students mean that most students won’t be known well;
•    If students aren’t known well by many adults, chances are they won’t feel particularly engaged in school (and therefore probably won’t do well);
•    Teachers, parents/caregivers, students, school board members need to develop language and structures to talk about the inequities in front of them in their schools/classrooms/communities that polarize them by race, class, language and gender

I worry that the miracle Arne Duncan proclaims to have had in Chicago is not nearly as neat and wonderful and pretty as he claims. It’s like what we heard from Papa Bush about the Texas miracle, and that was a lie.

L.A. and San Diego-with Photos!

Just as I’ve written many other times, the best part of this book tour is the opportunity to spread the BAA word with students and teachers. Thank you to science faculty member Ramiro Gonzalez for joining me on this journey and doing ALL the driving. Thank you to Corey Evans from our Center for Arts in Education for doing fabulous ambassador training (Gustavo, Katy, and Yolandi were amazing!). And thank you to BAA’s incredible Susan Werbe for organizing all of the trip logistics and then some!

As I posted in my previous update, we had a wonderful time at the book party and met all sorts of different folks, including a former HGSE grad student, Agustin Vecino. Agustin is now working on the pilot school expansion project in LAUSD and with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE here in Boston) helping out. A bit odd to have an organization 3,000 miles away doing this work, but pilot schools are a concept born in Boston in 1995 because of our BTU-BPS contract. Even though it feels like many of the original autonomies are being eroded, it is exciting to see the work beginning in LA. My friends, Ed Redlich and Sarah Timberman did a phenomenal job inviting all sorts of people who were involved in charter schools, public schools, private schools, and other interesting jobs in the TV and movie industries. Mass College of Art and Design President Kay Sloan’s nephew and wife came to the party and so did Mike and Kitty Dukakis, which was just so cool! Kitty even stood up at the end and told the crowd that “BAA is a gift to Massachusetts.” What a way to end the event!

With Mike Dukakis at the Book Party

After the brunch, we headed out to Venice Beach to ride bikes and people-watch. So much fun!

Having a blast on Venice Beach!

The following day we visited two different charter schools. The Partnership to Uplift Community (PUC) Charter Schools and Animo Film and Theatre Charter High School. The PUC school is about 30 minutes or more outside of central LA and is considered part of the city, although it feels rural. 100% of the students are Latino and all talk about going to PUC because it is calm, focused, safe, and students feel that they have more opportunities after high school. PUC schools also embrace the arts as a central component of their educational philosophy. Ed Vanderberg hosted and welcomed us into a circle of teachers and student ambassadors.

At PUC Schools

Animo is located in South Central LA—and has a more urban feel to it. Animo used to be with Green Dot, but have since gone their separate ways. Green Dot (and founder Steve Barr) was written up in the New Yorker and I’ve always wanted to know more about the organization, thinking that perhaps this approach to unionism was a possibility for schools. I didn’t get much of a sense that teachers in LA have embraced it as a workable alternative. (You know me: I’m always looking for alternatives to the antagonistic relationship that unions/central office seem to have). The school has crammed 125 students into a makeshift warehouse. Steve Bachrach is a dynamic, driven, and magnanimous principal. He embraced us both literally and figuratively, and devoted much of the morning to us. We all felt very much at home. They are a Big Picture Project school and so two days a week are spent in advisory groups pursuing projects that the students are interested in. Big Picture is a very different kind of educational philosophy and it was fascinating to see this in practice.

The kids at Animo were much more forthcoming and direct than the kids at PUC. The PUC kids seemed quite humble. (Perhaps it is because the closer to the center of the city one gets the “harder” one becomes? Or perhaps it is because the Animo kids know they are in a school that is somehow a second chance for them?) I could never quite discern why I found the difference in the kids so remarkable but we all felt it.

The next day we finally had the chance to visit two high schools I’d heard lots about: Los Angeles High School of the Arts, and Central LA HS #9 (run by Esther Soliman who has visited BAA, and Suzanne Blake respectively).  I was so happy to see Esther in her element. LAHS of the Arts is on the campus of Belmont High School.  There are five schools there and they are all trying to become pilot schools. It is an exciting experiment!  The theatre class we visited was in their second or third day of the semester and the kids were shy and not yet familiar with theatre terminology. We finally got them to ask some questions and to answer some of ours. It was amusing to see the LA kids’ reactions when Yolandi and Gustavo spoke Spanish. The Caribbean Spanish accents were very new to them as LA kids come primarily from Mexico and Central America. Athough this is also a city school, the kids seemed also much less confident and aggressive than our students (and I’m not saying aggressive critically). None of the students audition and arts is an elective. We met students who had just gotten into CalArts on full scholarship. Very impressive!

Central High School #9 is an enormous new $400 million facility that has been much talked about in LA.

What an AMAZING building!

It is right down the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Mark Taper Forum-DOWNTOWN in the arts district, but also bordering on a very poor area of the city. The hope from LAUSD is that the school will serve a mixed population of students (much like our school’s demographics), but the fear among many educators is that since this particular area of the city is being gentrified it might come to serve only middle and upper income students. We were BLOWN away by the facility. It is almost too big, but then again, it is meant to house nearly 2,000 students when at capacity. It has a somewhat-bizarre outdoor spiral staircase that snakes around a tower portion of the building. It is purely decorative and we understood it was supposed to lead to a restaurant at the top of the building, but the city ran out of money and it remains unfinished. The building towers over the downtown. Each arts division is its own school: theatre, music, visual arts, and dance. Students do not audition but select a major through a lottery process and then they take all their academic classes in that school or wing. Suzanne (the principal) has her hands full opening a new school and dealing with the politics of the district and the community. I’m hopeful that we can be helpful and have her bring her team to Summer Institute. We all had “edifice envy” at this school and had to control ourselves!

Hannah MacLaren was an incredible host for almost all of our school visits. She runs the Los Angeles Coalition of Essential Schools. It was wonderful to see Ted Sizer’s work influencing so many different schools.

The high point of this day was going to Walt Disney Concert Hall and participating in the Fidelity FutureStage kick-off event taking place across the country in Houston, Chicago, LA, and of course, Boston. We saw Keith Lockhart conducting our BAA students who were all waving American flags, and we watched Mr. Holt playing with the Pops band backing the performing students. I am so grateful for the funding and new instruments they are providing us with this year.

BAA music faculty Matt Clauhs with Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart and BAA Students.

The hall is absolutely spectacular. This is where Gustavo Dudamel (the wonderchild of El Sistema from Venezuela) conducts. There were four LAUSD schools there and one school sang Carl Orff’s O Fortuna accompanied by at least 30 student string musicians. Quite impressive. But the best was meeting Dominic Monaghan (Charlie from “LOST”—yes I’m a diehard fan—I know it’s a surprise to many of you). Dominic hosted the event and was very cool and told us about his theatre training in Manchester, England. Jamie Foxx (who head-lined the event) gave us a friendly wink and a nod before he went into the media event.
With Dominic Monaghan at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
We then spent time with former BAA faculty George Simpson and Cara Livermore at LA County School for the Arts, where George, Cara, and the LA Principal Residency Network (PRN) hosted a wonderful book event for us. George’s school is on the campus of California State University, which brought me back to the days of running Fenway High School at Bunker Hill Community College. There is such amazing potential for high schools based on college campuses. I know George is trying hard to make some in-roads here. It was also great to see our work with PRN expanding to the West Coast. (CCE is spearheading both the PRN work and the LA Pilot work). Mostly, it was great to see George and Cara at their school which is incredibly vibrant and stimulating.

BAA students with LACHSA students

We are bringing many ideas back from their Leadership Class. For example, each sub-group is responsible for one aspect of the school, i.e. freshmen, sophomores, juniors, senior programs and events. We were there on a school spirit day where everyone had to dress like a “traditional high school student.” The get-ups were ingenious, ranging from cheerleaders, to Goths, to jocks. I was impressed with the way the juniors took learning from the seniors very seriously.

Ramiro, Cara Livermore, myself, BAA students and George Simpson outside of LACHSA

We left George’s school and headed to San Diego for our evening presentation at High Tech High Graduate School of Education. My friend, Larry Rosenstock, is the founder of HTH (there are about nine of them now in California—elementary, middle, and high  schools). I have wanted to visit for the past 12 years and it was great to finally see the amazing work he’s been doing with his faculty and staff. Again, our “edifice envy” was in effect. The schools are located on a former naval base, so the buildings are huge and spacious.

Again, we were filled with ideas for BAA: most notably the idea of the entire building serving as a gallery and one of the teachers acting as curator for the building, changing the student work (and art) every two to three months. It was so cool to be in a space that worked so well with the educational program. I had the sense that their space helped create their program and vice versa. (Very different from BAA’s squished and cramped quarters). Projects are displayed everywhere—including the bathrooms (!) and are often three-dimensional.

Examples of the art found in unexpected places at HTH!

The intersection of student work based in engineering, arts, writing, graphic design, and film is everywhere. I truly hope that as we get closer to our new building, we can incorporate some of the ideas about space and student outcomes that mirror what we saw at HTH. I also hope we continue to think about ways to meld disciplines. so that students are truly living, breathing, and working as artist/scholars. I would really love to send more faculty members to HTH to learn about their curriculum. It was very exciting!

We did a great presentation at San Diego State University, where I found out that the dean is a former student of Vito Perrone’s. It has been so moving to find common threads from my colleagues and mentors Ted Sizer and Vito woven through this journey.

My travels have made me realize that BAA must continue to share what we do with others. I know that we sometimes feel that we don’t have the answers, but we are asking the hard questions and that is a big part of the process. I am also convinced, as I see first-hand how things are in schools around the country, that we are doing a whole lot better than many of our colleagues out there. So we won’t rest on our laurels, but I do hope we can begin to strategically think more about how to share our practices more widely —both the successes and challenges—through our Center for Arts in Education.

My amazing BAA Ambassadors, Gustavo, Yolandi, and Katy.

Thoughts on Ted Sizer

I recently attended the memorial service for an amazing man. Ted Sizer was a friend, colleague and mentor and his loss will be profoundly felt throughout the education world.

The service was a beautiful mix of remembrances/sharings from his children (there are four) and friends/colleagues from all different parts of his life: Harvard Graduate School of Education (in the 60s when students took over the buildings), Phillips Andover Academy (where he was headmaster from many years), Brown University, The Annenberg Institute, The Coalition of Essential Schools and The Parker Charter School. Deborah Meier’s comments were particularly moving and profound. She also wrote a beautiful piece about his legacy which you can read on her website.

Memorial Church in Harvard Yard is enormous, and it was totally totally filled, including babies and kids. Ted would have liked that. He would have liked the music and the singing too.

The reception afterwards was also something that Ted would have enjoyed. All his friends and family… all the many generations of educators he has had an impact on… It was overwhelmingly sad and also overwhelmingly joyous if that makes sense.

It was a perfect send off for Ted. I kept wanting him to be there to enjoy the conversations-and I wanted to ask him yet another question. He always listened to my questions and had good advice and suggestions. He had an incredible ability to listen.

While there, I kept thinking about how we are part of a school movement much bigger than us…it truly is a movement of educators that care about ideas like teacher as coach and student as worker. Hard, complex ideas that you never “do” or “complete” in a lifetime of teaching, but that keep you going and keep you asking how we can we do better. That’s what Ted always pushed for-doing better. Some called him naive, but it was his belief in the goodness of kids that kept him working so hard. It was his belief in the whole child that made him stand so strongly against high stakes standardized testing AND for democracy and equity in schools. He believed that schools could and should and would be places that weren’t “training grounds for life” but actual life itself.

LIKE Linda on Facebook

Follow Linda on Twitter!

  • Perrone Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership! We are so proud of your accomplishments! 2 days ago
  • Perrone Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership cohort 2 August intensive ended today! We were honored to have... 1 month ago


Support Independent Bookstores!

Shop Indie Bookstores

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 102 other followers

Join My Mailing List!

Blog Posts by Category