Politicians Give Public “Confession” on American “Sins” in Capitol

This week, the “A Man of Prayer” event  was hosted in Washington, D.C. For some, the title of the event says it all: surely the event, at the very least, is celebrating religion(s) of some sort and attendees are probably religious. If one takes a look at speakers and attendees, she would recognize the names/faces of several senators and congressman, if not by name then by their honorific title. This, in and of itself, doesn’t say much, though some may find their participation as a little less innocuous than others. The fact that the event was held in the U.S. Capitol raises a red flag but maybe not one of a pronounced Crayola marker.

But if you dig a little deeper by watching speeches of some of the event’s speakers, reading the outlined event’s purpose, and knowing the event was streamed live to churches across the country, you may immediately Google “separation of church and state” to ensure that the Establishment Clause was not made unlawful in the few hours since you last checked the news. Of course the issue is not that politicians are religious or that they say as much. After all, they too have the right to freedom of religion and speech. The issue here is that politicians are using their positions to push the agenda of their particular religion. Randy Weber, a Texan congressman demonstrates this in a disturbing “speech,” which is nothing less than a confession on behalf the United States that outlines all of our country’s perceived “sins,” such as not requiring the bible as part of public school students’ curriculum and gay marriage. His confession states that he believes he tried to prevent those “sins” but have failed God, his God, a Christian God. Weber states:

“Lord thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, here in the halls of congress in our nation’s capital, Lord may your will be done….Lord, I’m confessing several of the sins our nation has been embolden to embark upon…we have endeavored to try to kick your word out of public schools. Father, we have endeavored to take the bible out of classrooms, the Ten Commandments off the walls. Father, forgive us…” 

There is not a single mention or allusion to figures, literature, or laws of other religions. He could have mentioned Judaism’s King David or Islam’s prophet Muhammad or Hindu’s Veda, for example. The use of Christian verbiage and the exclusion of all non-Christian verbiage makes it clear that he is does not have an intersectional perspective. It does not bare in mind all religions or any other one religion, for that matter; just the one. So when he says, “…here in the halls of congress in our nation’s capital, Lord may your will be done…”

Furthermore, Speaker of the House of Representative Paul Ryan gave a religious-infused speech that, much like Rep. Weber’s confession, was laden with Christian components, such as scriptures from the New Testament, which, like Rep. Weber, disregards and outcasts other religions practiced in this country. The speech was then, as required, posted  on Ryan’s government website. One highlight includes the following:

“But in these days after Easter, we reflect on the power of resurrection…on the ultimate truth that our lives are transformed by our belief in God.”

It’s blatant that these politicians use their political positions as a vehicle to work on behalf of practitioners of their own religion. To do so is to simultaneously impose their specific religious beliefs on those who do not believe in that religion. Put simply, these politicians are not representing the people, as they said they would. They’re representing a particular religious group of people and working to apply those beliefs to all people, regardless of religion.

How is this constitutional? What I really care about is why haven’t they been penalized in some way, if not fired? I do not understand how someone in their role as politicians can use federal government space to publicly broadcast a specific religion’s beliefs is not a clear and direct violation of the Establishment Clause.

In any other professional setting, acts like this, one that goes against and is in violation of the fundamental responsibility of the employee, people are fired or reprimanded in some way. And while politicians have the right to practice whatever faith they believe in and represent their constituents, the law requires they not impose their religion on another. What politicians at the “A Man of Prayer” event demonstrated is akin to a Christian being hired by a Jewish, secular, or Muslim organization to fulfill the requirements of that organizations beliefs but instead the Christian persistent to apply Christian beliefs in an environment that explicitly asked him to do otherwise. The employee’s goal for the job does not match the employers. This contention can be resolved by letting the Christian employee go or by said employee to fulfill the wishes of his employers. Politicians, in fact, have secular role. It is a politician’s job to separate religion and government. Here, we have politicians doing just the opposite. Laws should be passed and advocated for based on logic and not simply because a religious text says it should be passed.

Why do we allow politicians to carry out the needs of one religious group, as if there are not laws in place that prohibit this?

The upside is that not all politicians disregard their right to respect the multitude of religions in this country. Joe Biden had an exemplary response during a 2012 VP debate.

I hope that all schools, public, private, religious, and others, are using this as a current example of how the a government officials can abuse their position for their own benefit.

Only 3% Pass NYS Math Test at NYC Public School

I read a New York Times article about the closing or merging of more chronically underperforming middle schools and high schools. The article mentions that these schools are part of a de Blasio program that aims to rehabilitate schools through additional resources, rather than closing or “giving up on them.” de Blasio wanted to give these schools three years to improve under his program. The three years is almost up and some schools in the program, despite the additional resources, are still underperforming to the point where parents, teachers, and education advocates should be up in arms. The Times notes (emphasis mine):

The schools to be closed are all low-performing, to be sure. In the 2015-16 school year, only 8 percent of the students at J.H.S. 145 passed the state reading tests, and only 3 percent passed the state’s math tests. Even so, it is not clear that they are necessarily the worst among the schools in the program. All of the six schools met at least one of the goals assigned by the city last year. Some are being closed for low enrollment as well. 

What is the problem that a school given additional resources to combat the affects of poverty can’t even get grades to show that students are retaining anything? At this point, the middle schools mentioned, J.H.S. 145, should certainly not be considered a school, as learning of any sort doesn’t seem to be happening.

So what could be the problem?

My first thought was what kinds of resources does this school recieve? Perhaps this school, and schools like it, are not receiving enough of certain tyoes of resources or that they are not receiving the right set of resources.

The schools in this initiative receive extra educational instruction time, teachers received additional professional development training, and each school received more funding for ‘wraparound’ efforts that aim to take the effects poverty head on (mental health issues and lack of sufficient food).  What is not clear is how resources are being used, which resources seem to be working, and which resources are not as effective.

At first glance, it would seem that any amount of any of the above resources should have some kind of positive impact, no matter how small. However, on closer inspection, something like additional professional development training for teachers could be ineffective, if the additional training is does not impart new knowledge on the teachers or is not tailored to the needs of any given teacher/group of teachers. It could be that principals and school districts are wasting time and money of programs that don’t work, though they aim to address a serious issue.

As of now, we do not know enough of the how the additional resources are being used.

What else could the issue(s) be? 

This initiative rears away from the Joel Klein administration in many ways. Klein’s biggest initiative was to close down large, historically failing schools and open smaller schools, which turned out to not do any better than the schools they replaced. Between this finding and the fact that additional needed resources (though they may not be used effectively) aren’t changing the academic trajectory of New York City public schools, mayoral control of the citiy’s schools doesn’t seem to be working out in students’ favor.

With that said, I’ve been thinking more and more about school culture and how profound of a role it can play in a school’s success. All the resources and teachers provinding attention to fewer students can still turn out to be harmful when school culture and way of life is not moving along with those initiatives. What’s interesting is that we seem to be trying to jump in and help students at the junior high school level, but the Klein and de Blasio administrations have been ignoring the fact that these students come to junior high school with six years of school culture and attitude that developed  over a child’s most impressionable stages. The school culture in elementary schools is a students first understanding of what it means to be a student. Students and teachers who walk into middle schools and high schools like J.H.S 195 in the Bronx bring with them baggage tossed on them during their prior school experience.

I’m suggesting we’re intervening too late. I applaud de Blasio’s effort to try to mend failing schools but efforts need to start while students are in pre-k. It’s clear that a junior high schools 3% pass rate goes beyond the work done in junior high school. The students come in far more academically damaged and negatively influenced than most would admit, despite that fact being clear as day. I need to go into more detail on the effects of school culture in a later post.

Mayor de Blasio’s Ban on K-2nd Grade Suspensions

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio plans to ban suspensions for students in kindergarten to second grade, according to the New York Daily News

The New York Daily News also outlines that, of the 801 K-2nd grade students who were suspended during the 2015-2016 school year, 487 students were suspended for either being physically aggressive towards another student or teacher/staff members. It is clear that at least some of these students, especially the ones who bring violence into the classroom, were suspended for good reason (this is not to say that suspension is the right direction to improve the education of both the violent student and the students surrounding him). But, it is crucial that suspensions are not simply banned for these young children; remedies that try to fix the reason why they would be suspended to begin with must also be put in place.

For example, six-year old Jimmy cannot hit his teacher, not be removed from the classroom, and all who is negatively impacted by his actions just hope and pray it does not happen again. If he is to stay in school, there needs to be some kind of action put in place to ensure that both he and his classmates get every second of education they can possibly recieve.

Fortunately, Mayor de Blasio’s administration released “Maintaining the Momentum: A Plan for Safety and Fairness In Schools,” a report that includes findings, reccomendations and next-step efforts to make the NYC public school system a safer place. The most impressive effort in this report is the inclusion of mental health-related support in the 2017 school year budget. The budget, which will include the expansion of support for teacher training in mental health and dealing with students who have social-emotional issues, as well as the addition of about 100 mental health consultants, will still be limited in how much it can achieve.

Because the ban is effective in just a few days (9/8/16) and most of the $45 million funding won’t be seen until next school year, teachers, parents and union leaders are wondering if this is being implemented too soon– the training just is not there. One teacher, interviewed by ChalkBeat, made the following comment:

“When you just ban all suspensions, my next question would be: If I have a child who’s acting out and I’m not getting cooperation from home at all — they don’t come to meetings, they don’t take the child to screenings — what’s my next step then?” Ranieri asked. “None of us have received that support yet.”

Mayor de Blasio’s suspension policy may be too premature: some teachers are seemingly unprepared for such a policy, thus making the policy unfair to students and teachers who have to brook, and are impacted by, some serverly disruptive students. One would think Mayor de Blasio is aware of this issue students and teachers face as a result of a premature no suspension ban. One could only assume that his main reason for acting now, if not his only reason, is that suspensions tend to make the suspended student disengaged from the learning enironment. In other words, suspensions harm the student being suspended by making him less willing to learn. And, since we know suspensions have more of an insidious effect, we should not do it.

Boy, if it were that easy. 

If some schools are unprepared for such a plan, despite the plan’s goals and assume rationale, the plan should not be implemented until schools feel ready and supported. This is a lose-lose dilemma: continue to suspend students and risk those students continuing being unsuccessful. Require misbehaved students to stay in school without appurtanent, and risk other students not learing as a result. There is, however, data that suggests that it is worth delaying the suspension plan (or at least slowly implementing it across schools, starting with the most equipped to the least equipped) unil schools feel confident enough to implement such a plan. Accodring to the New York State Department of Education, 4% of all students are suspended and less than 2% of all elementary level students are suspended. In other words , more students would be distracted by another student’s misbehaving, should the misbehaved student remain in the school without adequate support. Taking this into consideration, Mayor de Blasio should countermand or, at the very least, modify his K-2 suspension ban.

Hoping to Start a Book Club with High School Students

I’m hoping to work with New York Cares, a non-profit volunteer organization, to lead a small book club with high school students. Ideally, I would pick the first book and then the students would work together to choose each book after that. This is something I tried getting off the ground during the previous school year but was unsuccessful in finding the right community partner.

Last year, I was not strategic about when I started my search for a school/community partner. I waited until after the school year began, but at that point, schools and community organizations have already finalized their programming for the year–rookie mistake on my part. I’ve been doing my out reach sense the end of July, so I’m feeling optimistic.

2015 NYU Study on NYC School Closures

I just reread this NYU study that explores the impact of former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg’s highly contentious decision to close some the city’s largest, failing high schools. While most of the findings confirm findings of other studies, one discovery that fascinates me is the positive impact a school closing has on its no-longer-potential student body. The study is sure to acknowledge that, of course, if a student no longer has the option to attend a failing school, whatever school they end up at would be inherently better (as the city removed the worst schools, one should only go up from there, generally speaking,). But this does not also take into consideration the uproar that the Bloomberg/Klein administration faced during the school closure process. More specifically, anti-school closure advocates were concerned about student disruption and integral fixture in the community.

Though the study answered the disruption issue (impacted students are “exponentially insignificantly impacted by the disruption), it also showed that there is a long term positive effect of closing persistently failing schools. Middle school students seem to be thinking and attending better schools than the recently closed down school in their community. Those middle schoolers are more likely to graduate from high school now that the poor school is no longer an option. My guess is that the local school closing serves as a clear point of reference for younger students. My other guess is that the closings of low-performing schools put parents on high alert on how well schools are doing, rather than unquestionably going to the local school. This is just an assumption, but by doing something as touchy as closing the most severely under performing high schools in communities, enough noise was made to make students and parents pay additional attention to school selection.

“No Student Learns Best Under Conditions That Make Then Feel Uncared For”

They should be prepared to teach to each student’s unique needs, and to recognize that no student learns best under conditions that make him feel uncared for.

This quote from on an NYT article on why black men leave the teaching profession should apply to tecahers in general, but espescailly those in no-excuse charter schools, though public schools are certainly gguilty of this too.

Read more here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/opinion/sunday/why-black-men-quit-teaching.html