Category Archives: Student Voice

The purpose of education: the three E’s

 

I have heard it said that the purpose of education in IPS should ultimately result in one of the three E’s:

Enrollment

Enlistment

Employment

I want to offer three alternative E’s for your consideration:

Emancipation

Enlightenment

Empowerment

Let us consider the differences between education in different settings.  The elite private schools of Indianapolis certainly don’t offer up “enrollment, enlistment, and employment” as the purposes for the education that they are offering their students.  In fact, one website I visited  included three C’s in their vision: curiosity, compassion, and courage.  It is just me, or are there radically different connotations to each of those lists of words?  Yep.  Enrollment, enlistment, and employment should not be the end game here.  Being enrolled, enlisted, or employed should be natural byproducts of an education that honors and inspires the whole child…a child who is:

EMANCIPATED:  has realized that his current socioeconomic status and/or identity is not predictive of or limiting his future possibilities.

ENLIGHTENED: has been exposed to a wide variety of curricula, activities, and interests, can apply that information to her current circumstance, and is inspired to pursue further learning on topics of her choosing.

EMPOWERED: has realized that his locus of control lies within himself, takes his resources into account and knows when to use them, demonstrates responsibility and self-determination.

Allow me to offer a couple of scenarios for your consideration:

School A students wait outside or on the bus until the bell rings.  Once allowed inside, they walk with bubbles in their mouths and their arms crossed in hallway hugs on the right side of the hallway, using the red tape line as a guide, with absolutely no talking.  They arrive at their classroom, and are greeted by an under-appreciated, underpaid and overworked teacher, who (in some cases) loves them anyway, and are doing the absolute best they can despite the current conditions.  School A student sits at their desk, quietly doing bell work.  Their day consists of a math block, a reading block (typically with basal readers and pre-made worksheets), and Science or Social Studies if it’s in a grade where it’s tested on ISTEP, and when there is time in the day for it.  The Indiana Academic Standards are posted on the wall so we always know which ones we are currently working on, and because there will be a test soon.  There is always an upcoming test; quizzes, benchmarks, I-READS, I-STEPS.  Student A gets gym twice a week, Music twice a week, and Art on a cart or library once a week.  She gets the same lunch as everyone else, whether kindergarten or high school athlete.  She sits down at the long cafeteria table, next to the kid in line according to alphabetical order.  Sometimes she has to sit in silence with the lights out at lunch, while a stressed out adult yells at them through a microphone to be quiet.  If she talks, she get after school detention.

A student from school B arrives at school early to go and speak with his favorite teacher before class starts.  There are no bells, but student B knows when it’s time to head to homeroom because he can hear the happy chatter of students in the halls.  Teachers throughout the halls are standing at their doors, smiling, and greeting students.  Student B enters the classroom and gets ready for his discussion in circle time.  He knows he will have to plan his day of learning, and his teacher guides him in planning to make choices throughout the day, such as where to sit, how to see the best in his (sometimes annoying) classmates, which books to read, which topics to write about, which centers to visit during math workshop.  When his friend helps him to discover grouping pumpkin seeds by ten to count rather than counting by ones, his teacher notes his success and celebrates by asking the class to stop and watch his demonstration.  At lunch, he sits outside in the spring air with a chosen group of friends but plans to visit the library during lunch tomorrow. In the afternoon, he has a disagreement with a peer that wouldn’t leave him alone.  He had to set aside time to attend a peace mediation session with his teacher, and everything is back to normal now – which is great, because the best part of his day is going to the Environmental Club after school.

As you think about the differences in the vignettes from school A vs. school B, please consider the following:
  • What organizational differences in these two settings are creating such a vast gap in the learning experiences of students?  What is the “work” culture of these two districts?  What policies are in place to set these conditions?  What role might standardized testing play?  How might the concept of accountability be experienced differently in school A vs. school B?
  • What do you think the adults in school A are doing differently than the adults in school B?
  • Trick question: which school has the highest paid outside consultants? (Hint: it’s not the one you might think.)
  • Which school offers more individual freedom?  What are the consequences of allowing students to make authentic choices, both negative and positive? (dare I say it, student AUTONOMY?)
  • How might the opportunity to make decisions in school affect a student’s learning…after all, isn’t LIFE about the ability for people to make sound decisions for themselves?
  • Over 12 years of schooling, what cumulative effects can we expect on human lives?  In other words, which set of three E’s is school A preparing students for?  School B?
  • Which school is designed to produce leaders and innovators?  Which school is designed to produce worker bees?  Does either school encourage the questioning of authority, or the status quo? Is this by design?
  • Does student A DESERVE different treatment than student B, based on an ability to pay for a private school education?  To what extent (if any) can a public school offer a private school education (or a semblance of it)?
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For the first time ever, I am allowing comments on this blog thread.  Responses are moderated, and idiocy of any kind is not tolerated.  Let’s discuss the questions above, and the general idea of the PURPOSE of education, public, charter, and private.  If your comments do not get posted, it’s because you did not give input to the questions.  Or you were inappropriate. Don’t take it personal…
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Do you want to share the story of what is going on in your Indianapolis school?  I am inviting teachers, school staff and students to write about their experiences, good and bad, to be shared anonymously (or not, you choose) on my blog.  Please email submissions to: gayle_cosby@yahoo.com
These thoughts are my own and do not reflect IPS or any other entity.  I assume no responsibility for the comments of others on this blog or in any other format.

 

State of the “Maverick” Address

I don’t care what a lot of people think (especially those who perceive themselves to be in power).

However, I do care deeply about my community.

For this reason, I have decided to announce early my decision to not seek re-election to the IPS school board.  I want to give my community as much lead time as possible to prepare viable, strong candidate(s) ready to compete for the district 2 seat this November.

Some of you might be wondering why I have chosen this path.

In an attempt to further understand some of the crazy political maneuvering I’ve seen thus far in education, last year I began the journey to obtain a Ph.D. in Urban Education Studies.  This degree will further enable my advocacy work toward education for liberation.

I’ve always been an ambitious person, but folks, I am human.  It’s been a delicate balancing act to juggle the roles of mother, wife, doctoral student, employee, and commissioner.  I cannot reasonably expect myself to be able to devote adequate time and energy to all of these demanding and highly important roles for the duration of another 4 year term.  Not to mention the short-term trajectory of my doctoral work will include writing a dissertation and the eventual possibility of relocation as I settle into the profession.  Therefore, it’s time for someone else from district 2 to prepare to represent us.

I fully intend to complete the final year of my elected term by continuing to advocate for my community.

I have a few things on my mind as I move into the last year of my elected term.

  1. Increase the presence of student voice in policy making.

Other school boards hold regular meetings with the student government bodies from their high schools, or they implement a process for forming *some* type of student advisory council, and a regular meeting schedule. Student voice is incredibly important.  It teaches students to think critically about their education, and forces them to employ different skill sets to achieve their desired outcome.  It can lay the foundation for future civic engagement.  Aren’t students the reason why we’re here?  Don’t we need to figure out what they want?  Would it be so much to give them some of what they want?  A little happiness at school can go a long way toward keeping our students invested and engaged in their education.

 

  1. Parents, families and the community deserve autonomy also.

It makes me cringe every time a school community is informed of something that has been imposed on them: a school closing or relocation, a new model, so on and so forth.  In my opinion this should never, ever be the case.  Why?  Because parents, families and the school community should be given the opportunity to engage in driving those decisions before they are made.  I’m not talking about forced last-minute choices, either.  I’m talking about real community education and informed dialogue.  If the school community is involved to this degree, proactively, then there are no surprises.  In 2013 a policy was enacted that allowed for a diverse group of school stakeholders (parents, teachers, community members) to serve as a principal selection committee.  Are stakeholder groups still invited to the table to weigh in on these decisions?

 

  1. Innovation partnerships merit more careful consideration.

Did I ever share with you that my oldest graduated from a charter school and my middle child currently attends one?  They are both locally owned charters.  I don’t have anything against local charter schools, per se.  [CAVEATS: In a perfect world traditional public schools would be well funded and freed from the destructive patterns caused by standardized testing.  If that were the case, there would be no reason or opportunity for charter school competition.  However, charter schools do exist – I therefore prefer homegrown charter schools that don’t seem to have profit motive at the forefront.]  There are also some charter school “chains” that have promising ideals, located in cities outside Indy.  Our communities need to be educated on differing types of charters and be involved in the decision making for potential partnerships.  Since it is school performance that everyone is judging, then it would make complete sense for us to judge a potential charter school partner by its past performance.  Also, demand to see the number$.  A precedent has been established that appears to favor the charter school partner – see the details HERE.  Can this type of investment in outside partnerships be sustained year after year?  For how many years? How will these expenditures affect the school budgets of children in traditional schools as innovation schools expand?  How will potential outsourcing of many Indianapolis residents’ jobs (transportation, custodial, food service) affect our communities?

 

I don’t think that I am the only person who thinks that (at least some of) these are priorities or concerns.  As evidence of this, the Core Commitments reflect some of this language. Anyhow, whether I think they are important or not is pretty irrelevant.  I am just one lone dissenter on a board with an established supermajority.  If anything at all takes place, you won’t see me taking credit for any of it.  I’m not in a position to DO anything at all…which brings me to my last question.  Being that I am only one vote, and have absolutely no chances of affecting the future course of anything, why does my dissenting voice bother anyone?  In the interest of democracy, why is there such a fuss when I simply want to speak to my convictions?   Why is diversity of thought viewed as a hindrance rather than a strength?   Why is it so desirable to have 100% total agreement on a publicly elected board?

My thoughts represented on this site are my own free speech.  This blog is a personal publication.  I don’t represent anyone or anything other than myself.

You can email me by clicking this link: gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

Titan up… No. Really.

Yesterday evening I missed a thoughtful delegation from a Tech high school senior.  I always have mixed emotions when a student comes before the board.  My heart swells with pride for their courage, yet sadness usually multiplies with each word they speak.  Why?  Because I know why they’ve come.  They come when their school is being closed, or when they feel disenfranchised by the very institution that is supposed to enrich their lives.  I also worry whenever a student says something that might be cause for retribution. Since this delegation is now public record, I feel compelled to share it with you:

Hello my name is Chris. I am a Student at Arsenal
Technical High school. I am here before you to express my Frustration with the changes that came to Arsenal Technical High School this year.
The first thing I would like to bring up is the new administration. This
by itself has caused many conflicts between the students and teachers
because of the lack of effort and discipline in and on the school’s campus.
From the start of school on August 3, 2015 to today I have only seen the new administrative principal three times. This is a cause for concern because I distinctly remember the new principal said that we would be seeing more of the new administration on campus to:
1. Try and establish relations with the student body.
2. Also to grow more acquainted with the campus.
The second is the new disciplinary guidelines that were implemented in the k-12 system for IPS applied to Arsenal Technical High School does not seem to be effective. The students are taking advantage of it. There have been more fights at Arsenal Technical High School this year alone than in the three years I’ve been at this school. That being said the classroom is no better. Teachers spend more time redirecting kids than teaching. This has lead teachers to become almost unresponsive to what any student really needs in their education.
The Third thing is that some decisions have been made around the
school that have made a lot of students not even want to attend Arsenal Technical High School. These changes consist of pushing back the time students get off the bus. Approximately 2,000 students accumulate into the cafeteria which only leaves the students ten minutes to get food, eat, and then go to first period. It also creates a situation for a fire hazard. Also having teachers patrol the halls on their prep. I say this because in the past teachers used this time to allow students to make up tests, turn in work, and get extra help for the grades that we need. I myself can’t stress enough how much we need these grades.
Another thing is that the new principal made the decision to close the
library to the students. Making this decision has puzzled many people for this reason: It is the one place where kid actually go for studying, lunch, and to check out books. The library is the most calm environment on campus, but now that it’s closed the student that use this resource are now deprived of it usefulness. Its also the one place where student know they won’t get hit by a flying milk.
This last statement might be the most concerning of all. At the end of
the day during the 11th period, the administration has all of the buildings on campus locked up. This means that any student that was requested to either see a counselor or any other adult figure on campus can’t go back to class.
So inevitably it causes those students to then be on campus where they are most vulnerable. I only say this because the only cameras that are recording the campus are unreliable, and are a false sense of security. For not just the students, but also the staff that you yourselves employ.
I would like the board to think about what I had to say and hopefully make changes needed for the success of all at Arsenal Technical High School. I wish to see the teachers and students leave this school at the best it could be for they have made my experience at Arsenal Technical High school most successful and exciting.

Dear Chris,

First of all, thank you for your comments to the board. I admire your courage.  I believe that you are setting an excellent example for your fellow students. Maybe if the entire district was filled with students a little more like you, who made their voices heard, IPS would be a better place.  You see, a lot of adults who run things around IPS think that adults know best, and they go around talking about how to give those adults more autonomy to do what they think is best.  I happen to know that if you believe in your students, and you give them autonomy, they end up doing some freaking amazing things…like actually regulating themselves in very responsible ways.  I’ve been in a high school where there were no bells, and where students were allowed to get up and leave class if they needed to visit a counselor or administrator.  Guess what?  Contrary to what many adults might believe, those students did not abuse their privileges.  They changed classes when it was time and excused themselves from class as necessary to go visit adults that they needed to see.  I think this is an example that could be applied to your ability to go and eat breakfast, and to go visit the library.  Some isolated incidents that might have prompted these changes should not be applied to the ENTIRE STUDENT BODY.  I am a Tech alum, and I happen to know that library has been open to students for decades.  The actions of a few should not have such an impact, especially in an academic environment where we should be promoting literacy and appropriate technology usage to students who may not have access outside of school.

Secondly, Chris – the manner in which you were called into the office to discuss your delegation to the board is really inappropriate.  I am appalled at the response that you have received from your principal and district officials.  Any self-respecting educator would have appreciated your advocacy – not only for yourself but for your fellow Titans.  Instead, you were met with hostility.  You were not allowed to speak your truth.  You were constantly interrupted and they attempted to make you feel shame for going to the board, and silence you.  When you asked to leave, they would not allow you to leave, but forced you to sit and take even more verbal abuse from them.  Chris, do not let that dissuade you.  Know that your comments to the board STRUCK A NERVE and let that light your fire for continued advocacy. Continue speaking your truth and encourage other students to do the same.

Where are our student governments?  I’m afraid they no longer exist at any of our high schools. For the past three years, I have asked time and again as a board member to have student representatives be a part of what we do…student government or otherwise.  Obviously, that has never happened.

Where are my Tech alumni?

Where is our esteemed Cannon?

Here is what I am asking you, the reader, to do.  Teachers, students, administrators that are reading this blog: UNDERSTAND that students are just like us in this respect – they want things to be done in conjunction WITH THEM, not TO THEM.  If anyone’s listening, I’m ready to do my part to elevate student voice.  Send me student submissions, comments or concerns, and I will provide the platform.  Help me to make this a student-centered school district.

My thoughts are my own and don’t reflect that of any other body or entity.  You can contact me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com