Thursday, May 29, 2008

Arizona Raza unit survives under fire

Calls are heating up to kill the Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies program - at the same time it becomes more likely that the district's most controversial department could expand to reach more, and younger, students. Critics, from the state's schools chief to lawmakers to conservative talk-show hosts and columnists, have singled out Mexican-American/Raza Studies in particular, saying it's divisive and turns students into angry revolutionaries. But supporters say the program's reach is too limited, given that it boosts student achievement by providing relevant and rigorous work to students all too often overlooked.

In a ruling last month that conditionally lifted the district's decades-old racial balance order, a federal judge noted that "it is unimaginable that the eight-staff Mexican American/Raza Studies department would be capable of serving the (district's) 30,118 Hispanic students."

TUSD's budget crisis is putting the kibosh on any new money for this coming school year, but Governing Board member Adelita Grijalva says she's committed to seeing the program grow the following year. For now, she's asking for a discussion about equity within the ethnic studies' $2.3 million budget, given that African-American Studies gets more funding and staff in a district overwhelmingly Latino. Raza Studies serves about 500 high school students, who take a four-course block of history, social justice and two Chicano literature classes.

The program should reach younger students, a 2006 outside audit said. Auditors recommended a feeder pipeline starting in the elementary schools. Although they criticized the African-American, Pan-Asian and Native American departments for too few accountability measures, they lauded Raza Studies as the program's "flagship."

It's the end of the school year and Raza Studies students at Tucson High Magnet School are presenting research findings to their principal. Their PowerPoint presentation is critical of policies toward English learners; some concerns hinge on whether students are funneled to vocational tracks, and some focus on inferior equipment. Then comes an exploration of classroom decor, with photos of classroom items students consider culturally insensitive.

First up is a baseball poster, which they say should be soccer or rugby to validate other cultures. Next up flashes the Pledge of Allegiance and a patriotic poster featuring the Statue of Liberty, the American flag and an eagle. "Most of the kids are from a different country, and this is showing them that this is the country that's the greatest and yours doesn't matter," a student maintains.

Principal Abel Morado tells the students he disagrees with their perspective. An initial role of public education was to mold a citizenry united under one democratic blanket, he says. "It's in our DNA in public schools to be sure we're teaching you about being citizens of this nation," Morado says. Morado says he considers the dialogue valuable because it's important to reflect that America does not have just one culture or value system.

Tom Horne, the state's superintendent of public instruction, considers the program's very premise grounds to publicly rail against it, and, if necessary, to ban it through legislation. "One of the most basic American values is that we judge people as individuals based on what they know and what they can do and what their character is like - and not based on what ethnic group they happen to have been born into," Horne says. "I think it's profoundly wrong to divide students up by ethnicity."

Augustine Romero took over as head of ethnic studies two years ago, after running Raza Studies for four years. In his view, the system already divides students by ethnicity. When he was a senior at Tucson High, his father asked school counselors to make military recruiters stop calling. His counselor couldn't believe Romero planned to go to college. He proved the counselor wrong, and the 41-year-old just finished his doctorate. "Yes, there are examples of people who have made it, but we've made it by having to work harder than most people because we've had to endure the inequities of the system," he says.

Romero summons the work of Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire to explain the premise of the program, hauling out a dog-eared and extensively highlighted copy of "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." He points to a passage: "This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well." If people don't like being called oppressors, Romero offers no apology. "We have to be able to be honest. If we have cancer, should we not name the cancer and overcome it? If oppression and subordination are our cancers, should we not name them?"

Anglos often don't see racism, he says, so it needs to be pointed out, even though it has led to accusations that he propagates reverse racism. "When you name racism, people think you're playing the race card and then they say, 'You don't like me because I'm white.' No, I don't like what was said. Because I'm one who names these things, some have the perception that I'm a racist and that I only care about children of color."

Those children clearly need advocates, Romero says. There are glaring performance disparities between white and minority students - even in this district, where whites are only 30 percent of the student body. The recent court ruling noted test scores for black and Hispanic students lagged 10 percent to 15 percent behind those of their white counterparts, and up to 21 percent for Native Americans.....

The program's critics range from elected state officials to high school students. The campus Republicans at Tucson High circulated a petition in April to rein in the class after seeing a banner in a class window asking, "Who's the illegal alien, pilgrim?" The petition, signed by 50 of the school's 2,900 students, was forwarded to a handful of state legislators, along with a note that maintained the department "is creating a hostile environment for non-Hispanic students and students who oppose creating a racially charged school environment." ....

More here

Child abuse by teacher in Florida

Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son's kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class. After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn't like about Barton's 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher said they were going to take a vote, Barton said. By a 14 to 2 margin, the class voted him out of the class.

Barton said her son is in the process of being diagnosed with Aspberger's, a type of high-functioning autism. Alex began the testing process in February for an official diagnosis under the suggestion of Morningside Principal Marsha Cully. Alex has had disciplinary issues because of his disabilities, Barton said. The school and district has met with Barton and her son to create an individual education plan, she said. His teacher, Wendy Portillo, has attended these meetings, she said.

Barton said after the vote, Alex's teacher asked him how he felt. "He said, 'I feel sad,'" she said. Alex left the classroom and spent the rest of the day in the nurse's office, she said. Barton said when she came to pick up her son at the school on Wednesday, he was leaving the nurse's office. "He was shaken up," she said. Barton said the nurse told her to talk with the child's teacher, who told her what happened.

Alex hasn't been back to school since then, and Barton said he won't be returning. He starts screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at school. Thursday night, his mother heard him saying "I'm not special." Barton said Alex is reliving the incident. They said he was "disgusting" and "annoying," Barton said. "He was incredibly upset," Barton said. "The only friend he has ever made in his life was forced to do this."

The child's mother filed a complaint with the school resource officer, who investigated the matter, said Port St. Lucie spokeswoman Michelle Steele said. But the state attorney's office concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse, so no criminal charges will be filed, Steele said. Port St. Lucie Police is no longer investigating, but is documenting the complaint, she said.

Steele said the teacher confirmed the incident did occur. St. Lucie School's spokeswoman Janice Karst said the district is investigating the incident, but could not make any further comment. Vern Melvin, Department of Children and Families circuit administrator, confirmed the agency is investigating an allegation of abuse at Morningside, but said he could not elaborate

Source. Some comments by another teacher here

London schools must be Greener, says British regulator

Schools are failing to teach children to be green and are treating environmental awareness as a peripheral issue, Ofsted has found. Inspectors said that the majority of schools they visited did not pay enough attention to sustainable development. "Ethical purchasing was usually confined to buying Fairtrade products for the staff room," its report on schools and sustainability said. The report praised schools for their imaginative projects and excellent teaching on sustainability, but it said that work tended to be uncoordinated. Primary schools were better than secondary schools at putting children's passion for being environmentally friendly to good use.

Christine Blower, from the National Union of Teachers, said: "Far too few schools are teaching about the biggest issue facing the planet. Schools are over-burdened with a range of excessive and unreasonable external demands. This makes it harder to focus on teaching climate change and sustainability."

Ofsted recommended that the Government should give higher priority to sustainability in schools, support this through funding, and ensure that the curriculum reflected the importance of the subject. The Government wants all schools to become sustainable by 2020, as part of its ambitious 45billion pound Building Schools for the Future programme, which will rebuild or refurbish all schools in the country. Schools are responsible for 2 per cent of all carbon emissions in this country - and almost 15 per cent of those produced by thepublic sector in Britain.

The Government has admitted that it would be too expensive to make schools "zero carbon", in response to a committee of MPswhoasked for details about the environmental targets that BSF schools would reach.


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