Jamaal Bowman Speaks at the first New York State task force on education - october 29, 2015
"I am a proud founding principal for Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School in the Bronx. I am blessed to have been a public school educator for 16 years. I’m also a parent. I’m a parent of three children. My oldest son is 14 years, my stepson is 6 years old, and my 18 month old daughter, Maya, is obviously the gem of all three.
I'm a product of public school education. But right now I don't feel confident placing my daughter into public school because of the test-and-punish culture that's been created. There's a culture of fear that's permeating throughout public schools. There's stagnating curriculum and instruction."
Fortunately for me, I have the means to place her somewhere else. But think of all the New Yorkers who don’t have the means to place their kids into a better setting.
Here's what we know:
- 15 years of high stakes standardized testing has not closed the achievement gap. In fact, it's what made it wider.
- There is a language, opportunity, and executive function gap that exists between the low income students and their middle and “upper class” peers
- 3rd grade literacy is predictive of high school and college graduation rates
If third grade literacy is highly predictive, then why are we testing students every year? Instead, why not focus on early childhood education if we know it proves so important?
Here's what I propose:
- Remove teacher evaluations aligned to state assessments immediately
- Administer state assessments created by teachers in 4th and 7th grade so the state can continue to identify struggling schools and districts and provide effective supports
- Begin a statewide focus and conversation around authentic curriculum, instruction and formative assessment
What drives student achievement is formative assessment, not summative assessment. When you are able to meet the individual needs of students, one-on-one and in small groups on a school-wide level, you see student achievement go through the roof. But teachers have to be trained to give feedback and support students on this kind of level.
- Implement birth-age 8 programs in our highest need districts
We need to implement a birth-age 8 programs in our highest need districts, If we think we’re going to close the achievement gap without focusing on early childhood, then we’re kidding ourselves. We might as well shut down the common core task force and do something else. We’re talking about a population that has been historically disenfranchised through redlining, crack cocaine, through other means. We need to meet them where they are and recognize they have specific needs.
So let me talk a little bit about CASA Middle School. What I’m proud of is that our kids love coming to school. There’s nothing wrong with having a school where kids enjoy themselves and where they’re pushed academically to be their best selves.
In classrooms, our teachers often work one-on-one with students while groups of students work together collaboratively to solve complex problems. What are the results?
Last year, on the New York State Assessment, we had the number one combined growth scores of New York City. Unfortunately, 80-90% of our students arrive at CASA behind grade level. In 2014, only 10% of our students were proficient in reading. In 2015, that number jumped to 24%. In 2014 only 18% of our students were proficient in mathematics; in 2015 that number jumped to 27%. But what’s more important is the progress we've seen through a program called iReady that we use to track student progress over the year. We give baseline assessments in September, mid-year assessments in December, and end-of-the-year assessments in June. And as you can see, in Reading, 64% of our students achieved significant growth and in Math 61% of our students achieved significant growth. And that’s more important to us. We’re doing assessment on a local level so we’re able to identify the grade level at which students are operating and move them from that grade level. Where the state data doesn’t really show that, the in-house data shows that if a student comes in at a second grade level, we can see how many grade levels we’ve moved that student.
We’re a school that’s big on assessing the whole child. We’ve had a system that in my opinion is too focused on the left side of the brain. All of our assessments are anchored in verbal reasoning; there’s no holistic view of intelligence. I believe that we need to put systems in place with state support that look at the whole child. We have creative geniuses within our schools and we’re not able to tap into that. When you tie teacher and school evaluation to testing, schools are going to get rid of the arts, they’re going to get rid of the arts, they’re going to get rid of project-based learning. And now all we’re going to do all day is read, write, speak and listen all day.
I want to talk about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, a conglomerate based out of D.C. The Partnership says we should teach students the 4 C's of the 21st century: creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Other than the communication piece, the Common Core Standards don’t align to these standards at all. How are we going to meet student needs and really prepare them for the jobs that we don’t know will exist and for the major problems facing our society if we're not teaching students what really matters? I’d like to add three more areas that we should focus on teaching: adaptability – the ability to think on your feet and change with the times, initiative, and metacognition.
Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy got it right – in my opinion – in 1952. So right now in schools, we’re focused on remembering, understanding and applying. And I know that Common Core was meant to up the rigor. But what about the top of Bloom’s taxonomy? How much analyzing, evaluating, and creating are we doing? We all know we learn by doing. We learn by being hands-on. We learn by failing forward, receiving feedback and creating something new. Right now Common Core has us stuck at the Understanding level with a little bit of Applying that happens through the writing portion. But we’re not at the top of the taxonomy as I think we should be.
So how do we get there? How do we meet the individual needs of students while also preparing them for a 21st century economy? In my opinion, the answer is design thinking. Design thinking is a problem solving methodology that helps students get to the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy. It’s also a problem solving mechanism. So students at CASA, for example, brainstorm issues that they see in their community, whether it’s crime, violence, addiction, poverty. And our students engage in these topics very explicitly. And they go through the design thinking process to create solutions to these problems. Now if we train teachers using design thinking or another methodology, give them autonomy, trust them, empower them, imagine what our brilliant teachers throughout the state could create. But we’re not doing that. We’re handcuffing them, forcing them to teach a curriculum in a very specific way to very specific standards. I’m not anti-testing and anti-standards, I just want to emphasize the importance of formative assessments that meet the individual needs of students and empower teachers.
And the great thing about Design Thinking is that it begins with Empathy! And Empathy begins with knowing your users. So for teachers, the user is their student. If you’re in a low income community, 9 times out of 10, you’re going to have students coming in at multiple grade levels. Through formative assessment you can meet those students where they are and create an environment that really meets their needs.
The way it’s being done now is that a student enters a class at a third grade level and is forced to catch up to a 7th grade level that they’re not ready for. Kids develop differently at different times. And some kids are behind so we have to meet their needs.
Formative vs. Summative Assessment: Formative assessment focuses on the moment to moment, day to day needs of students, with teachers providing consistent feedback. Formative assessment is embedded in quality instruction and is a pillar of an organic learning environment. Formative assessment meets students where they are.
I want to end by sharing some quotes from Dr. Louisa Moates, one of the co-authors of the Common Core. She says:
“I never imagined when we were drafting standards in 2010 that major financial support would be funneled immediately into the development of standards-related tests. Realistically, at least half, if not the majority, of students are not going to meet those standards as written.
Our lofty standards are appropriate for the most academically able, but what are we going to do for the huge number of kids that are going to “fail” the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test? We need to create a wide range of educational choices and pathways to high school graduation, employment, and citizenship. The Europeans got this right a long time ago.”
I don’t want to be second to Europe. And as a New York State resident, I don’t want to be second to any other state. We need to lead and create a new standard for educational innovation and we need to lead now. Dr. Louisa Moates goes on to say:
“If I could take all the money going to the testing companies and reinvest it, I’d focus on the teaching profession – recruitment, pay, work conditions and on-going training. Novice readers (typically through Grade 3) need a stronger emphasis on the foundational skills of reading, language and writing than on the “higher level” academic activities that depend on those foundations, until they are fluent readers.
I’m beginning to get messages from very frustrated educators who threw out what was working in favor of a new Common Core Standards aligned program and now find they don’t have the tools to teach kids how to read and write. Teachers are told to use “grade level” texts, for example; if half the kids are below grade level by definition, what does the teacher do? She has to decide whether to teach the standard or teach the kids.
I’m going to end with Maya. Once again, I want to place Maya into a public school. I think in New York State our diversity which we’ve never tapped into because of our fear of one another can empower us to an innovative redesign of public education.
The best compliment I receive about CASA is that we’re an innovative school. And there’s no reason why all our schools can’t be innovative! Private schools and innovative progressive schools in other communities do not test this way. Why do we feel we have to teach public school students every year when we know the research and know the data? Let’s tap into their individual brilliance! Every child is brilliant. If we can design an instructional program that aligns the curriculum to Maya’s needs as well as Maya’s brilliance, we’ll prepare our students to solve all the problems of the 21st century to change the world.