The Latest from Alberta Shanker
>In case anyone doubts that the AFT remains part of the problem....
>Let's Stay the Course
>by AFT President Sandra Feldman
>We need to continue the commitment to high standards and safe schools.
>It's a shame to see opposition beginning to develop against two of
>important trends in education: higher academic standards and zero-tolerance
>policies. The higher academic standards that states are putting into
>worry parents and others because they fear that too many children
>held back and large numbers will be unable to graduate. Policies that
>for zero tolerance of violence, drugs, and weapons in schools are
>ridiculed or even called racist because they have been imperfectly
– and in
>some places stupidly – applied.
>But the problem here is not with the principles behind standards and
>tolerance--the overwhelming majority of people, including teachers,
>principals, and parents, believe we should raise the bar on student
>achievement and behavior. The difficulty lies in getting the policies
>right. We need to recognize problems as they come up and work to solve
>instead of giving up on higher standards and zero tolerance at the
>sign of difficulty.
>Making Standards Work
>Nearly every state is raising its standards for what kids should know
>able to do, and we’re already seeing positive results. More students
>taking challenging academic courses--for example, the percentage of
>African-American youngsters taking Algebra II rose 20 percentage points
>between 1982 and 1994. Fewer students are dropping out than in the
>1980s--the improvement is especially striking for black students--and
>are up on both SAT and ACT exams, as are student test scores in many
>most troubled schools.
>But there are problems. In too many places, school officials are relying
>heavily on high-stakes tests to determine whether students are meeting
>standards. Tests are valuable. They provide a common measure of how
>students are doing, and high-stakes tests give students a strong incentive
>to study hard. But it's wrong to have a single test determine whether
>students graduate. Tests should be one--but not the only--factor in
>assessing student performance.
>If we want to make higher standards work, teachers must understand
>are and how to teach to them. They need professional development coordinated
>with their state’s standards and curriculum guidelines based on the
>standards. Tests have to reflect the curriculum. And last but far
>least, students who are having a hard time meeting the standards must
>the help they need--and get it early. When these essential supports
>missing, many students will fail to make the grade--and their parents
>become angry and disenchanted with standards.
>Discipline and Common Sense
>Zero-tolerance policies work, too. Where they have been appropriately
>applied to serious offenses, there have been fewer incidents of violence
>disruption. Despite several horrifying incidents in recent years,
>crime is at its lowest level in decades, especially in urban schools.
>with higher academic standards, however, the policy must be carefully
>and sensibly implemented.
>Discipline codes are supposed to make clear exactly what kinds of
>go over the line, as well as the consequences that will follow for
>engage in them. The point of nailing down the consequences is to ensure
>the captain of the football team does not get away with a tap on the
>for the same offense that caused another kid to get suspended from
>Zero tolerance, which usually means expulsion, should be reserved
>carrying weapons, drug offenses, and violent acts.
>Even the strongest supporters of zero tolerance--and AFT is among
>to admit that some disciplinary codes are poorly written and poorly
>administered. It is unfair--and ridiculous--to lump bringing a loaded
>school with bringing a nail file, but some one-size-fits-all policies
>to do just that. It's also unfair to ignore a student's disciplinary
>A kid who breaks the rules all the time deserves different treatment
>one who's made a single, minor misstep. And zero tolerance should
>an excuse for throwing kids out on the streets. Districts need alternative
>placements for kids who are chronically disruptive, and these must
>learning environments, not miniature prisons.
>We know higher academic standards and zero tolerance policies work
>are done right. If we need to make some mid-course corrections, we
>But the commitment to safe schools and high achievement for our kids