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
>February 2000
>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 the most
>important trends in education: higher academic standards and zero-tolerance
>policies. The higher academic standards that states are putting into place
>worry parents and others because they fear that too many children will be
>held back and large numbers will be unable to graduate. Policies that call
>for zero tolerance of violence, drugs, and weapons in schools are being
>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 zero
>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 done
>right. We need to recognize problems as they come up and work to solve them
>instead of giving up on higher standards and zero tolerance at the first
>sign of difficulty.
>Making Standards Work
>Nearly every state is raising its standards for what kids should know and be
>able to do, and we’re already seeing positive results. More students are
>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 1970s and
>1980s--the improvement is especially striking for black students--and scores
>are up on both SAT and ACT exams, as are student test scores in many of our
>most troubled schools.
>But there are problems. In too many places, school officials are relying too
>heavily on high-stakes tests to determine whether students are meeting
>standards. Tests are valuable. They provide a common measure of how well
>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 what they
>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 from
>least, students who are having a hard time meeting the standards must get
>the help they need--and get it early. When these essential supports are
>missing, many students will fail to make the grade--and their parents will
>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 and
>disruption. Despite several horrifying incidents in recent years, school
>crime is at its lowest level in decades, especially in urban schools. As
>with higher academic standards, however, the policy must be carefully drawn
>and sensibly implemented.
>Discipline codes are supposed to make clear exactly what kinds of behavior
>go over the line, as well as the consequences that will follow for kids who
>engage in them. The point of nailing down the consequences is to ensure that
>the captain of the football team does not get away with a tap on the wrist
>for the same offense that caused another kid to get suspended from school.
>Zero tolerance, which usually means expulsion, should be reserved for
>carrying weapons, drug offenses, and violent acts.
>Even the strongest supporters of zero tolerance--and AFT is among them--have
>to admit that some disciplinary codes are poorly written and poorly
>administered. It is unfair--and ridiculous--to lump bringing a loaded gun to
>school with bringing a nail file, but some one-size-fits-all policies seem
>to do just that. It's also unfair to ignore a student's disciplinary record:
>A kid who breaks the rules all the time deserves different treatment from
>one who's made a single, minor misstep. And zero tolerance should never be
>an excuse for throwing kids out on the streets. Districts need alternative
>placements for kids who are chronically disruptive, and these must be good
>learning environments, not miniature prisons.
>We know higher academic standards and zero tolerance policies work when they
>are done right. If we need to make some mid-course corrections, we should.
>But the commitment to safe schools and high achievement for our kids must

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