SPOTLIGHT 1: An open letter to Public School Teachers … We Apologize
SPOTLIGHT 2: OMG!
SPOTLIGHT 3: Not Enough Teachers To Go Around In Colorado
SPOTLIGHT 4: Spark Learning With G Suite For Education
SPOTLIGHT 5: What Has Your Sex Education Been Like?
An open letter to Public School Teachers …
We are sorry. On behalf of graduates of public schools, parents of children in public schools, those who value public education and teachers unions, we apologize. Your profession has been vilified, scapegoated, mined for profit, and deprofessionalized.
Earlier this year, a kindergarten teacher named Suzi Sluyter resigned after more than 25 years as an educator. She wrote: “I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them… I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me.”
Ms. Sluyter taught in Cambridge, MA, but her letter articulated the concerns of teachers from across the country — from small towns to cities. Tenure protections have been gutted and public schools starved while standardized tests, lay-offs and charters proliferate.
Here in New Jersey, in the city of Newark, under the state appointed superintendent’s One Newark plan, several schools will be closed, turned over to charters, or “renewed.” A “renewed” school means that all the teachers have to reapply for their jobs. (It’s quite the euphemism.) Black teachers would bedisproportionately affected by the plan as they are more likely to teach at schools targeted by One Newark. Black and/or low-income students are also more likely to attend these schools.
From students to PTO presidents, Newark residents are fighting the plans to privatize, close or “renew” their schools. This month, hundreds of students walked out to protest One Newark and the underfunding of their public schools. “I’m sick and afraid about what’s going to happen to our school,” said Nydiqua Johnson, 16, a junior at West Side High School in Newark. “They’re closing my school, and I really don’t appreciate it. And most of our teachers are getting fired.”
Down the turnpike, off Exit 9, the small town of Highland Park has not been immune to the school reform agenda. Last fall, the district eliminated nearly a dozen essential positions, including literacy coaches and a counselor who helped students with substance abuse issues; two of the eliminated positions were held by the local union President and Vice President. At the same time, a data analyst (a new position to the district) and two administrators were hired, each commanding a six-figure salary. In response, the teachers and staff union endorsed a letter stating, in part: “We are currently working in a climate of fear and uncertainty due to the lack of good judgment, foresight, communication, and absence of humanity shown by our Board of Education as well as the sweeping changes that are being implemented by our administrative leadership.”
As teacher autonomy and creativity is replaced with uniformity and data-driven instruction, no detail is too small to be managed, scripted and judged. Earlier this year, administrators in Highland Park told teachers at the primary school, which houses pre-Kindergarten through first grade, how to craft their bulletin boards. The bulletin boards were to follow specific guidelines on how and what was displayed. The teachers’ evaluations were to be based, in part, on their bulletin boards. In New Jersey, poor evaluations in two successive years jeopardize a teacher’s tenure. More than 200 parents, residents and alumni signed a letter (including this author) addressed to the Board of Education, stating their opposition to using bulletin boards to assess teachers.
And, so, to the educators in Highland Park, to those in Newark, to those in Cambridge, to those across the nation, we apologize. To those educators who value play, critical thinking and creativity, we apologize. To those educators who are driven from the profession, we apologize. To those educators who believe that not all children learn at the same speed or in the same way, we apologize. To those educators who have seen public education turned into a business to make the rich even richer, we apologize.
But we know words are not enough. We all learned the importance of “show, don’t tell” in the public schools that educated us.
We refuse to allow public education to be privatized, perverted by profits, and reduced to endless hours of test preparation. We refuse to allow our schools to be judged, opened, closed, and funded on the basis of test scores. We refuse to allow the teaching profession to be scripted and threatened.
We write this letter to apologize, yes. But also to say we are angry, fed up, and inspired to opt-out, speak out and stand with you in solidarity.
DENVER (CBS4) – With Colorado’s population boom has come an educator collapse. There are more students in classrooms across the state, but not enough teachers.
“We’re just not getting the bump in the number of folks who are interested in becoming educators,” Dr. Robert Mitchell, Director of Educator Preparation for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said. “There are areas with severe shortage.”
Since 2010, there has been a nearly 25 percent drop in graduates from teacher preparation programs, according to the CDHE. Enrollment is also declining in those programs, about 23 percent over the last six years.
“You compound that with the fact that we’re looking at about a third of all our teachers are either at retirement age or will be within the next two to three years, together we have a serious educator shortage across the state,” Mitchell told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann.
Mitchell said rural districts, especially those in southeastern parts of Colorado, are having a particularly tough time. They are struggling with not only recruiting teachers but keeping them as well.
“We’re seeing schools go multiple years without a math teacher,” he said. “We’re seeing an elementary school position that was posted this summer have zero applicants.”
That reality is a warning bell to other school districts in Colorado, Mitchell said.
“We talk to our districts in the I-25 corridor, like Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County and Douglas County,” Mitchell explained, “and they’re not seeing nearly the number of people who are applying for positions they’re posting.”
The severe shortage is why the CDHE is partnering with the Colorado Department of Education and hosting town hall meetings across the state. Throughout the summer, state leaders will visit all corners of Colorado to have conversations with teachers, parents, students and all others concerned to develop an action plan.
Following three town hall meetings in Ridgway, Parachute and Fort Collins, Mitchell said an important issue raised by many teachers is compensation.
“Our lowest paying district in the state pays about $25,000 a year for a full-time teacher. You just can’t live in Colorado on that,” he said.
Other concerns include perception — teachers are more than just employees, they’re professional educators — and retention.
“It’s not just a job, it’s a career,” Mitchell said. “It is a profession that is the basis for all other professions. Focusing on retention is a huge need. We want to make sure people want to work in the buildings where they’re at.”
The meetings come to the Denver metro area this week with one scheduled for Monday evening at the Cherry Creek School District building Centennial and the other in Denver on Tuesday at the Mile High United Way CoBank Leadership Center. Those who cannot attend those meetings or the six others planned in August, the CDHE asks they take an online survey to submit their suggestions.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we won’t have qualified teachers in the classroom, but we need to make sure we have the best possible folks there teaching our kids,” Mitchell said.
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Over all, do you feel you have gotten an adequate education around sex? Why or why not?
In “As Colorado Moves to Bar Abstinence-Only Sex Education, Teenagers Take the Lead,” Dan Levin writes about a new law that would require schools in the state to teach comprehensive, medically accurate sex education:
Last year, when Clark Wilson was in eighth grade, his sex education teacher repeatedly rolled a piece of tape on a table until it lost its stickiness, using words like “tainted” and “impure” to describe those who engage in premarital sex.
The lesson: “People are like tape and once they have sex they’re dirty and can’t have meaningful relationships,” said Clark, now 15 and a freshman at a Colorado high school in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch.
While sex education classes are not mandatory in Colorado, proposed legislation that is widely expected to pass would bar the state’s public and charter schools from abstinence-only education.
Clark was among several students who testified last month in support of the bill, which would also mandate teachings about safe sex, consent and sexual orientation, elements that have prompted a fierce backlash from those who argue they pose an attack on traditional family values and parental rights.
The comprehensive sex education bill, which passed the House this week and is headed to the Senate, would make Colorado the ninth state in the nation to require that consent be taught. Washington, D.C., also teaches consent.
Colorado, with its increasingly liberal cities but strong conservative footholds, is a microcosm of the larger national debate over sex ed. Across the country, 37 states require abstinence be covered or stressed, while only 13 require sex education to be medically accurate, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health. In seven states, laws prohibit educators from portraying same-sex relationships positively.
In many schools, however, the focus on abstinence goes beyond just warning children about sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancies. Often, students say, teachers tear off flower petals or pass around an object like tape, a stick of gum or a chocolate bar that becomes increasingly grubby as it’s touched.
Studies have repeatedly shown that abstinence-only education increases rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, while comprehensive sex education lowers such risks. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2014, schools that required sex education dropped to 48 percent from 67 percent, with half of middle schools and more than three-quarters of high schools focusing on abstinence. Only a quarter of middle schools and three-fifths of high schools included lessons about birth control. In 1995, 81 percent of boys and 87 percent of girls reported learning about birth control in school.
In response to this news, The Edit, a newsletter written for and by college students and recent graduates, invited young people to share their sex ed experiences. Here’s what they had to say:
Shelby Scott, Knoxville, Tenn.
I was born and raised in Mountain Brook, Ala., which is an upper middle class community in the conservative Christian South. In ninth grade, health teachers showed pictures of late-stage STIs and we had an external speaker come to discuss sex more fully. The program she taught was staunchly abstinence only. The first demonstration she gave was the “dirty piece of tape,” in which we were told that having multiple sexual partners prevents your ability to have emotionally fulfilling relationships. While some students (especially those with more open-minded/realistic parents) knew the education we received was unhelpful, for other students it was legitimately harmful. After months of discussing whether they were ready and both consented, a close friend had sex with her college boyfriend. Later in the evening, I went over to her room and found her crying and repeating, “I’m a dirty piece of tape,” the message she internalized from our ninth grade health class.
Caleb Goldberg, Louisville, Ky.
My sex education class at a small private school in Louisville lasted between seventh and ninth grades (for reference, this is during 2012-15). It wasn’t an abstinence-only class, but it was pretty close. We learned extensively about STDs, while condoms and contraception were only mentioned in passing, and the emotional aspect of sex wasn’t, to my recollection, discussed at all. It was extremely heteronormative — gay men were briefly mentioned in the context of AIDS, and no other references to the L.G.B.T. community were made. I identify as more or less asexual so this inadequate education doesn’t really affect me too much, but I still think it would have been beneficial for me and my fellow students to have heard a more honest account of sexuality.
Linnea Peterson, Minnesota
The most comprehensive sex ed I ever got was actually provided by my church. Most people are horrified when they hear this, but my church is an anomaly. In the 1980s, we were the first large Lutheran church to be led by a female pastor, and, in 2012, we became the first large Lutheran church to be led by an openly gay pastor. My church-led sex ed was not the “don’t have sex or you’re going to hell” talk people sometimes envision. Rather, when I was in seventh grade, I went on a weekend-long retreat with my church that discussed healthy relationships, gender roles, sexual orientation, stereotypes, STDs, and birth control. The retreat certainly didn’t ensure that all of my relationships would be healthy (they weren’t), but it did much more than my public junior high or public high school did to equip me for the world of intimacy.
Amanda Haas, Westlake, Ohio
I went to Catholic grade school and high school in the suburbs of Cleveland. In fifth grade they taught us what sex was, and in eighth grade we talked more about STDs, pregnancy, and the value of waiting until marriage to have sex. In high school we learned about birth control, condoms, and looked more in depth about what sex was biologically. My teacher had a box where we could anonymously ask questions and made us all yell “Scrotum!” out the window to get the giggles out and make us more comfortable. I’m really thankful for the fact I had comprehensive sex education with an emphasis on abstinence, the emotional weight of sex, and the value of waiting for someone who cares about you. I think giving young people all the facts allows them to make better decisions. I’m personally still a practicing Catholic and at 23-years-old my boyfriend and I have been dating for three years without having sex.
Rebecca Oss, Yardley, Pa.
I’m a high school senior who goes to a public school with about 4,000 students. In my district, “health class” starts in fifth grade and goes to tenth grade, but only three years (fifth, seventh, and ninth) include sex ed. Ninth grade had 45 days of health, half being basically: “drugs are bad.” We talked about consent and how relationships can be abusive. We talked about a couple types of birth control. We were told there were three types of sex (vaginal, oral, and anal). We talked about porn and how it was not a realistic view of sex (though we were never given any information on what sex should really look like). Most of that class was about STIs, however. I am not sure if it was intentional or not, but a lot of what we covered seemed to be: “look at these disgusting diseases you could get from sex, so stay away!!!” There are some topics I really wish I had been taught, though. I wish we had talked about L.G.B.T.Q. relationships. I wish we had covered the fluidity of sexuality and gender too. And most importantly I wish we had had this class more often, so that I could more easily feel comfortable talking about these topics.
Zach Eisenstein, Washington, D.C.
As a young person starting to come to terms with my queer identity, I never benefited from a lesson or curriculum that I could even remotely see myself reflected in before college. When I got there, I lucked my way into a human sexuality course during my first semester. I actually learned about sex. I learned about enthusiastic consent. I learned that no penis is too large for a condom. But, most importantly, I learned that sex education is so much more than telling students to avoid “risky” behaviors that could lead to STIs or unintended pregnancies. My sexuality is not a risk. It’s just a part of who I am. And I should have learned that long before I got to college.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
— What has your sex education been like? Is it abstinence-focused or more comprehensive? What topics have you covered in your classes?
— What has been the most impactful experience — either positive or negative — you’ve had during your sex education? What made it so powerful?
— How do you feel about your sex education over all? For example, do you feel informed and empowered by your experience? Or confused and demeaned? Do you feel comfortable with your own body and sexuality? Do you feel prepared to have healthy relationships with others? Do you feel you have a good understanding of all the aspects of a sexual relationship — the social, emotional and biological? Why or why not?
— What topics do you wish you had learned more about in sex ed? Why?
— Do you think states should require that schools teach comprehensive, medically accurate sex education? Or should schools decide their own curriculums? Should parents be permitted to opt their children out of sex ed lessons? Why or why not?