A Kentucky Teacher Talks Poverty and Testing

Kentucky Education Report is always looking to highlight teacher voices on education policy issues. Too often, education debates leave out input from the frontline players: The teachers.

Today, teacher Tiffany Dunn shares with us her thoughts on two key issues: Poverty and testing.

About Tiffany Dunn:

I am a parent whose child (3rd grade) attends one of the highest performing elementary schools in the state (Kenwood Station – OCPS) and a teacher in one of the lowest performing middle schools in the state (Lassiter Middle – JCPS).  I am in my 6th year of teaching and this is my 2nd year as an ESL teacher at Lassiter, a “low performing” school.

How she became an education activist:

I became involved in education activism after starting my first year at Lassiter.  Going into the position (after seeing their KPREP scores – oh my!), I thought “great, I’ll stay here one year and get the heck out as soon as I can apply for a transfer!” BUT I soon found out that Lassiter is an amazing school with so many wonderful kids…poor kids.  I found out that Lassiter has many great teachers, that the reason for the “low performance” wasn’t the teachers, it was the socioeconomic status of our students.  Who knew all the bad teachers didn’t just congregate at all the “low performing” schools?!?!  Now I’m telling anyone who will listen about the real crisis in education, poverty.

How poverty impacts the kids Tiffany teaches:
Lassiter is over 85% free and reduced lunch.  We have a large ESL/LEP population.  These kids are at a disadvantage.  Most of them started school behind and they will stay behind because of the conditions they live in.  They worry.  They worry about food.  They worry about utility bills.  They worry about clothing.  No child thinking about these things can give their all in school.

Is all that testing and test prep helping the kids at Lassiter?

Unfortunately, we are not addressing this issue.  Instead of putting an assault on childhood poverty, we’re pumping money into ill-advised standards and testing.  We tests these kids ALL the time.  On top of all the state/federal mandated tests our district has its own mandated diagnostic and proficiency assessments.  They require us to teach certain CCSS standards each 9 weeks and then test them.  This is ON TOP of our own classroom and PLC assessments!  All in the name of the almighty KPREP.  The district uses these tests as a predictor as to how well kids will do on KPREP.  Because this ONE test is how we label our kids, our schools and our teachers.    As an ESL teacher, I can’t keep up with the teaching/testing schedule.  My kids are way too low.  It is educational malpractice to set kids in front a test knowing they are going to fail or move them along at a pace that is too fast.  Best practice would be to take all of this time testing and test prepping and put it into actual teaching.

On Labels from Tests and Opting Out:

I could go on and on about the wrong direction we’re taking in education.  I refuse to accept the labeling of our children and schools by one test score, by one set of standards.  Ranking, filing and pitting schools against one another is wrong.  There will always be a “loser” in this system.  I will be opting my own daughter out of any and all testing that does not guide classroom instruction; this includes KPREP.  Teachers and especially parents must speak up and demand more for our kids!

Are you a Kentucky teacher with a story to tell? Email me at andy@spearsstrategy.com

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

KY Ed Report Interviews Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen serves as the student member of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence.  He graciously agreed to an interview with Kentucky Education Report. You can follow him on Twitter @aebrennen

Andrew Brennen is a high school senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.  He and his partner were state champions in public forum debate this season.

Here are his answers to our questions:

1. Tell us about your role with the Prichard Committee? How were you selected? What do you do with the Committee?

I have two roles within the Prichard Committee for Academic excellence.  I serve as the first full voting student member of the Prichard Committee.  This role came about after 13 other Central Kentucky students and I worked with adult allies for the better part of the school year to make the case to Prichard Committee members at their spring meetings that students could and should be education policy partners.We premised the argument on the idea that the Prichard Committee has been a national leader in mobilizing stakeholders in the education system but in 30 years of work they never fully integrated students in that effort.  This represented a necessary change.

The second role I play is as a co-designer and active member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, the initiative that came out of the original presentation last June. If last year was our think-tank stage, this year is a very active pilot phase in which we’re hoping to serve as a national model for student integration in substantive education policy work.  I have leveraged an independent study from my high school and been able to devote an unusual amount of time to helping to direct the group with a team of adults and other students   We have been prototyping ideas all year long and are constantly refining and innovating both our infrastructure and activities. Here’s more on the Student Voice Team.

 How did you become engaged with education advocacy?

My interest in Education Advocacy arose initially from my involvement with the Kentucky YMCA’s KYA and KUNA programs.  The mock/experiential government programs in many ways served to help me identify and strengthen my interests and by my junior year, it was clear to me that civic engagement and education policy were my twin passions.  The Prichard Committee and the Student Voice team serve as a way for me to practice those passions moving from the practice-for-the-real-world policy making at KYA to the real-world policy making with the Prichard Committee

3.  What do you see as the most pressing need facing Kentucky schools?

 There are two.

  Adequate Funding for Kentucky Public Schools and inequality of funding.  The current level of funding for Kentucky public schools is not adequate to accomplish the goal of bringing every student to the level of efficient.  Many national standards will tell you that though Kentucky does very well with what we have if you compare our funding levels to other states, we rank extremely low in our absolute per pupil spending and students from Whitesburg to Bowling Green are feeling the pinch.

 Lack of Student Voice in decision-making.  Why do we not engage students–particularly those in middle school and older–in the challenging issues that face our schools? Why not teach students to think critically about testing, the debate around the Common Core, discrepancies in funding across and within school districts, the achievement gap between races, socio-economic classes and students with disabilities and supporting effective teaching?  Why not engage students in helping to find solutions to the very problems they face every day in the classroom?  Why not support students to practice democracy instead of just learning about it?

4. Do you think Gov. Beshear’s budget goes far enough, or can more be done to improve education in the Commonwealth?

Gov. Beshear’s budget takes an excellent step toward the direction of adequate funding.  Encouraging the state legislature to pass the budget as is one of our top priorities; however, when it comes to improving the quality of education in the Commonwealth, funding isn’t the only issue.  The Prichard Committee’s Team on Teacher Effectiveness recently produced a report outlining some steps Kentucky can take to increase the quality of teaching in the state which is arguably the most immediate indicator of student achievement.  Additionally, work having to do with increased internet access and early childhood education needs to be prioritized as both affect significantly quality of education here in Kentucky.

5. What would you say to policymakers unwilling to make schools a top budget priority?

I would remind these legislators that funding K-12 education is more than just an expenditure in the now.  The return on investment as a result of a higher quality of education is significant.  Legislators can either make the choice now to invest more in those students who supposedly mean the most to Kentucky or avoid making the hard choice only to face the repercussions in the future.  Kentucky has made huge strides in education since the passing of KERA, however, the rocket we have been riding on is losing fuel. We need to reinvest before our plan takes a nose dive.

6.  What would you tell other students who want to get involved with education advocacy?

Do it. If you are interested in getting involved with the work being done with the Prichard Committee do not hesitate to contact us at studentvoiceteam@prichardcommittee.org.   As far as being involved with other work education-related or not, just remember that you are only limited by your imagination and passion.  In school, we spend hours learning what democracy is and looks like, But I would encourage all students to go out on their own or with a team and discover how they can apply democratic values themselves.  We live in a society that seems to suggest that your responsibility toward civic engagement only begins on your 18th birthday.  But it’s not true, and our communities need you.  Your responsibility begins now.

7. Where will you be going to college? Why’d you make that choice?

If you ask me again in 20 days I will probably have an answer for you.  I am still waiting to hear back from some schools and scholarships before I make a final decision.  What I do know is that I want to study public policy and business while in college, and most of the schools I am considering have strong programs in both.

8.  Will we see Andrew Brennen for Governor signs in the future? Do you have political aspirations?

I prefer to think of my future in terms of the goals I hope to have accomplished and not necessarily in terms of specific titles.  I want to be following my beliefs and passions.  I want to support the right to an education and the right to speech. I want to be happy with what I do in life and help serve as a microphone for those whose voices are often stifled. If I end up running for some political office to help accomplish those goals, it will be mainly because I find it the best vehicle to help me do just that.

 Will Kentucky or Louisville win the national title in basketball this year?

University of Kentucky signs my father’s paycheck so my allegiance is secured.

For more on Kentucky education policy and politics, follow @KYEdReport