dennis walcott Archives - The Jose Vilson

dennis walcott

Chancellor Dennis Walcott Visits School of the Future

To Chancellor Dennis Walcott, David Coleman, Merryl Tisch, and McGraw-Hill Publishers:

First, I’ll mention that, since the discussions of the Common Core Learning Standards came to the fore, I’ve had a plethora of chances to immerse myself in the new vision for a quasi-nationalized education paradigm. In NYC, as usual, education policy makers feel the need to set the standard for the nation, from Bloomberg’s mayoral control dictates to the plethora of interim, field-testing, and high-stakes standardized assessments from third grade onwards. On the surface, one might think I’m at the forefront of the work done around the Common Core.

Yet, my earlier concern about the chaotic approach to transforming education via the Common Core concerns me still.

We can obviously start with Dr. Diane Ravitch’s contention that we haven’t actually field-tested whether the standards would actually get our students “college and career ready.” From a teacher’s perspective, I’d like to get more focused, coherent, and yes, rigorous about my argument.

We can talk all day about these standards and the three tenets of focus, coherence, and rigor, but without the means to make pedagogy more viable and focused on the whole child, we miss out on yet another opportunity to do something important: growing better people.

For instance, yesterday and today, New York City elementary and middle school children had to take an English-Language Arts and Math test (respectively) as part of the NYC Benchmark Assessments, with the assumption that these tests will give stakeholders a chance to see how much students learned in the past few months.

After a careful glance of the material along with conversations with students and teachers, these assessments seem to do more to assess what students don’t know than anything else.

If the intent is to help teachers, principals, and others get a feel for the tests in April / May, then why not let these parties into the assessment process rather than excluding them? If the intent is to show growth from today to the tests, then why give a test where you know the majority of students haven’t even covered all of this material? If the intent is to signal to everyone that they must raise their expectations, then why must we let them down so frequently with our lack of clarity?

From people I’ve spoken to throughout the city, we’ve had almost three re-arrangement in priorities in the last five months. At first, people thought we would have to address both New York State and Common Core Standards, specifically because the Common Core in New York State’s eyes was a draft. Then, people thought we would teach according to the first testing schedule given sometime in late August / early September.

For eight grade teachers, that meant we would teach exponents first. Sometime last week, however, the state sends out a document shifting priorities on topics again, giving some topics greater emphasis over others after almost three months of teaching.

We’re almost begging for schools to fail.

Even when schools had a clear roadmap like in the state of Kentucky, schools still dipped by as much as 35% in scores, and for good reason. Anyone familiar with the standards already sees the forestand the trees.

But we continue to perpetuate the myth that higher accountability will improve schools, no matter what the cost. After today’s interim assessment, I am convinced that, if we cannot make our school system more focused on children and their communities’ needs, we will continue to fail them, with or without a state test.

We can do better.

I’m not angry; I’m simply seeking answers. While I don’t speak for all teachers, I do speak because of them, and a plethora of other concerned citizens. Hope to hear from you soon.


Jose Vilson


NYC schools are officially closed on Friday … for students. For teachers, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott sent out a memo to all teachers and administrators to go back to school on Friday. The cynical me remembers the few days in the school year when I tell my students they don’t have school but I do and they giggle and point, to which I reply, “It’s OK. We don’t want you here, either.” Gasps from them. “Just kidding.” Exhale. “Kinda.”

The more serious side of me wonders what the heck we’re going to do on a November day. I mean, I had this really awesome unit on scientific notation that ended with us trying to estimate how far the planets were away from each other, and it would have ended with a quiz that I’m sure they would have aced on average. Then, it got me thinking: none of us, and I mean NONE of us, actually knows what we’re going to do tomorrow.

Instead of kvetching about why Bloomberg and Walcott came to this decision, I’ve compiled a list of things teachers can do tomorrow that would make it really productive, starting from 10 to 1.

10. You can listen to someone speak at you for hours on end while doodling / checking e-mail / texting / eventually napping. (I wouldn’t advise it, on either end.)

9. You can come up with a Hurricane Sandy song to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.”

8. You can pretend to be students waiting in a teacher’s classroom and just switch roles every period.

7. You can pat each other on the back incessantly and tell each other how awesome you were for actually getting to school on Friday.

6. You can play “I’m Thinking of a Number” and have that number be someone’s VAM score … with that person screaming out the door, crying hysterically. (You’re so insensitive.)

5. You can finally find out what’s that thing wiggling and rustling the bottom of your papers that you haven’t graded yet. That stack never gets small, jeebus.

4. You can tweet or Facebook Pauly D, The Situation, and Snookie about what they’re going to contribute to the relief efforts for the Jersey Shore. (fixed)

3. You can play telephone with the entire staff. I specifically recommend this with staffs larger than 40. 40 is a nice, round number.

2. You can leave a stray karaoke machine in the auditorium and see who picks up the mic, because that’s the person you videotape singing The Police’s “Message In A Bottle” and that’s the video you start your Election Day PD with.

1. You can start the day by calling the parents and guardians of all your students to check on them and see if they’re OK. You can even make yourself available for people to come in and have their questions answered about the schools.

While we don’t know much about the effects of Sandy on our school system from home, I know we as a school system can do better in our roles as leaders in our communities. Many of us have families to comfort, basements to dry, and rummage to clean up. Alas, when students see us next week, we have a job to do, none of it concerning the students.

As people.

Jose, because it’s true.