About Lorraine Richardson

Lorraine Richardson, Founder/ Chief Owl/Author/Instructional Coach/Mother/Cat Lover When an educator retires, an entire storehouse of knowledge, insights, strategies, and “secrets” dissolve like spun sugar. However, to the next generation of educators, I seek to pass on my hard won experience and expertise distilled from multi-decades of urban teaching and coaching teachers at both the middle and high school levels. I seek to do good and to do well.

Teacher Equity: Where Do We Go From Here?

by Lorraine Richardson

This is an UPDATED version of a January 2, 2015 post titled: Needed- An Equitable and Stable Pipeline of Teachers.

As the American economy continues to be rocked by the unruly forces of technological change and global competition, state departments of education struggle with how to best prepare ALL students to succeed in the emerging economic environment. Of all the factors related to student success, teacher quality is listed as the most important and is continuously at the forefront of national conversations about school reform. What can be done to create/produce a pool of effective, quality teachers to prepare students for the tough new Common Core State Standards assessments that they face?

• Introduce performance-based pay?
• Privatize the profession (teacherpreneurs)?
• Eliminate seniority.?
• Eliminate or marginalize unions?
• Tie teachers’ tenure to student assessments?
• Create new/refine existing teacher assessment/evaluation tools?
• Establish teaching as an iconic profession like law or medicine?

As schools across America struggle with how to increase/improve teacher quality in order to prepare the next generation of taxpayers, Detroit and other urban districts struggle with a civil and human rights issue: How to best provide its classrooms with an EQUITABLE and STABLE PIPELINE of teachers! It is the elephant in the room reformers fail to consistently, persistently address. It’s the elephant that threatens to stampede any real chance for Detroit area school transformation, to stampede any chance for an economic comeback for ALL of Detroit.
In the words of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. , “Where do we go from here?”

No Equality Without Equity

No Equality Without Equity

The following is an excerpt of a Twitter educational chat in which I participated. I am @lyrichardson.

@edmoderator What are some of the big ideas, issues, questions we need to address in education at the new year?

@lyrichardson #Teacherequity in underserved communities. A STABLE pipeline of teaching talent is DESPERATELY needed. #retentionmatters

@suburbadmin @lyrichardson I agree with you. I lead in a more desirable district. I see the quality we are able to lure over. Hired many of them.

@lyrichardson @suburbadmin Sadly, teachers LEARN to teach on poor students. Take what they learn to more affluent schools. #noequalitywithoutequity

@edmoderator Should schools require teachers be college certified in order to teach? Are credentials necessary?

@suburbadmin Yes, teachers should go through a college certification process. I am for alternative paths for urban schools though.

@lyrichardson @suburbadmin Urban children need certified teachers too.#Teacherequity is crucial.

@suburbadmin @lyrichardson I am sorry. All teachers should be college certified.

For me, this chat exchange brought to the forefront that the mission for acquiring teaching talent in American schools takes place in a fiercely competitive arena. All demographics: urban, suburban, private, rural are challenged with recruiting and retaining teachers over time. Not only are Americans competing with the billions of new capitalists unleashed since the fall of the Berlin wall, but are competing with one another for teachers. Now it is poor districts vs. rich districts; David vs. Goliath.
Hopefully, the new Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children appointed by the governor will work to articulate a point of view concerning this moral challenge. Hopefully, the Coalition can/will create best practices and policies to win the war for teaching talent for Detroit area schools. The economic future of Detroit’s children depends on its schools’ ability to:

Equitably deploy,
Support, and
Retain teaching talent over time Across ALL Detroit schools.

Backstory: Turnover Patterns
Attrition, defined as teachers who are in the classroom year one but by year two and beyond have abandoned the teaching profession, is a costly phenomenon. According to the U.S. Dept of Education, the five-year national attrition rate for new teachers hovers around fifty percent; however, in neighborhoods beset by high unemployment and skyrocketing homelessness, the new teacher attrition rate is closer to fifty percent every THREE years. Annually, more than $2.6 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent nationally on teachers who abandon the field (Alliance for Excellent Education).
Teacher turnover, different from attrition, can be defined as teachers who are involuntarily transferred (school closures for example) from one school to another or who voluntarily move from one district to another in search of better working conditions and/or better compensation (above chat). That too is an expensive American phenomenon, more than $5 billion annually.(Alliance for Excellent Education)
Scarce taxpayer dollars are spent on constant recruiting, on replacing, on special incentives, on teacher processing (criminal background checks, health checks, reference checks) teacher orientation, AND professional development that walks out the door.

Attrition, Teacher Turnover Are Like Leaky Buckets

Attrition, Teacher Turnover Are Like Leaky Buckets

Playing an Unfair Game
Urban (Detroit) schools, fatigued and overwhelmed by Turnaround Models, School Closure Models, Restart Models, face an onslaught of teachers and administrators moved about like pawns on a chessboard.
For how many years have Detroit educators been released/ downsized at the end of the school year? (Can we really downsize our way to excellence?)Those who do not abandon teaching altogether (attrition) or the district (turnover) often are not deployed until August, September or beyond. What is the impact of this attrition, this turnover? It is classrooms without teachers for weeks and sometimes months, crowded classrooms (40 or more), and unprepared teachers who don’t receive their assignment until the last minute. It is a syndrome/pattern that destabilizes schools and creates #inequity of educational opportunity, morally indefensible. We put a man on the moon, but we don’t seem able to deploy teachers to classrooms in a timely fashion. Why?
How can reform models or pilots, on which taxpayers spend billions, take hold if educators are moved around or eliminated like pawns on a chessboard? What is the annual budget in Detroit for reform models or pilots? Can we keep track of any actionable and meaningful data if the cast and location of educators keeps changing?
Can we disrupt the-school-to-prison pipeline with a system that produces a revolving door of novice teachers who don’t stick around long enough to learn to reroute student misbehavior, student misconduct?

Teacher Talent Management – Write a New Song

This summer I had an exchange with a young Detroit teacher who shared with me that she had been teaching for seven years and was the most senior teacher in her school – UNBELIEVABLE! She was on her third school – INDEFENSIBLE! When I inquired about her schedule for next year, she looked perplexed. I shared with her that when I taught (I am retired) the union insisted teachers know their schedules before leaving in June. It gives teachers a chance to rework old lessons, plan new ones, attend content specific workshops, read the research. “Sounds phenomenal”, she gushed, “However, I have never taught in a school where that was a practice.” SAD!

Write a New Talent Management Song

Write a New Talent Management Song

Another talent mismanagement practice that needs rewriting is the repeated movement/reassignment of teachers from one grade level to another and from one content area to another that demoralizes teachers and negatively impacts students struggling hardest to catch up.
Hopefully, the Coalition can/will create clear and fair practices that determine how teachers are assigned to:
Single-grade, single-subject, in-field assignments VS. How teachers (often new) are assigned to teach more challenging schedules:
Teaching split grades, teaching multiple subjects, teaching out-of-field courses for which they are not prepared.

How can teachers develop the deep mastery needed to be effective grade level or content area specialists if they are shuffled about like interchangeable parts? How can the teamwork/teambuilding which is essential to the success of any organization take hold? Without a clear a policy, are both teachers and students being set up to fail?

Whether through attrition, never ending transfers, or repeated internal reassignments, constant turnover disrupts the continuity, cohesiveness, humanity, institutional memory, and stability of a school. It is a syndrome that creates an inequity of educational opportunity for Detroit area students. Sadly, this pattern is ambient noise in so many urban schools.

No reasonable person will dispute that some turnover is beneficial – fresh blood and new ideas rid a school of stagnancy. However, can we really address the “turnaround challenge” if every time we turnaround, a school is rebuilding its staff? Can we really leave no child behind without the leadership, vision, and strategic planning needed to recruit, to equitably deploy, to support, and to retain teaching talent over time?

A Chance to Make History
Public education in a democratic society is based on the principle that EVERY child is of equal and incalculable value. Secretary of State Arne Duncan has declared that education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Thus, Detroit is facing down a complex challenge other urban school districts also face. During the industrial economy, Detroit’s educational system developed the workforce that put the world on wheels and in the process created a new middle class. Can the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren help Detroit make history again? Will it be the catalyst needed to usher in a new set of best practices and/or policies for an equitable and stable pipeline of teachers – needed to prepare ALL Detroit school children to be contributing participants in the NEW world order? Some suggestions:
• Create dashboards to track the amount of money spent on repeatedly filling the same positions.
• Track/chart the percentage of teachers who leave EACH Detroit school EACH year.
• Create an online platform for framing conversations concerning attrition and teacher turnover patterns (crowdsource)
• Create structures that impede teachers from quitting or taking their teaching capital to other districts.
• Develop surveys to document why so many Detroit area teachers abandon the district/the profession.
• Create discussion boards to determine solutions to this societal challenge. (crowdsource).

“Where DO We Go From Here?” Will It Be:

#Taleof2Cities ? OR #DetReinvented ?

Needed: An EQUITABLE and STABLE Pipeline of Teachers

TOWARDS AN EQUITABLE AND STABLE Pipeline of Teachers in Urban (Detroit) Schools !
by Lorraine Richardson

This Post has been removed because I updated it on January 9, 2015. Please click on the link to read the most recent version. Teacher Equity Where Do We Go from Here http://tinyurl.com/o493udj


Reroute-the-Pipeline: The First Weeks, Months of School

The Zero Tolerance Challenge

21st century teachers are doubly challenged: Responsible for rerouting misbehaviors that could land students in what has been named the School-to-Prison Pipeline and responsible for preparing ALL students to compete, to succeed on new Common Core and international assessments. Should students be suspended from class if they, in any manner, disrupt teachers’ lesson plans? After all, teachers’ career longevity and compensation are at-risk. Some reformers – never having walked a mile in teachers’ shoes – focused only on the test scores American students need to be competitive globally with other developed nations see a need for a Zero Tolerance Behavior Policy. A hostile policy, it calls for punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistake or extenuating circumstances – generally through suspension from class or from school. American education travels in an uncharted wilderness.

Along with a more complex curriculum and new assessments, the Zero Tolerance Model also serves as a gatekeeper – a tool – determining who gains access to educational and employment opportunities – determining who gets integrated into the social and economic fabric of America and who does not. Sadly, a Zero Tolerance Behavior Policy (suspension) is not in concert, not compatible with preparing students to participate in a technologically-based, globally competitive world. Continuing down this policy path means that American students will be ill-equipped to survive and to thrive in the global economy. Questioning authority or the status quo, marching to a different drummer, risk taking, curiosity, and irreverence are the hallmarks of innovation and entrepreneurship – not passivity and obedience. Teachers are tasked with helping to birth the adult workers the 21st century economy requires – just as they helped shape the workforce needed to prosper during the industrial economy. If we are to succeed with the new schoolhouse mission, every misbehavior cannot be a nail with zero tolerance (suspension) –the hammer.

Hostile Gatekeeper

Hostile Gatekeeper

First Weeks, Months of School

Effective teachers have always understood how to reroute misconduct without overly resorting to suspension. They understand that the power to control the learning environment resides with them and keeping that power starts at the beginning of the school year. School is a major arena for tests, not only for students but for teachers too. However, the success of everyone’s school year depends on how well teachers perform on the tests given by students, by a small band of attention-seeking, power grabbing disruptors who occupy a few seats in most American classrooms and who seek to discover teachers’ Achilles heel in order to throw them off their game. How teachers reroute misbehavior, mischief, misconduct determines who controls the classroom community, who controls the time-on-task needed to prepare students for complex assessments. If teachers are to reroute the school-to-prison pipeline, they too must pass some tests along the way.


A September test I remember occurred years ago, one muggy Friday morning when a parent appeared at my door and motioned that she needed to speak to me privately. Though I stood in the doorway with my back to the students, I could still keep a pulse on my class. The principal had drilled in the staff that an effective teacher has to have eyes in the back of her head (withitness) because middle school students are scanoscopes, constantly seeking opportunities for disruption, for misbehavior.
How the parent made it past the office I don’t know, but with a friendly tone I explained that I was in the middle of teaching a lesson and that she needed to make an appointment. She perspired distress, so I allotted her a few minutes of the precious instructional period. While my eyes were on the parent as we talked, I sensed that a couple of male students, though quiet, were out of their seats and near my desk – sharpening their pencils. Quickly, I finished the conversation, called the office to inform them that there was a parent wandering about, and then returned to teaching the lesson. The two males immediately took their seats. However, my inner radar informed me that something was amiss.
Ten minutes later one of the males raised his hand to ask for index cards which everyone knew I kept in my desk drawer. And there it was in living color, my first TEST of the new school year. Photographs of naked adults, each with two sexual organs (hermaphrodites) were scattered inside my desk drawer.
The deafening silence of over thirty sets of eyes watching and waiting for my reaction quickened my heartbeat. This TEST would, in part, determine whether I would begin to gain or to lose the confidence and support of the non-disrupting students who form a majority and who attend school each day with the goal of learning. They are the students who lose faith in teachers who cannot handle their own discipline challenges.
Would I maintain my status as CEO of the learning experience or would the power-seeking, attention-grabbing disruptors begin their take over? Could I stand up under the heat or would I wilt under the pressure? Would my power base begin to erode?
What should I do?

A. Yell and banish the suspected students to a corner of the room for a time out?
B. Lecture them and the class about the evils of pornography?
C. Suspend the two suspected students from class to allow the office/principal to determine their punishment?
D. Convene a parent-conference to determine the source of the photos?

Framing Misbehavior: Normal Developmental or Deviant?
What would you do? Is this a suspension worthy, deviant behavior or is it part of the responsibility, a toxic mix, of educating children?

Bullying? Digital Cheating? Defiance? Disruption? Fighting? Intimidation? Insubordination? Pornography? Profanity? Truancy? Violence?

They are all actors in classrooms and schoolhouses across America. Some misbehaviors are intertwined, inextricably linked with the learning process. And some behaviors warrant outside of the classroom intervention (suspension) – Zero Tolerance! Which misbehaviors can be rerouted and which cannot? How do you know?

Sadly, the response is too often subjective because it depends on how schools/teachers choose to frame the encounter (misbehavior) in front of them.

An Oakland Unified School District Initiative found that African-American males are consistently and disproportionately suspended from classrooms and from school. The top three suspension offenses for African-American males in the California district:

1 Disruption-defiance of authority,
2 Causing-attempting -threatening injury
3 Obscenity- profanity-vulgarity

Black students are more likely to receive disciplinary referrals for subjective offenses such as defiance, disrespect, threat, or excessive noise compared to White students who are referred for more objective offenses such as smoking, vandalism, or leaving grounds without permission.
A Michigan ACLU study dittos these findings. According to their study, Black students were more likely to be referred for disrespect, excessive noise, threats and loitering. African-American males are referred to the office for infractions that are more subjective in interpretation.
Some of the referrals might result from cultural ignorance and misunderstanding. Culturally rooted gestures, language and posture that may be considered normal behavior by some black youth may be perceived as threatening, disrespectful or boisterous by some white teachers who are unaccustomed to such behavior, and who instinctively respond with office referrals and suspension.

This is startling information given 82% of America’s 3.2 million teachers are Caucasian according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2011).

As a former urban classroom teacher, I was sometimes confronted with African-American males attempting to assert their masculinity through intimidating postures and belligerent tones. My philosophy was that the classroom is an intricate mosaic – not only of learning styles – but of behaviors, emotions, and personalities. Keep it moving!

I am troubled by reports that Charter Schools send a message through suspension – thrive or transfer – counseling out students who they deem disrespectful or disruptive. Initially, charters were to be laboratories of new teaching techniques that would provide models for public schools. However, when that mission did not work out, they were created as alternatives to failing public schools to provide a haven for at-risk students. However, the at-risk population they are charged with serving is suspended when it is deemed they don’t fit in with the charter school “culture” – Zero Tolerance. Perhaps it is time charters return to their original mission and provide the public schools with models for demonstrating how to successfully educate ALL at-risk students without relying on suspension. Zero Tolerance/suspension in too many charters has become a fungus growing out of control.



How do we balance healthy respect for authority without resorting to killing the spirit through ongoing suspensions? And how many schools/teachers engage wittingly or unwittingly in “cultural reproduction” which suggests the role of school, especially for the poor and children of color, is to preserve the social classes that already exist in the larger society? Are we preparing some populations to become DOCILE, keyboard pushing wage slaves – smart enough to work for the corporate masters but not prepared with the hidden curriculum needed to become one? And are we preparing some populations to be sucked into the prison pipeline economy?

The Zero Challenge – Can These Behaviors Be Rerouted?
Because the prosperous industrial economy has died and along with it a comfortable way of life, fewer students of ANY color are willing to comply with submerging their voices and power to teachers and other authority figures. Too often they see their parents jobless, underemployed, emotionally unavailable. With no audience for their own emotional turmoil, and sensing a dark destiny ahead of them, some males (Black, Hispanic, and White) hold NO VISION in their hearts or spirits of what a future life can be like since the old loyalty/social contracts have evaporated. Feeling emotionally homeless, invisible, and impotent more African-American males frequently respond in unacceptable ways. And schools respond with Zero Tolerance which results in African-American males being suspended at a higher rate than Caucasian students and ultimately trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline.
Can the situations below be handled within the confines of the classroom community or do they require outside intervention (suspension)? Can the behaviors be rerouted? How would YOU frame the challenge? Are they examples of a cultural divide?

1. After the teacher reprimands a student for being unprepared for class, in a matter of fact manner, he asks, “What kind of a car do you drive? Where did you say you park your car? ”

What, if anything, should you do or say? Why?

2. After the teacher returns test papers to students, one male is upset with his grade and utters some words of profanity.

What, if anything, should you do or say? Why?

3. After the teacher scolds a student for repeatedly disturbing a classmate, he inquires, “Do you know judo or karate?”

What, if anything, should you do or say? Why?



Effective Teachers: #Sayno2zero #Reroutethepipeline

Like tightrope walkers, effective teachers are engaged in high-wire balancing acts. And, it is not work for the faint of heart, insecure, timid, or unsure. #Reroutethepipeline teaching requires more than idealism and scholarship. Sorry Teach for America but effective teaching is more than turning smart people loose in a school. #Sayno2zero teaching requires extraordinary emotional competence and resilience in order to make the scores of decisions that ensure learning takes place. An effective educator needs to know how to meet challenges and confrontations without fear, tears, or uncertainty.

Daily, hourly a #reroutethepipeline teacher must be prepared to:

1. Deescalate a situation.
2. Be a relentless, resourceful problem solver.
3. Stay comfortable amid an uncomfortable environment.
4. Identify and to be able to make use of teachable moments.
5. Find inventive ways to SAY NO to inappropriate behaviors, often without parental support or administrative backup.

My Test Results
Opening my desk drawer I could see at a glance the naked photos; Choosing not to acknowledge them, taking a deep breath, and not missing a beat, I reached for the index cards – keeping my head and eyes forward. I handed the index cards to the student and kept on with the lesson. Not even a power-grabber is bold enough to claim pornography.
The real goal or test was to disrupt my equilibrium so I would cause a commotion over the naked photos. The word would spread about the photos and classes for all eighth graders for the remainder of the day would be interrupted. The attention-seeking, power-grabber would win control of the learning experience for that day which would begin to loosen my power to control time-on-task.
Effective teachers perspire: “I am wiser, braver, and stronger than any student here. Whatever you throw at me, I can handle.”
On Monday, my lesson was an open discussion/classroom meeting on who buys pornography and why with all of my classes.
Test Score: Teacher A and Power-grabber F.

PS. Several students offered to provide me with the name of the owner of the pornography. I declined the offer.


Coming Soon: Strategies for Rerouting the Pipeline

Testing Moratorium – Righting a Wrong! Pt. 2

The goal of this article is to frame a conversation around a MORATORIUM on TESTING, especially in urban communities. I have attempted to identify reasons why we need to temporarily cease this destructive practice. Written in bold letters are questions that you might want to pose with friends, church members, policy makers, social group members, community leaders. Perhaps it might inspire you to write a letter the editor of your local paper or to lawmakers. Our voices need to be heard. We must begin to ADVOCATE for our children. We must begin to RIGHT THIS WRONG.

Discovering Gifts Instead of Gaps
As we attempt to prepare all students to become participating members of a new economy, I wonder,on what potentially negative paths we are sending our students using a system that measures only “gaps” instead “gifts”, that sorts children and their teachers into winners and losers? How can we right this wrong?
Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University wrote the internationally acclaimed, Frames of Mind, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In this groundbreaking book, he defines intelligence as the ability to solve problems and or to provide a product that is valued by a community or culture: not only linguistic or mathematic-logical intelligence but musical intelligence, spatial/artistic intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal/intrapersonal intelligence . Therefore, ALL students enter the school house with a variety of strengths (intelligences). What is our just and ethical obligation to educate, to prepare our children? Should the goal of schools be to maximize the assets, gifts that students bring to the school house or only those that serve a larger political agenda: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) saying, “No” to STE(Arts)M?
Imagine, starting in third grade students are now tested ONLY in art, athleticism, and music. Annually to demonstrate their artistic/spatial intelligence, they must create a painting or a piece of sculpture. Annually, to exhibit their athleticism, (bodily kinesthetic) students must excel at a sport or choreograph and perform a dance. Annually, to prove their musical intelligence, students must sing a variety of songs or excel using a musical instrument. Each year the tests become progressively more demanding and challenging.
By high school, too many potential L(earners) and potential taxpayers can no longer keep up; no longer desire to keep up. Students ponder why schools don’t emphasize science, math, or language arts- subjects which they enjoy and could excel, subjects that are eliminated whenever the budget is cut. Those armed with interpersonal intelligence (politicians/leaders) contemplate why schools lack a student government to provide opportunities in visioning, leading, and extemporaneous speaking. They reflect, “How do politician and community leaders get started solving the problems of the community or the greater society? Is it all on the job training? Do adults fear civil disobedience if students learn to frame and verbalize their concerns?

Drop-outs: Invisible and Impotent

Imagine a potential Barack Obama/Bill Clinton (interpersonal intelligence) a Toni Morrison/Doris Kearns (linguistic intelligence) or Bill Gates/Mark Zuckerburg (mathematical-logical intelligence) dropping out of high school because they lack the intelligence to perform satisfactorily on tests designed for a Jacob Lawrence/Andy Warhol (artistic intelligence) or Judith Jamison/Michael Phelps (bodily-kinesthetic) or YoYo Ma/Quincy Jones (musical intelligence). Defeated and demoralized, these talented young people find new avenues for their energies and their angst. Harnessing their gifts to start a gang, quieting the loneliness by becoming a parent, drifting into a life of crime, wandering onto a path of self-destruction and violent behavior Their feelings of impotence and invisibility contribute to their schools being labeled failing and billions of dollars are spent on reform/restructuring. Will our students be the next bubble?

Towards New/Different Systems of Assessments
Education is at the epicenter of both our democracy and our prosperity. I do understand that America’s survival depends on educating for STEM, to keep us from being at the mercy of foreign tyrants. However, does that mean daily learning should be confined to a limited number of subjects and that our schools should only honor a limited range of talents? I believe to do so constitutes “educational malpractice”. How do we create different reporting systems to parents? For example:

o Jabari is struggling in math but is performing well in music.
o Jabari needs to practice his dance skills more but his persuasive writing skills have improved.
o Jabari is progressing in both reading and in art.

The 21st century INVISIBLE CURRICULUM needed to prosper in a globally competitive, technology-base economy require teaching students: To court failure! To take risks! To embrace uncertainty and change! To out hustle the competition!

How do we instill AND assess this new covert curriculum?

How do we put children born into significant disadvantage on equal footing with other children so that they won’t always be subjected to an “achievement gap”? Or to the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

Moratorium Now
Educating students for the industrial economy was difficult enough. Arguably, educating students in the 21st century has to be the most difficult mission in America today. I plead that until a more just/fair/impartial assessment systems are in place, we institute a moratorium on a performance-based culture that penalizes both children and teachers. We don’t want our children and teachers to be the next bubble.

A sign on the wall in Albert Einstein’s stated it best: Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

@lyrichardson/ twitter

Moratorium on Testing ! Part One by Lorraine Richardson

The goal of this article is to frame a conversation around a MORATORIUM on TESTING, especially in urban communities. I have attempted to identify reasons why we need to temporarily cease this destructive practice. Written in bold letters are questions that you might want to pose with friends, church members, policy makers, social group members, community leaders. Perhaps it might inspire you to write a letter the editor of your local paper or to lawmakers. Our voices need to be heard.

Will Children and Their Teachers Be the Next Bubble?

The industrial capitalism was the greatest era of prosperity Americans ever experienced. Designed to prepare ALL students to share in the prosperity of an industrial economy, schools and their teachers taught basic skills and rote memorization to the masses and a critical thinking, problem-solving curriculum to the cognitively and economically elite. A daily, COVERT curriculum of silence, obedience, stillness, rigid uniformity, and punctuality prepared both groups to TAKE ORDERS WITHOUT QUESTION from a foreman in a plant or from a manager in an office. The industrial economy was a social and economic context in which schools/teachers were neither expected to nor needed to educate ALL children equally and well. However, because of the unruly forces of globalization and technological change, this schoolhouse model/mission is gone with the wind.

Birth of a New Educational Civilization
After Industrialism died and along with it a prosperous way of life, alarmed stakeholders: foundations, educators, business people, politicians, parents rushed to birth a new narrative.

How do we prepare ALL students to succeed in a Post-Industrial World? Because the price of prosperity is no longer automatic submission to authority, what new covert curriculum do we need to institute for students? What should the new educational baby/ system look like: Charter schools? Vouchers? Performance Pay? Accountability systems? Technology? Better Funding? Eliminate Unions?

Continue reading

Separate and Unequal 2.0 by Lorraine Richardson

Because of budget cuts, state departments of education seek less costly methods of educating students. Poor and minority students too often bear the brunt of such belt tightening. In urban schools across the nation, low performing school districts populated by the poor and children of color are being formed. They receive much of their instruction through technology (vendor capitalism) with such schools being staffed by underprepared and overwhelmed educators who receive few of the benefits and compensation packages of surrounding school districts.



Here in Michigan, the Educational Achievement Authority School District (EAA) was formed under the sponsorship of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) at the direction of the governor. I believe that the EAA promotes ethically and legally indefensible practices that uphold separate and unequal. It’s version 2.0.

Legally Indefensible?
In 2002, with the goal of improving ALL American schools, former President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to the legislation, students are to be tested and schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress each year are to be sanctioned. Another NCLB provision addresses inequitable distribution of the nation’s best teachers. Poor and minority children are not to be taught by the least experienced teachers at a greater rate than their peers in more affluent school districts. The legislation calls for equitable distribution of experienced teachers in our nation’s schools. Yet, the EAA has filled its schools with a revolving door of apprentices, beginners, novices (built-in attrition) primarily from the TFA pipeline which is against NCLB and legally indefensible. Where is the MDE equity plan to address teacher disparity? Who is monitoring this part of the legislation? How can we “Leave No Child Behind” without a stable pipeline of experienced teachers?

Urban Schools: A Farm System?
Sadly, many of these teachers use urban schools as a farm system, to learn the rudiments of teaching/running a school and then move on to greener pastures: Moving to a higher paying, wealthier school district; Building a resume to run for school board further disenfranchising local parents; Building credentials in order to create an educational for profit or non-profit to advise and/or staff urban schools. Michele Rhee is the most prominent example. After a two-year stint with Teach for America, she created The New Teacher Project to staff urban schools with new teachers. From there she went on to become the high-profile chancellor of Washington D.C Public Schools. And after that she formed the Students First nonprofit to champion urban “reform”. Unfortunately, so many of the “reformers” do not resemble the population they are “reforming”.

Still Separate and Unequal?
How can Detroit and other urban schools prepare students for a globally competitive, technology-based economy with a patchwork quilt of inexperienced and transient educators? In an April 22, 2014, Detroit News article, Dr. Thomas Pedroni of Wayne State University outlines how EAA scores are at the very bottom: EAA Test Scores Show District’s Weaknesses

Teachers hold the power to reroute the School-to-Prison Pipeline. How can a core of sorely unprepared and temporary teachers be responsible to divert or reroute students and their behavior away from suspensions and the school-to-prison pipeline? (April 5, 2013 Detroit News article: Student Behavior Not Making Grade at EAA Schools – chronicles over 5000 discipline-related infractions across 15 schools)

So I ask, beyond balancing the budget, why are experienced teachers REALLY being offered incentives to retire?

And so, in Michigan, is the EAA part of a dual system that further promotes inequities and disparities for poor children and children of color?
Sixty (60) years later, on the anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, how many urban schools are STILL Separate and Unequal? If so, what can be done to reroute this societal challenge?

@lyrichardson Twitter

Dr. Sarah L. Gibson- A Tribute

“Lives of great ones all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (excerpt “A Psalm of Life”)

An educational pioneer, a trailblazer, the first through the wall. Dr, Sarah Gibson leaves her footprints on the educational arena in Detroit, Michigan.

Dr. Sarah Gibson Middle School Pioneer, 1927 -2014

Dr. Sarah Gibson Middle School Pioneer, 1927 -2014

During the 1970’s, American education journeyed from the school structure of the junior high school, grades 7, 8, 9 to the school structure of the middle school, grades 6, 7, 8, and of magnet schools, drawing students from across the district. In 1971, Dr. Sarah Gibson became the first principal of the Whitney Young Magnet Middle School here in Detroit, Michigan.

Meeting Dr. Gibson

I had been teaching language arts at a junior high when I met with a district level administrator about transferring to another location. He informed me there was an opening at Whitney Young Magnet Middle School; however, the principal had brokered an understanding with the district that she could interview her staff first, something unheard of at that time. Today, it is common practice.
Dr. Gibson interviewed potential staff because she wanted to make certain that they fit with her vision of a school as a learning organization. She championed onsite, ongoing professional development where staff focused on personal mastery, building a shared vision, and team learning, while other schools engaged in one time, off site approaches. In 1990, Peter Senge from Massachusetts Institute of Technology would write The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization, long after Dr. Gibson had retired from Detroit Public Schools and had moved on to Oakland University.

Unique Approach to Discipline

Dr. Gibson’s approach to discipline was unique. If a student was remanded to the office or decided to go on his/her own, she didn’t start with the standard, “What did you do wrong, or why did your teacher send you to the office?” Generally, her first question was, “What are you learning in math, science, etc?” Unemotionally and with a poker face, she would listen as the student attempted to explain what s/he was learning. Her guiding question was, “How much of the problem is faulty delivery of instruction which can cause off task behavior ?” Together, they would examine the student’s notebook, folders, and textbook. Later she would meet individually with the teacher to provide additional strategies for delivering a lesson.

I remember one incident where Dr. Gibson challenged my instruction. I failed a student on her book report because she had copied it from her sibling I had taught the previous year. The student immediately made tracks to Dr. Gibson’s office with big tears in her eyes. Naturally, she asked the student to explain the assignment, which I would discover later she could not to Dr. Gibson’s satisfaction do. Later when Dr. Gibson met with me, she shared that the student really didn’t understand the assignment, didn’t understand what I expected, so she resorted to cheating. She further explained that sometimes children cheat because of the way we teach or the way we fail to teach. With hurt and anger in my heart, I EXPLAINED to Dr. Gibson that I always TELL the class what I expect and I had told them what I expected with their book reports. Dr. Gibson’s nonchalant reply was, “Lorraine, if TELLING were teaching, everyone would be smart.” OUCH!

That day, I sat afterschool in my classroom with tears in MY eyes. How could I convince my boss I was in my room doing my best, giving it my all. Suddenly, it dawned on me that half of the students “got it” when I TOLD them what I expected. But it was the half that didn’t that made me look bad. So that day, afterschool, I rearranged students’ desks from single rows facing the teacher, standard industrial classroom

Industrial Classroom Be Silent, Be Obedient, Be Still and Face the Teacher

Industrial Classroom Be Silent, Be Obedient, Be Still and Face the Teacher

operating procedure at the time – silence, obedience, stillness- to a collaborative seating approach. From now on students would sit face-to-face and side-by-side and support one another.

With Dr. Gibson’s guidance we began rethinking seating arrangements in the classrooms at Whitney Young. Classes became busy and active with students talking and discussing the lesson in collaborative groups. Students gained experience in leading and in following. Thus, before the research of Johnson and Johnson, or any of the other collaborative/cooperative learning experts/researchers published their work, “collaboration, communication, and cooperation” became part of an invisible, covert curriculum at Whitney Young Magnet Middle.

Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation

Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation

Rotating Schedule
It didn’t take Dr. Gibson long to discover that first hour students didn’t always benefit from the same quality of instruction as second or third hour students. It was as if teachers practiced the lesson on the first class and the other classes throughout the day were beneficiaries of that practice. She also discovered that in the PM teachers sent the SAME students to the office. Brainstorm! Create a rotating schedule. On Monday, teachers would teach first hour students first; however, on Tuesdays, teachers would start the day with their 2nd hour students first, next teaching third hour students etc,. On Wednesdays, teachers would start the day with 3rd hour students first and then teach the 4th hour next and so on.

Dr. Gibson had a open door policy that I availed myself of frequently. I remember our confrontation after this big rotating schedule idea Dr. Gibson shared with her staff. “Dr. Gibson, you are giving these students carte blanche to attend class late or not at all,” I admonished. “Their built in excuse, I got the days or periods mixed up.” Calmly, she explained that it would work. Just give it a chance. Again, she was right. I did interact more positively in the morning with students I had previously sent to the office in the afternoon. They saw a different side of me and I saw a different side of them. And the students were on time, on task, and on target. And my delivery of instruction became more balanced. A few years ago when I visited Renaissance High School, I found that they had adopted the rotation schedule we initiated at Whitney Young.

Accountability Pioneer
During Dr. Gibson’s reign/time, the hysteria and hoopla surrounding test scores, had not yet reached the fever pitch at the school or district level that it has today. Accountability had not yet become a watch word. However, Dr. Gibson’s inner compass knew that the scores were important to gauging student achievement. Using a handheld calculator, pen, and paper, she would disaggregate the data herself. Dr. Gibson would analyze the test items to determine where the school’s instruction was weak.

Holding a whole school staff meeting, she would share with us her findings. And she would meet privately with some of us to give us pointers on how to adjust our instruction for the next year. Now a whole test data industry has sprung up around testing. Companies and consultants use software to do what Dr. Gibson did with her calculator and her brain.

The First Through the Wall
Dr. Sarah Gibson was a pioneer, the first one through the wall. We know that the first one through the wall is often bloodied. She was bloodied but unbowed. Articulately, she defended her philosophy, her beliefs with passion and vigor. She spoke truth to power, challenging the educational status quo and working diligently to maintain Whitney Young as a progressive learning center and a problem solving, problem seeking organization until her retirement from Detroit Public Schools in 1984. .If EVERY urban school had a Dr. Gibson, there would be no “So Called” achievement gap.

I acknowledge Dr. Gibson in my workbook: A Coaches Guide to Asset-Mapping Teacher Quality http://www.amazon.com/dp/0557670950/ref=rdr_ext_tmb (Available on Amazan and Barnes and Noble)

Dr. Gibson, I will miss you greatly.

Will the REAL Chief Hope Officer Please Stand?

Mayors and Teachers-Towards a New Job Description

After a long fought, strategic battle, Mike Duggan emerged as the next mayor of Detroit, a formidable job if there ever there was one. Can he turn the ship around, or point it in a new direction? Will he create a new narrative for Detroit? The city is in a blizzard and he has been elected to lead it out. Can he? Will he? More importantly, will he be allowed to?
Mr. Duggan still has another race to run. Over the next weeks, months the mayor will be battling/negotiating with Governor Rick Snyder, with Detroit Emergency Manager Kevin Orr, and with Detroit City Council to carve out a new role, a new job description for himself . Who will emerge as Detroit’s Chief Hope Officer?

Though not present at the meetings, there IS another rival for the title of Chief Hope Officer on whose recovery, survival, the city is dependent. Challenged with preparing a fast changing, globally competitive workforce, the Detroit classroom teacher, should also be at the INCLUDED in the groundbreaking narrative AND as an integral member of the transition team charged with turning around the city’s economic future. They too are in a blizzard and face similar formidable odds as they attempt to balance a critical thinking, problem solving curriculum for ALL students along with a malodorous mix of 21st century student behaviors – All without the compensation package, respect, or support of any of the other rivals for the title receive.

What Is The New Normal?
Once upon a time during the industrial economy, the prosperous era Detroiters have ever known, teachers balanced gum chewing, fighting, littering, making noises, and talking out of turn with a rote memorization and basic skills curriculum. They were backed up/supported by parents who used their prosperity to indulge their children in shopping sprees, toys, TVs, cars, vacations if they stayed on track with good grades and citizenship. However, the sun has been switched off of that economy.

Today, too many parents are jobless, helpless and lack emotional or financial resources to back up the classroom teacher or to support their children. And, today’s teacher faces a smelly mix of different classroom behaviors: assault, bullying, digital cheating, profanity, ongoing insubordination, verbal abuse while attempting to teach a more complex curriculum to ALL students.

How do we emotionally prepare and support teachers to teach a student population raised on a corrosive culture of celebrity, degrading songs, reality TV, sexually explicit videos. Too frequently, teachers must instantaneously decide, on the spot, how to handle such behaviors when presented to them in the classroom. And generally, they are not behaviors they witnessed in their classrooms when they were students.

Part of the Job

Part of the Job

What Would You Do?
Ms. Brent, a first-grade teacher walks into her classroom to witness a wiry, angelic looking six-year old writing the letters F-U-C-K on the board. She stares at him and the word. He doesn’t back down; he stares back. What should she do? What would you do? You are limited with the amount of time you have to make a decision. Thirty pairs of eyes are on you – waiting! Do you

A. Yell and banish him to a corner of the room?
B. Lecture him and the class about using such language?
C. Send him to the office/principal immediately to
D. Exclude him from class until you hold parent- conference to determine where he is learning such language?
E. Give him a timeout?

Towards a NEW Job Description – A New Narrative
Like a tightrope walker, today’s teacher (Chief Hope Officer) is also engaged in a high-wire balancing act. And, it is not work for the faint of heart, insecure, timid, or unsure. Today, effective teaching requires more than scholarship and dedication; it also requires extraordinary emotional competence and resilience in order to make the scores of decisions that ensure learning takes place. Today’s educator needs to know how to deescalate a situation and how not to meet challenges, confrontations with fear, tears, or uncertainty.

Teaching Is NOT for the faint of heart.

Teaching Is NOT for the faint of heart.

Daily, hourly an educator must be prepared to put out fires, to be a relentless, resourceful problem solver, to be comfortable amid an uncomfortable environment, to identify and to be able to make use of teachable moments. Today’s educator must find inventive ways to say no to inappropriate behaviors, too often without parental support or administrative backup.

A Chief Hope Officer at Work
Ms. Brent is aware that ALL classrooms include a few Jabaris- attention-seeking, power-grabbing disruptors who seek to win control of the learning experience. They seek to be the CEO of the classroom and to dominate the non-disrupting students who attend school each day with the sole goal of learning. Thinking on her feet, Ms. Brent decides to send a message to the class that she and not Jabari is the classroom’s real alpha dog, the real CEO.
With a firm and but unemotional tone, she declares “Jabari, I see you have written a new word for us on the board. Certainly, your handwriting is improving.” Jabari smiles. She continues. “And being able to write a word means that you are a writer and a reader. Turning to face her students, she instructs, “Class, we are going to have our language arts lesson now. Jabari, will you help us? We are going to discover how many words we already know that rhyme, sound like Jabari’s word. “

She pronounces and writes the letters D-U-C-K on the board, underlining the U-C-K sound in both words. She never repeats Jabari’s word and neither does he nor does the class. For the next ten minutes, the young male and the class engage in discovering rhyming words with the U-C-K sound. When the lesson ends, the teacher thanks Jabari.

With light feet and a happy heart, he skips back to his seat having been provided with the attention, belonging, competence, recognition he craves. The teacher has just aborted a power struggle, losing face, a possible suspension (with time away from his learning). Win, Win!

Will Detroit’s REAL Chief Hope Officers Please Stand, Be Recognized, and Be Supported as the Profession Is Reconceived, Reinvented, and Reoriented!

Towards A New Narrative

Towards A New Narrative

Parent Accountability Pt. 2 – A Report Card for Parents

Parent Report Cards?

We give students grades; we give schools grades. The new Educator-Effective Laws being implemented across the country advance parents and the public being provided clear information about teacher effectiveness. When will we start giving parents grades on parenting effectiveness? Perhaps instead of writing the child’s name on the report card; we should replace it with the parent’s. In addition, there should be a special checklist on the report card for parents.

1. I turn off the television each evening in order for my child to complete homework. (Pass/Fail)
2. I provide an environment conducive to studying. (Pass/Fail)
3. I read to my child/my child reads to me. (Pass/Fail)
4. I model reading newspapers, magazines, books for my child (Pass/Fail).
5. My child has a library card. (Pass/Fail)
6. I monitor homework. (Pass/Fail)
7. I attend parent-teacher conferences. (Pass/Fail).
8. My child has a hobby beyond video games or the computer (Pass/Fail) .
9. I don’t leave my child alone with every new (wo)man I happen to be dating (Pass/Fail).
10. I don’t allow my child to worship celebrity, sex, or violence. (Pass/Fail)
11. My child attends school on time and on a regular basis (Pass/Fail).
12. My child attends class and is never truant.

Four failures and the parent receives a warning; the second time the parent goes before the school board, and the third time the parent’s name is posted in the newspaper for all to see, just like schools.
As we attempt to create instruments and tools to hold teachers accountable, we need similar tools and instruments for parents..
I hope the next movie that reformers produce and promote focuses on how parents need to redefine their roles during the era of technological change and globalization.
After all, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world”. William Ross Wallace

A Reform Movement to Hold Parents Accountable? Pt. One

Back To School

Returning to school is a bittersweet time in the American educational landscape. It marks the end of fun and freedom and the return or beginning of responsibility for both parents and their children.
Several years ago the movie, Waiting for Superman was released during the return to school season to promote the Charter School Move Agenda inspired by educational reformers. It put the spotlight on poor and minority children trapped in failing schools. It portrayed parents as desperate to enroll their children charters that were succeeding according to test scores. Correctly or incorrectly, it promoted charter schools as the audacity of hope. It created a national conversation.

Last year, the movie Won’t Back Down also opened during the back to school season with a big Hollywood style premiere. Brand name movies stars (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Helen Hunt) lots of spotlights, and hoopla were designed to ignite a mass awareness of Parent Effectiveness Laws, which give parents a pass to make changes in failing schools. It was another movie that portrayed public schools as a failed status quo. However, the Hollywood hoopla failed to make up for a failed message . It failed to create a vision the masses could believe in or follow.
A Movie that FAILED to ignite a Vision

Yes, we need parent effectiveness laws but not for the reasons invoked in the movie. As a retired educator and as a parent whose child attended public schools, I have experience on both sides of the desk.
As we attempt to create instruments and tools to hold teachers accountable, where are the tools and instruments for parents? Let’s begin with a review of the movie.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Get rid of teacher unions! Get rid of teacher seniority! Get rid of teacher tenure! Get rid of the bureaucracy!
They are the weapons of mass destruction in public education that we have only to eliminate to begin to solve the schooling crisis in America.

Won’t Back Down portrayed a sea of white children trapped in failing schools and not being effectively educated by a large corps of white female and male teachers. The weapons of mass destruction have crushed their spirit, causing them to give up on trying to teach, to make a difference. Is this the image we really want to portray across the globe about our educational system?

Parent-Trigger Laws
The movie pays homage to the Parent-Trigger Laws being implemented in states across the country. Basically, the law gives parents a pass to make changes in failing schools: a new curriculum, longer school days, different personnel. Or they can take over entirely and turn the school into a charter.
You see it’s the union that keeps the teachers in the movie from staying after school to work with children, or rearranging the seats in their classrooms for collaborative learning, or assigning projects, or giving homework. Gee, I taught for a lot of years in a union town (Detroit) and I don’t remember once receiving a letter, phone call, or an message from the union preventing me from providing such experiences that we offered in our school. Our principal encouraged and supported them, and so teachers agreed.
In the movie, the principal appears to be an impediment to a positive school culture, but no one organizes to get rid of him.

The Blame Game
Blaming teachers for the educational challenges in the United States is a lot like blaming assembly line workers at a factory for turning out a poor product or lagging sales instead of blaming the CEO. If the school reformers want to follow a business model; they should do so. In private industry if LEADERS don’t perform, they are FIRED. In private industry, corporate managers who supervise 50, 100, 150 personalities daily earn far more than the $40,000 to $70,000 earned by teachers and they don’t run out of the supplies they need to perform their jobs. However, because of the imploding economy and the high jobless rate, there is no more taxpayer elixir to keep the system going. And, thus, we need to find fault.

No Parental Responsibility
In Won’t Back Down, parents bear no fault, nor responsibility. The lead-parent organizer played by Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a clue about parenting. Her only responsibility is to send her child to school (late) with an overpriced book bag ($59.00) which indirectly causes a fight ending with the bag being destroyed . Though the child is dyslexic, her mother provides video games instead of books to keep her occupied. (See my blog post on “Reading: The Road Ahead”: on this site) The child doesn’t appear to practice reading at home, nor is her mother seen modeling reading. She doesn’t seem to bother taking her to the library, community center, or anyplace else that’s educational. Oh that’s right; she works two jobs. However, in her spare time, she spends it hanging out with her new boyfriend, a teacher, from her daughter’s school. He is allowed to babysit her female daughter ALONE while she runs off to organize a school takeover of which her new man wants no part. Hello single mama, have you heard the words: safety, security, stability?
Of course she permits the child to idly channel surf as much as she likes while her new man babysits her. After all she has a parent take-over to get going. Mommy provides her child with lots of hugs and kisses though. Love is enough, right? It’s all she needs from her poor mama to take part in the new boundaries of prosperity redrawn by globalization and technological change.

Why doesn’t Mommy spend the time organizing a Parent-Teacher Association so she can work collectively WITH the teachers in the school? Spend all of that energy and firepower building bridges; let her child see first hand what collaboration, cooperation, and communication are all about- skills needed in the new economy.
Parent Report Cards?
We give students grades; we give schools grades. The new Educator-Effective Laws being implemented across the country advance parents and the public being provided clear information about teacher effectiveness. When will we start giving parents grades on parenting effectiveness? Perhaps instead of writing the child’s name on the report card; we should replace it with the parent’s. In addition, there should be a special checklist on the report card for parents.



Next Time:Part Two
A Report Card for Parents