It’s official!

I filed my nomination papers today in the City Clerk’s office!  Here is a photo of me with the kids, and Casey handing the nomination papers to City Clerk Mark Numainville.

Filing papers

(Thanks to Mark, who gamely poses for countless such political prop photographs.)

Berkeley Times covers the Rosa Parks mock trial

Todd Kerr does an outstanding job at the Berkeley Times, which is Berkeley’s print-only newspaper.  The Times covers more school-related news than Berkeleyside is able to cover, and it has a wide circulation within the BUSD community.  I wanted to thank Todd for covering the Rosa Parks mock trial for the second year in a row.  The kids really love to see their hard work acknowledged in the newspaper.

Berkeley Times article

Moratorium on using test results?

The Gates Foundation, which poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of the Common Core standards and is generally a strong proponent of high-stakes standardized testing, now says we should hold off on using the results of tests aligned with the new standards when making critical decisions.  Specifically, the foundation has called for a two-year moratorium on using test results to make high-stakes decisions with respect to teacher evaluation or student promotion.

This is a welcome development and an important acknowledgement that it will take time to develop Common Core-aligned assessments that actually provide teachers and District officials with valuable data about student learning.  Until then, we should be very wary of using the results of the annual state tests to evaluate programs, students, teachers, or principals.

In other words, when the Gates Foundation says to go slow on using the results of Common Core-aligned tests for high-stakes decisions, that means: go very slow.

What we teach when we teach things like confidence

For the second year in a row, I taught a before-school mock trial class to a group of 16 Rosa Parks fifth graders.  I taught the class with a former student of mine, James Stevens, and my daughter Rachel, who is in 6th grade and is an “alum” of the program.  Two other Longfellow 6th graders helped us out during the 16 weeks, as we taught the kids about persuasive argument, trial advocacy techniques, and the basics of our criminal justice system.

As it did last year, the class culminated in a mock trial presentation at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law moot courtroom, in front of an audience of 80 relatives and teachers, a jury of 12 kids, and a retired Alameda County Superior Court judge. (Some great photos here.)  After the trial, which was last week, the parents presented each of us coaches with a framed “word cloud” that represented the most common phrases the kids used to describe what they learned in the mock trial class.  Here it is:

Mock trial word cloud

I found this gift extremely touching, and I am proud of the impact we had on these kids.  But I am sharing the word cloud here because what struck me as I looked at what the kids said they learned – and what their parents were thrilled they had learned – were things like “confidence” and “public speaking” and “bravery.”  Many of them apparently told their parents that the mock trial class made them “feel smart.”  These are all qualities that parents want their kids to develop in school, and in life.

This is what I mean when I (and many others) talk about teaching what cannot be assessed on a standardized test.  We want our kids to emerge from elementary school, among other things, confident.  Confident in their intelligence, and in their ability to articulate their beliefs, to speak in a room full of people, to apply what they know to a new situation.  We want them to love learning, so they stay in school, explore their passions, feed their curiosity.  We want them to know how to work as a team towards a common goal.  When we focus too heavily on the results of annual standardized tests, when we make them “high-stakes,” we send a clear message to parents, teachers, and principals that the most important thing to teach is what is on the test.  And that relegates to the sidelines a lot of other traits and skills we want our children to develop in school.

New principals in BUSD

This post is just to help get information out quickly, because many in the community are wondering who the principals will be at a number of BUSD schools.  The following is from the District’s HR department.

Hazelle Fortich, Principal, Cragmont

Ms. Hazelle Fortich has deep roots in our district community.  She has served as Coordinator for Early Childhood Program, summer school principal, interim principal at Washington, literacy coach at Washington, after school teacher at LeConte, and teacher at Malcolm X.One of her references states, “She lives and works in Berkeley; and is a committed parent, teacher and community member.  Those experiences mean that she will bring the importance of family and community to any school district.  As a parent, she knows the value of strong ties to families and the value of fostering all forms of diversity in our schools.” 

Sonya Martin, Principal, Jefferson

For the past three years, Sonya has served as Vice-Principal at Willard.  She most recently served as interim principal at Malcolm X.  Prior to that, she was a teacher on special assignment in our Evaluation and Assessment Department, a teacher at Willard and Longfellow, and summer school principal.  She began her teaching career in Oakland Unified School District where she worked from 1992 to 2002 as a full inclusion teacher. One of Sonya’s colleagues describes her as, “intelligent, hardworking, dedicated, professional and committed to issues of equity in education.”

René Molina, Principal, BAM

For the past four years, René has been the principal of Madrone Elementary School in Santa Rosa.  Prior to that he worked as assistant principal at the elementary and middle school level in Pittsburg.  He received a master’s degree in education from University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, sciences and psychology from San Diego State University. A reference shares that Rene is an intelligent, hardworking and compassionate administrator who is able to analyze situations quickly and thoughtfully, is willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done, does an excellent job of listening, and cares deeply about the success of all students.

Marcos García, Principal, Longfellow

Marcos has served as an elementary principal and social studies teacher in West Contra Costa, and as a middle and high school teacher in Emeryville and Los Angeles.  He received a master’s degree in educational leadership through Principal Leadership Institute at the University of California at Berkley and a bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA. One of his supervisors affirms that Marcos’s “level of urgency, expected rigor and support ensured that the students were well-prepared for academic and career success.  His commitment to equity for underserved students, and his resolve to close the exposure and achievement gap have driven his work and led to many accomplishments.”

Congrats and best of luck to these new hires!

Profile in the Daily Cal about the campaign

The U.C. student newspaper, The Daily Californian, ran a profile of my school board campaign in today’s paper.  I appreciate the kind words in the article from my supporters:

Carrie Wilson, executive director at Mills Teacher Scholars — an organization that helps train teachers — has worked with Alper on the school governance council and commended his ability to recognize the complexity of issues affecting the school community.

“Ty is able to acknowledge that learning is complex, and, therefore, able to push conversations that question, among other things, the use of standardized test to measure student learning,” Wilson said in an email.

Alper is endorsed by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees.

“I’m personally really excited, because I feel like he is bringing some new ideas and innovation to the conversation around the school board,” said Dana Blanchard, a member of BFT’s executive board. “It’s always a good thing to have fresh voices.”

By the way, I have a special fondness for the Daily Cal because when I worked on the Berkeley High Jacket, we shared a printer with them.  The printer was in Fremont, so, on deadline night, if we finished in time, we would bring the hard copy proofs to the Daily Cal offices, and they would drive our pages down to the printer for us.

Teacher inquiry in action

Last night, along with several other BUSD parents and teachers, I attended the Mills Teacher Scholars’ Teacher Inquiry in Action Forum, which is an annual showcase of the work East Bay teachers are doing to explore, in-depth, aspects of their practice that they would like to improve.

The showcase was inspiring to me as both a parent and an educator.  (I felt the same way after attending the forum last year.)  It is thrillinMillsg to see BUSD teachers so deeply engaged in the art and science of student learning.  I particularly appreciated the focus on the use of meaningful data to inform instruction.  At one of the presentations, Rosa Parks teachers described how they used iPads to film their students working through a math problem, and then used the video data, in consultation and reflection with colleagues, to better understand how their students were learning, what barriers they faced, and how to help them overcome those barriers.  This practice represents the use of data — and technology — that is teacher-initiated, not dictated from on high.

A score on a standardized test may give the teacher a snapshot of where the student is at the moment, but the data these teachers are using helps them understand why the student is where she is.  That’s the kind of data that can actually make a difference in the classroom.

This kind of professional development — well-facilitated, teacher-driven inquiry — requires resources and administrative support.  But I think anyone who attended last night’s event will tell you it is well worth the investment.

Disintegrating bumper stickers

This campaign has been a real learning experience for me.  One thing I learned recently is that it is not a good idea to print bumper stickers on paper that disintegrates when exposed to the sun. bumper sticker The printer printed my initial round of bumper stickers on the wrong paper, which is why you may have seen my bumper stickers around town and wondered, “How many times has he run for school board?  That sticker looks like it’s been on that car since the Nixon administration!”  In fact, it’s only been a few weeks.

Anyway, problem solved because the printer re-printed them on the correct paper (which is actually vinyl).  So, if you want one, let me know.  And if you want one of the old ones, to tape inside your car window, I’ve got plenty of those too.

Kindergarten Play

New York has led the way in showing the nation what not to do when it comes to education reform.  Recently, this article made the rounds.  It spotlights a New York school’s decision to cancel the annual year-end kindergarten show because of concerns that the kids were not going to be sufficiently ready for college and career if they took time away from their studies to put on a play.Rosa Parks Play  Of course, that’s ridiculous.  And, as the article suggests, it is emblematic of the fact that “[k]indergarten (and even preschool) has increasingly become academic — at the expense of things such as recess and the arts — in this era of standardized test-based school reform.”

Fortunately, we have teachers in Berkeley who understand the value of creative play and project-based learning – in all grades, but particularly for our youngest students.  Our three kids have all had the same, wonderful kindergarten teacher, Lynda Arnold, a veteran of BUSD and herself a Berkeley parent.  Every year, Teacher Lynda directs an elaborate kindergarten play, often with the participation of all kindergarten classes at Rosa Parks.  This year’s production of “Really Rosie” involved over 100 students and three performances, and it brought down the house.  (You can see photos and videos on the Rosa Parks Facebook page.)

Lynda’s “Director’s Note” on the back of the program is worth reading and I’ve pasted it below:

Lynda's note



Narrowing of curriculum is an equity issue

This piece says what I think we all know, namely that “extra-curriculars” such as music, art, and foreign languages are actually central to learning.  And not just because they make kids “well-rounded”; they actually improve cognition, and teach valuable skills.  Research shows that musical training, for example, “produces long lasting changes in motor abilities and brain structure.”  As the author states, “Concentration, strong recall skills, evolved communiPaintingcation skills, and being a good team player are just a few of the benefits research shows music, foreign language and physical education have on a developing mind.”

These subjects are being pushed out of the classroom curriculum as high-stakes standardized testing dominates the K-12 landscape.  The narrowing of the curriculum in this way has many obvious drawbacks, but one that deserves more attention is the equity concern.

A lot of parents in Berkeley can afford to supplement their children’s education with these programs, but many more cannot.  And they shouldn’t have to.