Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) has reached the final stage of XQ: The Super School Project

More information contact:
Jamaal A. Bowman 646-248-1931

Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) has reached the final stage of XQ: The Super School Project

Bronx, NY – On May 23rd, finalist Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) High School of the Bronx submitted their final application to XQ: The Super School Project, a national challenge to rethink, reimagine, and redesign the high school experience. After thousands of ideas were submitted in early September, Cornerstone remains one of the few teams still standing. In mid-July the final five concepts will be selected to have their designs realized. If CASA High School’s design is selected as one of the winning proposals, they will receive a whopping $10 million dollars over the next five years to build their Super School.

“The time has come to reimagine, rethink, and redesign our schools to cultivate the innate brilliance of every child. The XQ: Super School Project launch in September 2015 provided an amazing opportunity for us to do just that. We have learned so much throughout the process and one thing is perfectly clear, we have the technology, human capital, and resources, to create exhilarating learning environments that meet the needs of every child. Most importantly, students want this badly,” said Jamaal Bowman, School Principal, Parent and XQ Team Member

“The Cornerstone Academy’s participation in the “super school” project is truly an exciting opportunity for our Bronx Community. As a longstanding supporter of a holistic approach to education, I believe they have what it takes to bring a fresh and transformative energy to our public education system and pursue new avenues to bring out the best and brightest in all our students,” said Carl Heastie, Speaker, New York State Assembly

New York’s students deserve schools that support not only their intellectual and academic needs, but also their social and emotional development. The Cornerstone Academy for Social Action High School promises to provide that kind of well-rounded education to its students. I am thrilled at the prospect of a new and exciting educational opportunity for children in the Bronx,” said Betty A. Rosa, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents

“As PTA president of Casa Middle School and a proud mother of four children in public schools, I am honored to be a part of the XQ: Super School Project. Our concept can be a pathway toward synthesizing timeless concepts of the mind, with contemporary ideas, to create new models of education. I have never been a part of such a great team, and we are excited about continuing to build whole child learning environments. This will be an amazing opportunity that will allow us to tap into the cultural genius of our community,” said Charlena Walker, PTA President, CASA Middle School, XQ Team Member

“I am elated that CASA High School has made it to the final round of the XQ: Super School Project. We know that our concept will truly bring out the best in our youth. With teachers trained in 21st century whole child pedagogy, and an environment that nurtures the mind and soul, our concept is unique and will prepare our children to rise above any adversity for the rest of their lives,” said Maria Johnson, Parent, XQ Team Member

Student leaders from CASA Middle School were heavily involved in developing the concepts of CASA High School. Student voice and ideas matter most and the entire process truly entailed collaboration between students, educators, and the extended community.

“I am thrilled to participate in the XQ: Super School Project because I enjoy being an active member of my community. I also feel that segregation in public schools is a detriment to the learning of all children and the development of our democracy. That is why our concept presents a high school experience that brings together students of different cultural and economic backgrounds. I am excited to be a part of designing a school that teaches holistic and real life skills instead of teaching only literature and mathematics,” said Yokaira Conception, 8th Grade Student, XQ Team Member

“The XQ challenge has been exciting for me because it has given me the opportunity to have input into designing a school that will help students grow into adults with a passion to change the world. This journey has been amazing and the conversations with my peers, community, and other XQ Team Members have been really eye-opening,” said Dana Neil, 8th grade Student, XQ Team Member.

The XQ: Super School Project has been an inspiring experience. To be a part of creating something that’s bigger than I am, and will benefit others, is truly something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, said Leanne Nunez 8th Grade Student, XQ Team Member

The CASA High School planning team has worked over the last 8 months to reach out to students, educators, elected officials, corporations, and citizens from all over the globe to gain a better understanding of community needs, and to learn innovative approaches to maximizing student potential and ignite a joy for learning.. Throughout this process, the team has learned that there is a yearning for new ideas and new approaches to college, career, and life readiness. During interviews, many community members reflected on their school experiences as being “unfulfilling” and not conducive to nurturing their full potential. High school students who were interviewed shared frustrations around “inauthentic content and learning experiences” that were too abstract without practical applications. Many young adults talked about being “uninspired to enroll in college” because of their experiences in mundane compliance-based high school learning environments. All stakeholders shared great hands on learning ideas and advocated a collaborative problem based curriculum to help enhance contemporary learning environments.

One amazing partnership that developed over the past 8 months was a public private school partnership between Cornerstone Academy and Avenues: The World School.

“It has been a personal and professional honor for our d4i team to partner with CASA High School for the XQ: Super School Project. We are excited to continue the collaboration around 21st century community schooling that includes real-world problem solving and public private partnerships that engage the community in authentic impact work. CASA High School would be a shining, grass-roots example of both how community school can work, and more importantly, how public and private schools can collaborate to accelerate learning in the 21nd century,” said Ivan Cestero, d4i coach, Social Innovation Teacher, Avenues: The World School, XQ Team Member

“I helped found d4i with a vision of implementing more design driven social impact work into K-12 education. CASA, more than any school I know, has embodied these principles. Their work with D4i during the Design Challenge has been spectacular. The idea of CASA being awarded this crucial funding is extremely exciting to our team. Such funding would allow education to morph into a place for students to grow into entrepreneurs and innovators with real work skills,” said Conner Wise, 11th Grade Student, Avenues: The World School

Additional high-ranking officials in public office share the excitement around bringing a Super School to the Bronx!

“The Bronx is on the precipice of innovation through this opportunity that will develop an education environment for students to create, challenge and experience high school differently. Since its inception, the Cornerstone Academy, under the leadership of the Founder and Principal Jamaal Bowman, has been at the forefront of innovation and change and is a much sought after school for students all over the borough. The participation in the XQ: The Super School Project will create a life changing experience for the students and families, and I wish them good luck in this endeavor,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Project XQ presents an exciting opportunity for the CASA team to reimagine high school through a process that includes community collaboration and student voice while also engaging educators, elected officials and corporations as we think together about how to ensure our students are prepared for the 21st century. Ensuring that innovation and design are critical elements that the school will use to engage students in a learning process geared toward social action will ensure students leave committed to being world changers. I am excited about reimagining learning and bringing innovation to the Bronx through Principal Bowman and the CASA XQ team,” said Meisha Ross Porter, Superintendent, Community School District 11

“As a supporter of innovation in our public schools, I firmly stand behind the vision of the CASA High School XQ team and believe if given the opportunity, it will be transformative for our Bronx students. We must do more than simply instruct our children in classrooms. We must look to educate the whole child and support their families and the entire community with the same effort,” said Jamaal Bailey, Parent, District Leader for the 83rd Assembly District

“I’m proud to join the Northeast Bronx community in its excitement for the creation of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (C.A.S.A.) High School with programs that would nurture leadership and career mindedness beyond the classroom as part of the wraparound services of a “Super School,” said New York City Council Member Andy King, whose 12th District includes C.A.S.A. Middle School. “Schools are the major cornerstones of our communities and this plan will ensure that excellence and mastery are promoted in the lives of the young scholars who attend C.A.S.A. High School. I commend Principal Jamaal Bowman and his XQ team for their efforts to want to bring about a ‘New Vision for High School.'”

The CASA High School team was formed through a collective passion for change, and a belief that by nurturing the inherent genius in every child, communities will reap the benefits for generations to come. Too often our school system does not work for all children, and for the children that succeed within this system; many are not being reared to reach their full potential. Iteration, design thinking, boundless expectations, and a bias toward social action continues to guide the CASA High School team toward its mission to graduate students ready, willing, and able to transform their communities. We are excited to continue to pursue this essential endeavor with all who serve the community. Educators have some amazing new ideas regarding how to make this vision a reality.

“It is time for schools to finally focus on learning above simple letter and numeric grades. Let’s go grade-less! It is wonderful to know that New York City is engaging in this discussion by means of our XQ: Super School Project team. All students deserve the opportunity to grow in an environment that values learning and progress over simple quantification. Whole child learning cannot be adequately communicated with only numbers or letters,” said Starr Sackstein, High School Teacher, XQ Team Member

We are excited about the continued opportunity that XQ affords us to develop schools that prepare our students for the thinking world. Being a part of XQ: The Super School Project has allowed us to envision new learning spaces where all students excel at their highest levels,” said Al McCutchen, Parent, Teacher, XQ Team Member

“I became a teacher with the goal of developing the whole child. The XQ: Super School Project has challenged me to tap into my experience using design thinking, Socratic seminars, and adult-child-community collaborations to reimagine high school. Through the XQ process, I see more than just the child becoming whole, I see the entire community being transformed, said Fatema Zohny, Humanities Teacher, XQ Team Member

“I am thrilled by the opportunity to reimagine high school for 21st century students. I am particularly excited to continue to work closely with students and their families in the design process. We educators can only do our best work by knowing our students deeply and working closely with the community,” said Al Sylvia, High School Assistant Principal, XQ Team Member

In a little more than a month, the CASA High School team will know if its dreams have been realized.

To learn more about the XQ: The Super School Project please visit You can also follow XQ @XQAmerica.

A New Vision for High School: Cornerstone Academy for Social Action High School

A bold and compelling idea will be at the center of our school:

At present, most high schools operate in isolation separate from the rest of the community, and are overly driven by quantitative data. We envision C.A.S.A. High School as a 21st century community school hub that meets the mental, social, emotional, physical, natural, and creative needs of students and their families. Driven by qualitative data, we will use portfolio assessments within our curriculum and will not use letter or numeric grades. We will do this by partnering with local medical centers to provide holistic health services on school grounds, while working with corporations and community based organizations to organize and educate parents, and provide internships to students. In addition we are plugged into the “no grades community” and will partner with educators like Starr Sackstein and Mark Barnes.
A simple belief will guide the daily experience of our students believe: At C.A.S.A. High, all students are Geniuses and Master Learners. This core belief will shape everything that we do.

Throughout the globe, students must be reminded that they are brilliant and important, but this is especially true for the students that we serve in the Bronx. C.A.S.A. High will align student learning experiences to the innate curiosity that all are born with.

We’re living at a time when it’s increasingly common to treat black and brown students from low-income communities as criminals in their own schools. Many of these students are marginalized, punished and made to feel like they deserve a lifetime of second-class status. From “zero tolerance,” “no-excuse” discipline policies, to alienating curriculum, to standardized tests that reinforce feelings of inferiority, many schools are driving away the very students that can benefit from education the most.

Education must free the mind; not keep it in bondage.
C.A.S.A. High is a dream built on the foundation of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School (C.A.S.A. Middle School) in the Bronx. C.A.S.A Middle School is now in its seventh year and has proven itself to be a rare, innovative district school. At C.A.S.A Middle School, students aren’t shamed or unnecessarily punished. They are celebrated, nurtured, and loved. At C.A.S.A. Middle School, students explore social issues by creating hip-hop videos. They learn to code and build their own video games. They study the history of leaders like Bessie Coleman, W.E.B. Du Bois and Sonia Sotomayor. They take leadership classes and are encouraged to pursue and build their own passion projects. They express themselves through dance, spoken word poetry, improvisation, art, and gardening. C.A.S.A. Middle School has rejected the tyranny of standardized testing and has instead focused on building an individualized, caring learning environment that helps its students discover their inner-genius. As a by-product of C.A.S.A.’s approach that values self-actualization over test scores, C.A.S.A. ironically had the #1 combined improvement in test scores of any school in New York City in 2015.

At C.A.S.A. Middle School, the mantra of administrators and teachers is: “At C.A.S.A. we stay in beta. We are content but we are never satisfied. We are thankful for what we have but we are always looking to do better. We maintain the beginner’s mind.” Our goal has been to create the most loving environment possible in a Title 1 school – pushing our students to not only achieve academically, but to be the best human beings they can possibly be. Our ever-evolving school model is working and we now feel prepared to take on the challenge of expanding C.A.S.A. to grades 9-12. C.A.S.A. High School can be a beacon of hope for Title 1 schools, showcasing the innovative tools and approaches that can help kids from low-income communities live up to their inner-greatness. We are so excited to design a school that helps students believe in themselves and have the transformative learning experiences that prepare them to do amazing things in the 21st century. Our parents want this most of all. Believe in us. We’ve got this.

Last year, we started distributing t-shirts to students that are labeled, “Master Learner,” “Born Genius” and “Master Teacher.” We’ve attached a few photos for your perusal. Our bold and compelling idea for XQ is already real and alive in the Bronx, New York.

We believe the spirit of C.A.S.A. Middle School is captured – at least in part – on our website: Here you can find photos and videos of C.A.S.A. – and the ingredients we’ll be using to build a Super School that blows the world away.

To ensure that our school truly serves the needs of our community, we plan to get input from young people by:

We plan to hold in-school and after-school ideation sessions through February 2016 for C.A.S.A. Middle School students, teachers, parents and school administrators to dream up the vision for C.A.S.A. High. Our XQ proposal will be a truly collaborative effort that reflects the diverse voices of the very people we plan to serve.
We believe in the design thinking process and will be sure to involve young people in every step of our process.

Currently at C.A.S.A. Middle School, we have a student government in place that will help to facilitate our ideation and design thinking sessions. Our student government was voted in by their peers to provide a more authentic voice to the overall operations of our school.

To get insights into how we can prepare our students for postsecondary education and the future of work, we plan to:

Many of the current practices of C.A.S.A. Middle School are driven by thought leaders such as Tony Wagner (Creating Innovators), Dan Pink (A Whole New Mind), Sir Ken Robinson (Finding The Element), and Neil Degrasse Tyson (Startalk), so we will continue to design curriculum in alignment with their expertise. As a school of innovation, we plan to connect with educators from schools like High Tech High, The City As School, and the NYC iSchool for input. Regarding higher Education, we will look to schools like Olin College, The Stanford d. School, and M.I.T. We will also peruse the XQ website by reading the briefs, and following the websites suggestions for reading recommendations. Film’s like Most Likely to Succeed, Road to Nowhere, and Beyond Measure will greatly inform our practice as well.

We have a number of connections that we plan to leverage to ensure that our proposal reflects the ideas of top educators, employers and colleges. For example, we plan to collaborate with educators at Avenues: The World School and their d4i project collaboration to gain inspiration from what’s happening in top independent, progressive schools, we plan to collaborate with representatives of CUNY to imagine the kind of immersive experiences we can create with local colleges. We also plan to collaborate with companies like [Google] and [Tumblr] – with whom we already have partnerships – to imagine how we could take our partnerships to the next level.
Our school will also build on the inspiring examples, research, and ideas of others:
Howard Gardner’s theory of the multiple intelligences is something I believe our community should thoroughly study. Currently, the diversity of intelligence is absent from school policy and public discourse, and thus we are limiting the scope in which we view teaching and learning in our schools. Our obsession with the standardized testing of math and ELA, polarized in verbal reasoning, has led to a depressed curriculum that has ignored bodily kinesthetic, visual spatial, natural, creative, and cooperative intelligence among others. We all need to expand our view of intelligence, and ultimately, of living in a 21st century world.

Sir Ken Robinson believes that all children possess incredibly gifts and it is our duty as educators to tap into these gifts by creating a nurturing and robust learning environment. C.A.S.A. stands on this principle and by our community studying Sit Ken’s work in the ground breaking book Finding Your Element, in which he shares the narratives of individuals and schools that allow passion to drive their existence, we can move forward and be of like minds as we develop our high school.

To solve the problems of the world today, including poverty, mass incarceration, war, and addiction, we need to produce multiple generations of innovators. That is why; our school community should study Tony Wagner’s groundbreaking books Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap. Wagner paints a picture, for parents, teachers, and school leaders, of how we might reach our full potential by rethinking and redesigning our roles. The traditional models of school are obsolete and we must create schools and communities rooted in 21st century intelligence.
All the elements of our school will come together in powerful learning experiences for students:

1. Community Circle – At C.A.S.A. Middle School, every Friday begins with a 50-minute assembly for students and teachers to come together as a family. At Community Circle students can give shout-outs, make public apologies, express themselves, share inspiring stories, and discuss real issues. The kinds of topics we’ve discussed at Community Circle include violence in our community, the challenges of growing up in single-parent households, and #BlackLivesMatter. You can see some videos from Community Circle here: At C.A.S.A. High School we will continue this tradition, but given the greater maturity of the students, we’ll be able to tackle issues with more depth and honesty. As a student discovers their voice, Community Circle will be there to give that student a platform for sharing their voice with their community. Community Circle at C.A.S.A High will be very student-led, with students choosing topics, leading discussions, sharing meaningful stories, and inviting in guests from the community.

2. Genius Hour – Borrowing from the 20% time concept of Google, we give students at C.A.S.A Middle School two 60-minute blocks per week to work on passion projects. To be honest, we’re still learning how to help students and teachers make the best use of this time. At C.A.S.A. High School, Genius Hour can evolve in a few different directions. Will it be a free space for students to work on their own capstone projects? Will it be a time for guided challenges where students work to solve issues in their communities? Will it be a training ground where students are pushed to build their own projects, clubs, events, campaigns, nonprofits, apps and companies? We know what’s important is that students are exploring their passions, developing mastery, taking risks, and learning to recover from failure. Genius Hour will offer the framework for these kinds of experiences to take place.

3. Leadership Training – Inspired by “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers,” we give students at C.A.S.A Middle School two 60-minute blocks per week to learn and practice leadership skills like communication and reflection. (You can watch a video that students created about the 7 Habits here: . At C.A.S.A. High School, this Leadership Training class will be expanded to teach the real-world skills that students need to successfully execute their projects and thrive in the 21st century. C.A.S.A. will ask local experts to design workshops to help students to master skills like Campaign Building, Storytelling, Photoshop and Budgeting. Each local expert will be pushed to not only teach a core skill, but also to share their story and explain clearly how that skill can be applied in real-world challenges and opportunities. Over time, we will build out pathways towards mastery that students can pursue to dive deeper into their areas of interest and earn badges towards their learning portfolio. While in middle school, our students have already been involved in campaigns such as breast cancer awareness, LGBT rights, and #BlackLivesMatter.

4. Cultural Studies – We want students to feel proud of where they come from so we help students learn about their Latino and black heritage. A part of this includes embracing hip hop culture; for example, check out this video that students wrote and produced during the Ebola crisis: At C.A.S.A. High School, students will dive deeper into understanding the heritage of Latino, black and Asian-Americans, reading literature, meeting local leaders, and participating in local and national campaigns to address the issues facing the communities. We plan to make our curriculum and lessons available to the public, allowing students and teachers everywhere to adapt our curriculum and help their schools embrace diversity.

5. Design Challenges for Social Impact – We can’t forget that C.A.S.A. stands for Cornerstone Academy for Social Impact; empowering students to make a positive dent in the universe is core to our vision. We will train our students and teachers in design thinking and introduce a new design thinking challenge every 8 weeks. A member of the community will come into the school and present a social and/or environmental challenge. Students will have 8 weeks to explore the issue and design and test solutions; they will present their results to a panel of people that will be impacted by their solution at the culmination of the 8 weeks. Over the course of the year, students will be exposed to a variety of issues – food security, mass incarceration, domestic violence, etc. – and will be encouraged to focus on becoming experts in the issue(s) they are most passionate about.

6. Internships – Our students will take on internships to get real-world, on-the-job experience at top companies, nonprofits and startups in NYC.

Discover Phase

Students in the 21st Century

College is more of a necessity than ever before. At C.A.S.A. High School students will engage in their community and understand the complexities and challenges in a nuanced way. Critical thinking, creative problem solving, and communicating with diverse audiences are essential and must be embedded throughout a student’s learning experiences in high school. We are preparing students to learn how to learn so that they are cognitively agile as they are most like to have multiple careers after college. Our curriculum helps students to become self -managers who take initiative to search for an embrace learning opportunities.

In our community, the majority of our students, based on measures currently in place, continue to perform below grade level in both reading and math. Further, because of issues related to race and class, our students experience trauma and stress at disproportionately high levels. As a result, academic, social, and emotional interventions need to be embedded within our school schedule and curriculum. Therefore, while ensuring that the executive functions of our students are explicitly strengthened along with identified academic deficiencies, we must continue to challenge them with 21st century pedagogy.

Our school must partner with community based organizations, medical professionals, and thriving corporations, to ensure that learning extends beyond the walls of our school, and is applicable to the challenges of a 21st century global economy. Within school, the curriculum must remain rooted in an interdisciplinary approach. Learning in silos is obsolete. Students must learn to see, understand, and learn to manipulate interconnections between seemingly disparate elements. 21st century skills are transferable across disciplines. This approach will be the hallmark of the C.A.S.A. High School experience.

Youth Experiences and Aspirations

Young people want to engage in learning experiences that are relevant, authentic and challenging. Students want to know that their assignments aren’t just designed for teachers to grade, or for the purposes of passing time. Young people want to have a voice and choice in what is learned and how it is learned.
Authentic learning experiences are real world, concrete, and current. They align directly to the challenges of a 21st century economy, but more importantly, they align to what students face in their families and communities every day. Relationship building is key as the more we know about young people as a school, the mores strategic we can be in co-designing their learning experiences. Issues related to civic responsible, depression and mental health, gang violence, and economic justice are just a few of the topics students consistently identify as being important to them. Real world topics, will be the content that drives the curriculum at C.A.S.A. High School.

Further, challenging play opportunities creates an environment of aesthetic learning experiences for students and brings deeper purpose and meaning to the overall school experience. When assignments are rudimentary, boredom and apathy toward both the school environment and the concept of learning sets in. When students engage in design thinking, for example, they are able to put themselves and their communities at the center of a creative process that challenges them to solve authentic and relevant problems within their community. Design thinking revolutionizes the classroom experience as children work both independently and collaboratively to generate ideas, receive feedback, be meta-cognitive, and creatively problem solve.

The Science of Adolescent Learning

The brain is incredibly malleable, even into the adolescent years, so we must design learning experiences and environments that are invigorating, challenging and diverse. Because many students enter high school multiple grade levels behind in reading and math behind, teachers often believed that academic growth was limited during adolescents. However, if school is designed to both meet the foundational needs of students, while challenging students to solve interdisciplinary problems, synapses ignite and the brain gets stronger throughout their high school experience.
Using brain science to design our learning environment will help our students begin to develop more self-confidence and self-worth. As such, students will begin to seek out additional learning and leadership opportunities. At C.A.S.A. High School each learning experience will align strategically with the learning preferences and interests of students. This will help to solidify cognitive cohesion and strengthen executive functions. Learning will be mobile, fluid, and gives students the opportunity to work in pairs, small groups, independently, on a computer, and in a seminar style format as well.

We look forward to taking learning outside of the school so that students are learning in nature, professional settings, and students from other communities. Students will also be hands on as they build, design, and create prototypes in alignment with their ideas. Reading diverse texts, vigorous conversation, and writing will continue to be essential as communication skills are still extremely important in the 21st century. Foundational skills development builds fluency and allows for brain energy to be more focused on the deeper dive project based learning. Therefore, student schedules must meet their diverse needs. Finally, as we will implement anecdotal self-assessment with teacher guidance, students will learn to be meta-cognitive, accountable, and self-aware, and serve as a compliment and possible replacement to New York’s current five regent requirement for graduation.

Design Phase

School Mission and Culture

All children are brilliant. Therefore, our mission is to develop scholar activists by design learning environments and experiences that nurture and cultivate the brilliance inherent in every child. Our intended impact is to help students self-actualize and become change agents in their communities, as well as the global economy. Our theory of change involves dealing with the pain and suffering in the world directly and using the design thinking process to self-analyze and work toward solutions for both small and large scale problems.

Social Action and knowledge of self, will anchor the culture of C.A.S.A. High School in a purpose driven learning environment. We aim to eradicate poverty, depression, addiction, mass incarceration, broken families, as well as the economic and opportunity gap. We believe that every inhabitant on earth should have clean water, food, and shelter, and be given the right to freedom, justice, equality and love.

Teaching and Learning

All learning experiences will be aligned to the State Standards and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills rubric.

First, students discover by individually identifying problems they are passionate about solving. This happens via conversation and ideation. Students then work collaboratively to vote on the top three problems from the generated list. From the list of three, one problem is highlighted for the project. After the problem is identified, students will design solutions, either with a partner, group of three, or independently. Designs are created using hands on materials and might include a website, campaign, workshop, display board, or documentary. Students then receive feedback on their designs before going deeper into the development stage.

An additional 21st century skill is the ability to understand and write in code. Our second learning experience involves our technology teacher setting up code competitions on iMacs. Students can work independently or form a team of three as they practice code via Code Academy,, and participating in the nationwide Hour of Code. Friendly competition provides additional motivation for students as they learn sportsmanship in an academic setting. The competition continues as we transition toward our Globaloria game design program where student create action oriented educational games for their peers and younger students to play.

In both settings, teachers serve as facilitators, and computers and laptops are used throughout. Students develop excellent communication skills, the ability to ideate and create, and creative problem solving skills. Students also learn about Java Script HTML, and Flash. Learning takes place both in and out of school as the design activity requires students to interview community members as well. Most importantly, students learn to work on a team, take initiative, and be agile in their learning as design thinking requires both technical and adaptive (non-cognitive) skills.

Student Agency and Engagement

Knowledge of self is the foundation of all transformational learning, so we intend to create an environment that supports self-awareness by using student surveys as a tool to facilitate curriculum engagement.

Natasha Rivers came to our school while she was still living in a shelter. As a victim of poverty, there were many nights where Natasha did not know where her meal was coming from. Through initial interviews, Natasha struggled to envision a future for herself. However, after completing personality surveys, and building relationships with her teachers, Natasha began to learn a lot more about her interests and non-cognitive skills, and thus became very interested in the possibilities of college. During our weekly community circle after hearing a speech from Mr. Bowman about the impact of xenophobia on historically disenfranchised groups, Natasha decided that she wanted to become a lawyer. During her Junior Year as part of her college essay, she wrote about that morning in community circle and how it put her on a path to pursuing college and impact her community. Natasha graduated with a 3.7 G.P.A. and will attend the University of Albany as a freshman.
Lisa Martinez, a diminutive 9th grade student, came to us reading three grade levels behind. Thankfully, our school is designed to provide small group instruction within classrooms, a study hall space with teacher support, and additional academic interventions throughout the day and after school. Because of the availability of these services, and the relationships her teachers built with her, Lisa took advantage of these opportunities and by the end of her sophomore year Lisa was on grade level in reading. Lisa continued this ascension throughout high school and went on to join the National Honor Society, take AP English, join the soccer team, and attend Cornell University.

Networks and Partnerships

As hands on learning, social justice, computer technology, and a whole child approach are the pillars of the C.A.S.A. High School culture; we will look to partner with college, corporate, and nonprofit entities to invigorate our learning environment and enhance student agency.

Partnerships will be incredibly fluid as student surveys and self-assessments will help to determine what partnerships we need to pursue. Agency strengthens as student voice is included in developing partnerships. While serving as principal of C.A.S.A. Middle School, we developed partnerships with social action Hip Hop organizations Negus World and Hip Hop Saves Lives. Through these partnerships, our students tackled topics from Ebola to #blacklivesmatter. When we couldn’t afford a dance teacher, we partnered with Standard Collaboration dance studio to teach dance two days a week.

Further, at CASA, our partnership with the Department of Youth and Community Development allowed us to provide extended day services five days a week for three additional hours which helped to provide visual arts programming, leadership training, sports and homework help.

We will work to ensure that our curriculum and pedagogy are aligned to the content and skills students are going to need in higher education and careers. Students at C.A.S.A. High School will be given the opportunity to take college courses as this can greatly reduce college tuition. Partnerships with innovative companies will be essential as our school aims to produce innovators to solve real world problems. We hope to leverage the expertise of college faculty, as well as corporate and nonprofit employees, to assist with teacher professional development, parent engagement, and real world student learning opportunities.

Partners will meet once a month with school faculty to create a School Leadership Team in which we will work together to develop a comprehensive education plan, set goals, and review processes.

Progressive Innovation

I think to be truly progressive is to be innovative. You can’t have one without the other. And innovation must be rooted in love. Love for everything in this world and beyond. Contemporary history has been about power, not love. Colonization has told that story. Maybe integration tells the story of our future.

To be progressive, to progress, involves uplifting the downtrodden, and ensuring that they have food, clothing, shelter, and access to healthcare and education. Then, they must be empowered with the information, resources, and freedom to engage with the world. This means to engage with the natural, human, and digital environments. To make this happen we must think outside of the box and access the infinite potential of our imagination. The goal: to enhance the quality of life of all human beings while leveraging and cultivating the natural and digital environments. This is progress and this is innovation.

I picture a depressed mother, beaten down by the systematic disenfranchisement rooted in our country’s history. She receives public assistance and can barely get her child ready for school. She may even drink a little too much, and is so ashamed of her reality she doesn’t like to engage with people; especially those that “think they’re better than her.”

Maybe this mom begins to get calls from a social worker, once a week just to check in. The social worker wants to see how the mom is doing and what’s new with the child in school. The mom, slowly at first begins to warm up, open up, and after a month or two, begins to trust the social worker.
The social worker then might begin to visit the home once or twice a month instead of a call. As more trust is built the social worker brings the mom to social gatherings to meet other moms and dads and members of the community. In addition to food and beverages, these gatherings serve as information sessions for GED courses, TESOL services, job and computer training. Parents also engage in short activities designed to build self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.

The gatherings take place in the community and are collaboratively organized by teachers, doctors, businesses, elected officials and colleges. College students, as part of their curriculum, help facilitate this process. Everything from the initial phone calls to the gatherings are warm, nurturing, and engaging. The mom along with other parents, begin to attend more frequently to share their life experiences and their hopes for the future.

Online networks and groups are created. Parents connect more frequently and continue to learn skills via phone apps or computers at the local library, community center, or school. Parents become energized, more helpful with homework, and are now driven to get off of welfare and use their new skills and confidence to get a job with benefits. These parents then begin to work and support other parents — each one teach one.

Whether via telephone, text message, apps, computers or online programs, technology, working as human centered tools, can support a process like this which is so desperately needed in a country where 50% of children live in poverty. We need higher Ed, and everyone that serves the community to work together. And we need to push the politicians, who work for us, to ensure this gets done. But this needs to get done now. The progressives must lead the technological revolution by placing their hearts at the center of the microchip, and using their creative minds to design the next hardware and software solutions of tomorrow.

The Miseducation of Shavar Jefferies and Democrats for Education Reform

Shavar Jeffries has never taught a day in his life. Yet, he was chosen to be president of the pro Charter School group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER is also known to advocate for “tougher” teacher evaluation policies and annual standardized testing; all elements of the corporate education reform agenda.

During a recent debate against the Executive Director of New York Allies for Public Education Lisa Rudley, on Fox’s Good Day New York, and in an Op Ed for U.S. News and World Report entitled Hillary Clinton Needs to Opt In, Mr. Jeffries argues for continued annual standardized testing. He goes so far as to call Secretary Clinton and her husband, former two term president Bill Clinton, “wrong” for wanting to scale back annual testing. His arguments include: testing requirements are “already minimal,” as federal guidelines require less than 1% of testing annually; annual measures provide important information which has lead to increased funding for our highest need schools; and the vast majority of civil rights groups support annual testing.

Taking Jefferies’ last argument first, while 12 civil rights groups  came out in favor of annual testing, well over 100 civil rights groups did not. The groups opposed to annual testing led by the Network for Public Education, penned a letter in June 2015 denouncing the practice of annual testing. Jeffries uses the magnetic term civil rights to conjure up images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fighting against water hoses and attack dogs in the sixties. To Jeffries, Dr. King is a pro-testing charter network coming to save the children from the teacher union attack dogs. The support of civil rights groups, who have been compromised by corporate donations, should immediately invoke questions regarding the group’s integrity and true motivation. The corporate reform agenda has also infiltrated our political discourse, which is probably why an overwhelming majority supported the annual testing portion of the new ESSA Bill.

Jeffries’ second point regarding the positive impact of increased funding for high need communities is misguided for a couple of reasons. First, when compared to wealthier public school districts, Title One schools continue to be chronically underfunded. Second, despite the so called increase in per pupil spending, the achievement gap remains. Third, we can look at average family income to determine the resource necessities of a particular community, as income is the biggest predictor of test scores and college completion rates. Further, studies have also shown that 3rd grade test scores are predictive of high school graduation, so grade band testing (in grades 4 and 7 for example), should be adequate in determining the needs of a particular school.

Finally, although federal guidelines mandate that less than 1% of school time be used on testing annually; because of the high stakes nature of the tests and their connection to teacher evaluations, states, districts, schools, and teachers have narrowed their curriculum and pedagogy to teach to the test. Therefore, the 1% mandate impacts 100% of a child’s learning experiences at school.  Learning has now become a practice of answering questions, reading, writing and thinking in a way that mirrors what students will be required to do on a state test not created by educators. Further, annual testing force feeds “grade level” standards and tests created by private corporations onto students who may not be developmentally ready for particular benchmarks. Children are not standardized and child development is not a linear process.

What is most damaging about our test and punish system and why Jefferies’ support is baffling, is our continued overemphasis on English Language Arts and Mathematics. As a result, Science, the arts, project based learning, and Montessori classrooms have all been reduced or removed from the public school curriculum. Consequently, aesthetic learning, and other essential skills needed to truly compete in a “21st century global economy” have been greatly compromised.

Again, Mr. Jeffries has never taught a day in his life. If he had he might argue for the importance of early childhood programs in low-income communities. He would know that proficiency on standardized tests in grades 3-8 does not contribute to nor correlate with college success. He might also argue for portfolio-based assessments that facilitate deeper learning and better align with the collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking skills required for college and career success. In the future, I would encourage Mr. Jeffries to speak with real educators on the ground in district public schools. We work with children every day. We can tell him what needs to be done for our children and communities. Annual testing is not even on the list.

We must have real conversations about the most important factor to learning in our schools —teachers and teaching. Let us design a school system anchored in multiple intelligences that nurture the innate brilliance and joy for learning in every child. Let us work together to advocate for a truly individualized, Whole Child approach to schooling. Our goal must be to ensure the health, prosperity, and happiness of every single child, so that we can fulfill the promise of our democracy. Mr. Jefferies and his colleagues at DFER, if they truly want what’s best for our public schools, must expand their thinking about life, learning, and most of all, children.

Welcome TFA 2016 Corps Members

Dear TFA 2016 Corps Members,

Thank you for choosing to enter the teaching profession. Please stay longer than two years. Give the classroom at least five. If you’re placed in a “no excuses” school, just know that that is not the way things ought to be for children and it “doesn’t feel right” because it is not right. It is inhumane. Ask yourself what might be the unconscious impulses driving these policies and why many of the schools you went to did not treat you in this way. Your deductive reasoning will lead you to racism, and maybe a form of xenophobia. Children should be allowed to converse during breakfast and lunch and middle school kids especially should be allowed to transition from one class to another on their own while having casual conversation.

Further, your job is not to get higher test scores. Your job is to develop human beings who love life, learning, and the world. Test scores do not lead to college success. This is easily verifiable. A love of learning is sustainable, and happens through emotional intelligence and passion. Make these two things a pillar in your classroom.

Empower your students to lead, create, design, and build, not to simply work for a master. Empower parents with their right to refuse the state exams and to have a larger voice in their child’s education. Doing this empowers entire communities. The status quo needs to be disrupted not maintained, and disruption is not charter schools and so called “teacher accountability.” Disruption is jobs, job training, voter registration, and whole child education. Listen carefully to your training, ALWAYS read between the lines, and ask PROBING questions. Remember you are working with historically oppressed populations who will only be truly free through knowledge of self. To give your students that knowledge you must first learn about them and understand them through their paradigm.

During your first week of school ask students to write you a letter about their lives so you can learn more about them and better serve them. Make it a homework assignment and see the response rate and content produced. For those that do not respond have a private conversation with them to ask why. Walk the neighborhood of your school and make home visits. Also, don’t try to fit students into your box of “success” or what’s right. Trust me, your box is narrow. Instead, let empathy (not sympathy) guide you and help you to open up their world. Two songs can help get you started, but don’t stop there: I Can by Nas (the last verse is critical), and You Must Learn by KRS One. Two books are also critical, but again, don’t stop here: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, and The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson.

For those of you who do leave the classroom but “remain in the profession” to do policy work, please fight for policies that dramatically decrease state testing, tremendously increase early childhood (birth-age five) programs with parenting classes and supports, fight for project based learning, learning through play, and portfolio based assessments. Also please fight to increase the implementation of culturally relevant curriculum, pedagogy, and teachers of color. Recruit some “street kids” as well. It’ll bring a diversity that TFA so desperately needs. If you don’t know what I mean by street kids, that is my point exactly. Finally, please fight like hell for the adequate funding of schools in low-income communities. New York City for example has been waiting for ten years for over 2 billion dollars from the state. This is happening nationally as well.

Remember this, and this is very important, Bill Gates is not an educator. He is a for-profit businessman obsessed with data and power. I know his initiatives seem glamorous because he’s a wealthy tech guy, but they have been incredibly harmful to children. Remember also that he’s not even the cool tech guy. Don’t most of us have Apple products? He might be the evil nerd that came in second and is now trying to obtain world domination through acquisition and overcompensation. Think about it and work with us to push his thinking as well.

Thank you again and good luck in your first year.


Jamaal A. Bowman

Founding Principal



We Really Need You Now

I really need for my teacher friends to unite with parents and get more political. The time is now. If you don’t organize and speak up, the government will continue to do what it wants to you. If you want to know how to become more political, please check out my Facebook page, or contact me via Twitter @jamaalabowman. You’ll find groups already doing great work — join them. You’ll learn a lot about what you can do to help. Feel free to message me. We need you and we need your voice. Your voice matters tremendously, and there are so many ways to help. The government doesn’t know what’s best for our children. We cannot let them continue to make decisions that harm our profession and our children. Please teachers, the time is now and we need you desperately. Share with every teacher and parent you know. Get involved. It’ll take all of us to create the schools we need for a truly beautiful and democratic society. Some specific issues include:
The state of NY owes city schools around 2.4 billion dollars. The state is 8 years late paying this bill. Low income schools nationally continue to be drastically underfunded. We must call and write our legislatures everyday about what’s called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity money. 

We continue to invest in an over-abundance of standardized exams and couple these flawed exams and processes to the rating of teachers, instead of investing in early childhood programs which all the research points to as being the holy grail of transforming our society. We also can better invest in implementing portfolio based and expeditionary assessments in the upper grades that truly capture deeper learning.

Public schools do not the have Montessori, open space, hands on, project based programs that private school students continue to thrive on. Why not? What does the government truly believe about our children? 

There is much more to all of this so please get involved and learn more. Don’t fret if you don’t know or understand all of the issues. I too am learning as I go. Just learn a little bit more everyday and ask questions. Let’s unite to make our country greater than it’s ever been. Message me so we can organize around the issues. Let’s show the government how much we love our children and our country. Thank you.

An Open Letter to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo

An Open Letter to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo:

I hope this letter finds you and your family in good health and good spirits. I write not only to you, but also to those who share your view of public education.

I want to start by thanking you for creating a commission to review and “reboot” the Common Core standards. I agree, “the implementation of the Common Core just did not work,” and needs a “total overhaul.” By forming the commission, you have provided a platform for parents and educators to share their thinking regarding not just the Common Core, but public education in general. I am hopeful that the feedback you receive will make its way into our schools and begin a much needed student centered redesign of public education in New York State.

I also want to personally thank you for allowing me to provide testimony to the Common Core commission at the College of New Rochelle. It seems that my testimony went over pretty well as it has nearly 4000 views on social media. Your commission has also chosen to make me one of their technical advisors, which provided the opportunity for me to give additional testimony in the areas of curriculum and assessment. The work of the commission, along with your hiring of Jere Hochman as Deputy Secretary of Education, has me very excited about the direction in which we are moving.

My excitement turned to devastation however as I watched your November 17th interview with David Gergen at the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Leadership. As an education practitioner for sixteen years, I was both frustrated and disheartened to watch the two of you pontificate about public education in what I consider to be a dangerous and irresponsible manner.

Your discussion was wide ranging; covering topics from police reform to the new construction at LaGuardia Airport. As the conversation shifted to education, you told the audience that you are in constant conflict with the teacher union. You shared that your “unabashed” support for charter schools, which you refer to as “laboratories of invention,” as well as your teacher evaluation mandate, are two of the causes of this conflict. You also went on to share your excitement around the possibilities of technology as a means to help circumvent the “machine” of the teacher union bureaucracy.

Mr. Gergen, whom you refer to as one of the experts and craftsmen of his generation, recklessly framed the conversation in a way that greatly mis-categorizes the public education narrative. Mr. Gergen stated that teacher unions don’t want “young smart” people from Teach for America entering the profession. He then went on to praise charter schools as places that provide “24/7 support to children and families,” and “really work with the children themselves.” While Mr. Gergen made these comments, you nodded your head enthusiastically in agreement.

There are two things that are incredibly careless about this conversation. First, it lacks a valid and reliable research base. Second, the two of you have a platform to really shape public discourse. As such, you must take extra special care to avoid facilitating misinformation regarding public education or any other topic. If you don’t, the perpetuation of child suffering will continue in schools throughout the state — as it does in schools all over the country.

What does the data tell us about these widely discussed topics? First, public schools as a whole “outperform” charter schools. I place the word outperform in quotes because of our narrow view of what it means to perform in public schools today. The few charter schools that are celebrated for closing the alleged “achievement gap” have faced extreme criticism and scrutiny for their draconian test prep and recruitment practices, and boast incredibly high student and staff attrition rates. Some may argue these practices are the price to pay for achievement, but consider these questions:

1. Are we ready to accept the instability and emotional trauma that comes with schools designed around draconian test prep practices?
2. Does high performance on standardized assessments truly equate to what we all mean by achievement?

Research shows otherwise: In 2003, the “gold standard” of charter schools, KIPP, had a graduating class that ranked fifth in New York City on the math standardized tests. Six years after entering college, only 21% of that cohort had earned a college degree.

In the landmark book, Crossing The Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, former college presidents William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson found that student high school G.P.A. was more predictive of college success than S.A.T. scores.

As you can see Mr. Governor, high performance on standardized tests alone does not equate to a quality education. What research identifies as a determinate of quality schools, lies in a well rounded curriculum inclusive of both academic and adaptive skills, where students get to solve problems creatively, work with their peers, and experience both teacher and student centered pedagogy.

As to your comments regarding charter schools serving as “labs of invention,” allow me to remind you that some of the most innovative schools in the country are public schools right here in your state. From the NYC iSchool, to Westside Collaborative, to Brooklyn New School, to Quest to Learn, there is amazing work happening in unionized public schools that we all can learn from. Charter schools that promote silent breakfast, silent lunch, silent hallway transitions, and have teachers walking around with clipboards to give demerits to students who misbehave, do not sound like labs of invention to me — they sound like labs of oppression.

Your statement related to wanting teacher evaluations because “right now we have none” is categorically false. Teachers have been evaluated throughout my entire career. With regard to the new evaluation system, the issue isn’t that teachers are averse to evaluations, they just want evaluations that are fair and just. An evaluation that is 50% aligned to invalid and unreliable tests, created by a 3rd party for-profit company, aligned to new standards and curriculum with minimal teacher input, is both unfair and unjust. What makes matters worse is by continuing to turn a deaf ear to the research on child and brain development, we continue to have an achievement gap that will never be closed by an evaluation system tied to test scores.

Furthermore, why are charter schools exempt from your teacher evaluation plan? That also doesn’t seem fair or just.

Regarding Mr. Gergen’s comments, teacher unions aren’t afraid of “young smart” teachers entering the profession. On the contrary, that is what they want! Teacher unions oppose Teach for America (TFA) because the majority of TFA recruits leave the classroom within three years, with most leaving the profession entirely. This obviously creates a continued vacuum in our most vulnerable communities and has indirectly undermined the recruitment and stability of teachers via traditional pathways. Further, Teach for America has been around for 25 years and our so called “achievement gap” has grown. Their impact has been a net zero at best for the profession.

Mr. Gergen also seems to think only charter schools support students and families 24/7. To this I say check my phone records, and the phone records of educators throughout the country. We all love our students as our own children and we are constantly in touch with families into the evenings and on weekends to support them with whatever they need. Mr. Gergen disrespects and undermines the profession with these nonsensical statements.

Lastly, regarding your excitement for technology, technology is simply a tool to help us get things done more efficiently and effectively. It will not in and of itself “revolutionize public education” as you say. The education revolution begins with a paradigm shift driven by the needs and brilliance of the children we serve.

If we really want to transform public education, Mr. Governor, we have to stop investing in purchasing, administering, and scoring annual assessments from grades 3-8. We know 3rd grade reading scores predict future outcomes, so let’s invest heavily in early childhood education, teacher training, and school support. Lets focus on birth to age eight programs, implement a strong literacy and Montessori curriculum, and institute portfolio based assessments and apprenticeships in grades 6-12. If we do this, you will have a model education system for the world to aspire to.

Mr. Governor, you, like many of your elected colleagues, are lawyers, not educators. I am an educator. I have been throughout my professional life. I do not know the law, and would never try to speak with any conviction about what should happen in a courtroom. What’s most dangerous about the public education discourse is the fact that finance, tech, government, and the “elite” are all driving the conversation without educators included. They have the audacity, to make life-altering decisions for other people’s children, while sending their children to independent schools.

The masses of people, who are our most vulnerable, continue to be handled without empathy or care. Empathy requires that we walk in the shoes of others; something that charter reformers, Common Core advocates, and Teach for America have never done.

In closing, I want to turn your attention back to your announcement of the Common Core commission. Do you realize that in that speech you mentioned the word “standards” ten times, and the word “tests” fifteen times, while only mentioning the word “learning” one time? Standards and tests are meaningless if they aren’t grounded in learning. Learning is innate, natural, and driven by the needs of children. This is why we must change the conversation from standards and testing to teaching and learning. This fundamental flaw in ideology continues to lead our education system down a destructive path.

Further, although you and Mr. Gergen discussed innovation as essential to moving the education agenda forward, during your Common Core commission announcement the words creativity, collaboration, and communication, which many experts believe are pillars of innovation, received a total of zero mentions. Innovation is not just about using a computer, tablet, or smartphone; innovation is a way of thinking, doing, and being.

Thank you Mr. Governor for all that you do for our state. In the future please be mindful to handle the topic of public education with extreme care. Be wary of your pro charter school advisors. The charter school money train and gentrification plans are well documented. Our work isn’t about teacher unions, charters, or technology; our work is about children — and the future of our democracy.

Have a happy holiday season.

Jamaal A. Bowman

The Future of Public Schools

Our current system of high stakes testing in public schools continue the legacy of oppression in the United States. From the Continental Congress to Race to the Top, America has a tradition of disenfranchising the masses. This is not an issue of race, but an issue of power. Power rooted in immorality conceived at the inception of our nation, and power that continues today with .1% of the population controlling the majority of the world’s wealth.

Standardized testing may seem benign when compared to something like segregation or the wage gap, but think about it: 50.1 million students attend public schools everyday. From Carter G. Woodson:

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

By means of our obsession with the standardized testing conglomerate, we are controlling the thinking of our students and programming them to the “back door.” Their gifts suppressed; their ambitions stripped; their futures resting in the rudimentary of society.

In aligning teacher and principal evaluations to 3rd party curriculum companies and standardized tests, the state is perpetuating a system of subjugation. Teachers are now forced to teach to a set of standards, curriculum, and an exam, while ignoring the individual needs of students. As we know, students enter school at different developmental levels. Some can write their names, others can tie their shoes, some know how to count, and others know their colors, while many struggle with all of the above. This discrepancy is even more noticeable in low-income communities, where the education attainment of parents and cultural learning experiences differ greatly compared to their middle and upper income counterparts.

Standards should be used as guidelines for teachers as they organically create curriculum in collaboration with their students. Without student voice, choice, and needs being foundational components of a curriculum, we must render it inadequate. With regard to third party programs, instead of the state making unilateral decisions, allow teachers, schools, and Ed officials to engage in vigorous debate about which programs might be used in particular grades and in particular communities. Finally, to ensure a well-rounded 21st century curriculum, extracurricular activities should be included throughout K-12. Extracurricular activities build the communication, creativity, and collaboration skills of students as well as help students to experience flow, which in my opinion, is the holy grail of learning.

An argument that is often made regarding testing, involves teacher accountability. I hate the word accountability because it has bastardized the discourse in public education. First, accountability begets more accountability, which fortifies systems of standardization. We are people not robots. Standardization is for inanimate objects, not for people with hearts and minds. Second, accountability creates a culture of fear. Teachers and schools are being threatened into doing what they’re told or risk losing their jobs. Fear leads to short-term results and eventual self-destruction, which is why public schools are now ripe for charter takeover, and why many charters have such high turnover rates. Most importantly, accountability runs counter to trust. Because we don’t trust schools and teachers to do what’s right for students, we create systems of accountability to scare them into doing what the state thinks is right.

Accountability also implies that teachers were to blame for the “low performance” of select students, schools, and districts in the first place. Instead of focusing on issues of concentrated poverty and America’s tradition of under funding our highest need schools, we focused on teachers. I would argue that despite the lack of training and resources to support teachers in the most difficult environments, those teachers went to work everyday and performed miracles. Yes the test scores in many low-income communities were poor, but the research around language development and Executive Functions explains why that is.

I also want to acknowledge a truth that’s sometimes ignored in the discourse: a culture of low expectations has been and continues to be a big problem in many low-income communities. Because of the plight of these populations, many teachers want to help students “get by,” and don’t always push them academically. These teachers and schools in many cases were overwhelmed by the gravity of the psycho-social-emotional effects of the disenfranchisement that many students brought with them to schools. Without the proper supports, schools were metaphorically beaten into a state of apathy. Teacher training wasn’t adequate preparation for the work, and states abandoned them, which lead to the federal government stepping in with No Child Left Behind.

More testing and scripted curriculum will not solve these complex problems. What begins to solve these problems is training and supports around trauma inform pedagogy, growth mindsets, and a 21st century community schools model. Further, despite the trails and tribulations of our communities, our students come to us with the capacity to learn a great many things. Our learning environments must include the multiple intelligences and must be responsive to the diverse abilities of students.

Back to the issue of trust for a moment, while districts, schools, and teachers are trying to create cultures of trust in their workspace, the state undermines the process by bringing the accountability hammer down. State testing has driven a wedge between parents and teachers. Prior to the accountability regime, teachers and parents would communicate more formatively about the idiosyncrasies of their child’s learning. Today, parents are only concerned with their child’s state test scores.

If we must continue to use the dangerous word of accountability, I impress upon the state to completely shift the context in which we use it. Hold teachers accountable for the quality and consistency of their interactions with parents, students, and colleagues. Trust the principal to hold teachers accountable for quality instruction by consistently observing teachers and providing timely feedback. Trust superintendents to hold principals accountable for the quality of their school environments and the formative systems they have in place. As you can see, accountability, must work cohesively with the concept of trust, and should aim to focus as much on process as we do on product. Simply focusing on a myopic test score distorts where our focus should be within the realm of schooling.

If the state really needs “big data,” test students in grades 4 and 7. Allow students to complete the exams untimed in one sitting and be done with them. This will give the state its big data while identifying schools and communities that need additional supports. The state can satisfy its insatiable appetite of ranking and filing without totally destroying teaching and learning; which is what’s happening now.

Over testing has also greatly compromised the survival skills of students. As many schools are now adopting Orwellian tactics that measure every breath taken by students, their ability to manage their own freedom and adapt to unpredictable circumstances is lost. Independent thought and adaptability is what makes us human.

Consider also that teachers are running from the profession in droves. Applications are down and schools are constantly shutting down. A profession so full of life, joy and love, is now becoming a profession full of despair.

The time is now for solutions. Let us shift toward what is right for our children and our schools. I believe that public schools can help solve society’s biggest challenges like addiction, poverty, and mass incarceration. Let us align what the research says with the common sense that all parents posses. Every parent knows that children are natural learners, artists, explorers, and innovators. Why not create a school system designed for ingenuity, which creates the space for all children to thrive? Let us also create the space for schools to work collaboratively with community stakeholders to meet the needs of all families. We the people should hold the state accountable for creating a system like this!

What if OBGYNs and pediatricians dispatched visiting nurse services to work with “at risk” parents, who may be young, low income, have limited education, or something more severe? What if nursery Montessori schools were placed in all high needs communities as Maria Montessori actually intended? What if after a vigorous debate and analysis by educators, the proper “curriculum” was chosen for schools, and schools had the training and support to organically supplement the curriculum to meet the needs of students? What if performance based assessments aligned to competencies like creativity, collaboration, communication, initiative, and adaptability, were used to assess the growth of our students as they worked on projects throughout the school year?

What if students were allowed to build things and apply they’re knowledge as part of an assessment portfolio? What if high schools were more like college and students picked majors aligned to their interests and affinities while simultaneously working on areas of growth? What if financial literacy, banking and economics were taught in our schools? What if we taught topics instead of subjects in an interdisciplinary curriculum? What if we took grades out of school? 

The list can go on and on. The point is, our school system is polarized in the verbal reasoning section of the brain. We have ignored the heart and soul of our profession for far too long. A quality education must include the Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.), Social Quotient (S.Q.), and Emotional Quotient (E.Q.). To quote Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence:

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you struggle with empathy and effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to go far.”

Though I disagree with Goleman’s characterization of smart in this context, his point regarding our intellectual quotient alone is deficient in creating happy, healthy and prosperous lives is well taken.

College graduation rates and our economy continue to depress not because people aren’t smart enough, but because people aren’t feeling enough. On balance, we are not living through our passion. We have not found our voice.

There is a life and death crisis in public education. This fight is for our humanity. Whoever replaces Arne Duncan, as Secretary of Education must pivot away from the testing conglomerate. The souls of our children are at stake, as are the souls of teachers, and school communities all over the country. Bombard your elected officials with calls and emails to end the tyranny of testing. Let freedom truly ring in our nation’s schools and we will be much closer to fulfilling the American Dream.