About Daniel Cashmere

DJ Cashmere teaches 11th-Grade Literacy, Theatre Arts, and Advisory classes at a Chicago high school. He is in his third year with his high school students, after previously teaching for a year in an elementary school in Chicago. DJ is a 2009 TFA Chicago Alum and a graduate of the University of Southern California, where he studied Theatre.

Dear Ira Glass: Disappointed In Harper High School Coverage

Ira Glass

Ira Glass (Photo credit: Jeremy M Farmer)

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Part 2:

Dear Ira Glass,

I am a big admirer of your work and I often use episodes of This American Life in my curriculum. Your recent two-part episode on Harper High School was of immense interest to me. I am a teacher here in Chicago, and have taught in Chicago Public Schools in both Englewood and Cabrini-Green. I am currently teaching at a high-performing non-selective high school on the Near West Side, where I have the opportunity to serve a student body made up of low-income minority students, many of whom are from the Englewood and other South Side neighborhoods. One student with whom I have become close over the last three years has multiple siblings who have graduated from Harper. I also lived with a Harper teacher during the 2010-2011 school year.

The stories of these students need to be heard, and your team did an admirable job of bringing compelling narratives to light for a national audience.

With that being said, I have to tell you that I was severely disappointed in the scope and focus of your broadcast. While I understand that you were interested in investigating the impact of violence on Harper, I was still stunned that education and learning were completely absent from a two-hour broadcast about a school. In the end, I believe that your coverage served to excuse many of the most harmful practices in our schools today and perpetuate some of the most harmful myths about urban education.

Rhee on ‘The Daily Show’: An Open Letter To Jon Stewart

Dear Mr. Stewart,

I have great respect for the work you do on The Daily Show. It goes without saying that your blend of humor, insight, and moral fervor has endeared you to an entire generation, a generation of which I am a proud member.

With that said, I must take issue with your recent interview of former Chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee.

Let’s start with standardized tests.

Early on in the interview, you refer to standardized tests as an “arbitrary system,” saying that they do “not in any way really measure a possible student’s potential or success, a possible teacher’s potential or success, yet it is the thing that they are tied to.” This suspicion of standardized tests as a means of evaluating teachers is one of the through-lines of the interview, and it is misguided.

As Rhee points out, no one is advocating teacher accountability systems that are based solely on test scores. While we do need to innovate around our teacher evaluation metrics and be sure that they paint a holistic portrait of our teachers, it is important to note that, even in the recent (and highly-publicized) Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike, the additional emphasis on test scores in teacher evaluations still made up for only a small portion of the proposed evaluation system. At my school, my evaluation is based on everything from test scores to my students’ discipline to the number of parents I sit down with in-person each quarter to my professionalism.

Furthermore, test scores are not arbitrary, and they do matter, and they are one way of measuring a student’s future academic performance. The dirty little secret is that standardized tests are not actually that difficult; when you off-handedly referred to doing fine on your SAT, your nonchalance betrayed the ease with which you approached that test. These tests assess basic skills; when students are failing them, when Rhee says only 8% of DC Public School students were on on grade-level, what that means is that we have a vast majority of students in these districts who literally can not read and write and do math. This is unacceptable.

Please note, Mr. Stewart: not all teachers have to “teach to the test,” regardless of perceived pressure around test scores. Rather, some teachers know that if they are engaging students in problem-solving and collaboration, and assessing their students’ skills and using the data to drive instruction, those students will do just fine on those tests. Teachers do not fear accountability, and all teachers must have it.

And speaking of accountability…