ABCs of Educational Injustice

4
Michelle Pennix

I was excited. I was young-enough, studied-enough, passionate-enough. I knew that with the right staff, right curriculum, right strategies, right systems and with the right energy we could raise test scores to pass all the other schools in the state.

After a few years, I just knew people would come from all over the world to see how we had transformed an average school into a national powerhouse of education. Seriously, that's what I thought. To some degree, I think that is how all new principals come into their career.

They have no idea. I know I didn't.

I worked my plan as a right way leader who took pride in doing the right things in the right way to improve test scores. Every day, stay focused, instructional time tight. Teacher meetings, parent conferences and student hostages, in that order.

The week before Spring Break in school is always the let loose, have fun because when we come back it's straight into TestPrep Academy.

Every lesson and every classroom will be observed closely to ensure the right standards are being taught in the right way to make sure our students will do their best on the test.

April and the first week of May are always filled with weekly reviews of specific items we are sure to be on the test based on emphasis from District and State level experts. This all culminates in a one-day TestPrep Pep Rally where there was no end to the amount of money or fools we were willing to make of ourselves in the hopes that our students would be so motivated as to exhaust themselves from effort on the test.

Actual testing days were the worst. Five days of forced quiet from everyone, even K, 1st, and 2nd graders who didn't take the test as not to disturb the big kids in the hallways. Lunch schedules were changed, related arts classes canceled, and recess limited to the end of the week as not to have any child act out so much that we might have to suspend them before they had finished the test. And when the test was over, so was the school year.

Regardless of what anyone will tell you. Teachers know that it's over because their energies are exhausted, and the measure of their success is fully out of their hands awaiting results.

No one tells you that when you start as a principal. They do not know that every year becomes more difficult when you care about kids. They do not see the system is stacked against kids and makes decisions around what adults want instead. It's not one teacher, one principal, one superintendent, it's the system.

Its time to change the system.

At its root we have an educational system built literally by white men who sought measures to exert control over teachers, affirmation of white intelligence superiority, and who feared Black bodies and their influence in white spaces.

The damage has been done.

Over one hundred years of American educational systems that has not made us brighter or better. Instead they have halted at the core what it means to be educated.

Solutions

If we are to turn this around, we must immediately stop the insanity and repeat our ABCs.

A stands for Abolish Standardized Testing. We know more than enough to see how these tests at every level of educational progress have been used to dismantle student self-esteem and intellectual creativity while promoting white superiority with false achievement gap data.

B stands for Ban Suspensions. Through relationship building and restorative practices without the weight of high-stakes achievement tests our kids will be seen again. The criminalizing and dehumanizing of Black students will end giving America a new view of Black boys and girls that haven't been unjustly labeled in a school-to-prison pipeline.

C stands for Create Curriculum that Cultivates Curiosity. What if we started to let students be the drivers of their learning? By freeing teachers to be facilitators of knowledge instead of dictators. Families create learning pathways that help to develop adults who can communicate and collaborate creatively. It's the memories we hold closest about what we actually learned and remembered from school.

These are not theories. Experiments have been ran in pockets all over this country. The ABCs work and they can work for any committed change-agent. It's as simple as 1-2-3.

1st — Develop or join with a group already committed to eliminating standardized testing in America at all educational levels. Petition for the same at the national level. Any simple Google search will reveal the most active groups.

2nd — As a classroom teacher or school principal decide that you will not suggest, demand, or recommend suspension of any child that you have not allowed to calm down and asked, “What happened to you?” instead of “What's wrong with you?” The goal is restoration not punishment.

3rd — Breathe. Realize that these policies did not come into place overnight and they will not be dismantled overnight. Know that we can never fully achieve the goals of education without completing the 1st and 2nd steps.

 Let's work together to reimagine what school could be for every child.

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Trilingual- fluent in community, church, and public education. Michelle Pennix, the founder of Principled Pennix, is a trusted consultant for leadership development and community engagement in education, economics, and political awareness. Mrs. Pennix partners with various community organizations helping them synthesize complicated matters into tangible achievements. As a retired Jefferson County Public Schools educator and principal for over 25 years she led thousands of staff, students, and families through an extensive program for leadership development. The culmination of which came about in January of 2020 when under her direction her school was recognized as 1 of 500 worldwide to receive Lighthouse Certification through the Leader in Me Program, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Michelle holds a Master’s degree and Principal Certifications. She has served in local, state, and national organizations that advance leadership skills, but her passion is geared toward serving Black and impoverished communities, helping them to have access and opportunity to the wealth America offers. A leader, Michelle Pennix is still doing the work not from theory, but by action. She is married to Pastor Edward Pennix and is a mother to Solomon and Grace. Her personal mission: To God be the Glory.

4 Comments
  1. Mark Graban says

    Thanks so much for your post, Michelle.

    “Realize that these policies did not come into place overnight and they will not be dismantled overnight.”

    That idea applies in so many settings for sticky problems that weren’t created overnight (were created a long time ago) — there are no magical countermeasures, but what Michelle Pennix proposes is intriguing. My mother was a teacher in the Detroit Public Schools and the standardized testing focus caused so many problems and arguably interfered with the actual education… she has so many stories about the well-intended dysfunction caused by administrators… and that pressure for testing goes to the federal level?

  2. CHRISTOPHER D. CHAPMAN says

    Michelle, thanks for the thought-provoking post. It would be good to see school administrators and policymakers effectively use a well defined continuous learning process like PDCA (scientific method) regarding their policies. Especially the CA, i.e., Check (or Study) and Act (or Adjust) on what works and doesn’t and adjust accordingly—utilizing frequent feedback from students, parents, teachers, PTA, and other customers. I can imagine the school system as a continuous learning/improvement organization…

  3. Sabrina says

    Thanks you for this fabulous post, Michelle Pennix! Love your goal on cultivating curiosity and building a learning environment that focuses on the needs of the students!

  4. Sam Morgan says

    Damn Michelle you dropped some mad science here. The part that hit me the most is that piece you mention around “a system created by white At its root we have an educational system built literally by white men who sought measures to exert control over teachers, affirmation of white intelligence superiority, and who feared Black bodies and their influence in white spaces.The damage has been done.” #micdrop

    I know I need to engage in that piece around stopping standardized tests.

    Thanks for bringing this important topic to light with no holds barred and providing actionable steps to make progress to solve the problem of systemic racism in our schools

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