“Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema


“Data-driving Away Teachers” by Ikechukwu Onyema

When I embarked on my journey as an educator, I imagined that my prime responsibility would be to create engaging lessons where my students lost themselves in the wonder of their curiosity.

It can take hours to scour the internet for a diverse array of photos, laminate them onto poster paper, and mount them around the classroom for a gallery walk as my students navigate and jot down the first thoughts that occur to them. This was an activity my co-teacher and I prepared as a preamble for a discussion about stereotypes.

How about compiling a set of pro/con articles for several different persuasive essay topics and uploading them onto our classroom social networking website to facilitate iPad research during our argumentative writing unit? More hours.

Then consider the time and care needed to grade each of these 90 assignments and return them back to the students with feedback in a timely manner so they can edit and resubmit them for a better grade. Even more hours.

Part of submitting oneself to the rigorous profession of teaching requires the creativity to come up with novel ideas and the time to carry them out. All teachers know this.  Administrators with even a shaky working memory should be aware of this.  But policy makers have absolutely no regard for this fact.

That is why they shout their favorite buzzword from on top of their self-righteous mountain of education reform, “DATA—DRIVEN—INTRUCTION.” Can you hear the echo? … Me neither. I’m busy teaching

What does this sanctified term actually mean?

Drill your students with meaningless multiple-choice tests everyday at the start and end of class. Grade them all. Compile the numbers on a spreadsheet. Sort the students into categories of proficient and basic—smart and dumb.  Perform this monotonous exercise for every assessment you give.  And—while the merciless hour hand of the clock grinds away–lets schedule meetings during the school day and afterschool to pour over it.

20140927_082750 (2)20140927_082641 (2)

By now I’m sure, you can detect that I am philosophically at variance with this requirement thrust upon teachers who already have enough on our plates. Is this whole process completely worthless? Not necessarily.  It can provide some helpful info to a teacher as we reflect on what material may need to be retaught, and perhaps taught in a completely different way—especially in the event of a significant fail rate on a particular assessment.

But herein lies my beef with this fad. Time!–it’s already a scarce resource.  What’s the best way to spend it?  Preparing comprehensive data reports or creating riveting lessons?

I vividly recall spending an entire Saturday simply compiling data sheets to submit to my administration. I didn’t finish.  My Sunday was spent grading and finishing up the data reports.  It wasn’t until the wee hours of Monday morning that I had a chance to prepare my materials for the lesson of the day (PowerPoint slides, worksheets, website updates). I need not mention the other items on my to-do list like bulletin board updates and photocopies.

The sad and unacknowledged reality is that data driven instruction comes at the expense of creating dynamic lesson plans because it takes up too much time.

We need to change course. Our dignified teachers who refuse this incursion into their professional and creative prerogatives are leaving.  Our curriculum is gradually being compressed into a multiple choice bubble wrap package of nonsense.  And the ultimate hope of improving education is being dashed.

Ike Onyema is entering his fourth year as an educator in the Essex county area of Northern New Jersey.  He graduated from Rutgers-Newark in 2008.  He is currently a Chemistry teacher.  He celebrates his Nigerian heritage and loves Africa wherever he finds her.  During his leisure, he enjoys pondering the tranquility of the beach while taking long walks down rugged streets.


The Newark Schools Blues (2014)


You want to know why our school system sucks?
Too much of success is dependent on luck
The luck of the student, the luck of the draw
Our acceptance of luck is our greatest flaw
When a child goes to school, they have an expectation
After twelve years of service – a good education!
But what they don’t know,
it is all up to chance

And how well their parents play the enrollment dance 

It begins from the moment they enter the world
Whether beautiful boy, or bouncing baby girl
Are they lucky enough to have parents flood in
 When the Principal’s changed by the district, AGAIN!

Will they live down the street from the school that does well?
In a system of schools mostly designed to fail?
Will the classroom be stocked; will the books be left whole?
 Can advocates win the battle against state control?

Are they lucky enough to have dance class and art?
Are the computers broken, science kits torn apart?
Did the Mayor adopt it, principal walk around?
Was the school staff creative when cuts came around?
Were they lucky enough to win a charter spot?
Was the promise of better, the charter they got?
Did they get in the magnet, were they pushed to the side?
Was their algebra teacher highly certified?
Was the HSPA prep class afterschool any good?
Did mom get a new job and move to Maplewood?


Doesn’t this sound insulting? Have we just given up?
Was equality formally been replaced with luck?
Is this settling mindset we have, here to stay?
What if our ancestors treated our rights this way!
What if Harriet Tubman, made a condition of freedom
Entering into ONEFree before she would lead them
What if Dr. King proclaimed, before he went home
Yes I still have a dream, but it’s just for my own
What world would we live in, where would we be
If they so easily compromised equality?
Fast forward 50 years, now we think we came up?
So we feel comfortable with this concept of luck?
Leaving the futures of thousands of children to FALL
‘Cause we’re not disciplined to demand for them all?

Well –
I guess we will go on, content where we are
Success will be few and the gaps will be far
Schools will be varied and justice delayed
Community input after decisions are made
Reform models pushed at us, through our front door
And our children each year no better off than before
When will we get with it? When will we wake up?!
Maybe things will get better, if we’re lucky enough



The Secret Success of Newark’s Hawthorne Ave. School, by Grace Sergio

My name is Grace Sergio, and I am the proud president of the Hawthorne Avenue School PTSA, and I represent the 350-plus parents who have elected me. The parents and members of the Hawthorne community are devastated by the potentially disastrous impact that the One Newark plan will have on our students and community. What’s most shocking about State Appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan is that it undermines the success of the students and staff of Hawthorne.


Under the leadership of Principal H. Grady James IV, our school has turned the negative achievement and culture trend around for the better. I want to go on record with the following concerns:
• In 2013, Hawthorne Avenue School performed in the 94th percentile in Student Growth among its NJDOE designated peer schools. This translates to a #3 statewide ranking.
• Hawthorne Avenue School performed in the 72nd percentile in student growth in Academic Achievement, ranking it #7 in the state.
• State Appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan lists Hawthorne Avenue School as a Charter Launch school. “Charter Launches transform previously district operated K-8s into charter-operated K-8s”, or a BRICK operated K-8, according to the Newark One Plan. Each of the schools that the superintendent has proposed to take over Hawthorne have not performed nearly as well in student growth and in meeting NJDOE targets set for them, as Hawthorne Avenue School.

During his first three years, Principal H. Grady James’ instructional leadership has resulted in three consecutive years of positive gains in student achievement. We are on the way to educational excellence.
• In 2013, Hawthorne is the only school in NPS who met its state target in language arts literacy and exceeded the target by double-digits in mathematics.
• There are schools who will not be impacted by the One Newark plan whose students are performing much lower than Hawthorne’s students.

Hawthorne and TEAM are not NJDOE peer schools, but some interesting comparisons can be made:
1. In their peer group of schools, Hawthorne’s Academic Achievement is in the 72nd percentile. TEAM Academy is in the 65th percentile. TEAM does not report Student Growth performance, but in the targets below, Hawthorne has shown that we are moving in the right direction.
2. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in language arts literacy in the Schoolwide subgroup.strong>
3. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in math in the Schoolwide subgroup.
4. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in language arts literacy in the Black subgroup.strong>
5. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in math in the Black subgroup. strong>
6. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in language arts literacy in the Students with Disability subgroup.
7. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in math in the Students with Disability subgroup.
8. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in language arts literacy in the Economically Disadvantaged Students subgroup. .
9. Hawthorne met NCLB Progress Target in math in the Economically Disadvantaged Students subgroup.

Hawthorne Avenue School is one of ten Newark Public Schools who compete in the same NJDOE peer group. Among NPS peer schools, Hawthorne ranks #1 in Student Growth. The next closest school, Belmont Runyon ranks a distant 12th. Hawthorne’s #7 state ranking in Academic Achievement ranks #2 behind Miller Street School who achieved a #5 rank. Here’s a profile of this cohort of schools:

gracesergio, 2

Of these ten peer schools, eight will live to see another school year and students will have the option to continue to be educated in their own neighborhood. If we are guardians of our children’s future, how do you explain the closing of the districts highest student-growth performing school that serves its most challenging student population?

Will you help us to fight for the school to remain open under its current leadership? Will you help us to receive the resources we need to repair our building and continue to move our students in the direction of positive student gains and high student achievement growth? Will you help us to keep the current administration and staff in place, as the achievement data shows that what they are doing is actually working?

I thank you in advance for your time and support as we fight to be the difference in the lives of the students who we are charged to educate.

Grace Sergio-Hawthorne Avenue School PTSA President
Hawthorne Avenue School PTSA
Grace Sergio, President
428 Hawthorne Avenue
Newark, New Jersey 07102