Mikva Challenge Honors High School Civics Program

This was my delivered speech from the Mikva Awards ceremony last night.  Rahm Emmanuel delivered the opening speech, then left to a fundraiser for Carol Mosley-Braun.  My speech followed <student> (senior).  She gave an anecdote on how she got so deeply involved in Action Civics.  In the fall she’ll be attending to Depaw Univ in Indiana.  

Mikva honored Curie Metro HS, Jim Edgar, Cory Booker (Newark Mayor), and John Levi from Sidley-Austin for their public service and civics education.  Despite all these heavy hitters, it seems like

nothing made the news (that I have seen or read).  If anyone sees something, please REPLY with the link.

Regardless, thanks again to Conrad and Cassandra, Amber, Liz and Brian for helping me draft it.  Thanks to the students, <teacher>, and <principal> for attending last night.  

It is imperative that as we envision change in our schools and schooling, that we do so in regards to teaching not separated subjects, but connected domains of study and learning .  Topic and issues-based learning demands knowledge of and use of the skill sets of math, sciences, and languages, while developing creativity, argumentation, and critical thinking.  (For more on this, please read The Element by Sir Kenneth Robinson.)

This kind of “outside-the-box” learning also builds students’ confidence and helps them to construct their  identity: critical for for success not only for college, but whatever creative endeavors students choose to undertake.  

This kind of learning has no room for high-stakes testing that takes away valuable classroom time when the day-to-day work that students embark on is so important to them and their communities.

Please consider calling or writing a letter or email to our IL legislators this week.  Soon, IL will be undertaking a the design of the PERA Act, a new evaluation system for teachers.  There is the potential that the evaluation system that will result could be great, or horrible.  

The easy way out for law-makers is to legislate evaluating teachers by test-scores, called he “Value-Added Model.”  Just Google it: educators and scholars point out how the model is flawed, and can lead to poor decision making when it comes to curriculum and instruction; hiring and firing.  Certain groups are pushing for this form of Assessment because it is the easy way out, its (arguably) cheap, its definite.

But true learning is none of those things.

Teachers want an evaluation system that is fair and inclusive of the varied ways of learning that our students exhibit.  One that encompasses what we know about our kids, and doesn’t reduce our students to numbers on a page.

‘When asked, “But Adam, then how do you really know what your students know,” I tell them: 

“I assess my students in three ways: Performances, Projects, and Portfolios.  All of which are summative over time and demonstrate learning potental.  I assess myself by giving students quizzes.  If 80% of students do not get a topic, I know I need to spend more time on it.”

In this manner, we can see productive development of our students knowledge, character, and identity. 

Thanks for reading and advocating for a better education system in our city, state, and country.



“Good evening. Thank you all for being here to honor Curie’s youth leadership and civic engagement efforts. The award honors not only those of us here today, but the Curie students and teachers who took them on before us.

Each year my students choose projects based around community issues that matter to them. They start with a problem, become experts researching their topics, present possible solutions to various stake-holders and power-brokers, and develop an action plan to change their community in a positive way.

In this, they practice the process of social change as fully as any adult activist or civic worker.

It’s been said many times, but we know that when given opportunities in school to work on problems that matter, our students will continually impress us adults who often forget how to see through lenses of idealism and lenses of their realities.

The concerns of our students are real and immediate. It is the job of their teachers to give them tools to press for change.

My students amaze me every day, and I love them like no test-score will ever show.  As all stakeholders have noted, our public schools are broken. Yet they are the cornerstone of democracy; the places where young citizens learn to Speak Truth to Power.  Individuals and groups have and will continue to come to you with answers about “best practices in teaching and learning.” 

I would like to pitch to the audience members tonight – students, parents, educators, elected officials, and concerned citizens – to please advocate in each of your neighborhood schools, and city-wide, and state-wide, to decrease the amount of time spent on testing, and increase the amount of time spent on the arts, civics, and health education, and let tonight stand as a testament as to why.

Before you leave tonight please start up a conversation with my students, with Mikva students and alum.  Please raise your hands. 

If we fail to allot time for these things in the school day, we will fail our Chicago youth to develop into healthy, thoughtful and participatory citizens in their years ahead. 

Again, thank you all for your support tonight.  


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Filed under Civics Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Education Reform, Politics of Education

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