Archives for category: Education Reform

Brian Ford, teacher and author, wrote this letter to the editor of TIME magazine, in response to the demeaning cover about teachers as “Rotten Apples” who cannot be fired. The cover said that “tech millionaires” had figured out how to deal with those teachers.

 

Ford writes:

 

To the Editors of Time Magazine:

 

 

“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” – Malcolm X

 

I hope Malcolm X was wrong about media controlling ‘the minds of the masses,’ but the Time cover on teacher tenure with the phrase ‘Rotten Apples’ emblazoned across it shows that his other points were spot on. Irresponsible media can accuse with impunity, they can treat as hereos tech millionaires who lambast teachers by not only encouraging the use of, but use the courts to compel the use of techniques such as ‘Value-added measurement.’

 

Having written extensively on VAMs, I am aware of what a troubled and inaccurate method it is. I am not going to enter into all the reasons –I have a book about that–, but the “flood of new academic research on teacher quality” is dubious at best, deliberately misleading at times, often relying on a single study of a single school in a single year and then generalizing that to all schools everywhere in all years. Furthermore, this research is often miscategorized and misrepresented by advocates for a quick fix. But there is no quick fix – the problems of our schools are rooted in social pathologies, not teacher quality.

 

It is concentrated poverty, not teacher quality that plagues our system – or, more accurately, those parts of the system which serve the poorest quarter of our population. Even Eric Hanushek of Stanford, who is known for saying we need to “replace the bottom five to eight percent of our teachers in terms of effectiveness,” stresses that “an average teacher is quite good in our schools” and would rate well against teachers anywhere in the world. And almost no one suggests what seems obvious – that tenure draws people into the teaching pool who might go elsewhere, thus very likely making the average teacher significantly better.

 

On the other side, the so-called fixes would make things worse, much worse. What none of the advocates admit is this: it narrows the curriculum. The ‘value’ measured is not that that of character or creativity, but is based on standardized tests and how students perform on them. It has nothing to do with their dreams or aspirations, on their unique gifts or their personal histories and, as one might expect, since the advent of high stakes tests in the early 1990s, young people have had documented declines in creativity. Administrators and teachers are pressured to teach students to do well on the short list of skills the tests measure, not on how to have a meaningful life.

 

Those tests are themselves narrow in many ways, but in one way they are not: they are sweeping in their ability to make money. Pearson education has a nearly half a billion dollar contract to provide testing services in Texas. As for venture capitalists, the money has gone up 30-fold, from $13 million in 2005 to $389 million in 2011. As former Massachusetts Governor William Weld said some years ago, the “fundamentals are all aligned for a great number of people to make a whole lot of money in this sector.”

 

Weld finished his statement, “and do well by doing good.” That is always the claim. Dismantle the public system to serve the students. This is done in the strangest way — teacher autonomy declines and long term professionals are pushed out not because they are ‘bad,’ but because they have higher salaries. The problem is that far too many advocates of this position are trying to make room in the budget for their own payments; ranging from Rupert Murdoch to purveyors of virtual education to TFA to Pearson to the Gates-funded, Michelle Rhee-founded organizations the New Teacher Project, have an interest, financial and professional, in labeling the system as failing.

 

Add to this those with political interests to do the same, from the Bushes to Chris Christie to Scott Walker to Kevin Johnson, and you have a potent force able to craft messages that are in their own interests, but not those of a democratic nation the most important foundation of which is its public education system.

 

 

Sincerely,
Brian Ford
brianford58@yahoo.com
646 713 8285

 

 

Sources:
First, my own book, Brian Ford, Respect For Teachers or The Rhetoric Gap and How Research on Schools is Laying the Ground for New Business Models in Education, Rowman and Littlefield, 2012. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781475802078

 

Eric Hanushek speaking, “Class Size and Student Achievement,” Diane Rehm Show, 8 March 2011; accessed June 2011 at http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2011-03-08/class-size-and-student-achievement.

 

Luke Quinton & Kate Mcgee, “What’s in Texas’ $500 Million Testing Contract with Pearson?” KUT.ORG News, Austin, Texas, July 16, 2013; accessed October 2014 at http://kut.org/post/what-s-texas-500-million-testing-contract-pearson.

 

Stephanie Simon,”Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools,” Reuters, New York, 2 August 2012; accessed October 2014 at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/02/usa-education-investment-idUSL2E8J15FR20120802

 

Kyung Hee Kim, “The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance
Tests of Creative Thinking,” Creativity Research Journal, 2011, Vol. 23:4, pp. 285-295.

 

Weld quote was from Walsh, Ed Week, 19 Jan 2000, p. 13

There is one school in the United States where the “parent trigger” has been used to convert a public school to a charter school: Desert Trails in Adelanto, California.

 

According to this article in Capital and Main, the new charter is a disaster. Children with special needs are ill-served. Teacher turnover is outrageously high. Teachers buy supplies out of their meager salary.

 

Among the most serious accusations are charges that administrative chaos at Desert Trails has resulted in both a stampede of exiting teachers and staff; that uncredentialed instructors have taught in its classrooms; and that Desert Trails had an unwritten policy of dissuading parents of students with special learning needs from seeking special education. The teachers also allege that they had to endure a bullying regime in which, they say, they were continually screamed at, spied on, lied to and humiliated in front of parents and their peers by Tarver and her deputies. Capital & Main spoke with the teachers, four of whom agreed to go on the record for this story. (“The High Desert is a small place and Debbie Tarver has a long reach,” said one teacher who requested anonymity.)….

 

The most telling outward sign that all was not right at Desert Trails, however, may be its startling turnover in administration and teaching staff. During its first year, teachers say, the charter lost a principal (Don Wilkinson) and a director (Ron Griffin) — both before the Christmas break — its vice principal, six classroom teachers and its behavioral specialist. In addition, only nine of Desert Trails’ first-year teacher roster — or 33 percent — are returnees this year. Desert Trails’ charter promises “less than five percent annual employee turnover.” And, teachers say, Desert Trails seems to be running true to form for the 2014-15 year, with four teachers jumping ship as of this writing — including two from the kindergarten level….

 

 

 

 

Peter Greene read TIME’s story about the alleged impossibility of firing bad teachers. He wrote it before he saw the cover about “Rotten Apples.” Here is his take on the story. It is not as inflammatory as the cover, yet it quotes none of the scholars who would challenge its take, only two guys from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Greene’s major objection to the article is that it does not see any problem about letting some very rich guys take control of a basic democratic institution, because they want to.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is taking a militant stand against the state’s plans to tie teachers’ licenses to student test scores. If you live in the state–the most academically successful state in the nation–please help fight this insulting and educationally retrograde move against the state’s teachers.

Worcester School Committee Tracy Novick blasted the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Read here to see what’s happening.

Here is an announcement from MTA:

“In our Reclaiming Public Education forums we have been talking about issues that are critically important to our members, and we are beginning to plan actions. We are facing one such issue now: the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s “performance-based” licensure proposals.

How would you feel about the prospect of losing your license to teach – not just your job – based on your evaluation and/or your students’ test scores? Several versions of just such a proposal were outlined in a document called “Design Principles and Policy Options” released by DESE on October 20, one day before the first of several DESE-controlled “town halls.” These town halls are part of DESE’s plan to propose a “performance-based” licensure system in the spring and implement it by October 2015.

Members who attended the October 21 town hall in Springfield noted that the session was tightly controlled and that educators were invited to express their views on “the pros and cons” of the various plans, but were not invited to say, “No. It is an outrage to suggest tying licensure to performance.” Despite DESE’s constraints, we are urging members to register here to express their views loudly and clearly. Please review the Design Principles document carefully before attending. Here are the remaining dates and locations:

Thursday, 10/23 – Central MA (Worcester Technical High School) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm (Capacity of 75)

Saturday, 10/25 – Boston (Simmons College) 9:30 am-12:00 pm (Capacity of 90)

Wednesday, 11/19 – Metro Boston (Malden High) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm

Thursday, 11/20 – Southern MA (Bridgewater State University) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm

Click here for more information on the proposals and MTA’s messages about them.

It is time to organize! Besides registering for a town hall, get the word out. Please engage at least two members in conversation about these proposals. Building reps, this would be a great time to hold a 10-minute meeting to make sure our members are informed.

If you attend a town hall, please send a report to MTA’s Beth Shevlin (eshevlin@massteacher.org):

Who was there? What questions were asked? How many people spoke out against the proposal? How well were you being listened to? Were your remarks being recorded?

Our response to these plans will not be limited to the DESE-controlled town halls. Stay tuned for more organizing efforts to come. For now, speak up and spread the word!

Jeff Bryant writes that we are stuck in stale thinking about education. Our leaders think that there is a new or better way to do testing and accountability, which is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have been stuck in the testing and accountability paradigm for at least a dozen years, in fact, for more than a generation. Governors and Congressmen think that “reform” means more and better tests.

But there comes a time to say, “that doesn’t work. We have been testing and holding people accountable since the passage of NCLB and even earlier.” It failed. It is time to think anew before we “reform” our teachers to distraction and our schools to extinction.

Bryant writes:

“Since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, the nation’s schools have been dominated by a regime of standardized testing that started in two grade levels – 4th and 8th – but eventually rolled out to every level for the vast majority of school children. Then, the Obama administration took the policy obsession with testing to extremes. Race to the Top grants and other incentives encouraged school districts to test multiple times throughout the year, and waivers to help states avoid the consequences of NCLB demanded even more testing for the purpose of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools. The latest fad is to test four year olds for their “readiness” to attend kindergarten.

“An increasingly loud backlash to the over-emphasis on testing has been growing and spreading among parents, teachers, and students for some time, resulting in mass public rallies, school walkouts, and lawsuits. There are clear signs those voices are starting to have an effect on people responsible for education policy…..

“What if instead of just getting rid of NCLB, we got rid of the thinking that created it? That was a question I asked three years ago when the failed legislation was gasping toward its tenth birthday. At that time, I likened the thinking behind NCLB to an econometric approach to problem solving, which is unsuitable for a pursuit like education that is values driven.

“Now there’s a new book arguing that we can’t change the way we think about education policy until we change the way we talk about education. The book is Dumb Ideas Won’t Create Smart Kids: Straight Talk About Bad School Reform, Good Teaching, and Better Learning by Eric M. Hass, Gustavo E. Fischman, and Joe Brewer.

“The book queries why federal and state policymakers put so much energy into “reforms” – such as raising standards and standardized testing – that have very little to no evidence of effectiveness. What the authors contend is that policymakers continue down the same never-ending path to policy failure because they operate from a failed “prototype” for education – a way of thinking about teaching and learning that leads to conclusions that sound good but are built on false beliefs (what the authors call “rightly wrong thinking”). And rather than looking for genuine results, policy makers tend to adhere to a “confirmation bias” that dismisses contrary evidence and reinforces the prototype.

“The authors observe that we tend to talk about schools – and indeed the whole nation – through the metaphor of the “family.” And whenever we think about family, we tend to think about two kinds: the “strict, authority-based” kind and the “caring nurturance-based” kind. It’s the authors’ belief that current education policy is dominated by the former and needs lots more of the latter.

“Policy adhering mostly to strict authoritarian ideals, they contend, promotes a faulty approach to education…..

“What’s needed instead of this failed strict, authority-based approach is a shift to the caring nurturance-based approach, the authors believe. This shift, they argue, would replace the metaphors we use to talk about education with metaphors that are more compatible with how students actually learn.

“Because the conduit-to-empty vessel approaches to education – too much step-by-step instruction, over-testing, and “delivery of lots of right answers” – lead to policies and practices that actually hinder learning, the authors call for a “learning as growth” metaphor.

“The learning as growth metaphor would reinforce thinking about students’ minds as “soil” and ideas and understandings as “plants.”

“The logic of learning as growth metaphor is based on two key ideas,” the authors write. “First, people develop or construct their ideas and understandings … Second, people need support to help them construct accurate understandings.”

“In this metaphorical description, the teacher’s role is more akin to a gardener and the education process more aligned to cultivation. “It says that teaching and learning are cooperative activities,” the authors write. “Like a plant, a student’s understanding will thrive when he or she gets attention tailored to his or her individual needs.”

“The authors also call for replacing the freedom as the lack of constraints metaphor with a “freedom as support” metaphor, which equates freedom to providing the resources teachers need to teach and the students with more opportunities to learn.

“Schools, for example should act as community centers that provide tutoring and library materials, and possibly food and health services,” the authors maintain. “Students need the inputs of basic resources to survive and thrive.”….

“Calls for “better testing” and evermore complicated “accountability” metrics are pruning around the edges of a dead shrub. With a new way to think about education, with the language of learning as growth, we can get beyond today’s failed remedies. Let’s talk it up.”

Jersey Jazzman warns of a very serious malady found in the charter industry: Charter cheerleading.

 

He says it is perfectly normal to be proud of your school and its accomplishments. It is normal to want the world to know that your teachers and kids are terrific.

 

But charter cheerleaders go beyond the bounds of normal pride. Their schools are far, far better than yours. They quote statistics that ignore the reality of skimming and cherry-picking. They even boast when their school has not been open long enough to have produced any statistics. The simple fact of being a “charter” makes them say that they are better than any public school.

 

These people need help.

 

 

The data mining company inBloom died, killed off by parent opposition, but the data mining industry is not dead. Far from it. It is growing and metastasizing as investors see new opportunities to profit from the data surreptitiously collected while children are using computers, taking tests online, chatting online, and practicing for state tests online.

 

According to this article in Model View Culture, investors have poured billions of dollars into new technologies to track students’ movements.

 

Designed for the “21st century” classroom, these tools promise to remedy the many, many societal ills facing public education with artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, and other technological advancements.

They are also being used to track and record every move students make in the classroom, grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance and turning education into one of the most data-intensive industries on the face of the earth. The NSA has nothing on the monitoring tools that education technologists have developed in to “personalize” and “adapt” learning for students in public school districts across the United States.

 

The federal government and the law called FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, passed in 1974) were supposed to prevent invasions of privacy, but the U.S. Department of Education loosened the FERPA regulations in 2011 to make it easier for vendors to data mine. Make no mistake, this is big business. It will not easily be stopped.

 

“Adaptive”, “personalized” learning platforms are one of the most heavily-funded verticals in education technology. By breaking down learning into a series of tasks, and further distilling those tasks down to a series of clicks that can be measured and analyzed, companies like Knewton (which has raised $105 million in venture capital), or the recently shuttered inBloom (which raised over $100 million from the Gates Foundation) gather immense amounts of information about students into a lengthy profile containing personal information, socioeconomic status and other data that is mined for patterns and insights to improve performance. For students, these clickstreams and data trails begin when they are 5 years old, barely able to read much less type in usernames and passwords required to access their online learning portals.

 

These developments are alarming. Why should commercial vendors have the right to monitor our every move? Why should the government? This must be stopped, and the successful fight against inBloom proved that it can be stopped. Parents will have to inform themselves and protect their children by demanding legislation that puts an end to the surveillance of their children at school and at home, whenever they are online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher of history and world languages, has written an eloquent article about the corporate assault on public education and explains why this assault endangers democracy and the American dream of equal opportunity.

 

He begins in this way:

 

A specter is haunting America – the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools.

 

This assault also targets the moral and social vision that inspired the creation of public schools – the belief in a free and inclusive democratic society that unites all of us in a common destiny as we struggle together toward a just society and a better life for ourselves and our children.

 

Public schools were the welcoming gateway to equal opportunity for our nation’s children. The fate of Old Europe with its assigned stations in life, its divinely-appointed places in the order of things, was not to be ours as Americans. Inspired by the stories of Horatio Alger, we would seek our fortune because this was America, the country where dreams came true; the land of promise, where pluck, hard work, and a bit of luck would carry the day.

 

This was the manifest destiny of the poor and marginalized who came to these shores, and public-school children were ushered into this grand tradition of exalted ideals. The poor and the homeless, the sick and the hungry could lay claim to our help because that is what a great nation did – took care of its own, especially those who through no fault of their own couldn’t care for themselves. This was a radiantly humane vision in a dark and indifferent world, a belief that would insure our survival in mutual concern as a compassionate people.

 

Public schools were the flame-keepers of this national creed enshrined in FDR’s New Deal, now under radical assault by corporate America and their neoliberal acolytes who would drag the 99 percent back into the Dark Ages of Social Darwinism, the law of the jungle where might makes right, and the poor and weak go to the wall.

 

The Gates, Broad, Walton, and Koch Foundations deserve special mention in unleashing Armageddon upon our public schools, all the while preening themselves hypocritically as angels of light. So intent are these Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in their class warfare against their own country that the sacrifice of millions of public-school children as collateral damage means nothing to them.

This statement just was released by the Chicago Teachers Union:

STATEMENT
IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Stephanie Gadlin
October 15, 2014 312-329-6250

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis acknowledges expressions of support offered during her leave

Today, President Karen Lewis released the following statement to the public regarding the thoughts, prayers and well wishes regarding her leave of absence from the Chicago Teachers Union:

“My husband, John, and I wish to thank each and every one you for your outpouring of support, thoughts, prayers and well wishes over the last few days,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “Your expressions have given me a sense of renewed energy as I shift my focus to restoring my health. It has been said, that our city is one of big shoulders. I cannot agree more; today those shoulders have become the compassionate arms from brothers and sisters from all walks of life. I want to personally thank you for respecting my privacy during this difficult time. While I’m in this fight, please know I’ll continue to stand for the city we love and deserve; and look forward to joining you again on the battlefield.”
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I just noticed that the blog has had 15,000,050 page views since its inception on April 26, 2012.

 

I am amazed and gratified.

 

Thank you to the readers who are here everyday, commenting, sending articles from your town, city  or state.

 

Thank for for engaging in thoughtful dialogue in the comment section.

 

Some of the best-read blogs have been written not by me, but by you.

 

The blog has become a hub of the resistance to high-stakes testing and privatization. I will continue to highlight the hard work you do to strengthen your public schools, to stand up for children, and to defend real education, as opposed to the massive machinery of data collection that is now promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation. I will continue to honor those parents, students, and educators who speak out for real education and for treating students and teachers with dignity. I will continue to support those who fight politically motivated budget cuts that hurt children.

 

Together we will do what now seems impossible. We will one day restore sanity to education policy, which is now completely off-track and determined to tag and label each of us as though we were cattle. The policies that govern federal policy are written for the benefit of the education industry, not for the education of our children. Our policies bear no meaningful relationship to love of learning. We will put a stop to it, because it is absurd. Not today, not tomorrow, but in due time, the cyborgs who now control education policy will return to the planet from which they came and allow us once again to educate our children for meaningful lives, not as pawns of the testing industry, not as consumers of tech products, not as data points, but as full human beings.

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