Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Steven Singer, teacher, was outraged by the cover of TIME that said it’s nearly impossible to fire bad teachers but tech millionaires have figured it out.

He writes:

“It is IMPOSSIBLE to fire a bad teacher.

“Unless of course you document how that teacher is bad.

“You know? Due process. Rights. All that liberal bullshit.

“Thank goodness we have tech millionaires to stand up for the rights of totalitarians everywhere!

“A slew of Microsoft wannabes is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.

“They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.

“You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!

“No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!

“I wonder why no one wants to hear my pet theories on how we should organize computer systems and pay programmers. Somehow the change in my pocket doesn’t qualify me to make policy at IBM, Apple or Microsoft. Strange!”

And be sure to read the imaginary editorial meeting where they decided to let know nothing millionaires tell schools how to do their job.

The leaders of the BATs sent the following letter to TIME magazine in response to the magazine’s insulting cover story about American teachers:

They wrote:

As delegates of an organization that represents the collective voices of 53,000 teachers, we take issue with the cover selected for the November 3 edition of Time. We believe that the image is journalistically irresponsible because it unfairly paints teachers and teacher tenure in a negative light.

The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure. Instead of clarity, this continues the misconception that tenure ensures a job for life. It does not. It ensures “just cause” rationale before teachers can be fired.

In addition, the cover perpetuates the pernicious myth of the “bad” teacher and tenure as the prime enablers of larger failures in American education. This is a false narrative. These failures are due to structural inequalities and chronic underfunding in our educational systems, not due to teachers and teacher tenure.

The cover feeds this narrative with the misleading statement, “It is nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.” A few months ago talk show host Whoopi Goldberg made similar statements suffering under the same basic misunderstanding of teacher tenure as something akin to what college professors enjoy rather than a simple guarantee of procedural due process which is its function in K-12 education.

Nevertheless, opponents of teacher tenure have consistently invoked the “bad teacher” argument as pretext to attack not only teachers but also teacher unions, arguing that they place the needs of students second to the protection of underperforming teachers.
In fact, teacher tenure has served as an important protection to allow teachers to advocate for students— especially with regard to maintaining manageable class sizes, safe instructional spaces, the needs of students who are English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.

Given the massive increase in student enrollments, one of the greatest shortfalls is in the number of teachers themselves. A simple accounting of all the teaching positions lost in the great recessions reveals that the nation would need 377,000 more teachers in the classroom just to keep pace not to mention combat the shameful shortage of teachers of color.

In its haste to disparage teachers, the cover inadvertently tells a larger truth. The instrument used to destroy teacher tenure is wielded against the entire profession. It seeks to obliterate due process for all teachers rather than to ensure its proper use.

More significantly, the cover uncritically situates the tech millionaires as saviors without revealing their own self-interest in the tenure fight, the creation of a nation of corporate-run franchise schools taught by untrained teachers and measured by high stakes test developed and administered by those same millionaires.

In an age where transparency in politics and journalism is sorely needed, we regret Time’s decision to proceed with a cover so clearly at odds with the truth.

The Badass Teachers Association
(Created by BAT Administrators and edited by Marla Kilfoyle, Melissa Tomlinson, Steven Singer, and Dr. Yohuru Williams)

Jeff Bryant writes that TIME has lost prestige and readers and now recycles rightwing cliches.

On Salon, Bryant says that TIME has become an “embarrassing Internet troll,” with its cover story slamming teachers as the latest example of supermarket sensationalism.

TIME put Michelle Rhee on its cover un 2008 and implied that she knew how to transform America’s schools. She fired hundreds of teachers and principals without transforming DC schools.

And now we have another sensational anti-teacher cover, this one privileging tech millionaires as knowing how to fix teaching. Bryant writes:

“Astonishingly, since 2008, Time has learned nothing about the problems besieging teachers and their schools and the much-ballyhooed promises of “education reform.””

“The article (behind a pay wall) is written by a journalist who seems brand-new to the scene, reporting about a Silicon Valley tech tycoon, David Welch, who is behind a lawsuit, Vergara v. California, that seeks to rewrite teachers’ job protections. Nothing new here.”

“The article quotes all the usual suspects: Beltway operatives from right-wing think tanks – Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Michael McShane at the American Enterprise Institute. Why no teachers?”

Wouldn’t it be appropriate to interview teachers for an article about teachers?

John Thompson reviews Anthony Cody’s néw book THE EDUCATOR AND THE OLIGARCH. The book recapitulates Cody’s five-part debate with the Gates Foundation. Thompson says Cody demolished their spokesmen.

Thompson writes that Cody won the debate, hands down:

“They probably didn’t expect a mere teacher to assemble and concisely present such an overwhelming case against their policies. But, who knows?, perhaps they were completely unaware of the vast body of social science that Cody drew upon, and they blamed the messenger for the education research he brought to the table. The Educator and the Oligarch explains how the failed Gates reforms could create an education dystopia.”

Best of all is Thompson’s summary of Cody’s proposal for how Gates ought to be evaluated.

Example:

“Since Bill Gates, more than any other person, is responsible for the absurd evaluations that are now being imposed on teachers, Cody wonders if Gates’ practice as a philanthropist should be evaluated. If so, what would it look like? Cody makes a strong case that in the tradition of the Danielson and Marzano teacher evaluation frameworks, an abbreviated version of his evaluation would look like the following:

Standard 1: Awareness of the Social Conditions Targeted by Philanthropy

Rating: Below Standard

… Actions and statements by him and his representatives indicate ignorance of the pervasive effects of poverty, and the overwhelming research that indicates the need to address these effects directly.

Recommendation for Professional Growth: We recommend Bill Gates take a year off from his work as a philanthropist, and work as a high school instructor in an urban setting. …

Politico.com reports on the pending announcement of new federal regulations governing schools of education. Arne Duncan wants to drive the “bad” schools out of business. Did you know that was part of his job as Secretary of Education? The question is how he will determine which schools of education are “bad” schools. Will he grade these colleges by the test scores of students taught by graduates of schools of education? That will certainly make the stakes even higher for high-stakes testing. Oh, and did you hear that Duncan is modifying his fervent support for testing. But does he mean it? Watch for the regulations governing schools of education.

This is an important article in the Shanker Blog by two scholars at the University of Pittsburgh. They are Carrie R. Leana, George H. Love Professor of Organizations and Management, Professor of Business Administration, Medicine, and Public and International Affairs, and Director of the Center for Health and Care Work, at the University of Pittsburgh, and Frits K. Pil, Professor of Business Administration at the Katz Graduate School of Business and research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center, at the University of Pittsburgh.

Leanna and Pil write:

“Most current models of school reform focus on teacher accountability for student performance measured via standardized tests, “improved” curricula, and what economists label “human capital” – e.g., factors such as teacher experience, subject knowledge and pedagogical skills. But our research over many years in several large school districts suggests that if students are to show real and sustained learning, schools must also foster what sociologists label “social capital” – the value embedded in relations among teachers, and between teachers and school administrators. Social capital is the glue that holds a school together. It complements teacher skill, it enhances teachers’ individual classroom efforts, and it enables collective commitment to bring about school-wide change.

“We are professors at a leading Business School who have conducted research in a broad array of settings, ranging from steel mills and auto plants to insurance offices, banks, and even nursing homes. We examine how formal and informal work practices enhance organizational learning and performance. What we have found over and over again is that, regardless of context, organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals.

“Rather, it is derived from: systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; information sharing and openness about both problems and opportunities for improvement; and a collective sense of purpose. Over a decade ago, we were asked by a colleague in the School of Education about how our research might be applied to improving public schools. Since then, we’ve spent a good deal of time trying to answer that question through several large-scale research studies.

“One thing we noticed immediately in our work with schools was the intense focus on the individual educator. This is prevalent not just among school reformers but in the larger culture as well, as evidenced in popular movies ranging from “To Sir with Love” in the 1960s to “Waiting for Superman” nearly fifty years later. And every self-respecting school district has a version of the “Teacher of the Year” award, which has now risen to state and even national levels of competition. In recent years, however, we have also witnessed a darker side to accountability, as districts around the country publicly shame teachers who do not fare well on the accountability scorecards.

“Accountability models find their roots in the discipline of economics rather than education, and are exemplified in the value-added metrics used to evaluate teacher performance. These metrics assess annual increments in each student’s learning derived from standardized tests in subject areas like math and reading. These are then aggregated to arrive at a score for each teacher – her “value added” to students’ learning. Anyone with access to the internet can find teacher rankings based on these scores in many districts across the country.

“Needless to say, many teachers, and the unions that represent them, argue that value-added measures of student performance fail to capture the complex factors that go into teaching and learning. At the same time, reliance on such metrics may undermine the collaboration, trust, and information exchange that make up social capital and, in this regard, do far more harm than good.”

They go on to explain why current “reforms” actually are counter to the coloration and trust that are most needed and most successful.

They add:

“What do these findings tell us about effective education policy? Foremost, they suggest that the current focus on teacher human capital – and the paper credentials and accountability metrics often associated with it – will not yield the qualified teaching staff so desperately needed in urban districts. Instead, policy makers must also invest in efforts that enhance collaboration and information sharing among teachers. In many schools, such social capital is assumed to be an unaffordable luxury or, worse, a sign of teacher weakness or inefficiency. Yet our research suggests that when teachers talk to and substantively engage their peers regarding the complex task of instructing students — what works and what doesn’t — student achievement rises significantly.

“Building social capital in schools is not easy or costless. It requires time and, typically, the infusion of additional teaching staff into the school. It requires a reorientation away from a “Teacher of the Year” model and toward a system that rewards mentoring and collaboration among teachers. It also asks school principals and district administrators to spend less time monitoring teachers and more time encouraging a climate of trust and information sharing among them. The benefits of social capital are unequivocal, and unlike many other policy efforts, initiatives that foster it offer far more promise in terms of measurable gains for students.”

They conclude by asking you to give them feedback. Their email addresses are on the Shanker Blog. Contact them and let them know what you think. Here is their survey. Take a moment and respond.

Steven Singer, teacher, describes the accumulating series of insults and indignities heaped upon teachers by the federal and state governments and by politicians who wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom.

He writes, in indignation and fury:

“You can’t do that.

“All the fear, frustration and mounting rage of public school teachers amounts to that short declarative sentence.

“You can’t take away our autonomy in the classroom.

“You can’t take away our input into academic decisions.

“You can’t take away our job protections and collective bargaining rights.

“You can’t do that.

“But the state and federal government has repeatedly replied in the affirmative – oh, yes, we can.

“For at least two decades, federal and state education policy has been a sometimes slow and incremental chipping away at teachers’ power and authority – or at others a blitzkrieg wiping away decades of long-standing best practices.

“The latest and greatest of these has been in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Earlier this week, the state-led School Reform Commission simply refused to continue bargaining with teachers over a new labor agreement. Instead, members unilaterally cancelled Philadelphia teachers contract and dictated their own terms – take them or get out.

“The move was made at a meeting called with minimal notice to hide the action from the public. Moreover, the legality of the decision is deeply in doubt. The courts will have to decide if the SRC even has the legal authority to bypass negotiations and impose terms.

“One doesn’t have to live or work in the City of Brotherly Love to feel the sting of the state SRC. For many educators across the nation this may be the last straw.

“For a long time now, we have watched in stunned silence as all the problems of society are heaped at our feet…..”

“Teachers dedicate their lives to fight the ignorance and poverty of the next generation and are found guilty of the very problem they came to help alleviate. It’s like blaming a doctor when a patient gets sick, blaming a lawyer because his client committed a crime or blaming a firefighter because an arsonist threw a match.

“The Philadelphia decision makes clear the paranoid conspiracy theories about school privatization are neither paranoid nor mere theories. We see them enacted in our local newspapers and media in the full light of day.

Step 1: Poor schools lose state and federal funding.

Step 2: Schools can’t cope with the loss, further reduce services, quality of education suffers.

Step 3: Blame teachers, privatize, cancel union contracts, reduce quality of education further.

“Ask yourself this: why does this only happen at poor schools?…”

“Poverty has been the driving factor behind the Philadelphia Schools tragedy for decades. Approximately 70% of district students are at or near the poverty line.

“To meet this need, the state has bravely chipped away at its share of public school funding. In 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55% of school funding statewide; in 2014 it provides only 36%. Nationally, Pennsylvania is 45th out of 50 for lowest state funding for public education.”

“Since the schools were in distress (read: poor), the state decided it could do the following: put the district under the control of a School Reform Commission; hire a CEO; enable the CEO to hire non-certified staff, reassign or fire staff; allow the commission to hire for-profit firms to manage some schools; convert others to charters; and move around district resources.

“And now after 13 years of state management with little to no improvement, the problem is once again the teachers. It’s not mismanagement by the SRC. It’s not the chronic underfunding. It’s not crippling, generational poverty. It’s these greedy people who volunteer to work with the children most in need.

“We could try increasing services for those students. We could give management of the district back to the people who care most: the citizens of Philadelphia. We could increase the districts portion of the budget so students could get more arts and humanities, tutoring, wraparound services, etc. That might actually improve the educational quality those children receive.

“Nah! It’s the teachers! Let’s rip up their labor contract!

“Take my word for it. Educators have had it.”

Don’t be a scapegoat any longer, Singer says.

Here is his clarion call, his war cry: Refuse to give the tests they use to label you and call you a failure.

“It follows then that educators should refuse to administer standardized tests across the country – especially at poor schools.

“What do we have to lose? The state already is using these deeply flawed scores to label our districts a failure, take us over and then do with us as they please.

“Refuse to give them the tools to make that determination. Refuse to give the tests. How else will they decide if a school is succeeding or failing? They can’t come out and blame the lack of funding. That would place the blame where it belongs – on the same politicians, bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists who pushed for these factory school reforms in the first place.

“This would have happened much sooner if not for fear teachers would lose their jobs. The Philadelphia decision shows that this may be inevitable. The state is committed to giving us the option of working under sweatshop conditions or finding employment elsewhere. By unanimously dissolving the union contract for teachers working in the 8th largest district in the country, they have removed the last obstacle to massive resistance.

“Teachers want to opt out. They’ve been chomping at the bit to do this for years. We know how destructive this is to our students. But we’ve tried to compromise – I’ll do a little test prep here and try to balance it with a real lesson the next day. Testing is an unfortunate part of life and I’m helping my students by teaching them to jump through these useless hoops.

“But now we no longer need to engage in these half measures. In fact, continuing as before would go against our interests.

“Any Title 1 district – any school that serves a largely impoverished population – would be best served now if teachers refused to give the powers that be the tools needed to demoralize kids, degrade teachers and dissolve their work contracts. And as the poorer districts go, more affluent schools should follow suit to reclaim the ability to do what’s best for their students. The standardized testing machine would ground to a halt offering an opportunity for real school reform. The only option left would be real, substantial work to relieve the poverty holding back our nation’s school children.

“In short, teachers need to engage in a mass refusal to administer standardized tests.

“But you can’t do that,” say the politicians, bureaucrats and billionaire philanthropists.

“Oh, yes, we can.”

Chris in Florida, who teaches young children, writes:

“My district has become program driven. We have a program to teach reading but there are now 3 reading blocks in our day since we are a D school. The state mandates a program for Tier II intervention and another program for extra reading instruction. There is no correlation between the fragmented programs. We have a program for math and another for math intervention. We have a science program but no social studies program and both are given a meager 20 minutes a day. Several programs are online only and kids hate them and say they are boring and too hard.

“We are no longer allowed to teach with good books or to have classrooms humming with excitement over a praying mantis or a bag of apples. That is not in the programs. We are threatened with discipline if we are caught doing things the old way during random walk throughs using the nefarious Danielson rubric.

“I sneak what I can as far as read alouds and living things in when I can but our discipline problems are skyrocketing and the kids are bored and overwhelmed much of the day with recess no longer allowed either.

“This is the result of Jeb Bush, NCLB, RTTT, CCSS, and all the reformist mess.”

In September, I wrote about Dawn Neely-Randall, a teacher in her 25th year of teaching in Ohio who decided she had to speak out against the testing madness that had swept the nation. I said if there were 1,000 teachers with her gumption in Ohio (and every other state), we could drive the “reformers” out of our schools and back to the smoke-filled rooms and financial institutions where they came from (of I didn’t exactly say that, I meant it).

Dawn has continued to speak out, and she sent me her Facebook page, which has pictures of her in conversation with Governor John Kasich. Governor Kasich looks on approvingly while charter pirates raid the state treasury of about $1 billion a year. He doesn’t worry about their poor performance or about their high profits because they also are generous contributors to his party! He doesn’t worry about wasting the lives of Ohio’s children by putting them in schools run by mercenaries. He doesn’t care about squandering the public’s money intended for education.

Dawn sent this new letter:

“Diane, I just thought I’d share my FB post from today. I’ve now talked with 1 Governor (and 1 Governor Candidate); 3 Senators; 6 State Reps; 1 Congress Woman (and 1 Congress Woman candidate); the Ohio Board of Education (twice); and the Ohio School Board. Here’s a photo of me trying to hold Governor Kasich to task over all this testing (who agreed that 18 hours for my fifth-graders “seems excessive” and who PROMISED I would be heard, but, of course, I have still not received the guaranteed phone call from our State of Ohio School Superintendent. (I’m the one who wrote the Washington Post piece of throwing students to the testing wolves…) In the meantime, parents in Ohio are starting to activate. It is all so overwhelming.

“Here is my FB post. Please see photos with Koch-funded and future Presidential candidate John Ka$ich from last Saturday at LCCC in Elyria, Ohio:

Dawn Neely-Randall

“Stress is really setting in.

“This morning, I awoke feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. I don’t know how one little rant on Facebook last March got me from just being a concerned teacher to being so out there politically and publicly. I have NO political aspirations and I have received NO compensation for anything I’ve done, however, as I’m sure you can imagine, once you enter the public arena, you become a target since there is no way to please everyone. I go to bed writing letters to legislators and stakeholders in my head and awake wondering what I can do next to stop all this testing madness for my students. It has become a heart and moral issue for me. It is all so out of control and if you were already on my FB page prior to March, you heard me forewarning that all this was coming. I have said before that I felt I was building an ark and telling everyone that a flood was coming and trying to get them to save their children and that is really how I feel. (And it is only going to get worse and is already happening in other parts of our country.) If things don’t change soon, my health really can’t continue to tolerate all this stress and I don’t know what I will do differently with my career next year, but I have a feeling that the testing students will have to sit through from February through May will be a deal breaker and will send me out of the classroom for good.

“The other problem is that the more I speak out, the more people want to refuse the tests which does, indeed, hurt a teacher’s evaluation rating (brilliant move by the State of Ohio to give students a zero for refusing a testing and penalizing teachers to keep teachers silent), so, you can imagine, this will not make me popular with my colleagues. However, what about the children? I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Legislators from both sides are telling me they can’t help and that it will take a massive act of civil disobedience from parents to change things. Teachers have duct tape over their mouths. Many School Board members are starting to catch on (thank God) and I’m putting my hopes in the fact that they will take their roles very seriously as the first line of defense against the state harming the students on their watch. And in the midst of it all, slowly but surely, I have to teach my students to navigate the computer for all the online PARCC (Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers) testing coming their way and just the first introduction I gave them to the online practice test seemed to really freak (and stress) them out; I fear it is literally breaking my heart.

“Here’s a list of Ohio Department of Education testing hours JUST for 3rd through 8th grade (NOT INCLUDING) all the other state mandated testing, which adds ample hours to each school year and not including students’ course work testing as well. Remember, please that this will be the SAME child (your child or your neighbor’s child or your grandchild) testing from grade to grade to grade; add up the hours. Which grade level will suffer the most? The grade level AFTER the grade level that students were testing. In other words, each year that goes by, the more fried students will, of course, become. (Imagine how “happy” students will be about going to school by their middle school years and how dejected they will feel about testing by then.)

“How many drives to Florida could I make from Ohio in the same amount of time that students are testing 3rd through 8th grade? And remember, kindergarteners this year started testing first off this school year. Also, remember, this is just a partial list of hours students are tested. Is it just me, or is this so insanely insane?

“The Ohio Department of Education assessment staff is pleased to report session times for this year’s administration of Ohio’s New State Tests”:

“PARCC TESTNG 3rd Grade: 9.75 hours

4th Grade: 12.5 hours
5th Grade: 12.5 hours
6th Grade: 12.3 hours
7th Grade: 10.8 hours
8th Grade: 13.3 hours”

Thank you, Dawn. Thank you for your courage. This testing is not helping children, and you know it. It is a hoax intended to make public education look bad so the profiteers can move in and “save” more children from public education. They will open fly-by-night schools staffed by uncertified “teachers.” They will profit. Our kids will not. Keep fighting. As the scandals accumulate, and as voices like yours continue to be heard, the public will support you, not the people who seek to profit by destroying what belongs to the public.

Julian Vasquez Heilig has studied Teach for America and its effects, and has come to the conclusion that the organization is harming the future of the teaching profession by its grandiose and false claims.

It has raised well over a billion dollars to support a large and handsomely paid staff. Its recruits will go to classrooms where students need experienced teachers, not five-week trainees. And 80% will leave the classroom in 2-3 years.

I this post, he is in dialogue with historian Jack Schneider.

Heilig writes:

“TFA is an example of a solution being a part of the problem. Our current national teacher strategy in the U.S. can be likened to taking a plate of pasta and throwing it against the ceiling and seeing what sticks. Teach For America, with its high-levels of attrition out of the classroom after the two year temporary commitment exacerbates this issue for poor students.

“We know from the data that about 50% of traditionally trained teachers remain in the profession after five years. By comparison, previous research on TFA has demonstrated that their attrition rate out the classroom to greener pastures (Note: I did not say in the “field” of education, a phrase TFA likes to use—meaning that corps members have left teaching and gone to graduate school, have begun working for an education-oriented foundation, etc.) is around 80%, though it varies by community.

“The falling spaghetti is not just Teach For America. Almost 60% of all new teachers in Texas are alternatively certified teachers, which means they could have as little as 30 hours of training online before they enter the classroom. Alternatively certified teachers also have higher rates of attrition out of the classroom compared to traditionally trained teachers.

“Our strategy in the U.S. is to send the least qualified teachers to the classroom as quickly as possible. Thus, the falling temporary teacher approach is essentially the antithesis of the national teacher strategies employed by the countries with the world’s leading educational systems.”

The fact is that we need a well-prepared teacher corps. We need experienced teachers. What we do not need is the illusion that TFA can change our schools by sending in inexperienced teachers who leave after 2-3 years. That’s a hoax.

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