Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Mother Jones published this article in 2013 when Campbell Brown started her campaign against “sexual predators” in the New York City public schools (there are none, apparently, in charter schools, thank goodness!).

 

Campbell Brown is now leading the lawsuit attacking tenure, seniority, and due process for teachers in New York state. Her organization has found half a dozen student plaintiffs who claim that their teachers were “bad” teachers, which denied them a quality education.

 

The big difference between then and now in Campbell Brown’s group is that in 2013 her public relations firm was connected to Republicans.

 

Her current PR spokesman is Robert Gibbs, who was President Obama’s White House press secretary.

 

What Ms. Brown seems not to know is that there are sometimes false accusations made by students. I recall that when I lived in D.C. in the early 1990s, a junior high school teacher was accused of sexual misconduct by several girls in his class. The evidence seemed overwhelming given the number of complaints. The teacher was pilloried in the press. But when the police interviewed each girl individually, they did not corroborate the other stories, and in a matter of days, they all admitted they had trumped up the charges to punish a teacher who had given them too much work and had too high standards. That was an elementary lesson: an accusation is not a conviction. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

 

One curious aspect to this copycat case is that no one has been able to establish the basic claim that every child would have a “great” teacher if no teacher had due process rights or any job protections whatever. What seems more likely is that teachers will flee to affluent districts, if they can, to avoid the low value-added scores that are attached to teaching the most challenging students. Inner-city schools attended by the poorest children will find it more difficult to maintain a stable staff. Some victory that would be.

 

If people like Campbell Brown really cared about poor kids, they would fight for small class sizes, arts teachers, school nurses, libraries, and improved conditions for teaching and learning. They don’t.

 

 

Roxana Elden teaches high school English at Hialeah High School in Miami. In this very funny video, she explains to education writers how demanding teaching is and how prevalent are the misconceptions in Hollywood and the media about the “super teacher.” Elden is a National Board Certified teacher and the author of “See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers.” She is a Teach for America alum who stayed in teaching. In the video, she says she is in her tenth year of teaching.

Olivia Chapman taught for five years in the public schools of the District of Columbia. Then she decided that her philosophy of education was diametrically opposed to the District’s demands. She resigned her position. Her letter of resignation was first posted on Rachel Levy’s blog, All Things Education.

When she resigned, she was asked what DCPS could have done to retain her. Her letter of resignation began like this:

“I truly don’t think that there is anything that you could have done to retain me in the district. Our educational philosophies do not align, specifically what those philosophies look like in action, not necessarily how they are written and presented. Although it would seem that your will and proclaimed dedication to educating all students and improving struggling schools are aligned to my own beliefs; stating your beliefs and acting on them can be extremely different.

“In my opinion and based on five years of experience in a struggling school (which I believe you now call a “40-40″ school), the actions that you have imposed that are supposed to be helping to educate all students and improve the education of underprivileged students are backfiring. I know some of your test scores are going up, but that means so little when morale decreases and discontent from the community, teachers and students increase. Additionally, student behavior continues to worsen as their teachers are “impacted out”, the students are over-tested and the constant change in leadership causes students to lose faith in anyone sticking around long enough to invest in their successes. Your standards are higher while our resources are lower and the teachers are less effective because of constant turnover and poor training programs (Yes, I am referring to Teach for America and DC Teaching Fellows).

“IMPACT and high stakes standardized testing are deteriorating education. I have enjoyed working with each and every one of my students, as challenging as some of them may be, but I can no longer participate in a system that is tearing them down, wasting their time and breaking their spirits. I can no longer participate in the rigid guidelines of IMPACT/Common Core/Standardized testing; it is not what my kids need or ever needed to be successful. Yes, they need quality teachers, learning standards and assessments-but the manner in which you have delivered these three essential components of education are not effective. I have been witness to this for five years. You can throw data and numbers at me all you want, but it is not working for my students nor my school, and I know I am not alone in stating this, especially in Ward 8. You have poured enormous amounts of money into IMPACT and testing and not nearly enough into professional development, technology or character education programs for students. We have lacked the supplies and trainings to properly implement Common Core for the last three years. Honestly, you can call the standards whatever you want, revise them, increase their “rigor”, do whatever you please; but until communities, families, parents and students are held accountable for their participation in education, none of this matters…”

Read on.

Peter Greene, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania, describes the present moment–in which powerful people are tearing apart public education and attacking the profession of teaching–as either a passing storm or the apocalypse.

“A far-reaching network of rich and powerful men is working to take the public education system as we know it and simply make it go away, to be replaced by a system that is focused on generating profit rather than educating children.

“Teachers have been vilified and attacked. Our professional skills have been questioned, our dedication has been questioned, and we have been accused of dereliction and failure so often that now even our friends take it as a given that “American schools are failing.”

“One of the richest, most powerful men on the planet has focused his fortune and his clout on recreating the education system to suit his own personal ideas about how it should work and what it should do. He’s been joined in this by other wealthy, powerful men who see the democratic process as an obstruction to be swept away.

“We have been strong-armed into adopting new standards and the programs that come with them. These are one-size-fits-all standards that nobody really understands, that nobody can justify, and that are now the shoddy shaky foundation of the new status quo.

“And in many regions, our “educational leaders” are also part of the reformster movement. The very people on the state and local level who are charged with preserving and supporting public education are, themselves, fighting against it.”

Despite the powerful forces determined to crush and privatize public education, Greene says, he will not quit.

He writes:

“Someone has to look out for the students. Someone has to put the students’ interests first, and despite the number of people who want to make that claim, only teachers are actually doing it. The number of ridiculous, time-wasting, pointless, damaging, destructive policies that are actually making it down to the students themselves is greater than ever before. Somebody has to be there to help them deal with it, help them stand up to it, and most of all, help them get actual educations in spite of it.

“I don’t want to over-dramatize our role as teachers, but this is what professionals do. Police, lawyers, doctors, fire fighters– they all go toward people in trouble. They run toward people who need help. That’s what teachers do– and teachers go toward the people who are too young and powerless to stand up for themselves. And for professionals, the greater the trouble, the greater the need.

“The fact that public education is under attack just means that our students, our communities, need us more than ever.”

Is there hope? Yes. None of the reformer ideas actually works. They will get bored. They will move on.

“The reformsters are tourists, folks just passing through for a trip that will last no longer than their interest. They’ll cash in their chips and move on to the next game. But we’ll still be here, still meeting the challenges that students bring us. They’ve committed to education for as long as it holds their attention and rewards them; we’ve committed for as long as we can still do the work. They think they can sprint ahead to easy victory; we understand that this is a marathon.

“I don’t care if this is a passing storm or the apocalypse. I choose not to meet it huddled and hoping that I’ll somehow be spared. And while we keep defaulting to battle metaphors, I’d rather not get into the habit of viewing every other human as an enemy that I have to combat with force of arms. I learned years ago that you don’t wait for everything to be okay to do your dance and sing your song; you keep dancing and singing, and that’s how everything gets closer to okay.”

We are living in an era when the very idea of public education is under attack, as are teachers’ unions and the teaching profession. Let’s be clear: these attacks and the power amassed behind them are unprecedented in American history. Sure, there have always been critics of public schools, of teachers, and of unions. But never before has there been a serious and sustained effort to defund public education, to turn public money over to unaccountable private hands, and to weaken and eliminate collective bargaining wherever it still exists. And this effort is not only well-coordinated but funded by billionaires who have grown wealthy in a free market and can’t see any need for regulation or unions or public schools.

In the past, Democratic administrations and Democratic members of Congress could be counted on to support public education and to fight privatization. In the past, Democrats supported unions, which they saw as a dependable and significant part of their base.

This is no longer the case. Congress is about to pass legislation to expand funding of charter schools, despite the fact that they get no better results than public schools and despite the scandalous misuse of public funds by charter operators in many states.

The Obama administration strongly supports privatization via charters; one condition of Race to the Top was that states had to increase the number of charters. The administration is no friend of teachers or of teacher unions. Secretary Duncan applauded the lamentable Vergara decision, as he has applauded privatization and evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students. There are never too many tests for this administration. Although the President recently talked about the importance of unions, he has done nothing to support them when they are under attack. Former members of his administration are leading the war against teachers and their unions. Think Rahm Emanuel, who apparently wants to be known as the mayor who privatized Chicago and broke the teachers’ union. Or think Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who is now leading the public relations campaign against teachers’ due process rights.

The National Education Association is meeting now in Denver at its annual conference. The American Federation of Teachers holds its annual convention in Los Angeles in another week or so. Both must take seriously the threat to the survival of public education: not only privatization but austerity and over-testing. These are not different threats. They are connected. Austerity and over-testing set public schools up to fail. They are precursors to privatization. They are intended to make public schools weak and to destroy public confidence in democratically controlled schools. What is needed at this hour is a strong, militant response to these attacks on teachers, public schools, and–where they exist–unions.

For sure, unions have their faults. But they are the only collective voice that teachers have. Now is the time to use that voice. The battle for the future of public education is not over. Supporters of public education must rally and stand together and elect a President in 2016 who supports public schools. This is a time to get informed, to organize, to strategize, and to mobilize. If you are not angry, you have not been paying attention.

Jesse Hagopian of Garfield High School in Seattle wrote this speech for the protest at the gates of the Gates Foundation a few days ago:

“Comments from Jesse Hagopian For the Gates Foundation Protest:”

Teaching in the shadow of the Gates Foundation is an ominous and treacherous endeavor. Everywhere you turn there is another so-called “expert”, funded by the Gates foundation–with very little, if any classroom experience—who believes that their dollars have given them sense.

Gates believes in the right of the rich to control the schools and even the very idea of what knowledge is. We believe that education and knowledge should be democratic pursuits and that only through collaboration—not market competition—can we fully become complete human beings.

Gates believes the intellectual and social-emotional processes can and should be reduced to a test score. We believe standardized testing can’t begin to quantify the things that matter most in education: imagination, collaboration, civic courage, empathy, and creativity.

The problem for us is that Gates has a few more dollars than we have.

The problem for Gates is that we have a few more friends, co-workers, and students than he has.

The power of solidarity to defeat the powerful was on full display when teachers at Garfield High School—and then teachers around Seattle—refused to administer the Measures of Academic Progress ( or MAP) test. That struggle defeated the MAP test for high schools in Seattle and helped to ignite a movement around the nation, not only against high-stakes testing, but also to redefine the purpose of education beyond the confines of “career and college ready” to talk about education in pursuit of social justice.

I am sorry I cannot be with you in person today as I am in Omaha sharing the lessons of this growing movement and meeting new people who want to join it. I am excited to say that we are currently in the midst of the biggest uprising against high-stakes testing in U.S. history.

And when the last bubble test is thrown into the dumpster; when our libraries and computer labs are liberated from Pearson tests and can again be used again for research, inquiry, and incubators of imagination; When our schools cease to rank and sort our children and instead become centers of empowerment; you all here today will be remembered as having stared down the self appointed Testocracy Tsar, Bill Gates, and having said to him loud and clear: “our schools are not for sale!”
Jesse co

EduShyster interviews Barbara Madeloni, the recently elected president of the 110,000 member Massachusetts Teachers Association, and she warns that we either fight for public education or we will lose it.

A former high school teacher, Madeloni was teaching teachers at the University of Massachusetts-Amerst, and she and her students refused to participate in edTPA. As she puts it, “The students with whom I was working didn’t want to submit videos of themselves teaching to Pearson. They didn’t want their work as student teachers to be reduced to a number on a rubric by people who didn’t know them, and 67 of 68 students ultimately refused to send their work.” Madeloni told the story to Michael Winerip of the New York Times; ten days after his story appeared, she was fired. (Winerip, a superb education writer, was later reassigned to cover “Boomers,” and the Times eliminated its weekly education column. Winerip rattled cages every Monday.)

Edushyster asks Madeloni what we can do to fight back against the reformers attacking teachers and public education.

Madeloni responds:

“I think fighting is winning. In a union where members are truly engaged and active, we’re talking to one another about what’s happening, informing each other and making decisions about how we can fight back. The degree to which we’ve been told that our members are unwilling to be active is astonishing to me. If you alienate the membership by continually telling them that things are bad but they could be worse, so we’re going to get behind the bad thing, of course people aren’t going to be active. If we say to members—*We can be powerful. We can use our power. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be hard. But history shows that we can do this,*—the reaction is completely different because you’re talking about things that really matter to them. And by the way, our members understand that the attacks on them and on public education are coming from both political parties.”

There’s lots more to enjoy. This is a scintillating interview. Keep your eye on Barbara Madeloni. Just think: Massachusetts is the most successful state in the nation by conventional measures like test scores, but even there, teachers, their unions, and public schools are under attack by the usual crowd.

Katherine Crawford-Garrett, a literacy professor at the University of New Mexico,wrote on this blog about how the rating system used by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) affected her own ability to assign readings; her dean warned her that her syllabus might offend them. After her post appeared, it was criticized by Arthur McKee, who directed the NCTQ review of teacher preparation institutions. He ridiculed Crawford-Garrett for ignoring “the science of reading.”

This is Crawford-Garrett’s response to McKee.

Dear Dr. McKee,

I just read your response to the blog entry I posted on Diane Ravitch’s website earlier this week. I interpret your response to mean that you are, perhaps, paying attention to the onslaught of critique your organization is receiving.

I decided to reply in the interest of exposing yet another layer of inaccuracies put forth by NCTQ about the teaching of reading.

I wonder, Dr. McKee, what you are actually referring to when you mention “the science of reading”? I suspect it has something to do with the National Reading Panel (NRP) report, which was released over a decade ago, relied on an extremely limited number of studies to substantiate its claims, has been critiqued widely and led directly to the Reading First debacle during the George W. Bush administration. I have spent countless hours in kindergarten classrooms in urban Philadelphia that rely on the “scientific approach” to reading instruction recommended by the NRP. In most of these classrooms there were no children’s books but plenty of phonics workbooks featuring decodable texts. Are these children learning to decode? Maybe. They were certainly learning to sit still and be quiet and also learning that reading had no relevance to their lives. This is injustice, Mr. McKee. I have never seen a kindergarten class in a wealthy area employ this “scientific approach” to reading instruction. Not once.

I also wonder, Dr. McKee, whether you make it a point to read any of the top journals in the field of reading research including Reading Research Quarterly or the Journal of Literacy Research? Or whether you have read the policy statement issued by the Literacy Research Association that deems NCTQ’s textbook list “damaging to teachers and children”? There is a wealth of peer-reviewed research in my field, Dr. McKee. As an expert in that field, I am quite familiar with it. I suggest if you are going to continue to make pronouncements about the “best ways to teach reading” that you familiarize yourself with it as well.

Before becoming a literacy professor, I taught at an innovative, arts-focused charter school in Washington, DC. We consistently had some of the highest literacy scores in the city, and we did it all without relying on corporate, scripted programs to teach our students to read. Instead, we read real books and wrote real documents that were often sent to public officials or used in other authentic capacities. This is high-stakes accountability in the field of literacy- when reading and writing matters in the world.

Now, I know one of your primary concerns, Dr. McKee is whether I teach phonics in my reading methods class. I assure you that I do (it’s even featured quite prominently on my syllabus). Code-breaking is a fundamental aspect of learning to read. However, these skills mean very little outside a framework of meaning-making. If students don’t have a purpose for decoding a text, then why on earth would they do it?

Contrary to the claim you make on your blog, I do teach vocabulary and fluency in my classes- they just happen not to be listed as headings on my syllabus partly because it feels artificial to separate them out from other parts of the reading process.

This is the fundamental flaw in your organization, Dr. McKee. You make assumptions based on a piece of paper. You have not seen my classroom and you do not know about the opportunities and challenges we face in New Mexico or how literacy operates in a culturally and linguistically diverse community. The primary assignment in my reading class – the class NCTQ deemed “unacceptable” – requires students to study a child’s literacy practices through extensive observation, multifaceted assessments and consultation with their cooperating teachers. They then design an instructional plan to improve that child’s reading abilities. Students have reported to me time and again how helpful and generative this assignment is. But perhaps I should replace it with “quizzes” to increase the “rigor” of my class as your organization suggests.

I may not win this battle, Dr. McKee, but I’m not going to stop fighting it. I will continue to do everything I can to protest my institution’s involvement with your organization. In the meantime, please feel free to visit my classroom. I have a feeling you might learn something.

Sincerely,

Katherine Crawford-Garrett

Dr. Louisa Moats was part of the team that wrote the foundational reading standards for the Common Core. In “Psychology Today,” she strongly criticized the standards.

Among other things, she said:

“I never imagined when we were drafting standards in 2010 that major financial support would be funneled immediately into the development of standards-related tests. How naïve I was. The CCSS represent lofty aspirational goals for students aiming for four year, highly selective colleges. Realistically, at least half, if not the majority, of students are not going to meet those standards as written, although the students deserve to be well prepared for career and work through meaningful and rigorous education.

“Our lofty standards are appropriate for the most academically able, but what are we going to do for the huge numbers of kids that are going to “fail” the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test? We need to create a wide range of educational choices and pathways to high school graduation, employment, and citizenship. The Europeans got this right a long time ago.

“If I could take all the money going to the testing companies and reinvest it, I’d focus on the teaching profession – recruitment, pay, work conditions, rigorous and on-going training. Many of our teachers are not qualified or prepared to teach the standards we have written. It doesn’t make sense to ask kids to achieve standards that their teachers have not achieved! “

Yesterday I posted a clip of students at Nashville Prep chanting the answers to questions. I should have mentioned that chanting the answers to questions was a common practice in mid-nineteenth century schools. Students would chant their geography lessons, for example, singing out the names of continents or mountains or oceans. They did not necessarily knew where to find them on a map, but they knew the words to the chant.

Peter Greene reports that this chanting is today called “whole brain teaching,” and is associated with someone named Chris Biffle.

Greene says that WBT has a website, and its goal is to put “organized fun” into the classroom.

But he takes a dim view of this chanting:

“Some of the groupiness aspects are recognizable to anyone who was ever in band, choir, or the armed forces. And I have to tell you– given the youtube and on-line testimonials, and WBT’s persistence over fifteen years, there are people out there who love this. I can see the appeal if you are in a school mired in endless chaos, or if you’ve always struggled with classroom management, or if you’re Dolores Umbridge.

“All that aside, it is creepy as hell. Set your individuality aside, become part of the group, do as you’re told, sit up, lie down, roll over , speak (but only as directed). Just imagine what this would look like with someone more stern, more authoritarian, more Hitlerish, in front of the classroom. If you can handle it, you can find sample lessons all the way down to Kindergartners.

“But in a funny twist, per Ravitch’s post this morning, it turns out that Biffle was a man ahead of his time, because what Nashville Prep and others have discovered is that WBT is great for test prep. It turns out that subsuming your individuality, spitting out dictated exact answers on demand, and generally being a good little all-fit-one-size widget is excellent training for taking standardized tests.

“So if you find this little mini-re-enactment of the Cultural Revolution unappealing, the bad news is that this is exactly what high stakes standardized testing call for.”

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