Archives for the month of: December, 2012

A reader asks a good question:

Call me a socialist, but I am totally against any & all fundraising for public schools. We as a nation should provide all our children equally with the highest possible standards we as a nation can afford. Private schools can do their own thing, whatever they can afford. (though it is my understanding that private schools pay teachers less than public schools). I don’t support or contribute in any way to fund raisers for either private or public schools. It sickens me that our children are sent out selling candy & holiday wrapping paper & cans of popcorn to raise money for special programs like art, gym, music in their schools, and that teachers have to help fund raise as well. I want to see education as the highest priority in this nation, and all public schools on equal footing, at least within each state. My higher preference is for the nation to equalize public schooling, so that every public school, no matter where they are located or the average income of their districts or the value of the homes in their districts, provides the same education to all students. Of course we have to retain the freedom for private schools, but privatizing education is a whole different matter. And when non-profit foundations start supporting education, it takes away from the responsibility of the citizenry to do so, and distorts and hides what is really happening to to public education.

In an earlier post, I complained about the arbitrary ratios embedded in the Common CoreStandards for fiction and “informational text.” I asked who would police whether Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones was teaching too much or too little fiction.

Please read this exchange.

A reader commented as follows:

“You ask at the end of your post – “Whose wisdom decided on 50-50 and 70-30? Who will police the classrooms? Where is the evidence that these ratios are better than some other ratio or none at all?”

“If you read the ELA CC Standards in the introduction it clearly states the source which is:
Source: National Assessment Governing Board. (2008). Reading framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

“Here is the link to the Reading Framework from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress

“When you read this – you will notice the variety and depth of the educators that worked on this assessment and document.

“So Yes, Virginia – there is a place where the numbers come from:)”

I replied to this comment as follows:

“I was on the board of NAEP for seven years. Those proportions were created as a guideline for publishers constructing assessments, not for teachers.

“There is no valid reason in the wold to tell teachers that they must tailor what they teach to match a completely arbitrary ratio inserted into NAEP, with zero scientific validation, years ago.

“If kids are reading “informational text” in science, history, math, civics, and other subjects, their English teachers should be free to teach whatever they love, whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

“The ratios are nonsense. Utter and complete nonsense.

“I repeat: what administrator will have the stopwatch to police this travesty in all the classrooms?
What brave soul will call it what it is: nonsense.”

Labor lawyer comments on the Rocketship post:

“Rocketship operates charters that enroll students via application. Therefore, it necessarily follows that the Rocketship will enroll a different mix of students than the low-SES-area neighborhood public schools. In low-SES areas, many parents are too unconcerned/dysfunctional to learn about the charter, to successfully complete the application process, and to provide daily transportation to the charter. The neighborhood public school will enroll all of the children of the unconcerned/dysfunctional parents as well as some of the children of he concerned/functional parents (who decide not to enroll in Rocketship). Rocketship, by contrast, will enroll only children of the concerned/functional parents.

“For this reason, it is comparing apples to oranges to compare Rocketship test scores with neighborhood public school test scores.

“If Rocketship thinks it has discovered the secret to effectively educating low-SES-area students, let Rocketship take over a low-SES-area neighborhood school — enrolling all the neighborhood school children and only the neighborhood school children — and let’s see how Rocketship’s model works when Rocketship has the same apples as the neighborhood public school.”

This is a puzzling story. At Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, teachers, administrators, students, and the community leaders worked together to improve te school. It seemed to be working. The school made enormous gains.

But then Superintendent John Deasey stepped in and pulled the plug. He will reconstitute the school, break it up into four small schools, fire the staff, and start over. The staff can reapply for heir old jobs, but half or more are not likely to be invited back.

The school seemed to be turning itself around. White harsh measures?

Can anyone explain?

In response to the discussion about the time allotted to fiction and non-fiction in the Common Core standards, a teacher writes:

One of the things that really bothers me about this mandate is the devaluing of fiction.

Right now we are foolishly engaging in a short-sighted culture of thinking that the only things that matter are “practical” and “measurable”.

Hence, the importance of non-f. Yet, in many ways I have learned more about science, math and history from fiction than I ever did from non-fiction.

Exploring fiction allows readers to imagine themselves as someone else. It teaches them about the world around them and what it means to be a human being. To read things like the Odyssey, even though it is nearly 3000 years old, or the Aeneid, or the plays of Sophocles, or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Shakespeare’s plays, gives students a sense of the timelessness of some questions and traits.

It gives us a gateway into discussing the meaning of honor, virtue, love and other things. It encourages us to ask questions, to explore, to be curious.

It gives us the ability learn from mistakes without damaging consequences. These are skills that are useful in any endeavor in life, from the professional to the personal. To assert that this type of learning is less valuable than learning to decode a non-f text is to assert that the human and idealistic is less valuable.

Moreover, no one can point to where inspiration comes from. Think for example of the role of a calligraphy class in Jobs’ development of the Apple aesthetic.

The skills one learns in working with fiction texts are ones that can be transferred to any area. For example, if one could explore and analyze the meaning of violence in the Aeneid (I’m a Latin teacher, so I tend to cite fiction from my content area) and of Roman culture in general, one can certainly explore and analyze the meaning of violence in our entertainment and our society, a topic particularly relevant in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The deepest thinkers are the ones who can draw from a variety of sources and areas to approach things in new ways; yet, by depriving our students of these rich cultural texts by whittling them down to very small portions, we deprive our students of that deep well.

A reader writes in response to a post last night about Diana Senechal’s article on Big Ideas in education. I added that many of the Big Ideas today are driven by the profit motive, and Diana wrote to say that she did not make that point. I did. This reader shares his or her experience with the way profit changes education:

“Yes, your article did not emphasize how the profit motive has skewed what is valued in education today. I value Liberal Arts, but I’m glad Diane mentioned this, because it really needs to be stated and underscored, over and over again, since it’s not just Liberal Arts that are under-valued by today’s profit-driven “reformers”; teachers are not valued either.

“Teachers have no idea how bad it can get for them when profit drives education. Look to higher ed to see what’s been happening to teachers there:

“After teaching for decades (5 years at my current school), this week, I was given a contract indicating that, starting next month, I will be paid $200 per 16 week course. Yes, I am to be paid $12.50 per week. My contract also indicated that I will not be receiving this insulting, unlivable pay until the semester ends, after 4 months. This is a school that just went from being a non-profit to being a for-profit. No faculty members qualify for minimum wage or unemployment compensation either, because 100% of us were hired on a semester basis, so we’re not even really considered employees and we have no benefits or protections whatsoever.

“Profiteers have all kinds of “big ideas” up their sleeves which are intended to serve only their own benefit, and as long as the government allows it, they will continue to exploit whomever they can. So don’t think that being asked to teach for 16 weeks at the pay rate of $12.50 per week could never happen to you, because it just happened to hundreds of teachers at my school.”

John Merrow raised this question in his PBS show about Rocketship charters.

I have not visited one of these schools so do not pass judgement on them. I can say without qualification that I would not want my grandchildren to attend a school where children spent two hours a day in front of a computer screen doing point and click. I have heard that these charters offer no art or music. I hope that’s not true. I will wait to hear from others.

But the key question here is: Is it possible to “mass produce” a high quality school.

My assumption here is that the goal is to cut costs by replacing teachers with computers and having a “system” that can be managed by inexperienced, low-cost teachers.

My answer is that the question is an oxymoron. Any school that is “mass produced” [i.e., teacher-proofed] cannot be high quality. Just as one cannot mass produce a string quartet, or mass produce great families, or great anything, one cannot mass produce a great school. A high quality school has a culture made up of its principal and teachers. They cannot be mass produced. Period.

John Merrow’s show last night was called: Profiling Rocketship Education

“Rocketship Education operates seven schools in San Jose, California that are among the top performing low income schools in the state. The dream was to eventually serve one million students. Although others have tried, nobody has successfully mass produced a high quality, cost effective school model. Will Rocketship be the first?”

Jersey Jazzman reports on a massive dump of emails about Mark Zuckerberg’s gift of $100 million to “save” Newark’s schools. The emails were released on Christmas Eve, with the expectation that no one would notice them. There never was any expectation that much of the money would reach the children of Newark. A big chunk has been used to pay consultants, but the largest portion is being applied to underwrite merit pay in the Newark teachers’ contract. This will make that contract a national model, but only if Mark Zuckerberg is willing to pony up billions of his personal wealth to fund merit pay everywhere else.

Read this post. It shows the reformers acting about as cynical and cravenly political as anything you are likely to read for a long time. And don’t forget, as you try to imagine where that $100 million is going, “it’s for the children”

Dennis Sparks has written a powerful post about the narrative of failure and decline that is now being cynically employed to privatize public education. Many of those now telling this story stand to benefit by taking over schools, firing teachers, and replacing them with computers, or selling the computers and software that replace the teachers. Or selling the tests that prove that no one knows anything and then sells the test prep materials to do better next time, and then sells the test security to make sure no one is cheating on the tests.

This is a message for corporate reformers from Katie Osgood.

I hope it will be read carefully by the folks at Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, ALEC, Teach for America, Education Reform Now, StudentsFirst, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Dell Foundation, Bellweather Partners, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Heartland Institute, the NewSchools Venture Fund, and, of course, the U.S. Department of Education.

Please forgive me if I inadvertently left your name off the list of the reform movement. If I did, read it anyway.

Katie Osgood teaches children in a psychiatric hospital in Chicago. She knows a lot about how children fail, how they suffer, and how our institutions and policies fail them.

Please read her short essay. Help it go viral if you can.