Archives for the month of: December, 2013

Governor Jerry Brown is certainly the most interesting and thoughtful state leader on education.

In 2009, when he was state attorney general, he wrote a blistering rebuke to Arne Duncan in opposition to Race to the Top.

He has consistently opposed the overemphasis on standardized testing.

In 2011, he vetoed legislation that didn’t go far enough to stop the misuse of test scores.

Earlier this year the state suspended state testing to prepare for Common Core testing, defying Duncan’s specific order to continue state testing.

Several days ago, Brown blasted state and national standards and tests, saying that learning was highly personal and individual. He said that neither Washington nor Sacramento should play a large role in telling teachers what to teach and what students should learn. He is especially critical of standardized testing.

This is all amazing, not only because a governor with a national profile is saying this but because California has committed more than a billion dollars to adopting the Common Core standards.

Which raises the question, Does Governor Brown know that the state is doing what he says he opposes?

This post was written by Don Batt, an English teacher in Colorado:

 

There is a monster waiting for your children in the spring. Its creators have fashioned it so that however children may prepare for it, they will be undone by its clever industry.
The children know it’s coming. They have encountered it every year since third grade, and every year it has taken parts of their souls. Not just in the spring. Everyday in class, the children are asked which answer is right although the smarter children realize that sometimes there are parts of several answers that could be right.

And they sit. And they write.

Not to express their understanding of the world. Or to even form their own opinions about ideas they have read. Instead, they must dance the steps that they have been told are important: first, build your writing with a certain number of words, sentences, paragraphs; second, make sure your writing contains the words in the question; third, begin each part with “first, second,” and “third.”

My wife sat with our ten-year-old grandson to write in their journals one summer afternoon, and he asked her, “What’s the prompt?”

I proctored a standardized test for “below average” freshmen one year. They read a writing prompt which asked them to “take a position. . .” One student asked me if he should sit or stand.

There are those who are so immersed in the sea of testing that they do not see the figurative nature of language and naively think that the monster they have created is helping children. Or maybe they just think they are helping the test publishers, who also happen to write the text books, “aligned to the standards,” that are sold to schools. Those test creators live in an ocean of adult assumptions about how children use language–about how children reason. They breathe in the water of their assumptions through the gills of their biases. But the children have no gills. They drown in the seas of preconceptions.

They are bound to a board, hooded, and then immersed in lessons that make them practice battling the monster. “How much do you know!” the interrogators scream. The children, gasping for air, try to tell them in the allotted time. “Not enough!” the interrogators cry. Back under the sea of assumptions to see if they can grow gills. “This is how you get to college!” the interrogators call. And on and on, year after year, the children are college-boarded into submission.

What do they learn? That school is torture. That learning is drudgery.

There are those who rebut these charges with platitudes of “accountability,” but, just as the fast food industry co-opted nutrition and convenience in the last century, the assessment industry is co-opting our children’s education now. As Albert Einstein [William Bruce Cameron*] said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Would that the measurement advocates would measure the unintended consequences of their decisions.

Our political leaders–surprise–have bent under the pressure of businessmen wearing the masks of “rigor” and “accountability.” They have sacrificed our children’s joy of learning on the altar of expediency.

Here’s what should happen: teachers in their own classrooms, using multiple performance assessments where children apply their knowledge in the context of a given task, determine what their students know and what they need to learn, based on standards developed by that school, district, or possibly, state. Teachers should take students where they are and help them progress at their own developmental rates. And good teachers are doing that every day. Not because of standardized tests, but in spite of them.

Students’ abilities can be evaluated in many, creative ways. The idea that every student take the same test at the same time is nothing more than the warmed-over factory model of education used in the 1950’s, now, laughingly called “education reform.” As Oscar Wilde has observed, “Conformity is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Don Batt


English teacher
Cherry Creek Schools
Aurora, Colorado

*http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/26/everything-counts-einstein/

Every state should have a write-in candidate–or a major party candidate–who shares the agenda of the Restore Recess Party.

I pledge to support the candidacy of Mark Naison for Governor of New York in 2014.

Let’s start a national movement that spreads everywhere and gets the attention of candidates who want the votes of parents, grandparents, and educators and everyone else who care about kids and the future of our society as a place of creativity and ingenuity, not a land of test-taking robots. If we organize, if we mobilize, if we make our voices heard, then the major party candidates will copy our agenda.

This is from Mark:

Why I  Agreed to Be a “Write in Candidate” for the Governor of New York State of the Restore Recess Party
 
1. To let Andrew  Governor Andrew Cuomo know there is a price for showing contempt for the parents, teachers and students of New York State and placing Data over the needs of Students.
Cuomo’s education playbook was shaped by two wealthy “Astro Turf” education policy organizations- Democrats for Education Reform, and Students First. He hoped to parlay the policy and the financial support of these groups into a future presidential run. Our little campaign is reminder how flawed those plans were2. To let the people of New York State know what would need to be done to take the huge burden of Testing out of the public schools and to make schools places where students of all backgrounds are treasured and empowered and where curriculum and teaching is tailored to THEIR needs, not the quest of the nation’s Corporations for a disciplined obedient labor force. Schools organized that way would attract and retain great teachers. We have to radically change course from the policy Governor Cuomo has chosen.

Restore Recess Party New York State- Education Program

 
1. Restore Recess. No use of Recess or Physical Education time for Test prep
2. Cut the state testing budget in half and use the money to lower class size and fund arts programs, sports programs and school counselors.
3. No Data Sharing. No information about children can be shared with anyone outside of the school district without parental permission
4 Create a new Education Policy Committee to replace the Education Reform Commission, and require it to have a majority of currently active teachers and parents
5. End the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.
6. Cancel all State Education Contracts with for profit companies
7. Stop all School Closings- Help Schools in Trouble, Don’t Close Them
8. End state support for the Common Core Standards- Leave that decision up to each individual school district. 
9. Multiply the number of portfolio schools which require no tests at all. Let teachers and parents form them within the public school system, not as charters
10. Bring back vocational and technical education into every school district if parents and teachers support it
11. Withdraw from Race to the Top and take no Federal Funds that require more testing, more school closings, or adoption of Common Core Standards
12. Make sure all schools, especially those in high poverty areas, have strong after school programs.
13, Make Community History welcome in the schools.
14. Encourage the creation of school farms and gardens.15. Exempt special needs students from all state tests and require that they get instruction appropriate to their developmental level and aptitudes
15. Exempt special needs students from all state tests and require that they get instruction appropriate to their developmental level and aptitudes

 

Hat tip to KrazyTA for sharing this great cartoon.

Anthony Cody wrote a series of posts in which he reviewed some of the key events of 2013.

In this one, he considers the changing perception of charter schools.

He notes that some of their advocates frankly admit that they are for “strivers,” not for all.

While he acknowledges that some charter founders really do aim to help the neediest students, he observes that charter organizations argue in court that they are not really public schools and cannot be held to the same laws, regulations, and standards as public schools.

Charter founders have made the same argument in federal courts, state courts and before the National Labor Relations Board, insisting that they cannot be subject to state laws that govern public schools because they are private organizations with government contracts.

I reported yesterday that an administrative law judge found that the school board of Douglas County, Colorado, had violated the state’s fair campaign practices law by commissioning Frederick Hess to write a paper extolling the school board’s agenda of privatization.

But when I read the story in the Denver Post, I realized that the school board had been even more active in promoting its agenda than commissioning a favorable report. 

The suit was brought after a complaint by Julie Keim, a candidate who lost in the recent election. The reform slate won.

According to the Denver Post:

The judge did not fine the school district for the violation, citing that Keim had not requested such action.

School district officials said they plan to appeal the decision. Board president Kevin Larsen argued that the ruling would “silence all public entities for months on end.”

“The judge seems to have concluded that it is a violation of law anytime the district disseminates positive news involving its education policy agenda if there are also candidates for school board who support that agenda,” Larsen said in a statement. “The district does not agree with that interpretation of law.”

Larsen also said that the district planned to seek reimbursement for litigation costs on the complaints dismissed by the judge.

Those complaints included allegations that the district violated fair-campaign practices when its fundraising arm paid former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett to write a report and give a speech before the election, when school officials stopped some volunteers from placing campaign fliers on cars during after-school events, with a Facebook post that alleged an audit of Keim, and when posting notices on a couple of charter school websites mentioning campaign forums or events that excluded certain candidates.

Questions:

Should a school board be allowed to spend public funds, supposedly collected from taxpayers for educating children, on its election campaign? Would all “public entities” be “silenced for months on end” if they were unable to spend public funds on their campaign?

Beth Goldberg is a Middle School Mathematics Teacher at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY in the Mid-Hudson Valley.  Beth has been teaching for eight years since obtaining her Masters of Arts in Teaching at Bard College.  Prior to earning her MAT, Beth was a senior executive at JP Morgan Chase where she had global responsibility for a suite a payment services products.  Beth holds an MS in business from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BA in Mathematics from Wellesley College.  Beth has seen how mathematics skills can create transformative opportunity and she is dedicated to providing her students the solid mathematics foundation they will need to succeed in life.

 

Edu-Reformers Should Understand This!

 

Today’s business and education elite are passionate about the need to
reform education.  Business and even education leaders like New York State Education Commissioner King argue that a data driven management approach to oversee teacher performance should be used to reform the education system. This approach is both naive and problematic on many levels.

 

Students are not inanimate outputs like machines or software.
Schools are not factories. Students are living and breathing
individuals. Each student comes to the school with a unique personal
history and personality which plays an integral role in his/her
education process.

After a twenty year career in business, I decided to become a
mathematics teacher. I returned to school to obtain another master’s
degree in adolescent education. I was convinced that my management
expertise would be readily transferable to teaching. I had managed an
international staff, how hard would it be to manage a classroom of
thirty or less students? Needless to say, I quickly learned that
teaching students was far more complicated than managing adults. Why,
you may ask? There are three simple reasons that I would like to
share with the business intelligentsia.

1. Your employees are paid to listen to you, your students are not.

2. In business, employees are selected based upon a search and
interview process. Teachers do not select their students.

3. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate
student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.

To judge the effectiveness of teachers based upon an annual high
stakes test would be comparable to judging the effectiveness of a
business leader based upon one meeting or one memo. A business leader
may have an ineffective meeting because of a variety of reasons.
Similarly, students’ test scores on a particulate day are influenced
by a host factors including their home life and social interactions.

Today’s education policy appears to missing the mark. Vilifying all
teachers will not rectify the problems which plague a subset of this
country’s education system. The current ineffective policies have
been developed by individuals who lack experience teaching and are
removed from students.

Nonetheless I do recognize that there are certainly lessons from
business which are applicable to education. Here are a few for the
NYS Education Commissioner and his colleagues to consider:

1. Those who are closest to the customer should provide the necessary
feedback and market information so that sound strategies can be
formed. Using business terminology, teachers with years of experience
working with students are your best source of market intelligence.

2. Any large scale implementation requires a detailed project plan. It must be effectively managed as demonstrated by adhering to published deadlines and commitments. Releasing thousands of pages of curriculum materials for teachers days before teachers need to use the information is unacceptable.

3. Communicate clearly and effectively to all your customers,
colleagues and staff. Listen to their concerns.

When I left the business arena to become a teacher, I naively had no
idea of the complexities and challenges faced by teachers each day.
Teaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging endeavors I have
undertaken. Even though the career is much more demanding and
complicated than I anticipated, the satisfaction I receive from a job
well done more than compensates me for the effort I invest in teaching
my students. I hope that the numerous problems accompanying the
education reforms now underway in New York and across the country
will be acknowledged and appropriately addressed before the
education system is bankrupt.

Edward Berger invites you to watch some important TED talks, which he uses to make a point about the appalling ignorance of some of our key “thought leaders.”

Berger writes:

To get the most out of this blog, view Ted Talks 2011 – Knowledge Is Power. #1: Sir Ken Robinson; and #5: Salman Kahn, and the Kahn Academy.

I selected these two excellent presentations for many reasons, but the most important reveal is when Bill Gates comes on stage with Salman Kahn. His reaction and comments – those of a major player in the reform movement – are perhaps the best example of what billionaires who have never done the hard work necessary to understand our public schools and what teachers do, create ideological, (not real) solutions to complex problems.

These billionaires are able to force the adoption of harmful and destructive ideologies, the consequences of their limited understanding, on America’s schools. Perhaps they have influence because politicians and some bureaucrats assume that Wealth = Intelligence? How else can one explain inBloom, Common Core, High Stakes Testing, Race To The Top, NCLB, SAT, teacher evaluation based on false data from student test scores, and other education-adverse implants?

“Reformers,” like Gates, Broad, Rhee, Duncan (and many others) have never learned mastery of subjects and how to teach them, basic knowledge of learning styles, maturation/learning readiness, and classroom management skills. They have not gone through rigorous certification and continued evaluation. They do not have a minimum of 5 years’ experience in the classroom as a teacher. They have not learned to work with parents, and with community needs and values. Most important, they have no concept of the differences in students and teaching approaches depending on age, maturation levels, conditions of poverty or affluence, and learning readiness. They address their imagined education solutions as if elementary, middle, and high school education is one entity that can be reformed by one down-and-dirty hit.

Salman Khan makes a presentation, and Gates gushes. Berger fumes:

Salman Khan’s presentation is well received by educators. His use of video lessons to enhance teaching and learning are very useful. These lessons are tools that teachers can add to their war chests of techniques and exercises that help children learn. Kahn has developed teaching tools. He has not invented a replacement education system. I think that is clear to all who understand what education requires; what education is.

Enter now, Bill Gates. Watch him closely. He is almost orgasmic in his (mis)interpretation of Kahn’s work. What he sees is a solution to all of the complex problems in our educational system. He communicates that Kahn has the solution to education’s ills. That Kahn’s use of video instruction can now change our whole approach to teaching and education. He has found his simple solution to complex problems. Problems he has never clearly and factually defined.

He wonders: Does evidence matter? Does experience matter? Or can billionaires spout off and be believed no matter how nonsensical they are?

When I heard about this, I thought it was a joke: The Gates Foundation is investing in the development of a urine-powered cellphone.

Frankly, I have always harbored a secret wish that someone would develop a urine-powered engine for automobiles. No one would ever run out of fuel. Now, that would be a wonderful idea and would provide an endless supply of sustainable energy forever!

But a urine-powered cellphone?

Who would have thought of that?

It does make more sense to invest in a urine-powered cellphone than to spend hundreds of millions to persuade school districts to evaluate teachers based on test scores. That dog of an idea went nowhere. It led to false positives, to high error rates, to narrowing the curriculum, cheating, and endless test prep as the stakes got higher and higher.

Last year, the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to reinvent the toilet of the future. An Israeli firm won the grant. There is a theme here but I don’t know if I am the right one to put a name to it.

I admit the idea of a urine-powered cellphone is intriguing. Also somewhat alarming. I am thinking about what will happen in public places, when people find that their cell power is low. But that’s just me worrying about proprieties. Hmm.

Alan Singer, former public school teacher and current professor at Hofstra University, offers free advice to the new Mayor of New York City: Ignore the New York Times, especially when it writes editorials about education policies.

In his post, he rebuts the New York Times’ editorial advice point by point.

He explains why tenure and seniority are necessary and fair.

He rejects merit pay and recommends a different salary scale:

My proposal is to raise starting salaries for starting teachers who complete a registered teacher certification program but to give a bigger pay boost after three years as a teacher. Most of the Teach for America “teachers” and Bloomberg “Teaching Fellows” are transients who come without certification and leave within three years. Pay them fairly, but reward people who earn certification and then make a long-term career commitment.

He opposes the Times’ rebuke of teachers who lost their jobs because their school was closed. His advice:  If you charge teacher salaries to the overall Education Department budget, most of this problem would be eliminated. But in addition, why waste the talents of these teachers. To help improve student performance they could be permanently assigned to schools as tutors for students who are performing poorly or as co-teachers in classrooms with high-needs students. Mayor de Blasio needs to be creative rather than punitive.

He objects to the Times’ implication that teachers need to be disciplined for unspecified abuses. His advice: No one disagrees with a clear list of offensives that would lead to discipline and potential termination. I would like to see The Times suggested list. We would probably agree on almost everything. The real issue is due process, which The New York Times may not realize is a constitutional guarantee in the United States. Given that supervisors can be arbitrary and mayors authoritarian, teachers need clear due process provisions in their contract.

Read his article. It is filled with sound ideas that the new Mayor should find interesting.

His bottom line: Good luck, Mr. de Blasio. Ignore the New York Times when it editorializes about the schools.