Archives for category: Creativity

The Rotterdam Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven’s exhilarating “Ode to Joy,” a tribute to theh7man spirit, as each musician was isolated in his or her home.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra responded by performing Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” in their homes.

The website SlippedDisc posted both and invites viewers to vote.

Bottom line: creative artists are learning to collaborate while isolated, to share the gift of music with all of us.

I vote that we, each isolated, are the real winners!

Bravo!

When their performance was canceled due to the pandemic, the Chamber Singers at Chino Hills High School in California found another way to perform.

Watch this beautiful performance of “Over the Rainbow.”

This video was widely reposted and went viral.

Creativity! Hope! Persistence! Resilience!

This is one of the best articles I have ever read in Education Week. It is not an opinion piece. It is a news article by veteran journalist Stephen Sawchuk.

He begins:

This was the week that American schools across the country closed their doors.

It was the week that our public schools—often dismissed as mediocre, inequitable, or bureaucratic—showed just how much they mean to American society by their very absence.

The unprecedented shutdown public and private schools in dozens of states last week has illuminated one easily forgotten truism about schools: They are an absolute necessity for the functioning of civic culture, and even more fundamentally than that, daily life.

Schools are the centers of communities. They provide indispensible student-welfare services, like free meals, health care, and even dentistry. They care for children while parents work. And all those services do much to check the effects of America’s economically stratified systems of employment and health care on young students.

These insights came into focus last week as the nation’s governors, in the absence of a coherent message from federal officials, took charge and shuttered tens of thousands of American schools, affecting tens of millions of students, in an effort to curb the menacing spread of the new coronavirus,or COVID-19.

Education historians and researchers struggled to come up with a historical precedent to this brave new school-less world. The only certainty, they said, is that the long-term impacts for students will be severe, and most likely long lasting.

Student learning will suffer in general—and longstanding gaps in performance between advantaged and vulnerable students will widen, they predicted, a combination both of weakened instruction and the other social consequences of the pandemic.

With tax revenues in free fall, schools and other public services will suffer when they eventually re-open.

With annual testing wiped away, at least for this year, accountability hawks are weeping, but teachers and students can dream of schools that prioritize teaching, not testing.

Parents are finding out how difficult it is to teach, even when they are in charge of only one, two, or three children. They marvel that teachers can do what they do with classes of 25 or 30 children. And they long for a resumption of school. Students miss their friends, their teachers, their teams, the rhythm of daily life in school.

For a few brief weeks, maybe longer, Americans have been reminded of the importance of their community’s public schools and their professional teachers.

Robin Lithgow titles this wonderful post Flores y Canciones: The Poet as Witness. She writes about a culture that values its poets.

She writes:

I’ve just finished a riveting memoir titled “What You Have Heard is True,” by Carolyn Forché. It is about the lead-up to the civil war in El Salvador in the 80s. I recommend it highly because of the perspective Forché gives on our troubling history with Central America and our current concern for immigrants and separated families at the border.

But that’s not the purpose of this post. I’m writing about it here because the author is a poet. I’m intrigued by the fact that a charismatic and mysterious coffee plantation owner named Leonel Gomez Vides, the protagonist of the book, would drive all the way from El Salvador to San Diego in 1978 just to ask a young poet to visit his country and bear witness to its struggles.

Why a poet?

If you read the book, you may understand why poetry might be needed to weave such a vivid and painful narrative. It reminded me of something I learned working with the Office of Multi-cultural Studies during my time in the Arts Education Branch at LAUSD. We were developing a professional development for our elementary dance, theatre, and visual arts teachers, incorporating the arts to focus on the La Llorona (the weeping woman). La Llorona is an oral legend known by virtually every hispanic child in our schools but only vaguely familiar to many of their teachers. In fact, some of our arts teachers were weirded out by the workshop. This is understandable. It’s a terrifying story about a woman who drowns her own children and then spends the rest of her life mourning them and snatching other innocent children away from their homes. Hardly an uplifting tale! But we thought it appropriate that we were drawing on a legend from deep in the cultural consciousness of the children we teach, and, like Euripides’ Medea, as a piece of literature it has the powerfully emotional resonance of a poem.

Here is Carolyn Forché in her own words in an interview with Robin Lindley at George Washington University. explaining why Leonel Gomez Vides chose her to write about his country:

“He came to visit me as an American poet. And of course, I tried to dissuade him from imagining that a poet could accomplish the task he imagined, explaining to him that poets didn’t have a great deal of exposure or credibility in the United States, and that we weren’t consulted on matters of foreign policy. We were considered a subculture or a fringe element. He was surprised by that because, of course, in Latin America poetry is very important and taken very seriously, so he decided that one of my tasks was to change the role of poets in the United States, which I thought was very quixotic and probably more impossible than anything else he was asking me to do.

“I was touched by his faith in poetry and by his regard for it…”

Reading this I remembered that I’ve heard this twice before. Barbara Kingsolver said the exact same thing about her book The Lacuna, which tells the story of Trotsky’s time living in Mexico. In The White Goddess, Robert Graves describes a time in ancient British history when poets sat next to kings in government. Poets are, and have always been, valued in other cultures far more than they are in ours. They interpret, clarify, and vivify the times to which they are witness.

Read on. Finish the post.

Lithgow shows you the beauty and importance of poetry.

What is the role of poetry in the Common Core curriculum? Will poetry help you write a market analysis? What does it do? Why does it matter?

Jeanne Kaplan served two terms on the elected board of education in Denver. She has been an outspoken critic of the Disruption policies of the Michael Bennet-Tom Boasberg era, and she worked with other parents and activists in Denver against the monied interests that promoted Disruption, high-stakes testing, and charters in that city.

Miraculously, a new board was elected last fall which had a majority of advocates for public education. But they have implemented none of the changes they promised.

In this post, she wonders why the new, supposedly pro-public education board has been so passive.

Her post begins:

On November 5, 2019 Denver voters gave education reform an “F” which was reflected by the election of three new board members, none of whom was supported by the usual suspects in Denver’s education reform landscape: DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), SFER (Students for Education Reform), Stand for Children or as I recently heard referred to as STOMP ON CHILDREN. The three winners – Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann, and Brad Laurvick, joined two other non-reform members to make what should have been an easy 5-2 majority. Taking action to undo the District’s business model of education reform should have been a gimme. It is now four months later, and while there are members who want to see the District go in a new direction, the sense of urgency is definitely not there. The new majority appears to be unwilling or stymied as how best to make essential change and how best to honor the voters’ desires. I have attended various DPS events these past few weeks, and I was struck by how easily it could have been 2009 or 2013 or 2017. Many of the same people are in charge, most of the same policies are being pursued, the same policy governance baloney is being pushed. Education reform continues to dominate the conversation and decision making. The window of opportunity for this board to act is closing rapidly and before we know it, a new election cycle will be upon us. Denver Board of Education – it is incumbent upon you to act now. If you continue to drag your feet, we will lose another generation to education reform and its portfolio model. Some possibilities as how to proceed and achieve change quickly follow:

The Board must begin a search for a new superintendent. Superintendent Susana Cordova and all of her senior team must be replaced. For a short while I believed Ms. Cordova could stay without her current senior staff, but it has become apparent that that would be an unworkable situation. All who are so deeply vested in the education reform direction the District has followed need to be replaced by qualified leaders who are not afraid to admit the failures of the last 15 years and who are willing to develop a bold, new direction for the District. The current leadership in DPS is wedded too heavily to the past (some might call it the status quo). Denverites want change and have said so clearly in the past two elections. The only way for that to happen is for a complete change in top leadership. In a recent post written specifically for Loving Community Schools Newsletter, The CURE, education historian and hero of the transformers’ movement Diane Ravitch said this:

“The new Denver school board should use this unique opportunity to repudiate the failed “reforms” of the past decade. They have not closed achievement gaps; they have not improved the opportunities of all children. They have failed.

“It is time for the school board to find new leadership willing to strike out in a new direction. That means leaders who do not define schooling by deeply flawed standardized tests and who understand that a great public education system benefits all children, not just a few.”

The Board must take back power it has ceded to the superintendent.

It must:

*decide what board meeting agendas should look like.
*direct the superintendent to direct the staff to follow up on Board Directors’ subjects of interest.
*consider returning to two public board meetings per month. That used to be the norm until the Bennet/Boasberg regimes. The reduction in meetings has resulted in less transparency and fewer meaningful public discussions.
*revise policies DJA and DJA-R so the threshold for Board approved purchases is lowered from the current $1 million.
*reduce the number and length of PowerPoint presentations. One thing DPS has improved over the past 15 years is its PowerPoint presentations. They are now very colorful, very long, and very, very obtuse. No more “Death by PowerPoint.”

The Board must change the budget and educational priorities from one based on reform-oriented tenets and expenditures to one that reflects priorities voted for in the elections of 2017 and 2019.
SPF – Accountability based on data, data, data which is based on testing, testing, testing. Why is the District continuing to pursue and spend taxpayer money on a flawed, racist, punitive, inequitable accountability system upon which most of its other educational decisions are based? While the SPF is being “re-imagined” and the possibility of using the state system is being considered, few board members seem willing to tackle real change which could result in a wholly different accountability system. Why is the Board not directing the staff to develop an entirely new accountability system focused on “school stories,” for example, based on things other than test scores? Why is the Board unwilling to make real change but instead seems satisfied to just nibble at the edges?

Choice – A complicated, expensive to operate, stressful system where the number of “choices” has increased from five schools to twelve schools per student. Who could really be satisfied with a number past even five? Is this just another way for DPS to pretend a reform is working by saying “XX% got one of their top choices. Look. It’s working!” And why is the Board majority allowing the District to continue to ignore focusing on most family’s first Choice, their neighborhood schools? What are the costs of Choice from implementation to transportation and everything in between? And how could that money not be better spent in the classroom?
Charter Schools – these “publicly funded, privately managed ‘public’ schools” seem to have it both ways; they are funded with taxpayer dollars, yet they are not overseen by our duly elected officials. The Board must work with the legislature to bring more transparency, oversight and accountability to charter schools in general. (See next section). Just last week in a 2 hour, 27 page PowerPoint presentation, DPS had a Focus on Achievement study session devoted to “Positive Culture Change for Educators of Color.” None of the data reflected Charter School recruitment, hiring, demographics, retention, turnover. Nothing. The head of Human Resources actually said, “We do not include charters in this data. Charters are not required to provide their employee data or demographic data to the District.” (minute 39) WHAAAT?? Sixty out of 200 schools are charters. 20%. No accountability to the Board. As for bond and mill levy monies? Same thing. DPS is touted for sharing these funds with its charters, yet once again there is no oversight and accountability for the charters.

Bonuses – Awarding bonuses is one of those business practices that works better in the private sector than the public sector. As DPS has plowed forward with all things reform, bonuses have become a huge part of its model. Teachers earn bonuses based on criteria established in the 2019 strike settlement. The dollar amount per year starts at $750 and can go as high $6000 a year. Administrators earn bonuses based on criteria established by, one assumes, by the superintendent. Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) has engaged a financial analytics consultant to analyze salary and expenditure trends within the DPS budget. Detailed compensation data for the fiscal years ending 2014 – 2019 was provided by DPS to INC through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

From this data, DPS is showing that the largest beneficiaries of Bonus Compensation were those in the “Administrator” job classification. For the six-year period, Administrators received 82% ($3.8 million) of the total bonuses paid ($4.6 million). What’s more, the 20 highest bonused Administrators received 33%, or $1.4 million of the overall $4.6 million. Let that sink in – $1.4 million paid from 2014-2019 went to 20 Administrators. In a District strapped for cash. In a District that is asking teachers to make up a budgetary shortfall by increasing their pension contributions.

Please read the rest of the post. It is all sensible and reasonable. It is time for the board to represent the constituents who asked for a change in the status quo.

Steven Singer writes here about how economic thinking has distorted the purposes of schooling and is wrecking our society by turning everything into a transaction.

Here is an excerpt, in which he defines the transactional view of teaching:

 

The input is your salary. The output is learning.

These are distinctly measurable phenomena. One is calculated in dollars and cents. The other in academic outcomes, usually standardized test scores. The higher the salary, the more valued the teacher. The higher the test scores, the better the job she has done.

But that’s not all.

If the whole is defined in terms of buying and selling, each individual interaction can be, too.

It makes society nothing but a boss and the teacher nothing but an employee. The student is a mere thing that is passively acted on – molded like clay into whatever shape the bosses deem appropriate. 

In this framework, the teacher has no autonomy, no right to think for herself. Her only responsibility is to bring about the outcomes demanded by her employer. The wants and needs of her students are completely irrelevant. We determine what they will become, where they will fit into the burgeoning economy. And any sense of curiosity or creativity is merely an expedient to make children into the machinery of industry and drive the gross domestic product higher to benefit our stock portfolios and lower corporate taxes.

And since this education system is merely a business agreement, it must obey the rules of an ironclad contract. And since we’re trying to seek our own advantage here, it’s incumbent on us to contain our workforce as much as possible. This cannot be a negotiation among equals. We must keep each individual cog – each teacher – separate so that they can’t unionize together in common causeand equal our power. We must bend and subject them to our will so that we pay the absolute minimum and they’re forced to give the absolute maximum.

Thomas Armstrong recently wrote a provocative book with the same title as this essay. I invited him to write a post for this blog, and he did. His point of view stands in sharp contrast to the current policy environment of testing, data, competition, and punishment for teachers, principals, students, and schools that don’t hit test score benchmarks.

He writes:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (the ‘’nation’s report card’’), recently released reading and math test scores for fourth- and sixth-graders and the results have been less than stellar. Showing declines in reading and little progress in math, these results are bound to stimulate calls for new education reforms.  However, we should keep in mind the historical context in U.S. efforts to raise achievement levels in our schools.  This campaign for school reform dates as far back as 1983, when the then U.S. Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, wrote his seminal report ‘’A Nation at Risk’’ stating that American schools were being ‘’eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.’’

His paper unleashed what became a concerted attempt over the next thirty-five years to reform our schools.  The leaders in this effort were politicians (particularly state governors), CEOs of large corporations, and education bureaucrats. They held summits, passed laws (including the infamous No Child Left Behind Act), instituted more ‘’rigorous’’ requirements for students, and promoted new forms of standardized testing and curricula.  Yet as noted above, American academic achievement levels haven’t changed much. Similar evidence of little to no progress in test results over time among U.S. students can be seen in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests given every three years to 15-year olds in over seventy countries (the results of the latest scores from 2018 will be released December 3rd).

Perhaps it wasn’t all that wise to entrust our nation’s educational welfare to a bunch of politicians, corporate executives, and bureaucrats. Maybe there’s some other authority we can call upon who could put us on the right track with regard to education policy in America. In fact, I’d like to suggest a radical alternative:  why not Albert Einstein?  After all, he’s usually the first person that pops into one’s head when thinking of the world’s smartest person. His theories have literally changed the way we view the universe.  And as it turns out, Einstein had strong opinions about how education should be conducted which we could profitably apply to our current lack of educational progress. 

First of all, if Einstein ran our schools, he pretty definitely would discourage the current focus on standardization of curriculum and testing.  In an essay entitled ‘’On Education,’’ he wrote: ‘’A community of standardized individuals without personal originality and personal aims would be a poor community without possibilities for development.’’  Instead, Einstein likely would place a lot of emphasis in our classrooms on unleashing students’ imagination.  It was through his own imagination that he helped create a totally new way of looking at reality.  In high school, for example, he visualized himself racing alongside of a beam of light, and in his young adulthood, he imagined what it would feel like to be in a closed elevator in outer space as it began to accelerate (the experience would be equivalent to gravity).  These visual-kinesthetic images were the intellectual ‘’seeds’’ for his special and general theories of relativity. 

 Another capacity that Einstein would most probably encourage in the schools is the promotion of students’ curiosity.  Quoted in a 1955 Life Magazine article, he said ‘’The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existence.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.  Never lose a sense of holy curiosity.’’ Einstein’s attitude toward curiosity stands in stark contrast to today’s typical classroom in the United States where students are required to make progress on hundreds of tasks that are a part of the Common Core State Standards used by over forty states, which includes such instructional goals as being able to ‘’ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement’’ in language arts and to ‘’solve word problems leading to equations of the form px +q = r, where p, q, and r are specific rational numbers’’ in math. There’s not much room in these standards for authentic curiosity. 

Einstein cautioned us to keep our priorities straight with respect to education when he wrote:  ‘’It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good.  Otherwise he—with his specialized knowledge—more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person.’’  If, in our rush to raise test scores, we ignore such guidelines from one of the smartest individuals who ever lived, we do so at our own peril.

Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. is the author of If Einstein Ran the Schools:  Revitalizing U.S. Education.  Visit his website:  www.institute4learning.com.  Follow him on Twitter:  @Dr_Armstrong.

 

Count on John Merrow to find a totally fresh way of looking at the 2019 NAEP scores!

He asks: What would John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Aristotle say?

The scores were disappointing but the responses were predictable:

The responses from the Administration, the center-right, and the left were not surprising.  Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos labelled it a ‘student achievement crisis’ and issued a call for ‘education freedom’ for parents so they could escape failing schools.  See here for her response and here for analysis.

The center-right, basically the ‘School Reform’ advocates who have controlled the public education for 20 years, focused on the smattering of good news in the NAEP report:

       Hispanic students had a higher average mathematics score in 2019 compared to 2017.

       Fourth grade mathematics scores increased in nine states.

       Mississippi showed an increase in grade 4 reading.

       Grade 8 reading scores increased in the District of Columbia.

This could be presented another way, of course: Mississippi was the ONLY state where 4th grade reading scores increased, and DC was the ONLY place where 8th grade reading scores improved.

But John takes a longer view. What would the great thinkers say?

His answers might surprise you.

For the past decade, the number of people majoring in English has declined, while STEM fields are booming.

Yet economists say that English majors are needed to tell the stories, shape narratives that make sense to people.

A great migration is happening on U.S. college campuses. Ever since the fall of 2008, a lot of students have walked out of English and humanities lectures and into STEM classes, especially computer science and engineering.

English majors are down more than a quarter (25.5 percent) since the Great Recession, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. It’s the biggest drop for any major tracked by the center in its annual data and is quite startling, given that college enrollment has jumped in the past decade…

Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s new book “Narrative Economics” opens with him reminiscing about an enlightening history class he took as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He wrote that what he learned about the Great Depression was far more useful in understanding the period of economic and financial turmoil than anything he learned in his economic courses.

The whole premise of Shiller’s book is that stories matter. What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy. Examples include the “get rich quick” stories about bitcoin or the “anyone can be a homeowner” stories that helped drive the housing bubble…

In many ways, President Trump’s constant attempts to call this the greatest economy of all time are an effort to tell a positive story to encourage Americans to keep spending, Shiller said, even if his claim is not based in fact.

What matters most is the ability to communicate clearly, a skill that English majors are likely to acquire.

Perhaps the most powerful argument for why students (and their parents) might want to think twice about abandoning humanities is the data. The National Center for Education Statistics also keeps track of pay and unemployment rates by major.

There’s no denying that the typical computer science major makes more money shortly after graduation than the typical English major.

Contrary to popular belief, English majors ages 25 to 29 had a lower unemployment rate in 2017 than math and computer science majors.

That early STEM pay premium also fades quickly, according to research by David J. Deming and Kadeem L. Noray from Harvard. After about a decade, STEM majors start exiting their job fields as their skills are no longer the latest and greatest. In contrast, many humanities majors work their way to high-earning management positions. By middle age, average pay looks very similar across many majors.

 

 

Michael Moore visited Finland with a camera crew to learn about its education system.

How could a nation post high test scores on international tests when its schools emphasize creativity, play, physical activity, and the arts and ignores standardized testing?

Watch his video and see what you think.