Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

G. F. Brandenburg, a fearless blogger who taught math for many years in the schools of D.C., writes here about the hypocrisy of reformer rhetoric. 


He writes:


If you look at the lingo used to justify all the horrendous crap being imposed by “Ed reform”, you’ll see that it’s all couched in lefty-liberal civil rights language. But its results are anything but. Very strange.


He takes, for example, the flowery language used to recruit college students to join Teach for America. They are led to believe that their presence will reduce the achievement gap and bring us closer to the day when all children, regardless of zip code, get an excellent education.



He writes:


GFB: However, the way TFA works in practice is that the kids who need the most experienced, skillful teachers, instead get total newbies straight out of college with no teaching experience, no mentoring, and courses on how to teach whatever subject they are they are assigned to. Their five weeks of summer training are mostly rah-rah cheerleading and browbeating. Their only classroom experiences during that summer are a dozen or so hours teaching a handful of kids, **in a subject or grade level totally different from whatever they will be randomly assigned to**.

What underprivileged students do NOT need is an untrained newbie who won’t stick with them. If anything, this policy INCREASES the ‘achievement gap’.


He then proposes 17 ideas that would actually improve the lives of children and their education. Begin, he says, by getting non-educators out of the drivers’ seat.


Get people who don’t have actual, extensive teaching or research experience out of the command and control centers of education except as advisors. So, no Michelle Rhee, Andre Agassi, Arne Duncan, Billionaire Broad at the helm.


Read his other good ideas, and add your own.



After listening to the debate between Duke Professor Helen Ladd and Harvard Professor Marty West about the funding of our schools (“Getting Our Money’s Worth“), a reader sent this comment:


I don’t understand why we’re not talking more about the great things our teachers are doing in spite of being under funded. What don’t our schools have? My goddaughter asked for a ream of copy paper for Christmas a couple of years ago! Her whiteboard is actually plastic shower stall wall material that can’t be cleaned. She works in the Boston area.


Our schools are giving our students wonderful, whole child educations. They’re winning awards for the wonderful things they do with parents, students and other community members but we rarely talk about it.


What do the almighty (all richy) charters have – facilities in good repair with great technology, small classes, resources we can’t even dream about? That’s what I hear is the case for many charters. Where does that money come from? Do they save so much by not paying certified teachers that they can afford all those amenities or do they get tax deductible gifts from afar? How much more money does all their splendor take? Can community public schools get some from the same places? How about just enough for small classes?


Proud of public schools

Frank Navarro is the veteran history teacher who was briefly suspended from his work at Mountain View High School for discussing parallels between the rise of Hitler and the rise of Trump. The actual content of his lesson has not been disclosed. He is a specialist in the teaching of the Holocaust. He is back in his classroom.

The United Educators of San Francisco released the following statement supporting his freedom to teach:

Affirming the right to Academic Freedom

Many UESF members have expressed great concern over teacher Frank Navarro being placed on leave from his teaching duties at Mountain View High School for pointing out the similarities between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Hitler’s rise to power. 

UESF has strong contractual language that acknowledges that a “teacher’s academic freedom is his/her right and responsibility to study, investigate, present, interpret and discuss all the relevant facts and ideas in the field of his/her professional competence. This freedom implies no limitation other than those imposed by the generally accepted standards of scholarship. As a professional, the teacher strives to maintain a spirit of free inquiry, open-mindedness and impartiality in the classroom….The teacher is free to present in the field of his or her professional competence his/her opinions convictions and with them the premises from which they are derived.(Article 6.2.1)

UESF has an unequivocal stand that academic freedom must be defended in our classrooms and in our schools.  Our students need teachers who can teach without fear of censorship or reprisal for encouraging students to be critical thinkers.

UESF has reached out to district leadership to ask that SFUSD also take a public stand in defense of academic freedom. We contacted the Mountain View Teachers Association to offer our support for Frank Navarro and his union. Finally, we also reached out to CFT,CTA, NEA and AFT to urge that the state and national leadership of our affiliates take a clear public stand on this critical issue.

Lita Blanc
President, UESF

Arthur Goldstein teaches English language learners in a high school in Queens. He is active in his union and more often than not, a thorn in its side. He writes a blog where he speaks his mind, protected by tenure.

He addresses the question that most educators will have to face in the days ahead. What do you tell the students? What do you say to Hispanic students? to Black students? to gay students? Do you still teach an anti-bias curriculum? an anti-bullying program? If you do, are you criticizing the President-elect?

Goldstein writes:

In this post, he calls on the Chancellor of the New York City public schools to put a letter in his file. He also offers a graphic/meme that he hopes will appear in every classroom in the city (or state or nation).

Chancellor Fariña declared there would be no overt political talk in class. To a degree, I understand that. It’s not my place to tell kids who I voted for. It’s not my place to tell them who to vote for either. I would never do such a thing. But I knew they would ask me anyway.

Nonetheless, on Monday, I wore a tie a little bit like the one on the right. You wouldn’t notice what was on it unless you looked closely. When the kids asked me who I was voting for, I showed them the tie. I told them that a donkey represented Democrats, and an elephant represented Republicans. They didn’t know that. They looked at my tie and said, “Oh, you’re voting for Hillary.” I was glad they asked, because I needed them to know I would not vote for someone who hated them and everything they stood for, to wit, the American dream.

I also needed them to know that I stood against all the bigoted and xenophobic statements our President-elect made. I’m sorry, Chancellor Fariña, but I’m a teacher, and unlike Donald Trump, I stand for basic decency. My classroom rule, really my only one, is, “We will treat one another with respect.”

Donald Trump failed to treat a wide swath of people with respect. He’s a hateful, vicious bully. There are all sorts of anti-bullying campaigns that go in in city schools, and I fail to see why Donald Trump should get a pass simply for having lied his way to the Presidency. So I specifically repudiated a whole group of his insidious statements. I also added LGBT to my group, and told my kids that we would not tolerate slurs to gay people in my classroom. Even my kids seem to expect a pass on that. They won’t get one.

A history teacher at Mountain View High School in Mountain View, California, was suspended after comparing the rise of Trump to the rise of Hitler.

“Frank Navarro, who’s taught at the school for 40 years, was asked to leave midday Thursday after a parent sent an email to the school expressing concerns about statements Navarro made in class. Mountain View/Los Altos High School District Superintendent Jeff Harding confirmed the incident Friday but declined to describe the parent’s complaints.

“Navarro, an expert on the Holocaust, said school officials declined to read him the email and also declined his request to review the lesson plan with him.

“This feels like we’re trying to squash free speech,” he said. “Everything I talk about is factually based. They can go and check it out. “It’s not propaganda or bias if it’s based on hard facts.”

“Though Navarro said school officials originally told him to return on Wednesday, Harding said he could return as early as Monday….

“Navarro, who is Mexican-American and was raised in Oakland, said he’s concerned for many of his students during this political climate.

“I’ve had Mexican kids come and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Navarro, I might be deported,’ ” he said.

“Is it better to see bigotry and say nothing? That’s what the principal was telling me (during our conversation). In my silence, I would be substantiating the bigotry.”

Rachel Klein, the education editor of Huffington Post, reports on a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research that found that teachers and low-income and in upper-income schools are no different in effectiveness.

This study is very important because a central tenet of the corporate reform movement is that “bad teachers” cause low test scores, and that low-scoring schools are overrun by “bad teachers.” We have heard this claim from the mouths of Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and every other corporate reformer. This is why Race to the Top required every state applying for a share of $4.35 billion in federal funds had to agree to evaluate teachers based in large part on the test scores of their students. Think tanks, states, and the U.S. Department of Education have poured time and energy into the pursuit of the best way to find and fire those “bad teachers.” Another of Arne Duncan’s bad ideas was the “turnaround” model, which involved firing half, or most, or all of the school staff, since in his mind the staff caused low scores.

The study used the “reformers'” favorite methodology–value-added measurement–to look for differences in teacher effectiveness.

Klein writes:

Teachers shouldn’t be held responsible for the big gap in the achievement levels of rich and poor students, new data suggests.

By looking at the effectiveness ratings of teachers who work with students from varying socioeconomic classes, Mathematica Policy Research determined that rich and poor children generally have access to equally impressive educators. The research, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, stands in the face of arguments that a more equitable distribution of teachers could substantially move metrics of educational attainment.

Affluent students outperform their low-income peers on meaningful educational benchmarks. They have higher high school graduation rates and higher standardized test scores. Policymakers have said in the past that teachers might influence this gap. Indeed, previous data shows that low-income students tend to have less access to experienced teachers.

“We know from past research that there is a very large gap in achievement between high- and low-income kids, and we also know some teachers are quite a bit more effective than others,” said Eric Isenberg, senior researcher for Mathematica. “So we were interested in exploring whether there’s a link between those two things ― if achievement gaps could be explained by low-income kids having less effective teacher than high income kids.” .

The study looked at effectiveness ratings for English language arts and math teachers in 26 districts over the course of five years. These teachers worked with students in the fourth through eighth grades.

Researchers used a value-added model to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. This statistical model is controversial in the education world ― Isenberg called it an “imperfect measure,” but he said it’s the best available option. This statistical technique is used to isolate how students’ test scores change from year to year, and how much a teacher is contributing to these changes.

Although researchers did not work with a nationally representative sample of school districts, “the study districts were chosen to be geographically diverse, with at least three districts from each of the four U.S. Census regions,” the report says. About 63 percent of the students in the studied districts qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and the districts’ achievement gaps tend to reflect those at the national level.

Overall, researchers only found small differences in the average effectiveness ratings given to teachers working with low-income and affluent students. The average teacher of a low-income student rates around the 50th percentile, while the average teacher of a more wealthy student rates around the 51st percentile.

As Linda Darling-Hammond once wrote: “You can’t fire your way to Finland.”

In Finland, teaching is a highly prestigious profession. Entry into teachers’ colleges is very competitive. Teachers must have five years of education before they can teach. Once they are professionals, they have broad autonomy, and they collaborate with their peers to make school wide decisions. There is no standardized testing until the end of high school. There is an emphasis on the arts, play, technology, and collaborate learning. Children have a recess after every class. Teachers are professionals. They are not judged by test scores because there are no test scores.

The policies of the Bush-Obama era have failed and failed and failed. It is time to think anew.

Last year, a small group of education school deans organized as “Deans for Impact,” signing on to the corporate reform agenda and agreeing to comply with the data-driven approach to education. Paul Thomas and Mercedes Schneider wrote about this new group and its corporate reform funder.

Now a group of 20 education deans formed their own group, “Education Deans for Justice and Equity.”

The new group was initiated by Dean Kevin Kumashiro of the University of San Francisco School of Education. Note here the letter that he wrote to the New York Times opposing John King’s terrible regulations for ed schools.

It is heartening to see education leaders fighting back against the bad ideas of corporate reform, which would destroy the teaching profession if left to its own agenda.

Stuart Egan, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in North Carolina, writes here with advice for voters who care about public schools.

He warns voters not to believe the claims made by Governor McCrory and the General Assembly. They have done nothing to help schools and teachers. They are determined to destroy what was once a highly acclaimed public education system.

He writes:

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth noting. The list below is not by any means complete, but it paints a clear picture.

Removal of due-process rights – This keeps teachers from being able to advocate for schools.

Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Removed a means for teachers to invest in their profession.

Standard 6 – Teacher evaluation protocols are arbitrary at best

Push for Merit Pay – Never has worked in education. Besides, all teachers assume duties outside of teaching.

“Average” Raises – Average and Actual do not mean the same thing.

Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups – specifically NCAE.

Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – And many of the tests are made and graded by for-profit entities.

Less Money Spent per Pupil – NC still has not approached pre-recession levels.

Remove Caps on Class Sizes – Teachers are teaching more students and sometimes more class sections.

Jeb Bush School Grading System – This actually only shows how poverty affects public education.

Cutting Teacher Assistants – Hurts elementary kids the most.

Opportunity Grants – A Voucher scheme that profits private and religious schools.

Unregulated growth of charter schools – No empirical data shows any improvement in student achievement with charter schools.

Virtual Schools – These are hemorrhaging in enrollment.

Achievement School Districts – Again, an idea that profits a few and has no successful track record.

Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – We are lacking in numbers to help supply the next generation of teachers for a growing state.

Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Another way to discourage bright students from becoming teachers.

Egan says it is time to hold these scoundrels accountable.

There is only one way to do that: at the ballot box.

There is a website called Glass Door,where employees rate their employers.

The most startling reviews have been posted by teachers (former and current) at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain in New York City.

The last one, posted October 18, is titled “Flee, everyone else is.”

As you read other reviews, they are similar.

The last time this happened, Glass Door was suddenly flooded with rave reviews.

Take a look as soon as you can, before the trolls and sock puppets arrive.

I received this letter as an email. The writer asked that I not include her name. She sent her resume to demonstrate her bona fides.

It is an honor to email you! I am emailing you in hopes that you will be able to publish this email on your blog regarding my (brief) experience teaching in a no-excuses charter school in upstate NY. I do not want any identifying information published, including about the charter chain that I worked for, although I am including my resume simply to highlight my qualifications. I am a newly-certified teacher who finds myself without a job in October of my first year of teaching due to my HUGE mistake in taking a job at a no-excuses charter school. I want this letter to be publicized in order that other young teachers do not make the same mistakes that I do, and that others can realize what an empty promise the no-excuse charter schools really are!

I am originally from New Jersey, and I graduated from a prestigious public university in Virginia in 2015 with my MA in Secondary Social Studies Education. All my life, I had wanted nothing more than to become a history teacher. Throughout college, I tutored at local schools, volunteer-taught adult ESL classes, spent a summer teaching English overseas in Eastern Europe, completed an international research project that involved a placement in a school in England, and only took courses related to history, politics, and education. Throughout my education, I was always at the top of my class–I graduated undergrad Phi Beta Kappa in three years and finished my master’s degree in one year with a 4.0. I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful cooperating teacher for student teaching, and received excellent reviews from my university supervisor and my cooperating teacher. All of the students that I worked with throughout college–from adult and child ESL learners to the students in my placement–told me that they could not imagine me being anything else than a teacher. I truly could not imagine another path for myself as well. My friends jokingly called me “Teacher XXX.” Teaching and education was my passion and my life. I am not saying this to brag or to appear entitled to anything, just to show that I was a newly-minted teacher with a lot of potential and a lot of passion for what I was doing!

Instead of immediately pursuing a career in K-12 education in the United States, however, I decided to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. Fulbright ETAs are placed at primary, secondary and tertiary schools throughout the world. My motivation applying to a Fulbright was simple–I had gotten a taste of teaching abroad during a summer of undergrad, and I wanted to go back and learn more about the culture and history of Xxxxx. I spent an amazing year teaching at the University of XXXXXX. My placement was at an Islamic theological university, and although it was difficult at first for me to relate to the students or even get them to respect me, by the end of the year I had the best evaluation results of any professor at my university and the unwavering support of my students. I also volunteered in numerous other community agencies, including frequent guest-teaching at high school and middle school classes, and was well-thought of by my embassy contacts and local contacts. Again, I’m not bragging or tooting my own horn here–I just want to stress that I am (was) passionate about what I do (did) and am competitive for a job, even in an extremely competitive market for new grads.

My long-term boyfriend (now fiance) had been accepted to a PhD program in Ithaca, New York. At the time he decided to go to Cornell, the edTPA was a brand new requirement, and I didn’t realize that my Postgraduate Professional Teaching License in Virginia would only transfer into a Temporary Provisional Initial Teaching License in New York. It was extremely difficult for me to even get interviews with this licensing, and I decided, against my better judgment, to interview with the XXXXXX Schools chain in Rochester, which was about two hours away from Ithaca. From the start, I had some qualms about [charter chain]–the interviewers never showed for the first interview and then when they did show, led an extremely perfunctory interview that briefly glossed over, without much detail, how they had a very set system and very strict, set, scripted lesson plans. I hadn’t received any other offers and it was the end of May, so I panicked and accepted their job offer to serve as an “Apprentice ELA Teacher.” They told me as an apprentice I would be assisting another teacher with monitoring students and gradually accepting responsibility for my own classroom. I was a bit nervous about managing 30 middle schoolers after working so long with college students, especially teaching out of field in ELA, so I said yes. My only real motivation to work for XXXXXX was 1) I believed that the schools were making a difference and 2) I wanted to secure my NY teaching license in Social Studies and ELA.

I returned to the US and moved to Rochester. From the start, the move seemed to be a mistake; I had barely enough time to adjust to being back in the US, much less contemplate a move to a new city and a new job. I had my first day of “Orientation” with XXXXX and almost quit right then. The school had an extremely strict set of discipline procedures and teaching procedures that they expected all teachers to follow to a t. Most of them were taken from Teach Like a Champion (TLAC), and most of them focused on controlling rather nurturing students. All lessons were entirely teacher-centered, taught with a document camera with a teacher at the “perch” in the corner of the classroom to engage in maximum “monitoring” of student behavior. Students would listen to direct lectures, participate in teacher-led discussions, and occasionally work in groups while being “aggressively monitored” by teachers. Teachers stopped lessons to ensure students were in “SLANT” with their fingers laced; students got deducted for not being in SLANT or for resting their heads on their hands (a move called “kickstand.”) I struggled in “behavior labs” during professional development, because I just couldn’t see the point of stopping a lesson because one “student” had one hand under the desk. While I believe in some of the philosophies of “TLAC” had a point, this was taking everything to a ridiculous extreme.

We spent 90% of time in our 3-week professional development learning to “control” children and 10% of time actually going over lessons and content. As someone with no ELA training, I was completely overwhelmed by my content and the discipline system. I didn’t even get my scripted lesson plans for the first few days of school until three days before, and of course I couldn’t create my own. A few days before school began, I was told that instead of “apprenticing” like I’d been hired to do, I would have my own class for half the day and shadow another teacher for the other half. As a trade-in for not having my own class for half the day, I would have to do all of this other teacher’s grading for her. There were so many discipline issues I had issues with–constantly telling the kids to be in SLANT, the fact we checked their pockets before they went to the bathroom, the fact they had silent lunches in their homerooms in their assigned seats. There were kids in the eighth grade who were held back so many times that they were 16 or 17–clearly, they were not going to graduate high school and close the achievement gap.

School began. I struggled with discipline; I didn’t buy into the system of SLANT and my students knew it, so they began to push back. I was told by my supervisor how poor my management was. When I cried to my mom about this on the phone, she asked me “What did the kids do, fight?” “No,” I sobbed, “They put their hands under their desk!” I was working 13 hour days, living alone, and staying up all night as I dealt with crippling anxiety, worrying if my lesson plan for the next day was memorized. My “supervising” teacher made me grade all of her homeworks daily for accuracy–I was looking at 300 pages of homework a week, plus nearly a hundred exit tickets for accuracy and teaching two-hour blocks of memorized lessons. We were told our lessons were centrally planned to allow for more time to devote to data, but in reality, since we had to complete the “exemplars” (20 page student packets) and then memorize the lessons, having scripted lessons actually took time away from us. I had zero support system in the city I was living outside school, and a very minute support system in school. I was miserable, wanted to go home, and was afraid that I was going to hurt myself by driving while tired. It’s a month out, and I can’t even type this without crying.

My school leaders knew I was struggling because I had broken down in a grade-level meeting about making the students stand on lines in the floor for “transitions.” Once they found out that I was feeling overwhelmed, I knew my time at the school was limited. Instead of trying to support me, my principal forced me to admit everything I found questionable about the school by bullying me in a meeting where she repeatedly said “It’s ok, this isn’t for everyone, we understand if you don’t want to teach with us, we have a plan.” We had numerous check ins over the next week where the same thing was said. I made it two more weeks and then quit. At that point, I felt like I was deciding between career suicide and actual suicide. My quality of life was nonexistent and I hated spending my days enforcing this ridiculous level of discipline on kids.

Right now, I’m living back home with my parents in New Jersey, three hours away from my fiance. I took a huge financial hit as a result of my decision, but I don’t regret it. I am working part-time in medical administration and tutoring at several organizations while I apply to jobs at traditional public schools in NJ and try to get my life back together (I know I should be subbing, but this pays more!) I don’t know if I will ever teach again, and quite frankly. I’m not sure how I will ever get a job near my fiance, or anywhere in education, and I’m not sure what career path I will take. I’m looking at going into international education administration or higher education administration. I don’t miss the charter school I was teaching at, or the pressures of education, but I do miss my students from all my previous teaching experiences. I have so much love for students and for my craft, and I’m not sure what the outlet for all that love is going to be now. I cry almost every day. In short, I’m a mess. I really do want to teach again, I am just afraid after this experience I’m not mentally healthy enough to do so. I am thinking of moving back overseas. I cannot believe how much the charter school took from me in just five weeks of working there.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email! Writing this has been therapeutic to me and hopefully informative to your readers. I do hope that you get a chance to share this on your blog. I would also love to hear your advice in this situation.