Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Perhaps you read the editorial in the New York Times a few days ago, blasting teacher education programs and approving John King’s new regulations to judge them by the test scores of the students who graduate from them. The editorial cites the Gates-funded National Council on Teacher Quality’s claim that 90% of teacher education institutions stink. NCTQ, you may recall, publishes rankings of teacher education programs without ever actually visiting any of them. It just reads the catalogues and decides which are the best and which are the worst, based in part on their adherence to the Common Core and scripted reading programs.

I agree that the entry standards for teacher education programs must be higher, and I would love to see online teaching degree programs shut down. But King’s new rules don’t address entry standards or crummy online programs. Their main goal is to judge teacher education programs by the test scores of the students who studied under the graduates of the programs. They will discourage teachers from teaching in high-needs districts. They will allow the U.S. Department of Education to extend its test-crazed control into yet another sector of American education. This is federal overreach at its dumbest.

John Merrow, who knows much more than the Times’ editorial writer on education (the same person for the past 20 years or more), has a different and better informed perspective.

He writes that the problem is not teacher education but the underpaid, under-respected profession.

The federal government thinks that tighter regulation of these institutions is the answer. After all, cars that come out of an automobile plant can be monitored for quality and dependability, thus allowing judgments about the plant. Why not monitor the teachers who graduate from particular schools of education and draw conclusions about the quality of their training programs?

That’s the heart of the new regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education this week: monitor the standardized test scores of students and analyze the institutions their teachers graduated from. Over time, the logic goes, we’ll discover that teachers from Teacher Tech or Acme State Teachers College generally don’t move the needle on test scores. Eventually, those institutions will lose access to federal money and be forced out of business. Problem solved!

Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., announced the new regulations in Los Angeles. “As a nation, there is so much more we can do to help prepare our teachers and create a diverse educator workforce. Prospective teachers need good information to select the right program; school districts need access to the best trained professionals for every opening in every school; and preparation programs need feedback about their graduates’ experiences in schools to refine their programs (emphasis added). These regulations will help strengthen teacher preparation so that prospective teachers get off to the best start they can, and preparation programs can meet the needs of students and schools for great educators.”

Work on the regulations began five years ago and reflect former Secretary Arne Duncan’s views.

John Merrow says that the Department is trying to solve a problem by issuing regulations that will make the problem worse. Teacher churn and attrition are at extraordinary high levels. The regulations will not encourage anyone to improve teaching.

He writes:

Strengthen training, increase starting pay and improve working conditions, and teaching might attract more of the so-called ‘best and brightest,’ whereas right now it’s having trouble attracting anyone, according to the Learning Policy Institute, which reported that

“Between 2009 and 2014, the most recent years of data available, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35% reduction. This amounts to a decrease of almost 240,000 professionals on their way to the classroom in the year 2014, as compared to 2009.”

Merrow writes, in the voice of wisdom, a voice that has been non-existent in Washington, D.C., for the past 15 years:

I am a firm believer in the adage, “Harder to Become, Easier to Be.” We need to raise the bar for entry into the field and at the same time make it easier for teachers to succeed. This approach will do the opposite; it will make teaching more test-centric and less rewarding.

This latest attempt to influence teaching and learning is classic School Reform stuff. It worships at the altar of test scores and grows out of an unwillingness to face the real issues in education (and in society). While it may be well-meaning, it’s misguided and, at the end of the day, harmful.

Listen up, New York Times editorial writer!

Peter Rawitsch teaches first grade. He has been a teacher for 40 years. He was invited to participate in the New York State review of Common Core standards for the early grades.

He deliberated with the group and came away convinced that the standards, however written, will do more harm than good. In this article, he calls for a moratorium on standards for the youngest children.

He thinks that children need a childhood more than they need standards.

Arthur Goldstein has taught ESL students in New York City for decades, and he has one of the best blogs in the city, state, and nation, written from the view of a teacher.

In this post, he lacerates the administration of the New York City Department of Education for a grading policy that further diminishes the discretion of teachers to make judgments about what their students need and how they are progressing. I can’t help but think about the paradigm of all national systems, where teachers are carefully selected, well prepared, treated as masters of their profession, and trusted to do what’s best for their students.

The new NYC rule, Arthur says, is “you will differentiate instruction the same way for everyone.”

He writes:

“That seems to be the main thrust of the new grading policy. A big thing, for me at least, is the policy on what is and is not acceptable for participation. I had been doing precisely the thing that the DOE seems to loath—granting a participation grade at the end of each marking period. I essentially gave a positive grade for students who raised their hands and were active all the time, a negative grade for those who spent most of the time sleeping, and various degrees in between for others.

“Now here’s the thing—DOE gives an example that you give credit each day when a student brings a pencil and notebook. That is, of course, measurable. It’s also idiotic, as it’s a preposterously low standard. I think the reason they gave that example was because it was very easy for them to think of. And thus, we part ways. I actually think about grades a lot. To me, bringing a pencil is only a marginal step above breathing.

“But they don’t need to think about it. They just need to sit in air-conditioned offices and tell us what to do. Why bother considering the real lives of lowly teachers, let alone the students they ostensibly serve? Treat everyone the same.

“So if someone places a student in my class, tells me she has a 70 IQ, and the girl looks appears so fragile that if you touched her she would break, well, rules are rules. If she doesn’t participate each and every day, screw her, she gets zero. If one of my students is from a country where they have classes of 50, if she’s been taught all her life to sit down and shut up, if she’s so painfully shy that she actually trembles when you ask her a question, give her a zero. Everything is black and white in the ivory towers of the DOE.

“Your opinion cannot be quantified. Let’s say you teach strings. Let’s say one of your students comes in and plays a beautiful piece, with perfect vibrato. She makes you feel as though you have reached nirvana. I come in and scratch out something that sounds like I’m strangling a cat.

“But we’ve both brought in our violins and cases, and how the hell are you gonna prove she plays better than me? Is it on the rubric? And who’s to say I didn’t find my own piece to be breathtakingly beautiful? Who the hell are you to judge me without a rubric? And if you do have one, and you tell me how badly I played, maybe I’ll just report your ass under Chancellor’s Regulation A-421, verbal abuse. You made me feel bad. So screw you too.

“After all, the supervisors are using rubrics. They come in with that Danielson thing and check boxes. These boxes contain the evidence. Plus they have notes. So who cares if the notes came from the voices in their heads and nothing they say actually happened? I’ve seen supervisors outright make stuff up.”

On Sunday, I posted the FairTest model for state assessments. FairTest has spent decades fighting the misuse and abuse of standardized testing. One of its long-time board members, for example, is Deborah Meier, a well-recognized and distinguished critic of standardized testing.

Several readers read the report as a covert effort to legitimate Competency-Based Education, that is, embedded computerized testing controlled by corporations.

Monty Neill of FairTest responds here:

The comments in response to the posting about FairTest’s report, Assessment Matters, raise interesting points. I will respond here to just a few.

First, there is no doubt that corporations backed by some foundations and politicians are promoting a version of schooling that is built around computerized packaged programs that combine curriculum, curricular materials, instruction and testing. The tests are in most cases multiple-choice and short-answer with occasional write-to-a-prompt items, to be machine graded. They seriously narrow and diminish education and should be exposed and stopped.

But not one of the examples in FairTest’s report rely on these kinds of computerized packages. Each one is teacher controlled and very much teacher controlled. We clearly support and praise those that allow significant student voice and control over the learning and assessment processes. New Hampshire fought for a deal that has opened doors that have been nailed shut since the start of NCLB and thus deserve serious credit. As we point out, we can learn from and improve on what they have thus far done, and that ESSA makes it easier for that to happen. (As a sidebar, we have regularly opposed much of what is in ESSA concerning testing while noting the victories and gains the testing reform movement made and providing ideas on how to take advantage of the opportunities it does provide.)

People can choose to believe the fight is over because corporations are trying to seize control of terms such as personalized and competency-based. We believe that is a mistake. It is not over, and one part of the battle is the fight to own the terms. The more important fight is the one to determine the shape of education, whether it is built on human relations among teachers and students, with parents and other community people also engaged; or it is based on computer algorithms and subordinating human relations to the computer packages.

FairTest fights for the former. We think that is clear in what we call for and the programs we highlight. If people have questions about that, they should read what we actually write and then follow it up, looking at the programs themselves.

Monty Neill

Larry Lee is one of the staunchest supporters of public schools in Alabama. A few years ago, he criss-crossed the state and identified 10 rural schools that were doing everyday miracles for their children and their communities because of the hard work and dedication of teachers, principals, and families, all doing their best for their children.

He sent me the following urgent message:

These are dark days for public education in Alabama. Since the legislature changed hands in 2010, things have gone steadily downhill.

Take a look:

* A bill to have A-F school grades, a practice intended solely to be punitive and a practice that research does not support.

* The Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $72 million from the Education Trust Fund for vouchers for private schools. A law that failed utterly in its stated mission to “help; poor students stuck in failing schools by their zip code.

* A bill to establish charter schools which cuts into already under-funded public schools funding.

* A bill known as the RAISE Act that would have forced teachers to be evaluated with the highly controversial Value Added Model.

* A bill intended to set up Education Savings Accounts that would have diverted more funding from the Education Trust Fund.

Instead of seeking input from professional educators, legislators are listening to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Jeb Bush foundations and Alabama special interests. In fact, the Senate majority leader boasted after passing the Accountability Act in 2013 that this bill was purposely hidden from educators because “they would have opposed it.”

Now, to add insult to injury the state board of education, the body that should be the first line of defense for public education, has turned its back on our children by hiring an attorney from Massachusetts to be state school superintendent. They ignored Alabama code and even their advertised required qualifications and put their own ideology and political ambitions ahead of the 740,000 children in Alabama public schools

Because of this, a group of 40 plaintiffs, including former local superintendents, principals, teachers, school board members, parents, local elected officials, a former college president and a former U.S. Congressman have joined together to seek legal action against the state school board.

They have said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and formed the Alabama Public School Defense Fund to wage this battle.

Please join in standing up for our children by going to this site and contributing today.

Larry Lee
334-787-0410 (blog)

Education Is Everyone’s Business

Peter Greene learned that the Tulsa public schools have adopted a program to standardize teaching by putting a little microphone in teachers’ ears through which they can get real-time coaching. The superintendent in Tulsa is Deborah Gist, a reformer who was previously State Commisssioner of Education in Rhode Island, where she achieved plaudits from President Obama and Arne Duncan for supporting the mass firing of the entire staff of Central Falls High School.

Tulsa public schools invited the press to see a demonstration of scripted teaching.

“The press were there to watch Remote Control Scripting in action because they had been invited there by Tulsa Public Schools and the company TPS hired to provide this program. It’s the same company that put Berard through her paces– CT3 (The Center for Transformative Teacher Training). They are partners with all the cool kids– Success Academies, Teach for America, Aspire, and many other charter schools….

“No Nonsense Nurturing has been around forever, but previously we’ve called it “tough love” or “taking a hard line” or even “acting like an emotionally-withholding, borderline-abusive jerk.” I have never seen nor read of an example of it that doesn’t make me immediately think “this is no way to treat human beings.”

“Real-Time Coaching, the part that got all the press attention in Tulsa, is actually Real-Time Scripting, and like scripting, it has no place in a classroom. Ever. No child should ever, ever have a teacher whose answer to, “Why are we doing this?” is “Because the voices in my head tell me to.”

“The real time nature of the coaching is actually a bug, not a feature. If I’m coaching another teacher, after I’ve watched the lesson, I’ll need at least a few minutes to reflect. In the real time moment, I’m pretty much limited to the instant thought of What I Would Do, or, if I’ve been trained in a particular method, the One Correct Response to that situation. Either response devalues and dismisses that teacher’s own teaching voice.

“It’s just silly to say that there is One Correct Way to teach a particular lesson, irregardless of the teacher or the class involved. It makes no more sense than saying there is One Correct Way to be a spouse, irregardless of who is your partner.

Borrero defends CT3 practices by saying, “Our programs were developed through careful analysis of high performing teachers’ practices in schools serving traditionally disenfranchised communities across the country; all of our work is rooted in building positive life-altering relationships with youth and their families.” But it is hard for me to imagine how Real Time Coaching could possibly help accomplish any such thing.

“Standardizing and human behavior is the worst kind of folly. To fit in such a system requires the practitioners to be less themselves, less real, less human. It is a favored dream of people who are too small to comprehend the vast variety of human experience and behavior, too scared to face anything but the narrow sliver of possibilities they feel prepared to master, or too morally impaired to respect the independence and autonomy of other human beings.

“Good teaching exists at the intersection of the material, the humanity of the teacher, and the humanity of the students in the room. Additionally, that intersection is influenced by a background of previous experience, current events, and the feelings of the moment. It cannot be standardized any more than a marriage or a child or a pancake or a planet can be standardized. And it can’t be attempted because it shouldn’t be attempted.

“I have no doubt that buried here in there in the real-time scripting and the no-nurturing nonsense, there are occasional nuggets of useful information or technique. But it is saddening to see CT3 still successfully peddling their wares. Nobody needs to teach like a robot.”

This program is a vivid demonstration of lack of respect for teachers. It strips them of both their professionalism and their dignity.

Ken Futernick wrote this post for the Harvard Press blog. Ken is a researcher who believes that collaboration is better than competition.

I first encountered Ken’s work when I read his superb paper: “Incompetent Teachers or Dysfunctional a Systems?” I urge you to read it too. He makes it clear that the billion-dollar-hunt for the “bad teacher” is not productive. And we know now that it is not.

He writes:

It’s time for those of us in education to revisit an old question: what’s our purpose? Some would say it’s to pass on what we know to the next generation.

That makes sense, provided we like what we’re passing on.

It’s hard to imagine that many Americans would want their children to inherit today’s toxic politics or to emulate the politicians who lie to the public, ignore science, peddle bigotry, and eschew civil discourse.

Not surprisingly, some students are doing just that. Last February, for instance, students attending a championship basketball game at Andrean High School in Indiana mimicked a popular presidential candidate, chanting, “build a wall” at their opponents from Bishop Noll Institute, whose students are mostly Latino.

And why wouldn’t we expect students to reject climate change, evolution, the use of vaccines, or science itself when some of their leaders do the same?

The point is that educators must be discerning about what we pass on. As the American philosopher John Dewey wrote one hundred years ago, “Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse…. As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future society.”

Enlightened schools do this by updating their curricula with relevant, useful content and by cultivating values like equity, critical analysis, and civil discourse. In addition to academics, they promote social, emotional, and moral development. They confront bullying and racism, teaching students to resolve their differences respectfully. They teach the value of facts and demand that students support their opinions with reasons and evidence—even when politicians don’t.

These schools aren’t engaged in partisan politics. The values they’re teaching don’t belong to political parties—they’re fundamental values of a democracy, which is why all public schools in America should foster them.

Enlightened educators also model good leadership. As I show in my book, The Courage to Collaborate: The Case for Labor-Management Partnerships in Education, a growing number of school boards, administrators, and teacher unions are working as partners, rather than as adversaries. They still disagree, sometimes vehemently, but they manage their disputes through trust, collaboration, and civil dialogue. Without the acrimony, the name-calling, and the gridlock, these educators are able to innovate, solve problems, and cultivate good teaching and powerful learning. Isn’t this the type of leadership we want students to learn?

Kevin Kumashiro is a professor of Asian-American Studies and a scholar of American education. You must read his book “Bad Teacher,” in which he dissects the corporate reform movement.

This important article–“When Billionaires Become Educational Experts”–describes the right wing foundations and business groups that are financing the war on public schools and their teachers. It will make you eager to read his book.

This is a short video message filled with inspiration and passion, directed to the thousands of unemployed and underemployed college graduates who are currently clerking in big box stores, waiting on tables, and performing other work that does not utilize their knowledge and skills.

The speaker is Jamaal Bowman, principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a middle school in the Bronx. Bowman is a member of the board of directors of NYSAPE, the New York State Alliance for Public Education, a group that has done so much to build the opt out movement and change the direction of New York state’s education policy agenda.

Watch this video and get a life, a life where you can make a difference instead of sticking with a dead end job!

Anthony Cody disagrees with those who say that “opt out is dead” and that those who celebrate it are helping to preserve the illusion of resistance.

Critics of Competency Based Education have concluded that the fight must shift away from opt out to a fight against online testing. Unfortunately they go on to say that people like the leaders of New York’s historic opt out movement are dupes or are purposely shielding the corporate agenda.

Anthony has long been a critic of CBE.

He writes:

I do not see things unfolding this way. First of all, opting out of a state test is an act of civil disobedience. It is an act of individual and collective defiance of a top-down mandate.

Powerful interests NEVER want people to engage in acts of defiance. Once such acts are successful, people learn that they have a power that system managers and the ruling class do not want them to have. Bill Gates and company are literally spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to kill the opt out movement.

Opting out is a transcendent act of defiance that opens the door to all sorts of defiance of the controls and systems we are expected to engage in. It should not be abandoned. It should evolve. It has been necessary to Opt Out of annual standardized tests – and it still is, as long as they are being used to rank and sort students and teachers. Now it may be l be necessary to opt out of excessive screen time. Opt out of online systems that track and share highly sensitive personal information about your children with for-profit vendors, or others who are using this information not to educate them but to market to them and treat them as consumes. Parents Across America has posted a useful toolkit and opt out form.

The state annual test may or may not be dead in a few years. In any case, the spirit of Opting Out will live on, and the success of the movement is inspiring parents to take control into their own hands and resist abusive practices. The movement of defiance, one of non-compliance, is growing, and that spirit should live on as long as technology and tests are used to manipulate and control teachers and students against their wills and against their best interests.

The New York State Allies for Public Education have already made an enormous difference. Governor Cuomo has gone silent about “reform.” The chancellor of the State Board of Regents stepped down instead of running for another term (she was a big supporter of high-stakes testing, VAM, and charters). The new chancellor is a friend of NYSAPE. The whole tone in the state has changed and will keep changing because the parents are not quitting. They will keep opting out until they get the changes they seek in Common Core and testing.