Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

I recently heard from a teacher who taught in a charter middle school in Detroit. He is a certified social studies teacher, who has taught in both public and charter schools. The school he describes here is one of Michigan’s many for-profit schools (80% of charters in Michigan are run for profit). I asked him if he could write about his experience, and he sent the following:

“You are there to produce results, specifically test results; you are there to provide structure; you are not there to think; you are there to obey; you shall follow the curriculum; you shall train students for future careers and colleges; you need to enforce the rules and procedures; if students do not follow the rules and procedures, they need to go.

“White men in suits will watch your classes and nitpick your every move; every mistake and negative outcome is your fault. There is no excuse- there are never any excuses. Arrive earlier, stay later, care more, think less; others will go, maybe you will go; students will go; others will take your places. More structure- more discipline- take away recess- make the students sit in classrooms silently at lunch. Force students to march on the blue line all through the school- they need to obey. But don’t ask why all of this happens- never ask.

“Math and reading; reading and math; reading and more math” is what a student told me when I asked him what he worked on during summer school. These are taught because they are tested. Your job and the school’s charter depend on test score results. So, you teach math and reading test questions, even in classes named “Leadership,” “Workshop,” and “Computer Science.” History is the subject that doesn’t matter, science is the subject that doesn’t matter but gets computers. Gym, recess, art, and music are frivolous- there’s no time for that. Drill students more on test questions. Use the internet more- don’t reinvent the wheel- let your dean and principal do the thinking.
Stop the students from talking, from talking to one another; don’t let them talk using that hood talk, that’s not correct; they are not living correctly. You need to correct them, so put them in front of the computer and let the computer teach. Let the student’s mind go- they need to pass the test- THEY NEED TO PASS THE STANDARDIZED TEST OR ELSE WE FAIL.

“Let the curriculum do the thinking- your thoughts aren’t valued here. Your values aren’t valued here- that’s for JC Huizinga and Clark Durant (look them up). That’s for rich white men who didn’t go to charter schools or urban schools, who never taught in charter schools, who have no training in how to educate young minds. These are the same men who skim a buck off of broken down buildings and communities and who make $300k per year as figureheads but want to tell YOU how to uplift the poor and vulnerable on an at-will contract and a $40k/year salary.

“Let’s do something” Durant and Huizinga and the others must have said; they cared; they really did. But they asked the wrong questions; they didn’t learn their history. They created their own history; they want to take a giant eraser and erase the painful moments for those who are in pain; but you can’t erase pain. Pain and suffering and exclusion caused by systemic racism and lead poisoning and drug addiction and unstable home lives cannot be simply erased with business practices, more structure, and fancy gimmicks. These gimmicks, procedures, and pressures will not bring the jobs back to Detroit nor will it erase the poverty that causes shame and despair for the Black people that remain in the ashes. The charter schools rob the already crumbling public schools of money and students, rob the community from knowing what’s really going on, and pin full responsibility for uplifting students out of poverty on teachers.

“The true solutions require messy answers, holistic and complex answers, and they require the rich white men to give back some of their money, not just using their money to tell other people how to live- people that they don’t know, black faces in black spaces, places that these men would themselves never step foot in.

“So if you want to know what it’s like to teach in a charter middle school in Detroit, it devalues your life as a teacher, takes away your power and values just like it takes away the students’ power and values, substitutes them with gimmicks and buzzwords, and tells you that it’s your sole responsibility to uplift students out of poverty.”

At last, an article in the mainstream media that tries to understand why teachers are troubled! It’s not the New York Times or the Washington Post, but still…it’s in print.

Roger Williams of the Fort Meyers, Florida, Weekly titled “Troubled Teachers.” He dwells at length on the stresses that have changed the nature of teaching, not for the better.

Williams interviews many teachers, who tell him what is happening in their classrooms.

“At least one disturbing conclusion can be drawn from what they tell us: Teachers now face what is arguably the most difficult and demanding stampede of challenges in the contemporary history of public education. And that’s not good for students who face, in turn, a range of contemporary social challenges they might not have experienced en masse in previous generations.

“For teachers, there is less time than ever before to teach, they say. There is data crunching and lack of trust and constant state-mandated testing of stressed students. Teacher evaluations and one-year contracts are based on the success of students as measured in tests created by people who don’t teach. There is pay that will not cover the costs of education and family life.

“In the face of all this, what makes a great teacher, we asked them — and conversely, what makes it difficult to be a great teacher? Why are so many leaving a profession so essential to our futures?

“Teachers are ill-prepared for the demands of the current system. So it’s not just a matter of how to make better teachers. It’s also how teachers are made to work within their system now,” says Sandy Stenoff, co-founder of The Opt Out Florida Network, a grass-roots organization based in Orlando that advocates a variety of assessments instead of a single, state-mandated test.

“If you look at other professions, the ‘masters’ all have one thing in common,” she adds: “Excellent mentorship — an expert under whom they really trained, learned the best ‘techniques.’ Doctors, lawyers, even craftsmen.

“We don’t do that in education anymore. It would help to reduce attrition, too. But expert teachers are leaving. They can’t teach the way they know teaching works best.”

Never before have state and federal governments imposed their will so forcefully in every public school classroom. Their often I’ll-advised intrusions aim for standardization, making teachers and students alike unhappy.

Williams writes:

“If the system has massive weaknesses right now, it also has very good people, it seems — people who advocate passionately, even when they leave.

“Can all this be changed? Yes,” says Bruce Linser, a musical theater teacher and outgoing dean of dramatic arts at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

“I think we need fewer administrators and more teachers. We need fewer people telling us how to do our jobs, and more people who know how to do this, and want and love to do this, being allowed to do this. Without all the strings and standardization. I’m not arguing against oversight, I think that’s important. There are things that need to be taught and learned and I totally agree with that.”

“But all the extra duties of teachers — the extra programs and management requirements — inhibit the teaching they’re called to do.”

Low pay and lack of respect are part of the reason for teacher discontent. Florida ranks 39th in the nation in teacher pay, and many teachers must work a second job to make ends meet.

Very likely, one of the reasons that hedge fund managers and billionaires look down on teachers is because they are paid so little. Instead of recognizing that teachers sacrifice financial security for being in a career that makes a difference, the 1% simply don’t understand why people choose to teach and feel justified in trying to redesign education and teachers’ working conditions.

William Doyle describes an emerging international consensus about the appropriate and limited use of technology in the classroom.

Doyle starts from the proposition that “Technology in the classroom has so far had little positive effect on childhood learning.”

That’s the stunning finding of the OECDs September 2015 report “Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection.” The report found that despite billions of dollars of frantic government spending, where ICTs [information and communications technologies] are used, their impact on student performance has been “mixed, at best,” in the words of the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.”

This supports a growing body of other research indicating that, with some exceptions like distance and special needs learning, there is little evidence that digital tools are inherently superior to analog tools in the hands of qualified teachers in teaching children the fundamentals of learning, especially in the early years.

For policy-makers, educators and parents, the implications of this research are enormous, and critical. The OECD report suggested that teachers need to be better trained in ICT. But it also found that children may learn best with analog tools first before later adding digital platforms, and that a few hours a week of classroom screen time may be optimal for children, beyond which learning benefits drop off to diminishing, or even negative, returns.

This argues not for the 100% screen-based classroom proposed by some enthusiasts, but for a far more strategic and cost-and-learning-effective model. In this vision of the “school of tomorrow,” teachers will use the analog and digital methods of their choice, including a few hours of student screen time per week – with a significant portion of school time being a “digital oasis,” where students learn through proven analog methods like paper, pencil, manipulatives and physical objects, crayons and paint, physical books, play, physical activity, nature, and face-to-face and over-the-shoulder interactions – not with digital simulations, but with the ultimate “personalized learning platform” – highly-qualified, flesh-and-blood teachers.

This kind of approach is already blossoming in many classrooms around the world, as teachers and students harness and control the power of technology, properly applied and integrated.

Hands-on learning and learning by play are staging a comeback:

In the global headquarters city of LEGO itself, inside the three-year-old International School of Billund in western Denmark, the concept of learning through play is being taken to the ultimate extreme. The LEGO Foundation-supported school offers children aged 3 to 16 an International Baccalaureate program through a curriculum based on creative play, delivered through a rich variety of analog and digital tools, including, naturally, LEGO education kits and programs.

“We want pupils to use their hands,” said the ISB’s head of school Camilla Uhre Fog to a journalist from the Times Educational Supplement. “We’re very hands-on. When hands are involved in learning, children really remember. If you’re in the middle of the creative process there is nothing worse than clearing up – if you cease the flow then you lose the dream, you lose everything.”

I recently revised my 2010 book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” The revised edition reflects my understanding that national standards and tests do not improve education.

My opinion piece will appear in the Sunday New York Times.

Jennifer Ramsey is a 17-year veteran teacher in Texas. She watched Donald Trump Jr. insult public schools and their teachers on national television, and she was outraged. She asks: What does he know about public education? We know he attended an elite and pricey boarding school (The Hill School in Pennsylvania), which costs $55,000 a year. But has he ever set foot in a public school?

Public education is a foundational institution in this great nation, promoting democracy by educating students to become active citizens. It is a truly American establishment. Unlike elite private schools, public schools do not pick and choose which Americans we teach. We teach students of all races, religions and economic levels. We teach brilliantly gifted students, as well as children with severe disabilities….

Does Donald Trump Jr. know that?

I will begin my 18th year teaching in a Texas public school. Unlike Donald Trump Jr., I know something about public education.

Public education is a foundational institution in this great nation, promoting democracy by educating students to become active citizens. It is a truly American establishment. Unlike elite private schools, public schools do not pick and choose which Americans we teach. We teach students of all races, religions and economic levels. We teach brilliantly gifted students, as well as children with severe disabilities.

As for Trump’s assertion that public schools are run for the benefit of teachers and administrators rather than for the students, again, I must ask: What does know about public education? Has he ever stepped foot in a public school?

Trump doesn’t know that in public schools, teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets and hours beyond the workday preparing their classrooms to be fun and happy environments for the new group of American learners coming in. He doesn’t know that teachers help little ones learn the social skills they may be lacking at home, or how often teachers buy clothes for the little ones who are sent to school in clothes with holes and stains and too-small shoes.

Trump doesn’t know what it’s like to comfort a middle-school child whose mother beat him before he came to school, with his mouth still a bloody mess. Or what it’s like to try every single teacher strategy you know to reach the girl who is shut down, hates school and everyone in it — only to find out that her mother is selling her to grown men for drug money. He doesn’t know the heartbreak and real American life that teachers experience every day while interacting with their students.

Trump doesn’t know the love most teachers feel for their students. He doesn’t know our students are always “ours” — even years later. He doesn’t know how often teachers give their students lunch money, snacks, second chances, a shoulder to cry on and hugs. He doesn’t know the tears of pride and joy we cry when our students walk across the stage at graduation. He doesn’t know the anguish we feel when our students die.

The truth is that Trump and the public school bashers like him don’t know anything about public education. I am proud to be an American public school teacher, and I have heard enough of the un-American rhetoric that politicians and businessmen like him use to tear down a truly American establishment and condemn the millions of Americans working hard to care for the children of this nation.

This Indiana teacher wants you to know what Governor Mike Pence did to the public schools on his home state. He didn’t do it alone. He had the help of Republicans who control the legislature, and he built on the anti-public school record of his predecessor Mitch Daniels.

The New York Times reviewed Pence’s record on education, noting his support for charters and vouchers and his efforts to undermine State Superintendent Gloria Ritz, who received more votes than Pence in 2012. All the sources the Times quoted are conservatives.

But the Indiana teacher, who is self-described as a conservative, calls out Pence for his ongoing attacks on the teaching profession.

In Indiana, small, rural schools are shutting down because funding has been cut, families are moving out of district, and whole communities are losing jobs where school corporations are the largest employers.

Inner-city schools, like Indianapolis Public Schools, are urban nightmares as charter schools take away public school funding, yet only meet the needs of a fraction of the population.

Cities like Indy, Detroit, and Chicago are the poster-children for big government in education. The corporate rich and politicians get the money, and the urban poor, of which have a racial bias, receive a sub-standard education.

This is what Pence brings to the Republican Party ticket if he follows the path he’s paved in Indiana. If you don’t think education effects all parts of society, then education has benefitted you. If you know what the school-to prison pipeline is, then I don’t need to explain anymore.

One of the most powerful players in the corporate reform movement is Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), which represents the hedge fund managers who are eager to expand privately managed charters with public dollars.

Experienced journalist Alexander Russo writes here in the publication of the conservative American Enterprise Institute about the travails of DFER. From the outside, it appears that DFER is powerful for two reasons: its money (which seems to be endless) and its closeness to the Obama administration. President Obama took his cues from DFER, not the teachers’ unions. But Russo says that DFER is losing its grip and its sense of possibility. If it appears to be aimless and dispirited, it is.

The two issues that it fought for–charters and teacher evaluation by test scores–have not been the big successes that the hedge fund guys expected. Obama is leaving, and there is no certainty that Hillary will be as congenial as he was. She has a debt to the teachers’ unions, and Obama had none. On issue after issue, there have been no results–not for the agenda of privatizing the schools, nor for the fantasy of booting out all those “bad teachers.”

Money was never lacking, and the vision has all but disappeared. DFER exists because it continues to raise money, not because there is a groundswell of support for privatization and firing teachers based on test scores.

DFER’s long-time executive director Joe Williams has left to work for the Walton family.

Meanwhile, DFER’s real opposition is not the teachers’ unions but the parents and educators who are fighting back on their own dime. The grassroots opponents of corporate reform don’t have the money that DFER has, but they have passion, commitment, and the support of classroom teachers and scholars who oppose DFER’s goals. No one pays them. They (we) will outlast DFER because DFER will grow tired, tired of losing Friedrichs, tired of losing Vergara, tired of reading about the Opt Out movement, tired of being thrashed by bloggers like Mercedes Schneider and Peter Greene, tired of being vilified for their selfless investment in “reform,” tired of getting no returns on their investment.

The tortoise and the hare. Rabbit stew, anyone?

In this post, EduShyster interviews Eunice Han, an economist who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and is now headed for the University of Utah.

Dr. Han studied the effects of unions on teacher quality and student achievement and concluded that unionization is good for teachers and students alike.

This goes against the common myth that unions are bad, bad, bad.

Han says that “highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.”

And more: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them.

Dr. Han found a natural experiment in the states that abolished collective bargaining.

Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin all changed their laws in 2010-2011, dramatically restricting the collective bargaining power of public school teachers. After that, I was able to compare what happened in states where teachers’ bargaining rights were limited to states where there was no change. If you believe the argument that teachers unions protect bad teachers, we should have seen teacher quality rise in those states after the laws changed. Instead I found that the opposite happened. The new laws restricting bargaining rights in those four states reduced teacher salaries by about 9%. That’s a huge number. A 9% drop in teachers salaries is unheard of. Lower salaries mean that districts have less incentive to sort out better teachers, lowering the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, which is what you saw happen in the those four states. Lower salaries also encouraged high-quality teachers to leave the teaching sector, which contributed to a decrease of teacher quality.

Send this link to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and any other reformers you can think of.

Wendy Lecker warns the people of Connecticut that the New Haven public schools have made a deal with the Relay “Graduate School of Education,” which trains robot teachers who value compliance and arrive with scripted lessons. Why contract with Relay, she asks, when there are highly reputable teacher education programs in the neighborhood?

When you consider that Connecticut is one of the highest achieving states in the nation on NAEP, you have to wonder how the charter industry captured the state’s political leadership.

This is a letter that I received:

I have been following you for the last 10 years and am in awe of your continued efforts to turn public education in the right direction.

I read your article this morning about a teacher who had had enough.

It could have been my story.

I am a retired NYC Department of Education pre-k teacher in an under represented community. I taught pre-k for 16 consecutive years in the same school. I was fortunate that I was able to introduce many innovative programs to support my students not just in academics but the more important social/emotional piece that schools often neglect.

I brought to my classroom American Sign Language, Yoga, Mindfulness, Cooking and Baking, Caterpillars into Butterflies and as much art and music as I could fit in a day.

My students thrived. Sadly, each year it became more and more difficult to protect my students from the “rigor” and academic push for 3 and 4 year olds.

This past year, I was evaluated by not just my supervisors but from NYC Instructional Coordinators, a Social Worker who came once a month and no longer worked with students and their families, but was there to teach me classroom management, and an Educational Coach who came to help me learn how to better assess my students.

In addition, NYC has contracted ECERS:

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale.

The Instructional Coordinators returned to review the ECERS report on the premise of helping me attain a better rating the next year. They removed my television which I used to play videos for yoga and ASL for my students so they could see children their own age doing yoga and ASL.

They said ECERS did not allow more than 20 minutes a week for technology.

I tried to explain that the television was not technology but the television was removed.

They removed my oven because they believed it to be dangerous.

They removed my students yoga cushions because they said they were not sanitary despite the fact that they had washable covers.

The final blow came when in the ECERS report it stated that I had an inappropriate book; The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.

The ECERS evaluator said it promoted violence and bullying because the grouchy ladybug wanted to fight.

Either she had never read the book or had read it and did not understand its value.

I no longer had any autonomy in my classroom and I could not in good conscience do what the IC’s and other outside people wanted me to do with my children.

It was a very difficult decision.

I had legacy families where I had taught 7 or 8 members of extended families.

Many families started teaching their children how to pronounce my name as soon as they were able to sit up.

My story is just one small grain of sand but I am confident that it is being replicated all over the country.

I left not because I was in an under represented community and not because many children had challenging issues but rather because the lack of support and understanding about what it means to be a teacher was draining the life out of me.

I am hopeful to continue to have a voice for children, particularly the ones that few want to teach.

If you post my story, please do not use my name.