Archives for posts with tag: Corporate Reformers

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader:

Russ Walsh, an expert on literacy who blogs regularly, here reviews Paul Thomas’s excellent new book Beware the Roadbuilders. I have often posted pieces by Paul Thomas, who is passionate about social and economic justice and literature. He often deftly weaves literature into his social critiques.

Paul Thomas was a high school teacher in South Carolina before he became a teacher educator at Furman University. He not only knows his subject, he knows young people, and he knows teaching. But more than that, he has a social conscience that shines through everything he writes.

Russ Walsh reads Thomas’s book with admiration. He writes:

I have often told my students that informational literature attempts to present what is factually true, but fiction attempts to shine a light on universal truth. In Beware the Roadbuilders: Literature as Resistance, P. L. Thomas invites us to look over his shoulder as he reads personally, feelingly and critically into literature, both canonical and contemporary, in an effort to illuminate the truth beneath issues of equity, social justice and public education. Thomas, a former high school English teacher and current associate professor of education at Furman University in South Carolina, also blogs at the becoming radical. If you are not familiar with his work on the blog I recommend you join me as a regular reader.

The “roadbuilders” of Thomas’ title are the education reformers, those plutocrats, pundits and politicians who have seized on urban education as the “civil rights issue of our time” and who, like the colonizing Europeans in Africa a century ago, seek to impose their own definitions of success and progress on the people and institutions they seek to reform. Thomas points to the current rage for “no excuses” charter schools as a prime example of the “roadbuilder” model. In “no excuses” schools students are subjected to a military like structure, rigid classroom rules and demeaning discipline practices in the name of getting “college and career ready.” For these reformers, Thomas says,”education is a tool of the elite to train the masses to conform to a world that maintains the current status quo.”

But I don’t want to give the impression that Beware the Roadbuilders is just another anti-education reform polemic, because it is much richer and much more interesting than that. This is a book for people who love books, who love reading and who love finding connections in literature that help us better understand our world. The book took me back to a reconsideration of some of my favorite authors from the past like James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Kingsolver, Isaac Asimov and Adrienne Rich, but also exposed me to authors I had not previously read like Geoffrey Eugenides and George Saunders.

Thomas also includes examples of literature that I have studiously avoided. It is a credit to Thomas’ skills as a writer and an enthusiastic reader that he has piqued my interest in previously shunned (by me) works like zombie literature and super-hero fiction.

Who are the “roadbuilders” and why should we beware of them? Thomas tells the story of a village in Africa that is visited by a delegation of men who propose to build a road. The road builders tell the villagers of all the wonderful benefits that will come from improved transportation and commerce. To make a fascinating story short, the road cuts through the village, demolishing the community and the lives of the trusting villagers.

There are universal truths aplenty in Paul’s book, and Russ has done a wonderful job in reviewing it.