Pushing back--hard--against the manufactured "crisis" of "failing" schools, "bad" teachers, and "under-achieving" students, one day at a time. . .
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!!!
Another academic year is upon us, and students, parents and teachers are approaching the beginning of another school year in the "accountability era" with a mix of excitement, anticipation and
apprehension. As we ready ourselves for another year in our classrooms, what do we see around us?
- We have schools that have already been open for weeks, others about to begin, and still others that won't begin classes for several weeks...
- We have small rural schoolhouses with children in mixed-grade groupings, sprawling suburban schools with Ivy League-worthy campuses and facilities, and historic urban schools in our nation's biggest cities...
- We have schools with students who have a plethora of learning styles, gifts and challenges, schools with students who speak languages from across the globe, and schools that reflect the richness and diversity of the communities that they represent...
- We have public schools, private schools, magnet schools, charter schools, independent schools, religious schools, home schools, online and virtual schools, and "schools of choice"...
- We have schools that offer a traditional curriculum, schools that provide a veritable buffet of AP classes and other advanced offerings, schools with IB curricula, and school consortia that offer vocational education in various areas of interest...
- We have schools that operate on quarters, semesters, trimesters, year-round and other even more arcane scheduling options...
- We have schools organized into districts, by counties, and into "corporations;" schools in which the teachers are members of unions, and schools in states where unions do not exist...
There is nothing about these schools--or our students--that is standardized. Schools are not fast-food franchises, engineered for consistency and similarity of "customer experience." The differences in our schools, and among our students, are to be savored, treasured and celebrated, not targeted as "issues", or "problems" to be solved, or "variables" to be accounted for in the construction of a standardized exam. The diversity in our schools is not a "bug", it's a feature.
The goal in education is not for every 4th grade student in the US to be learning the same thing at the same time--"If it's October 17, it must be time to sing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider!"
The goal is for each student to become more fully human, to develop her or his individual strengths, talents and skills in the ways that make sense for each child, and to instill an unquenchable thirst for learning, exploring and questioning the world around them.
Education is not simply about constructing efficient delivery systems for the transfer of information--books and computers can do that. Education is about the building of relationships--between students and teachers, and among learners themselves. And schools, in all of their messy, noisy, confusing chaos, do this spectacularly well.
And yet we keep hearing the same mantra from non-educators that the only way to "keep the schools and teachers accountable" is to leave no child untested. Every reform initiative seemingly ups
the ante yet again with more tests, longer tests and harder tests, as if inserting more thermometers will somehow cook the meat better and faster.
The reformers are fond of lecturing us that "the only way we will know how our children are doing in school" is to gather copious amounts of "data" through the administration of an endless array of "end of course," final, summative, high-stakes, rigorous, standardized tests. These reformers seem oblivious to the fact that teachers and parents already know a lot about our students and children:
- we go to parent nights
- we attend open houses
- we go to concerts, plays and science fairs
- we drop them off and pick them up from soccer games, piano lessons, dance classes, art galleries, and museums
- we communicate with their teachers, by email, phone and face-to-face
- we volunteer in their classrooms, marching band parent groups, chorus and orchestra booster clubs, and athletic support groups
- we chaperone trips with their elementary classes, music ensembles and sports teams, riding buses for hours and hanging out in muddy zoos and nature centers, cold, rainy stadiums, and drafty auditoriums
And, as parents and teachers, we talk to our children and one another. We ask questions about our children and their work in school; are they paying attention? behaving appropriately? doing their best? "getting it"? A standardized test tells us none of those things--it only provides a snapshot of the movie of our children's lives as learners.
So, as we begin another school year, let's keep the focus on the differences in our schools, and among our children, and resist the reformers' urging to standardize their experiences, their
learning, and their evaluation. Rather than trying to nationalize our standards, let's work to individualize our standards--with nuance, "feel", and the understanding that
each child has a unique background, understandings and abilities. And let's celebrate the uniqueness of each and every one of our children, teachers, schools and communities.
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Destabilize 'Em!
The typical reform agenda goes something like this:
We see evidence of this approach in places like New Orleans with its "Recovery School District," and Detroit, where Gov. Snyder's Frankenstein-like "Education Achievement Authority" continues to deprive the students and citizens of local control of their schools. The reformers' tactics are brutal and unforgiving: create a public perception that the schools are failing, the teachers are lazy, the unions are greedy, and the only solutions are to close schools, expand choice, provide vouchers and valorize charters.
However, one of the more subtle, yet damaging, weapons in the reformers' playbook is simultaneously less visible to the uninformed eye and more insidious in its ability to accomplish the reformers' ultimate goal: the destabilization of public education by an intentional, purposeful strategy of near-constant turnover and turmoil in the leadership and teaching force in the schools.
The business world has a name for this practice: creative destruction. It's a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter, and "refers to the incessant product and process innovation mechanism by
which new production units replace outdated ones." Also referred to as "churn," this business-centered approach to school reform considers students and teachers as "raw materials," and
schools as "factories." The goal is maximizing profits, and significant "collateral damage" (i.e., school closings, teacher terminations, student expulsions) is not only acceptable, but expected,
in the single-minded pursuit of the reformers' goals.
"Creative destruction" comes in numerous forms in public education, from the year-to-year involuntary reassignment of teachers from one grade level to another, to the practice of having elementary teachers with "all subjects" certifications teach subjects (i.e., music, art, PE) they are unqualified to teach, to moving principals back and forth between schools as though they are pawns in a game of administrative Pong.
An especially egregious example of this sort of intentional destabilization can be seen in the Detroit Public Schools, which has been under state control for most of the previous 15 years (1999-2005, 2009-2016). Under the Snyder administration, Detroit's schools have suffered from a systematic defunding of facilities and equipment, sub-standard working conditions, safety concerns, drastic curriculum narrowing, and poor teacher morale as a result of the state's takeover. Recent estimates are that fewer than 30% of Detroit's children have access to school music classes, and only 40% have an art teacher. In 2014, Renaissance High School, long considered a bastion of high quality arts programming in the city, suffered devastating cuts to its music program, signaling a troubling trend in priorities from Detroit's educational leaders.
The destructive impact of "churn" in the DPS may be most visible when looking at the district's recent history of administrative leadership.
DPS Emergency Managers
Robert Bobb, 2009-11
Roy Roberts, 2011-13
Jack Martin, 2013-15
- Darnell Earley, 2015
John Covington, 2011
Victoria Conforme, 2014
Its hard to understand how a school system can make any sort of sustained progress with a veritable revolving door of administrative transition occurring in the central offices--and this is certainly the case in Detroit: "Under emergency managers Robert Bobb, Roy Roberts and Martin, DPS has shed tens of thousands of students, closed dozens of schools and struggled with persistent deficits...Last fall's (2014) preliminary enrollment was 47,238, less than half of the 96,000 students attending DPS when Bobb was appointed."
It's beyond time to declare Gov. Snyder's approach to education reform in Detroit a resounding failure. The state has had 15 years to "fix" the problems they created through a massive disinvestment of public education in Michigan, and Detroit's children and teachers have paid the price as a seemingly endless parade of highly paid "experts" have failed to turn the ship around.
It's time to turn back control of Detroit's schools to the elected school board (which has been meeting, in exile) and citizens of Detroit, and put an end to this failed experiment in "creative destruction." Fifteen years of "emergency management" have done nothing but damage the futures of a generation of Detroit's youth.
Stop the "churn," Mr. Snyder. Give Detroit's schools back to Detroit.
Why Ben Carson is Right--and Wrong--on Race
Retired neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, was asked one of the few questions on race at the first GOP Presidential debate last Thursday, and his answer provided a fascinating microcosm of our
society's frustrating and challenging understanding--or misunderstanding--of how race impacts the daily lives of so many of our fellow citizens.
Fox News' Megan Kelly asked Dr. Carson what he would do to help race relations in the U.S. if he was elected president. He responded by saying, "I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don’t I talk about race that often,” he said. “I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. And I said, you see, when I take someone into the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn't make them who they are. And it's time for us to move beyond that."
Dr. Carson is absolutely right when he says, "...I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are." The essence of who we are, biologically, is not determined by our hair, or eye color, or skin color.
But the issue of "who we are" is far more complicated than just biology. It's determined by how and what we think, by how we treat one another, and by what we believe as human beings. It's determined not by what we are made of, but what we do with what we are, and how we live our lives.
The trouble with Dr. Carson's response is that while surgeons may have this sort of privileged glimpse into "who we are" when they have a patient on the operating table, there are far more instances in which the color of one's skin makes a significant difference in how one is treated. A partial list might include:
- law enforcement, including "stop & frisk" violations (After being arrested, African-Americans are 33% more likely than whites to be detained while facing a felony trial in New York)
- police violence against unarmed black men (Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people)
- random traffic stops (85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American; 90% of those who received citations were black; and 93% of people arrested were black. This while 67% of the Ferguson population is black)
- college admissions offices (Black and Hispanic students are dramatically underrepresented in
highly selective colleges, even after controlling for family income. The probability of enrolling in a highly selective college is five times greater for white students than black students.
Even after controlling for income, white students are two to three times as likely as black students to gain admission to highly selective colleges. These racial disparities appear to have grown
in the last 30 years)
- high school graduation rates (Black students had a 69 percent graduation rate and Hispanic students had a 73 percent rate, while 86 percent of white students and 88 percent of Asian students earned high school diplomas)
- incarceration rates (an African American male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail in his lifetime, while a Latino male has a 17% chance, and a white male only has a 6% chance)
- real estate agents (almost 40 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, many real estate agencies across the country still engage in blatant racial, ethnic and religious discrimination at "egregiously high rates")
- security guards in stores (Former security guards of CVS, a major American drugstore chain, say they were fired from their jobs after complaining about being ordered to racially profile minority shoppers at three New York City stores)
- landlords (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that more than two million instances of housing discrimination occur each year, but fewer than one percent are reported)
- loan officers (researchers found that black borrowers are 25 to 35 percent less likely to receive funding than a white borrower with similar credit)
- sentencing guidelines (African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites through the federal system for the same crimes; African-Americans are 21% more likely than whites to receive mandatory minimum sentences and 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants)
Unfortunately for Dr. Carson, even brain surgeons are not immune to noticing the color of one's skin when making determinations about medical treatments. According to a study by researchers in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, "There are significant racial and ethnic disparities" in how patients are treated in emergency rooms when admitted for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), with minority patients being more likely to receive treatment from a resident rather than a specialist, and less likely to be referred for follow up care after being discharged from the hospital.
It shouldn't take a brain surgeon to understand that while race may be a "social construct," it is still real, and presents actual, tangible challenges, obstacles, and dangers to millions of Americans each and every day. And we should expect all candidates for the highest office in the land to recognize that they have an obligation to address race as more than a "skin deep" issue.
Donald Trump, Sexism and No Heroes
This has been an...interesting week in the world of politics, at both the state and national levels. Here in Michigan, we witnessed the personal and professional self-destruction of two Tea Party legislators, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, as the result of an ill-conceived plot to conceal their affair by distributing a fake email "outing" Mr. Courser for having "sex with a male prostitute."
At the national level, we witnessed the first GOP debates, one for the runners-up, and the main event featuring the top 10 candidates, both televised on Fox News. Amidst what can only be described as a jaw dropping parade of misogyny, war mongering and regressive policy beliefs, one candidate stood out from the crowd: The Donald. Fox's Megan Kelly called out Mr. Trump for his history of making sexist, misogynistic comments about women: "You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals...Does that sound like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” Kelly concluded by asking how Trump would combat inevitable charges from Hillary Clinton that he is part of the “war on women.”
Mr. Trump's response was a textbook example of "mansplaining," and a graduate level demonstration of how wealthy, powerful men have been dismissing claims of sexism for centuries. Not content to disrespect Ms. Kelly, her question or the millions of women watching the debate, Mr. Trump then turned to Twitter in the early morning hours after the debate to double-down on his attacks on Ms. Kelly, impugning her professionalism and even re-Tweeting a comment referring to her as a "bimbo." All of this was carried out under cover of one of the favorite defenses of the privileged when held accountable for their words or actions: political correctness run amok. According to Mr. Trump, "I don't have time for political correctness and neither does this country!"
The backlash against Mr. Trump has been both swift and predictable, with caustic comments from the other Republican candidates about his remarks and an indignant dis-invitation to a RedState event this weekend from conservative king-maker, and former Fox News host, Erick Erickson.
But before we start congratulating ourselves about the societal response to Mr. Trump's behavior, let's be clear here: There are no heroes in the Donald Trump story...
The Donald is a misogynistic, sexist creep. And there is ample evidence to support Ms. Kelly's asking of her question...
...however, Megyn Kelly herself has a long history of insensitive remarks about racial and ethnic minorities, and dismissing violence against black men. None of which means that the criticism of Mr. Trump is not without merit, and that he shouldn't be held accountable for his comments. Except for the fact that...
...Erick Erickson, the person who disinvited Trump from the RedState event for his remarks about Kelly, has a troubling history himself of making extremely disparaging remarks about women--and doesn't appear to recognize the hypocrisy in these inconsistencies.
And while it may seem on the surface as though the self-inflicted problems besetting both Reps. Courser and Gamrat, and Mr. Trump, are unrelated, there is a common thread connecting these incidents. At their core, all of these "controversies" are about narcissism--the act of caring more about oneself than anyone else. Which is also at the root of many of the conservative beliefs on political and social issues that these folks hold:
Their concerns about women's reproductive health choices are not about what women want for their own bodies and lives--they are about what they themselves
believe is right or true.
Their concerns about same-sex marriage are not about what's right for those who want to build a life with the partner of their choice--they are about what they
themselves believe others should do when it comes to their sexual orientations.
Their beliefs about public education are not about what is best for children, schools or society--they are about what they themselves believe is the best way
to "use" education to advance their own beliefs and to generate profits for themselves and their wealthy benefactors and investors.
Their beliefs about taxes are not about what government should do for society, or for those in need--they are about how they can guarantee that they themselves
will pay as little as possible for anything that does not directly benefit their own goals or interests.
I could not care less about Mr. Courser and Ms. Gamrat's affair, or Mr. Trump's sexism. These are the concerns and beliefs that disgust me.
The Ronnies!: Republican Debate Awards
As a self-avowed policy wonk and political junkie (don't judge me!), I forced myself to watch every minute of the two Republican presidential candidate debates last night--both the undercard, or "kids table" debate at 5pm, and the “grown up" show at 9pm...or 8:50pm, or whenever that debacle was actually supposed to air. So, in the interest of promoting democracy, or subverting sanity, here are my 2015 "Ronnies!," named after Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican Party, who was mentioned no less than 1000 times, seemingly, last night by the assembled throngs on the Cleveland stage. Without further ado...
What Teach for America Truly Values
[Note: All information in this post, unless otherwise cited, was drawn from Mercedes Schneider's excellent blog post, Teach for America Seeks Help Promoting Itself on Capitol Hill.]
Recently, Teach for America posted a vacancy for the Director of their Government Affairs operations in Washington, DC. Interestingly, the job announcement includes the following information
about the experience required for this position: "At least 7 years of work experience, with at least three years experience on Capitol Hill", and "Salary for this position is competitive and
depends on prior experience."
As reported by Mercedes Schneider, the former occupant of this office had been a TFA alum who "started in TFA with two years in the classroom in DC; became a “school operations manager” for five months, then moved on to legislative assistant for 13 months before becoming TFA’s director of government affairs for 27 months."
Clearly, TFA realized that experience in the areas of expertise required to be successful in the job were important considerations in the search process, and made sure that the job description reflected this understanding. Good for them. Just as I prefer that my airline pilot, or surgeon, or barista has extensive experience at flying, operating or drawing a cappuccino before they do these things for me, we should all expect that persons with more experience are capable of better performance at their jobs than those with little or no experience, at least initially...
...which--as I've pointed out previously here, here, and here, makes TFA's business model--of placing young college grads with no coursework in education, or teaching experience, in front of classrooms all across the United States, often in the most challenging teaching and learning settings imaginable--all the more problematic.
So, in the spirit of helping our friends at TFA, an education "non-profit" with assets of nearly half a billion dollars, refocus their values, here are a few questions:
- What does it say about your organization's values when you require 7 years of experience for a lobbying position and require zero years of experience for teachers in charge of classrooms full of young children?
- What does it mean when your organization charges resource-strapped school districts up to $9000 per year in "service fees" for each recruit placed, while private and public
universities charge nothing when their graduates get hired for the same positions?
- What does it say about your "non-profit" organization's values when your top 3 executives are paid $381,946 (Co-CEO Matt Kramer) $342,134 (Elisa Villanueva Beard), and $176,657 (Wendy Kopp), while you attack public schools, teachers and unions for their "greed"?
- What does it mean when some of the top placement sites for TFA recruits happen to be the same cities and regions being targeted for predatory Achievement School Districts and portfolio school districts, like Nashville, Detroit and New Orleans?
Perhaps its time for TFA to update their mission statement from this:
Our mission is to lobby, pressure and persuade as many as possible of our nation's most powerful political leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational privatization and profit.
Because, based on what your organization actually says and does, this is what you truly value.
An Achievement School District Primer
"Achievement School Districts" are a recent phenomenon in the corporate education reform movement. These "school districts" are designed to guarantee "rapid improvement in the state’s low performing schools", although specific methods, techniques and strategies to accomplish this goal are rarely mentioned. ASDs have sprung up all across the nation, under various names and guises, from the "Education Achievement Authority" in Detroit, to the "Recovery School District" in New Orleans, to "Achievement School Districts" in Tennessee and Nevada--and Georgia and North Carolina have recently announced plans to form their own ASDs. These experimental school systems usually target the "bottom 5%" of low-performing schools in a state or region for governmental takeover, with the promise of quickly improving student learning.
The one thing all of these experiments have in common is that they've been crashing failures. In spite of incredible amounts of publicity, spin and hoopla, not one of these educational petri dishes has resulted in any appreciable improvement in student learning, accountability, or curricular reform.
- In Tennessee, audits of the ASD uncovered problems in the way that federal dollars were handled and the way payments were being processed. In a perhaps related story, Chris Barbic, the founding
superintendent of the TNASD, recently announced his resignation.
- In a disturbingly similar development, Detroit's EAA manager, John Covington, resigned from his position after less than 2 years of service amidst heated criticism "for high rates of student and teacher turnover, questionable spending on travel and expenses, problems with special education services and the use of a computer-based curriculum rather than traditional textbooks."
- And in New Orleans, despite Gov. Bobby Jindal's claims of miraculous improvements since the inception of the city's Recovery School District, recent research tells a very different story, with only "6 percent of high school seniors in the Recovery School District (scoring) high enough in English and Math to qualify for admission into a Louisiana four-year college or university straight out of high school. Five of the district’s 16 high schools produced not a single student who met these requirements."
An Achievement School District Primer
How do you know if your state is considering creating an Achievement School District? Well, Achievement School Districts are characterized by several traits, none of which makes even the tiniest amount of sense in terms of helping to improve student learning or teaching quality:
- Individual ASD schools are often required to pay a "kickback" or "tax" to the state ASD authority for the "privilege" of being identified as a "low performing school". In Nevada, "ASD schools receive the same state and local per-pupil resources that they would have received as part of their original home district. This includes local, state, and federal funding. As with other charter school sponsors, the ASD will receive a small administrative fee from each school it authorizes." (bold added)
In other words, in spite of the probability that an ASD school has been chronically underfunded for years, perhaps decades, the
state will now take its own cut from whatever local, state and federal funding the school may be receiving for administrative overhead, further decreasing the actual number of dollars that are
going to classrooms, teachers and children.
- Local control, long recognized as a hallmark of public education, is a dinosaur in ASDs. In Detroit, the locally-elected school board still meets, but has essentially been stripped of all power and authority. The members of the elected school board refer to themselves as being "exiled," and the newly elected state superintendent of schools has called on the governor and state legislators to return control of the Detroit Public Schools to the local school board, saying, "I believe we ought to have a Detroit school district for the Detroit community." Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a radical plan to split the city's schools into two districts: one to educate children, and the other devoted to addressing the district's debt problem.
- Even though it is often trumpeted as an integral aspect of effective school governance, very few ASDs follow their own propaganda when it comes to transparency in reporting. Detroit's EAA is
an especially notorious offender in this respect, making claims that do not stand even the faintest amounts of scrutiny. According to Wayne State professor of education Thomas Pedroni, the
EAA's "internal data directly contradicts their MEAP data. Even Scantron, the maker of the internal assessment, would not stand behind the EAA's growth claims. And Veronica Conforme, the
current EAA Chancellor, removed all the dishonest growth claims from their advertising and their website, and told me personally she doesn't give them credence for the purpose the EAA used them
for." For more from Dr. Pedroni on the EAA's specious relationship with transparency, see this, and this.
Punitive vs. Educative Methods
- Many ASD charters include language regarding the possible consequences if schools do not meet "adequate yearly progress" goals, such as: "Operators of ASD schools that do not demonstrate meaningful improvement will be held accountable pursuant to policies set by the ASD." Indeed, school closings have become a prominent tool in the school reform playbook:
- Washington, D.C. closed 23 buildings in 2008. Officials are currently considering another 15 closures.
- New York City closed more than 140 schools since 2002; leaders recently announced plans to shutter 17 more, beginning in 2013-14.
- Chicago closed 40-plus buildings in the early 2000s. The district recently released a list of 129 schools to be considered for closure.
This approach follows guidelines first established in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which stipulate draconian changes for any school that fails to meet yearly progress within
These school districts must implement plans to restructure the school. Options for restructuring include:
This thinking represents a sea change in terms of strategy with respect to schooling and education policy. Never in our nation's history have we taken a punitive approach rather than an educative approach when schools or children have struggled with demonstrating expected levels of progress.
When students experience difficulties in learning we respond by providing remediation, extra tutoring, or alternative teaching strategies--we don't kick them out of school. By the same token, when under-funded and under-resourced public schools do not show "adequate yearly progress," our response should be to find out why these schools are struggling, and provide them with the materials and support they need to improve--not for the charter management companies that run these schools to walk away before the end of the school year, forcing families to scramble to get their kids placed into public schools with little notice and no assistance.
Public education is far too important to treat it like a science experiment, with fuzzy methodology and uncertain results. Our children deserve schools that are adequately funded, controlled by locally elected school boards made up of persons with ties to the community and a vested interest in the success of their schools, transparency in reporting of school finances and learning outcomes, and that are founded and administrated with educative goals in mind, not punitive ones.
It's time to demand the return of our schools and our children from Achievement School Districts and the forces of school privatization. Education is not a business, and our children aren't widgets.
Reformer Myth #27: It's not all about the kids...
It's a common refrain among the reformer Illuminati whenever they experience any push-back against their anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education, anti-motherhood-apple-pie-and-hot-dogs agenda. You can bet your bottom privatization dollar that as soon as these edu-tourists hear any reasonable, evidence-based rationale refuting their radical positions on teacher evaluation, tenure or the use of Value-Added Measures, they will inevitably blurt out the one magic incantation they believe will repel all attacks, confident in its power to tug at the heartstrings of any parent/voter: "But, it's all about the kids!"
(Let's leave aside the notion for the moment that this well-funded clique of hedge fund managers, investment bankers and failed morning show hosts suddenly cares about kids after spending their entire adult lives making backroom deals and raiding pension funds. There is obvious power in this spell, which is designed to cut through logic and reason, and appeal directly to the most primal instincts of any parent.)
The truth is that education and schools are not, and should not be, all about the kids. If we truly want our schools to be healthy, highly-functional institutions, then every member of the school community must be treated with honor, dignity and respect. This includes adults as well as children.
It means that every person who works in the school--from teachers to principals, from custodians to secretaries, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers, from nurses to counselors, from students to
parents--deserves to work and learn in an environment where they feel trusted and valued.
It means that the working conditions of teachers cannot be separated from the learning conditions of students, and that when one member of the community is devalued there is a devastating ripple effect across the rest of the community.
It also means that as teachers, we need to stop romanticizing our profession. We can start by not referring to teaching as a "calling," as though we are clergy or missionaries. We can also stop using hackneyed phrases such as "Teaching. I'm not in it for the income; I'm in it for the outcomes," or other meme-worthy sayings that imply that teachers don't need to be compensated fairly, or don't require adequate benefit packages, like health care insurance and pensions.
When we talk about our profession in these ways we play right into the reformer's game plan, which is to degrade and dehumanize the teaching force as mere delivery systems for test prep materials and canned curricula. If we don't value ourselves as dedicated, committed, well-educated professionals with deep subject matter expertise and rich pedagogical abilities and understandings, then why be surprised when the reformers suggest that veteran teachers can be replaced with uncertified, unqualified Teach for America recruits bolstered by a mere 5 week summer boot camp's worth of "training"?
The truth is that teaching is not a "calling," or a "mission"--it's a job, and a darned hard one at that. Those who choose this profession do so because they are deeply committed to the education of all children, and they demonstrate this commitment by doing their jobs under often difficult conditions, and while under nearly constant attack from the reformers, the media and the public. Teachers deserve to be treated with respect, paid fairly, and trusted to do their jobs without the threat of invalid and unreliable "accountability measures" imposed by persons who have never set foot in a school classroom. If we as a society really value our children's education as much as we say we do, then we need to treat teachers as equal partners in our children's education, and stop pretending that "it's all about the kids," because "it's" not.
The diversity statement of the University of Chicago Lab School, founded by American progressive educator and philosopher John Dewey, says it best: "Whether parents, faculty, administrators, or staff, members can expect to receive respect and to extend respect to others. Only when our community functions in a healthy manner can we provide a beneficial environment for our students."
And only when we start treating teachers with honor, dignity and respect will we get the schools that our children, and our society, deserve.
[Thanks to the students in MUS863: Seminar in the Sociology of Music Education from the Michigan State University College of Music's Summer Masters Degree Program for the inspiration for this post. Our profession is in excellent hands.]
The One About Data, Numbers and Truth
Much has been made by the corporate reform community about how poorly American students do on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. According to the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, which administers the exams, "the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 27th. Performance in reading and science are both close to the OECD average. The United States ranks 17 in reading...and 20 in science." Now, if these were "apples to apples" comparisons, we would be well advised to be concerned. But they aren't; and the reformers know it, don't care, and are more than willing to use this misleading data to advance their agenda.
What the reformers don't share--because it would not support their agenda of failing schools, bad teachers, disengaged students, uninvested parents, and greedy unions--is that more American students take these exams than do students in other countries, and that US students from schools with low rates of poverty do extremely well--better than students in most other countries.
(An important caveat here: I don’t think that test scores are a terribly meaningful way to assess what students know and can do, but it’s the data we are used to
seeing. The idea that we need standardized test results to tell us what our children know is one of the biggest lies told by the reformers. Teachers know a LOT about
our students: we know their strengths and weaknesses, we know about their siblings and families, we know when they are in trouble, and we know what they are thinking and feeling. Only
persons who have never taught would believe that we need standardized test scores to let us know how our students are doing. The truth is that these test scores are among the LEAST meaningful
things we know about our students, and no amount of hype and reformer drama is going to change that.)
The issue here is that the PISA test scores are usually not disaggregated--that is, the scores are not parsed out by poverty rates, but instead are all lumped together. Many in the corporate reform community are fond of reporting these international scores without sharing the fact that US poverty rates are nearly 30%, while countries like Finland are at 5% or less.
There is a strong correlation (not causation) between SES and test scores (and zip code and test scores, for that matter)--which is not to say that wealthy kids are smarter than poor kids. They aren't. Its just that kids with more financial resources have more opportunities and advantages than their less -advantaged peers.
It's important to be clear when reporting these stats: US schools are not "failing," and in fact, when we provide our kids and schools with adequate resources they "compete globally" just fine
(although that is not our goal as teachers). It's also important to remember that less than 7% of the differences in student learning are attributable to in-school factors, such as
teacher quality--with more than 90% of the difference being a function of out-of-school factors, like test prep tutors, private music lessons and the resources to purchase instruments, after
school sports, and access to travel, concerts, books, and movies. The reformers like to say that these things don't matter, but teachers know that they do--and we want nothing more than for all
of our students to have access to schools with rich and vibrant music and art programs, athletics, school nurses, librarians, psychologists and counselors, and all of the other advantages
their peers in the suburbs enjoy and from which they benefit.
Here's the Truth...
So, the next time that someone tells you that American students are not "competing globally," and that our "failing schools" are a threat to our national defense, our economy, and our very future as a nation, please share these disaggregated stats from the most recent PISA tests. Because when we look at US students from schools with free or reduced lunch rates lower than 10%, here’s how American kids do—for comparison’s sake, Finland’s rankings are also included:
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=556 [1st in the world]
Finland – ranked 4th in the world
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=559 [1st in the world]
Finland – ranked 5th in the world
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=540 [5th in the world]
FInland – ranked 11th in the world
Then, do what my students would do, and…<drops the mic>
The One about "Global Competitiveness" and What we Truly Want for our Children
Education reformers have been very clear about their goals for American schools and students. Authors like C. M. Rubin have called for parents to vote for the presidential candidate "who has the
most impactful 21st-century vision for education, because addressing our issues now is essential for the U.S. to maintain its prosperity and global leadership in the next decades."
Neera Tanden and Matt James raise the specter of 200 million Chinese
college grads by 2030 competing in the global marketplace, and compare education to Olympic medal counts in their analysis of global education trends. But few of these pundits ever ask parents
what they want for their children, so as the father of 2 school age boys I'm taking the liberty to share my thoughts on the subject.
Here is what I don't want with respect to my kids' education:
I don't want my children to be "globally competitive"--that's nothing more than Cold War fear mongering. Having recently returned from Shanghai, I can report that the Chinese educators I had the pleasure of working with were very interested in American educational strategies and ideas, and not for reasons of "global competitiveness." They seemed honestly interested in how what we do as teachers was the same or different from their approaches to teaching and learning, wanted to know how US teachers were prepared in colleges and universities, and were eager to share their traditions and ideas with us.
I'm not interested in an educational approach that is targeted on producing "college and career ready" graduates. My boys are 12 and 14. We hope they attend college, choose a major they are
passionate about, and find a way to apply their talents and abilities in jobs that they enjoy and that make a strong contribution to their community and society in general. But that's not the
purpose of education. Education is not "job training". Its so much more, and limiting the creativity and wonder of learning to college and career readiness is a perversion of the true purpose and
value of education. The reformers have a very narrow, impoverished notion of education as nothing more than a banking transaction, in which teachers make deposits and students withdrawals. Its
little wonder that their approach to schooling is erasing the joy of learning for students and teachers in far too many of our schools today.
And, I don't want an increasing bevy of tests consuming ever larger swaths of time and energy in my children's education. The truth is that we are measuring the things that are easy to measure, and ignoring the things that really matter--relationships between teachers and students, and among students themselves.
Here's what I do want for my children's education, and for education in general:
I want my children to read for enjoyment, play an instrument and sing, draw, dance, play, think, feel and be kind.
I want schools to be richly diverse, noisy, messy places full of discovery, where instead of worrying about a stifling regimen of tests, children are encouraged to explore, ponder,
experiment and create.
I want rich arts programs, nurses, psychologists, counselors and librarians in every school, to make sure that no child comes to or leaves school hungry, and for schools to be places where every child and adult is treated with dignity and respect.
I want my children's teachers to be free to create their own lessons, and work collaboratively with their colleagues in a climate of trust and mutual respect with their administrators, school board members and parents.
I want those teachers to be evaluated based on the work they do in the classroom with their students, not on standardized test scores in subjects they don't teach, from students they've never met.
I want those teachers to be well prepared, and fully certified in their subject area with a semester or more of internship experience before being entrusted with their own classroom.
I want all children to be taught by persons who care about their growth and development as full human beings, not about their test scores.
As a parent, I have a message for the reformers: Stay out of public education and stop obfuscating parents and community members with distracting propaganda like "global competition" and "college and career readiness", which is only designed to further the false rhetoric of "failing schools". The vast majority of public schools are wonderful, and our children's teachers are doing what can only be described as heroic work under very difficult conditions.
And let's stop using "competition" as a solution for the problems that have been caused by..."competition."
The One about Peter Cunningham, Education Post and Spin...
John Oliver's recent takedown of standardized testing has met with near-universal praise, and deservedly so. It was a brilliant, thoughtful and bitingly funny analysis of the
fatal flaws in the testing business, and was clearly based on extensive research and investigation. There has, however, been one lonely outpost of denial with respect to Mr. Oliver's piece: the
intrepid externs at Education Post, and their fearless leader,
Mr. Cunningham is from the long lineage of education leaders who have no degrees in education, have never taught and have zero experience in education outside of decision making and check cashing. By last count, about $12 million of that, as he points out in a recent EduShyster interview:
Cunningham: We hire bloggers and we subsidize bloggers who are already out there and who we want to support or give more lift. I think it’s fine. As you know, I have
all this money. I have to spend it.
Mr. Cunningham, using generous donations from the Broad and Walton foundations, among others, has attempted to carve himself a niche as a "reasonable reformer," advocating for a more civil
dialogue around the issues he believes are at the core of the reform debate. His agenda is based on 3 "Issues" that form the core of his beliefs about education
1. High Standards for All Students: Is my child learning what is needed to be successful?
Even if our kids are coming home with straight “A”s, how do we really know if they’re learning what they need to succeed in college, in career, and in life? One teacher’s “A” could be another teacher’s “C”.
We need to have clear and consistent standards for what our kids should be learning.
That is the thinking behind the Common Core — a common set of high learning standards for kids.
As you can see, Mr. Cunningham is a big Common Core booster. He also seems to believe that standardized tests are the only way we will "know if they’re learning what they need to succeed in college, in career, and in life"--which makes sense if you remember that he never taught, so he must not be aware of portfolios, formative assessments, playing checks, demonstrations, essays, poems, term papers, quizzes, drawings, dances, improvisations, compositions, science experiments, interviews, observations, and hundreds of other assessment tools that tell us what students know and can do in rich, meaningful ways.
His essay flagellating Mr. Oliver also uses florid imagery (Oliver throws poor kids under the bus) to defend the Common Core and standardized tests under a cloak of faux-racist indignation, as though more and harder tests will provide the magic solution to lifting poor kids out of poverty. Mr. Cunningham also makes outlandish accusations that exaggerate his importance in the grand scheme of American education:
We know these things because we force the educational bureaucracy to test kids, publish results and take action. Until we demanded real accountability, many
states, with a few exceptions, simply ignored these kids.
For a person who has never taught, and holds no elected office, that's a pretty gaudy resume. Mr. Cunningham seems to believe he has the power to "force" schools to test students according to his demands, and to enforce accountability on the unruly masses. To listen to Mr. Cunningham, before he came to the rescue no one in education ever thought to assess students' learning--and in fact, we were simply warehousing children with no thought of their futures. This is beyond arrogant--its delusional; and the fact that wealthy benefactors are subsidizing these beliefs should give us all pause.
The facts are that teachers know how to assess their students, and have been doing so very well for a long time. This recent obsession with standardized tests adds nothing to our arsenal of measurement tools that will help achieve the primary goal of any form of meaningful assessment: to improve instruction. Standardized test results present only a gross measurement of student progress, and usually are returned to teachers far too late to be of any real assistance in adjusting lesson plans or assignments. Those that depend on tests as a useful tool are placing all of their eggs in a torn and broken basket.
2. Taking Responsibility: We have a responsibility to set a high bar for every child, regardless of the challenges the child may face, and provide the teaching and support each child needs to meet those expectations. That’s the promise of public education and the right of every child.
We have a responsibility to set a high bar for every teacher. The teacher has the most direct impact on a child’s success in the classroom.
Accountability means holding everyone with responsibilities to high standards of performance...school districts and states, principals, teachers and parents.
We need tests. They are one way to answer the question: Is my child learning?
We do have a responsibility to every child, but it is not to set an arbitrary "high bar"--its to use authentic, teacher-designed assessment to determine where kids are developmentally, and design a course of study to move them further along in the learning process. Our standards don't need to be the same for every child--in fact, they shouldn't be. Each child is different, with different needs, desires and strengths. Pretending they are all the same is not only naive, but dangerous. If we think it makes sense to differentiate instruction, then why is it smart to standardize assessment?
Mr. Cunningham then goes on to repeat another tired saw of the reformer play book--that teachers are the most important factors with respect in-school learning. What he conveniently leaves
out of his rhetoric is that teachers impact only between 1-14% of the differences in student learning--the rest is dependent on out-of-school factors, mostly having to do with SES. Ignoring this
fact brings Mr. Cunningham into lock-step with the rest of the "No Excuses" crowd, like Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp--hardly "reasonable reformers."
Mr. Cunningham then returns to his favorite talking point: WE NEED TESTS! Try as I might, I could find no mention of any other form of assessment on the Ed Post web site--so while Mr. Cunningham proclaims that he "gets it" about multiple forms of assessment, you'd be hard pressed to find evidence of that anywhere on the site.
3. High-Quality Charter Schools: Public-school choice is an essential part of unlocking that door. Education is not one size fits all; children have different learning styles, and we need to provide all of our families with a range of high-quality public schools and empower them to find the right fit for their child.
High-quality charter schools help empower families.
Across the country, there are thousands of charter schools that are changing the lives of children, particularly in communities that have for decades suffered from a lack of high-quality educational opportunities.
For a "new reformer," Mr. Cunningham's talking points sound awfully familiar: charter schools are the answer! Except when they're not. The research on the success of charter schools is far from conclusive, and most of the evidence points to regular public schools doing a better job in terms of performance, access, and working with kids with special needs. Clearly, charter schools are not "the answer," yet it is all Mr. Cunningham seems able to muster as a solution. Interestingly, Mr. Cunningham never uses the term "charter schools" without tagging on "high quality"--which usually means highly selective (i.e., lottery based admission) and leads to problems with expulsion of special learners (see: Heritage Academies).
School choice is an experiment that we have seen fail time and time again (Milwaukee, New Orleans, Michigan), and yet the reformers continue beating the same old drum. Charters will never serve
more than a small, selective fragment of the school population, even as they siphon billions from public school coffers and exacerbate the impact of income inequality on America's youth.
A far better solution is to call a halt to the charter expansion explosion and refocus our energies and attention on supporting and maintaining our system of regular public schools, making sure that all children have access to a great school in their own community. As comedian D. L. Hughly pointed out to neocon Dan Señor on Real Time recently,
Why do I have to leave where I came from to go to a school that is not in my neighborhood?
It says everything about where I am from is horrible.
Why is everything better where I am not?
"School choice" is a false choice. No parent should have to move their child to a "safe" school, or feel that they have to play the lottery to get their son or daughter a quality education. Mr. Cunningham's policies are making it harder for regular public schools to offer quality programs in safe, well-maintained facilities as increasing levels of resources are diverted to charter and private schools under the twin guises of "school choice" and "accountability."
Let's be clear: there is nothing "reasonable" about Mr. Cunningham's agenda of more tests, more accountability for teachers and schools, and more charter schools. Its the same old reformers'
mantra, repackaged with a nicer smile, and tepid requests for civility. But the end game is the same: punish students and teachers, use data inappropriately, and turn the public schools into
private profit centers.
And Mr. Cunningham has 12 million reasons to be "reasonable."
The One about Rick Snyder's Two Detroits...
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his plan to "fix" Detroit's schools
today. Here's a cogent analysis of the broad strokes of his plan, according to my brilliant friend, Nancy Osborne:
Take away schools from the Voters. They will have no say. Stick the elected School Board (the Black People) with the debt...even though they had a positive fund balance before Lansing (the White People) appointed a succession of Emergency Managers who financially crashed the district over a 15 year period. In addition, Snyder's plan will create 3 new layers of bureaucracy. Give free busing to charter school parents no matter how far the children live from their for-profit schools. And this is just the broad outline. I'm sure there's plenty of mischief in the details.
In response, hundreds of Detroit's teachers voiced their displeasure, and the resulting shortage of teachers and subs caused many DPS schools to shut down for the day. Here’s the statement from DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Earley: ”Detroit Public Schools' sole focus and goal is the education of the more than 47,000 students whose education it has been entrusted with by their families. That focus and goal should be shared by all DPS employees. While we can agree to disagree on matters of policy, those disagreements should never impact our students and the instructional time they are entitled to as it has today - with 17 schools having been closed due to lack of teachers and other instructional staff. This unplanned turn of events is seriously misguided and directly harms our students - taking away a day in the classroom that students can ill-afford given the school days already missed due to our severe weather this past winter. It is truly unfortunate that so many of those who profess to be dedicated educators have decided to participate in this action given its unjustifiable and unconscionable consequence."
A couple of thoughts...
1. With all due respect to Mr. Earley, there’s a lot more to running a school district than just educating children. Believe me, every teacher wishes it were that simple. As lovely as it sounds, the kids can not ever be the “sole focus”—those entrusted with running our public schools also need to treat all school employees, from teachers to custodians, from secretaries to cafeteria workers, with dignity and respect. Snyder’s plan does none of this, so the teachers have not just the right, but the responsibility to protest.
2. I'd be a lot more inclined to listen to Mr. Earley's diatribe if he had voiced similar concerns when the recent M-STEP tests created massive problems with school schedules and instructional time--but I don't recall him ever making a peep about these interruptions. Methinks thou dost protest too much, Mr. Emergency Manager...
3. Mr. Earley and the governor are not just "agreeing to disagree" with Detroit's teachers and the teacher union--they are actively working to destroy the Detroit Public Schools, crush the
teachers union, and de-professionalize teaching as a profession. Expecting DPS teachers to sit politely on the sideline so as not to upset the apple cart while the Governor and his colleagues
dismantle public education in Detroit is not only naive--its insulting.
4. Mr. Earley's disingenuous attempt to cast Detroit's teachers as the "bad guys" in this dispute ("It is truly unfortunate that so many of those who profess to be dedicated educators have decided to participate in this action given its unjustifiable and unconscionable consequence") is not only smarmy and laughable, its not how leaders are supposed to behave. When one becomes a teacher, one does not forfeit one's rights as a citizen.
What is truly unfortunate about this whole situation is the complete and utter lack of understanding on the part of the Governor and the Emergency Manager about the value and importance of public education to Michigan's largest city. Instead of robbing public schools to pay his wealthy friends in the charter "industry", its high time for Gov. Snyder to show that he understands that as goes Detroit, so goes Michigan--and that he was elected to be the Governor of all of Michigan's citizens, not just the rich ones.
The One about Two Schools 20 Miles and Worlds Apart...
I spent the day observing two student teachers. Both were teaching instrumental music in middle and high schools, and each was assigned to an experienced, master teacher. But that's where the similarities end...
One of the student teachers was placed in an urban school and the other in a rural school. The differences between these two schools were stark, and illustrative of the disparities in how our society treats children based on their socioeconomic status.
Upon entering the urban school, I was immediately struck by how quiet it was. The hallways were eerily empty, with none of the typical hallway chatter and vibrancy of excited students making their way from class to class. The corridors were dark and gloomy, with the walls and lockers looking badly beat up and in need of a fresh coat or two of paint. A quick trip to the men's restroom revealed a dirty, broken mirror, no soap, and a single roll of paper towels propped up on the edge of a cracked porcelain sink with a leaky faucet. The restroom, like the halls and classrooms, hadn't been cleaned in a long time.
Less than an hour later I found myself 20 miles away in a bustling school with busy hallways flooded with natural light, brightly painted walls and lockers, and large classrooms with freshly vacuumed, plush carpeting. The restroom was spotlessly clean, and fully stocked with soap dispensers, paper towels and hot air hand dryers.
While the contrasts between these schools could not have been more clear, the students in each building were amazingly similar. Both bands were beautifully behaved, engaged and enthusiastic. Each
group of musicians entered their respective band room, got their instruments out of their cases, and began warming up for rehearsal. It was only upon closer examination and discussion that the
differences between these two settings became more readily apparent:
- In the rural school, every child had their own instrument, and kids who played large instruments like the tuba had one school-owned instrument to play at school, and another instrument for home practice; in the urban school, some instruments were shared among multiple students during the day, and no students had school-owned instruments at home.
- All of the instruments in the rural school were in good playing condition, and when repairs are required there is a school budget and an established repair procedure in place; the teacher in the urban school was busy re-padding a clarinet when I entered the band room, and shared that she spends over $1000 out-of-pocket per year on instrument repairs and equipment replacement--there is virtually no school budget for these things.
- Most of the students in the rural school's high school band had been playing their instruments since 5th grade, and had lived in that community their entire lives. The 112-piece band played advanced repertoire, had a full instrumentation, and many of the band's alumni went on to participate in music ensembles in college after graduation; the urban school's band program had been decimated by the elimination of the district's elementary music program the previous year, and as a result there were only 15 students in the ensemble. Due to the transient nature of the school's population, students who had been playing their instruments for several years were sitting next to kids who had just started playing two weeks previously, making for a very challenging learning environment for students and teachers alike.
Driving home at the end of the day, I couldn't help but wonder how different things would be if all of these children, both rural and urban, had the same advantages at school--clean, safe and adequate facilities; high-quality instruments in good working condition; vibrant, attractive surroundings conducive to learning.
I wondered what a student from the urban school would think if she spent a day at the rural school, in a bright, spacious and well-maintained environment. Would she feel angry, knowing that her peers in the rural school district had advantages that were denied her?
And I wondered what it says about us as a society that we allow some of our children to spend their school days in squalid conditions that make learning more difficult, while their peers in more affluent communities enjoy advantages that help prepare them for success.
The One about Bullying, Threats and Arne Duncan...
The Secretary of State is supposed to be the nation's top diplomat.
The Attorney General is supposed to be the nation's top lawyer.
The Surgeon General is supposed to be the nation's top physician.
So why is Arne Duncan, the nation's Secretary of Education, behaving more like a schoolyard bully than like the nation's top teacher?
In the face of unprecedented opposition to his administration's program of standardized testing, with nearly 200,000 parents in New York State alone opting their children out of standardized tests that they perceive as not only unhelpful, but downright damaging, Sec. Duncan went on the offensive Tuesday, promising that if the states wouldn't force those children to take his tests, then he would:
"'We think most states will do that,' Duncan told an Education Writers Association conference in Chicago, according to Chalkbeat New York. 'If states don’t do that, then we [the federal government] have an obligation to step in.'
Duncan didn’t elaborate on what the federal intervention might look like. It could, however, involve labeling districts with too many opt-outs as “failing,” a status that places restrictions on how schools use federal money. This would in turn pressure state government and school districts to roll back parental opt-out rights.
Duncan went on to say: 'Folks in the civil rights community, folks in the disability community, they want their kids being assessed. They want to know if they are making progress or growth,' Duncan said."
First, everyone should be considered a part of the "civil rights community" and the "disability community," as these communities are made up of those who support civil rights and those with disabilities. The fact that Sec. Duncan is so clearly trying to "divide and conquer" is at best a very clumsy strategy, and at worst an obvious attempt to bully folks into feeling guilty or like bad parents for opting out.
Second, no teacher needs yearly standardized tests to know if their students are "making progress or growth." Just as parents don't need these tests to know if their children are growing. The people that teach and love these children are well aware of what they are learning, what challenges and successes they are encountering, and what strategies will work best to help them continue to grow and learn. Let's not pretend that a once-per-year multiple choice test will somehow magically provide some special sauce that will reveal what kids know and are able to do.
Finally, if this many parents are angry enough to opt their kids out of these tests in the first place, just how ticked off do you think they will be when the Sec. of Education threatens to force their kids to actually take the tests?
And, Mr. Duncan--have you ever really tried to force a child to take a test? I had a tough time getting my then 4 year old to put on his mittens in the morning. Good luck with that.
What Sec. Duncan doesn't seem to know--because he was never a teacher himself--is that the testing movement depends on the goodwill of the teachers and students involved. Without getting "buy-in"
from teachers, parents and students there is no way this thing is going to fly. Let's say that Mr. Duncan "succeeds" in getting every child in the nation to actually sit down and take his tests.
Does he really think that no child will look at those blank rows of bubbles begging to be drawn on and not start filling them out in the shape of a tree, or just color in every bubble on the
sheet? And to think that these tests are supposed to be used to make high stakes decisions on whether teachers keep their jobs or not. No wonder that the American Statistical Association is on
record as saying that Value Added Measures, a statistical approach that uses test scores to come up with building-level scores, is an inappropriate and invalid use of standardized tests.
The way to "fix" this problem is not by playing the heavy and threatening to force these tests on unwilling children and teachers. It's to listen to the opinions of those who have legitimate objections to these tests, and implement thoughtful reforms, such as...
limiting standardized testing to one time in grades 3-6, one time in middle school, and one time toward the end of high
ensuring that test results will be shared with teachers so they can use them to improve instruction
guaranteeing that test scores will not be used to evaluate teachers--which these tests are incapable of doing with any
degree of accuracy
So, Mr. Duncan, instead of posturing and threatening punishments, why don't you try doing what a real education leader would do--listen carefully to dissenting opinions, work together with your colleagues in the schools, and develop a better testing model that actually helps teachers teach and helps students learn?
The One about Silencing Teachers, Retribution and the Smell of Fear from the Reformers...
I received the note below from a former student who is now a teacher. For obvious reasons, I won't identify her or where she teaches, but--shockingly--her story is becoming all too
"We had a union meeting yesterday where they warned us that the governor is going after the certificates of teachers that opted out their kids (of the state tests). The governor says it breaks our contract agreeing to protect and follow educational laws. Is this legal? Teachers are being targeted and warned to be extremely careful, especially on public media. I was just curious on your thoughts."
This theme of administrators and elected officials threatening teachers if they speak out publicly against tests, the Common Core State Standards, or other education policies seems to be growing stronger and louder recently, with reports of similar stories popping up in New Mexico (http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/19/audrey-beardsley-the-silencing-of-the-educators-a-dangerous-trend/), Louisiana (http://www.westernjournalism.com/teachers-district-facing-retribution-criticizing-common-core/), New York (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/city-teacher-lost-fellowship-revealing-administration-fudged-regents-exam-court-papers-article-1.1990734), Arizona (http://www.azcentral.com/story/ejmontini/2015/03/27/legislature-arizona-school-board-association-sb-1172-free-speech-elections/70556134/), Missouri (http://www.stevenlin83.com/teachersfreepress/this-is-why-teachers-need-tenure-missouri-teacher-suspended-for-speaking-out/), and Michigan (http://stopcommoncoreinmichigan.com/2014/03/teachers-silenced/).
In Rochester, NY, an email from an administrator to the city's principals asked them to keep a list of teachers who might have shared information on testing for possible disciplinary action:
"An email sent from a high-level Rochester City School District official to principals is causing concern among teachers.
Chief of Schools Beverly Burrell-Moore sent the email Monday afternoon to principals she supervises. The email asks them to share names of teachers who have encouraged parents to refuse to allow
their children to take state exams.
"Per your building, please identify teachers who have sent letters or made phone calls to parents encouraging them to opt out their children from the NYS Assessments. Also, identify
teachers who you have evidence as utilizing their classrooms as 'political soap boxes.' I need this updated information no later than Tuesday morning for follow-up," the email
Audrey Amrein Beardsley, a professor of education at Arizona State University, and the author of one of my favorite education blogs on the web, VAMBOOZLED, reports: "New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to 'diminish
the significance or importance of the tests” or they could lose their jobs. Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms
or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts.' Beardsley wonders about the legality, and even the constitutionality of this sort of action: 'As per a related
announcement released by the ASBA, this “could have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of school and district officials' throughout the state but also (likely) beyond if this continues
to catch on. School officials may be held 'liable for a $5,000 civil fine just for sharing information on the positive or negative impacts of proposed legislation to parents or reporters.'”
While there is no doubt that these moves are indeed a "chilling" development in the education "reform" movement, I believe that they also reveal a quickly growing sense of fear and confusion among those in the reform community regarding the viability of their agenda. Indeed, the surprising strength of the "Opt Out" movement in New York, where as many as 200,000 students have reportedly refused to sit for the state's tests, has led to calls demanding the resignation of Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents.
If there is a silver lining to these threats it may be the impending crumbling of the reform agenda under the increased scrutiny from the public, the media and teachers. For far too long, policy "leaders" like Chancellor Tisch, Governors Cuomo, Kasich and Snyder, and Sec. of Education Duncan have responded to criticism of their agenda with either deafening silence or dismissive pandering, such as accusations that "painted parents as confused patsies of a labor action." Now, these feeble rejoinders are being exposed for what they have been all along: weak and arrogant responses to the legitimate demands for accountability from those so negatively impacted by these destructive policies.
These "leaders" are clearly scared, and they have every right to be. Now is the time to step up the pressure, and not let our voices be silenced. We are fighting for our students, our colleagues and our profession.
Let students learn, let teachers teach, and get the politicians out of education.
On Heels of Final Four Appearance, Michigan State College of Music Set to Graduate "Yet Another Class of First-Round Draft Picks" Say Analysts
For Immediate Release: Michigan State College of Music Set to Graduate Another Class of First-Round Draft Picks
April 5, 2015, 1:06pm
SPARTAN MUSIC EDUCATION INTERNS DRAWING ATTENTION FROM LEADING GRAD SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS ACROSS NATION
"Yet Another Class of Future Teacher-Leaders," Predict Top Music Education Analysts
East Lansing, MI – The Michigan State University College of Music announced today the impending graduation of another class of top recruits, drawing attention from many of the top collegiate music schools and school districts across the United States. Although NASM privacy regulations expressly prohibit identifying individual students, music education chair Mitchell Robinson characterized the class as, "continuing the outstanding tradition of Spartan music educators serving as leaders in K-12 and higher education in colleges and school systems in virtually every state in the nation."
The 2014-15 class of 34 future teacher-leaders that made such a strong contribution to this year's Final Four run includes, by position, elementary music teachers, string teachers, instrumental
music teachers and choral music educators. A number of the members of the class of 2015 have also played multiple positions during their internships, "demonstrating versatility and ability on
both sides of the line," according to NASM's Mel Kiper, the top music education recruiting analyst in the country.
Two members of the class have indicated their interest in pursuing graduate study upon completion of their student teaching placements, with one student being accepted to the prestigious Eastman
School of Music for a doctoral degree in ethnomusicology, and another set to pursue a masters degree in applied music at Florida State University. Several Fall graduates have already secured
teaching positions in Texas, Connecticut, Indiana, and Michigan, getting an early start on developing strong professional profiles.
Already looking ahead to next year, the MSU music education faculty is excited to welcome another strong class of 50 prospective music educators from across the country to the Class of 2020. "It looks like yet another very strong group of singers, players, composers, improvisers and thinkers. Go Green!" said Robinson.
The one about "Skillful Teaching," "Bad Teachers," and Real Solutions...
A recent Michigan Radio "Next Idea" piece featured the well-respected Dean of the University of Michigan's College of Education, Deborah Ball, and her thoughts on improving teacher education
(http://michiganradio.org/post/we-will-pay-our-lack-respect-teachers). The essay starts out nicely, then takes an abrupt
turn into very troubling territory:
"Teaching matters. We know that it can make the difference between a child learning to read by third grade, being confident in math, and developing the mindset necessary for success. Yet skillful teaching is not commonplace, and it’s hurting our society."
Let me start by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Ball's work. Her research on "math knowledge for teaching" is one of the most innovative insights into teacher knowledge that I've come across in the literature, and her reputation in education and research circles is impeccable. She has also taken a leadership role in education reform in our state, and while I have not always agreed with all of the recommendations her work on these efforts has produced, I'm also realistic enough to understand that these sorts of initiatives are difficult operations to manage; a bit like teaching an elephant to dance--you can do it, but its going to take a long time, be very difficult to pull off, and a lot of people are going to get hurt.
That said, I have to say that I'm disappointed in Dean Ball's rhetoric here--she seems to be adopting the reformers' talking point that if we can just "improve the quality of the teaching force," all the problems in education would be solved. I don't know what teachers she is observing, but the teachers I see in the schools today are the best and brightest I've ever seen--and are doing heroic work in spite of the most difficult conditions we've ever faced as a profession: meager resources; dwindling budgetary support; a narrowing of the curriculum leading to cuts to music, art and PE; withering attacks from Rhee, Kopp, Gates and Duncan and friends; an obsession with standardized testing; and much more.
Now, I'm certainly not saying that improvements to teacher education should not be pursued--as reflective teachers and teacher educators, that's what we do--we are constantly on the look-out for ways to improve our practice and strategies that will positively impact student learning.
But its not a lack of "skillful teaching" that is "hurting our society." Its a stunning disregard for addressing the real problems in public education in our state:
nearly a quarter of Michigan's children are
living in poverty, with 59% of the children in Detroit currently struggling below the poverty line (http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2015/02/18/detroit-childhood-poverty-ranking-kids-count-report/23657355/
Michigan's schools have been systematically starved of resources over the past several years, with as much as $1 billion
being taken from schools to subsidize the Governor's tax cuts for businesses (http://www.factcheck.org/2014/06/playing-politics-with-education/)
Devastating cuts to school music, art and PE programs have diminished the quality of education, learning and quality of life
for many of our state's children (http://michiganradio.org/post/art-music-and-gym-teachers-get-ax-lansing)
Focusing on alleged issues of teacher quality only serves to distract us from dealing with the real problems facing our students, teacher, schools and communities. The "problem" isn't a lack of "skillful teaching"--its a lack of public awareness on where we should really be focusing our attention, energies, activism and resources. And the "solution" will not be found by placing the blame on teachers.
Teachers aren't the problem--they are the solution.
The one about Opting Out, Positive Responses and Tipping Points
We recently received an email from our school district about M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) Testing dates--for those not in Michigan, this is the new "required" state test for children in grades 3-8 which replaces the MEAP.
For one of our boys, the M-STEP testing schedule was to span 6 different days and include tests on English Language and Mathematics. The thought of our son missing class time for 6 days to sit
for standardized tests--the results of which couldn't possibly inform his learning or his teachers' instructional practices, due to the tests being administered in the Spring rather than in the
Fall, with the results not being made available until after the close of the school year--was bad enough. But to make matters worse, this "summative" test was not intended to be a long-term
solution to the state's testing policies:
“Our challenge is that this is a one-year interim assessment. I’m not sure how meaningful that will be for us because we can’t compare results,” Grandville Public Schools Superintendent Ron Caniff said about the M-STEP. “This will be a snapshot of how our students measure up to other students (nationwide), but we won’t be able to measure it in terms of how our students are learning and growing – that’s the downside.” (http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/11/west_michigan_school_leaders_v.html)
The bottom line was that our child was being pulled out of classes for 6 days, for tests that weren't intended to really measure student learning or growth, or to provide any meaningful feedback for his teachers, and these tests were not likely to be given again in subsequent years. The whole thing seemed like a terrible, awful, really bad idea--but the kicker was the following tag line on the district's email announcement:
"PLEASE DO NOT MAKE APPOINTMENTS FOR YOUR CHILD ON THE DATES ATTACHED. If your child misses these dates, then they will do make up testing and will be pulled from other academic classes. If your child is ill, they should stay home, of course! We understand!"
Before going on, I want to be clear: My wife and I believe that the school district that our children attend is terrific. They have wonderful teachers, a fantastic school music program, excellent academics, and a wide array of student services. The student body is diverse and motivated, and the community is fully engaged in school activities and governance. Our interactions with school personnel have always been great, and we have never regretted our decision to purchase a home in this town--a decision we made based largely on the quality of the school system.
So, the district's message didn't appear to ring true. In private conversations with teachers and administrators within the school system, I had sensed their agreement with our thinking about the explosion of standardized testing and its negative impact on teacher evaluation, school funding, and a host of other issues. These were intelligent, thoughtful, caring persons. Each of them had treated my children as their own--with sensitivity, compassion and care. I was certain that they had the children's learning as their highest priority, but felt compelled to follow the state's (misguided) directives regarding these tests.
After a great deal of thought, we decided to contact the school to tell them we were opting our son out of the M-STEP tests, and asked about the provisions for students who will not be taking
these exams. After hitting "send" I was apprehensive--I knew about the pressures the folks at the school were under, and also didn't want to put my son in an awkward position with his
friends and teachers at school. Both my wife and I are teachers, and have always approached our "job" as parents of school-aged children with the goal of supporting our kids' teachers fully.
Making this request was not an easy decision for either of us.
Two days later we received the following response:
"I contacted the Assistant Superintendent and she told me that we would honor your request for opting (your son) out of testing with a note from you. (Your son) is already on the testing rosters, but with your note, we will remove him.
Students are being tested during their academic hours with their homeroom teachers. Per Assistant Superintendent, (your son) will be offered this time to work on any homework he has or to read a book for the time that his peers are testing. He may be given the option of going to the library...
We are required to have 95% participation for testing and any student opting out is a hit on that percentage. However, we understand your request and will honor it with a note sent to the Guidance Office."
Having read and heard about much more hostile responses from schools around the country to similar requests, we were both relieved and encouraged by our school's reply. Not only was our request
for our child to opt out greeted with respect, but provisions for our son's attendance on those days when the test was scheduled were provided without argument or hassle. The approach was
understanding, positive and student-centered--everything we have come to expect from our school district.
I also believe that this response is an indication of a tipping point of sorts when it comes to the issue of opting out and school testing. More and more, teachers and administrators are understanding the negative impact of these tests on students, teachers and schools, and are joining the fight with parents and other groups advocating for a reduction in the number and uses of these tests.
At the end of the day, I am left feeling optimistic and enormously encouraged by this interaction, and energized to continue the fight against the corporate reformers' obsession with data-mining and high-stakes testing. I can sense the tide turning, and more teachers and school administrators joining in the push back against these reforms. We have reached a Tipping Point, and now is the time to redouble our efforts.
The one about Teach for America, their recruits, and motivations...
Teach for America "Scenarios"
Scenario 1--the college student wants to be a teacher but goes to a school with no ed degree program, so signs up with TFA: bad decision making.
Scenario 2--the student is not interested in being a teacher, graduates with a degree in another discipline, but decides to do TFA for a couple of years before going back to grad school or
entering the work force: in so doing, the student may force an experienced teacher out of the classroom, as happened to hundreds of teachers in Chicago over the last couple of years, especially
veteran teachers of color in the city (http://inthesetimes.com/article/15367/teach_for_americas_mission_to_displace_rank_and_file_educators_in_chicago); and, the hiring districts pay a premium of
$3000-5000 per TFA recruit on top of paying the new teachers' salaries--creating negative financial consequences for the school and community, not to mention the costs (financial, human
resources, etc.) associated with excessive teacher turnover, which is a feature of the TFA business model
Scenario 3: the student has a sincere interest in social justice and societal change, and believes that working as a TFA recruit will help them achieve those goals: the recruit's goals are not
aligned with the organization's goals, creating tensions that lead to non-productive disruption among the teaching force and in the schools (see: Gary Rubenstein's work, among others).
Scenario 4: the student enters the classroom through TFA, teaches for 2 years, then gets a job in a state education department, or in school administration, or with a policy think tank: this is
TFA's real agenda (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/17/a-former-teach-for-america-manager-speaks-out/; http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/teach-america-hidden-curriculum;
http://www.mitchellrobinson.net/2015/02/02/the-one-in-which-teach-for-america-reveals-their-true-colors/), and we can see how this is working out for us as a profession--our policy agenda is
being dictated and guided by persons who have no education degrees, never interned or student taught, and don't have sustained, successful teaching experience in "regular" public schools.
None of these scenarios is good, most of them are really bad, and the proof is right in front of our eyes in the form of destabilized schools and communities, the explosion of for-profit charters, and continued attacks on K-12 and higher education.
The one about TV ads, the Lansing School District, and misleading claims...
Recently, the Lansing School District released a series of TV and radio ads designed to promote their schools (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pV60aDl44g). Amid a floating stream of expertly produced and edited video of young children bouncing basketballs and playing music instruments, the voiceover claims that the Lansing Schools "offer more educational choices to students than any other school district in the greater Lansing region." This, in spite of the fact that the District decided to slash the offerings for those very children by eliminating all of the 27 elementary art, music and PE positions in the Lansing schools over a year ago, leaving the city's students with only 2 music, art and PE classes per semester, while their peers in neighboring school systems often receive these classes twice per week.
Now, if the superintendent, board of education and teachers union in Lansing had just gotten together and cut the elementary art, music and PE programs and teachers in the schools, that would have been one thing...
But to hear the former AMPE program now be referred to as the "Innovative Arts & Fitness" Department, as though there is
anything "innovative" in firing 27 teachers and depriving thousands of children of a full and complete education...
To read press releases and interviews with district officials touting the current art and music offerings as being better than
what was previously in place, because of the presence of "real artists and musicians" in Lansing's schools...
- To see that the LSD held a promotional fair at the Lansing Center this past weekend, with radio and media coverage, in an effort to stem the tide of those leaving the District, largely due to the curricular narrowing and impoverished offerings now available at the elementary level...
And now, for the art and music teachers in Lansing who had their careers taken away to be subjected to thousands of dollars
worth of TV and radio ads promoting the "rich and diverse curricular offerings" in the Lansing School District, even as the elementary curriculum has been gutted of art, music and PE, and to
know that their former students are only receiving instruction in these subjects 4 TIMES PER YEAR...
Let me be clear: I believe that there are many excellent teachers in the Lansing schools, including several outstanding music
teachers working in the District's high schools. I've been blown away by what the music students and faculty are doing in Lansing, especially given the difficult conditions under which they are
working. These students and teachers deserve nothing but our support, encouragement and respect.
But cuts to music and art programs in any school system are unacceptable ways to manage school finances, and are disproportionately devastating to children in urban communities, whose families may not have the resources to provide them with alternative forms of instruction in the arts. School district leaders are charged with providing the students in their care with a full and comprehensive education, which includes the arts. Eliminating these offerings, at any level, is an abrogation of their duty, and merits a strong and forceful response.
The children in Lansing deserve strong, quality arts programs, delivered by qualified, certified music and art teachers. What is currently being offered as "Innovative" is unacceptable, and the District needs to restore the teaching positions they have eliminated so that Lansing's students get the education that they deserve.
The one about BRIGHT Ohio, Teach for America and CEOs...
The state of Ohio recently announced a newly re-branded initiative to attract, recruit and train new superintendents for the state's schools (http://www.brightohio.org). Interestingly--or
horrifyingly, depending on your point of view--the BRIGHT initiative is based on the "executive MBA" model, and is designed to bring recent college graduates in degree programs other than
education into school leadership positions in Ohio's schools. These eager new recruits would be admitted not to an administrative degree program, but to the MBA degree at Ohio State University,
"fully paid for by BRIGHT", while being placed in a one year internship in an Ohio school, under the supervision of a "master principal." At the conclusion of the training program, each
candidate will complete their "responsibilities as a BRIGHT leader..." by serving "at least two years as the principal of any public school in Ohio."
Now, some people might understandably have a few questions after hearing about the BRIGHT initiative. Like:
- Why would we want school principals who have never taught?
- Why are we designing new school leadership programs when there is no shortage of school administrators?
Why would an MBA be the best degree for a school principal or superintendent, and not a degree in education, or educational
administration, or school leadership?
Why are persons with no teaching experience being placed as administrative interns when teachers who are working on their
administrative credentials need these placements?
- Why design a new school leadership training program that only requires its graduates to serve as principals for 2 years?
- What Ohio school districts would actually hire these people?
Given that the BRIGHT program is clearly designed as a business model, I wondered how it compared to the way that business leaders
are prepared. So, just out of curiosity, I looked into the typical career paths for CEOs--and this is what I found...
"Although some individuals are born leaders, most are made. Becoming a chief executive typically takes years of hard work. Extensive experience in the company's field is desirable and some
companies tend to prefer those with degrees from upper-tier schools in business, economics or finance. Finally, those that have worked their way up from a low level within the organization may
have an advantage, as they arguably know the company better than any outsider ever could." http://www.investopedia.com/articles/financialcareers/08/ceo-chief-executive-career.asp
If we transfer these characteristics to education, we might surmise that superintendents should have extensive experience in education with significant time in the classroom as a teacher, a
degree in education and perhaps additional degrees in one's subject matter area, and should have worked their way up in the school system so that they know and understand the communities in which
they work. But the folks at BRIGHT don't seem concerned with following ethical business principles when it comes to their true agenda--destabilizing schools by providing a rotating cast of short
term leaders with no background or experience in education.
Now, why would the folks behind BRIGHT ignore the "best practices" from the business world, when they are basing their program on business models? As always, when you are confused about the
premises of a new education reform idea, follow the money. And in this case, that means finding out who is paying for this program. The answers can be found under the "Partners" tab on the
"BRIGHT is proud to be working closely with the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Board of Regents, and Adjutant General of Ohio, as well as Ohio's three largest school districts – Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. National partners include New Leaders, Teach for America and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Jones Day provides comprehensive legal services on a pro bono basis."
And now the circle is squared. The BRIGHT program neatly fills in the niche between "Teach for America" (producing unqualified recruits for classrooms) and the Broad Superintendent's Academy (producing unqualified superintendents) by producing unqualified principals for Ohio's schools.
The one about schools, Pearson and monopolies...
Lately we've been hearing increasingly hysterical claims from "think tanks" (http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/time-end-monopoly-education), pundits
(http://www.edchoice.org/The-Friedmans/The-Friedmans-on-School-Choice/Milton-Friedman-on-Busting-the-School-Monopoly.aspx) and even presidential candidates about how our public schools
are “government -run, unionized, politicized monopolies’ that ‘trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system that nobody can escape'"
((http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/jeb-colludes-with-corporations-to-destroy-government-run-unionized-monopoly-schools). Sounds like scary stuff.
But before we call in the National Guard, let's be clear about one thing: anyone who thinks that our public schools are well organized enough to pull off a monopoly has never spent any significant time inside of a public school. Its not uncommon for the teachers who work in an elementary school to be unaware of what's happening in the middle school in their district, or for the math teachers in a high school to have any idea of what's happening down the hallway in the social studies department--let alone communicate well enough to organize a national education monopoly with consistent rules, regulations and standards.
Years ago when the then-new National Standards in Music had been out for a couple of years, I visited a middle school where we had placed a student teacher. The cooperating teacher was a wonderful musician and teacher, and happened to be a good friend of mine as well. I watched the co-op and his student teacher team-teach a terrific band rehearsal, full of inspirational teaching, artistic conducting and impressive creativity on the part of the students.
As the 3 of us were walking back to his office to debrief, I asked my friend a question: "How is your teaching different now because of the National Standards?" He turned and looked at me with a quizzical look on his face, and responded simply, "What National Standards?" Monopoly? I don't think so.
The simple truth is that public schools are a hot mess. We are disorganized, don't communicate particularly well, and do a terrible job of letting the public know what we do. That's mostly because the public schools are also incredibly active, vital and busy places, full of noise, excitement and creativity, where the adults are less concerned with issuing press releases and conducting feasibility studies than they are in working on projects, rehearsing plays, and helping children become happy, expressive, sensitive and curious human beings.
Now, if Mr. Friedman, the Cato Institute and Gov. Bush really want to see an educational monopoly in action, they need look no further than the multi-national testing conglomerate, Pearson,
Pearson, with headquarters in Great Britain, owns the publishing companies Scott Foresman, Penguin, Harcourt and Prentice Hall, setting text book prices, controlling content, and "franchising" the curriculum in thousands of K-12 schools and colleges across the country. Not content with merely controlling textbooks, Pearson also has their tentacles into familiar companies like Adobe, Longman, Wharton, Puffin and Allyn & Bacon, which allows them to exert an outsized influence on the size and scope of the educational enterprise in the US and abroad. Pearson's support for the Common Core State Standards, with generous support from "philanthropic" foundations like the Gates Foundation, practically assures that the tests that they produce will be closely "aligned" with the CCSS, all but guaranteeing that states will enter into agreements with Pearson to be the sole test provider for thousands of students each year. In New York State alone, Pearson's contracts total more than $32 million over the next 5 years.
But it doesn't stop there: Pearson also has the contract to produce, administer and score the edTPA, a new test for student teachers. And the company is the provider of standardized tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Millar Analogy Test, and the G.E.D. Pearson also owns some of the most popular and powerful student data management systems available for schools, like PowerSchool and SASI (http://teacherblog.typepad.com/newteacher/2012/11/on-the-rise-of-pearson-oh-and-following-the-money.html#sthash.JJaLJLM8.dpuf).
Pearson is well on their way to controlling virtually every aspect of American education, from preschool materials
(http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/course/Curriculum-in-Early-Childhood/91115347.page), to professional development for teachers (http://www.mypearsonpd.com), to online and virtual learning
products and services (http://home.pearsonhighered.com/what-we-do/online-learning.html).
If Mr. Friedman, Gov. Bush and friends are *really* concerned with monopolies, I suggest that they focus their gaze on Pearson, and leave the schools alone so our teachers can teach, and our children can learn.
The One about Charter Schools, Eye Doctors and Bank Fraud, Oh My!
Charter school proponents claim that charters offer options for parents who are disappointed in what their public schools provide, and this "choice" is about giving children better options. A recent story in the Detroit Free Press (http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/02/07/charter-schools-steven-ingersoll-grand-traverse-academy/23054725/) spins a "soap opera" style tale of nepotism, cronyism, crazy ideas about how children learn, bank fraud, and embezzlement. Michigan's charter school "industry"--and that's what it is, an industry; not an educational system, but rather a business model designed to steal public money and slip it into private bank accounts--is wildly out of control, an unregulated Wild West playground for unscrupulous hucksters, quacks and charlatans who see our school system and our children as an untapped well-spring of profits. And the stream is flowing.
Let's be clear: the charter school "industry" is not about kids, learning or "choice." This unregulated explosion of charters is about money, and lots of it. This eye doctor funneled
millions of taxpayer dollars into his private bank account. This was essentially a money laundering operation, not substantially different from how drug dealers set up a legitimate business, run
it at a loss in order to turn "dirty" money into "clean" money, and then walk away when the heat gets too hot. [See: Breaking Bad.]
What's lost here is any discussion of Dr. Ingersoll's "innovative" approach to learning, "Integrated Visual Learning," which has to do with rapid eye movements. Here's a teacher's account of
IVL, and how it was used in Dr. Ingersoll's school:
"His claims were/are at best a novelty in my opinion. If I recall correctly, students were initially given a screener to see how their eyes tracked on a page of text. This was done with a special machine and a pair of glasses hooked up to the machine. If their eyes didn’t track from left to right (as in how a person reads a page of text) and from one line to the next in the correct “zig zag” pattern during reading, then they were considered to need “therapy.” Therapy was expensive and rarely covered by insurance."
What's missing here is any description of how children learn. How does this "test" help teachers adapt instruction? What happens when a child's eyes don't zig zag? Are they taught differently, or just not admitted to the school?
Um, not so much...according to another teacher:
"There was NO room in the school specifically for IVL testing. There may have been equipment, but kids were never observed for vision. The IVL methods were taught to all kids, because Ingersoll made the staff do it; middle school and high school as well. Even the Special Education teachers had to teach it. which meant critical standards were not met."
So while we don't know if Dr. Ingersoll knows anything about children, or learning, or schools, here's what we do know:
1. He stole our money.
2. He subjected our children to radical, untested teaching methods.
3. People like this should not be permitted to set foot in our schools, much less run them.
The one about "fixing" Detroit's schools...
A recent article on the Michigan Radio web page describes Gov Snyder's plans "to 'fix' Detroit’s education problems once and for all"
Aside from the fact that many of these "problems" were created in large part due to the Governor's mismanagement of education in the state, and specifically in Detroit, and because of the systematic starving of resources for the state's schools, the ideas included in this article were also deeply offensive to anyone who lives in, works in or cares about Detroit and the DPS.
1. Detroit's schools don't need to be "fixed." They need to be cared for. And they need to be cared for by those that care about them the most, and for the right reasons--the parents, students, teachers and citizens of Detroit. Expecting the same folks who wanted to sell the art off the walls of the Detroit Museum of Art to "fix" the DPS is like expecting a burglar to lock the doors after he cleans out your house. If you really want to help Detroit's schools, then return control of those schools to the elected school board, administration and teachers in Detroit and get rid of the EAA...now.
2. Hiring the architect of New Orleans' "Recovery School District" to fix DPS is like hiring the CEO of BP to clean up an oil spill. As Professors Miron and Pedroni point out in the article, the "experiment" in New Orleans has not worked, and is not likely to work in Detroit either. It was based on faulty premises, was untested and never vetted properly. Perhaps most alarmingly, it was truly an "experiment"--an experiment conducted on the children and families of New Orleans, without their knowledge or approval. The full extent of the damage created by this experiment won't be known for years, but we do know it has been spectacularly unsuccessful, and certainly is not worth bringing to Detroit.
3. You don’t “scale up” schools based on design templates. That’s a business practice, not an educational practice—and schools are not businesses. Schools are unique, organic and different,
depending on where they are, who attends them, and who works in them. Just as a house in Alaska may serve some of the same functions as a house in Hawaii, they don't look the same, aren't built
the same, and would be ineffective and inefficient if transported from one place to the other. You “scale up” a fast food franchise. You don’t “scale up” schools.
So, I'd like to offer some unsolicited advice for Gov. Snyder: as a businessman, you know that one of the first rules of crisis management is that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Your policies have led to a manufactured crisis in Detroit, and your solution appears to be looking at one of the few cities in the country whose schools are in worse shape than Detroit's and bringing the former superintendent from New Orleans to Detroit. You are fortunate to lead a state with some of the nation's finest teacher education programs, and yet ignore the advice from the experts in those programs. Drs. Pedroni and Miron have been unusually blunt and frank with their advice on your plan--you would do well to listen to their ideas and suggestions.
You are, after all, paying them for their expertise.
The one about debates, issues and dangerous decisions...
Recently, we have seen an inexplicable explosion of head-scratching, chin-stroking stories on *alleged* issues, such as whether or not parents should have their children vaccinated, whether evolution is a "thing" or not, and supposedly serious discussions by elected officials about whether or not global climate change is real. [Spoiler Alert: Yes, yes, and yes.]
This rampant streak of what can only be seen as "anti-intellectualism" (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america) isn't simply unsettling; the science on each of these "issues" is settled. Vaccines DO NOT cause autism; the Earth is not 6000 years "young"; and climate scientists have determined without a shadow of a doubt that the planet is warming at an alarming rate, with dire consequences. Its dangerous.
Children are getting sick and dying because our "herd immunity" is waning due to well-meaning but uninformed parents making
the dangerous decision not to immunize their kids.
- "Young Earthers" are damaging their children's learning and understandings of the world by teaching them fables in place of science.
Climate change deniers are now in charge of senate science committees, where their ignorance isn't just shocking; it threatens
our very existence.
To this list I would add a 4th dangerous decision that poses a threat to our children and our communities: the reckless and irresponsible decisions we see in too many school systems to eliminate music, art and physical education instruction from the curriculum.
In Lansing, MI, the decision to eliminate 47 elementary art, music and PE teachers was cast as a "tough, but responsible decision," and the local media praised the superintendent and school board
for their "courage" in making this decision.
Let's be clear: This was not a "tough" decision. It was a bad, and dangerous decision. What's "tough" is being a 2nd grader who loves to draw and going to school without the possibility of art class being the bright spot of your day. What's "tough" is being a 5th grade kid who loves to play the trumpet, and knowing that your school doesn't think that music is important enough to offer as a class. What's "tough" is being in Kindergarten and seeing your cousin in the suburbs learn how to paint, and sing, and dance, while your school day is full of "test prep" and "extra math."
It was a decision that denies thousands of children, many living in crushing poverty, an education that includes making music, making art, and learning how to be physically fit and healthy for a lifetime. We have known that music and the arts were an important component of a child's education in this country since the public schools began. And while parents in more affluent communities may be able to provide their children with private music and art lessons, or pay for them to join a travel soccer or basketball team outside of school, many of the families in Lansing and other urban areas do not have the resources to afford these opportunities--they depend on the public schools to make sure their children have access to the richness of a full and complete education, one that includes music and art.
School leaders are charged with making sure that the children in their schools are provided with the very best education possible--an education that includes ALL of the disciplines and subjects that are a part of a comprehensive, sequential curriculum. And that includes the arts, foreign language, libraries, special education services, and a host of other offerings. These things are not "specials" or "extras"; their absence can't be disguised by referring to them with clever names like "Encore!" or "Innovative Arts and Fitness". There is nothing "innovative" about firing 47 teachers and denying children a full and rich education, especially when its your job to ensure that they get just that.
The inclusion of music and art in the curriculum is not an "issue"--just as with vaccination, or evolution, we *know* the truth. And the truth is that all children deserve to learn about music and art in the public schools. There are not "2 sides" to this question. No parent would willingly choose an education barren of these disciplines--and no school should either.
The One in Which I Throw My Hat in the Ring. . .
After a great deal of consideration, I have decided to apply for the position of State Superintendent of Instruction for the state of Michigan. It's time to stop complaining, and time to take action.
I have no illusions that my candidacy will be successful, but would welcome the opportunity to ask some serious questions about the policies guiding education in the state.
We need a person in this office who will be a strong supporter of teachers and students, understands the damage that over-testing has had on the schools, and will work to stop the attacks on teachers and public schools.
We need to halt the proliferation of charter schools, abolish the EAA in Detroit and the rest of the state, and address the funding problems that have hampered public education in Michigan.
We need to insure that every child in the state receives a full, rich and diverse educational experience that includes music, art, PE, foreign language, social studies, science, and library services, in addition to the "tested subjects."
And we need to make sure that teachers are evaluated fairly and appropriately, not by Value Added Measures, student test scores or other invalid and unreliable "metrics."
Please let me know what educational issues you believe are important in the comments below.
The one in which Teach for America reveals their true colors. . .
Perhaps the strongest voice defending public school teachers against the agenda of the corporate reformers is education historian, Diane Ravitch. Dr. Ravitch recently posted a story
(http://dianeravitch.net/2015/02/02/tfa-supports-junk-science-to-grade-colleges-of-education-by-student-test-scores/) about Teach for America's public support of the Federal Department of
Education's newly proposed regulations on teacher education programs. This is notable for a couple of reasons. One, TFA is--allegedly--a non-profit organization devoted to the preparation of
alternatively certified teachers for America's urban schools. And two, TFA is clearly in competition with said teacher education programs, making their public stance on these regulations a fairly
obvious conflict of interest.
Now, my own feelings about Teach for America are hardly a secret (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/10/17/a-professors-encounter-with-two-teach-for-america-recruiters/), but even I was a bit surprised that TFA would tip their hand on their real agenda: destroying traditional teacher education programs, teachers unions, and public schools as we know them.
I guess we should be grateful that TFA was so transparent about their true colors--it makes them much easier to identify as part and parcel of the corporate reform movement, and makes it much harder for them to continue pretending they are an educational organization at all.
The one about "throwing money" at problems...
I often read stories that quote politicians and ed reform officials who claim that spending money won't help solve the problems facing students, schools and teachers nowadays. Their premise is
wrong on several accounts; one, these persons are usually the ones who have created the problems we are all now dealing with, and two, in my experience throwing money at problems usually works
Recently, Sen. Phil Pavlov, the chair of the Michigan Senate Education Committee, trotted out this under-thought, knee-jerk response to school funding in our state, saying: "What's clear in all of this is that simply spending money is not the answer. According to statewide school report cards available on the Michigan Department of Education website, some of the state's highest-funded school districts have multiple schools on the 2012 achievement gap list, despite receiving over $9,000, $10,000 or even $11,000 per pupil." (http://www.senatorphilpavlov.com/commentary-how-we-are-reinventing-states-outmoded-education-system/)
What Sen. Pavlov fails to mention is that gaining a spot on the state's "achievement gap list" is no measure of any sort of educational or learning issue--its simply an indication that a school's students have not met a predetermined goal, set by the state (not teachers), with respect to standardized test scores in math or reading. In some schools, this may mean that only 97% of the school's students achieved a passing score on an exam, and the state had set a goal of 98%. Really. Both of my children's schools were placed on one of these state lists a few years ago for not achieving "adequate yearly progress," even though they were two of the highest scoring schools in the state on all measures of student learning. So, Sen. Pavlov's measuring tool isn't measuring what he thinks it is, lots of students and teachers are being punished for excelling at what they do, and lots of time and effort is being wasted on things that just don't matter.
Sen. Pavlov's response also ignores the fact that Gov. Snyder, with Pavlov's help, has cut school funding by $2 billion dollars during his time as governor. So suggesting that giving more money
to schools won't do any good is a particularly cruel and hurtful approach given the systematic starving of resources and draconian reforms that have been enacted by Pavlov, Snyder and the
legislature in recent years.
What I find especially ironic is the fact that the same politicians who claim to believe that "throwing money" at our children's futures is a waste of resources saw no problems with "Citizens United," which eliminated all restrictions on financial contributions to election campaigns. If throwing money at students, teachers and schools won't help education, then how does it help their campaigns?
So, Sen. Pavlov, you may be right that throwing money at the schools won't solve the problems that you helped to create, but your other solutions--expanded school choice, more charter schools with less regulations, invalid and unreliable teacher evaluation systems, increased student testing requirements, destroying our state's teacher unions, etc.--haven't worked so far, so let's try adequately funding our schools and see what happens. Its worth a shot, right?
Everything's up-to-date in Illinois!
I just returned from a wonderful time in Peoria where I shared two presentations with the music teachers and music teacher educators at the Illinois Music Educators Association Conference. One session was on strategies for designing partnerships between schools and colleges, and the other was a talk on the (mis)uses of data in music teacher evaluation. PDFs of both sessions are available for download on the "Clinic and Workshop Materials" page on this site.
I head to Arizona in a few weeks for the Desert Skies Research Symposium to present a keynote address on music teacher evaluation and music education research, and then on to Miami the following week to visit with the music ed students and faculty at Florida International University on Friday, Feb. 27, and talk to the Miami-Dade County music teachers about assessment strategies on Sat., Feb. 28.
But the best part of my visit to Illinois was spending time with former Spartans, Bridget Sweet and Adam Kruse, now members of the music ed faculty at the University of Illinois, along with Janet Barrett and Louis Bergonzi; my "old" friend, Glenn Williams, from Downers Grove; Maud Hickey and Steve Demorest from Northwestern; Rich Cangro from Western Illinois; Scott Edgar from Lake Forest College; and many new friends as well.
What Every Principal Needs to Know to Create Equitable and Excellent Schools
It's out! Teachers College Press has released our new book, What Every Principal Needs to Know to Create Equitable and Excellent Schools, edited by George Theoharis and Jeff Brooks.
My chapter is titled, "Music Teaching and Learning in a Time of Reform"--here's a brief excerpt:
Music in the public school curriculum is at a precarious point. Indeed, one author has described the place of school music as teetering at a veritable “tipping point.” Borrowing from Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same name, Kratus (2007) identifies the need for “sticky” ideas in music education that will attract new students and new audiences, lest we see the divide between music and “school music” grow even wider and deeper. A 2006 survey by the Center on Education Policy, an independent education policy think tank, found that since the passage of NCLB in 2001, 71% of the nation's 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math (Dillon, 2006).
This narrowing of the public school curriculum has been accompanied by an increased emphasis on standardized testing, especially in the subject areas of math and reading, in a back-to-basics movement that has threatened to alter the very fabric of American public education.
For more information, click on the picture of the book cover to go to the Teachers College Press web page about the book.
Teaching music in a time of reform. . .
Music education, both in the public schools and in higher education, is at a precarious point. A 2006 survey by the Center on Education Policy, an independent education policy think tank, found that since the passage of NCLB in 2001, 71 percent of the nation’s 15,000 school districts had reduced the hours of instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects to open up more time for reading and math. This narrowing of the public school curriculum has been accompanied by an increased emphasis on standardized testing, especially in the subject areas of math and reading, in a back to basics movement that has threatened to alter the very fabric of American public education.
Never before in my teaching career can I think of a time when what we had to offer as music teachers and music teacher educators was more desperately needed, by our students, our schools and our society. I often tell my students that the job we are preparing them for as teachers is an amazing one—it allows them to make decisions, solve problems, make interpretive choices, and be responsible for making a glorious whole out of disparate, disconnected pieces. It seems to me that our goal as music teachers is to make sure that the students in our ensembles and classes also view their ‘jobs’ in the same way—that they feel creative, empowered, and independent. It is both our privilege and our challenge to be music teacher educators during an exciting and volatile time in our profession’s history, and it is the role of our professional organizations to provide the leadership and guidance necessary to support all of us as we move into the future.