So Let Me Talk to You About Charters Because You Left Some Stuff Out

Dear Mr. Tillotson,

I read your article on Education Post. Bravo for the good, but your statistics are not conclusive and you left out some issues that I think deserve a little sunlight. I would welcome your comments.

  • Class based and race based filters are an insufficient argument for the absence of other filters. Even if your schools are teaching the “exact same kids”, this could only be true for several years after opening (unless it is a community based charter in which parent involvement is not a filter and all the children from that neighborhood are attendees). I’m all in favor of a school that does well by its kids, but I’m not in favor of a school that argues that it provides the superior education while using parent involvement and informal filters to avoid the difficult to teach.  Only a profiler, or perhaps someone who has never taught poor minority kids, thinks that race and class equates to the same kid. It does not.
  • Secondly, you don’t have to expel a child to remove one who accidentally gets through the parent or informal filters. You can suspend them to death until finally their parent removes them voluntarily. Urban Prep is a perfect example of how this works. They boasted a 100% graduation rate for seven out of seven years. Is that accurate? 60% of the entering class left the school before they graduated.And even more telling, one third of the junior class left just before senior year! So, the school graduated 100% of 40% of the entering student body. Or 66% of the junior class. Did the school have a 100% graduation rate? A 66% graduation rate? A 40% graduation rate? A schools’ suspension and attrition rate irrespective of expulsion puts a graduation rate into better perspective.
  • Third, the bar for what is considered a good school is an accountability measure doesn’t always deliver. HST reduces success factors to an easy number on a spreadsheet. It is a marketing tool rather than a guarantee of high quality education. For example, Success Academy boasts very high scores on their 3-8 tests (They beat out Scarsdale and Bronxville, our version of Hillcrest), but so far they’ve only gotten six students into NYC selective high schools on the state test. They don’t even publish their regents pass rates (you know what that means). In essence, their students are being prepared for a single test which supports the adults and the school mission of growing more schools but does not support the futures of the children who go to them. To what extent do great test scores in 3-8 translate into college graduation rates or well prepared kids who can navigate a more diverse set of tests for living? This is of concern for parents, but also in the public interest. Returning to the Success Academy case, several videos and exposes that I’m sure we’re all familiar with illustrate just how concerning their metholodogy is. This brings us to an additional issue
  • We should be paying very close attention to the education provided in charter schools separate from the test scores they deliver. The early education of citizens impacts everything from whether those citizens can navigate and participate fully in the society around them to what they believe and whether they can think critically and independently.  Success Academy certainly needs investigation, but so do schools that are entirely independent of public scrutiny. What are these schools teaching? Should we allow public dollars to pay for an education that teaches bias or false science, for example?
  • What about the issue of school financing? Supporting charters that pull money from public schools as they teach the children who do not meet the charter bar is immoral. The idea that children should be victims of market correction is so horrendous as to turn its advocates into monsters. No one with even the slightest understanding of school finance thinks that children personally receive the dollars that are attributed to them. So, when you take money from a public school, you are taking a nurse or a librarian or increasing class size or removing a program that enriched children. It is nothing less than that. The charter in this case becomes parasitical in its relationship to the public school. It eats its host while the host is living. Someone should care about that. I know I do.
  • Finally, charters should not be able to make an end run around professional standing and the right of all workers to sustainable work and fair compensation. Children first is not identical to adults can be exploited. I must support teachers as the professionals who have the closest relationship to children and the ones who deliver the core duty of schools. So, that leads me to ask about the professional status and attrition rate of teachers in your schools. Disclaimer: I shouldn’t have to say this, but for context: I am a teacher who works at least a 12 hour day almost every day of the week and through part of every weekend. My students have unfettered access to me online. No one who works with me would accuse me of being a slacker. I don’t happen to have children which makes it easier for me to obsess about my work.  Okay. Now that we have that out of the way… No public school including charters should be able to elect not to pay teachers a middle class salary that increases with their years of service or use them as fodder for a machine. The attrition rate of teachers in your schools matter. Their hours matter. Their voice at the table of decision making matters. Their ability to have families and participate fully in the culture that they are helping to create matters.  They shouldn’t have to be childless in order to be a teacher, nor should they have to sacrifice their children for someone else’s.  They should not be desirable only so long as they have no other obligation or life concerns.  They have the right to see their wages increase with experience and expertise without worrying that it makes them undesirables to the bean counters that weigh them in terms of costs to the school.

So that’s it for today. I just thought I’d mention these issues which you don’t bring up.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

By way of analogy

Roundabout-Ahead-With-Graphic-Sign-K-8273Public schools are like busy traffic circles that have stop signs, bus stops, on and off ramps, red lights, passing lanes, pot holes and all sorts of other navigational hazards. There are many different types of vehicles and many different drivers.  Some ride in limos, some are in broken down jalopies, some are piled into overcrowded buses.  All must agree to the rules which make it possible to proceed at all.  Oh, and the rules are constantly changing.   There are accidents on a road that so many people must use.  In such cases, what’s notable is not that there are accidents, but that there aren’t more of them.  This does not mean that you don’t improve the traffic circle or that you don’t care about the accidents on the road… you must… you care about the accidents and seek to avoid them.  You improve and repair the road to address new traffic patterns and new drivers.  It is the job of all the engineers and all the workers on the road to keep up with the infrastructure and insure that the roads are accessible to and safe for all.

pedestrians-98938_1280But, if you’re on a section of the traffic circle where they’ve stopped filling potholes, let a red light burn out… closed down lanes.. piled all the traffic in… the traffic pattern falls apart.  The answer of the charter school was originally meant to add a lane to the virtuous circle, to help improve the traffic patterns, but it has morphed into something else.  It has been used by clever engineers to set up a whole, new separate traffic circle.  Instead of maintaining the neglected road, these clever engineers make the argument that a separate circle is a better benefit to some travelers.  After all, aren’t there already some subscription only traffic circles that serve their populations well through explicit agreement with other roads to be feeders to better destinations? Private roads have private means to pay for their nicer ways.  Shouldn’t everyone benefit from the ability to choose?  Should only those who have the toll be able to choose more exclusive roads with more exclusive travelers?  Thus, the charter becomes a hybrid traffic circle that attempts to provide some exclusivity without the toll.

no-traffic-signs-44320_1280How do they do it? Here’s the vision:  steal the stop signs and traffic lights of the original circle… all while people are still driving on it.  Argue that since some travelers are using their new circle, the old circle is only giving up what should be theirs anyway. Co-locate a part of the remaining road to be made exclusive for your use. Make the new traffic circle even more affordable by refusing to pay the labor on its upkeep.  Young new workers need experience in the directing of traffic.  No worries if you burn through them… there’s always a new pile of young workers who needs line items.  But, best of all, organize your circle so as not to accommodate all the drivers and conditions of traffic that exist on the roads from which you pilfer… the several drivers that get past your gatekeepers will enjoy a clearer road even if it doesn’t really travel through to better destinations.  And the clever engineers can take pictures and write promos about the success of all preferred drivers with their smiles, hopes and identical tee shirts.   And there you have it: a happy little road with happy little drivers that, like its private cousin, is a problem for almost everyone else.

dead-end-98934_1280

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unaccountable Things

If you don’t count undeserving people in high places or a burgeoning education reform industry of paid tweeters, bloggers and think tank thinkers, high stakes testing, known ironically as accountability,  is currently among the most unaccountable of unaccountable things in American education today.  It is unaccountable in the very thing that it purports to account for: the measurement and evaluation of learning,  teachers and schools.  It does none of these things well.

The most obvious reason for this is that staked testing shifts the priority from what will help a child to what will help the adults that teach her. High stakes advocates will argue that a high stake is the best way to insure that adult and child concerns are identical.  But, in practice,  this turns out to be untrue.  A high stake explicitly reduces the child to evidence of adult performance. Students aren’t first; scores are first.

It’s a simple arithmetic.  Most skills in the Common Core (or local variant) are untested; a teacher is valued through skills that are tested.  Therefore, tested skills are more important than untested skills regardless of their value to the student.  A stake advocate may argue (disingenuously) that a good teacher will always prioritize the student’s need, and that may be true… but only if those needs are not in conflict with the goals established for them by the state. That would be silly.. possibly even insubordinate.  A lesson that prioritizes  untested skills and opportunities is of low priority interest to administrators and a risk for a teacher whose goal must be to prove her value each year.  The best advice to is to remove untested content in order to produce better scores.  Test advocates will argue… “oh, but  there is all that other criteria that counts in teacher evaluation”, but this too is an invalid argument.  Regardless of the quality of other measures, the ultimate measure of the school is in its scores.  If test scores are high, the teacher has met the criteria that measures the district, school and principal.  

If this sounds like a corruption of mission, it is, and there is loads of evidence that a high stake corrupts the mission of schools …whether through carrot and stick incentives which encourage unethical behavior (Washington DC and Atlanta), through the demoralizing impact of indiscriminate goal setting or through the valuing of students by their scores.  This last is especially true for those schools that pick, choose and remove students at will.  For such schools, a child who is unlikely or unable to meet a given criteria, or who develops or produces later than the mean, is a risk for all the adults working there.  In essence, the state has defined every child as an added measure in support of the teacher, the school or the franchise.

The outcome of such an accounting is reduction of enrichment,  decrease in exposure to untested content areas, ruthless competition for students who meet measurement criteria and decay of transferable skills.  High needs populations are the most likely to be reduced.  A stakes advocate may argue that literacy is more important than these other skills.  (Michelle Rhee didn’t give a crap) But, what about when the reduction results in an inability to transfer skills even among students who may produce high scores on the 3-8 tests?  High profile charter provider Success Academy produces extremely high scores on the 3-8 State tests yet demonstrates little ability to get high achieving students into selective high schools and doesn’t even publish its regents pass rate.  In their literature, Success Academy boasts that their kids do better on the state tests than children in Scarsdale and Bronxville (two very affluent suburbs of NYC) and that they are reversing the achievement gap.  Yet, in 2016, after years of no students at all, only six of their students did well enough on entrance exams to test into selective high schools.

Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 2.40.20 PM

 

How is it that these eye popping scores on state tests did not transfer to other measures? Unsurprisingly, preparing kids to ace one test does not build transferable skills.   Performance on high stakes tests in 3-8 does not correlate to student performance later on or elsewhere.  Students who take the 3-8 state tests are engaged not for themselves but for the limited and temporary success of the adults that teach them, and all schools that engage in staked testing (both public and charter) are explicitly instructing adults to view students as products of their performance.

Each year, a different set of adults will be required to use them similarly.. as data points of adult value. As long as this continues to be the case, students will sift through the school as on an assembly line.  Reward or reprieve comes to the successful adult from the focused screwing in of the one screw.  In this way, schools are commodified and annual scores become the real products of the efficient factory.  This is the business model applied to education.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Trump Days: On the Immigration Ban of Jan 28, 2017

The United States is not a fascist country. Trump is not our dictator. It is dangerous to suggest otherwise. His administration is, and will continue to be, circumscribed by rule of law and by the will of the people. Our judges, politicians, activists and individual citizens have the right and the ability to stand up to policies that disgrace our nation. Our allies have the ability. As long as there are principled people in high and low places, this will continue to be the case. We can impact our direction.

We must continue to believe in our stated principles and endeavor to live them. We must not be persuaded by fear, anger or insecurity to support immoral policies. No executive order will protect us from violence. No scraping of basic human rights will save the nation. Acceding to immoral laws IS the disaster. It destroys us from within and what we accept for the other reverberates into the historical record as our shame.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Education Reform Classified

Cast-Iron-Stomach

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Savior 2.0

Screen Shot 05-22-16 at 04.35 PMIt started with that small firestorm about the Duluth cartoon… canonized at the74 by Derrell Bradford, executive director of NYCAN…  when it became clear that acknowledging the burdens that children come in with is labeling them. And it built up as the #thisteachersees army was mobilized over twitter, and as Derrell Bradford reframed the awareness of the burdens that children come in with, and when he framed acknowledgement of struggle as union teachers seeing children as deficits and using these deficits as excuses not to teach. So, suddenly another line was drawn for what you can do and you can’t, what you may notice and you may not. Who is the good teacher and who is the bad one. Until every burdened child, and every teacher who notes it, became hay in the education wars.  Screen Shot 05-22-16 at 04.34 PM

 

 

Of course, the argument is a strawman.  Acknowledging the burdens that a child comes to school with is not defining them in terms of that burden or making an excuse not to teach them.  It’s an acknowledgement that in front of you sitting in a chair is a whole child with a set of experiences some of which are very hard and those difficult experiences impact learning and a host of things that actually matter if you want to help that child: self confidence, willingness to take risks, experience with healthy choices, amount of sleep the child got the night before, sense of security, trust for adults.Screen Shot 05-22-16 at 04.33 PM

Yet, someone out there seems to think we should ignore such things.. that depicting or thinking about them is not positive.  It’s labeling children as deficits rather than seeing what actually happens to them.

It’s an argument that needs to be unpacked… and with greater care than they unpacked the cartoon which addresses the merest and most obvious fraction of the issues that children may come in with. (No one noted the little sidebar at the bottom that reminds  us that many of our public classrooms are overcrowded with more children in them than seats.)

Screen Shot 05-22-16 at 05.10 PM

“Yo hey”, but they make hay out of it in Reformland.  So, I read Bradford’s article indicting Randi Weingarten for including the cartoon. And, I read as many as I could of the counter narrative #thisteachersees tweets (courtesy of the MinnCAN app).  It was great to read what teachers were seeing about their kids.  But, as they tweeted away in diligent outrage at labels or in resolute cheerfulness about their young engineers, artists, comedians, and poets… I admit I also felt a strong desire to slap someone.  It wasn’t because of what they were saying: #thisteachersees.  That was not what was unwonderful.  It’s just that in context, the real hashtag is what #thisteacherchoosestosee. Maybe a real evolution is not curating at all.

I want to see what is there.  There’s a beating life behind the eyes of every child in front of every teacher and knowing a little about that life in it’s full complexity is not an excuse not to teach them or inability to see their beauty; neither is it a label.  Rather, it is a meaningful understanding about what hinders and helps children. It’s explicitly choosing to consider what my students are facing when they aren’t in my presence.  And knowing isn’t just a side gesture that I can dispense with.  It’s important because what I  know informs my ability to see why today might not be a good day, or why that book resonates with that child, or why this topic shouldn’t be explored in the larger class setting.  The real life of the child matters, and it matters for very tangible reasons.

Teachers who get their ideas about what teaching is from CANs seem to be implicitly counseled to view acknowledging a child’s burdens as making excuses not to teach that child.  The  good teacher focuses on student strengths and does not consider the child’s circumstances when teaching them.  That’s the province of weak teachers who make excuses.  Surely, focusing on a child’s strengths is a good thing. Being cheery and positive is a good and healing thing. But, it might also be a feature of the social darwinism of reform.. the grit argument writ large: don’t make excuses, and anything other than bucking up and hunkering down is an excuse. If you are successful, later on you can put your burdens on your resume.  In the meantime, show some grit.

That agreement not to see, to turn resolutely away from the full context of a child’s life, to arm them with grit but no background works perfectly with the no context Common Core and with the reform movement generally.  Everything is reducible in Reformland.  Toughen up for the New Normal. We’ll remove context.. context about what worked before, context about what we read when we read,  context about our children when we teach them. Context about what we said last week. We will be optimists and amnesiacs. We can test anything that matters, and we can improve anything we test. We will listen to that which we have decided to hear. We will understand that which we have  agreed upon. We will nod in understanding, and our students will be what we see in them.  Our ignorance will be the new Black.

And that brings me full circle to thoughts about my own contexts.  On the outside, I have always assumed that in some ways I am similar to many of these rich, do gooder kids…. older… (like in as-old-as-their-mothers old)… less rich than many,  less private schooled, definitely not groomed for greatness or position…  but otherwise very near like. Also smart and committed. Also outraged at the way in which low income schools I’ve taught in weren’t meeting the needs of my students.  I focused on bad pedagogy, poor funding formulas, large class sizes, absent support structures and lack of books. They focused on bad teachers.  But otherwise identical: we both saw the schools as lacking. I also preached to my elders about their neglect of the important work that needed to be done.  In some respects… I was just an earlier edition of the savior teacher. Call me Savior 1.0.

But, I think perhaps I have been wrong. I’m not actually a lot like Savior 2.0, at all.  For one thing, I don’t believe in saviors anymore. I  just believe in teaching, staying fresh and in hopefully getting the chance to be the right one at the right time for someone.  I also don’t have the Savior 2.0 context. No one told me that all the teachers who came before me sucked.  I was never told that there was leadership, personal reward and position waiting for me following a short stint in the classroom.  And, I don’t have the Savior 2.0 resume. Unlike a 2.0, I don’t burst forth from a well cared for, optimistic, future forward, affluent family where parents are emotionally available.. I didn’t go from my Montessori preschool to my great private school, to my selective college. I wasn’t one to whom every opportunity was offered and exploited. I was not one of the rich kids of reform with their cultivated lives, dance classes, horseback riding lessons, sororities, and summer camp. I was not blessed with a wealthy kid’s self assurance or massive sense of entitlement as they pursue (without a trace of irony) social justice entrepreneurship.  But, I’m also not a poster child for making it against all odds. I was not at all like the Derrell Bradfords and John Kings of reform. No one would ever think to tell me that I was the hero of my own story.  Or write up my resume with a list of my deficits and how I overcame them.  I didn’t even know that there was a race on for who was going to get to be somebody. I was just a smart, quiet, troubled kid in the back of the room at school.  Not a figurehead for reform. I merely came from a home in which terrible and violent things happened.

I don’t share the cheerful removal of unpleasant context as if acknowledging these is a crime against grit and hope. I don’t share the ability to negate and erase my students’ experiences  because when you come from a home in which terrible things have happened, you don’t get that ability.  And this understanding informs what I know about trauma and contexts.  It informs how I feel things. (I am somewhat of a calloused raw nerve. Hypervigilant and detached), but it also helps me to understand that people are full universes with all the contexts that they carry. I understand that suffering is not a badge of honor or a resume item, but it is part of us; it is not separate from who we are. I also understand that in our humanness is the best of what we bring to our work.  I am okay with what I experienced in my life; my contexts inform what kind of teacher I am because they inform what kind of human being I am.  For today… it also informs what I think about the  #ThisTeacherSees movement, and what I think about what a teacher doesn’t necessarily see.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

@JusCohen asks Questions Part I: Whose High Bar?

Dear @juscohen,

juscohenSo what’s a teachers job then? Unconnected to whether the kids can meet a high bar?

I’m going to answer your questions although you may not have meant them to be answered. Nonetheless,  like Charlie Brown and his football… I’ll take a run at it, Lucy.

First, Your second question is loaded.  I didn’t argue against a high bar. I argued against a false bar. I think you’ll see elements of my answer to your first question  in how I address your second question.  When we discuss my point, we have to ask what do I think a high bar looks like and why am I arguing that the current bar is a false one?

Let’s take on that high bar.

I teach to a very high bar.  I would argue that my standards for teaching are higher than the Common Core in several respects… particularly in the area of critical reasoning. The tested CC standards for the 7th grade are primarily focused upon students learning to use text based evidence to analyze claims made or implied by an author. They do not test using text based evidence to make original claims. While standards formally exist, the State does not consider them important enough to evaluate.  This is a great flaw because it reduces the learner to the consumer of information rather than the creator of information.  I would argue that in my classroom, neither teaching nor learning has been improved by the Common Core, and certainly it has not been improved at all by their assessment. At best, the CCSS has provided a new labeling system and the test has articulated what to value in them. Here are some artifacts that illustrate my bar as well as give some evidence for what I think my job is.

  •  Debate Project:  This is a piece of a 7th grade unit on argumentation that I have conducted for the last 15 years in my cluster.  I am still in the process of moving it to the cloud. In this project, students’ critical reasoning skills are honed along with their research, writing, reading, public speaking skills, as well as their use of evidence and justification. This year, I am adding the Harvard video so students can get a whiff of utilitarianism (consequentialism)  and the categorical imperative in a watered down way.  When I have had the time (which I don’t because of the outside intervention and impact of testing on school culture) they read Kennedy, Locke, Chisolm, Paine and Churchill and model writing and thinking upon these and others.  I also do a lot with rhetorical devices and logical fallacies that are not moved to this page yet.  NOTE: The content here will not be reliably measured by the State test, as has been evidenced by schizophrenic scores which shift from year to year for no discernible reason despite clear evidence of my skill as a teacher and my continuing high standards. (I’ll address this in another post about a false bar)
  • Magazine Project: Here’s a project I can no longer do because of the time it takes to accomplish.  This was an extensive writing project in which 13 editorial teams created 13 16-24 page full color magazines. They were required to research, write and rewrite, include smaller fun pieces, write ads and design and print their pages. Through this project, students learned the craft of writing in all its aspects and went through multiple substantive revisions of their writing as well as learned about demographics, marketing, information graphics, graphic design and typography.  Parents were so thrilled to have this project that I received $1000 for publishing the magazines every year that I ran it. Extensive writing and revision was useful for the state tests although adapting to short term, no revision writing required some practice. Even so, the practice with multiple revisions helped students learn to revise on the fly. This project was enormously intrinsically motivating. I realize that intrinsic motivation is not necessarily an important point for Education Reform which elevates the value of grit and perseverance over self direction and flow.  Nonetheless, I had a full house of after school extra help because students wanted me to work with them every day after hours to refine a product they cared about.  Nothing proved why they were there better than the fact that they never even asked for their grades; the work itself was the driver.  They forgot that scores are why we’re all here.  NOTE: This project was ended because 75% of the state test is multiple choice and as such, the project did not address structural change in priorities.  Nothing argued better for dropping this engaging and demanding, time intensive, skill rich project than that it would not produce the scores which prove my value. It had to be let go. Rule of thumb: Intact schools with great programs must remove those programs if those programs don’t produce for the state tests. The first order of business is feed the test. Goodbye, win-win. 
  • Classics Outside Reading Book Trailer Project: This is a project I no longer do. I started with book trailers, but I tweaked it several years into the unit to link it to classic fiction.  Students read classics and created book trailers that displayed all the necessary elements. In some cases, the classics requirement was bent a little. Book trailers allowed students to use multimedia in order to present information about an outside book they read.  Here’s the rubric for it. They were required to include plot, theme, characterization, conflict, relevant quotes, and reviews about the book. Then they identified the multimedia elements that related to their book.  It was the last unit of the school year. (Yes, I know.. it didn’t reduce to word and sentence based inferences… We do plenty of that elsewhere.) NOTE: obvious candidate for removal.  There might be a question on theme or author’s purpose on the state test, but that can be more efficiently imparted by requiring their ability to identify these by reading short form fiction.  Also, although use of multimedia is listed in the standards, it is not evaluated in terms of students producing anything themselves.
  • A full production of Romeo and Juliet: in the original with a beautiful student composed rap musical number in the middle.  This happened only once with a 9th grade class.  Students read the play in class and learned their lines independently. We went into the auditorium every day for several weeks during class. They did most of the staging themselves. Sometimes, I would send certain students by themselves to rehearse and work in the classroom with others.  On those occasions, we would meet at lunch to rehearse what they had worked on that day. It was the first time I discovered that when students care about what they are doing, they don’t need the control features that we usually put in place to get kids to learn. NOTE: These were gifted and talented inner city kids. 

Summation

My response to the question about the high bar addressed several points that I wanted to make sure you don’t miss. It should also have left you with some new questions. First, the several things:

1) I put my work on the table. Being transparent about my work is because I believe that it stands as evidence for me as one teacher (among many) who has a high bar now and who had a high bar for performance before the Common Core.

2) I argue that not only is the higher quality of my accountability to my students not measured by state tests but that the tests have actively interfered with my ability to be accountable to that higher bar.

3) I argue that the English Language Arts Common Core Standards are deficient in the arena of building the capacity of  students to create information. The standards provide for it, but the tests do not measure it.  This would not be a horrible thing if the standards were advisory and flexibly open to improvement, and if they weren’t linked to accountability.  But because neither of those things are true, the reduction of what students need to be able to understand and do in the Education Reform Era is an important reason why students taught in this period are unprepared for the tasks of college and career.  They are encouraged both by a rigid idolatry of the Common Core and by high stakes tests of two thirds of those standards, to consume, analyze and regurgitate. The creation of more complex tasks of regurgitation (asking students to look at how the turn of a word or sentence changes meaning) does not mediate against the fact that students need to both consume and create, analyze and renew.

Here are two new questions:

1) Why are teachers of strong capacity and commitment not getting on board Education Reform’s notions of standards and accountability?

2) If Education Reform needs reform, what is going to be the mechanism for its course correction?

Next time:  A False Bar or Why Education Reform Needs Reform

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reform Soft Porn

Dear Teachers,

We’d like to have better conversation.  We want to work cooperatively with you to bring better education to America.  #marketbased

Let’s start with what we’ve got. We’ve got… Change You Can Believe In. Here are a few facts:

1) All children are products… your products.

2) All products are tested.   No product has ever been injured in the testing of their performance.

3) Products of color and products of poverty fail faster because you have low standards for them. #beliefgap.

4) Parents need #choice. Did we mention choice means charters where there is the least suckage?

5) While we stand behind our premise that all products can learn (#believe), we understand that not all products are a good fit for schools of choice. Products who do not meet our performance standards may be encouraged to find a better fit. Meeting the needs of every child is a public school thing. We’re not public schools except when we get your dollars and your buildings. (thanks)

6)  All teachers are human capital. Great human capital prepares their products for performance by any means necessary. (We like that reference. It’s got a Civil Rights Issue of our Time flavor. )

7) High stakes testing does not encourage teaching to the test. So, just stop saying that. 

8)  No excuses, human capital. Don’t even complain about defunded or unfunded federal mandates; if you really cared about children, you’d sacrifice.  We call them children when we’re pitting their needs against your middle class salary,  health care and pension. (more about that in number 10)

9)  We’re for higher salaries.  Great human capital should be paid more. Don’t think this means a pay raise. It’s a bell curve world, widget.

10) Did we mention how much we respect you? In fact, we’d like to help you remove the blue collar stain of unionism. Job security, pay scale and pensions are the sources of your low status.  

11) We are going to save the future by bringing your profession into the 21st century.  In the brave new world order (designed and voted on by us), there will be fewer of you, more online learning and larger class sizes. We’re going to teach and test those cute little products every few minutes.  The annual review (much like the annual test) is so last century. We need minute by minute data and no required seat time. We’re thinking the word personalization sounds sticky; it brings out our sentimental side.  (…Something something global warming,  progress, problem solving, tear of happiness, commitment to future generations… etc. etc. Mommy and Daddy) 

12) Don’t worry if what we need for your kids and what we need for ours is separate; it’s still equal. Don’t be fooled by the #politicsofenvy

13) It‘s about America. When you connect the dots,  we love America. (Queue the National Anthem here) If we don’t test every product every year in every subject, the human capital in public schools will not do the job of making products college and career ready. And then, the products will fail to become good workers, and we’ll lose in the global competition, companies will send more jobs overseas to the cheaper but more college and career ready third world. It is your fault if America collapses as a super power. 

13) In order to achieve as a nation, we need to get rid of elected school boards because teachers vote.

Thank you for this better conversation.  We’ll let you know what you need next.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of some small children who are smiling because we’re fixing America.

3856033_hipsters-for-charter-schools-the-big-lie_77333264_m

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Proxy Love

Bailey Reimer, a teacher in Chicago, has been teaching her kindergartners to love testing.  She considers their well trained, enthusiastic love of it to be the key to her students’ futures.  Her theory is that the more they welcome being evaluated, the better they will do throughout their years in school.  Her views highlight the ongoing divide over the purposes of and best practices for teaching a nation’s children.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with helping children to feel secure about being assessed; it’s necessary for getting good diagnostic information.  In that sense, building confidence around testing is not a bad goal, but as a large and lauded part of instruction, it is definitely not a great one.  Education is intended to provide every child with the tools and opportunity for full expression of themselves in their work and personal lives.  Love for testing is a low bar in that attainment.  A test has its use.  But, it is meant to be a tool for educators, not a destination for learners.

High quality classrooms do not build their cultures around test taking. They have a high standards for learning and skill acquisition, but they are built around other values such as inquiry, independence, risk taking, self regulation, curiosity, confidence,  collaboration, empathy. They seek to nurture full development through multiple experiences and pay attention to all the hard and soft skills of intellectual, physical, and social/emotional growth. A well informed parent or thoughtful administrator would be far more interested in what else Reimer cares about and what students experience under her care when they are not being tested.

If I were her administrator, I’d have some hard questions about Reimer’s reward system in the back of the room.  It’s true that kids like to see their growth, but explicit publishing of private performance, even under the cover of daisies, is more questionable.  It shifts the emphasis from individual growth to that of comparison and competition.  Not that comparison or competition are bad things; they can be very motivating in a debate or on the field, and both are part of life.  But, it is not a good practice in the intimate area of skill acquisition.  At the very least, it sends an inaccurate message to very young children.

It bears repeating that, even under the best circumstances, children do not learn at the same pace or with equal ease. They do not come into school with the same foundation. This simple reality is indisputable. Whether the difference stems from the impact of genetic anomaly, prenatal care or environment upon brain development or if it’s in the way that different access to resources and enrichment improves or impedes a child’s preparation upon entry into school, how these differences are addressed in the classroom is important, especially for children experiencing school for the first time in their lives.  Is there some reason to reward the child who learned to read at home and who, through no special skill of their own, achieves at a higher and faster pace than her peers? What about the kid who is dyslexic or developmentally delayed or younger or who has less support at home or isn’t a native speaker? Is there a good reason for a child who is chronically behind others to get a daily dose of shaming through visual comparison with the home grown skill star? Implicit shaming is not an appropriate tool for improving the performance of children or adults for that matter.  There are better ways to inspire effort and celebrate attainment.

Even if all her students’ stars and daisies align, there’s also the problem of promoting a culture of extrinsic reward. It is not the best way to develop the best in people. It does not build agency; it turns learning and doing into merely the means to an unrelated end.   It’s a seemingly small error in kindergarten.  How much agency does a 5 year old need? And 5 year olds are brimming with intrinsic desire to learn. But follow that track as it diverges down the road, and it will matter.  By the time children educated on a steady diet of extrinsic reward get to middle school, many of them will be entirely disinterested in learning, doing and creating for its own sake.   Learning is something that is done to them for purposes other than learning. They’ll be fully ready to trade in their opportunity to invest in themselves for the lesser daisy of being weighed, measured and rewarded (or at least not found wanting).   They will divide themselves into winners and losers in the school game. Those who have had real and lamentable delays already will have had years of being demoralized by comparison, and many of those who experienced success will be reduced to grade grubbing as they root after more reward.  There will a wonderful few who have thriving, curious minds, but for many, their natural curiosity will have been tested and rewarded or punished right out of them.

I do not fault Ms. Reimer for this error.  It’s common to confuse test scores with what they represent.  Certainly, she wouldn’t be the first to believe that banging out scores is proof positive that she’s a good (maybe even great) teacher.  And in the current Race To The Top accountability culture, what teacher wouldn’t love a clean and quantified data stream that seems to say, “Good job! Your daisy, too, is moving up the wall.”  At any rate, she’ll have done one good thing; by the time her students leave her, they will have checked off a whole list of small competencies.  They will be aimed at and ready to chase after next year’s daisies.  What more could there possibly be to teaching?

After all, what difference does it make that the kindergartner who came to school full of desire to learn and discover has ended up a happy little test taker who values nothing so much as the moving daisy.  There are rewards for daisies and data points.  As a teacher, I think these are the accomplishments of average teaching…  she has done the job of preparing her students for the next phase… every flower has moved.  And, when they get to me in middle school, I will be grateful for their skill base.  Nonetheless, I will spend the better part of each year trying to get them to unlearn her best lesson.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Building a Better Teacher

Taken from 99%.com,  an annotated list of the top 10 traits of project managers, paraphrased and repurposed for the classroom.  A good teacher will:
1. Command respect naturally. In other words, they don’t need borrowed power from administration in order to get the behavior they need from their students —  They are optimistic people  who are viewed in a favorable light by their students and are valued by administration
2. Possess quick sifting abilities, knowing what to note and what to ignore. This can be repurposed both in terms of classroom management skills and ability to differentiate for individual students.  In both cases, being aware and on top of what’s important and what can be put aside is key.
3. Set, observe, and re-evaluate instructional priorities frequently. They review their content and their objectives regularly.  They self assess naturally.
4. Ask good questions and listen to stakeholders. Great teachers don’t just go through the motions. They care about communication and the opinions of the students and parents. They are also sufficiently self-aware to know how their communication is received by those stakeholders.
5. Do not use information as a weapon or a means of control. They communicate clearly, completely, and concisely. All the while giving others real information about performance.  They do not dangle grades as a means of maintaining control.
6. Adhere to predictable communication schedules, recognizing that it’s the only deliverable early in a project cycle. All this takes place after very thorough pre-execution planning to eliminate as many variables as possible.
7. Possess expertise in classroom management and child development.  They have a broad range of additional skills that they can apply to particular circumstances. It’s not just that they have generic classroom management skills, they have an understanding of what is needed for different class dynamics and age groups with which they are familiar.  They have a deep familiarity with  multiple fields that gives them a natural authority and solid  insight that they can bring to bear informally as the occasion arises.
8. Exercise independent and fair consensus-building skills when conflict arises. But they embrace only as much conflict as is absolutely necessary, neither avoiding nor seeking grounds for control. It is important for students to understand that the teacher is the final authority where needed, but also trust that they will be allowed to establish and exercise their own expertise within the structure of the classroom.
9. Cultivate and rely on extensive informal networks inside and outside the the school to solve problems that arise. They identify any critical issues that threaten the school culture or the viability of the classroom (vs. ignoring them).  They expose themselves to new ideas and build new competencies. They seek out people who can support them in their goals for their students and their careers.
10. Look forward to going to work! They believe that working in the classroom is an end in itself.  The truly great ones view teaching as a career and not a necessary step to take toward some other career. They treat it like a profession by seeking additional training and education, by establishing contacts with other teachers, and by sharing information with colleagues.
***

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment