Archive for the ‘education reform’ category

Parasitic “Reformers” Upset as Obey Tries to Save “Edujobs”

July 1, 2010

What is an edujob?  An edujob is a fancy way that some supposed reformers like to refer to teachers.  It sounds like these are jobs that add nothing to a school and simply are adults getting in the way of a child’s education—what’s sad is that is exactly how many of these so-called reformers feel about teachers. With a new Twilight movie opening last night to the delight of junior high school girls across the country, it’s ironic that the educational vampires are out in force today, looking to suck the life blood out of public education in the name of profit.

So why the Orwellian language?   The answer is simple.  Who with one degree of common sense would push for building more charter schools or Race to the Trough funding for innovation, while at the same time cutting hundreds of thousands of teachers from the schools of this country and jamming more and more students into a classroom?

Congressman David Obey (D-WI) seeing the crisis that some have referred to as a teacherpocalypse has tried to cobble together the funds to save teacher jobs.  His bill would would cut $500 million from the Race to the Top, $200 million from the teacher incentive fund (TIF), and $100 million from the charter school program.  It would also secure $10 billion to save 140,000 teacher jobs in this coming school year.

Congressman  Obey explained his action this way,  “When a ship is sinking, you don’t worry about redesigning a room, you worry about keeping it afloat.”

His point is that without qualified teachers in the classroom, what is the point of education reforms–especially when many of them are designed to track teacher performance.  If you have nobody to track, there is no reason to pay money to track them. Unfortunately, those profiteers who see a $400 billion dollar industry and want a nice healthy slice, are up in arms. Again using Orwellian language they ask people to sign the Stand4Children petition unaware of the irony when students in public school classrooms could be jammed in so tightly next year that there are no room for students to do anything, but stand.

Support Representative Obey’s bill to at least keep public school class sizes at a level that frankly is already too large, to keep qualified and certified teachers in the classroom where the latest study shows they continue to outperform their charter school peers, keep education free from the greedy hands of hedge fund managers, and support keeping public education public.  Call your Member of Congress via the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 225-3121 and let them know you support the Obey amendment for education.

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Supposed Education Reformers Don’t Do Irony

April 20, 2010

Following the #RTTT channel on Twitter, I’ve noticed that the neo-liberal education reformers who post on there seem terribly deficient in their ability to notice irony.   Maybe that’s why so many people who seem intent on destroying the public  education system as we know it and exacerbating the differences between the haves and have nots always have happy fuzzy bunny names like Education Equality Now or something.  If you want to understand neo-liberal education reform, you have to follow the money and that means following it into dark alleys.   There’s a reason that Goldman-Sachs has been so active in promoting this garbage.   There’s a great deal of money at stake here if you know where to look.

New York: Some supporters of New York Charter schools have been fuming at the thought of an open discussion about charter schools.  Instead they want to blindly raise the charter cap.  In the New York Post today Thomas Carroll cried union conspiracy. I can’t help wondering if it’s his own misdeeds that have him scared.  The main villain in this drama is State Senator Bill Perkins who has called for a public hearing.  In the hearing notice he says, “The purpose of this hearing is to examine the business of charter schools by reviewing their development as a privatized solution to public education.  Towards this end, we will hear from parents, educators, legislators, elected officials, advocates, charter operators, and other relevant authorities at the city and state level.”  Scandalous.  I can see why those education reformers who keep saying we need more accountability would be terrified of such a hearing.

West Virginia: If anything should have reminded this country of the importance of labor unions, it was the explosion at a Massey Coal Mine in West Virginia a few ago.   There was an excellent writeup of the American Legislative Exchange Council and their role in the Massey tragedy.   What the article leaves out is the soulless right wing’s involvement in the education reform movement.  Do a google search on ALEC and education and you get plenty of that terrific free market anti-union chatter.   Don’t be fooled.   They’re against coal miners being unionized just as much as they’re against teachers being unionized.

Florida: Governor Charlie Crist has been viciously attacked for vetoing one of the most misguided education reforms ever to make it through a state legislature (and that’s saying something).   The SB6 legislation would have ended tenure and seniority as well as a lot of local control and give all teachers a salary based on one standardized test.  The Republican governor said his April 15 veto was not about politics. But he acknowledged an outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, and local school officials around the state had an effect.  The response to the veto was swift:

Neal Boortz said, “Crist traded improvements for Florida government schools and the welfare of students for support from the teacher’s unions for an independent bid for the Senate Seat. For Crist political power and perks come before the welfare of Florida’s schoolchildren.”

It is very disappointing that Governor Crist abandoned the children of Florida and sided with the teachers union,” Gingrich said. “Florida had a real chance to reform education on behalf of children.”

What nobody seemed to point out in questioning whether Crist was for sale in his opposition to this great piece of legislation was that the bill’s sponsor James Thrasher was already bought and paid for by two out of state testing companies  who gave Thrasher’s lobbying firm up to $190,000 in cash between 2008-2009.  Yep, sometimes you just have to follow the money.

Honored by Obama–Silenced by the Chicago Board of Education

February 25, 2010

Yesterday, I completed my transformation from observer to activist when I spoke at the Chicago Board of Education meeting where they cast a cowardly vote to close or overhaul six Chicago Public Schools.  The day began at 4AM.  I won’t pretend to be a modern day Joe Hill–part of the reason I was up early was to tidy up for my cleaning lady.    However, I was on the 5:38 downtown where I stood for 2 hours in line so that I could get a chance to speak to the board.   It was a long and exhausting day and the local NBC affiliate interviewed me so I got a quick shot of fame with my friends and coworkers.  It was a sad event though seeing people who fought so hard for their schools being closed down.  There was, however, one amazing moment.

Shantell Steve was recognized by Barack Obama in a speech earlier this year, “And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.”

I read an the comments in the Sun-Times story about Shantell and one idiot said, “We all know that being an “honor” student at a Chicago Public School is akin to being a special ed student at a suburban school.”  Not only would very few suburban students be able to make it in this girl’s circumstances.  Very few city kids could either.

Shantell and Kellina Mojica were recognized by the Board at the beginning of the meeting for winning second and third place in the Democracy in Action Awards, which are citizenship awards given to high school students.  The Board had told them that they would be speaking at the meeting, but suddenly pulled  a switcharoo and instead called on the honorary student member of the board who was given an award by the Dusable History Museum to speak for all 3 students.

The problem is that both Kellina and Shantell are powerful speakers as well as students at Julian High School.  They have seen first hand how destructive the board’s turnarounds have been as the students unwanted by the turnaround schools have been shipped off to Julian.  Shantell and Kellina were going to speak about closing schools and the board knew it, so they muzzled them.   The Board has always been irony challenged, but this goes above and beyond the call of hypocritical behavior.     As Linda Lutton of WBEZ put it, “The board has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to say, and they’re gonna talk about school closings, because they have before, and I was sitting at the meeting thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna get off to a fiery start.’”

Fortunately there was help.  Carol Caref like me is a CORE member.  She’s a very petite white haired woman who has a calm and gentleness to her that belies the kind of strong willed patience that can stop a tank.   She was called on to be one of the last people to speak on a day where many people expressed their anger at the board. Carol was firm in a showdown with Board Vice-President Clare Munana.

Finally, Carol prevailed and a tearful Shantell took the microphone.   Even at her young age, her activism has taught her exactly what was going on.   The Board knew how she felt, saw the CORE button she was wearing, and tried to censor her.  She told the Board that she had lived through the turnarounds and knew the kind of destruction that they caused first hand.   She told the Board how she felt  “disrespected” by being invited to speak — but not allowed to speak. “They all talk about ‘children first,’ but when a student got up to speak, they wouldn’t give the student a minute.”

It’s pretty amazing when a mutli-billion dollar organization like the Chicago Board of Education shows such fear of  a couple of high school girls.   I was once terrified of high school girls, but I was a high school boy at the time.   These girls are amazing speakers, but I guess in Chicago the only thing we have to fear is free speech.

Judgment at Central Falls Part 3

February 20, 2010

Central Falls Police Sgt. Wayne Solan carries a shotgun at the main entrance of Central Falls High School

[Continued from Part 2]

It was a wet Rhode Island Monday April 28, 2008 when Maida Lopez entered Central Falls High School.   There were already over 40 parents in a chaotic jumble in the main office trying to find their children so they could bring them home from school for the day.   The city of Central Falls has big city problems.  In the 1980s, it was called the cocaine capital of New England, but it was still a postage stamp size town of just over a square mile.   Over the weekend, two teenage boys had been shot and killed including 16-year-old Central Falls student Edelmiro Roman who was found unarmed at the corner of Dexter and Darling Streets, possibly in retaliation for the killing of a 19-year-old boy the night before.  This is life in Central Falls.

I won’t paint the town as overly bleak.  Like anywhere in America, the vast majority of the people here are hardworking and trying to get by.  The town’s median income is only $22,000 and many of the residents are immigrants from all over the world.   Central Falls Guidance Counselor George McLaughlin says, “There is an odd sort of respect in that school for teachers.”  He points out that while kids will sometimes spout an obscenity at a teacher, they will put a “sir” at the end of it.

Central Falls High School has the most transient student population in the state, the highest percentage of students who don’t speak English and a high percentage of special-needs students. More than 90 percent of students live in poverty.  This isn’t to say the students aren’t capable, but when you grow up in this environment, you usually have more important things on your mind than who to ask to the prom.   Teachers are constantly adjusting and readjusting to classes that don’t end the year with many of the students who began the year.   Transient students are also far more likely to drop out and as a result Central Falls has had their graduation rate suffer.

Despite difficult circumstances these teachers are making a difference.   It simply isn’t in the political interests of the district to acknowledge it.   Disraeli is credited with the famous quote,  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

When Superintendent Gallo points to standardized test scores that supposedly show Central Falls failing she doesn’t point out, on the 2009 NECAP reading scores (teaching year), Central Falls is right in the middle of the state’s large urban high schools. At 56% proficiency they are behind the lower-poverty ones (Tolman, 64%; Shea, 62%; Woonsocket, 60%), tied with The MET and Providence Academy for International Studies, and ahead of Central (51%), Hope Leadership (49%), Hope IT (47%), and Alvarez (44%) in Providence.

The Hope schools are of particular note since they went through a “fire the teachers” restructuring process a few years ago. There is no particular reason to expect the results of Central Falls restructuring to be any different.  Now, I don’t believe that standardized tests show you much outside of household income, but Central Falls ranking among similar schools is never mentioned nor is the fact that these same students at Central Falls only had 22% proficiency on the 7th grade tests, 5 years earlier.

Students at Central Falls do the same things that dedicated teachers in all urban districts do.   They help take over some of the responsibilities that would be taken care of by parents in more affluent communities–including providing clothing, food, and support when parents are unable too.  They make the best of a bad situation and they try and produce scholars.   Sometimes, the burdens are too much and they succeed only in producing solid citizens.   Sometimes, the best you can do is provide a safe place for 7 hours a day where a student can be warm and fed.   The teachers who can do these things day in and day out deserve respect and admiration.   Instead they usually get vitriol.   In the final part of this series, I will explain why Central Falls is so important to the future of education in this country.

[Continued in Part 4]


The Myth of Freedom Writers

February 15, 2010

From time to time, I’ll look at the links that Word Press puts at the bottom of my articles.   I do this because I hope to see what other bloggers are saying on similar topics.   A post I did on Guggenheim Elementary took me to this little nugget today, “In order to achieve quality education, we must educate and hire quality teachers. In this day and age however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get new teachers into the field. A majority of the educators you find in the inner city are young. This is an effective combination because the enthusiastic young teachers are driven to make a positive impression on their students.”

Now, I don’t want to pick on the writer of this blog.  The blog belongs to a student at the University of Oregon.   However, I am increasingly seeing the myth of the young teacher as educational savior and I see it championed by people who should know better.  Teach for America is built on this myth.

The Myth of Freedom Writers: A young, attractive teacher comes into a rough inner-city school where the old, physically ugly, burned out teachers have given up on teaching and the administration encourages that type of burned out behavior.   The teacher who knows nothing of the urban teaching environment has a rough few days, but then wins her students respect, which only makes the rest of the school that much more against her.  She makes huge sacrifices in her personal life and eventually her students learn. There is a terrible incident that shakes her class, but she helps them to rise above it.

Now before I continue, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with young, energetic, attractive teachers.   However, what usually happens to a caring first year teacher is better illustrated by the character of Mister Prezbo in The Wire.  He’s been a cop in the worst part of Baltimore, but he’s not able to get control of a class of 30 8th graders until the experienced teacher from across the hall comes in and takes control of the situation.  The first half of the first year for most new teachers will be chaos.   The good ones will eventually learn what they’re doing and become excellent teachers.   The others will burn themselves out very quickly and be out of the classroom (usually in educational policy telling teachers what to do) in 2 or 3 years.

Innovation is not Dictated by Age: My mother was a more innovative teacher at 70 than I will ever be.  She had me teach her how to use a computer and she redesigned her school’s whole math curriculum when research showed multiplication and division were more effectively taught together.   At my current school, our two biggest innovators are women in the 60s who have a passion to keep up on what’s going on.

Youth and Experience Have Different Strengths: Young teachers do have more energy, but that doesn’t make them better teachers.  Unfocused energy doesn’t accomplish much of anything.  A good school should have a variety of ages in the faculty because that promising first year teacher isn’t going to alway know what to do and that’s when an experienced colleague can really make a difference.  The best new teachers I have known, have had a mentor that worked very closely with them.

At my second teaching assignment, our school was terribly overcrowded.   A brand new school was opened up and our boundaries were redrawn.  17 teachers lost their jobs and 600 students went to the new school.  Our principal called to try and get those 17 teachers jobs, but the new school would have none of it.  They were in partnership with a college and they wanted their entire faculty to come from their teacher program.   Despite having resources that my school couldn’t even dream of, the student behavior was terrible and when they got their standardized test scores back, they went into panic mode.   They called my principal to ask how we did so well and she told him, “You’ve got all new teachers.  What did you think would happen?”

We All Need Help: The easiest way to find out which new teachers will make it is to find out who is open to help and to new ideas.   Teach for America brainwashes their students into believing that all older teachers are part of the problem.   Some TFA teachers break through their programming others persist that they know everything no matter how badly they are floundering.  As a second career teacher, I have a lot of respect for people who decided later in life that they would make teaching their career.  I really don’t have much respect for 22 year olds who decided that with the job market tight, they’d teach for a couple of years. Then, after they saved the world they’d do something else and make the big money.

Older Teachers are at Risk: Opponents of tenure say that it protects bad teachers.   However, it also protects older teachers who may be a little bit more expensive.  Why pay a 50 year old $60,000 a year when you can pay a 22 year old $35,000?  Some programs like Teach for America are ushering in scores of poorly trained young teachers into the classrooms and have the contracts to guarantee spots.  I love To Sir With Love as pure entertainment and I do believe there is room for Mark Thackeray in the classroom, it is just that I also believe there is room for Charles Chipping and Glenn Holland.

Education Reform and the Status Quo

February 8, 2010

  • “Education is the most important problem facing the United States today”
  • “Only the massive upgrading of the scholastic standards of our schools will guarantee the future prosperity and freedom of the Republic.”
  • “The chronic shortage of good scientists, engineers, and other professionals which plagues us today is the result of time wasted in public schools.”

The above three quotes come from the father of the atomic submarine, Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1958.   In 1962 Rickover wrote the book Swiss Schools and ours:  Why Theirs are Better. He showed how much more was  expected of students in Russia, Switzerland, Holland, and England and why the United States was doomed to failure unless it fixed it’s chronically failing education system.  The students who were in American schools at the time are between about 50 and 65 and somehow we’re still not under Swiss domination.

  • “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people”
  • “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

These quotes are from a Nation at Risk, which was published by the Reagan administration in 1983.   They looked at why test scores had dropped dramatically from 1963 on the SAT test and concluded that if we didn’t fix our education system immediately.  This is considered a watershed moment in modern education reform and a report was prepared in 2008 on the 25th anniversary that chided the nation for failing to implement the report’s recommendations.    What people fail to recognize is that in 1990, when George HW. Bush’s Secretary of Energy Admiral James Watkins commissioned Sania Laboratories to document the study with actual data they broke down the scores into subgroups and discovered that while the overall scores did decline, the scores of all the subgroups had increased.  When the systems scientists broke down the SAT test scores into subgroups they discovered contradictory data. While the overall average scores declined, the subgroups of students increased.  This is known as the Yule-Simpson effect in statistics and simply means that more minorities and lower income children were taking the SATs.  The report came out with little fanfare and was basically buried by people with a vested interest in showing how poor our schools were.

The students in school in 1983 are roughly between 30 and 44 today and speaking on behalf of my generation, I am delighted to say that we still haven’t ruined the country yet, although we did come awfully closes between 2001 and 2008.  My point is not that the tradition of education reform goes back to 1958 because anybody who has ever sat through an education history class knows that it goes back a lot longer than that.   My point is to show that wrongheaded education reformers warning that the sky is falling go back a long way.  In truth, the strength of our country has been our public education system whose rapid assimilation of a constant immigrant population into good citizens is a wonder of our modern world.

The only two sure ways to improve the quality of education is to improve the quality of the students and the teachers in our schools.   If people believe that the current wave of “reformers” like Michelle Rhee will do anything, but lower the quality of teachers then they are sadly mistaken.   Make teaching a desirable job and people will want to do it and work hard to succeed.  I predict there will be a mass exodus of teachers when this economy does finally turnaround.   Schools are too dependent on people working on their own time for free, for people capable of doing other things to stick around where they feel disrespected.

Improving the quality of students isn’t a case of taking the good ones out of the public schools setting like charter schools attempt to do either by selective enrollment or by quickly dismissing students who don’t “fit in” the way that KIPP does.  The countries that educate their children the best are those with the lowest rates of child poverty and the best child medical care regardless of parental income.  Sadly, we continue to lose sight of the real problem.   Schools don’t fail children, countries do.

Goals Gone Wild

January 15, 2010

I’ve often said that the moment you try to run schools like a business you succeed only in running it like the worst type of top down autocratic business where the big bosses make edicts that have nothing to do with the job reality of their work force.   In other words, think of Chrysler in the 1970s.   I love the blueberry story, which does an excellent job of explaining that since schools have no choice over quality control of our “ingredients” running us like a business is doomed to fail.  However, listening to NPR on the way to meet a friend for dinner tonight, I was struck by story about a paper that was produced last year by scholars from Harvard Business School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, Eller College of Management, and Wharton School entitled Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting.

As the Illinois Senate was busy tying half my teacher evaluation to standardized test scores, I thought it was a particularly relevant paper for those who want to base everything schools do around filling in circles with number two pencils.  The paper argues, ” that the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored. We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for motivation, managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.”

There are some great anecdote’s in the paper such as when Ford was losing market share in the 1960s to foreign competitors and Lee Iacocca set the goal of producing a car that sold for $2,000 and weighed less than 2,000 pounds available for sale by 1970.  The goal and the tight deadline meant that many levels of management signed off on unperformed safety checks.   One of the safety checks involved the fuel tank which had less than 10 inches of crush space behind the rear axle.  As a result, the Ford Pinto had a nasty tendency of bursting into flame on impact.   The result of Iacocca’s Pinto was 53 deaths, millions of dollars in lawsuits, and serious harm to Ford’s reputation.

This doesn’t just apply to business.   This applies to the school setting as well.   The authors of the paper found that:

  • The harmful side effects of goal setting are far more serious and systematic than prior work has acknowledged.
  • Goal setting harms organizations in systematic and predictable ways.
  • The use of goal setting can degrade employee performance, shift focus away from important but non-specified goals, harm interpersonal relationships, corrode organizational culture, and motivate risky and unethical behaviors.
  • In many situations, the damaging effects of goal setting outweigh its benefits.
  • Managers should ask specific questions to ascertain whether the harmful effects of goal setting outweigh the potential benefits.

Do we really believe that the state legislatures around this country are going to be doing anything to monitor these goals to perform a cost/ benefit analysis?   The entire paper can be found here and makes for a very interesting read when looked at through the prism of standardized testing.  I think it might be helpful to look at the harmful side effects one by one:

  1. A Narrow Focus that Neglects Non-Goal Areas – In other words, teaching to the test and ignoring things like critical thinking, writing, art, and socialization.
  2. A Rise in Unethical Behavior – When you base people’s entire livelihood on one test, desperate people will cheat.
  3. Corrosion of Organizational Culture – When everybody is focused on the test, finger pointing will ensue.   The 6th grade teacher will be mad at the 5th grade teacher for things that were not covered in 5th grade.   A strong move is made from teachers as colleagues to competitors.
  4. Reduced Intrinsic Motivation – When everything is about the test score, why bother with anything else?  Why put in extra time on something that won’t increase scores if your job depends mostly on standardized testing?

The authors of the study never say that goal setting is bad.  As teachers, it is something we do all the time.   What they say, however is focusing too much attention on one goal will backfire because it will lead the employees to neglect everything, but the goal.   They offer many examples.  The paper is only 15 pages long and I see so many corollaries between the businesses they talk about and the current education reform movement.   Give it a read.  It’ll make a lot of sense.   I’ll say it again–If you run a school like a business, you run it like a very bad business.