A parable, about why education “reform” isn’t working

October 24, 2014

Well, yeah, it’s a parable, if by parable you mean “a story we blessed well better sit up and pay attention to!”

But it’s a true story.

Our friend, the teacher Kathy Paxton-Williams related the story:

I had an appointment this afternoon and a friend (a retired ESL teacher) was my substitute. Here was her posting this evening:

“I just had the worst subbing experience ever! I was at a local elementary school doing my ESL thing during the very worst of this afternoon’s hideous rainstorm when the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate. The fire dept. showed up, of course. Seriously, it was rainfall of Biblical proportions. The asphalt playground was literally ankle deep and it just kept coming down. We were out there for about 8 minutes with absolutely no shelter. When they finally rang the bell, we couldn’t get back in the building because the key cards wouldn’t work. What a fiasco!!! I had no jacket and no umbrella– and neither did most of the kids. Half of them went into total meltdown. I got soaked all the way through every item of clothing on my body. My shoes were sponges. I had to wring out my bra when I got home (no, not exaggerating). This happened around 1:30, so they decided to notify parents that they could either pick up their kids or bring them dry clothes. Oh, shit, what a nightmare.

Why did this happen you ask? Because the roof leaked– which it has apparently been doing for a few years now– into the fire alarm system and set it off. This is what happens when the useless superintendent gets a 30% raise, hires herself a $15,000/mo consultant to sandbag teachers, and then employs a staff of spin doctors to cover her ass instead of fixing schools. I am not a happy camper!”

Good day for an appointment!

Among the lessons, friends (keep passing the loaves and fishes until everyone has had something to eat, please):

  1. No: more testing, no matter how rigorous nor expensive, will not fix this problem; in fact, diverting money from this problem to make zowie-grosso tests is an enormous part of the problem.
  2. Neither opposing the Common Core State Standards, nor imposing those or any other standards will fix the problem.
  3. No, firing the teachers won’t fix the problemcannot make the roof stop leaking.

This is daily life in classrooms all across America.  In Dallas Independent School District, my classroom regularly heated to 90º in August, February, and every other month.  My colleague across the the hall had a classroom that stayed at 50º, at the same time. No administrator could fix it, they claimed.  I’ve taught in schools where the library roofs leaked, and where classrooms regularly flowed with water in storms.  Worse, I’ve been to schools where those problems occurred from the plumbing and sewer hookups.  Classrooms where the doors don’t close, or open; where the windows are stuck open, or closed; where the room carefully engineered for 22 students had 36 desks and 40 students; where the electrical outlets sparked a glorious 4th of July salute whenever a student would try to sneak a phone charge.

To make schools work, teachers must be able to work.  For teachers to be able to work, we must provide them with all the support that makes any workplace safe, and which makes classrooms comfortable for students and teachers to focus on learning.

Check around your local schools.  Are they in peak physical condition?  Do all the support systems work?  Are the toilets and restrooms clean, working, and safe?

How many tests could fix any of those problems?  How many teachers must be fired to get a roof to stop leaking?

Why would we torture our children, instead of letting them learn?

The most effective school, ever.

The most effective school, ever. “Aristotle and his pupil Alexander,” engraving by Charles Laplante, a french engraver and illustrator, 1866. Wikimedia image. Note the roof does not leak in this school.

More:


Education just like making toasters?

September 30, 2014

Fred Klonsky, the best under-published cartoonist on education issues:

Fred Klonsky tells the truth:

Fred Klonsky tells the truth: “Teaching your kids like making toasters?” “Not my kids. Your kids.”

Also at Klonsky’s blog.


Insta-Millard, education edition: Light on the problems of the Common Core State Standards

December 22, 2013

As if anyone were looking and needed light.  The heat is intense, and the light seems superfluous.

First, Jack Russell Weinstein, a philosopher in North Dakota, of all places, seems to me to have accurately found the issue in Common Core discussions, better than almost anyone else (including Diane Ravitch, at least for succinctness), in a short post at his blog PQED from which this is excerpted:

Jack Russell Weinstein presented the keynote a...

Jack Russell Weinstein presented the keynote address at the 2007 UND Undergraduate Philosophy Conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philosophically then, the question is how to negotiate federal and local power in education. We are also concerned with what counts as expertise. If we combine the two, we are faced with a third issue: who negotiates all of this? When the National Governors’ Association created the new Common Core—the standards that many American school kids will now be evaluated against—they relied more heavily on business than on teachers. They asked Microsoft and the standardized testing companies what they thought, and minimized the input of those who actually teach. They then assumed a purpose that suited their needs: they concluded that students should graduate from high school career and college ready.

Now, these are good goals. Our students should be ready to move on to the next stage of life. But where is the love of literature, the ability to communicate needs and political ideas, the capacity to respect both difference and personal experience at the same time? Where is the understanding of the importance of math, science, and history, and the celebration of being alive, in the world, surrounded by art, music, comedy, and neighbors? Leaving these things out of schooling is a bit like teaching your child to kick a soccer ball while convincing her that she doesn’t deserve the chance. It’s like putting her on a soccer team only to teach her to despise the game. It’s like sending your kids to school while telling them that education and teachers have little value. Surely, the first goal of education, like the first goal of soccer, should be to show why it’s worth doing in the first place.

Looking for a general link to Ravitch’s blog, I stumbled on this post, “Why Teachers Don’t Like Common Core”:

Why do teachers resist the mandates of Common Core?

Dr. Diane Ravitch discussed education reform's problems in Dallas, in April 2010.  Photo by Ed Darrell

Dr. Diane Ravitch discussed education reform’s problems in Dallas, in April 2010. Photo by Ed Darrell

We suggest money spent on the development of these major unresearched and unfunded mandates to implement CCSS be used to alleviate the lack of resources — unequal staffing, support services, and restoration of school libraries, music and art classes, as well as enrichment programs in these schools. Research has shown that this is the way to help even the playing field for the districts in poverty.

Teachers are mind-molders. When they embrace, create and implement meaningful change with their students, they are helping every child reach his or her potential. Teachers embrace constructive, researched change that result in better, meaningful learning. Resistance to the Common Core standards should be understood in this context.

Rabid CSCOPE critics in Texas, dedicated to the tasks of destroying teaching while failing to recognize what they do, won’t understand.  First off they fail to recognize, as Dr. Weinstein explicitly does, that Common Core standards do not come from the federal government, botching the history of education and federal involvement from the get go.  More important, few discussions start out with seeking the common ground we might find by asking the question, what is the purpose of this education system we work on?

Do any of us fully understand?

More:


Insta-Millard Pundit, education edition: The very real war on experienced teachers

December 21, 2013

Veteran teachers take heavy hits from

Veteran teachers take heavy hits from “education reformers” who cut their pay, and reduce benefits, in misguided efforts to “drive poor teachers from the system.” In Photo: Karen Scharrer-Erickson reviews a new teaching tool Thursday with Lisa Schuk, a second-grade teacher at the Academy of Accelerated Learning in Milwaukee. Scharrer-Erickson, 64, said she reluctantly filed for early retirement from Milwaukee Public Schools recently. Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/business/headlines/119892934.html#ixzz2o955nbXI Follow us: @JournalSentinel on Twitter

You should read this article, get angry, and fight education “reformers” who go after teachers.

Indeed, the level of respect afforded to those who have devoted their adult lives to the education of children has diminished to the point that the prevailing zeitgeist suggests that comparably junior members of the profession are somehow inherently superior to their more experienced colleagues.

If it seems like I have travelled down this road before, it because I have. Eighteen months ago, I wrote about how “tenure reform” was an attack on veteran teachers and their employment rights, wrapped in the cloak of “improving education” for kids.

But this new trend is far more sinister. Now, the “reform” crowd (including an alarming number that sell themselves as progressives) don’t merely want the ability to fire veteran teachers. They want to strip them of something that has greater intangible value: their status as mentors and role models for the profession.

File under “daily floggings of teachers will continue until morale improves.”


Again: Motivation 101 – How NOT to

October 18, 2013

This is an encore post, mostly.

“A Swift Kick in the Butt $1.00,” A daily strip of the cartoon series “Calvin and Hobbes,” by Bill Watterson. Watterson appears to have an instinctual understanding of what motivation is not. It’s a topic he returned to with some frequency.

Educators don’t know beans about motivation I think. I still see courses offered on “how to motivate” students to do X, or Y, or Z — or how to motivate faculty members to motivate students to do X.

This view of motivation is all wrong, the industrial psychologists and experience say. A student must motivate herself.

A teacher can remove barriers to motivation, or help a student find motivation. But motivation cannot be external to the person acting.

Frederick Herzberg wrote a classic article for The Harvard Business Review several years back: “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Herzberg would get a group of managers together and ask them, “If I have six week-old puppy, and I want it to move, how do I get it to move?” Inevitably, one of the wizened managers of people would say, “Kick him in the ass!” Is that motivation? Herzberg would ask? Managers would nod “yes.”

Frederick Herzberg, 1923-2000

Frederick Herzberg, 1923-2000

Then, Herzberg would ask what about dealing with the pup six months later. To get the older pup to move, he’d offer a doggie yum, and the dog would come. “Is that motivation?” Herzberg would ask. Again, the managers would agree that it was motivation. (At AMR’s Committing to Leadership sessions, we tried this exercise several hundred times, with roughly the same results. PETA has changed sensitivities a bit, and managers are fearful of saying they want to kick puppies, but they’ll say it in different words.)

Herzberg called this “Kick In The Ass” theory, or KITA, to avoid profanity and shorten the phrase.

Herzberg would then chastise the managers. Neither case was motivation, he’d say. One was violence, a mugging; the other was a bribe. In neither case did the dog want to move, in neither case was the dog motivated. In both cases, it was the manager who was motivated to make the dog move.

Motivation is the desire to do something, the desire and drive to get something done.

Motivating employees is getting them to share the urgency a manager feels to do a task, to go out and do it on their own without being told how to do each and every step along the way.

Motivation is not simply coercing someone else to do what you want, on threat of pain, virtual or real.

Herzberg verified his theories with research involving several thousands of employees over a couple of decades. His pamphlet for HBR sold over a million copies.

Education is wholly ignorant of Herzberg’s work, so far as I can tell. How do I know?

See this, at TexasEd Spectator:

Death threat as a motivation technique

May 23rd, 2008
Education | MySanAntonio.com

The sad part about this is that I bet if a mere, ordinary teacher were to have made some similar statement, he or she would be treated more like the student rather than the principle.

Now imagine if some student at the school had said something along the same lines in a writing assignment. We would be hearing about zero tolerance all over the place. The student would be out of the regular classroom so fast it would make your head spin.

No charges will be brought against New Braunfels Middle School Principal John Burks for allegedly threatening to kill a group of science teachers if their students’ standardized test scores failed to improve, although all four teachers at the meeting told police investigators Burks made the statement.

Kick in the ass, knife in the back, knife in the heart — that ain’t motivation.

As God is my witness, you can’t make this stuff up.

I’m not sure who deserves more disgust, the principal who made the threat and probably didn’t know anything else to do, or the teachers who didn’t see it as a joke, or treat it that way to save the principal’s dignity — or a system where such things are regarded as normal.

Bill Watterson returned to the

Bill Watterson returned to the “Swift Kick in the Butt, $1.00″ strip, but this time with the more lively Hobbes Calvin interacted with most often. What would motivate a cartoonist to do that? Watterson is said to have observed, “People will pay for what they want, but not what they need.” Can school administrators even figure out what teachers and students need?  Which version do you prefer? Which one motivates you?

More:


Oops. Future of education already here; reformers missed it (and so did most teachers)

October 17, 2013

You need to see these slides, from Will Richardson.

First, teachers should send a copy of this to their evaluators, principals, and all other admins up to the superintendent.  Sure, it’s possible they’ll fire you for telling the truth.  But if every teacher in your district did it, they might look at the slides and ponder:  What in the hell do our evaluations and test scores have to do with this new future that is already upon us, and around us, and washing away the foundations of what the state legislature claims we must be doing?

Will Richardson

Will Richardson

Second, this is a model presentation.  Notice how few of the slides are cluttered with words.  Notice those slides with words are easy to read, easy to grasp, and complement and are complemented by a lot of great images.  (One of my students got a less-than-A grade on a PowerPoint presentation in another class, and brought me the evaluation:  “Not enough text,” was one of the criticisms he’d gotten.  That teacher is considered a model by too many administrators.)  It’s not a perfect presentation.  Garr Reynolds would have a lot to say about it.  I’ll wager Richardson’s is better than any other presentation you’ve seen this week, in the content, the depth of information, and the way it’s packaged.  (Would have loved to have seen the presentation . . .)  That is particularly true if you’ve been the victim of teacher professional development sessions in the past week.

There are a lot of slides, partly because so few of them are cluttered by text.  (Don’t know how long the presentation went.)  This presentation would win a case against almost every other slide presentation I’ve ever seen from any law firm, who pay tens of thousands to lawyers to make slide presentations that defy understanding.  The world would be ever so much better were lawyers required to watch this, and compare it with their last presentation.

Third (related to and justifying the first), you need to realize how things have changed in the past year, past five years, past decade, and how we as a society and nation failed to account for those changes, or keep up with them, especially in our public AND private elementary and secondary schools.  Richardson understands the changes, and has some great leads on answers.

This presentation appears to have been a hit.  It seems a few people asked Will Richardson for copies (@WillRich45, www.willrichardson.com), which is why it’s on Slideshare.

Richardson highlights the importance of these thoughts at his blog:

If the recent iPad debacle in Los Angeles teaches us anything it’s that no amount of money and technology will change anything without a modern vision of what teaching and learning looks like when every student and every teacher has access to the Internet. As many of us have been saying for far too long, our strategy to deal with the continuing explosion of technology and connections can’t be to simply layer devices on top of the traditional curriculum and engage in digital delivery. Unfortunately, far too few develop a vision that sees that differently.

*     *     *     *     *

Please note: Technology is integrated throughout these initiatives in ways that serve the vision, not the other way around. This isn’t “let’s give everyone an iPad filled with a lot of textbook and personalized learning apps aimed at improving test scores and then figure out how to manage it.” This is about having important conversations around complex, difficult questions:

  • What will schools look like in the future?
  • What kinds of spaces do we need to support instruction and collaborative work in 5-10 years?
  • How will technology transform curriculum, instruction, and assessment?

And how does it work at your school, teachers?  Students?

We missed the revolution.  The kids are ahead of us.

Can  we catch up?

More:


Gulen schools: A quiet Turkish invasion of U.S. education? Is this a problem?

September 7, 2013

I would have sworn I’d posted in these issues before, but looking back through the archives, I discover I haven’t.

An interesting, perhaps odd, religious cult with Islamic roots moved into the United States several years ago, and started setting up schools for the public.  Hitching on the radical right wing’s creation of public school-killing charter programs, and riding a wave of donations from devotees of the sect, the Gulen movement set up at least one foundation, floated some bonds to build facilities, and established charter schools.  There are 40 of these schools in Texas.

Dallas Morning News photo:  The Harmony School of Nature [on Camp Wisdom Road, west of Duncanville] still isn't ready to open for students.

Dallas Morning News photo: The Harmony School of Nature [on Camp Wisdom Road, west of Duncanville] still isn’t ready to open for students.

My first experience a few years ago came with notice of complaints in the Midland-Odessa area about Islamic schools in the area.

Texas Education Agency spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said the TEA has not received any complaints or unfavorable reports about the schools, which have also received good reviews in U.S. News and World Report.

Local school district officials in Midland and Odessa seemed baffled by the claims.  The flap died down.  It was during one of the creationism eruptions in Texas curricula wars, though, and I called the schools to see what they taught in science.  I got hold of a fellow in Houston who claimed to be the science coordinator for the dozen or so schools then existing in Texas.  He said he was not Muslim, and he told me that the schools do not teach creationism.  In high school, they use the Kenneth Miller-authored texts, and teach evolution.

At that time a facility being constructed near our home, which I had assumed was part of the Wycliff Bible Translating Institute nearby, put up a sign advertising that it would be opening as a charter school.  The Harmony School of Nature and Science sits in the boundaries of Duncanville ISD, but was obviously aimed at pulling students from Dallas ISD and Grand Prairie — or anywhere else parents in Texas are willing to drive from.  I know a few people whose children attend the school, and basically, they like it.  The school seems particularly adept at dealing with very bright special-needs kids.

In efforts to provide a fully-rounded education, our local Harmony School helps sponsor a Cub Scout Pack, which is a program I fully support (don’t get me going on National PTA’s stabbing Scouting in the back . . .)

Not all is rosy.  Officials of the foundation that supports and guides the Harmony schools say their sole intent is to improve education in the U.S., and it’s difficult to find any kind of unsavory indoctrination going on, the reality is that Harmony is becoming a large education system in Texas (and other places) — and some complaints unusual in the U.S. War on Education, or War on Teachers, or War on Children, create ripples.  Some teachers have complained that Turkish nationals get out-of-proportion pay packages to teach in the schools, and that good teachers are being replaced with Turkish nationals.  Some conjecture that this is being done solely to get a lot of Turkish nationals and followers of this particular sect into the U.S. — an enormous, elaborate, and U.S. taxpayer-funded scheme to get around U.S. immigration laws.

Diane Ravitch‘s education blog — the most important education news outlet in the nation right now — carried a post yesterday about more controversy; here’s part of the post (you should read it all at Ravitch’s blog)

Sharon R. Higgins is a parent activist in Oakland, California, who manages multiple websites as a concerned citizen. One is “charter school scandals.” Another is the Broad Report. Third is a compilation of articles about the Gulen movement.

Sharon has long wondered why so many districts, states, and the federal government have turned over a basic public responsibility to foreign nationals, who hire other foreign nationals, and export hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Her concern is not nationalistic or xenophobic. It is about the civic and communal nature of public education.

She writes: “On Saturday I spoke at the “Expose the Gulen Movement” protest rally held on a farm in the rural, rolling hills around Saylorsburg, PA. We assembled less than two miles from the compound where Fethullah Gulen lives. Gulen is considered to be one of the two most powerful men in Turkey. This is the video of my speech, starting at 00:45 min.

http://new.livestream.com/…/AbdEylemVakti/videos/28766474

Earlier that day, Gulenist operatives had driven around to take down the signs that organizers had posted to help guide protesters to the rally. The day before, a man from “the camp” (Gulen’s compound) also attempted to bribe the owners of the farm in an effort to prevent us from using their place.  [continued at Ravitch's site]

I offered my experience in a comment there, but the links snagged it — so I’m repeating it here, with the links restored:  My response at Dr. Ravitch’s blog:

Texas is wholly baffled by the Gulen movement, including especially the teacher-bashing GOP education “reformers.” Hypothetically, they favor the public-school-blood-sucking charters. But things are sometimes different on the ground.

In Texas, the schools are known as Harmony schools. We had a flap several years ago when some charter school advocates discovered, to their dismay, that the schools don’t teach creationism instead of evolution (point in favor of Harmony).

At the time, TEA and local district officials I spoke with were completely unaware of the size of the group establishing and backing the schools.

Today their website lists 40 schools across Texas ( http://www.harmonytx.org/default.aspx ) in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Brownsville, Midland & Odessa, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock and Laredo. Parents I know have been happy with the attention their kids get, and the care paid to science and math education. Complaints in Odessa some time ago centered around the Muslim teachers, but that flap died down.

But — is this trouble? — at least one school in Dallas County (about two miles from me) has been unable to get an occupancy permit to start school this year. Students are being bused to other locations, I understand — but code officials think it may be months before the building can be certified. Does this demonstrate a lack of financial planning and ability on the part of the foundation? Does this indicate animosity from Dallas code officials (public schools in Texas are essentially exempt from local code enforcement, and some districts, like Dallas, take unfair advantage of this; what I know of the difficulties at the new Harmony building are common, never-fixed features of schools in Dallas ISD — I don’t have the full story).

Here’s the notice on the school’s web page [since removed, I think; can't find it this morning, but this is direct quote, verbatim]:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

Even with all our best efforts, we have some additional inspections that will not be completed in time for the start of school Tuesday, September 3. Therefore, we have made alternative plans to accommodate our students for this week. Please drop off your students as you normally would here at the Harmony Nature Campus by 7:50 a.m. for elementary and 8:00 a.m. for middle and high school. We have reserved buses to safely transport students and staff members to the following Harmony Public Schools campuses within our district:

Grades K-3 students will have classes at Harmony Science Academy-Fort Worth.
Grades 4-6 students will have classes at the Harmony Science Academy-Euless.
Grade 7 students will have classes at Harmony Science Academy-Grand Prairie.
Grade 8 students will have classes at Harmony School of Innovation-Fort Worth
High School students will have classes at Hurst Conference Center.

*Harmony Science Academy Fort Worth – 5651 Westcreek Dr. Fort Worth, TX – (817) 263-0700
*Harmony School of Innovation Fort Worth – 8100 S. Hulen St. Fort Worth, TX – (817) 386-5505
*Harmony Science Academy Euless & Harmony School of Innovation Euless – 701 S. Industrial Blvd. Euless, TX – (817) 354 – 3000
*Harmony Science Academy Grand Prairie -1102 NW 7th St, Grand Prairie – (972) 642-9911
Hurst Conference Center: 1601 Campus Drive Hurst, Texas 76054

Dismissal will remain the same: elementary at 2:50pm and middle/ high school will be at 3:15pm at the Nature campus. There will be no afterschool club and aftercare this week.

Please complete and bring the attached permission slip tomorrow with your child. We will also have extra copies for you to sign in the morning. Students should not bring all their supplies tomorrow.

Some of those bus rides are about 30 miles.

Here’s information from the blog on city issues of the Dallas Morning News (this has not hit the education desk, I don’t think): http://cityhallblog.dallasnews.com/2013/09/southern-dallas-charter-school-that-failed-city-inspections-still-not-ready-to-open.html/

Interesting how this group from Turkey managed to figure out where below-radar-level is in all of these states.

Diane, with 40 — or more — schools in Texas, are you sure your total of 146 schools is correct? Has anyone checked the foundation’s 990 forms lately (I’ve not looked in a couple of years). Is there just one foundation, or several?

In Texas these schools are operated by the Cosmos Foundation.  These schools have won explicit support from Texas right-wing “education reformers” like Sen. Dan Patrick, demonstrated by legislation passing the Texas Lege this year,  and have implicit support from right-wing campaigns against Texas public schools which end up promoting Harmony Schools, which have a comparatively politics-free and religion-free curricula agenda.  One might wonder whether the Texas CSCOPE controversy, and the McCarthy-esque witch hunt to find communists among Texas teachers, is not a well-designed campaign to allow expansion of Harmony Schools and other charter school organizations whose very existence might provoke higher scrutiny and public controversy, were there not other political shiny objects distracting people.

There will be more to come; check the blogs noted above, and please check back here.

Update:  Harmony lists 40 schools in Texas with 24,247 students.  In student enrollment, that makes Harmony the 51st largest school district in Texas (out of 933), larger than Denton ISD (23,994), Birdville ISD (23,545), Pflugerville ISD (22,763), Judson ISD (22,040), and Midland (21,736), but smaller than McKinney ISD (24,442), Lamar ISD (24,637), Laredo ISD (24,706), or McAllen ISD (25,622).  Duncanville ISD is about half that size, at 12,902; Dallas ISD has 157,143 students, second to Houston ISD’s 204,245 students. (Schooldigger statistics)

Update, September 8:  Cosmos Foundation — the group operating Harmony schools in Texas — showed 2011 income of just over $168 million, according to the IRS 990 form available through the Foundation Center.

Update 2, September 8: Harmony Nature and Science notified parents late Saturday that the school will be open Monday — which means no buses.  Looking for news reports to confirm.  Here’s a screen capture of the announcement at Harmony’s website:

Screen capture of announcement that school will be held in the school building starting September 9, 2013.

Screen capture of announcement that school will be held in the school building starting September 9, 2013.

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,333 other followers

%d bloggers like this: