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.


John Wooden’s favorite poems: They ask me why I teach

February 14, 2014

I played high school football.  Untalented in virtually every other sport, I kept my place in 6th Period Athletics working with the basketball team, keeping statistics and keeping the official score book when we traveled. That was in the era when UCLA’s basketball team dominated the NCAA championships (save for 1966, when Texas Western managed to sneak out of the west and take the title from Kentucky . . . a story for another occasion).  I cannot count the times coaches discussed the wizardry of the coach at UCLA, who seemed to be able to weave a winning team from any talent.

Our basketball team had some great talents — Stan Crump, Clark Hansen, Jim Brock, Steve Whitehead, Craig Davis, Parke Hansen and Sam Robinson come to mind.  But we played up a level in our league play, and rarely won.  Injuries kept the seven I named from playing together in any one game through their last season.  Brock, Whitehead and Parke Hansen would have been the most formidable front three in our league, including the schools twice our size; I’d have to check to see if we were able to get two of them on the floor at the same time in even half our games. Never all three.  Wooden’s ability to win constantly at UCLA was both an inspiration and a taunt.

Our football coach used to say you win games, or you build character.  We built a lot of character, in football and basketball.

In our junior year, we got a new wrestling coach who followed many of the tenets of John Wooden — and the wrestling team won the state championship in our senior year.  Mark Sanderson led the team; his younger brother Steve Sanderson followed him, adopted winning ways, and went on to father the great Sanderson wrestlers out of Heber, Utah.  Winning can be contagious when solid teaching meets young talent.

In my senior year (IIRC) my sister bagged a couple of tickets for the NCAA basketball regionals, at the University of Utah.  I got to see our local powerhouse (then) Weber State, and ultimately, the winning UCLA Bruins crush all comers.

John Wooden

John Wooden

Years later, when I consulted with corporations, especially on quality and excellence in performance. I often came across framed quotations from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach — often framed, or etched in brass or stone, hanging on the wall of executives.  Wooden’s words on getting great performance rang true with crew bosses, executives and everybody in between.

In a meeting on the importance of elders in a church congregation, national church officials referred back to the dramatic testimony from people in a California church, who swore an elder in their church had turned their lives around.  Turned out that John Wooden was that Disciples of Christ elder.

How does a guy get so good, and say stuff that is so applicable to peak performance coaching in several different areas?

There’s a new book out on the coach, John Wooden: A Coach’s Life,  by Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis.   Charlie Rose interviewed the author tonight.  At the close, Rose showed a clip of Wooden being interviewed with Bill Walton and Bill Russell; Walton talked about how he’d been inspired by a visit to the Vietnam Memorial with Wooden, and the poetry Wooden recited from memory on that occasion.  Past the age of 90, Wooden recited the poems again, poems he’d memorized for use in his classrooms when he taught high school.

This one is about teachers:

THEY ASK ME WHY I TEACH

They ask me why I teach,
And I reply,
Where could I find more splendid company?
There sits a statesman,
Strong, unbiased, wise,
Another later Webster,
Silver-tongued,
And there a doctor
Whose quick, steady hand
Can mend a bone,
Or stem the lifeblood’s flow.
A builder sits beside him-
Upward rise
The arches of a church he builds, wherein
That minister will speak the word of God,
And lead a stumbling soul to touch the Christ.
And all about
A lesser gathering
Of farmer, merchants, teachers,
Laborers, men
Who work and vote and build
And plan and pray
Into a great tomorrow
And I say,
“I may not see the church,
Or hear the word,
Or eat the food their hands will grow.”
And yet- I may.
And later I may say,
“I knew the lad,
And he was strong,
Or weak, or kind, or proud,
Or bold, or gay.
I knew him once,
But then he was a boy.”

Author of the poem, Glennice L. Harmon

Glennice L. Harmon, author of the poem, “They Ask Me Why I Teach”

They ask me why I teach, and I reply,
“Where could I find more splendid company?”

*  They Ask Me Why I Teach,” by Glennice L. Harmon, in NEA Journal 37, no. 1 (September 1948): 375

Why do you teach?

More:


Smashing December 27: Carry Nation’s “temperance” campaign comes to Wichita

December 27, 2013

Carry Nation is a character Texas students should be learning about, but there is rarely more than a paragraph’s mention of her in the usual high school history texts.  Students guided by smart teachers might find more about Ms. Nation, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Temperance Movement in general as it played out against the Progressive era, the creation and passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, authorizing an income tax, and the imposition of Prohibition after the passing of the 18th Amendment.

They’re all linked together in what I regard as a fascinating series of stories.

Two days after Christmas 1900, Carry Nation attacked the bar at the Carey Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, the town she was living in at the time, and exploded into history.

From Kansas Memory:  A photograph showing the Carey Hotel Bar in Wichita, Kansas after Carry Nation threw rocks to break the mirror during a temperance protest, December 27, 1900.  Kansas Historical Foundation

From Kansas Memory: A photograph showing the Carey Hotel Bar in Wichita, Kansas after Carry Nation threw rocks to break the mirror during a temperance protest, December 27, 1900. Kansas Historical Foundation

(Did I mention she was a school teacher at the time?)

Dickinson, Kansas Marshal Benham escorting Carry Nation out of a saloon, or fight, probably in 1901.  Photo from the Dickinson County Historical Society

Dickinson, Kansas Marshal Benham escorting Carry Nation out of a saloon, or fight, probably in early 1901, a few days after her attack on the saloon in the Carey Hotel in Wichita. Photo from the Dickinson County Historical Society

This part of the story below is completely cribbed from the Library of Congress’s “Today in History” feature, which you should be reading at least daily (Those guys do great work, and I usually can’t top it):

Temperance

From the Library of Congress:

From the Library of Congress: “Strike for the Cause of Temperance,” Words by A.W. Carr, music by W. F. Heath, 1878. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870-1885

Strike For The Cause Of Temp’rance,
Wield In Your Mightiest Blow…”Strike for the Cause of Temperance,”
Words by A.W. Carr, music by W. F. Heath, 1878.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870-1885

On December 27, 1900, Carry Nation brought her campaign against alcohol to Wichita, Kansas, when she smashed the bar at the elegant Carey Hotel. Earlier that year, Nation had abandoned the nonviolent agitation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in favor of direct action that she called “hatchetation.” Since the Kansas Constitution prohibited alcohol, Nation argued that destroying saloons was an acceptable means of battling the state’s flourishing liquor trade.

Born in Kentucky in 1846, Carry Amelia Moore accompanied her family to Missouri in the 1850s. Her first husband, a physician, died of alcohol-related illness early in their marriage, leaving her to support herself, her young daughter, and her mother-in-law. Carry earned a teaching certificate and taught primary school for four years, before losing her position. At this point, according to her autobiography, she prayed that she would find a suitable husband. In 1877, she met and married David Nation–in just six weeks.

Arriving in Kansas in the 1890s, she became active in mainstream temperance organizations. The failure of Kansas authorities to enforce the ban on alcohol initially rallied some support for Nation’s attacks. However, her extreme methods and unladylike behavior ultimately distanced Nation from state and national temperance societies.

Eventually, state fairs and medicine show tours became Nation’s pulpit and source of financial security. Dressed in stark black and white, she promulgated her equally unambiguous views against liquor, tobacco, fraternal orders, and excessive fashion. Freeman Willis of New Hampshire encountered her on the state fair circuit. He later recalled the incident for a WPA interviewer:

The Belknap County Fair at Laconia was a great time for Dr. Greene. He had Carrie Nation…yes, hatchet and all…out there, once, for advertising. He spent a pile of money on advertising. And while Carrie was there the town was hers…as much of it as Dr. Greene’s money could buy.”An Old Yankee Innkeeper; His Story,” New Hampshire
Henry H. Pratt, interviewer, ca. 1938-39.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940

Yet, Nation’s celebrity was based more on her notoriety as a hatchet-wielding saloon buster than for an appreciation of her cause. Willis recounts that he saw Nation a second time at the Buffalo State Fair. There, she complained, “they don’t believe…a lot of them don’t…that I’m the real Carrie Nation. They think I’m a fake…dressed up to imitate Carrie. I wish you’d tell them I am the real Carrie.”

Many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reformers supported the prohibition of alcohol. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton often urged adoption of temperance legislation. Lacking legal rights to their property, their wages, and even their children, women’s lives in the nineteenth century were easily devastated if the men they depended on “took to drink.”

Learn more about Carry Nation and the movement to prohibit alcohol in the United States:

More:

Carry Nation and her hatchet. Photo from the Kansas Historical Society

Carry Nation and her hatchet. Photo from the Kansas Historical Society


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.”


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:


Deming and Peters, and teacher evaluations

October 12, 2013

Before I was a teacher, I led a tough band of people at the Department of Education, and I plied corporate America (among other jobs).  I spent a couple of years in American Airlines‘s corporate change project, facilitating leadership courses for more than 10,000 leaders in the company, as one of a team of about 20 inside consultants.  I had a fine time in management consulting with Ernst & Young LLP (now EY).

W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming, Wikipedia image

Back then “quality” was a watchword.  Tom Peters’s and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.‘s book, In Search of Excellence, showed up in everybody’s briefcase.  If your company wasn’t working with Phillip Crosby (Quality is Free), you were working with Joseph Juran, or the master himself, W. Edwards Deming.  If your business was highly technical, you learned more mathematics and statistics  that you’d hoped never to have to use so you could understand what Six Sigma meant, and figure out how to get there.

Joseph Juran. Another exemplar of the mode of leadership that takes lawyers out of law, putting them to good work in fields not thought to be related.

Joseph Juran. Another exemplar of the mode of leadership that takes lawyers out of law, putting them to good work in fields not thought to be related.

For a few organizations, those were heady times.  Management and leadership research of the previous 50 years seemed finally to have valid applications that gave hope for a sea change in leadership in corporations and other organizations.  In graduate school I’d been fascinated and encouraged by the work of Chris Argyris and Douglas McGregor.  “Theory X and Theory Y” came alive for me (I’m much more a Theory Y person).

Deming’s 14 Points could be a harsh checklist, harsh master to march to, but with the promise of great results down the line.

A lot of the work to get high quality, high performance organizations depended on recruiting the best work from each individual.  Doing that — that is, leading people instead of bossing them around — was and is one of the toughest corners to turn.  Tough management isn’t always intuitive.

For the salient example here, Deming’s tough statistical work panics workers who think they will be held accountable for minor errors not their doing.  In a traditional organization, errors get people fired.

Deming’s frequent point was that errors are not the worker’s doing, but instead are caused by managers, or by managerial failure to support the worker in getting quality work.  In any case, Deming comes down hard against firing people to try to get quality.  One of his 14 points is, “Drive out fear.”  In his seminars and speeches, that point was explained with, among other things, a drive to do away with annual performance reviews (wow, did that cause angst and cognitive dissonance at Ernst & Young!).  Performance reviews rarely touch on what a person needs to do to create quality, and generally the review session becomes a nit-picking exercise that leaves ratees angry, and less capable and willing to do quality work.  So Deming was against them as usually practiced.

Fast forward to today.

American schools are under fire — much of that fire unjustified, but that’s just one problem to be solved.  Evaluations of teachers is a big deal because many people believe that they can fire their way to good schools.  ‘Just fire the bad teachers, and the good ones will pull things out.’

Yes, that’s muddled thinking, and contrary to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, there is no research to support the general idea, let alone specific applications.

Education leaders are trained in pedagogy, and not in management skills, most often — especially not in people leadership skills.  Teacher evaluations?  Oh, good lord, are they terrible.

Business adviser and healer, Tom Peters (from his website, photo by Allison Shirreffs)

Business adviser and healer, Tom Peters (from his website, photo by Allison Shirreffs)

In some search or other today I skimmed over to Tom Peters’s blog — and found this short essay, below.  Every school principal in America should take the three minutes required to read it — it will be a solid investment.

dispatches from the new world of work

Deming & Me

W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru-of-gurus, called the standard evaluation process the worst of management de-motivators. I don’t disagree. For some reason or other, I launched several tweets on the subject a couple of days ago. Here are a few of them:

  • Do football coaches or theater directors use a standard evaluation form to assess their players/actors? Stupid question, eh?
  • Does the CEO use a standard evaluation form for her VPs? If not, then why use one for front line employees?
  • Evaluating someone is a conversation/several conversations/a dialogue/ongoing, not filling out a form once every 6 months or year.
  • If you (boss/leader) are not exhausted after an evaluation conversation, then it wasn’t a serious conversation.
  • I am not keen on formal high-potential employee I.D. programs. As manager, I will treat all team members as potential “high potentials.”
  • Each of my eight “direct reports” has an utterly unique professional trajectory. How could a standardized evaluation form serve any useful purpose?
  • Standardized evaluation forms are as stupid for assessing the 10 baristas at a Starbucks shop as for assessing Starbucks’ 10 senior vice presidents.
  • Evaluation: No problem with a shared checklist to guide part of the conversation. But the “off list” discussion will by far be the most important element.
  • How do you “identify” “high potentials”? You don’t! They identify themselves—that’s the whole point.
  • “High potentials” will take care of themselves. The great productivity “secret” is improving the performance of the 60% in the middle of the distribution.

Tom Peters posted this on 10/09/13.

I doubt that any teacher in a public elementary or secondary school will recognize teacher evaluations in that piece.

And that, my friends, is just the tip of the problem iceberg.

An enormous chasm separates our school managers in this nation from good management theory, training and practice.  Walk into almost any meeting of school administrators, talk about Deming, Juran, Crosby, and you’re introducing a new topic (not oddly, Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, sits on the shelf of many principals — probably unread, but certainly unpracticed).

Texas works to make one standardized evaluation form for every teacher in every grade, in every subject, in every school.  Do you see anything in Peters’s advice to recommend that?  In many systems, teachers may choose whether evaluators will make surprise visits to the classroom, or only scheduled visits.  In either case, visits are limited, generally fewer than a dozen visits get made to a teacher’s classroom in a year.  The forms get filled out every three months, or six weeks.  Take each of Tom’s aphorisms, it will be contrary to the way teacher evaluations usually run.

Principals, superintendents, you don’t have to take this as gospel.  It’s only great advice from a guy who charges tens of thousands of dollars to the greatest corporate leaders in the world, to tell them the same thing.

It’s not like you want to create a high-performing organization in your school, is it?

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,370 other followers

%d bloggers like this: