April is National Poetry Month 2014 — are you ready?

March 27, 2014

If you ask me, we don’t have enough poetry in our lives.

In bygone times, newspapers carried poems almost daily.  Magazines carried poems in every issue, but today you find fewer poems published in fewer magazines — can you name the periodical publication in which you last saw a poem that caught your eye, or heart?

National Poetry Month poster for 2006

National Poetry Month poster for 2006. Click image for a larger, more inspirational view.

Rhyme and meter power their way into our minds.  Teachers who use poetry find lessons stick longer with students.

Shouldn’t we use a lot more?

Since 1996, several groups including the Academy of American Poets have celebrated National Poetry Month in April.  There are posters,and of course April is a month with several poems to its creditPaul Revere’s Ride, The Concord Hymn, To a Lady with a Guitar, An April Day, The Waste Land, and several poems just about April as a month.

It’s a good time to beef up our poetry tool boxes, if we are managers of organizations, or teachers, or parents, or human.

Poetry lovers gave thought to how to do that, and there are many good recommendations out there.  For example, from Poetry.org, 30 activities for National Poetry Month 2014:

30 Ways to Celebrate

Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day
The idea is simple: select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with co-workers, family, and friends.
Read a book of poetry
“Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.”
Memorize a poem
“Getting a poem or prose passage truly ‘by heart’ implies getting it by mind and memory and understanding and delight.”
Revisit a poem
“America is a country of second acts, so today, why not brush the dust off these classics and give them a fresh read?”
Put poetry in an unexpected place
“Books should be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England: they should be considered utilities.”
Bring a poem to your place of worship
“We define poetry as the unofficial view of being, and bringing the art of language in contact with your spiritual practices can deepen both.”
Attend a poetry reading
“Readings have been occurring for decades around the world in universities, bookstores, cafes, corner pubs, and coffeehouses.”
Play Exquisite Corpse
“Each participant is unaware of what the others have written, thus producing a surprising—sometimes absurd—yet often beautiful poem.”
Read a poem at an open mic
“It’s a great way to meet other writers in your area and find out about your local writing community.”
Support literary organizations
“Many national and local literary organizations offer programs that reach out to the general public to broaden the recognition of poets and their work.”
Listen on your commute
“Often, hearing an author read their own work can clarify questions surrounding their work’s tone.”
Subscribe to a literary magazine
“Full of surprising and challenging poetry, short fiction, interviews, and reviews, literary journals are at the forefront of contemporary poetry.”
Start a notebook on Poets.org
“Poets.org lets users build their own personal portable online commonplace book out of the materials on our site.”
Put a poem in a letter
“It’s always a treat to get a letter, but finding a poem in the envelope makes the experience extra special.”
Watch a poetry movie
“What better time than National Poetry Month to gather some friends, watch a poetry-related movie, and perhaps discuss some of the poet’s work after the film?”

.

Take a poem out to lunch
Adding a poem to lunch puts some poetry in your day and gives you something great to read while you eat.”
Put a poem on the pavement
“Go one step beyond hopscotch squares and write a poem in chalk on your sidewalk.”
Recite a poem to family and friends
“You can use holidays or birthdays as an opportunity to celebrate with a poem that is dear to you, or one that reminds you of the season.”
Organize a poetry reading
“When looking for a venue, consider your local library, coffee shop, bookstore, art gallery, bar or performance space.”
Promote public support for poetry
“Every year, Congress decides how much money will be given to the National Endowment for the Arts to be distributed all across America.”
Start a poetry reading group
“Select books that would engage discussion and not intimidate the reader new to poetry.”
Read interviews and literary criticism
“Reading reviews can also be a helpful exercise and lend direction to your future reading.”
Buy a book of poems for your library
“Many libraries have undergone or are facing severe cuts in funding. These cuts are often made manifest on library shelves.”
Start a commonplace book
“Since the Renaissance, devoted readers have been copying their favorite poems and quotations into notebooks to form their own personal anthologies called commonplace books.”
Integrate poetry with technology
“Many email programs allow you to create personalized signatures that are automatically added to the end of every email you send.”
Ask the Post Office for more poet stamps
“To be eligible, suggested poets must have been deceased for at least ten years and must be American or of American descent.”
Sign up for a poetry class or workshop
“Colleges and arts centers often make individual courses in literature and writing available to the general public.”
Subscribe to our free newsletter
“Short and to the point, the Poets.org Update, our electronic newsletter, will keep you informed on Academy news and events.”
Write a letter to a poet
“Let the poets who you are reading know that you appreciate their work by sending them a letter.”
Visit a poetry landmark
“Visiting physical spaces associated with a favorite writer is a memorable way to pay homage to their life and work.”

How will you use National Poetry Month in your classroom, teachers?  And by “teachers, ” I mean you, math teachers, social studies teachers, phys ed teachers, biology and chemistry teachers.  You don’t use poetry?  No wonder America lags in those subjects . . .

What’s do you remember about your teachers’ use of poetry in learning?

What’s your favorite poem?

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Texas Independence Day, March 2 – fly your Texas flag today

March 2, 2014

Texans writing the Texas Declaration of Independence, 1836

In a meeting hall at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texans meet to write the Texas Declaration of Independence, released March 2, 1836; image from Portal to Texas History

So, put some barbecue in the smoker, get a Shiner for you and your pet armadillo, sit back and enjoy the holiday.  If you’re near Washington-on-the-Brazos, go to the ceremony.  You’d better be sure you’ve got plenty of Blue Bell Ice Cream.

What?  You don’t get the day off?  You know, Texas schools don’t even take the day off any more.  (In 2014, of course, it’s a Sunday.)

I thought things were going to change when the Tea Party got to Austin and Washington?  What happened?

For Texas Independence Day, it’s appropriate to fly your U.S. flag — or your Texas flag, if you have one.

Original Manuscript, Texas Declaration of Independence - Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Original Manuscript, Texas Declaration of Independence, page 1 – Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Text from the image above:

The Unanimous
Declaration of Independence
made by the
Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention
at the Town of Washington
on the 2nd day of March 1836

When a government has ceased
to protect the lives, liberty and property
of the people, from whom its legitimate
powers are derived, and for the advance-
ment of whose happiness it was inst-
ituted, and so far from being a guaran-
tee for the enjoyment of those inesti-
mable and inalienable rights, becomes
an instrument in the hands of evil
rulers for their oppression.

[Complete text, and images of each page, at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission site.]

Resources for Texas Independence Day

Resources at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

More:

This is mostly an encore post.


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 and Parke Hansen come to mind.  But we played up a level in our league play, and rarely won.  Injuries kept the five I named from playing together in any one game through their last season.  Our football coach used to say you win games, or you build character.  We built a lot of character.

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.

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.  His 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.  John Wooden was that 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.

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 toach 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?

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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?

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If class size doesn’t matter, why do the charter schools list it as a key selling point?

July 18, 2013

Classroom in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas, in 2010. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Classroom in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas, in 2010. Republican legislators want more classrooms like this one, crowded, to save money paying teachers and heating the rooms. Or maybe they have a real reason — it can’t be a good one. What’s the ratio, three kids to one desk? Did one kid fail to shower this morning.  Texas Tribune photo, by Bob Daemmrich

Steven Zimmer, a member of the board of the under-assault Los Angeles Unified School District, lays it on the line:  Class size is important, and legislative efforts to expand class size in public schools are intended to sabotage public schooling — and that action harms students.

Description of the video at YouTube from the OTL Campaign:

Small class size isn’t about protecting teachers’ jobs or making their work easier — it’s about providing every student with quality attention in the classroom. Steve Zimmer, Board Member of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a former teacher, asks why we tolerate or dismiss crowded public school classrooms when charters and private schools use small class sizes as a selling point?

More:

 J. D. Crowe cartoon from the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register.

“OK, Class . . . How many of you are students adn how many are teacher consultants?” J. D. Crowe cartoon from the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register, August 18, 2009.

“It could be worse — this could be a public school classroom during budget cuts.” Cartoon by Mike Keefe, Denver Post, March 18, 2011

 


Hold teachers accountable? I don’t think that word means what you think it means

June 18, 2013

Diane Ravitch gets all the good discussion — of course, she’s much the expert and she’s done several thousand posts in the last year.

View of a two-story wood-frame school house wi...

View of a two-story wood-frame school house with students and teachers out front, by H. N. Gale & Co. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ravitch engaged in a brief back-and-forth with Ben Austin, a guy who contributed to the invention of virtual IEDs to blow up California schools, called parent trigger laws.  Under California law, if 50% +1 of the parents of the students at a school sign a petition, the district must take apart the faculty or give up control of the school to a non-public school entity.  See my posts repeating the early parts of the exchange under “More” at the bottom of the post.

For reasons I can’t figure, parent trigger advocates claim these moves bring “accountability” to education, though the only effect is usually to fire public school teachers.  Oddly, most of the time replacements then are not accountable to the local school district nor the state for similar levels of student educational achievement.  But a public school is dead and a private entity has taken its place.

Discussion on the threads at Ravitch’s blog get long.

Phila. Teachers on Capitol Steps, Wash., D.C.,...

Philadelphia teachers on Capitol Steps, Washington, D.C., May 13, 1011. Library of Congress colleciton

I responded to a guy named Steve who rather asserted that teachers are just trying to avoid accountability, and so should probably be fired (there’s more nuance to his position, but not enough).  A few links are added here, for convenience of readers.

Steve said:

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were absolutely no standardized measures for educational success, and teachers could simply focus on educating children in whatever way they believe is best, and that all schools were funded to their greatest need and without oversight? And students learned to their capacity and everyone would sing kum-ba-yah at the end of the day?

No. The premise of no standardized measures is a bad idea. In that case, as now, we would have no real way to determine whether the system is working.

You mistake testing for reform, and you mistake test results for quality; you assume that test results are the result of what a teacher does in the previous few months, without any assistance (or interference) from parents, the front office, state agencies, and smart phones.

It would be good if we had research to guide teachers in the best ways to educate kids. We have way too little now, and what does exist rarely can break through the complex regulatory web created by NCLB proponents who ironically, and probably sardonically, require any new process to be “research tested and proven,” probably knowing that gives raters more opportunities to fire teachers.

That’s where our dispute lies.

Yes, sometimes it’s best to hold hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah.” Especially in school. Singing is good, music education is important to the development of sterling minds. Group activities to celebrate milestones produces greater achievement.

I gather you’re opposed to that. That’s a key part of the problem. “Reformers” are too often working against what we know works (though often we’re not sure why it works), against what many regard as “frills” like music and poetry (well, Aristotle argued against it, didn’t he?), and against achievement that can’t be used to fire somebody.

It’s a problem of models. A group singing a song together shows some developmental progress, and may show other progress. The Donald Trump “You’re Fired” model is much more titillating to bullies. Bullies tend to rule too many places.

We need a model that works, a model grounded in good theory (“theory” does not mean “guess”), a model that produces some sort of scoreboard teachers can use, day-in and day-out, to determine what to do next.

“Accountability” is a light on that scoreboard, but it’s not the score, and it’s not the game.

And yes, it certainly would be a better world if poverty, racism, abuse and more simply didn’t exist.

Don’t patronize with stuff you don’t believe and you know policy makers won’t work towards.

Poverty is the big one here. We’ve known for 40 years that poor parents as a group cannot produce students who will achieve well academically as well as rich parents, not because they’re not the great parents they are, but because middle class wealth brings learning opportunities for preschool kids and pre-adolescents and teens that mold minds and make them work well; kids in poverty miss that. Until you’ve tried to get your students up to speed on the Constitution with students who do not know how many states there are, what oceans border our nation, who George Washington was, what a Constitution is, how laws are made, or where food comes from, you really don’t appreciate the difficulty.

Yeah, they used to get that stuff in the newspaper. But their families can’t afford newspapers.

And when I get those kids to “commended” levels on the state test, how dare you tell me I’ve failed. Shame on you, and may you be nervous every time you hear thunder, or go under the knife with a surgeon who passed my class.

But this isn’t the world we live in. This is an organized society. When public funds are spent, there needs to be accountability.

There can be no accountability where there is no authority. If I do not have the authority to obtain the tools to educate the students in my tutelage to the standard, why not hold accountable those who are the problem? I produced four years of achievement in the bottom 20% — you’re bellyaching because the top 3% only got one year of achievement? They were already scoring at the 14 year level — sophomores in college. “Adequate Yearly Progress” can’t be had for those students, if you define adequate as “more than one year,” and if they’re already far beyond the material we are required to teach.

Accountability is a tool to get toward quality. You want to use it as a club. I think it should be a crime to misuse tools in that fashion.

You really don’t have a clue what’s going on in my classroom, do you.

I am *so* tired of the educators on this blog berating anyone who suggests that a teacher be accountable for *anything*.

Show me where anyone has said that. I weary of anti-education shouters complaining about teachers not being accountable, when we’re swimming in “accountability,” we’re beating the system most of the time, and still berated for it; our achievements are denigrated, our needs are ignored. If we win the Superbowl, we’re told we failed to win an Oscar. If we win the Superbowl AND an Oscar, we’re told someone else did better at the Pulitzers. If we win the Nobel Prize for Peace, we’re asked to beef up our STEM chops.

I was asked to boost my state passing scores by 5%. Part of the reason Dallas dismissed me was my abject refusal to sign to that (“insubordination”). That it’s mathematically impossible to boost a 100% passing rate to 105% didn’t change anyone’s mind, nor give anyone pause in passing along the paper. College acceptances didn’t count, SAT scores didn’t count, student evaluations didn’t count.

I wish idiots who can’t do math would be held accountable, but you want my gray scalp instead (and larger paycheck; but of course, that’s not really in the system, is it?). Is there no reason you can find to cling to?

There’s a difference between “accountability,” and “pointless blame.” See if you can discern it. Your children’s future depends on it. Our nation’s future depends on it. We’re not playing school here.

People are accountable for the work that they do.

That’s absolutely untrue in about 85% of the jobs in America. W. Edwards Deming died, and people forgot all about the 14 points and how to make winning teams. Are you familiar with the Red Bead experiment?

Most people calling for accountability can’t define it (Hint: in the top management schools, you don’t see this equation: “accountability=fire somebody”).

Can you do better? What is “accountability?” Will you please rate me on the advancements of my students? No? How about on their achievements? No? Can you tell me even what you want to hold teachers accountable for?

Don’t wave that sword when you don’t know how to use it, or if you can’t recognize the difference between a scalpel and a scimitar, please.

You give me white beads, I turn 80% of them red, and you complain about the few that remain white? [If you're paying attention and you know Deming's experiment, you know I reversed the color in my example -- no one ever catches me on that.  Why?]  You’re playing the guy who, having witnessed Jesus walking on water, wrote the headline, “Jesus can’t swim!” That’s a joke — it’s not how to make a better school, or a better education system, and it’s not accountability.

NOBODY wants a teacher to be accountable for things that are beyond their control. You have had FIFTY YEARS to develop a means to show that you are accountable in your use of public funds. You have not done it to the public’s satisfaction.

As Deming noted occasionally, we’ve had 5,000 years to develop standards of quality for carpentry and metalwork, and haven’t done it.

The Excellence in Education Commission in 1983 recommended changes to stop the “rising tide of mediocrity” in education. Among the top recommendations, raise teacher pay dramatically, and get out of the way of teachers so they can do their job.

Instead, teacher pay has stagnated and declined, and we have a bureaucracy the sort of which George Orwell never had a nightmare about standing in their way.

But you want to “hold the teachers accountable.”

I suppose it’s impossible to be part of the rising tide of mediocrity and also recognize you’re part of the problem.

Your failure to understand accountability should not cost me my job. I not only want accountability, I want justice, especially for my students. 97% of my students will face invidious racial discrimination when they go out to get a job; many of them (about 50%) come from families who don’t use banks. No checking accounts, no home loans, no car loans from a bank. More than half of the males have never worn a tie. 75% of them come from homes where no novel is on any bookshelf; 30% of them claim to come from homes where there are no books at all, not even a phone book.

They passed the test with flying colors despite that.

That kid who came in not knowing how to write a paragraph went out of my classroom with a commended on his state test, and writing well enough to score 80th percentile on the SAT including the writing part. You have a lot of damnable gall to claim that my work to get him to write his brilliant ideas, well, was wasted effort.

Why won’t you hold me accountable for that? Why do you refuse to look at real accountability?

Don’t claim I’m shucking accountability, when you haven’t looked, and you don’t know what it is.

So – others are now coming in to try and develop what you failed to do. Yup, some of them are shysters. Some of them are ego-maniacs. And some of them are doing so because they have experience and success and they can apply those to helping to improve education and measurement of same.

Good luck to them. Why not let me compete with them. I mean compete fairly — either they don’t get to take money from me merely by existing, or I get to take money from them when I beat them in achievement, and when we take students away from them because they aren’t getting the job done?

You seem to think that these other alternatives for sucking taxpayer money work better. My schools beat charter schools and most private schools in our same population in achievement, in yearly progress, and in a dozen other categories. (Our art students took the top prizes at the state show, beating students from one of the nation’s “top ten high schools” four miles away; the art teachers who got them there? Rated inadequate, given growth plans, funding cut . . . I though you were campaigning for accountability?)

Don’t change the subject. I thought you were for accountability. All of a sudden, you’re against it when we’re talking brass tacks. When we miss a standard, we public school teachers get fired. When we beat the hell out of a standard, we still get fired. When we beat the private schools, the charter schools, and the home schooled kids in achievement, we get zip, or a pink slip.

Accountability? I’d love to see it. You can’t show it, though, so you’re wasting my time and taxpayer money hollering about it.

Some of you even have the temerity to say that the system isn’t broken. Well, maybe it’s not broken for *you*. But it IS broken for the rest of us. And it’s public money here – so – if you are so certain that everything is hunky-dory in what you are adding to the process, well then, prove it. That’s what using public funds requires.

Your kids are in jail? Sorry the system failed you so badly. I had a 90% graduation rate out of my students, in a state where 75% is the state norm and suspected by everyone to be inflated. If your kids are not in jail, and didn’t drop out, that’s good.

Public education isn’t a right (in most states); it’s a civic duty, the thing that keeps our republic alive and democratic. School worries about your kids, sure — but we must also worry about every other kid, too.

What about the 200 other families in your neighborhood? The levels of vandalism and other crimes in your neighborhood depends on the children of those families getting an education. I was able to turn around a dozen of them. The local cops actually did a good job with another dozen.

The local charter school wouldn’t take any of those 24 kids. The private schools took one on an athletic scholarship, but he flunked out his junior year, after football season ended. He was out of school for full six months before we got him back. Three of those girls got commended on the state test despite their having infants; two others got commended and one more passed for the first time in her life despite their delivering children within three weeks of the test. We covered the history of children’s literature one week, convincing more than a few that they should read to their babies, as they were never read to. I got the local bookstore to donate children’s books for each parent in my class, so that their children won’t grow up without at least one book in the house.

We’re teachers, and we worry about the future. Why won’t you allow accountability for that?

Accountability? The word does not mean what you think it means.

Firing teachers is not accountability. It’s an evasion of accountability. It’s destructive of schooling and education. Firing teachers damages children. Even if you could tell who the bad teachers are — and you can’t, no one can do it well — firing teachers cannot offer hope of getting better teachers to replace them.

Why not improve education instead? Who is accountable for that?

Again at Diane Ravitch’s blog, Steve responded that he wants everyone held accountable, including parents and administrators.  Good, so far as it goes.  I think that’s just lip service.  He’s still firing teachers with no way to tell the good from the bad.

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War on Teachers and Education, Part 3: Prof. Ravitch’s response

June 10, 2013

At her blog again, Diane Ravitch responded to Ben Austin’s open letter to her at the Huffington Post.

Earlier today, Ben Austin wrote an open letter to me on Huffington Post. He expressed dismay about my characterization of him and his group Parent Revolution. Read his letter here. Here is my reply.

My Reply to Ben Austin’s Open Letter to Me

Dear Ben Austin,

Thank you for your invitation to engage in dialogue in your letter posted on Huffington Post.

You probably know that I have been writing a daily blog for the past fourteen months and during that time, I have written over 4,000 posts. I can’t remember any time when I have lost my temper other than when I wrote about your successful effort to oust an elementary school principal in Los Angeles named Irma Cobian.

I apologize for calling you “loathsome,” though I do think your campaign against a hardworking, dedicated principal working in an inner-city school was indeed loathsome. And it was wrong of me to say that there was a special place in hell reserved for anyone “who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian.”

As I said, I lost my temper, and I have to explain why.

I don’t like bullies. When I saw this woman targeted by your powerful organization, it looked like bullying. Your organization is funded by many millions of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. You have a politically powerful organization, and you used your power to single out this one woman and get her fired.

Your organization sent in paid staff to collect signatures from parents. The teachers in the school were not permitted to express their opinion to parents about your efforts to fire their principal. When you succeeded in getting her fired, 21 of the 22 teachers on staff requested a transfer. That suggests that Cobian has the loyalty of her staff and is a good leader.

Who is this woman that you ousted?

All I know about her is what I read in this article in the Los Angeles Times.

It said: “More than two decades ago, Cobian walked away from a high-powered law firm to teach. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she said she was inspired by a newspaper article about the low high school graduation rates of Latinos and wanted to make a difference.

“Her passion for social justice led her to Watts in 2009.”

Irma Cobain is now in her fourth year as principal of the school, and you decided that her time was up.

What did her teachers say about her?

“Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

“Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.”

“Fourth-grade teacher Hector Hernandez said Cobian is the first principal he’s had who frequently pops into classrooms to model good teaching herself. Recently, he said, she demonstrated how to teach about different literary genres by engaging students in lively exercises using characters from the “Avengers” comic book and film.”

When Cobian arrived at the Weigand Avenue Elementary school four years ago, she found a school with low test scores, low parent involvement, and divisiveness over a dual-language program. “All the students come from low-income families, more than half are not fluent in English and a quarter turn over every year,” the Los Angeles Times story said.

Cobian decided to focus on improving literacy and raising morale. She certainly won over the faculty.

The day after Cobian learned about the vote removing her, she went to a second-grade classroom to give prizes to children who had read 25 books this year. She cheered those who met the goal and encouraged those who were trying. But she could not hide her sadness.

“I need happiness today,” Cobian told the bright-eyed students. “What do I do when I’m sad?”

“Come here!” the students sang out.

For a moment, her sadness gave way to smiles. But later, she said: “I am crushed.”

Ben, how did you feel when you read that? I felt sad. I felt this was a caring and dedicated person who had been singled out unfairly.

Ben, I hope you noticed in the article that Dr. John Deasy, the superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, praised the plan that Cobian and her staff developed for improving the school. He called it a “well-organized program for accelerated student achievement.” He thanked Cobian for her commitment and hard work.” But you decided she should be fired.

Ironically, the parent who worked with you to fire Cobian said she preferred Weigand to her own neighborhood school where she had concerns about bullying. Even stranger, the parents at Cobian’s school voted to endorse her plan. Your parent spokesperson said she did not like the plan because it focused on reading and writing, but she told the reporter from the Los Angeles Times that she actually never read the plan.

I understand from your letter, Ben, that you somehow feel you are a victim because of what I wrote about you. But, Ben, you are not a victim. Irma Cobian is the victim here. She lost her job because of your campaign to get rid of her. She is the one who was humiliated and suffered loss of income and loss of reputation. You didn’t. You still have your organization, your staff, and the millions that the big foundations have given you.

I am sorry you had a tough childhood. We all have our stories about growing up. I am one of eight children. My father was a high-school dropout. My mother immigrated from Bessarabia and was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools. She was proud that she learned to speak English “like a real American.” My parents were grateful for the free public schools of Houston, where I too graduated from high school. We had our share of problems and setbacks but I won’t go on about myself or my siblings because my story and yours are really beside the point. What troubles me is what you are doing with the millions you raise. You use it to sow dissension, to set parents against parents, parents against teachers, parents against principals. I don’t see this as productive or helpful. Schools function best when there is collaboration among teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Schools have a better chance of success for the children when they have a strong community and culture of respect.

Your “parent trigger” destroys school communities. True to its name, the “trigger” blasts them apart. It causes deep wounds. It decimates the spirit of respect and comity that is necessary to build a strong community. Frankly, after the school shootings of recent years, your use of the metaphor of a “parent trigger” is itself offensive. We need fewer triggers pointed at schools and educators. Please find a different metaphor, one that does not suggest violence and bloodshed.

It must be very frustrating to you and your funders that–three years after passage of the “parent trigger” law– you can’t point to a single success story. I am aware that you persuaded the parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California, to turn their public school over to a privately operated charter. I recall that when parents at the school tried to remove their signatures from your petition, your organization went to court and won a ruling that they were not allowed to rescind their signatures. Ultimately only 53 parents in a school of more than 600 children chose the charter operator. Since the charter has not yet opened, it is too soon to call that battle a success for Parent Revolution. Only the year before, the Adelanto Charter Academy lost its charter because the operators were accused of financial self-dealing.

But, Ben, let me assure you that I bear you no personal ill will. I just don’t approve of what you are doing. I think it is wrong to organize parents to seize control of their public school so they can fire the staff or privatize it. If the principal is doing a bad job, it is Dr. Deasy’s job to remove her or him. I assume that veteran principals and teachers get some kind of due process, where charges are filed and there is a hearing. If Cobain was as incompetent as you say, why didn’t Dr. Deasy bring her up on charges and replace her?

I also have a problem with the idea that parents can sign a petition and hand their public school off to a private charter corporation. The school doesn’t belong to the parents whose children are enrolled this year. It belongs to the public whose taxes built it and maintains it. As the L.A. Times story pointed out, one-quarter of the children at Weigand Avenue Elementary School are gone every year. The parents who sign a petition this year may not even be parents in the school next year. Why should they have the power to privatize the school? Should the patrons of a public library have the power to sign a petition and privatize the management? Should the people using a public park have the right to take a vote and turn the park over to private management?

We both care about children. I care passionately about improving education for all children. I assume you do as well. You think that your organized raids on public schools and professionals will lead to improvement. I disagree. Schools need adequate resources to succeed. They also need experienced professionals, a climate of caring, and stability. I don’t see anything in the “trigger” concept that creates the conditions necessary for improvement. Our teachers and principals are already working under too much stress, given that schools have become targets for federal mandates and endless reforms.

I suggest that educators need respect and thanks for their daily work on behalf of children. If they do a bad job, the leadership of the school system is responsible to take action. What educators don’t need is to have a super-rich, super-powerful organization threatening to pull the trigger on their career and their good name.

Ben, thanks for the open letter and the chance to engage in dialogue. If you don’t mind, I want to apologize to Irma Cobain on your behalf. She was doing her best. She built a strong staff that believes in her. She wrote a turnaround plan that Dr. Deasy liked and the parents approved. Ms. Cobain, if you read this, I hope you can forgive Ben. Maybe next time, he will think twice, get better information, and consider the consequences before he decides to take down another principal.

Diane Ravitch

If Dr. Ravitch is correct in her claims, and her fears for future results, the biggest problem with this parent-trigger farce is that it costs a lot of money, and does only damage to schools, and to students, therefore.

Please continue to Part 4.

This series, on the dustup between Prof. Diane Ravitch and Ben Austin in California:

More:


Somewhere in your neighborhood tonight, a teacher is working . . .

May 11, 2013

Somewhere tonight a teacher is grading

. . . and noting the quote mark should be outside the comma, “free time,” but grading on the thought and not the punctuation, this time. From The Teachers’ Room on Facebook.

And in Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott , the Tea Party, and CSCOPE critics are scheming to get that teacher fired, calling him or her a “communist,” mischaracterizing his or her religion as Islam instead of the Baptist he or she has been all his life, and claiming she or he is trying to tear down America for Obama, despite having voted Republican in every presidential election since he could vote.

He (or she) doesn’t need your sympathy.  He needs justice, and he needs you to help your children with their homework, and read to them and support them in learning about life.  Justice probably won’t come the teacher’s way, but he or she will consider it a good deal if your child learns, and does well.

Could we stop with the injustice, though?

 


Teacher salaries and raises hammered by recession

May 7, 2013

Daily salary IMG 0077

Accounts for daily salary sealed by a high civil servant named Ur-Shara – Girsu, Sumerian object dated to circa 2044 BCE, Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon via Wikipedia.  Finding evidence of significant teacher raises since 2044 BCE can be difficult.

I’ll let the press release speak for itself for a moment:

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National Council on Teacher Quality

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For Immediate Release// Contact: Laura Johnson
May 7, 2013

PRESS RELEASE

New NCTQ Report: Teacher Salary Growth Slowed as Result of Recession

Over the Last Four Years, Teachers Continued to Get Raises, But at Only One-Third to One-Half of What Raises Were at Start of Recession

Washington, DC – A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) finds that although teachers continued to get raises following the recession, there was a noticeable slow-down in teacher salary growth on par with that of comparable professions. Post-recession raises have been one-third to one-half of what they were at the beginning of the recession, with almost all 41 districts studied by NCTQ freezing or cutting at least one component of scheduled teacher raises at some point between the 2008-09 and 2011-12 school years. In 80 percent of the districts sampled (33 out of 41), teachers had a total pay freeze or pay cut in at least one of the last four school years.

“There is no question that teacher salary growth took a hit post-recession,” said Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The good news is that the economy is strengthening and districts are slowly getting back to investing more in teacher pay. The question is, will education leaders choose to go back to the status quo of step increases and regular annual adjustments, or will they evaluate teacher performance and reward the most effective teachers with raises? Expectations for students are increasing, which means the bar is being raised for teachers as well— and a support that should accompany this shift is the ability to reward the best-performing teachers.”

The recession’s impact on teacher raises varied district by district. Cutting annual adjustments, which are raises for cost-of-living and other market forces, was the most common method used to reduce raise amounts. However, no district had a pay cut or freeze every year and eight districts had positive salary growth over the entire four-year period (Fort Worth, Memphis, Milwaukee, New York City, Jefferson County, KY, Fresno, Chicago, and Baltimore City). Of the 41 districts in the sample, Chicago Public Schools had the highest average raise over the four years at 6.5 percent. The report includes detailed information on teacher raises in each of 41 districts from 2008-09 to 2011-12, including the methods each district used to reduce raises. To view the full report, visit http://www.nctq.org/tr3/docs/nctq_recession_salary.pdf.

Methodology
The report draws on data from the 50 largest U.S. public school districts in 2010-11 (the most recent year for which such data are available). Forty-one of the 50 districts responded to the data request with enough information to be included in the report. NCTQ calculated the average annual salary growth in the 41 school districts from 2008-09 to 2011-12 by analyzing districts’ salary schedules and determining teachers’ movement on the schedules (using information reported by the districts). Salary growth calculations take into account raises for earning additional years of experience (also known as “step increases”) and annual adjustments for cost-of-living increases and other market factors. They do not take into account raises for completing additional coursework.

About NCTQ
The National Council on Teacher Quality advocates for reforms in a broad range of teacher policies at the federal, state, and local levels in order to increase the number of effective teachers. In particular we recognize the absence of much of the evidence necessary to make a compelling case for change and seek to fill that void with a research agenda that has direct and practical implications for policy. We are committed to lending transparency and increasing public awareness about the four sets of institutions that have the greatest impact on teacher quality: states, teacher preparation programs, school districts and teachers unions. For more information, visit: www.nctq.org.

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A new Landaff teacher in the 1940s watches as ...

“A new Landaff teacher in the 1940s watches as a student writes on the blackboard.” Wikipedia image

 


May 4: Birth anniversary of Horace Mann, architect of American public schools systems

May 4, 2013

His mother delivered Horace Mann on May 4, 1796, the last full year of the administration of President George Washington.

Mann died August 2, 1859.  In those 63 years, Mann became at least the co-architect of the concept of public schools.

Today, few outside schools of education know who he was, or what he did (no, he’s not in the Texas TEKS).

Daguerrotype of Horace Mann, about 1850, by Southworth and Dawes

Daguerrotype of Horace Mann, about 1850, by Southworth and Dawes; from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Wikipedia

We can get a brief snapshot from the website accompanying the PBS series, Only a Teacher, Schoolhouse Pioneers:

Horace Mann (1796-1859)

Horace Mann, often called the Father of the Common School, began his career as a lawyer and legislator. When he was elected to act as Secretary of the newly-created Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837, he used his position to enact major educational reform. He spearheaded the Common School Movement, ensuring that every child could receive a basic education funded by local taxes. His influence soon spread beyond Massachusetts as more states took up the idea of universal schooling.

Mann’s commitment to the Common School sprang from his belief that political stability and social harmony depended on education: a basic level of literacy and the inculcation of common public ideals. He declared, “Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School…may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.” Mann believed that public schooling was central to good citizenship, democratic participation and societal well-being. He observed, “A republican form of government, without intelligence in the people, must be, on a vast scale, what a mad-house, without superintendent or keepers, would be on a small one.” The democratic and republican principals that propelled Mann’s vision of the Common School have colored our assumptions about public schooling ever since.

Mann was influential in the development of teacher training schools and the earliest attempts to professionalize teaching. He was not the first to propose state-sponsored teacher training institutes (James Carter had recommended them in the 1820s), but, in 1838, he was crucial to the actual establishment of the first Normal Schools in Massachusetts. Mann knew that the quality of rural schools had to be raised, and that teaching was the key to that improvement. He also recognized that the corps of teachers for the new Common Schools were most likely to be women, and he argued forcefully (if, by contemporary standards, sometimes insultingly) for the recruitment of women into the ranks of teachers, often through the Normal Schools. These developments were all part of Mann’s driving determination to create a system of effective, secular, universal education in the United States.

Further Reading

Mann, Horace.  Annual Reports on Education, 1872; Massachusetts System of Common Schools, 1849

Messerli, Jonathan. Horace Mann, A Biography, 1972

Did you catch that?  By 1838 Horace Mann figured out that good teachers were the key to improving schools, and so he set about creating systems to educate and help teachers do their work.

Arne DuncanMike MilesDan Patrick? Bill Gates?  Anybody listening?

Oh, yeah, we knew Diane Ravitch is listening, and working hard to make things better.

More:


Powerful teacher unions make good schools

October 12, 2012

From a column by Washington Post writer Matt Miller, “Romney vs. teachers unions:  The inconvenient truth”:

That reality is this: The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment. This fact is rarely discussed (or even noted) in reform circles. Yet anyone who’s intellectually honest and cares about improving our schools has to acknowledge it. The United States is an outlier in having such deeply adversarial, dysfunctional labor-management relations in schooling.

Why is this?

My hypothesis runs as follows: The chief educational strategy of top-performing nations such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea is to recruit talent from the top third of the academic cohort into the teaching profession and to train them in selective, prestigious institutions to succeed on the job. In the United States, by contrast, we recruit teachers mostly from the middle and (especially for poor schools) bottom third and train them mostly in open-enrollment institutions that by all accounts do shoddy work.

As a result, American reformers and superintendents have developed a fetish for evaluating teachers and dismissing poor performers, because there are, in fact, too many. Unions dig in to protect their members because . . . that’s what unions do.

When you talk to senior officials in Finland, Singapore and South Korea, it’s as if they’re on another planet. The question of how they deal with low-performing teachers is basically a non-issue, because they just don’t have many of them. Why would they when their whole system is set up to recruit, train and retain outstanding talent for the profession? [emphasis added here]

Whose approach sounds more effective to you?

Miller suggests, among other things, raising starting pay for teachers — $65,000 to $150,000 — and greatly boosting the rigor of training for teachers.

Any such hopes for effective reform could not occur under the “austerity budgets” proposed in Utah, Wisconsin, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the U.S. Congress.

More:


PBS resources for teachers . . . (history, especially)

October 10, 2012

Too often I fear the conservative War on Public Broadcasting is really just an extension of their War on Education and War on Science.

PBS and NPR have the facts, and tell ‘em, straight.  Poll after poll, year after year, PBS comes up as the “most trusted” news source in America, with NPR right up there.

Why would conservatives want to go after such a fine, accurate and useful institution?  They know the history, and they tell that, too.

Comes an e-mail today:

Invite your students to explore the challenges and triumphs of the U.S. Presidents with a collection of digital resources from PBS LearningMedia! Choose from thousands of free classroom-ready tools including videos, lesson plans, interactive games, and primary source documents. For anytime/anywhere access to social studies content and more – sign up today – it’s free!

Digital Resources

Tap into the excitement and energy of election season with PBS LearningMedia! Use these targeted resources to punctuate your lesson plan, instigate dialogue in the classroom, and expand your students’ awareness of the U.S. presidents and the institution of the Presidency. Register today on PBS LearningMedia for instant- access to thousands of additional classroom-ready, contextualized resources.

President for a Day
Grades 3-8 | Interactive with Support Materials

This activity puts your students in the Oval Office and invites them to make decisions about meeting Cabinet members, making speeches to the public, and how to handle a foreign crisis.

Documenting the President
Grades 3-9, 11-13+ + | Video

A photographer can preserve a moment, and be a silent participant. Give your class a brief history of the power held and captured by presidential photographers from Lincoln to Kennedy and beyond.

Documenting Key Presidential Decisions
Grades 6-13+ | Interactive

Challenge your students to examine primary source documents and match them to key presidential decisions. Documents include a letter from the secretary of war (1945), remarks at Brandenberg Gate (1987), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and annotated notes and letters from various moments in history.

FDR: New Deal Program
Grades 9-12 | Video + Support Materials

Give your students a view of the enormous hurdles faced by President Roosevelt during the Great Depression. See how the New Deal transformed the relationship between government and economy.

Abraham Lincoln, Attorney at Law
Grades 1-12 | Video + Support Materials

Invite your class to consider how an early career as a “prairie” lawyer prepared Lincoln for his presidential role as he developed his confidence, sense of fairness, and social skills.

LBJ and the Great Society
Grades 9-12

Using newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews, offer our students the opportunity to explore the rich legacy of President Johnson’s “Great Society.”

They’ve got professional development courses for teachers:

Professional Development

Explore these timely professional development resources in PBS LearningMedia:

Effective Media-Rich Lessons
Grades 13+ | Video + Discussion Questions
Join Katelin Corbett and Evan Feldman, two physics teachers in New York City, as they discuss the benefits of using digital media in the classroom, model best practices, and share guidelines for effective use of media in the physics classroom.

Build a Bridge Between Disciplines
Grades 6-8, 13+ | Interactive
Build a bridge between two disciplines by identifying a connecting concept, or idea that has value in both disciplines. Complete the structure by adding instructional activities that build students’ understanding of the concept, within and across disciplines.

Close Reading of Text: MLK “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Grades 13+ | Video + Support Materials
Join David Coleman, a contributing author to the Common Core State Standards, as he models a close reading of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

This Week’s Featured Courses:

NEW Bridging World History: A Special Collection from the Annenberg Foundation (SOST502)
Grades 9-12 | Syllabus | Sign Up | Course Catalog

NEW America’s History in the Making: A Special Collection from the Annenberg Foundation (SOST507)
Grades 6-12 | Syllabus | Sign Up | Course Catalog

Fall Term II Begins October 24 – enroll today!
Visit pbsteacherline.org or call 800-572-6386 for more information.

And here’s what’s new:

New & Noteworthy

Common Core Support
Let PBS LearningMedia enhance your efforts to better-understand the CCSSI with professional development video clips, and classroom resources tied to the Standards. Register for full access – anytime, anywhere.

The Election Collection
The PBS LearningMedia Election 2012 Collection is an aggregation of curated and contextualized election-related resources for K-12 classrooms with a primary focus on middle and high school. Jump into the collection by clicking here – or search under the keyword, Election.

PBS Teacher Innovator Awards
PBS LearningMedia and The Henry Ford are proud to bring you the third annual Teacher Innovator Awards in recognition of innovative PreK-12 classroom educators, media specialists, technology coordinators, and homeschool educators who use digital media to enhance student learning. To enter, tell us how you have innovated with digital media to enhance student learning. Submissions are now being accepted – click here to enter!

 


Box office slaps Hollywood: ‘Don’t talk jive smack against teachers’

October 3, 2012

Teacher and education blogs were all atwitter — and Twitter was all ablog, I suppose you could say — about the opening this past weekend of the movie “Won’t Back Down.”

“Parent trigger” laws bubble up in discussion a lot recently — laws that allow a group of parents to petition a school district, or the state, and say that they want to take over a local school.  Conservatives and other anti-teacher groups promote these laws as a means of education reform.  Generally, in the few cases in which a school is taken over by parents, teachers and local administrators are fired, and the school operates much like a charter school.

“Won’t Back Down” professes to be “based on a true story.”  I am reminded that both “Psycho” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” also professed to be based on a true story — the same story, in fact.  I’ve written about this before – based on a true story, except not in Texas, no chainsaw, no massacre, nor was there a hotel and a shower.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is more carefully based on a true story — there is a Mississippi River; or The Bald Soprano — there are bald people, and there are sopranos.  But I digress.

The film has a cast of some great star power — Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter.  It was produced by the documentary group that also produced Al Gore‘s “Inconvenient Truth,” and then moved to the popular but wildly polemical “Waiting for Superman,” another hit on teachers.  They should have stopped with that one, instead of raising the ante (raising the “anti?”).

Audiences don’t like films that cast teachers as villains, it would appear.

Stephanie Simon of Reuters wrote:

(Reuters) – Education reform film “Won’t Back Down” opened Friday to terrible reviews – and high hopes from activists who expect the movie to inspire parents everywhere to demand big changes in public schools.

The drama stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a spirited mother who teams up with a passionate teacher to seize control of their failing neighborhood school, over the opposition of a self-serving teachers union.

Reviewers called it trite and dull, but education reformers on both the left and right have hailed the film as a potential game-changer that could aid their fight to weaken teachers’ unions and inject more competition into public education.

Yahoo!’s Movie Talk got to the point:

Even an Oscar-caliber leading cast couldn’t save this one. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s latest film “Won’t Back Down,” also starring Viola Davis and Holly Hunter, set the record this past weekend for the worst opening of a film that appeared in more than 2,500 theaters, making a mere $2.6 million [via Box Office Mojo].

Yes, all three of these former Oscar nominees — Hunter having won a golden statuette in 1994 for “The Piano” — now have a pretty bad blemish on their resume. But they aren’t to blame, say industry watchers, who are reacting to the film with a resounding face palm. “‘Won’t Back Down’ wore the dunce cap last weekend, mostly because its marketing was almost non-existent,” says Jeff Bock, box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.

“Record for the worst opening?”  Ouch.

Back to the “based on a true story” issue:  We may understand why the screenwriter and director of the first Texas Chainsaw movie, Tobe Hooper took the liberties he did to add elements to the story.  He knew the original story of a disturbed man in Wisconsin who was jailed for corpse mutilation.  He knew that was the foundation for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”  How to update it, to make the story bankable from the box office?  Move it to Texas, add a chainsaw with all its terrifying whine, and add in the standard teenager murder story elements; maybe put a mask on the villain/evil beast, to make it more terrifying — there is great terror in being pursued by nameless, faceless folk as Orwell showed us.  Both Hitchcock and Hooper fully understood that the real, dull story, wasn’t something people would pay to sit through while eating grossly-overpriced popcorn.

“Won’t Back Down” suffered from sticking too close to the facts.  If you’re going to claim the antagonist is psycho, you have to give them a big butcher’s knife or a chainsaw, and a costume, in order to make really, really scary.

Teachers just are not that scary in real life.  Teachers are not the villains, in real life.

More (from various viewpoints):


Shutting teachers out of the education conversations, a national pathology – can Dallas avoid it?

September 26, 2012

 

Have you noticed, and has it bothered you, that many of the major discussions about what to do to help education shut out teachers?

This is nothing new.  As Director of Information Services at the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement, I occasionally got tagged to go speak to education groups meeting in and around Washington, D.C.  One or our projects was a reboot of the Educational Resources Information Centers, or ERIC Library System.

At every public function where I spoke, or where I attended and was identified as an ED employee, teachers would seek me out, and ask how long I spent in the classroom as a teacher.  Then they’d tell me teaching college doesn’t count, and they’d complain that education policy makers at all levels ignore teachers.  They didn’t appreciate people making policy for them who didn’t know their situation from having been on the ground with them, as one of them, or at least listening to what they had to say.

It’s a key principle of leadership, to understand what the frontline employee faces, to know what the workers on the shop floor see, to feel the heat from the open hearth, to know the discomfort of hitting Omaha Beach and be pinned down by gunfire while wet and sandy and weighed down with 80 pounds.  It’s one of the keys to understanding how Harry Truman, who saw action in Belgium at the Western Front and who lived in the trenches, could decide against a land invasion as a first option for forcing Japan to surrender at the end of World War II.  It’s why his troops thought so much of Patton, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with them at the front as bullets whizzed by, why Soichiro Honda’s workers listened when he stripped down and stripped an engine to find a problem.

A couple of days ago the president of the Dallas ISD School Board, Lew Blackburn, Tweeted his gratitude for help from Leadership Dallas for a “dine and discuss” session with DISD leaders.  It’s good that Blackburn Tweets.  He has good intentions, most likely — and he’s trying to let people know what’s going on.

What’s the topic?  How to improve education in Dallas, of course.

What ONE group of key stakeholders is left out of these discussions?  Teachers.

It’s a bugaboo for me.  Education discussion sponsored by the New York Times, but no teachers.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan buses across America — school kids show up to sing welcomes, but teachers appear to be left out of discussions along the route.

So I Tweeted back — what’s up with that?  In the past few months, I’ve gotten Tweets back from writers, scientists, friends, and Tom Peters, the management guru.  I was happy Blackburn responded.  it puts him in good company.

It’s not like this once teachers were left out, due to scheduling conflicts.  The process design pointedly includes stakeholders other than teachers.  Trained facilitators — professionals? paid? — are brought in, a touch that suggests these meetings are formal efforts whose products will be used for some formal policy-making purpose.  Invitees include “diverse” community members.

Listen. Learn. Dialogue.

Dallas ISD Dining & Dialogue is a pilot initiative in partnership with Dallas ISD and Leadership Dallas Alumni with support from the Dallas Regional Chamber.  The purpose is to encourage frequent communication over a meal between members of the community and Dallas ISD that address practical solutions to improve education in our community.  The roundtable-style dining events bring together small groups of individuals with diverse backgrounds to foster community-wide dialogue about Dallas ISD in an effort to gain understanding, share ideas, and increase diverse investment in education for the benefit of our region.

The FREE dining events are held quarterly at various sites within the Dallas metroplex. Discussions are led by trained facilitators who guide participants through questions designed to elicit thoughts and opinions on issues facing Dallas ISD.  This dining and dialogue framework is patterned after Dallas Dinner Table, a popular, highly-regarded community event founded by Leadership Dallas alumni, and DeSoto Dining and Dialogue.
Dialogues will include school board members and other important school voices along with community stakeholders such as business leaders, parents, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and members of the Dallas ISD Teen Board.

Picture

I still get some notifications from DISD, but none on this.

Should we be concerned  about any biases of Leadership Dallas, intentional or unconscious?  Leadership Dallas draws its inspiration from Leadership Atlanta, the formal effort to create a band of leaders to lead Atlanta after so many leaders died in a tragic airplane crash years ago.  Alas, the assumption is that educators cannot be leaders.  The course work is scheduled in a way that makes it difficult for any professional to participate, but almost impossible for any hourly worker, or teacher.

Looking through the records, I see very few people participating who have much to do with education, and especially no teachers.  Gross oversight.  There are no garbage collectors, either —  that may be a bigger problem in a place like Memphis with a different history on garbage collectors — or any other workers without graduate degrees.  Small business owners don’t get great representation, either.

Hmmm.  NEA?  AFT? We’ll check with them later.

So, Lew Blackburn — you’re the leader of this bunch, in some cases more than Superintendent Mike Miles (he may not be paying attention to this, either, let alone to the opinions of mere teachers, who make 17% of what he earns.  It’s up to you, I think.  You need to make sure teachers are a part of this dialogue, to be sure it doesn’t become a monologue.

Get some teachers involved in this process.  Get some principals involved, and some other school administrators.  Counselors might have a good, and different view.  Do you still have librarians enough in DISD to get a couple involved?  Libraries should be a key focus point for education in the 21st century, and many Dallasi ISD libraries have librarians who work harder and more effectively than the district has a right to expect (they don’t get paid for what they do, heaven knows).  And, keep records of these dinners.  These meetings are in the gray area of the Texas public meetings laws — but you want to be certain you have an open process that is not open to petty challenges due to bureaucratic miscues.  If any policy comes out of these meetings, you’ll need to be certain they were open for public meetings rules.

Gee, any reporters invited?

Are these sessions designed to improve education in Dallas, or to find new ways to flog teachers? Make sure the actions speak louder than words on these things.

Mr. Blackburn, you’ve made a couple of good moves here — including Tweeting about what’s going on.  Keep these processes going, and improve them.  Make sure teachers are not left behind.

More:


Facebook-fiends-and-Twitterists? “I’ve got them on the list.”

May 26, 2012

Believe it or not, this post is about education leadership, or it’s lack.

It is said that Gerald Ford once said of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,”

“Anybody who can’t keep his enemies in his head has too many enemies.”

Richard Nixon, had he acknowledged the sentiment, probably could have devised a way to pare his list not exactly in keeping with Gerald Ford’s good-guy intentions.  More than one way to pare a list, if you know what I mean.

My mind wandered off to enemies lists when I discovered this week that one of our former administrators had actually kept lists of teachers — and probably other support people — and threatened more than one with “placement on the list.”

What school of school leadership taught that?  The Monty Python School of How KnNot to Do It?

English: 1919 D'Oyly Carte Opera Company publi...

1919 D’Oyly Carte Opera Company publicity poster for The Mikado, featuring the character of the Lord High Executioner. Illustration by J. Hassal.

The only appropriate response when learning of such a list is to ask, “Who appointed you Lord High Executioner?”

Do you disagree?  Lists of enemies do not denote the great leader.  They denote someone who either saw “The Mikado” and missed all the jokes, or didn’t bother to see the thing at all.  Who can follow someone who doesn’t know the jokes from “Mikado,” and consequently, falling victim to the trap warned of by Santayana’s Ghost, falls right into the trap?

It’s silly.  It’s lampooned well enough in Gilbert and Sullivan‘s masterpiece of bureaucracy farce that any leader, even a Modern Major General, would know better than to do it.

Notice I did NOT say, “know better than to let it be known that the list existed.”  I said “know better than to do it.

What’s that?   You are unfamiliar with the song of which I speak?  Here, watch Opera Australia show how it’s done (at least, how it’s done Down Under where there are, unbelievable as it may be, climate denialists and people who are obnoxious about Facebook and Twitter):

DVD Available Now: http://bit.ly/HCzeWc

Mitchell Butel of Avenue Q fame sings “I’ve Got a Little List” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. This excerpt is from the cinema/DVD recording of Opera Australia’s 2011 production at the Arts Centre, Melbourne.

Lyrics:
As someday it may happen that a victim must be found,
I’ve got a little list. I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed, who never would be missed.

There’s the idiot denouncing with enthusiastic tone
All football teams but his and every suburb but his own.
The man who sits beside you on the plane and wants to talk,
Whose jabbering inspires you to jab him with your fork.
Your aunty with the moustache who insists on being kissed.
They’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.

(He’s got them on the list! He’s got them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

Those whinging letter writers and those pundits in the press.
That opinion columnist, that bore would not be missed.
That trendy thing in opera if the plot seems like a mess,
That nice surtitlist!
(Surtitles: ‘This song is not on my list. Normal transmission will resume shortly’)
The politician prancing round in speedos tightly packed,
He thought it cool but really it just showed us what he lacked.
And Canberra’s leading red-head who’s afraid of stickybeaks,
Who’d like to keep her fumbles and mistakes off Wikileaks.
Australian Idol singers who pathetically persiiiiiiiiiist.
They’d none of them be missed. They’d none of them be missed.

(He’s got them on the list! He’s got them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

And the purists who insist piano music stops at Brahms,
I’ll put them on the list, and make them sit through Liszt.
On Saturday night the mob at Flinder’s Street all singing psalms,
I wish they would desist, and their happy claps resist.
That music theatre sequel that they promised would be good,
“Love never dies” they say, but I confess I wish it would.
That Frenchman and the other one who judge My Kitchen Rules,
Who give new definition to the label ‘Kitchen Tools’.
That morning television host who’s funny as a cyst,
Gold Logies he has kissed, but it’s time to kiss my fist.

(He’s got them on the list! He’s got them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

Then the merchant banker wankers and the bonuses they flout,
And the subprimortgagist, I’ve got him on the list!
The governments like lapdogs rushing in to bail them out,
To their mills it’s simply grist, so I’ve got them on the list.
Retirees who migrate to the country to make wine,
And Britney Spears for accidentally showing her ‘vagine’.
Those climate change deniers who don’t like the carbon tax,
Who haven’t read the science and don’t really know the facts.
The women on the tram who at Spring Carnaval got pi– really drunk!
Narelle! Where are my shoes?!
They’d none of them be missed. They’d none of them be missed.

(You may put them on the list. You may put them on the list.
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

There’s the ticket holder next to you who cannot work their phone,
And cannot get the gist. I’ve got her on the list!
Who leaves it on or switches to that dreadful silent drone… Vrrrrrr Vrrrrr Vrrrrr
Facebook fiends and Twitterists are also on the list.
And people who inflict on us full cycles of the Ring,
I’d rather ride a valkyrie than hear Brunhilde sing.
And all commercial managements who want to cast a star,
They couldn’t get one this time, they got me, so there you are.
Or worst of all the actor who’s an extra lyricist,
I don’t think he’d be missed, so I’ve got him on the list.

(You may put them on the list! You may put them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

Your shock at Gilbert and Sullivan’s sounding so astonishingly contemporary comes through even the internet.  How could they know?

I’m not sure what the original script said, having never done that particular operetta.  Somewhere, the practice  arose to have someone spice up the lyric to this tune, to the times, to the city in which the operetta is performed, and to thezeitgeist of the audience.  Fans of G&S wait to see what and whom the “supplemental lyricist,” or “extra lyricist” poked at.

Even composers of silly operetta tunes understand that what is said, and what is done, needs to be molded to the local circumstances — and that in no case should a bureaucrat keep a list of enemies.

Compare Opera Australia’s version with that of the venerable G&S troupe, D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, about 20 years earlier, 1990 or 1992, on BBC2, in London:

Of course, you may think by my lampooning of list makers that I, myself, should be on some list.  Aye, there’s the rub.

Take a look and listen to Eric Idle’s version of the song from th 1987 English National Opera production, with which Opera Australia may wish to take some exception.

In the English speaking world, wherever the works of Gilbert and Sullivan exist in book, on the stage, in oratorio, on record, tape, CD, DVD or Blu-Ray, people know leaders become comic fops instead when they make “a little list” of the names of the people they wish to be rid of.

Educated people know that.  Education people should know that, too.

More (not necessarily endorsed by Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub):

 


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