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.

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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.


W. Edwards Deming, the Life Diagram

August 23, 2014

In working to make quality common, and valuable, W. Edwards Deming seems to have learned a little about life along the way.

In 1989, he sketched out this diagram.

I think it speaks for itself, but what do you think?

W. Edwards Deming's Life Diagram

W. Edwards Deming’s Life Diagram

Tip of the old scrub brush to Richard Sheridan, from whose Tweet I took the diagram. 

The Deming Cycle for continual improvement

The Deming Cycle for continual improvement

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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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Nathan Bigelow on Woodrow Wilson, TODAY (March 5), at Austin College

March 5, 2014

Too late for most of us, but history teachers near Sherman, Texas, ought to zip out as soon as school is out this afternoon, and head over to Austin College.

From North Texas e-News:

Nathan Bigelow, Professor of Political Science at Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Bigelow will present

Nathan Bigelow, Professor of Political Science at Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Bigelow will present “The Evolving Political Thought of Professor [Woodrow] Wilson,” March 5, 2014.

Bigelow to share insight on political evolution of Woodrow Wilson

SHERMAN, TEXAS — Nathan Bigelow, Austin College associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science, will present “The Evolving Political Thought of Professor Wilson” on March 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Wright Campus Center, Room 231. A 4 p.m. reception in nearby Johnson Gallery precedes his presentation, which highlights his recent sabbatical study. The event, free and open to the public, is hosted by the Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching.

Bigelow said his talk will focus on the bookends of Woodrow Wilson’s academic career: Congressional Government (1880), in which he made a broad critique of the American constitutional system, and Constitutional Government (1908), written just before he left academia for a career in politics, in which he reassessed many of his original positions. “I contend that his evolving thought can be traced to changes in the political environment during this time – specifically, increased party discipline and invigorated presidential leadership,” Bigelow said.” I will use newly available quantitative measures of this time period to help support my argument.”

The Robert and Joyce Johnson Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Teaching, is directed by Bernice Melvin, Margaret Root Brown Chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures and professor of French. Within the mission of the center is the encouragement of ‘bold exploration of intellectual frontiers” and “fostering lively intellectual dialogue within and across academic disciplines.”

Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the college is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.

Texas history and social studies teachers have been working to bolster teaching of the Progressive Era, Imperialism, and important figures of those times including Woodrow Wilson, after testing indicated Texas students are too often unfamiliar with the times and events.  Sherman area history teachers are lucky to have this close by.

I’ve been unable to discover whether professional education credit will be offered.


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?

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Russ on Reading’s catalog on Common Core State Standards — important reading

January 20, 2014

Russ Walsh gives strong voice to support from public education in a variety of ways — his old blog, Russ on Reading, carried a good deal of serious thought about the Common Core curricula recently, especially as it relates to reading.

Education professor and consultant Russ Walsh

Education professor and consultant Russ Walsh

Bookmark his site, and pay attention to what he says. This is a key issue in your state, in your schools, and in your legislature, today. If it’s not in your newspaper, you’re being steamrolled.

A Compilation of Common Core Concerns

The Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts has come under increasing scrutiny. Here is a collection of my posts from the past year on the Common Core and some of the concerns I have about the new standards and literacy instruction.

A note only because it’s necessary to keep reminding people in Texas:  CSCOPE is/was not Common Core.  Texas chose not to join in the Common Core Coalition years ago.


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