Her last day of teaching first grade

August 25, 2013

Diane Ravitch gets much better e-mail than I do; Ravitch said (images added here):

This came in my private email:

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

Woman teaching geometry from Euclid’s Elements. Wikipedia image

As many of you know, I just retired from teaching, having spent most of my career in first grade. Over the last few years, my teaching had become gradually more restricted. Instead of running a center-based day, I was required to run scheduled periods of Fundations, Writing Workshop, Reading Workshop, and (this year) of Envision math. To encourage me to retire, my district had made a financial offer that was difficult to refuse. Almost simultaneously, my daughter had announced that she was pregnant with twins. The decision became easier and easier. As the pressures in New York State increased,  I decided what I wanted to do after retire: support families, fight the tests, tutor children to learn DESPITE the tests. That would mean running workshops for parents about curriculum. But that’s not what I want to write about tonight. I want to tell you about my last few weeks of teaching, and about my last good lesson.  

The district isn’t replacing me next year due to shrinking numbers. Once I announced my retirement, the vultures began to circle – teachers  seeking furniture, leveled books, left over supplies. (All of a sudden, my hoarding had value!) Gradually, my room became emptier and emptier. You’d have thought that my teaching would have suffered, but — I LOVED IT, AND SO DID THE KIDS!!! Painting, gluing, research, math projects; WE ALL RELISHED THE CHANGE! It was a very special time – though teary, for some. I’m not sure why my retiring should result in so many sad children (since I wouldn’t have been their teacher the following year), but there you have it. 

Pamela teaching her children (1743–45)

Joseph Highmore’s illustration of Pamela teaching her children (1743–45); in volume four of Samuel Richardson’s novel, Pamela, Pamela endorses much of Locke’s educational program, while at the same time claiming a valuable new role for mothers: educator.

Driving to school on my last full day, I thought about what I could teach that day in my empty classroom. All I had was art paper, scotch tape, and crayons. The kids had already taken home their markers. I thought about how I could say good-bye. I wanted to help them gain some perspective. I wanted them to know they had each other. (I’d already told them they could email.)  I thought about how our paths had crossed and come together so arbitrarily, but how being together in this class had changed all our lives. And then I knew what I’d do! 

I gave each child one piece of 12″ x18″ paper. I told them that each child was to draw a path across the paper. It could be straight across or curved or jagged – whatever. We agreed that the paths would be about a fist wide, and had to be drawn in purple. The rest of the paper was to be decorated with whatever else they thought might have been on their paths this year. 

Everyone did as I requested after a few false starts. Some of the drawings were quite thoughtful and charming.  I then told the kids that we were now going to connect our paths together. I was having a small get together that night, and I told the children we needed something on the wall. Immediately, some of the kids became excited, and tried to put their papers together. I suggested that the kids get on the floor and connect their paths like a puzzle, assemble their work on the floor, and that we’d move it to the wall later. I’d never done this activity before, and had no idea how it would turn out. Over the course of the next half hour, I kept telling myself: Remember, it’s process over product.  

As the kids worked, I gradually stepped back. The children were making decisions about which paths connected, which looked best together, which should be moved to a different spot. There were no arguments, even though there were differences of opinion. I handed the kids scotch tape dispensers as needed. I mentioned to one little boy that it was great that there were no fights. He said to me, “Well, remember when I invented a game for the playground and then we all had a fight because I wanted to make all the rules? Remember how you explained to me how a true leader doesn’t make all the rules, but helps others to join in? Well – maybe that’s what we’ve all been doing.” 

I was absolutely floored. 

That’s when I knew how much I’d miss teaching. That feeling of molding a group and helping them become better together than singly – that’s amazing.

Empty first grade classroom.  From A Day in First Grade blog.

Empty first grade classroom. From A Day in First Grade blog.


War on Teachers and Education, Part 2: Ben Austin of Parent Revolution attacked Prof. Ravitch

June 10, 2013

Ben Austin is the head of Parent Revolution, the group trying to push teachers out of management of schools in California.  After Prof. Diane Ravitch noted problems with his group’s actions at Weigand Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, on her blog, he responded with an “open-letter” carried by Huffington Post.

Other than the link to Dr. Ravitch’s post (“now infamous blog post,” as Austin calls it), all links are added here.

Dear Professor Diane Ravitch:

Parents, educators, and education advocates have a lot in common when it comes to a kids-first first agenda. But we can never seize that common ground if those with whom we disagree are deemed to be “evil” and sentenced to Hell, as you did last week in your now infamous blog post.

If we can’t start from that basic premise, then we are no more mature than the children we endeavor to serve. We cannot purport to encourage tolerance and discourage bullying on the schoolyard if the adults in charge of the schoolyard can’t adhere to those same basic principles.

For the past year, the organization for which I serve as executive director – Parent Revolution – has been working with parents from the Watts neighborhood community school Weigand Avenue Elementary to help turnaround their failing school. Although there appear to be some areas of improvement at the school, Weigand is currently ranked 15th worst of nearly 500 elementary schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and has been on a continual overall downward slide for the past 3-4 years under its current school leadership.

Four years is a long time for parents to wait for improvements in a failing school, despite even the best of intentions from dedicated professionals like Weigand’s current principal. Unfortunately, the current principal was unable to make the progress needed to turnaround the school.

In 2011 many of these same parents petitioned along with Weigand’s teachers to oust their failed principal, but had no real power to force change, and the principal retained her job. Every teacher who signed that 2011 petition is now gone, and the school has gotten even worse since then.

Many of the kids have now “graduated” without having learned basic skills. Currently, more than half of kids at Weigand cannot read, write, or do math at grade level.

So this year, the parents organized again – but this time using California’s landmark Parent Trigger law, which gives parents trapped in a failing school the power to force leadership or staffing changes at the school, or convert it to a non-profit charter school.

After the parents submitted petitions representing a majority of parents at the school demanding a leadership change, the district complied with the law, verified the parents’ legal majority, and in August Weigand will open up as a newly transformed school with new leadership.

Recently, in a debate about whether these parents should have the power to demand a new principal for their failing public school, you labeled me “loathsome” for siding with the parents. You declared that everyone who supports these parents “deserves a special place in Hell.”

Let me tell you about Hell.

I grew up in Greenwich Village and Venice Beach, the son of two writers. My parents published a number of books, but our family struggled financially.

In many ways, I grew up lucky. I grew up with parents who valued education and loved me. They helped me get a scholarship to a private high school in Los Angeles. That scholarship may have saved my life.

My dad was an alcoholic. A few weeks before my junior year in high school, he committed suicide. I vividly remember going to the first day of school after my dad’s death, soon after his funeral. As a kid, my overriding emotion that day was embarrassment. I (wrongly) assumed that all the wealthy kids at my school had near perfect home lives, and I was embarrassed about mine. I didn’t want them to know about my dad, but it was such a small school that I knew that everyone would.

That’s what I remember as a boy. But looking back as an adult, I see that same day through a different lens. I can see the role that educators and others played to get me through this Hell.

I see how my teachers and my principal sat down with me that first day of school to talk. They told me they believed in me. They told me they would help me. Some even told me they loved me.

They told me I could make it. And I did. I graduated from high school, then Berkeley, then Georgetown Law School. I worked in the Clinton White House as well as on five Democratic presidential campaigns. I served as deputy mayor in Los Angeles, and sat as a member of the California State Board of Education.

I was lucky. But my younger brother wasn’t so lucky.

He went to a different school. His principal told him that he would never amount to anything. So he dropped out of school in 9th Grade. He fell down, and with no one at his school to help pick him up (and no dad), he lost a decade of his life.

Astonishingly, he did end up getting back up. Years later, he earned his GED, went to college, then business school and now is an awesome dad with a wonderful family. But his story is not the typical story of a 9th grade drop out.

When I see kids attending schools like Weigand, I see kids who are going through a whole lot more at home than I could have ever imagined as a boy, but who don’t have a safe place where somebody believes in them, supports them and loves them. Many kids drop out like my brother, but rarely share his happy ending.

So forgive me if I take it personally when parents trapped in a failing school ask for the same kind of support for their children that saved me as a child, and that I now expect from my daughters’ neighborhood public school as a father.

Your opposition to the Weigand parents is especially puzzling given the logic of your prior critique of Parent Trigger as a conspiracy to trick parents into converting their school into a charter school. The Weigand parents did not want a charter school, or new teachers, or even a new union contract. They wanted a change in leadership after 4 years of failure.

Weigand has exposed you as being opposed not just to charter schools, but to pure parent power.

To be clear, the reason that we have never personally attacked you, the principal, or any other opponent of parent power, is because our goal isn’t a political victory. It is a victory for our kids, and we can’t achieve that goal without ultimately working together.

Just last year, I wrote about you in the Huffington Post: “Diane Ravitch is a talented academic who has devoted her life to this issue. She clearly cares about kids and the future of public education in America.” I believed it then and still believe it now, despite your mean-spirited attacks against me and the committed parents and staff with whom I work. Instead of puerile name-calling and ugly personal attacks, let’s commit to a debate about a kids-first agenda and the future of public education that is worthy of our children.

Your intelligence and unique perspective have the potential to enrich this debate. But we must stipulate that this debate will not occur in Hell, Heaven, or in some imaginary world where one side has all the answers and holds all the moral authority.

Let us debate about the future of American public education on Planet Earth, where ideas and civility matter.

Sincerely,

Ben Austin
Executive Director
Parent Revolution

Why didn’t he respond on Ravitch’s blog?  I don’t know for sure, but as deliverd on HuffPo, this letter is a poison-the-well tactic:  Austin didn’t respond to Ravitch’s criticism directly.  Instead, he attacked Ravitch’s tone, making Ravitch out to be a rude person — but he did so to a different audience, one that had no background in the controversy.  Had he responded at her blog, he wouldn’t have the chance to introduce the audience of not-closely-watching-this-issue people to his biases first.  So this letter increases my skepticism of the good faith claims of Parent Revolution and Ben Austin.

Ben Austin’s group, Parent Revolution’s website lists a string of successes.  Each of those successes is a political victory over teachers and educators.  So far, there is not a single school turnaround success Ben Austin’s group can point out for us.  They claim they worked for a year with parents to turn around Weigand Avenue elementary.  As a political organizer, education administrator, civics wonk and teacher, I wonder why Austin’s group didn’t work with the teachers, too or instead.  The work described was not to turn around Weigand, but rather to wrest control from people who, by all accounts I’ve seen, were making solid progress in a tough situation.  I have not found evidence of a working PTA, which suggests the parents could not and would not organize a toss-the-principal campaign on their own. (If you have information on a working PTA, please note it in comments.)

Austin’s group is no fly-by-night neighborhood parents’ group.  Austin has no children at Weigand, nor do any of the other full-time staffers on the group’s payroll.  The Hechinger Report notes:

Parent Revolution, whose backers include the Gates, Walton Family and Wasserman foundations, now has a budget that has climbed close to $5.5 million and a staff of about 45, including its California and national teams, Phelps said.

I’m mystified by Austin’s story of his family life.  It explains some of his drive, perhaps, but it’s totally at odds with his group’s continuing attacks on the teachers and principals who, he claims, were heroes in his own life.  He also calls out the principal of his brother’s school as a villain.  But he offers not a hint of any rational way to tell who are the heroes and who are the villains in these dramas.

Plus, he almost completely brushes off the concerns raised by Ravitch and the Los Angeles Times.  The woman fired by Austin’s outside agitator-style actions looks a heroine in every portrait I’ve seen. The Parent Revolution targeting of Irma Cobian is covered in a smokescreen for no apparent reason.  Austin managed to can the one person who could save the life of a kid like Ben Austin.

Is there an explanation?

Please continue to Part 3.

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War on Teachers and Education, Part 1: Prof. Ravitch’s emotion-touching call for a cease-fire on teachers

June 10, 2013

This is the first of five parts needed to document and lay the background for what unfortunately promises to be a pitched public relations battle, if not a serious battle to rescue a California school from being crushed by a corporation making a hostile takeover of a school using California’s “parent trigger” law.  Follow-ups may be needed.

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 - Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 – Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

If you’ve followed education issues, you know Dr. Diane Ravitch is a professor of education at Columbia, one of the most respected schools of education in the world.  Her work on education reform was popular with the Reagan administration in the period after the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983, and particularly with education reformers at the time I was tapped to work at the Department of Education, in the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement.  Dr. Ravitch was appointed to head that arm of Education in the administration of George H. W. Bush, but after I had left government for the private sector.

More recently, Dr. Ravitch has looked hard to find evidence that the testing regimes imposed by the “No Child Left Behind” Act (NCLB) actually produce benefits to the education of students.

Finding no such evidence, Dr. Ravitch has called for an end to unproven methods of destruction of schools and school systems in pursuit of foggy, unattainable goals.

Recently, big-dollar guys have backed efforts to kick out teachers and trained educators from schools, and in particular with “parent-trigger” laws, which allow a group of parents to petition for the removal of professionals at a school, and for a group of parents to then take over the management of that school.

Oddly, the first places these laws have been applied is against teachers in schools where parental involvement has been historically abysmal.  A closer look shows that in these cases professional organizers, well-financed by businessmen who fancy themselves education reformers, did the load-carrying to get the petitions signed, and to get the educators ousted.

One of the schools where this process is moving is Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts, that troubled, poverty-ridden section of Los Angeles more famous for riots and gangs than educational attainment.

Dr. Ravitch wrote on her blog on May 25:

Parent Revolution Force Out Excellent Principal

The billionaire-funded Parent Revolution flexed its muscle and got enough parent signatures to force the resignation of a highly effective principal.

Please read the story.

This is the principal who was ousted by Parent Revolution:

“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.

“Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy praised a plan developed by Cobian and her team to turn around the struggling campus — where most students test below grade level in reading and math — calling it a “well-organized program for accelerated student achievement.” He thanked Cobian for her commitment and hard work.”

21 of the school’s 22 teachers have requested transfers because of Cobian’s ouster.

Parent Revolution is a malevolent organization funded by Walton, Gates, and Broad.

There is a special place in hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian.

Dr. Ravitch has a good sense of justice, and injustice in my opinion.  This situation got her thinking, and she had more comments later.

Wondering About Ben Austin

Earlier today, I posted an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times about Parent Revolution forcing the ouster of an excellent principal, Irma Cobian.

I keep thinking about it. I think about the way her staff admired and respected her, how 21 of 22 teachers requested a transfer when she was targeted by the phony Parent Revolution.

Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization–Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation [line added here], which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization.

Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian.

Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience–if you have one–forever.

W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming,Wikipedia image. Oddly, few, if any, education reform efforts work to incorporate any of Deming’s rules for running high-efficiency, highly-productive, championship-quality organizations; its as if there is a different agenda being pursued.

Ravitch makes a good point.  Organizational turnarounds rarely work when they start with mass firings.  It didn’t work in the French Revolution, it didn’t work in Russian in 1917.  Management experts like W. Edwards Deming, the most famous of the tough-reorganization management consultants in the drive for high quality organizations, bluntly warn that such efforts generally are destructive — the people fired are not the problem, nor do they have the authority to fix the problems, most often.  People on the front line know the problems better than anyone else, and can provide the leadership to turn organizations around, however — and for those reasons, you don’t get rid of them, if your goal is to effect an organizational turnaround.

Mr. Austin should have a framed photo of Mrs. Cobian on his desk so he must see her, every day.

Mr. Austin disagrees.

See part 2.

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

More, different views, and resources:


Education, unions, guns and Superman: A few random thoughts

December 18, 2012

Here, I’ve been quiet for a few days on these issues.  I like to have more facts before forming opinions.  Others don’t feel so constricted, though, and one of the key lessons of life we must learn over and over is that too often we must act without knowing all the facts we’d wish to know.

Ryan Houck, Broken Pencil for Bach

Borrowed art: A Broken Pencil for Bach, drawing by Ryan Houck

This is one of those times.  In Michigan, the governor has been presented bills which he has signed which take away rights of teachers to stand up for themselves, part of a long-standing GOP war on education and teachers.  He has other bills intended to legalize carrying guns in schools, which he has not yet signed.   In several states, legislatures gear up for sessions starting early next year, with pre-filed bills to put the screws to teachers, cut back education spending, take money from public schools and give it to private groups under a pretext of improving education (I say pretext because all research indicates the public schools perform better, but I digress).  In Congress, the GOP demands cuts to health care, mental health care, education, roads, aid to any workers, employed, under-employed or unemployed, and especially in payments to people in poverty or otherwise in economic distress (“no pain to others, no GOP gain”).

Highlighting the intentional sloth the GOP insists on in government, Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy hammered one of our nation’s largest cities and most important regions for technology, manufacturing, business, finance and news, and the GOP opposes federal aid to speed up recovery; and in Newtown, Connecticut, a man with learning difficulties and/or behavioral issues broke into an elementary school over-armed with human-killling automatic and semi-automatic weapons legally purchased and legally owned, with which he had legally trained, and murdered 26 people, including 20 children.

My few random thoughts:

  • The unions demonized in Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin, saved children’s lives in Newtown.  (Yes, teachers; cops and firefighters, too.)
  • The teachers who “don’t deserve the pay they get,” according to many speakers in the public fora, laid down their lives in Newtown.
  • Teachers who ask for parental support, chaperones for a trip to the art gallery, a working copier, a full set of books for the students, a working grading machine, enough pencils so every kid can write, a working projector and ten minutes to set it up — and too often don’t get any of that, let alone ten minutes for a body break — now are asked by the crazy gun lobby to arm themselves and take on other beneficiaries of crazy gun lobbyists in the halls of the schools.
  • Waiting for Superman” was a film about how teachers are animals, teachers unions are monsters.  Turns out Superman was already teaching first grade, in Newtown, but is demonized by the filmmakers as someone or something else.
  • Maybe we should rethink who are the monsters, who is Superman, and who deserves our support.  Superman’s already in our schools — what are we waiting for?  Somehow I doubt that Superman’s merely showing up will be enough to resolve the issues and “fix” our schools.

What are your thoughts?

More, and related material:


Junk science in education: Testing doesn’t work, can’t evaluate teachers

July 29, 2012

Diane Ravitch, who once had the ear of education officials in Washington and would again, if they have a heart, brains, and a love for the U.S. defended teachers and teaching in a way that is guaranteed to make conservatives and education critics squirm

Cordial relations with Randi Weingarten may not rest well with our teacher friends in New York — but listen to what Dr. Diane Ravitch said at this meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • “Teachers are under attack.”
  • “The public schools are under attack.”
  • “Teachers unions are under attack.”
  • “Public schools are not shoe stores.  They don’t open and close on a dime.”
  • “‘Value-added assessment,’ used as it is today, is junk science.”

If you care about education, if you care about your children and grandchildren, if you care about the future of our nation, you need to listen to this.


458

AFT HQ description:

Diane Ravitch, education activist and historian, rallied an enthusiastic audience at the AFT 2012 Convention with her sharp criticism of education “reform” that threatens public schools.

It’s all true.

More Resources and News:


Crank history assault on Alabama Public Television

July 10, 2012

Highly disturbing news from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Alabama Public Television Apparently Heading Far Right

Posted in Extremist Propaganda

by Mark Potok on June 18, 2012

Lord help us. Alabama Public Television (APT), a voice of reason in a state that often seems to have very little, is apparently succumbing to the crazies.

Last week, the two top executives of the network were summarily fired by the Alabama Educational Television Commission, APT’s governing body, after they resisted an effort by a new commissioner to air DVDs produced by a far-right theocrat who has been roundly condemned by historians. In the days that followed, three members of a foundation set up to raise money for APT also resigned.

The videos were produced by David Barton, an evangelical propagandist who claims falsely that America was founded as a Christian nation and has also become Glenn Beck’s unofficial — and completely untrained — “historian.” The DVDs were suggested by commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika-based chiropractor who was appointed to the panel last year and elected its secretary in January.

Immediately after meeting in executive session June 12, commissioners ordered APT Executive Director Allan Pizzato and his deputy, Pauline Howland, to clear out their desks and leave APT’s Birmingham headquarters. Pizzato had been APT executive director for 12 years; Howland was his deputy director and the network’s chief financial officer.

Pizzato would not comment on the reasons for the firing, other than to say commissioners were seeking to go in “a new direction.” But Howland, in an interview with Current.org, a news service of the American University’s School of Communication, said that Pizzato and his staff had “grave concerns” about airing the videos, which strongly advocate a religious interpretation of the past that historians say is simply wrong. She said she was “baffled” by the firings but recalled Pizatto asking his staff for advice on how to respond to Herring’s proposal.

Commission Chairman Ferris Stephens disputed Current’s report in an interview with The Associated Press, but gave no specifics. Herring, for his part, claimed that disagreement over the Barton DVDs played an “at best minimal” role in the firings, which he described as part of an overall restructuring effort. “We believe it to be a positive change,” wrote another commissioner, conservative talk radio host J. Holland, in response to AP’s queries about the firings. “Simple as that.”

As simple as that? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it.

Stephens told the AP that Barton’s videos had been discussed in the last meeting before the one that produced the firings last week. He said there was another item related to Barton’s organization, WallBuilders, on the agenda for last week’s meeting, but that the commission didn’t get to that item before adjourning. Herring, for his part, denied knowing that Pizzato and Howland had any opinion at all about the DVDs, although Howland told Current that Pizzato had made it clear that he thought the films were “inappropriate” for APT.

Why is it that Pizzato and Howland were fired just as the matter seemed to be coming to a head? Why won’t Stephens and the other commissioners cough up the real reason for the firings, if it wasn’t what seems obvious? When the AP story ran last week, Herring was quoted saying the station may indeed broadcast some of the Barton videos. In fact, he said the commission had consulted attorneys about that possibility. That’s a funny thing to do if you’re just deciding whether to show a film on public television, not making controversial personnel decisions.

The sad truth is, this kind of extremism is getting to be par for the course in Alabama. We passed the immigrant-bashing H.B. 56 and, when legal problems with it came up, our legislators responded by actually making the draconian bill even worse. Last month, the same legislature, after the John Birch Society warned hysterically about a United Nations global sustainability plan, actually passed a law saying that property here cannot be confiscated as part of Agenda 21 — even though that entirely voluntary plan does not and could not require that. One of our current congressmen even claimed a few years back that he knew of 17 “socialists” in the U.S. Congress — although, like Joe McCarthy, he declined to name them.

Why does Rodney Herring want to show Barton’s videos? He isn’t saying. But what Barton has to say should make Alabamians’ hair stand on end.

Barton doesn’t only not believe in global warming — he thinks reducing carbon dioxide emissions would actually devastate the planet. Barton fought to have the names of Martin Luther King Jr. and labor activist Cesar Chavez removed from public school textbooks. He says God set the borders of nations, so immigration reform is unnecessary. He argues that homosexuality should be regulated because gay people “die decades earlier than heterosexuals” and more than half of all gays have had more than 500 sex partners — both falsehoods.

It isn’t only liberals who dislike Barton. Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute on Church-State Studies at Baylor University, says “a lot of what he presents is a distortion of the truth.” J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, says his writings are “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact.” Mark Lilla, a scholar who has taught at University of Chicago and Columbia University, says Barton’s work is “schlock history written by [a] religious propagandist” and uses “selective quotations out of context.”

But none of this apparently came up when the commissioners, in their great wisdom, decided to fire Allan Pizzato and Pauline Howland. Instead, it looks like Barton’s backers succeeded, by a reported 5-2 vote, in silencing their own eminently sensible executives, and then refusing to come clean with the public about their action.

Once again, Alabama will be the poorer. Lord help us.

Supporters of Alabama Public Television set up a website to provide information on the fight to save APT.

David Barton is, of course, the voodoo history promoter from Texas, former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party who led the party into a variety of anti-education policies.  Barton’s organization to spread his bogus history claims is Wallbuilders.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ellie.

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Christians, call on this publisher to repent

June 27, 2012

What would Jesus do in a case like this?

In order to question evolution theory, a publisher claiming to be Christian, publishing books to be used in nominally Christian schools that get charter school funds, claims that the Loch Ness Monster is real.  Why?

[Loch Ness Monster = dinosaur] + [Alive with humans] = [Falsification of evolution theory]

Like Dave Barry, we could not make this stuff up.  It’s too lunatic for fiction.

Here’s the story, from Scotsman.com (not “true Scotsman,” of course) (links added):

Loch Ness monster cited by US schools as evidence that evolution is myth

The Loch Ness monster: Used as evidence that evolution is myth

The Loch Ness monster: Used as evidence that evolution is myth*

By CLAIRE MCKIN
Published on Monday 25 June 2012 14:05

THOUSANDS of American school pupils are to be taught that the Loch Ness monster is real – in an attempt by religious teachers to disprove Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Pupils attending privately-run Christian schools in the southern state of Louisiana will learn from textbooks next year, which claim Scotland’s most famous mythological beast is a living creature.

Thousands of children are to receive publicly-funded vouchers enabling them to attend the schools – which follow a strict fundamentalist curriculum.

The Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme teaches controversial religious beliefs, aimed at disproving evolution and proving creationism.

Youngsters will be told that if it can be proved that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as man, then Darwinism is fatally flawed.

Critics have slammed the content of the religious course books, labelling them “bizarre” and accusing them of promoting radical religious and political ideas.

One ACE textbook called Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.

“Have you heard of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur.

One former pupil, Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who went through the ACE programme as a child, but now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism, said the Nessie claim was presented as “evidence” that evolution could not have happened.

He added: “The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4,000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived.

“If it was millions of years ago then that would be ridiculous. That’s their logic. It’s a common thing among creationists to believe in sea monsters.”

Private religious schools, including the Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, Louisiana, which follows the ACE curriculum, have already been cleared to receive the state voucher money transferred from public school funding, thanks to a bill pushed through by Republican state governor Bobby Jindal, a Hindu convert to Catholicism.

Boston-based researcher and writer Bruce Wilson, who specialises in the American political religious right, said: “One of these texts from Bob Jones University Press claims that dinosaurs were fire-breathing dragons. It has little to do with science as we currently understand. It’s more like medieval scholasticism.”

Mr Wilson believes that such fundamentalist Christian teaching is going on in at least 13 American states.

He added: “There’s a lot of public funding going to private schools, probably around 200,000 pupils are receiving this education.

“The majority of parents now home schooling their kids are Christian fundamentalists too. I don’t believe they should be publicly funded, I don’t believe the schools who use these texts should be publicly funded.”

And you wonder why kids turn out like they do?

Christians, you may disagree with evolution theory, or Darwin’s findings and the work of 10,000 other scientists, but do you want to perpetrate bald-faced hoaxes to defend your disagreement?  Call on the publisher to change the book.  Spreading falsehoods is the wrong way to go about getting at the truth.

_____________

*  Yes, that’s the photo that’s been debunked a dozen times, a dozen ways.  Whatever it is a photograph of, it is not the Loch Ness Monster.

More, and Related articles


Update: Romney campaign continues attacks on education, calls for fewer teachers, cops and firefighters

June 12, 2012

Romney campaign chairman John Sununu danced a little bit trying to qualify Mitt Romney’s attack on first responders and teachers — Sununu said some cities have smaller populations than they once did, and they need fewer teachers.

But Sununu continued to attack all teachers, all cops, and all firefighters.

Sununu’s position, opposed to all government workers, remains relatively consistent over the past three decades.  Sununu remains one of the crabbiest people ever to hold high office and great power (U.S. Senator, White House chief of staff).  We probably should take him at his word now.

ThinkProgress.com quotes Sununu:

SUNUNU: Let me respond as a taxpayer, not as a representative of the Romney campaign. There are municipalities, there are states where there is flight of population. And as the population goes down, you need fewer teachers. As technology contributes to community security and dealing with issues that firefighters have to deal with, you would hope that you can, as a taxpayer, see the benefits of the efficiency and personnel that you get out of that.

JANSING: But even if there’s movement to the suburbs, teachers and policemen are needed somewhere.

SUNUNU: But I’m going to tell you there are places where just pumping money in to add to the public payroll is not what the taxpayers of this country want.

JANSING: Do you think that taxpayers of this country want to hear fewer firefighters, fewer teachers, fewer police officers, from a strategic standpoint?

SUNUNU: If there’s fewer kids in the classrooms, the taxpayers really do want to hear there will be fewer teachers. [...] You have a lot of places where that is happening. You have a very mobile country now where things are changing. You have cities in this country in which the school population peaked ten, 15 years ago. And, yet the number of teachers that may have maintained has not changed. I think this is a real issue. And people ought to stop jumping on it as a gaffe and understand there’s wisdom in the comment.

Nationwide, the number of students is increasing, and even with the dip for the recent massive Republican recession, population continues to grow.  My school is not representative of the entire nation, but we had a 25% increase in student population, with a 10% decrease in faculty.  Class sizes rose dramatically (I had as many as 36 students in a room designed for 22).

That’s more common than decreasing student populations.

I’m not sure we can accuse Sununu of not being in touch with what goes on in the U.S.  He maintains his anti-government, do-more-with-less positions despite knowing better.

Yes, I think his explanation is dissembling.

But be warned:  The War on American Exceptionalism should not come as a surprise; Romney’s campaign is making it clear that they prefer to do damage to U.S. institutions like law enforcement and education.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jennsmom.


Fruits of the Republican War on Education

January 16, 2012

You didn’t think it was working already?

This story appeared in the Los Angeles Times, which is why Republicans discourage newspaper publishing, and why they discourage programs to teach people to read well and remember history.

In South Carolina, a discrepancy on federal spending

Campaigning Republicans draw cheers with their calls for cuts to government programs. But the state benefits from such programs to a greater extent than many others.

By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

January 14, 2012, 7:55 p.m.

Reporting from Beaufort, S.C.—

When Rick Santorum stood in front of voters at a yacht club in this small town and pledged to slash government spending, especially entitlement programs, Nancy Garvin knew she had found her candidate.

Garvin, 54, said she was sick of seeing government squander money through agencies that don’t do anything, and wants expenditures cut “in half.”

Washington is throwing money away through a lot of wasteful spending,” she said, sitting at a picnic table beneath trees draped in graying Spanish moss.

But Garvin, whose husband, a carpenter, has been out of work for four years, depends on the very government she wants to see cut back. She collects disability insurance — it is what she and her husband have survived on as he’s looked for work. Her mother is on Social Security. Garvin herself used to work as a nurse at a hospital where many patients paid for services through Medicaid, another program using federal money.

Garvin’s views are similar to those of many Republican voters in this conservative state, where candidates pledging to cut government spending were met with resounding applause last week, and where former Gov. Mark Sanford tried to refuse federal stimulus funding on principle.

South Carolina and its residents benefit from government spending, more so than many other states. For every dollar the state pays in federal taxes, it receives $1.35 in federal government benefits. By contrast, California receives only 78 cents for every dollar it pays in taxes.

“We get more back from the federal government than we send in terms of revenue,” said Doug Woodward, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina. “But I’m not sure that a lot of voters would even care if they heard that. When they say they want to see less spending in the state, they’re referring to entitlement programs.”

Much of the money spent in South Carolina goes to the programs that make up a big chunk of the federal budget — defense, Social Security and Medicaid. The state has seven military bases, and received $7 billion in Defense Department spending in 2010. One in five residents in South Carolina receives Social Security benefits — compared with just 13% in California. As an aging state, South Carolina will be more dependent on federal programs such as Social Security in the coming decade, according to AARP.

“People want to see lower government spending, especially on the Republican side,” said Karen Kedrowski, a politics professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. “But when they’re asked specifically about high-dollar items, including Social Security and defense, they are not willing to accept significant cuts.”

Kedrowski’s university recently polled South Carolina Republicans to ask about reducing the deficit by making cuts to government programs: 73% of voters said they weren’t willing to have their current Social Security or Medicare benefits reduced to address budget concerns. More than half said they weren’t willing to cut defense spending either.

It’s not just wealthy Republican voters in the Palmetto State who say they eschew entitlement programs, Kedrowski said.

“There’s also a disproportionate number of low-income people who vote Republican because they respond to the populist messages, even when it is against their economic interests to do so,” she said.

Sheila Barton, 56, runs a floral shop in Pickens, a town that Rick Perry visited recently to stroll down Main Street and shake hands with store owners and residents.

“Americans don’t want a government that’s playing a bigger role in their lives,” Perry had said at a speech earlier that morning. “No one’s ever come up to me and said, ‘We sure need to have more government in our lives.'”

Barton agrees — in principle.

“There’s a lot of things that are wasteful,” she said, but when pressed to name some, she said she couldn’t really think of any off the top of her head. Defense spending should be increased, she said, and people who have paid into Social Security should receive their benefits. And local government programs need more funding, she said — she’s currently a guardian for local children through the court system.

There is some evidence that South Carolina’s opposition to government spending might further strangle the state’s already weak economy — if it leads to cuts in Social Security. Roberto Gallardo of the Southern Rural Development Center says that economies in many small towns in South Carolina are increasingly dependent on Social Security payments.

The percentage of total personal income in South Carolina coming from Social Security’s Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance programs was 7.6% in 2009, up from 3.8% in 1970. South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation on the group’s Social Security Dependency Index, which measures how reliant local economies are on Social Security payments for job creation and consumer spending. Neighboring North Carolina ranked 23rd.

That means candidates have to walk a fine line here — promising to cut government to alleviate voters’ fears, while still preserving the programs that require most of the spending. How else to appeal to such voters as Clifton Anderson of Camden, who went to see Rick Santorum speak in a diner in Ridgeway?

“His ideas of downsizing government are most important to me,” said Anderson, about Santorum. He continued, in the next breath: “I also like his idea about strengthening defense.”

alana.semuels@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times


Daily Floggings of Teachers Dept.: Utah

November 17, 2011

Sign on the door of the mishipmen’s mess:  “The daily floggings will continue until morale improves.”

In an effort to raise teacher morale to a level at least as high as that of the British Navy back in the day when everyday brought “flog and grog” — though, admittedly, we work in education today without the grog — policy makers continue in their efforts to blame teachers for every problem of education, and they pledge to “hold teachers accountable” regardless the issue.

In November 16th’s Deseret News from Salt Lake City:

Utah senator says teacher morale is low and lawmakers need to address teacher perceptions

SALT LAKE CITY — A freshman state senator, who held a series of tell-all meetings with Utah school teachers, relayed to his colleagues Wednesday a common theme among public educators: Teacher morale is low.

“They are discouraging new teachers from entering the profession. … They feel classroom size is an issue. … They feel that they don’t have the professional development support they need,” said Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, at an Education Interim Committee meeting. “That’s what they feel. I’m not validating it or invalidating it. I’m communicating it to this group.

Osmond went to teachers to get feedback on his controversial proposal that would make it easier to fire teachers. His legislation would dismantle current state orderly termination laws that require districts to have a specific, documented cause when firing teachers and allow teachers a chance for recourse. The proposal would also give more control to local districts so they can develop termination policies based on what works for them and institute one- to five-year contracts at the end of which schools could let teachers go without cause.

Osmond held four meetings where public school educators could give him a piece of their mind. Hundreds of teachers attended.

“Our public employees feel that there is a major morale problem in education,” he said.

No kidding?


Quote of the moment: Diane Ravitch, history won’t be kind to those who attacked teachers

August 29, 2011

Attacking Teachers Attacks My Future

"Attacking Teachers Attacks My Future" sign carried by students supporting teachers at the Wisconsin Capitol Building, February 16, 2011. Photo by BlueRobot, Ron Chandenais

Of one thing I feel sure—history will not be kind to those who gleefully attacked teachers, sought to fire them based on inaccurate measures, and worked zealously to reduce their status and compensation. It will not admire the effort to insert business values into the work of educating children and shaping their minds, dreams, and character. It will not forgive those who forgot the civic, democratic purposes of our schools nor those who chipped away at the public square. Nor will it speak well of those who put the quest for gain over the needs of children. Nor will it lionize those who worshipped data and believed passionately in carrots and sticks. Those who will live forever in the minds of future generations are the ones who stood up against the powerful on behalf of children, who demanded that every child receive the best possible education, the education that the most fortunate parents would want for their own children.

Now is a time to speak and act. Now is a time to think about how we will one day be judged. Not by test scores, not by data, but by the consequences of our actions.

Diane Ravitch, writing at Bridging Differences, a blog of EdWeek, June 28, 2011

See more photos from Ron Chandenais, here.


Cracks appear in Rick Santorum’s personal constitution

August 6, 2011

Rick Santorum in Iowa, Huffington Post image

Rick Santorum in Iowa, Huffington Post image

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s reluctant grip on reality appeared to be vanishing fast in a stop in Iowa, Thursday.  He said America’s schools are for indoctrination of students, and he doesn’t like the current round of indoctrination.

Geeze, this ought to be in The Onion.  Is Santorum really this disconnected from America and life?  Are there actually people out there who don’t look around for the guys in the white clothes with straight jackets and nets when they hear him say this stuff?

I don’t generally cite to The Huffington Post, but when the warning claxons go off, you ought to see if there’s danger before dismissing them as error:

Rick Santorum woose voters in Orange City, Iowa - Des Moines Register photo

Rick Santorum woos voters in Orange City, Iowa - Des Moines Register photo

During a stop in Iowa on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that “schools indoctrinate our children,” the Des Moines Register reports.

“You wonder why young people can vote and flock for a guy like Barack Obama and say, if you look at the surveys, that socialism is better than capitalism — well, that’s because they don’t understand America,” he explained, according to the Register. “I said ‘indoctrination’ and I meant it,” he said.

What survey does he have that claims any group in America, other than the Tea Party or the American Communist Party, say socialism is better than capitalism?  Since curricula in every state teach the opposite, the existence of such a poll would be powerful evidence of critical thinking powers in students that most teachers would not attest to.

Maybe more important, perhaps we should  worry about just what all those thousands of nice Baptist ladies are teaching our kids in Texas, eh?  Not to mention the Lutheran ladies in Iowa.  Santorum is sniping at teachers, but if you look at the demographics, it makes little sense.  Teachers are, like the rest of America, about 90% Christian, God-fearing, flag-waving American patriots.

Well, nothing Santorum says makes much sense, does it?  Santorum lent support to the War on Education.

Santorum argued that the country’s education system is leaving students with an insufficient grasp of history. His remarks come with the widely-anticipated Ames Straw poll — a table-setter event for next year’s Iowa caucuses — less than two weeks away.

What in the hell do the schools in Ames, Iowa, look like, that Santorum can say that stuff about them?

By the way, if people learned history accurately in high school, Rick Santorum wouldn’t stand a chance in any election today.  But I digress.

The Des Moines Register article adds the details that Santorum made note of recent testing that shows American kids don’t know enough about American history — always the case, by the way — and that a college prof from Kansas said he gives his students the test required of immigrants applying for citizenship, and most can’t pass the test.

I’m game:  Let’s give the test to Santorum.  If he doesn’t pass, though, we can’t deport him.  We have no vehicles capable of getting to Mars.

HP offers information that may explain Santorum’s insanity:  The same article notes he’s touring Iowa in two vans with his seven children.  In this heat?

Does the Iowa division of child protective services know about this?  How about the division that worries about children torturing their parents?


War on science, war on education: Evolution under fire at Texas education board

July 21, 2011

Ryan at the Texas Freedom Network laid out the stakes:

Just a reminder about what new chairwoman Barbara Cargill — and her five “conservative Christian” allies on the State Board of Education — have in mind for the meeting this week:

I am a little bit concerned in looking at some of these science online supplementary materials. I looked at one of the links and there was a picture of a — a graphic of a human fetus next to a gorilla fetus talking about how they only differ by one amino acid. Therefore, universal common decent. So that is of some concern. And I am not quite sure if we are going to have the votes to overturn that. We will work diligently to rectify and correct some of that. But remember we lost a conservative seat, so we’re down to six.

In this unguarded moment, Cargill drops the double-speak and is honest about her plan for the first meeting over which she will preside as chair  — pressure publishers to censor scientific information from their materials and to insert bogus information questioning evolution. And she knows exactly what her task is: to get the extra votes necessary to accomplish this.

Stay tuned to TFN Insider on Thursday and Friday as we give you a front-row seat at the contentious hearing and board vote.

Live blogging the meeting starting at about 10:00 a.m today at TFN Insider at at Steve Schafersman’s blog, from the Texas Citizens for Science.

More, resources:


Friends of science and evolution: Testify next week in the Texas textbook process?

July 14, 2011

I get important e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network; they’re asking for help next week to fight creationism and other forms of buncombe popular in Texas:

Science and the SBOE: One Week to Go

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education will take a critical vote on science in our public schools. We need people like you to make sure the vote is in favor of sound, well-established science.

Up for board consideration are science instructional materials submitted by a number of publishers and vendors who want their product used in Texas classrooms. Even before the board meets, far-right groups have been hard at work trying to ensure materials approved by the board attack and diminish evolutionary science and include the junk science of “intelligent design”/creationism.

The attacks include one from a little-know firm out of New Mexico, International Databases, which submitted instructional materials rife with creationist propaganda.

It gets worse. Far-right SBOE members last month appointed creationists with questionable scientific credentials to teams tasked with reviewing the materials and making recommendations to the board.

And new board chair Barbara Cargill upped the stakes when in a speech just last week she framed the debate over science as a “spiritual battle.”

The board will hold just ONE public hearing on the science materials. Your participation is crucial.

It is critical that you act now by clicking here to express your interest in testifying before the board on July 21.

Please note: The deadline to sign up to testify is 5 p.m. Monday.

We must insist that the SBOE keep junk science – including “intelligent design”/creationism – out of our children’s classrooms. The board must approve only instructional materials that are accurate, that are in line with sound and well-established science, and that will prepare Texas children to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century.

Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right. www.tfn.org | www.tfninsider.org | General: tfn@tfn.org
Tell a friend to subscribe to TFN News Clips, Alerts or Rapid Response Teams. Subscribers may choose the issue areas that interest them. To change your TFN subscription preferences – or to unsubscribe – click here.
Copyright 2010, Texas Freedom Network

Trying to carve out time here.  Can you help?

Hearings will be most interesting.  Support for the Texas State Board of Education actually comes, often, from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  TEA this week laid off just under 200 workers, to deal with the 36% budget chopping done to the agency by the Texas Lege.  Word comes this week that curriculum directors at TEA were let go, including the director of science curriculum.

It’s rather like the first 20 weeks of World War II in the Pacific, with the aggressors advancing on almost all fronts against science.  When is our Battle of Midway?

Information, resources: 


Fun with Lyndon, George and Bill – and Audie

June 18, 2011

Five days on the road and we hoped to make it home Friday night.

Ed Darrell, presidents on weekends

"I've got the Presidential Seal / I'm up on the Presidential Podium. / My Mama loves me, she loves me . . ."* Playing around with the podium and teleprompter at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

Air conditioning on the bus failed, and then the vacuum system failed and we lost the ability to close the door, and we started to lose brakes.  Fortunately, we were within sight of Dallas when things really came to smash.

So our Teachers Tour of Presidential Libraries came to an interesting end last night.  More good fortune — the bus stalled out in the parking lot of a gas station with a Dickey’s Barbecue attachedRoss Perot is right, at least about this:  Dickey’s food is worth the stop.

Other stops along the way provided nutrition for our minds, and for our classroom preparation.  Education experts at the 13 National Archives-related Presidential Libraries work together, and work separately, to create classroom friendly and classroom ready materials.   Beyond the museums, we were looking for history to use in our classes.  We got a lot of pointers to documents our students can use in class to learn history and how to write it.

This is the second year of this particular Teaching American History grant, from the U.S. Department of Education to the Dallas Independent School District.  It’s important that you know that, because Republicans in Congress propose to cut this program out.  This is one of the few programs I think has value way beyond the dollars spent on it.  TAH may become just one more victim of the conservatives’ War on Education.

I hope to post more about what we learned.

We toured the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, the Audie Murphy and American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

It was a rowdy group of teachers, of course, and we closed down every bookstore we found along the way.  The bus driver hopes never again to hear a single verse of  “99 Student Essays to Grade on the Desk.”

How’s your summer been so far?

_____________

Paul Simon, of course.


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