Can public schools work? Texas Tribune’s interview with Michael Marder, Part II

June 11, 2011

From my earlier post on the Texas Tribune interview with Michael Marder, in which he questioned the assumptions that monkeying with teacher discipline, accountability, pay, training, vacations, or anything else, can produce better results in educating students, especially students from impoverished backgrounds.

Marder is the director of the University of Texas’s program to encourage much better prepared teachers, UTeach.

Michael Marder’s numbers show that it’s not the teachers’ fault that so many students are not ready for college, and not learning the stuff we think they should know.

Texas Tribune said:

In the popular 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “But even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them.”

After looking at the data, Marder has yet to be convinced that any teaching solution has been found that can overcome the detrimental effects of poverty on a large scale — and that we may be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

[Reeve] Hamilton’s interview of Marder takes up three YouTube segments — you should watch all three.

Here’s Part 2:

Read the original introductory article at Texas Tribune.

For the record, Michelle Rhee is probably right:  In the toughest neighborhoods, children excel when the right adults do the right things for them.  But the right adults usually are parents, and the right things include reading to the children from about 12 months on, and pushing them to love learning and love books.  Teachers get the kids too late, generally, to bend those no-longer-twigs back to a proper inclination.  The government interventions required to boost school performance must come outside the classroom.  Michelle Rhee’s great failure — still — is in her tendency not to recognize that classroom performance of a student has its foundations and live roots in the homes and neighborhoods who send the children to school every day.


Race to the Top: What’s a good job for a great bubble-guesser?

June 22, 2010

Education issues suffered here at the Bathtub over the past several months.  Confession:  I don’t like to write while angry, and thinking about education generally gets me there quickly.  When I write in anger, I like to sit on the stuff and edit when I’m cooled down.  But when I get back to edit, I get angry again.

If you watched the follies from the Texas State Soviet of Education over social studies standards, you might understand some of my anger.  I’m fortunate in some ways that my students don’t track the news more closely — they tended to miss the Soviet’s gutting of Hispanic history from Texas history standards, and so they didn’t get angry.  More than 85% of my students are Hispanic, many related to the Texas heroes dropped from the standards because they were brown (“What’s Hispanic Heritage Month for, anyway?” the Soviet probably wondered.)

Test bubbling, from TweenTeacher

Power of Bubbling -- for a scary story, click on the image and go read it at TweenTeacher

Plus, time for thinking about these issues evaporated during the school year.   Summer isn’t much better, though a bunch of us had eight great days with members of the history department at UT-Arlington focusing on the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, Age of Imperialism . . . even though reminded every day that the Texas Soviet doesn’t want us to teach that period as it is recorded in the history books.  (No, there are not plans for a translation into Texas Soviet Speak, at least not soon.  Teachers will have to make do.)

In one of our (too) many testing/oath-signing sessions this spring, a colleague cynically wondered what would be a good job for a kid who does well on the tests, a kid who has “demonstrated mastery of bubble-guessing.”

Bubble-guessing.  Wow.  Is that an apt description for what many schools teach these days!

I have a few days to put up the periscope and see what is going on out there.  A couple of things I’ve noticed, that you may want to follow:

Yong Zhao noticed that the Race to the Top criteria shouldn’t be etched in stone, and that small changes result in different winners. He’s actually more critical than that — he’s not just saying that the criteria can change.  He’s saying the criteria are lousy.

Education has a new god: data. It is believed to have the power to save American education and thus everything in education must be about data—collect more data about our children, evaluate teachers and administrators based on data, and reward and punish schools using data.

Sound familiar?

Zhao points to serious analyses of the Race to the Top applications and rejections which show, among other things, Pennsylvania was penalized for focusing on early childhood education, instead of collecting data.

Why was it we got into this swamp in the first place, and where did all these alligators come from?

Go read Zhao’s analysis, and maybe cruise around his blog.  It’s worth your while.  He’s a professor at Michigan State — University Distinguished Professor of Education.  (One thing you should read there:  Zhao’s slides from a recent speech.  E-mail the link to your principal.  Somebody find a YouTube version of that speech, please.)  [Checker Finn, do you ever get over to this backwater?  Zhao’s on to something.  Zhao’s on to a lot of things.]

Race to the Top is the worst thing the Obama administration has done, in my opinion.  It is aimed, or mis-aimed to give us a nation of bubble-guessers.  My guess is that aim is unintentional.  But the road to hell, or a Republican majority . . .

While we’re looking around, pay some attention to David Warlick’s 2¢ worth.  That’s where I found the links to Zhao.

Warlick has a couple of points worth pondering today:  First, has the technology train left the station, and so it’s no longer acceptable for teachers to use old tools?  He’s got a rant on trying to figure out if we’re teaching the “right stuff”:

I could have shared some of these new ideas with her, but it would not have helped.  The last time I helped my daughter prepare for a test, it was 8th grade and the unit test on the Civil War.  When she walked into that classroom, she could talk about and write about the reasons for the war, what the North and the South wanted to achieve, the advantages that the North held and those of the South, as well as their disadvantages.  She could tell you who won and who lost and why.

She made a 52 on the test because she couldn’t give the dates of the major battles of the war.

One of our mantras in the old Transportation Consulting Group at Ernst & Young was to understand that “You’re always ready to fight the last war.”  For what we were doing, generally we had to change the technology for each assignment.

That’s doubly true in education, in social studies, I think.  I constantly remind myself that my students don’t need the same things I got in high school.  We shouldn’t equip students to fight the last war, but instead prepare them to understand they need to get ready for the next one.

And what about your tags?  Warlick wonders. No answers, but good wonderings.


Ravitch calls the issue: Will public education survive?

May 1, 2010

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 - IMGP3872  Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell

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

Bill McKenzie, editorial board member and writer for the Dallas Morning News, wrote briefly about the rekindled controversy over standards a year ago — but did he listen to Diane Ravitch on Wednesday night?

He should have.

I first met Ravitch a couple of decades ago when I worked for Checker Finn at the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.   Ted Bell’s idea of a commission to look at education quality, and it’s 1983 report, saved the Reagan administration and assured Reagan’s reelection in 1984.  She was one of the most prodigious and serious thinkers behind education reform efforts, then a close friend of Finn (who was Assistant Secretary of  Education for Research) — a position that Ravitch herself held in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

Ravitch now criticizes the end result of all that turmoil and hard work, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the way it has distorted education to keep us in the crisis we were warned of in 1983.  Then, the “rising tide of mediocrity” came in part because we didn’t have a good way to compare student achievement, state to state.  Today, the mediocrity is driven by the tests that resulted from legislative efforts to solve the problem.

Conditions in education in America have changed.  We still have a crisis after 27 years of education reform (how long do we have a crisis before it becomes the norm), but for the first time, Ravitch said, “There is a real question about whether public education will survive.”  The past consensus on the value of public education and need for public schools, as I would put it, now is challenged by people who want to kill it.

“The new issue today:  Will we have a public education system bound by law to accept all children.”

Ironic, no?  The No Child Left Behind Act has instead created a system where many children could be forced to the rear.

I took an evening in the middle of a week of TAKS testing — the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.  With ninth through twelfth grades, we had four days of testing which essentially requires the shutdown of the education for the week (we had Monday to review for the test).  It was a week to reflect on just how far we have strayed from the good intentions of public education advocates who pushed the Excellence in Education Commission’s report in 1983.

Ravitch spoke for over an hour.  I’ll have more to report as I get caught up, after a month of meetings, test prep, testing, and little sleep.

Background, more:


46 states agree to work for common education standards — Texas left out

June 17, 2009

(This issue has moved a bit since I first drafted this post — watch for updates.)

Ain’t it the way?

46 of the 50 states agreed to work for common education standards through a project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  Texas is one of four states not agreeing.  News comes from a report in the venerable Education Week (and to me directly via e-mail from Steve Schafersman at Texas Citizens for Science).

National standards for education are prohibited in the U.S. by law and tradition.  Education standards traditionally have been set by each of the more than 15,000 local school districts.  After the 1957 Sputnik education cleanup, and after the 1983 report of the Excellence in Education Commission, the nation has seen a drive to get at least state-wide standards, though a jealous regard for federalism still prevents national standards.

Almost all other industrialized nations have a set of national standards set by the national government, against which progress may be measured.  All the industrialized nations who score higher than U.S. students in international education comparisons, have standards mandated by a national group.

So if it’s an internationally recognized way of improving education, as part of their continuing war on education, and their war on science and evolution theory, the Texas State Board of Education takes the Neanderthal stance, avoiding cooperation with the 92% of the states working to improve American education.

You couldn’t make up villains like this.

Article below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Molina High School jumps

June 2, 2009

We’re closing out the year at Molina High School, and it’s busier than a blogger wants it to be.  I’m way behind on blogging.  Among notable things I’ve not written about:

  • Students at Molina made dramatic gains in scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).  In fact, our kids jumped, from “academically unacceptable” to “recognized,” according to preliminary indications (Texas Education Agency (TEA) will post official results later in the summer).  In any case the gains should be enough to get the school off of Texas Academic Death Row.  Way to go, students.
  • We graduated the seniors last Saturday.  Nice bunch of kids, really.  Now we just have a couple of days of finals for the non-graduates left.
  • Dallas ISD is working to cut the funding for magnet schools and learning centers.  Remember this kid? They want to cut his school. Why?  Some wag thinks that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires that no school spend more per pupil than any other school.  These magnets and learning centers were created originally to aid in desegregating Dallas schools.  Nasty board meeting last week.
  • Dallas ISD is working to get rid of teachers with a rating system no one can explain.  My 90%+ passing rate for students on the TAKS doesn’t count for squat.  What does count?  I have to keep my door unlocked, among other things.  No kidding.
  • Dallas ISD needs money.  So the district officials propose to charge PTAs for use of school buildings.

Perhaps fortunately, the State Lege died yesterday, at least in regular session.  Alas, they didn’t get all the state programs funded.  Special session is likely.  No man’s life, liberty or property, etc.

You couldn’t make this up if you were trying to write a humor column.

More soon, I hope.


Opening day of testing season: The hunt is on! Wear orange

March 4, 2009

We stopped education in Texas high schools yesterday to test students’ proficiency with the English language.  English is a difficult enough subject that it merits its own testing day, so as not to discombobulate students for the other Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests.

All controversy aside, it’s a grind.

Yours truly won the straw that got to make sure students made it to the restroom from their testing rooms, and back, without discussing the contents of the exam or sneaking off a cell-phone conversation or text message.  (Yes, testing rules require that students check in phones and other devices during the test.)  Classes in bathroom monitoring and cell-phone jamming cannot be far away at America’s great institutions of learning about teaching.

And you think teachers are overpaid?  In Belgium the restroom attendants get tips.  Same at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.  Not in Texas schools.

The worst part:  None of us on bathroom duty knows what we did that we’re being punished for.   (NB:  This is a joke.  Somebody had to do it, and English teachers did a lot of it, in order to keep them out of administering the tests, where they might be accused of doing something to aid cheating to raise scores — teachers who do their job well may get bathroom monitoring duty as a result . . .)

Dallas ISD and the Texas Education Agency had monitors to make sure our testing was secure enough, though I’m not certain such pains are taken to make sure the tests work.  Our school is targeted for “reconstitution” if there are not dramatic improvements in TAKS scores in math and science, so the monitors hunt for errors.  One wishes that wearing orange would keep the guns from being aimed at one, but one suspects it would only improve one’s targetability.

So we take it all seriously.  One would hate to have been the cause of the demise of a community school for having committed some grand error in monitoring bathrooms.

It was one day of testing, but it cost us more than that.  Schedules were rearranged Monday so that instead of our usual block scheduling, each student got a briefer session with her or his English teacher for last minute review and pep talk.  Faculty meetings were for test administration instructions (required by regulation or law).

On test days, students are asked to leave their books and book bags at home (security for the test, mainly).  What sort of education system discourages kids from carrying books <i>any day?</i>

Math, science and social studies tests come at the end of April and early May.  Other tests dot the weeks until then.  One teacher noted in a meeting last year that testing season marks the end of the education year, since little can be done once testing starts eating up the calendar in such huge chunks.

“Time on task,” Checker Finn used to note.  When students spend time on a task, they learn it.  Measure what students spend their time doing, you’ll figure out what they’re good at.

In Texas, it appears, we teach testing.

Dave at DaveAwayFromHome may have put it best, quoting from Tyson’s recent appearance at the University of  Texas-Arlington (image from Dave’s site, too):

clowns to the left of me...
“When a newspaper headline proclaims half of the children at a school are below average on a test, no one stops to think that’s what average means.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, speaking about math illiteracy.

(Actually, I think that should be “innumeracy.”  Is that jargon?  Do we have to know that?  Does it show up on the test?)


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