Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rhetoric Versus Results

The actual results of current school reform efforts undergo some close study. Not surprisingly, the results don't quite match up with what anyone is saying.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Income Inequality and Academic Performance:


The conclusion that made my heart swell:

But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and “improving teacher quality,” but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children’s earliest environments may be even more important. Let’s invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

This means finding ways of helping parents become better teachers themselves. This might include strategies to support working families so that they can read to their children more often.. It also means expanding programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership that have proved to be effective at helping single parents educate their children; but we also need to pay for research to develop new resources for single parents.

It might also mean greater business and government support for maternity and paternity leave and day care so that the middle class and the poor can get some of the educational benefits that the early academic intervention of the rich provides their children. Fundamentally, it means rethinking our still-persistent notion that educational problems should be solved by schools alone.

The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.
                                                                        --Sean F. Reardon

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Privatization of Education has always been seen for what it is: an assault. So, why are we suddenly so complacent?

Check out this thoughtful piece that gives some historical background on the trend of private foundations driving school reform. It's pretty fascinating.

The final paragraph is a kicker:
I would find this a worrisome situation for public education even if I thought the education policies of the new large foundations were sound. But I do not. I find the brazenness, arrogance, and disregard for public decision making of current philanthropic attempts to influence federal policy just as dangerous to democracy as the critics of the original foundations contended so vociferously 100 years ago.

Friday, April 19, 2013

More for-profit education "reform"

I will make the leap and assume that I have said enough here that I don't need to even express my disgust with essentially every word used to describe the goals of this "skunk group."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When it's illegal to teach...

Yes, Ohio wants to make it illegal to teach sex education. Teachers who do their jobs face a $5000 fine.

Could we be lucky enough to see such a case before the Supreme Court?

A good rule of thumb: distrust those who want to limit others' access to information. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Who Do We Really Work For?

Consider this entry in the absurd files of standardized testing:

Our state has a multi-million dollar contract with a very large testing corporation. In general, this corporation has very little interest in what we have to say about anything because we are a state with a minuscule population and our multi-million dollar contract is a drop in the bucket compared to other states. For example, this company dictates when our end of the year testing takes place, and they decide that it takes place in 3rd quarter. Figure that one out.

The writing assessment has long been a sticking point, and there's been a real yo-yo of activity surrounding this assessment. One year it's changed radically, then next it's gone completely, and then next it's back in its original form with a new name.

Right now, we're dealing with the last of these.

Now, a quick aside about how testing works. For a company to score writing assessments, they have to have sample assessments for "norming." These are assessments that are put in front of a large group of scorers, and they work together to determine what is proficient and what is not, and it (hopefully) helps them weed out bad prompts.

The way that companies collect these sample prompts is through "pilots." These are test items that are given to students that don't count toward anything. The only reason students do pilots is to provide data and raw materials for the testing company.

Okay, so let's consider the current year, in which our students have already been through two testing periods, one of which is three weeks long, and are now going to complete their writing assessment. Fine.

However, for my particular grade, they also have two pilot writing prompts. That means that we are required to have three testing sessions, and only one of them actually does anything for anyone other than the testing company (and that one is highly suspect).

We're teachers, so we're trained professionals when it comes to resigning ourselves to stupid practices, but we all agree on one thing: we're going to give one class period each for the pilots. Our students already lose too much instructional time to assessment.

Then we are told that that is not acceptable. The rules of the assessment (which is not an assessment) state that they must have at least a 90 minute test window for the pilot prompts. That means that we must not only use our writing classes to administer the pilots but also two class periods of our Reading sections as well.

We fight. We complain. We make general nuisances of ourselves because we know that this is bad for students and a waste of everyone's time and energy. But, the rules are the rules. So, once again, we resign ourselves to more stupidity.

But the question remains: whose rules are they?

Essentially, a corporation is dictating the use of classroom time in my school. And what that corporation decides is that we should use class time to gather data for them. It even dictates precisely how much class time. Not only are we gathering data for them free of charge, we're actually paying them millions of dollars for the luxury.

To complain in any way that has any chance of affecting change, we would need to talk to legislators at the state level, and whatever you've heard about the big, scary teacher's unions, they're nothing compared to the lobbyists for textbook and testing companies. So, we're resigned yet again.

But it's always nice to know where your orders come from and who is making the important decisions regarding classroom practices.

Heads up, folks. Current education reform is a racket designed to continue lining the pockets of these corporations under the insidious misnomer of "accountability."

At least we know who we're accountable to.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Class War isn't even a pun anymore

If you ever doubted that schools were an active tool of class warfare, just check out the story of the proposed bill to link children's grades to their family's welfare benefits.

Thankfully, Campfield dropped the doomed bill after using it as it was intended: as a bludgeon to beat at the poor.  He doesn't like using children as 'props?" Could have fooled me.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why exactly did we take all of those classes on Piaget and child development?

The Next Generation Science Standards have just been published, and they stand as science education's answer to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), meaning that the over-riding philosophy behind the CCSS is spreading ever-deeper into American education.

Now, there are a lot of things that I think the CCSS get right, and it appears that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) follow suit: They raise the level of rigour, they focus on critical thinking and application of skills and content, and--just by their nature--they create some sort of level playing field for a population of students that is increasingly transient.

But at the heart of both the CCSS and NGSS is a flawed premise. That premise can be boiled down to one backward idea: If we need to increase rigour, the way to do that is to push down, to make what used to be eighth grade content into sixth grade content, or--worse--what used to be second grade content into Kindergarten content.

We see this philosophy working unchecked in every aspect of school reform. Obama's budget proposal gives us more of the same: Preschool for all and day-long Kindergarten.

Underlining all of the current reform is this idea that more school is the answer. If they're not getting multiplication by fourth grade, we'll start in second.

All of this makes for terrible reform for two very good reasons.

First, I believe we're doing little more than accelerating student burn-out. The idea that Kindergarten and early elementary is a place where young children actually WANT to be, where they are enthusiastic about learning, is almost dead now. We've almost killed the wonder which should reside at the heart of education. While I have fond memories of learning to read in first grade, if I were in school today, I'd be the focus of a reading recovery specialist and tagged as at-risk due to my lagging skills. At the early stages, increased rigour often leads to increased labeling of students.

More importantly, this shift ignores the question of childhood development. I teach 12 and 13 year olds, and every year, I send students on to the eight grade who never demonstrate proficiency in a handful of skills (mostly abstract thinking) because, no matter how many ways that skill might be taught, or how hard they worked, or how early their exposure began, their brains were simply not ready to process it.  In the eight grade or maybe the ninth, suddenly it comes to them like a thunderbolt.

So, why should we waste more class time, at earlier ages, practicing skills and concepts that students are developmentally unprepared for?

Other philosophies, such as Waldorf Education, actually attempt to account for children's development. And when you take it into account, the results are exactly the opposite of the current trends: the early grades focus less on content and complex skills.

Compare that to the current system where we teach content and reteach content, the SAME CONTENT, year after year, and each year students appear to have it, but when the next year rolls around, it's gone. That's teaching, and quite often it's top-notch teaching, but it's not called learning.

Now, the current philosophy tells us that we should begin this futile process earlier.

This is all a long way of saying something simple: We need to stop basing our educational models on economic competition or on some wrong-headed idea that teachers just aren't working hard enough, and we should start thinking about how children learn.

There's plenty of research and data out there. Honest.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday's Provocative Claim

Whether or not you find efficiency to be an absolute good, there is no project less efficient that public education.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is something approaching a universal truth that when conservatives have bad ideas, their ideas--bad as they are--are at least rather specific and actionable. Witness Bush's No Child Left Behind. Sure it's really a frontal assault on public education in general and teachers' unions in particular, but at least it's a plan. And look at how efficient they were in getting that plan rolling.

Liberals, on the other hand, tend to talk about ideas. And when it comes to education, one might very well ask, "Where's the plan?" More often than not, those plans tend to be reactionary. Witness Obama's Race to the Top, which just adds another filthy layer of competition (and corruption)  to the still reeking, shambling mass of NCLB. For all of the Liberal platitudes about education, we sure don't hear much constructive being brought forward.

And more often than not, liberal politicians seem easily swayed by the conservative camp's way of thinking. Education is a bipartisan topic, the thinking seems to go, ignoring the effects bad policy has on very specific populations of students.

If you need specifics, consider Chuck Rangle's piece on the importance of education in furthering the civil rights struggle. Who could disagree? I might go farther and say that soon education will be THE civil rights struggle. But what would Martin Luther King Jr. make of this piece?

He'd have little use for it, I think, as he'd have little use for the anemic policy of the so-called American Left. Say what you will, the Right seems to have taken the lead when it comes to activism.

How can we--in good conscience--point out the necessity of education in the lives of our children, especially our at-risk children, and how can we look at the shameful data regarding schooling and incarceration numbers, and how can we have nothing to say about how to make this better?

Where are the calls for real school reform? Where are the calls to dismantle the phony school reform that is further crippling American education?

When will someone decide that education is actually important enough to do something about?

It better be soon, because the other guys have a real advantage: they've got themselves a stupid plan.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's time to abandon work-centric metaphors to describe education.

On the one hand, we should celebrate talk about school reform that is something other than the same tired ideas about charter schools, free-market education, or accountability, and Thomas Friedman's recent op ed delivers on that account.

On the other hand...

Thomas Friedman is an economist, and his interest in education is economic, but I can't help but bristle at the acknowledgement that the current school system was built to acclimate and train students into an industrialized work-force and then see that followed by the claim that since the current work-force model has changed, therefore the educational model must change. How about some acknowledgment that the process of education is not the same as work? How about some acknowledgement that education is useful above and beyond its efficacy in securing high-paying jobs for students?

The thing is, I agree one-hundred percent with almost all of Wagner's suggestions, but I agree with them not because they will ease students' into imaginary jobs but because what is continually described as 21st century learning is what I call Learning. Period.

It's clearly a false claim that our current form of schooling was ever well-designed to prepare students for those "high-wage, middle-skilled jobs" of the past generations. To pretend that the almost exclusive emphasis on content over skills was somehow appropriate, as if those  "high-wage, middle-skill jobs" made regular use of Algebra II and depended on a worker's knowledge of the names and dates of Civil War battles, is just dishonest.

What Wagner is really describing is a move away from schooling and toward education, probably the most revolutionary shift we could ever hope to see, and the fact is that as the United States moves swiftly away from global capitalism's core and further into its periphery, "schooling" will be less and less necessary. But if our rationale for shifting is that somehow millions of newly educated students will "invent" high-wage jobs within that framework, we're almost certainly wasting our time.

Instead, we must invest in education, as opposed to schooling, so that we can build a citizenry capable of rethinking and rebuilding their world. But then, that's been the subversive purpose of education all along, which is why we see so very little of it in schools.