Testing resistance in Colorado takes to the road

January 20, 2014

From Susan O'Hanian's NCLB Cartoons:   Every year, the Coalitition for Better Education raises grassroots funds to put up these billboards.  You can contribute.  You can go forth and do likewise in your state.

From Susan Ohanian’s NCLB Cartoons: “Every year, the Coalitition for Better Education raises grassroots funds to put up these billboards. You can contribute. You can go forth and do likewise in your state.”

Dr. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education for Research, said at her blog:

The corporate types who hate teachers’ unions and public schools have been running a billboard and mass media campaign in New York and New Jersey.

But they are not the only ones who know how to frame a message.

Here is a fabulous billboard posted on a major highway in Colorado by critics of the nutty testing regime imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.


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:


A Seussian fable, about how tests ruin school reform

April 7, 2011

Look, you really need to go to TeacherSabrina’s blog, Failing Schools, where she first posted this, and take a look at many of her posts.

But I can’t resist putting the video here, because I know a few old-timers would be confused by the link, and some people will think they don’t have the time to make two clicks instead of one.

So, here, in its Seussian glory and demand for Flash Animation, is TeacherSabrina’s story of D.C.’s late Queen of the Schools, Michelle Rhee, and her desire to get D.C.’s kids to score well on an increasing battery of tests  [Got a good joke about assault and battery we can insert here?]:  “Rhee the Reformer:  A Cautionary Tale.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Accountable Talk.


No, race isn’t the cause of our economic and education woes

March 11, 2011

Just when you think the conservatives can’t possibly sound any more like fascists of the 1930s . . . I mean, can we just repeal Godwin’s law and call a racist fascist argument, a racist fascist argument?

Paul Krugman, whose Nobel Memorial Prize for economics galls conservatives more than left turns bothered J. Edgar Hoover, noted the other day that Texas is in a series of fixes.  This is important because Texas is what Wisconsin’s governor claims Wisconsin should be:  Shorn of union interference in almost all things, especially in public service sectors including education.  Krugman wrote in his column, “Leaving Children Behind”:

Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you’re in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. And to be fair, low taxes may be one reason for the state’s rapid population growth, although low housing prices are surely much more important.

But here’s the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait — how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way — they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.

It’s not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder — and many business people in Texas do — how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.

A few months ago another Texas miracle went the way of that education miracle of the 1990s. For months, Gov. Rick Perry had boasted that his “tough conservative decisions” had kept the budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the recession unscathed. But after Mr. Perry’s re-election, reality intruded — funny how that happens — and the state is now scrambling to close a huge budget gap. (By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.)

Krugman was too easy on Perry.  In his campaign last year, Perry claimed that Texas had plenty of money, a surplus, even.  In debates with Democratic candidate Bill White, Perry pooh-poohed the notion that Texas had a sizable deficit, certainly not the $18 billion deficit White named.

No, the Texas deficit actually is north of $25 billion.  (Linda Chavez-Thompson, the defeated Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, addressed Perry’s denial in a line that very few reporters bothered to report (or report accurately):  “Do you know how many zeroes there are in 18 billion?” Chavez-Thompson said. “11, when you count Perry and Dewhurst.”)

But blogger Iowahawk would hear none of that — no, the issue isn’t bad government and poor fiscal management.  Texas loses out in education because its got more racial minorities, he wrote at some length.

Other bloggers who should know better, or at least should be struck by the repugnance of the claim that race is the problem, spread the claim, including Paul E. Peterson at EducationNext and Mark at Pseudo-Polymath.

Krugman’s original point was untouched by any of these guys.  Texas is in deep trouble, on many, many fronts.  One of the more common comments on Texas education is, “Thank God for Mississippi!”  Mississippi’s having closed down its education system rather than integrate, and continued underfunding and mismanagement since the federal government forced the reopening, keeps Mississippi at the bottom of almost all state rankings regarding children.  That means Texas isn’t dead last.  Texas’s very real problems will affect racial disparities in achievement, but they are in no way caused by racial disparity, or race of the students.

Notice, too, how Iowahawk changed the comparison.  Krugman noted dropout rates.  Unable to muster a direct rebuttal to Krugman’s point, Iowahawk switched to comparing scores in NAEP.  It’s not the same thing by any stretch.

No Texas teacher would say Texas performs better than any other state in stopping dropouts.  While we might brag a bit on how we’ve increased scores on the ACT and SAT, it’s not across the board, and it’s not enough.  (It’s a miracle with the stingy funding, and it will likely stop with the proposed budget cuts — but we’re proud of our ability to make improvement despite obstacles carefully placed by state policy makers.)

Notice, too, that dropouts tend to perform more poorly on standardized tests.  If one wishes to screw around with the statistics for spin, one might note that by forcing students to drop out, Texas raises its scores on NAEP.  I seriously doubt any Texas educator conducts a campaign to get dropouts to boost NAEP scores, but let’s be realistic.  (Which is not to say that there is not a lot of action to mask the dropout problem; a Texas high school is responsible for the academic achievement of kids who drop out, or more accurately, the lack of academic achievement.  Dropouts count against a school’s performance rating, and count hard.  Every school on the cusp of “Exemplary,” or “Recognized,” or “Unacceptable,” has a campaign to track down dropouts to find that they have enrolled in another school to whom blame can be passed, or that they have left the state or the nation, and so don’t count in Texas at all.  One wishes one could school administrators and legislators in Deming’s Red Bead Experiment.)

It’s impossible to claim Wisconsin union teachers are to blame for any Wisconsin woe, when Texas, with it’s strong anti-union stands and ban on unionizing among teachers, performs worse, on average.

Will busting the unions put Wisconsin in the black?  It didn’t work for Texas.

Will busting the unions help Wisconsin schools?  You can’t make that case based on the information from Texas.  In fact, Angus Johnson conducted a more serious analysis of statistics that may provide a better view into the issue, and they tend to show that unionized teachers improve education performance.

Surely these guys understand where their argument ends up.  It is absolutely untrue that Texas’s minorities dragged the state into deficits.

We know where Texas deficits came from.  Several years ago Texas cut property taxes, a key source of education and other funding for the state, promising to make up the difference with corporate tax reforms.  But the corporations blocked significant reform.  Texas has been running on empty for six years, and now the deficits are simply too big to hide.

Unwise tax cuts, made for political gains, that put Texas in the dumper.

It wasn’t unions, and it sure wasn’t the large population of hard-working, tax-paying, union-needing Hispanics and blacks and Native Americans who got Texas in trouble.  They didn’t get the tax cut benefits, for the most part.

Race is not the cause of our education and budget woes, except in this way:  Racists, especially the latent, passive-aggressive sort, will not hesitate to cut programs that they see benefiting minorities.  Those education programs that have done the most to reduce the achievement gaps between the races, boosting minority achievement, are the first to go under the Republican budget meat cleavers.  The proposed cuts are not surgical in any way, to preserve education gains.


Can’t fire the bums to make a quality school: Principals division

February 8, 2011

Be sure to see the story in the New York Times today. Obama administration “Race to the Top” money went to states who proposed to replace principals in failing schools. A problem in the strategy threatens the program:  Not enough qualified people exist to replace all the “bad” ones.

Wrong-headed education “reformers” keep talking about “firing the bad ones,” teachers, administrators, or janitors.  Without significantly raising the pay for teachers, without greatly increasing the number of teachers and administrators in the pipeline from teaching colleges or any other source, reformers can’t attract anyone better qualified than the people they wish to replace.

Pres. Obama and Sec. Duncan and the 6th grade at Graham Road Elementary, Falls Church, Virginia

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan took questions from a 6th grade class at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, January 18, 2010 – photo credit unknown

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time these reformers took a step back and did some study, perhaps from the quality gurus, Deming and Juran and Crosby, or from the heights of championship performance, in basketball, football, soccer, sailing (try the America Cup), horse racing or politics:  No one can use firing as a chief tool to turn an organization around, nor to lead any organization to a championship.  Threatening people’s jobs does not motivate them, nor make the jobs attractive to others.

How can we tell the fire-the-teachers-and-principals group is on the wrong track?  See the article:

“To think that the same leader with a bit more money is going to accomplish tremendous change is misguided,” said Tim Cawley, a managing director at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group that began leading turnaround efforts in Chicago when Mr. Duncan was the superintendent there.

“This idea of a light-touch turnaround is going to sully the whole effort,” Mr. Cawley added.

Tell that to Steve Jobs, who turned Apple around.  Tell it to Jack Welch, the tough-guy boss from GE (who had his own peccadilloes about firing, but who emphasized hiring and pay, at least, as the way to create a succession plan for the vacancies).  Tell it to any CEO who turned around his organization without falling on his own sword.

Any competent quality consultant would have foreseen this problem:  Nobody wants to train for a job with little future, less money to do the job right, little authority to get the job done, and the sole promise that the exit door is always open.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should know better, intuitively.  He used to play basketball, professionally.  Surely he knows something about team building and team turnarounds.  What caused his astounding, expensive amnesia?

Part of the issue identified in the article is training:

Because leading schools out of chronic failure is harder than managing a successful school — often requiring more creative problem-solving abilities and stronger leadership, among other skills — the supply of principals capable of doing the work is tiny.

Most of the nation’s 1,200 schools, colleges and departments of education do offer school leadership training. “But only a tiny percentage really prepare leaders for school turnaround,” said Arthur Levine, a former president of Teachers College who wrote a 2005 study of principal training.

That only contributes to the larger problem, that people in the positions are, often, the best ones for the job already; firing them damages turnaround efforts.

In Chicago, federal money is financing an overhaul of Phillips Academy High School. Mr. Cawley’s nonprofit trained Phillips’s new principal, Terrance Little, by having him work alongside mentor principals experienced at school makeovers.

“If we’re talking about turning around 700 schools, I don’t think you can find 700 principals who are capable of taking on the challenge of this work,” Mr. Little said. “If you could, why would we have this many failing schools?”

Education’s problems are many.  Few of the problems are the result of the person at the chalkboard in the classroom.  Firing teachers won’t help.  W. Edwards Deming claimed that 85% of the problems that plague front-line employees, like teachers, are management-caused.  Firing their bosses won’t solve those problems, either, but will just push the problems around.   (What?  “Deck chairs?”  “Titanic?”  What are you talking about?)

Did you hear?  Texas plans to cut state funding to all education by at least 25% for next year, due to Gov. Rick Perry’s $25 billion deficit, which he worked so hard to conceal during last year’s election campaign.

Santayana’s Ghost just dropped by to remind us, suitably the day after Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday anniversary, of the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education, the report that saved Reagan’s presidency and got him a second term:

Our nation is at risk. The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament. History is not kind to idlers.

When do we get political leaders who will swim against that tide instead of trying to surf it?

 

Dan Wasserman cartoon, Boston.com

Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe

See a small collection of  Dan Wasserman’s cartoons on Race to the Top, here.


Where does your state, or nation rank? Advanced level of math proficiency

December 27, 2010

I had to turn the graphic on its side to fit it in here big enough that you can read it. Where does your state, or nation, rank in percentage of students achieving an advanced level of math proficiency? For U.S. citizens, this is not a pretty chart.

Source: The Atlantic, “Your Child Left Behind” and acccompanying charts, “Miseducation Nation,” November 2010.

Math proficiency, country and state comparisons, The Atlantic, 2010

Where does your state, or nation, rank?

Hey, at least we’re ahead of Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan.  Can your students find those nations on a map?  Do they know what continents to look in?

Tip of the old scrub brush to McLeod’s Cartoons.


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.


Diane Ravitch in Dallas: NCLB isn’t working

April 28, 2010

Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the principal education theorists behind the No Child Left Behind Act, will speak twice in Dallas over the next two days — telling how NCLB is not working

Both public events, tonight at 7:00 p.m., and Thursday at the Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, are sponsored by the Dallas Institute.

Note that registration is required for tonight’s session:

To All Staff RE: The Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities presents: Education Forum: What Makes a Good Education?

Two Public Events: Wednesday, April 28, at 7 p.m., and Thursday, April 29, at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 7 p.m. Evening Forum and Book Signing at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Montgomery Arts Theater, 2501 Flora Street, Dallas, 75201

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Diane Ravitch, Education Historian

In this age of productivity models and minimum standards, the topic of a good education often
gets lost, but it evokes the century-long quarrel between the practical and the academic
curricula in our public discourse. Today, if we want to build a school system that will serve our
youth not only in their schooling but throughout life, we need to place what makes a good education
at the center of our discussion.

Beginning this conversation during our inaugural Education Forum are two noted authorities in the teaching profession: Dr. Diane Ravitch and Dr. Louise Cowan

Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the nations leading education historians and author of the
#1 bestselling book on education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

In it, Dr. Ravitch explains why she is recanting many of the views she held as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Based on the data, she claimed in a recent interview on The Diane Rehm show, the remedies are not working and will not give us the educated citizens that we all want. Dr. Ravitch will explore what makes a good education and how to fulfill our commitment to a democratic future.

Dr. Louise Cowan, a Founding Fellow of the Dallas Institute and former dean at the University of Dallas, created the Institutes nationally recognized Teachers Academy programs from her vision of what makes a good education. For 27 years, these programs have challenged area school teachers to assume their full authority and responsibility as teaching professionals.

SEATING FOR THE EVENING FORUM IS LIMITED – ADMISSION BY RESERVATION ONLY

Teachers Admission – $15 / General Admission – $25

Deadline to register is noon, Wednesday, April 28.

For more information or to register, call 214-871-2440, or go to http://www.dallasinstitute.org/programs_events_eduforum.html

Thursday, April 29, 2010, 7 p.m. Evening Book Discussion at the Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, 2719 Routh Street, Dallas, Texas 75201

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

Discussion of Dr. Ravitchs new book will be led by Institute Fellows and Teachers Academy alumni.

General Admission – $10

For more information or to register, call 214-871-2440, or go to http://www.dallasinstitute.org/programs_events_eduforum.html

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
2719 Routh Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
www.dallasinstitute.org


Diane Ravitch’s “U-turn”: The teachers were right

March 4, 2010

Were I to advise Diane Ravitch right now, I’d tell her to change all her computer passwords and redouble the security on her servers.  Why?  After what happened to the scientists who study global warming, I expect many of the same wackoes are working right now to get her e-mails, knowing that the mere act of stealing them will be enough to indict her change of heart on education in America.

It’s much the same mob crowd in both cases.  [I’m hopeful it’s not a mob.]

Dr. Ravitch thinks big thoughts about education.  She stands in the vanguard of those people who are both academically astute in education, and who can make a case that appeals to policy makers.  Working under Checker Finn at the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement, we quickly got familiar with Ravitch’s works and views.  Finn and Ravitch, good friends and like-minded in education issues, were the running backs and sticky-handed receivers for any conservative education quarterback, back in the Day.

Finn was Assistant Secretary of Education for Research under Bill Bennett.  Ravitch succeeded Finn, under Lamar Alexander.  While Bennett and Alexander took troubling turns to the right, and Finn stayed much where he was, Ravitch has been looking hard at what’s working in schools today.

Ravitch doesn’t like the conservative revolution’s results in education.  She’s changed her views.  Says one of the better stories about her changing views, in The New York Times:

Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups.

“School reform today is like a freight train, and I’m out on the tracks saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’ ” Dr. Ravitch said in an interview.

This is big stuff, and good news to teachers who, since I was at Education in 1987, have been telling policy makers the same things Ravitch is saying now.

David Gardner and Milton Goldberg wrote in the report of the Excellence in Education Commission in 1983 that America faces a “rising tide of mediocrity” because of bad decisions.  That’s true of much education reform today, too.

Gardner and Goldberg also said that, had a foreign nation done that damage to us, we’d regard it as an act of war.

Maybe Ravitch’s turn can help mediate an end to the Right’s War on Education and pogroms against teachers.

Here in Texas the conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education didn’t like Ravitch’s views when she was in the conservative camp, so Texas has started, finally, to vote out commissioners who don’t get it, who prefer a state of war on Texas’s children to promoting public education

Let’s hope more people listen to Ravitch now.

More:

Be sure to listen to the NPR interview from Morning Edition, yesterday (you can read it, too).

And, in next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, a story about how to build a better teacher; do you know the difference between testing and teaching?


George Bush goes to school

February 27, 2009

Well, visits, anyway.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008. Photo from Dallas ISD, via Dallas Observer

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008. Photo from Dallas Independent School District, via Dallas Observer

This is from the press announcement by the Dallas Independent School District:

 

Former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush made a surprise visit Wednesday to their neighborhood school, Dallas ISD’s John J.Pershing Elementary. Mr. Bush visited every classroom at the school and stayed for more than an hour.

“He and Mrs. Bush were very warm and inviting and they stopped and acknowledged every person in the school,” said Pershing principal Margarita Hernandez. “This is an experience that our children will never forget.  President Bush made several students pledge and commit themselves to read more instead of watching TV. He told students that reading is the key to everything, including to being president.”

Pershing Elementary has an enrollment of 482 students and is located at 5715 Meaders Lane in Dallas. This past school year, it received the Recognized ranking from the Texas Education Agency.

No interruptions this time.

 


Tom Chapin, “It’s Not on the Test”

October 18, 2008

A couple of recent studies show the moral, intellectual and educational bankruptcy of the so-called No Child Left Behind Act.  The groundswell necessary to scrap the thing has not caught up to the urgency of doing so, alas.

Tom Chapin, the youngest of the musical Chapin Brothers who once included Harry Chapin, worked in advanced childhood education before we knew what it was.  As host of ABC Television’s “Make A Wish,” Chapin significantly contributed to one of the finest education programs ever broadcast.  It’s a sin that it’s not on DVD for kids now.  “Make A Wish” demonstrated what television could do, in that era before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) turned its back on the public interest requirements of the Communications Act of 1934, and before commercial television pulled the plug on dreams that commercial television might be a great engine of education and cultural enrichment.

Chapin is back, with a modest poke at the NCLB balloon, and a more powerful vote for arts education in public schools:  “It’s Not on the Test”:

I ponder the research I’ve seen over the years, both inside the Department of Education and out, and the statistical and anecdotal stories that show art training and education (not the same thing) improve academic performance, and I wonder what squirrels have eaten the brains of “reformers” who kill arts programs for the stated purposes of “improving test performance.”  Einstein played the violin.  Feynman drummed.  Churchill painted, as did Eisenhower.  Edison and his team had a band, and jammed when they were stuck on particular problems, or just for fun.  When will education decision makers see the light?

May this little spark ignite a prairie fire of protest.

Where are you protesting this week?


Dallas to cut nearly 700 teachers

September 25, 2008

Let’s get back to education nuts and bolts for a while.  I have not commented on this partly because I’ve been on the road and just busier than most teachers with three preps, and partly because this is just jaw-droppingly unbelievable stuff.

Education nuts, anyway, maybe without the bolts.

Officials at Dallas Independent School District (DISD) announced over a week ago they had discovered an accounting error that led to hiring too many new teachers, and a $64 million shortfall.  The Board of Trustees asked for more details to a plan proposed last week that includes layoffs of teachers, including some that were newly-hired.

The second report is due this afternoon, and the DISD Board will meet tonight to consider action.  If people are not cut, the budget shortfall will double in the rest of this fiscal year.

Most teachers have been working on estimates that 750 teachers will be axed, which works out to about 3 from each campus.

The Dallas Morning News’s DISD Blog says fewer than 750 will go.

More employees could be laid off than expected. We’re hearing from a good source that 1,209 employees would be let go if the board approves to have a reduction in force at today’s 3 p.m. meeting.

The layoff numbers breakdown like this:

Central office – 164
Campus non-contract support staff – 250
Campus administrators – 50
Teachers – 675
Non-teaching campus support staff – 70

One more battle lost in the War on Education.  For Dallas, this is a big one, for the effects on morale alone.

Coupled with the collapse of schools in Milwaukee, lack of gasoline in Tennessee, the unmitigated and unreported natural disaster from the storm named Gustav that hit Baton Rouge, the known disaster caused by Hurricane and Tropical Depression Ike, one might be excuse for thinking much of the U.S. is sinking to second- or third-world status.  Oh, and did I mention that most of our larger financial institutions are in ruins, too?

As one of the more recent hires in Dallas ISD, excuse me while I go back to working with the kids.

What?  You thought I’d have time to chew my fingernails?  You don’t know jack about teaching, or teachers, if you thought that.

Stay tuned.  Check out resources listed below.

Resources:


Does gender-separated schooling work better?

June 16, 2008

Even public school districts toy with the idea of separating genders in the primary and secondary grades.  Some people argue that there is experimental evidence to support the plan, plus there are the arguments about physical differences between the genders, which suggest different educational strategies for girls than for boys.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to implement programs that are supported by research.  Is there solid research to support separating the genders?

Apart from the hoaxes, such as the much ballyhooed “Crokus” in boys brains, the evidence for separating the genders based on physical differences may be a lot slimmer than advocates claim.

For example, do boys really hear differently from girls?   Are the physical differences so great?  Consider the opening paragraph for a lengthy article on the issue by Elizabeth Weil, in The New York Times Magazine last March:

On an unseasonably cold day last November in Foley, Ala., Colby Royster and Michael Peterson, two students in William Bender’s fourth-grade public-school class, informed me that the class corn snake could eat a rat faster than the class boa constrictor. Bender teaches 26 fourth graders, all boys. Down the hall and around the corner, Michelle Gay teaches 26 fourth-grade girls. The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education.

Mark Liberman, who writes at Language Log, deals with these issues dispassionately, and scientifically.  He started a policy of publishing on the blog questions that he gets from journalists on the issues.  Here’s his first published answer, for example, and as you can see, it’s a bit of an information-loaded doozy:

1. I’ve read a few posts on Language Log, but please tell me more about what you think about Dr. Sax’s arguments about sex-based differences in the brain?

In his books, Leonard Sax is a political activist using science to make a case, not a scientist evaluating a hypothesis.

Science is sometimes on his side, sometimes neutral or equivocal, and sometimes against him. He picks the results that fit his agenda, ignoring those that don’t; and all too often, he misunderstands, exaggerates or misrepresents the results that he presents.

There’s detailed support for these assertions in some Language Log posts from 2006:

David Brooks, cognitive neuroscientist” (6/12/2006)
Are men emotional children?” (6/24/2005)
Of rats and (wo)men” (8/19/2006)
Leonard Sax on hearing” (8/22/2006)
More on rats and men and women” (8/22/2006)
The emerging science of gendered yelling” (9/5/2006)
Girls and boys and classroom noise” (9/9/2006)

This doesn’t mean that his conclusions are false, but it does mean that his appeals to science are not trustworthy.

More nuance than some policy groups might be able to deal with, but enough information to direct a genuinely interested person to some good sources.

You’ll also want to read “Retinal Sex and Sexual Rhetoric,” and “Liberman on Sax on Liberman on Sax on Hearing.”

In our weekly staff meetings with then Assisstant Secretary of Education for Research Chester W. Finn, at the old Office for Educational Research and Information, Finn often opened the meetings by turning to the Director of Research and asking whether, in the past week, we had learned how people learn.  When satisfied that this key breakthrough had not been achieved in the previous week, which would change much of what we did, Finn would say something like, “Now that we know we don’t know what we’re doing, let’s go through the agenda.”

Keeping an appropriate sense of humor about the issue, Finn still provided sharp reminders that the science behind learning, for all of the volumes available, is very tenuous and thin.

When science is so thin, the policy side of the discipline can be waved around by a good presentation coupled with plausible sciency-sounding material.  “Plausible” does not equal “good,” and often it doesn’t even equal “accurate.”

Liberman’s critiques are detailed, and they point out questions that the average school board member or principal is probably ill-equipped to realize, let alone ask from an “expert” or consultant selling a program to the district.

Before we teach critical thinking to the kids, we need a lot more critical thinking from administrators.  Liberman tries to light the path to that critical thinking.

What do you think?  Does gender-separate education work better?  Are there such great differences in the learning abilities and methods of boys and girls that we ought to separate them?

What about other shibboleths we hear?  Classroom size?  Testing?  Delivery of material?  Difficulty of material?   Where is there good research for reforming our schools, for the better?


More on McLeroy’s war on Texas English students

May 25, 2008

The Houston Chronicle’s coverage of the Texas State Board of Education meetings this week is not well indexed on the web. Following a couple of odd links I found Gary Sharrar’s article (he’s the Chronicle’s education reporter), though the Associated Press Story shows up for the paper’s main article on most indices I found.

Sharrar adds a few details of Kommissar McLeroy’s war on English education, but the significant thing about the story is in the comments, I think. One poster appears to have details that are unavailable even from TEA. Partisans in the fight have details that Texas law requires to be made public in advance of the meetings, while the state officials who need to advise on the regulations and carry them out, do not.

TEA has an expensive website with full capabilities of publishing these documents within moments of their passage. As of Sunday morning, TEA’s website still shows the documents from last March. Surely Texas is not getting its value from TEA on this stuff.

Sharrar wrote:

Two different outside groups offered opposite reactions. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank, favored the board’s action.

“It is obvious that too many Texas public school students aren’t learning the basics with our current curriculum,” said Foundation education policy analyst Brooke Terry. “We are glad the new curriculum will emphasize grammar and writing skills.”

Texas public schools fail to adequately prepare many students for college or the workplace, she said, citing a 2006 survey by the Conference Board found that 81 percent of employers viewed recent high school graduates as “deficient in written communications” needed for letters, memos, formal reports and technical reports.

But the Texas Freedom Network, which promotes public education, religious freedom and individual liberties, called the board divisive and dysfunctional.

“College ready” generally means reading well, and reading broadly in literature. From a pedagogical standpoint, emphasizing “grammar and writing skills” over the reading that is proven to improve grammar and writing skills will be a losing battle. I hope the details of the plan will show something different when TEA ever makes them available to the taxpaying/education consuming public and English teachers. NCLB asks that such changes be backed by solid research — it will be fascinating to see whether there is any research to support the Texas plan (not that it matters; this section of NCLB has been ignored by the right wing from the moment NCLB was signed).

Prior to this week’s series of meetings, Commissar McLeroy expressed what sounds like disdain for reading in the English curriculum to the El Paso Times:

But chairman McLeroy said he would fight against some of the measures the educators want, especially the comprehension and fluency portion.

Their suggestions, he said, would have students waste time on repetitive comprehension strategies instead of actually practicing reading by taking in a rich variety of literature.

“I think that time is going to be lost because they’ll be reading some story, and they’ll just overanalyze,” he said.

By the way, calling the Texas Public Policy Foundation a “free market think tank” is misleading. The group is quite hostile to public education, and features on its board several people who have led fights to gut funding for public schools and impose bleed-the-schools voucher programs. The Foundation appears to endorse preaching in public schools and gutting science standards, among other problems.

If it’s good work, why is it done in secret? Remember that I spent years in right wing spin work in Washington. Here’s what I see: Either McLeroy’s administration at the state board is incredibly incompetent and can’t even get the good news right, and out on time, or there is another, darker and probably illegal agenda at work.

Below the fold, the full text of the comment from “WG1” at the Chronicle’s website.

Other resources:

Read the rest of this entry »


Graduation 2008, part 1

May 24, 2008

Today is graduation day for some of my seniors, at the school where I teach. It’s a wonderful affair, and it will be good to see them off on the next step, ceremonial though it is.

The chaos caused by graduation in this district cannot be minimized, for an odd scheduling reason. Today the seniors graduate. Tuesday, we’re back in class with everyone else, with a couple of days of instruction and finals yet to go. It’s nice to have the seniors gone — the halls are much easier to navigate, the juniors are already stepping up, the sophomores and freshmen suddenly realize the work they do leads to something — but the schedule seems out of whack.

I’m trying to adapt.

This year our family has multiple graduations — well, two. Younger son James graduates in a bit over a week, assuming he gets in a mass of work in classes that appeared after the state tests (for which he was exempt because he passed them all the previous year), and after more AP tests than I thought humanly possible.

James’ school held a ceremony and reception for the top 11% of the graduates, 75 kids who may be in the top 10% (a magic number in Texas because it guarantees admission to Texas colleges). Texas colleges won a majority of the plans of the graduates, but there was an impressive number of students off to out-of-state schools of high repute. (James is off to Lawrence, in Wisconsin.)

I wake up in a cold sweat. Clearly we must have done something right, as parents of graduating kids, as teachers of graduating kids. What was it?


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