You Can’t Pick Great Teachers from a Tree.

-Bernie Keller

IMG_0268As the experts assess the needs of the educational system and come up with “the solutions”, one solution that displays very little thought is the “great teacher” solution. The people who operate the Department of Education in New York City, (a department “recognized” for its innovative and leading changes in the field of education by organizations I have never heard of), have decided that one of the best ways to improve the educational system of New York City, is to recruit great teachers.

That may be a great solution if you can go to some school or place that has a bunch of great teachers just waiting to be picked like fruits off a tree. Perhaps these people know of some place like a supermarket for great teachers, where you can just go and pick them up like you pick cans up off a shelf. If these ideas sound ludicrous, it’s because they are ludicrous. The idea that you can just “recruit” or “pick up” a great teacher is as inane a thought as saying that you can just go to a park and “pick up” a Derek Jeter or a LeBron James.

Great teachers get it; they understand that when you get into teaching you are in it for the long haul. They understand that teaching is a “long time “ proposition, not a layover or a pit stop until you get your chance to go to med school or law school, or get your MBA. They understand this not something you just do because you can’t get a job in your profession or they downsized your company, or because working in a school will reduce your loan repayment. Great teachers understand they will have to make a commitment to be great, that they will have to work at being great, and that it will be hard work. They do not “sign on” to make a lot of money, to be feted or to receive awards.

Great teachers get it. They understand that teaching is a craft and crafts take time to hone and perfect. They understand you will not simply walk out of a college classroom or out of a corporate boardroom or “teaching institute” to step into a school’s classroom as a great teacher. They understand that greatness is a punctilious taskmaster. Great teachers realize that it takes time to learn what works, what doesn’t work and what has to be repackaged. Great teachers battle year after year, fighting their way through ennui and burnout. They work their way through every new administration and “innovative” theory to help learning to take place. They understand that becoming a great teacher is a process – it has a beginning, a middle and an end and that you don’t just start and step into the end of that process.

Great teachers aren’t recruited, they are developed and that development takes time. They recognize being a great teacher has little or nothing to do with numbers or some magical, mystical occurrence. If being a great teacher is as simple as having great numbers, one can have great numbers, but will those numbers make a great teacher? Will those numbers ensure that those students have learned anything?

A great teacher does much more than work in a classroom and teach or just try to get “numbers.” In and of themselves, numbers are not important in anything. Even in sports, a player with great numbers is not considered a great player unless his/her numbers can translate into wins and/or championships for his/her teams.

Great teachers understand the vacuous, void numbers represent. Great teachers recognize and understand that true teaching goes far beyond the teaching the theme of “Hamlet” or the division of fractions, and that it goes beyond getting students to pass tests in school. Great teaching gets them to pass the biggest test of all, the ability to survive, to succeed, and to live a fulfilling life after all of the tests given in school are over.

That preparation cannot be measured in percentages or test grades. Great teachers bridge the gap between what must be taught in school and what is needed to succeed after all the tests have been taken and passed. Great teachers do not measure themselves by percentages and test grades, they measure themselves in lives, by the lives they change, and when they get a little lucky, by the lives they save.

The idea that every teacher can be a great teacher makes no logical sense. By definition what makes a person, or event great is that it is special or different from those people or things who/that are “normal”. In fact, if every teacher were great, being great would be the norm, which would mean that no one would be great! This idea also strikes at the heart of the proposal to “measure” teacher success or greatness by using test scores. Test scores are not produced solely as a result of a teacher’s greatness or ineptitude. A major portion of test scores is about what students do or don’t do.

Teaching is “alive.” If it’s done right, it has passion, it grows, it engages, challenges and inspires. It does not merely allow for diplomas, test scores or a graduation rate. It changes lives and helps those lives survive after they have left the warm and fuzzy confines of the world of school.

A TEACHING HERO

GOTHAMEXTRA-jumboHarris Lirtzman is a relatively new friend of mine and a man who is a hero in the fight for justice for our kids. I met Harris a couple of years ago when I worked for WISE Services. I was part of a team who thought we could help the organization, Yonkers Partners In Education (YPIE), provide mentoring to Yonkers high school students to help them not just graduate but also succeed when they get out of high school. Harris was one of their team members at that meeting.

When we realized we thought on a very similar wavelength we decided to meet for lunch a couple of times. We hit it off. My wife and I invited Harris and his partner Ralph to dinner. We’ve been close friends ever since.

We share ideas about teaching, education, life, politics, family, photography, the Hudson River and whatever dumb ass stuff #45 and his band of bullies pull daily. A couple of days ago I saw a reference to Harris being a whistleblower in the NYC DOE. I hadn’t known about this so when I asked him to tell me, he sent me two NYT articles from the spring of 2012 that told the tale of Harry the Hero.

Let me say this before I share his story with you. There are many of us who, for years, have been advocating for public schools, their students, and the parents who send their kids to those schools. We have taught, marched, rallied, conferenced, wrote, rapped, and organized, but too often what we have done has been far too ideological and, well, just plain far less effective than we hoped our efforts would have been.

So this leaves me to Harris, who I am proud to call my friend and an example of what sacrifice for these kids really means. Over my many years in education I have had other friends and met other teachers who have spoken out and tried to do the right things, the right ways, and for the right reasons. They had been reprimanded, ATR’ed (A NYC thing- Google it), put in a “rubber room”, had their professional lives made miserable, were forced to quit, or were fired. There were a myriad of “trumped up” reasons but the end result was the same…with rarely any positive results.

And Harris? This is about Harris. Let me start with the backstory as provided by the NYT.

“A former deputy state comptroller, he had decided to give public school teaching a midcareer whirl. In 2009, he landed a job as a special education math teacher at the Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy, a Bronx high school.” Lo and behold, “… in September 2011, school administrators placed uncertified teachers — and a conga line of unemployed teachers who came for one-week stints — in classrooms filled with special education students, which is to say those children most in need of expert help.

This violated federal regulations.

Whoa you say? How dare they have teachers teach out of a licensed area or rotate teachers from the Absent Teachers Reserve (That ATR thing) to fill the voids in the front of classrooms? Mind you the NYC Department of Education (DOE) was doing this sort of stuff way back when it was still the Board of Education (BOE) way back in the 20th century, but this was now happening wholesale and right in front of Harris’ eyes.

So, as the right thinking person he was, he decided to speak up to his school administrators. ’I am NOT trying to cause problems,’ he wrote in an e-mail to his assistant principal, but, he added, ‘we’re violating’ court-mandated educational plans for students.”

 This is rare because most teachers don’t like to ruffle feathers, rock the boat, commit professional suicide, or take risks in general EVEN WHEN THEY HAVE TENURE!!! Harris did not.

So, as Michael Powell, the reporter of the NYT article wrote, “Mr. Lirtzman, unwittingly, became sand in the school’s gears. He had received nothing but satisfactory evaluations. But in December, he said, the principal, Grismaldy Laboy-Wilson, said that she would not recommend him for tenure. The next day, she told him to leave immediately.”

HARSH! What had he done that was so wrong? Nothing!

“Mr. Lirtzman took his allegations to the Office of Special Investigations, an in-house unit at the Department of Education. An investigator asked for proof. Mr. Lirtzman handed over 20 student programs, all of which showed that administrators placed students in classrooms with uncertified teachers. The investigator informed Mr. Lirtzman that these were confidential documents.”

 “Now I am opening an investigation of you, she told him. It would be enough to bring a smile to the lips of Kafka.”

“‘These are the most vulnerable kids, the ones no one really looks out for,’ Mr. Lirtzman said. ‘This wasn’t a gray legal area. This was black and white, and the Department of Education decided that I was the problem.’”

 Harris worked with many of these kids under horrid conditions. Here is a story of one.

“Derek Chestnut Jr., had more or less thrived in middle school, but ran upon the academic shoals at Gautier, where he was stuck in classes with a changing cast of uncertified teachers. One day, Mr. Lirtzman talked to the student’s father, Derek Chestnut Sr. ‘He kept hinting something was wrong, and finally he told me there were rotating aides and teachers,’ Mr. Chestnut recalled about their conversation. ‘The administrators told me otherwise, and I really didn’t appreciate when they tried to pull the wool over my eyes.’

Mr. Chestnut took his case to the upper reaches of the education bureaucracy. Quickly, without the usual resistance, he obtained an unusual legal letter that entitled him to place his son in a private school for special education children, all paid for by the city.

‘They admitted off the bat that my son’s I.E.P. was being violated’ he said. ‘I owe this to one honest man, Mr. Lirtzman. He became an advocate not just for my son, but for all special education students in that school.’”

Finally, the NYS DOE rewarded Harris for his gallant work on behalf of students.

“The State Education Department investigated his charges and sent him a copy of its report. It sustained Mr. Lirtzman’s allegations, one violation of state regulations after another.

High school administrators at the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy in the Bronx had put unqualified teachers in charge of special education classes. They pushed these students into classes crowded with general education students.

And most egregiously, when faced with teaching vacancies, the administrators brought in a conga line of substitute teachers on “rotating” one-week stints to teach special education classes. That treads perilously close to educational malpractice.”

There is more. There is always more.

“The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents principals, argues that the fault lies with the city’s Education Department, which imposes budget cuts and ever more demands on principals. Higher-ups, they say, approved Ms. Laboy-Wilson’s decisions, including placing substitute teachers in special education classrooms on a rotating basis.

The principal, they say, is not at fault.”

In fact they showed Mr. Powell several internal NYC DOE memos verifying that officials turned a blind eye to those violations and others and directed principals to skirt the regulations.

So, the principals Association and the NYC DOE continue to spend time on the blame game, each blaming the other when clearly all were at fault, not Harris, for raising the issue.

The truth is that there is a dearth of qualified teachers in NYC at all grades and for all subjects. Even with the recruitment of teachers with special education certification, and teacher colleges having their student teachers obtain dual certifications, there is still a shortage of those. That is true as a result of  the abdominal ways teachers have been treated all across the 50 states, unions or not.

But how did this end for Harris, who worked in a state with more due process for teachers than most.

“He went to that high school in the Bronx for a job interview in 2009. The principal hired him on the spot, and a few days later, he was teaching a special education math class.

Several parents said he was one of the best teachers their children ever had. But when the department denied him tenure and the principal forced him out, he had enough. He retired.”

 Although due process exonerated him, he had had enough. Another great teacher and humanitarian was forced out of teaching by the NYC DOE.

“In accordance with regulations, the principal, Ms. Laboy-Wilson, filled out his final evaluation, She rated him satisfactory yet she listed him as unsatisfactory in two areas:

He did not keep a professional attitude and maintain good relations with supervisors.”

Good for my new hero, Harris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE SLOW EROSION OF AMERICAN EDUCATION HAS BECOME A MUDSLIDE

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This week I had the pleasure of being interviewed on a local White Plains Cable Access Show called “Westchester Roundup.” The interview went well but that is less important than what happened before the interview actually started.

The Host, Bob Johnson, a member of the Portchester School Board, and I met a local #resist meeting a few weeks ago. I had approached him because he was the only other person there who spoke about education as an issue. When I found out who he was I asked him whether or not he had an experiential learning (internship) program for his seniors. He said no, but was interested. We exchanged contact info and arranged to meet. Then he invited me to be on his show.

Prior to the interview I discovered I knew one of the producers there, Rita Santos. She was a former student at Woodlands HS, and had participated in the school’s WISE Program, a semester long senior program where students worked on personal projects or internships. Hers had been to learn about video by making a video about the program via 1990 video techniques.

Where did she learn that? Right where was she is now working and supervising another former Woodlands graduate who did the same thing as a senior in high school. Then she pulled up and gave me copies of the digitalized versions of her raw and finished work that year, 27 years ago. How cool. How interesting, based on what was to be the basis of the interview to follow.

In our talks before hand Mr. Johnson suggested I watch a video about Hi Tech High. I was skeptical about a network of charter schools with that name and a CEO instead of principal. When I saw the Pearson Foundation sponsored the video, I wretched, but watched anyway.

Then I heard Larry Rosenstock narrate and saw the kids working on projects. I was floored. He spoke my language.

He expanded on the history of Ed. reform in this country. “Every time we get in trouble we invest in science tech, engineering and math….The down side to this is detrimental to the liberal arts.” Instead, his misnamed school actually loads up the curriculum with art, design, and conceptual work because engineering and art are integral to all subjects. Interdisciplinary teaching is integral to student growth. He calls it a “place where you find out who you are.”

That, my friends is what all high schools are supposed to be, not factories to manufacture test takers or robotic learners seeking “college and career”. High school should have a social justice agenda that doesn’t prepare kids just for that cliché, but rather for life.

His school was all project based learning. It was heterogeneous with no segregation by race or economic status. The school honored the Brown vs. Topeka decision and had “reversed the negative peer effect of segregation.” It focused on original student work where they had to apply content to their projects. “This is what adults do.” In addition all student work was exhibited so all students and teachers could learn for all successes, and just as importantly, failures.

The disciplinary code is simple. Treat kids with respect. Treat them as adults. Then they will behave as adults. I had said and practiced that since my earliest years teaching. I wish I had known then the quote Rosenstock took from Voltaire to explain this, “suspicion invites treachery.” No School to prison pipeline here. In America these days that is simply not the case. Students and teachers alike are not trusted nor respected.

Both groups are over monitored, with evaluations tied to test results. Teachers have lost their creativity, fearful of firing. With teachers we need to be “evocative”. We need to be midwives and learn how they learned in HS, what were their most memorable experiences.” “It was a project.” I had a mentor. It involved community. There was risk of failure and recognition of success. There was a public exhibition…”

“This didn’t come from a state legislature or district office…we asked how you learned best and you are describing what we do here. What is stopping you from doing this? What do you love from outside of school? Bring it in. Integrate it. If we can connect what you really love to do with the subject you teach you will be more passionate.”

I learned how to teach when I was in second grade. I have often written and spoken about my second grade teacher, Rita Stafford, who taught us astronomy by allowing us to build a solar system that hung on our classroom ceiling. We learned about civil rights in 1956-7 not only by reading newspapers and learning about Birmingham and Little Rock, but by writing letters to President Eisenhower, as concerned citizens.

We learned to love learning because of her passion and creativity, so often lost in today’s “Reform World.” Learning is best done “in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously perusing inquiry in the area of their subject matter and is inviting students along as peers in that discourse.”

“We know a good teacher by the sophistication of that teacher’s kid’s work. If a teacher’s work is worth doing, has lasting value…. and learning that is worth learning…he or she is a good teacher.” Ms. Stafford was. So, I hope, was I because of what I did following those models.

She, Mr. Rosenstock and I all want kids behaving like scientists, artists, and historians: not just studying the content, and doing only restrictive work that allows for success on multiple choice tests. What better way is there than though actually doing the work rather than learning about it. What better way is there than project learning or learning through internship programs, especially in high school? After all, “what is adolescence but trying on new roles and sampling identities? We must just give them the chance.”

But alas, our Ed reform history has been abysmal. From 1983’s “ Nation at Risk, to 2001’s No Child Left Behind, to 2009’s Race to The Top and Common Core, and now who knows what from anti public education public education secretary DeVos we have eroded public education so much it has already started a free fall of students and teachers lost in the mud of “reform.”

I still believe we can recover. Join me in the fight, as Ms. Stafford did. Mr. Rosenstock has. Rita Santos and countless others are the proof of the pudding.

THE BAD, THE WORSE AND THE COMING INCOMPETENT CRISIS: a Mash up

David Krugman and Paul Brooks…
Can you guess which columnist wrote which parts?

Unknown“I just read that the Trump administration has filled only 22 of the 553 key positions that require Senate confirmation. This makes me worry that the administration will not have enough manpower to produce the same volume and standard of incompetence that we’ve come to expect so far. Granted, in its first few months the administration has produced an impressive amount of ineptitude with very few people.

But still, I worry that at the current pace the Trump administration is going to run out of failure. So far, we’ve lived in a golden age of malfunction. Every major Trump initiative has been blocked or has collapsed, relationships with Congress are disastrous, and the president’s approval ratings are at cataclysmic lows.

This week’s New York Times interview with Donald Trump was horrifying, yet curiously unsurprising. Yes, the world’s most powerful man is lazy, ignorant, dishonest and vindictive. But we knew that already.

In fact, the most revealing thing in the interview may be Mr. Trump’s defense of Bill O’Reilly, accused of sexual predation and abuse of power: “He’s a good person.” This, I’d argue, tells us more about both the man from Mar-a-Lago and the motivations of his base than his ramblings about infrastructure and trade.

First, however, here’s a question: How much difference has it made, really, that Donald Trump rather than a conventional Republican sits in the White House?

The Trump administration is, by all accounts, a mess. The vast majority of key presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation are unfilled; whatever people are in place are preoccupied with factional infighting. Decision-making sounds more like palace intrigues in a sultan’s seraglio than policy formulation in a republic. And then there are those tweets.

Now I’m not underestimating the president’s own capacity for carrying on in an incompetent manner almost indefinitely. I don’t think we’ve reached peak Trump.

The normal incompetent person flails and stammers and is embarrassed about it. But the true genius at incompetence like our president flails and founders and is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence. He mistakes his catastrophes for successes and so accelerates his pace toward oblivion. Those who ignore history are condemned to retweet it.

Yet Mr. Trump’s first great policy and political debacle — the ignominious collapse of the effort to kill Obamacare — owed almost nothing to executive dysfunction. Repeal-and-replace didn’t face-plant because of poor tactics; it failed because Republicans have been lying about health care for eight years. So when the time came to propose something real, all they could offer were various ways to package mass loss of coverage.

Similar considerations apply on other fronts. Tax reform looks like a bust, not because the Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing (although it doesn’t), but because nobody in the G.O.P. ever put in the hard work of figuring out what should change and how to sell those changes.

Trump’s greatest achievements are in the field of ignorance. Up until this period I had always thought of ignorance as a void, as an absence of knowledge. But Trump’s ignorance is not just an absence; it is a rich, intricate and entirely separate universe of negative information, a sort of fertile intellectual antimatter with its own gravitational pull.

 It’s not so much that he isn’t well informed; it’s that he is prodigiously learned in the sort of knowledge that doesn’t accord with the facts of our current dimension. But even Trump will eventually hit the limits of human endurance.

 The incompetent Trump administration has to live in that stupor shroud every day. I hope his team continues to take advantage of the fact that it takes only one inexperienced stooge to undo the accomplishments of 100 normal workers.

Hence the affinity for Mr. O’Reilly, and Mr. Trump’s apparent sense that news reports about the TV host’s actions are an indirect attack on him. One way to think about Fox News in general, and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, is that they provide a safe space for people who want an affirmation that their uglier impulses are, in fact, justified and perfectly O.K. And one way to think about the Trump White House is that it’s attempting to expand that safe space to include the nation as a whole.

And I hope it continues to negatively surpass all expectations. I remain a full-fledged member in the community of the agog.

What about areas where Mr. Trump sometimes sounds very different from ordinary Republicans, like infrastructure?

A push for a genuine trillion-dollar construction plan, which would need Democratic support given the predictable opposition from conservatives, would be a departure. But given what we heard in the interview — basically incoherent word salad mixed with random remarks about transportation in Queens — it’s clear that the administration has no actual infrastructure plan, and probably never will.

True, there are some places where Mr. Trump does seem likely to have a big impact — most notably, in crippling environmental policy. But that’s what any Republican would have done; climate change denial and the belief that our air and water are too clean are mainstream positions in the modern G.O.P.

So Trumpist governance in practice so far is turning out to be just Republican governance with (much) worse management. Which brings me back to the original question: Does the appalling character of the man on top matter?

I think it does. The substance of Trump policy may not be that distinctive in practice. But style matters, too, because it shapes the broader political climate. And what Trumpism has brought is a new sense of empowerment to the ugliest aspects of American politics.

By now there’s a whole genre of media portraits of working-class Trump supporters .You know what I mean: interviews with down-on-their-luck rural whites who are troubled to learn that all those liberals who warned them that they would be hurt by Trump policies were right, but still support Mr. Trump, because they believe that liberal elites look down on them and think they’re stupid. Hmm.

Anyway, one thing the interviewees often say is that Mr. Trump is honest, that he tells it like is, which may seem odd given how much he lies about almost everything, policy and personal. In other words, Mr. Trump isn’t an honest man or a stand-up guy, but he is, arguably, less hypocritical about the darker motives underlying his worldview than conventional politicians are.

And the big question about Trumpism — bigger, arguably, than the legislative agenda — is whether unapologetic ugliness is a winning political strategy.

One of the things I’ve learned about incompetence over the past few months is that it is radically nonlinear. Competent people go in one of a few directions. But incompetence is infinite.”

Beware the Innovative Assessment Kool-Aid

Leave it to pols to take the best authentic assessments and tie them to their quest for control of teachers.

Bianca Tanis

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By law, teacher evaluations in New York State are required to include student growth scores based on the results of NYS ELA and math tests in grades 3-8. The current NYSUT leadership has failed to lobby for changes to this law and after an outpouring of criticism,  NYSUT Vice President Andy Pallotta recently stated in an email blast that NYSUT “will fight to have APPR thrown on the ash-heap of history.” The current NYSUT leaders running for re-election (including Pallotta) also claim that their “…goal is to permanently decouple all testing from teacher evaluation ratings.

We must be clear in our advocacy – New York State law must be amended to completely decouple the mandatory use any student performance measures from teacher evaluations and from any and all uses that result in punishing schools or school districts. New York State law currently requires that teacher evaluations include the use…

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What Reformers Don’t Understand: “The Process of Little Things”

Thanks Diane

Diane Ravitch's blog

Reformers have grand ideas for shaking up the system. Blowing it up. Changing everything. Blowing up teacher education. Imposing national standards overnight. Turning schools into teacher-proof institutions. Teaching children the habits of highly effective scholars (age 7).

But, writes David Greene and Bernie Heller, teachers understand that real change is not in the Big Things. Real change happens because of “the process of little things.”


The reform of education is focused on the big changes as opposed to understanding that change is a step by step process. The educrats are playing for the big moment, yet they fil to understand that they can’t pull big moments out of thin air, consequently, their “big moments” exist in vacuums, totally disconnected and disembodied from reality.

From teaching students to be better writers, better students and better thinkers, to mentoring teachers to be better at teaching, to helping players to become better hitters…

View original post 690 more words

The Elephant In The Room: The Process of Little Things

 

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-Another Keller/Greene thing.

Education, like life, is not about the macro or the big things. Like life, it is all about “the little things strung together.” It’s a lot like the quote that asserts, “There are no extraordinary people, there are only ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

 

The reform of education is focused on the big changes as opposed to understanding that change is a step by step process. The educrats are playing for the big moment, yet they fil to understand that they can’t pull big moments out of thin air, consequently, their “big moments” exist in vacuums, totally disconnected and disembodied from reality.

 

From teaching students to be better writers, better students and better thinkers, to mentoring teachers to be better at teaching, to helping players to become better hitters or shooters, it was and is always about starting at step one and moving forward, step by step.

 

The reformers and the experts want to be able to say they did big things, that they changed everything, the only problem is, you can’t start out “big” – you have to start with the little things, and string them all together.

 

Are there poor teachers? Of course there are. There were bad teachers when I went to school, there were bad teachers when you went to school. If I were to ask you how many good or great teachers you had all the way through your college career, how many would you be able to list? I’d guess three or four- if you were lucky. Despite that fact, you are still successful today, you still survived. Good and great teachers don’t grow on trees and they are not “developed” or created in special teaching programs or institutes.

 

Good or great teachers grow and develop through experience and experience takes time and patience. Step by step. Slowly, based on little things strung together. When you marry that time and patience to extraordinary passion, you have a good or great teacher. Perhaps that is why there are so very few of them.

 

Parents cannot stand by idly and do nothing. They must challenge the system to work, for as Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has, it never will.” They must ask themselves why they would gladly let someone with almost nothing to lose make decisions that will affect the lives of their children, and which, if those decisions are wrong, will cost their children everything. They must not allow people to “experiment” with their children’s lives

 

No parents demanded to know where this “plan” had been successfully used before or asked if the people supporting it had used it in their educational experiences. No parent said,” Yes, the graduation rate is low. Can you tell us why?” They are not looking toward the next BIG thing, they are looking for the little steps that help their children succeed.

 

Not only must they hold the government and others accountable, they must also hold their children accountable. They must demand the very best of their children. As parents are their children’s first teachers and role models, they must model the behaviors and the characteristics they want to see in their children. They cannot wait for others or trust that others will do what they are responsible to do. That is the first little step.

 

Plainly speaking, no law, no reconfiguration of classrooms or schools, no amount of refurbishing, no revision of testing philosophies or teaching requirements, no creation of new titles or positions and no number of “new and exciting” programs such as “Ramp Up” or the presence of new, all- of -a -sudden educational gurus, will effect ANY change, until and unless parents and their children are “called into the tent” to take on their roles and responsibilities. Period.

 

Perhaps you can help me. I’m a bit bewildered, flummoxed, perplexed about the panacea-like powers the common core solution is purported to possess. While I agree that we can and must do better, that we must improve our schools, I also understand there is NO one-size-fits-all solution, and that any solution must be in fact filled with little things and will therefoire will take time to become effective. My bewilderment and perplexity revolves around the idea that simply creating, instituting and executing common core standards will turn everything around.

 

Too many educators over the past century have seen any number of “solutions” and “answers”. Most of them disappeared into thin air. In fact, I daresay that one of the people who currently advocate the “need” for common core standards, (people who have become famous, successful, and wealthy, people who attended public schools, as well as many of those reading this essay right now, would be hard pressed to cite or identify one local, state or national standard enacted or enforced throughout their school careers.

 

What common core standards were in effect when the United States was on top of the world educationally, or when we came form behind to take the lead in the space race? What common core standards are currently being enforced and enacted in the countries that are beating us now like Finland? If the common core is the answer to our present educational malaise, how was it possible that there was ever any educational success before they came into existence? We learned without SmartBoards, laptops,, computers, scientific calculators, specialized programs and specialized methods like Danielson.

 

  • Common core standards cannot be the only solution to this problem
  • Instead of trying to “re-find” what BIG ideas make education work, let’s look at all the little things that made it successful before and use that.

When people talk about how everything is so different in the 21st century, as if nothing we did before now has any relevance or value, it makes me ask myself if they are listening to themselves when they talk. First of all, whatever exists in the 21st century is the progeny, the sum total of the knowledge that preceded the 21st century. Centuries are not stand-alone- islands-in-time, rather they are linear, connected one to the other.

 

The most important question to ask in order to find a solution to any problem is the question, “Why?” Once you know the why of a thing, you can understand it, you get it. YOU know the little things that matter. Many teachers know this, yet arent listend to. Why aren’t they being asked to facilitate more workshops and professional development sessions? Why aren’t they being asked to run schools or superintendencies, serve as assistant principals and principals, or mentor new teachers?

 

Such “hands on” been there done that experience would yield a far better result than some BIG “maybe-they’ll work-maybe they- won’t –standards based on ideas/theories that will likely be obsolete and outdated within the next year or two.

 

Making education work is NOT as hard and as complicated as it is being made out to be. Education used to be about asking students to reach a little further than they would be comfortable reaching for on their own. It used to be about making sure that when a student received a passing grade, it was clear that grade honestly represented a percentage that symbolized that he/she had completed in that class as opposed to that grade representing a percentage identifying a teacher as competent or incompetent- it still is. It used to be about how graduation symbolized the preparation to move forward as opposed to an empty symbol that “proves” the reform being enacted is valid and viable.

 

The truth is that long before common core learning ever occurred, there was learning and that learning produced the computer, iTunes, iPhones, innumerable apps, Kindle, space travel, HIV medicines, etc., etc. The truth is we must look to what has always worked- not just for a year or two, or until it could make some corporation or hedge fund a profit- but what has been true about education since Socrates and Aristotle- that education must be respected, and not simply treated as some political exclamation point inserted into some campaign speech, that everyone must see and recognize its value.

 

We must return to the idea that learning is extremely dependent on the desire or curiosity of the learner to want to go further, to want to know more, to challenge him/herself. We need to stop “looking for the next magic bullet” or the “next big thing”.

 

I suppose the reformers mean well, (but like they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”). The fact of the matter is that just because they mean well doesn’t mean what they are doing is right, just as simply because people disagree with what the reformers are doing doesn’t make those who disagree the anti-education or anti-student devil.

 

As former public school students and an educators with close to four decades of experience, we know the value of education. We know schools matter in students’ lives. We know education is the great equalizer, and we know PUBLIC schools work. They are not perfect- they never were. Nothing is. We also know that many public schools work quite well, and that those labeled as dysfunctional or failing can again. The people criticizing and castigating them must put in the same amount of energy and effort and enthusiasm in looking at all thelittel steps necedssary in fixing them as they spend trying to shut them down.

 

Stop looking at the next big thing and look at the elephant in the room: The process of little things.

The circus is dead. Long live the circus.

imagesA public space is an arena. Sometimes they are quiet, sometimes not. That town hall meetings erupted as they have is surely a sign of the times and a reaction to #45.

Many cool, calm, and collected men and women have lost that cool and calm for good reason.

We also all know that Tea Partiers earlier, and #45sters 2016 bad behaviors have not only created recent precedent, but pushed the bar lower for public discourse.

I was at a meeting Friday night that, in part, prepared for a local Town Hall meeting to do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons. I know those people were there to behave reasonably.

Perhaps we all need to carefully watch Spike Lee’s 30 year old classic film,DO THE RIGHT THING to better understand the choices people have to fight injustices. I used that film in classes for years to create such a discussion among high school seniors. These quotes rolled down the screen as the movie ended. Was Malcolm or Martin right?

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I think there are plenty of good people in America, but there are also plenty of bad people in America and the bad ones are the ones who seem to have all the power and be in these positions to block things that you and I need. Because this is the situation, you and I have to preserve the right to do what is necessary to bring an end to that situation, and it doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.”
-Malcolm X

 

It seems that history tells us that the successful fights for justice involve two arms, one provocative, and one reasonable. Look at our civil Rights and Vietnam War efforts as well as the ANC’s fight vs Apartheid in South Africa as proof.
Finally, no fight against injustice can take place without a provocative, investigative, and reasonable press. The Fourth Estate must do its part….

I can’t agree more

…with  Nicholas Kristof and Nelson Mandela.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

-Nelson Mandela

Whatever we think about @realDonaldTrump and what is passing for governing in DC now, we must be strategic in our responses. As Nelson Mandela conquered Apartheid by talking to his enemies as humans, so must we treat followers of @45 as human, or we will never convince them of what needs to be done in 2018 and 2020. Trump knows that by fanning our anger he will gain more support by those who still hate liberalism, even more moderate Republicans.

That is part of HIS strategy.

This must be part of ours. Mandela exhibited six capabilities that are especially important for visionary leaders (or anyone for that matter) facing deep uncertainty and turmoil. They are the ability to (1) anticipate, (2) challenge, (3) interpret, (4) decide, (5) align and (6) learn. (Paul J. H. Schoemaker)

We don’t need to anticipate much as we already know the stance Trumpsters take. They tend to dig in their heels. We have to challenge them intellectually, not emotionally. We have to interpret what they say detached from our own emotional reactions. We need to try to get them to align more with our points which we know are true and supported by evidence from multiple sources. And finally, we must learn more about who they are and WHY they are Trumpsters. It is the WHY that will lead us to the how.

“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.

-from the “Sad” New Yorker Magazine

 

Let’s talk:
2/19/17

You can’t build
a country by subtraction 
and division-
(tried that and how did
that work out?)

You can’t make a country
one nation
indivisible
when you keep talkin’
about “ them”
and keep pushing folks
out of the tent
and taking the squares
out of America’s quilt.

You can’t unite a country
Just talkin’ to the people
you like.

– B. Keller

 

ALERT! GOP Congress Launches First Effort to Undermine Public SCHOOLS!

The attacks get worse with each succeeding administration.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Republicans in The House of Representatives have proposed legislation that would require states to adopt vouchers or lose their federal funding. This is an outrage! This is step one of the Trump-DeVos agenda to force vouchers and charters on states that do not want them. This is a blatant misuse of federal power to coerce states to go along with religious zealots like DeVos.

The legislation, HR 610, has been filed. Let your Representative in Congress know that you oppose this egregious federal overreach. Support The Network for Public Education as we rally supporters of public schools to repel this obnoxious legislation.

The language of the legislation and the steps you can take to oppose it are included here.

If you do not want your tax dollars to fund evangelical religious schools, madrassas, or yeshivas, get active.

If you believe in public schools with certified teachers who teach modern science…

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