Teaching and Speaking Out
What happens to teachers who speak out about problems they see in their work? Teachers shared their first-hand stories on the Education Town HallBUS, Thursday, September 25.
Francesco Portelos, a New York City teacher had been praised by his principal and recommended for an administrative position, but then he complained of financial improprieties; it took two years of fighting before he was reinstated. More recently, The Holyoke (MA) Teachers Association filed a complaint alleging that firing of English teacher Gus Morales was in retaliation for criticizing educational reform.
Today, along with another former teacher, I did some storytelling to four classes of wealthy Westchester suburban high school students about growing up in the Bronx during the 50’s and 60’s…well I stretched it into the early 70’s as well. Unfortunately I realized I am now old enough for them to by grand kids. Damn, that smarts.
Don, a former health teacher, taught them about games we played on the street, ranging from stickball to flipping baseball cards, to skully. That was cool. The kids looked at him and me weirdly as he demonstrated some things and I demonstrated stoopball inside the classroom… (Good thing we didn’t have any Spaldeens).
When it got to be my turn, I relayed to these HS seniors odds and ends from my early days, from age 5 to 17. Those ranged from playing chicken with cars passing on the street, my dad being in one of them, and the common corporal punishment it led to; to walking home from my high school girlfriend’s house after midnight before a bus came along. That was from Sedgwick Ave and Van Cortlandt Park West to 171st and the Grand Concourse. (3.7 miles according to Google Maps).
Mostly I told them about my years growing up in a poor to working class multi ethnic diverse neighborhood, where I was often one of a few “white shadows”. We would all play together in the streets and in the schoolyards; yet sit in tracked, de-facto segregated elementary school classes. Then, on occasion, we would have to take sides in a neighborhood dispute even as 10 year olds and fight for our block. Thank God there were no guns then like now.
I told them about the iron-fisted witch of a first grade teacher who kept my long legs pinned under those immovable wooden screwed to the floor desks. I swear she was sadistic, and how that compared to my second grade teacher who gave us so munch inspiration to learn and do so many interesting things to do, like write letters to President Eisenhower to end segregation in Little Rock. He actually responded, or at least his secretary did. We were quoted in the New York Times too.
I told them about how moving up literally meant moving up the hill from 172nd and Longfellow to 173rd and Vyse and my own bedroom after 6th grade and up hill again to the soon to be decaying Grand Concourse and 171st, where I lost that room.I told them about how being white saved me and my friends from a police shooting while living there during the 1965 blackout. A few friends of mine of various shades and I broke into a storage room in my building to grab ladders to rescue subway riders from the stuck train on the express track on the D line. He approached us gun up thinking we were going to rob apartments until I convinced him otherwise.
I told them about our high school hangouts: Orchard Beach, Fordham Rd, White Castle, and Poe Park. I told them how I hated going to The Bronx High School of Science because of the commute, the nerdiness, and being ranked 903rd in a class of 950 with an 80% avg. I preferred playing ball in the Taft HS school-yard.
Finally, I told them about the Bronx cycle. How from the 20’s – 50’s most of it was filled with thriving neighborhoods, some segregated, some not. I told them about white flight and the devastation that Coop City created; how landlords let their buildings decay (including mine), and eventually had them torched for insurance money leading to the famous Jimmy Carter picture of what looked like a total war zone on Charlotte Place (around the corner from what used to be the apartment where I once lived with my grandmother;and how now the Bronx is no longer the gang infested, war torn, Fort Apache from the 1970s. Here is that same area now.
I concluded by telling them that it is again filled with striving immigrant families as it had in the first half of the 20th century; however they aren’t mostly various European nationalities, but that now, in the early 21st century they are primarily various African, Asian, Latin American, and fewer white Europeans. Thus, the stereotypes persist.
A few weeks ago I was asked to be interviewed by a friend who was going to write an article about Arne Duncan in a major online news site.
I never had the chance to be interviewed because, as she told me, “It was pulled.” I am sure there are several possibilities as to why but when you see the proposed title, “WHY LIBERALS HATE ARNE DUNCAN”, you may draw your own conclusions.
Not knowing that the article was to be pulled, I decided the best way to answer this was to poll liberals I knew who would be willing to share their thoughts. What appears below is a list of reasons we all shared.
The biggest issue was this:
Bush’s non-policy was less destructive to education in the United States than Duncan’s Race To The Top which used the promise of federal money to force states to adopt a high-stakes “Common Core” aligned testing regime based on ill-defined academic goals that includes the repeated testing of both students and teachers and the transformation of many schools into test prep academies.
Arne directed the Ariel Education Initiative, an arm of Ariel Investments “designed to bring educational opportunity to students in disadvantaged communities. Today, AEI’s primary focus is Ariel Community Academy and its investment curriculum. This curriculum is sponsored by Ariel Investments and Nuveen Investments, Inc.”
—From the Ariel Investments Web page
He Headed the Chicago public schools magnet school program and served as the deputy chief of staff of the system. Then ran Chicago’s Public Schools based on his experiences and influences. (See above) Ultimately that is the issue.
As Secretary of Education:
Duncan’s Race to the Top requires schools to compete for funds, when in fact we should make a priority of fully funding all of our schools and providing the resources needed for all of our public schools to thrive, not compete.
The $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition (that I have heard state legislators call a bribe) made adoption of “common standards” an incentive to win federal funding that would go along with that waiver. The problem was and is that The RTTT carrot is poisoned with common standards, more and newer tests and is actually, as Diane Ravitch has repeatedly said, NCLB 2.0.
All adopting states had to:
1.Adopt international benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace. (But according to whom? Measures are untested unreliable and invalid.)
2.Build instructional data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals on how they can improve their instruction (but not for the kids tested because the grades come back in the summer and without an item analysis to help teachers figure out exactly what needed to be worked on.)
- Turn around the lowest performing schools based on these tests…(which led to controlled content, test prep, and cheating)
- Lifting caps on Charter Schools. (And we have all seen what has happened as a result of that in many states.)
Several respondents felt that setting schools up to compete sets many of them up to fail, and this is exactly the kind of situation that privatizers want to capitalize on and profit from. He also has coupled that competition while he continually decries the inadequacy of education in the United States often placing the blame on teachers, teacher unions, teacher tenure, and the seniority system.
But above all, most felt very strongly that, as sincere as he may be, he is not honest, not even to himself .
- Duncan has said that developing the CC standards was a state-led initiative.
- He said the new standards were written by teachers, and they were not.
- He said they are not a curriculum, but they will lead to a curriculum so that statement of his is not entirely true.
- He said the CC standards are not national standards, but they really amount to national standards.
- He said adopting the CC was voluntary, but actually if a state did NOT adopt them, then the state would lose funding and be punished for not achieving 100% NCLB levels.
- Also, he supports value-added assessments to rate teachers based on student test scores, which has been shown to be a horrible measure of a teacher’s actual quality in the classroom.
- He has championed the high-stakes tests demanded by the federal Race to the Top program yet conceded that “in too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support” and “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” He said this WITHOUT TAKING RESPONSIBILITY
- He acknowledges “Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress,” but that did not lead to a suspension of the high-stakes Common Core aligned testing regime.
- He wrote about the Obama Administration’s “spirit of flexibility.” Many think Race to the Top has promoted the antithesis of flexibility in schools. NOT in the classrooms I visit where teachers are constantly imploring students, not to learn, but to do better on the tests.
To be sure there are plenty of other reasons. Perhaps you can write your own as comments. It would be my pleasure to share them.
Recently, I appeared on an Austin Based radio show, http://livingwealthyradio.com/?p=1743.
What appears below isn’t quite a transcript, but for those of you who are more linear than aural learners, here are both their questions and my answers.
Our guest, David Greene, is an educator, author, and a champion of experiential learning. He is going to help us better understand why we need a system of education that gives teachers the freedom and flexibility to focus on our children individually to inspire them to be great in their own ways, about how our educational system is changing to a one-size-fits all approach and how independent teachers are the solution.
DOING THE RIGHT THING: A TEACHER SPEAKS:
You used to teach high school, David – was this when you first realized that education was going the wrong direction in this country?
I have never said it was. My responses have been against those who said it was. We have had a long history of high quality teaching and reforms. Research has shown that education is only “as bad as they say” when there is high poverty, and all the social issues that go with it. But I can attest to evidence when that is the case and the exceptions to those rules, since I was both grew up as a student and taught as a teacher in one of those areas.
Why are teachers the solution?
Professionals are always the solution to issues within their own profession. Why do so many with a several million dollars, a political position, or a degree in journalism think, say, and convince others otherwise? I have a financial advisor from a major national company, and once I was in a national ad for their company where I said (in my own words) “I am not an expert, so I rely on one.” That should go for education as well.
In your book you write about “power of intrinsic motivation”. What do you mean by that?
Practical wisdom and intrinsic motivation have been researched by many, including Barry Schwartz (Practical Wisdom) and Daniel Pink (Drive), who have each written books any politician can understand.
Extrinsic motivation ONLY works best when the assignment neither inspires passion nor requires deep thinking, problem solving, or a more creative approach. Extrinsic motivation ONLY works best when the goal of the assignment is not to instill a long-range love of a subject or practice. In short, it can be used to learn to do simple, routine things.
As Pink explains, “The sorts of abilities that matter most now turn out are also the sorts of things that people do out of intrinsic motivation. Is this testing? No. It’s good teaching.
To achieve this intrinsic motivation, human beings not only need autonomy and mastery, they need purpose. Teachers must be able to answer the question kids often ask, “What are we doing’ this for?” If the answers are simply for a good grade or to prepare for the standardized exam, we are exacerbating the problem, not solving it. Kids need to know there is a real purpose to the assignment or work. Purpose and PASSION energize. Kids are more motivated pursuing purpose.
That brings me to the WISE PROGRAM: www.wiseservices.org
LONG before the phrase “College and Career Ready” was created; long before there were NCLB and RTTT; since 1973 in fact, high school seniors, including both of my children, of all ability levels have created individualized real-world experiences called WISE projects, exploring their passions outside the traditional classroom. Over that time, more than 40,000 WISE graduates at over 120 high schools have learned to collaborate and to work independently, developing organizational, research, writing, and presentation skills as they ignite a lifetime of personal growth.
In your writing, you address the problem with boys in the modern classroom – what is the problem, and why are boys failing?
AGAIN: We have failed to pay attention to the sociological, pedagogical, and biological research. One of the most consistent findings in the research is that over the past thirty years, schools have moved to teaching methods that favor how girls learn. Add this to the increasing data about how and why boys are faring less and less well in school, and you have an understanding about how much of a crisis this is within education, especially among minority males, our most failing demographic.
Recent studies show:
- 72 percent of all female students graduated HS
- 65 percent of all male students (-7%)
- 49 percent of black males (-23%)
- 137 women have graduated college for every 100 men
- 130+ women earned master’s degrees for every 100 men
- 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men
Aside from those comparative annual statistics, in general, from K-12:
- Boys are greatly outnumbered in every extracurricular activity outside of sports, from student government to student newspapers and academic clubs.
- By twelve years of age, boys are almost twice as likely to have repeated at least one grade.
- Boys comprise the majority of permanent high school dropouts.
- Boys are approximately three times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD.
- Boys are ten times as likely to be referred for possible ADHD/ADD as girls.
- Boys (ages fifteen to nineteen) are five times as likely as girls to commit suicide.
- Boys are more than three times as likely to be expelled from school.
- Preschool boys (ages three to four) are expelled at a rate about four and a half times that of girls.
In short, the average boy of fifty to seventy-five years ago would have been very likely diagnosed with ADHD today, especially if they were bored and gifted boys.
Do students perform better when they are given a more active role in their education?
Yes. WISE projects, project based learning, and simulations all provide students with the power of self-determination with structured guidance. I constantly try to inform people of the difference between teacher controlled and teacher directed yet student-centered classrooms. In these situations the teacher acts far more as a composer-conductor of a jazz band than the General of an army.
What do you have against Common Core?
I do not disagree with its most generic goals. Who doesn’t want students developing better reading ability or better critical thinking, or better problem solving skills? I, as well has many of my colleagues, have been working our entire professional lives on helping students develop those essential skills long before they came to be called 21st century.
However, Common Core State Standards was generated and exists as a result of a series of myths and lies. Myths and lies initiated how it originated, what it has become, how it was fostered upon states, and how corporations have found their way to control the money to be made in education. A common core of texts, resources, and lesson plans, curricula (illegal) tests and scorers was pushed on 45 states as part of the $4.3 billion bribe to accept Race To The Top funding.
Adoption of “common standards” was an incentive to win federal funding that would go along with the waiver from the NCLB mandate that all students be reading proficient by 2014. The problem was and is that The RTTT carrot is poisoned with common standards, newer tests and is, actually, NCLB 2.0.
All of these were part of a plan that told adopting states that they had to:
1.adopt international benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace. (But according to whom? …measures are untested unreliable and invalid.)
2.Build instructional data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals on how they can improve their instruction (but not to the kids tested because the grades come back in the summer and without an item analysis to help teachers figure out exactly what needed to be worked on.)
- Turn around the lowest performing schools based on these tests…(which led to controlled content, test prep, and cheating.
- Lifting caps on Charter Schools.
Teachers all over the country have done all of the good things in CCSS for decades yet the perpetrators have denied the existence of these good teaching methods and claimed them as their own.
Some of our audience members have probably considered “un-schooling,” which is very unstructured and student-led – but that’s not what you’re advocating. What’s the difference in your estimation?
Un or home schooling is too hit or miss. Too often it is another case of “we know better”. How many qualified people are able to do a high quality schooling their own kids?
I can see the point home school advocates make in some districts where people feel hopeless and with no alternatives BUT a major problem with homeschooling is that it revolves only around individual, not communal educational needs and it also weakens the fight FOR better public schools. Plus in all honesty, in many cases, not all, it can be another version of I don’t want my kid going to school with “those kids”.
So you believe in assessment tools and structured feedback, but not tests?
I ask this. Whose tests and why they are given? The oldest set of “standardized” tests like NYS regents never made a difference in any graduates ability, certainly not mine. I believe in Authentic Assessment that can accurately reflect how well a student is learning through a variety of measures like tests, essays, project based learning, cartooning, art, research papers, simulations, etc.… Each assessment MUST ALSO provide immediate and accurate NARRATIVE feedback which can immediately be used by a student to improve his or her skills, not just for the next assessment, but to improve the adaptive skills of learning how to learn, solve problems, and think critically.
What is the way forward? How can we get our schools back on track and our children more engaged and successful?
To paraphrase the character Howard Beale in the classic movie, NETWORK,
“All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My kid’s life has VALUE!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’
They have to get mad as hell. They have to vote locally and state wide first to make differences in local school boards and state legislatures. They have to organize locally as thousands have in Long Island New York or Nationally in groups like SAVE OUR SCHOOLS, UNITED OPT OUT, OR THE BADASS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION AND… say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’
We have to learn from history. Populists and Progressives came together a century ago to get rid of the control of industries and the abuses of the first Gilded Age where Trusts ruled legislatures allowing them to reap millions and billions.
We simply have to do the same.
We know what they are. So do your children. So do your children’s teachers.
The highly touted Finns do as well, after all, they developed their high quality system in the early 1990s’ taking the best of what we introduced in the US in the 60’s and 70’s:
We know it takes a dedicated community, involved parents, and quality teaching staff and programs that foster student engagement and involvement in learning.
We all have had teachers who have changed our lives for the better; who have inspired, who have challenged, mentored and in some saved our lives.
Miss Stafford was my 2nd grade teacher in 1956-7. When she passed away in 2009, a third of my second-grade class was at her memorial service.
Little did we know as seven-year-olds entering her class in the Bronx, that we were to become the happy guinea pigs for a life dedicated to helping children with all kinds of ‘personalities,’ as we called it then.
People marvel at what Rita did for us. They marvel at our reunions every Christmas time for ten years, and at our last reunion, forty-four years after our second-grade class.
They marvel about how we learned about civil rights by writing letters to president Eisenhower offering him suggestions about what to do about integrating the Little Rock, Arkansas schools. (We even received a reply and were quoted in the New York Times.)
A professor at St. John’s university for nearly forty years, she had become a world renown professor and authority on learning styles, a prolific author, and the recipient of thirty-one professional research awards.
She is but one of millions.
Taylor Mali is also a teacher. He wrote this famous poem now ripped off by a ubiquitous ad for teach.org (an organization like TFA selling a shortcut to teaching.
What teachers make (abridged)
You want to know what i make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.
I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math and hide it on their final drafts in English.
Both my Ms. Stafford and Mr. Mali were doing these things long before NCLB, RTTT, High Stakes Standardized Testing and CCSS were sperm swimming in some ones brain.
Let me add the last line in Mr. Mali’s poem:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?
What can you do to take back our schools and save your children’s education?
All Politics is Local!
Your kids need your help.
- They need you to support teachers like those to create quality schools.
- They need you to understand why having due process rules to terminate teachers is good, not bad, for your kids and you.
- They need you to push the administrators and union leaders to be collaborative not adversarial. Collaboration is key. You must make it your districts policy. Parents + community + teachers + union + administrators + students working together = a great school or district!
School districts are the last vestiges of town hall democracy. Board of Education members are elected. You decide who sits on them and what kind of policy makers you want on your board.
If you want cold cash cutting, tax lowering, short sided, mandate following Board of Education members who hire cut and slash superintendents and vote to destroy all the good in your schools…. You get what you ask for.
Your kids need your help.
- They need you to work to get your budgets passed.
- They need you to explain to those without children in your community why good schools are a benefit to them and well worth the cost of a yes vote on a budget.
- They need you to vote for Board of Education members who want collaboration between their professional staff and the community, who will work with your local union and administrators to hire the best teachers and allow them to collaborate with each other, create curricula, have access to quality peer coaching and ongoing staff development.
- They need you to vote for Board of Education members who will support the policies we advocate and against those that hurt our kids…
Or better yet, they need you to run for your district’s Board of Education and make sure it gets done right.