Thomas Ultican

I have joined with other like minded educators and supporters of public education to stop the destroy-public-education movement; financed by billionaire “philanthropists” over the past more than three decades. I see their push to end democratic control of local schools as a step toward plutocracy.

The education historian, writer and scholar, Diane Ravitch, recently stated, “Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has become a scholar of the privatization movement.” She also noted, “Tom Ultican has been writing a series of brilliant studies of cities where the Destroy Public Education Movement is busily undermining and privatizing its public schools…”

I taught high school physics and mathematics in a school with more the 50% EL’s and 75% Title 1 students where I saw first hand that poverty is the biggest problem facing today’s students and their schools.

In 1999, I got tired of doing research in Silicon Valley and decided to teach. I like technology and have used it to enhance my teaching, but isolating youths at screens responding to computer algorithms is destructive of creativity, authentic learning and social growth. That style of education technology is merely profiteering.

Teaching is the hardest job I ever had and I loved it!

25 Responses to “Thomas Ultican”

  1. anduhayoung@gmail.com March 18, 2017 at 12:39 am #

    Thank you for helping me smile! NGSS are unintelligible! I am a retiring Az Chemistry/Physics teacher who actually wants to teach 3rd and 4th grade math/science.

    I was attempting to sort out how do I make this happen in my current 8th grade class and was getting ill thinking I had become too old. I am reassured now.

    Those thing would terrify any poor parent wanting to understand what is being taught.

    My administrators keep telling me to dumb it down and follow it all at the same time which is not possible.

    The 8th grade math teachers are mad at me “for stealing their thunder”. I try to explain math is one of many languages (equations, graphs and charts, word descriptions, images, 3d models) and modeling methods and I MUST use it ready or not!

    meanwhile my very deeply christian students of my current 8th grade class are really pissed off by ALL THE EVOLUTION. I don’t need to die to know hell!

    The math teacher is pissed because i need to teach the math to make the models.

    No one understands the damned standards, I am not faking it, so my integrity burns as everyone blow smoke up each others rear parts. I look like I don’t know what I am doing.
    “DEFINED STEM” IS NO WHERE CLOSE TO BEING AN ALL INCLUSIVE one stop shop. and it is not easy, done, realistic, and it just slick marketing. Many STEM NGSS products on the market are also facades. PHET being the exception. (and they don’t charge figure that?)

    Math and science are the coolest stuff ever. Pure joy! and this new endless testing and top down operation are stealing my life joy from me!

    Thank you for helping me feel less alone.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pierian Spring June 4, 2018 at 3:17 am #

    You remind me of this anti-privatization crusader in Philadelphia— exhaustive research on the entangling alliances between business and school boards and privatization organizations – do you know her work?
    http://wrenchinthegears.com/2018/06/01/making-childhood-pay-arthur-rolnick-steven-rothschild-and-readynation/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. john Bill May 9, 2019 at 6:02 pm #

    reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cathy O'Leary Carey May 29, 2019 at 3:28 am #

    Mr. Ultican,

    I was learning about DPE and the danger to public education when the San Diego Free Press closed down.
    Where should I go to be able to read your articles as I did with Free Press?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy O"Leary Carey February 5, 2020 at 6:18 pm #

      Mr. Ultican,

      Where do I go to read your posts?

      Liked by 1 person

      • tultican February 5, 2020 at 8:19 pm #

        They are all available at tultican.com

        Like

      • Cathy O'Leary Carey February 7, 2020 at 12:01 am #

        Thank you.
        I look forward to reading your posts and appreciate the work you are doing to keep us informed about the DPE movement.

        Cathy

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Colleen February 5, 2020 at 3:30 am #

    I am thrilled to find the wealth of resources contained in this website. Thank you for putting words to the struggle!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ray C. Zulueta Jr November 21, 2020 at 1:08 am #

    I am currently battling this exact system in Stockton, CA. It’d be amazing to speaking with you and possibly get your support on ensuring this information reaches broader audiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tultican November 21, 2020 at 4:33 pm #

      I am a little confused about what you are asking for here. I know Stockton is one of California’s most targeted cities by billionaire privatizers.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. rruterbuschgmailcom January 23, 2021 at 5:04 pm #

    Hi, Mr. Ultican-

    I am a parent of two students in the SDUHSD district in North County San Diego. Everything that you wrote about in your 2018 VOSD article is coming true. The district is being attacked by anti-union, pro “choice”/charter school forces under the guise of the pandemic school-reopening debate. These forces have even created a new “North County Parent Association” which clearly follows the DPE agenda.

    We have another well-organized group of concerned parents in the district who are trying to fight this and want to prevent our award winning public school district from being destroyed. We would appreciate meeting with you or setting up a Zoom to get your insight and help with developing a strategy. Please contact me at my email address or let me know how we can connect. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michael GILE May 1, 2021 at 11:09 am #

    I think that children need to learn how to think. My children regurgitate things they “learned” in school, but when asked a question, can’t give a firm answer for their reasoning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tultican May 1, 2021 at 12:56 pm #

      One of the most frustrating things about the last 20 years of plutocrat driven education “reform” is that it has almost ended actual school improvement efforts and in fact pushed school practices in a counterproductive direction. Instead of identifying and sharing teaching methods that promoted thinking and concentrate on what each unique child is doing right, we got a standardized movement that forced on us check lists that identify what deficit each child has. This has pushed education away from developing thinking and creativity and towards successfully answering trivia. Reasoning has been ignored.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. SoundEagle 🦅ೋღஜஇ May 15, 2021 at 12:04 am #

    Dear Thomas Ultican,

    Hi there! I am not sure that I successfully submitted this comment earlier. This is my third attempt.

    I can’t agree with you more that “isolating youths at screens responding to computer algorithms is destructive of creativity, authentic learning and social growth. That style of education technology is merely profiteering.” There have also been insufficient concentrations in the important areas of information literacy as well as media literacy. After all, the outcomes of information literacy are related to and complemented by those of traditional literacy, computer literacy, research skills and critical thinking skills. I have highlighted these outstanding issues in my most recent post entitled “Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity“.

    This post of mine now contains twelve sections (plus a meticulously annotated gallery), all of which are instantly accessible from a navigational menu.

    Please kindly inform me if or when you think that I should include or incorporate some piece(s) of information, findings, statistics, critique and/or analysis into certain section(s) of the said post.

    Happy mid-May to you!

    Like

  10. tultican May 15, 2021 at 12:14 am #

    Thank you for the message. I will investigate your post and get back to you.

    Like

  11. steve carnevale June 14, 2021 at 7:59 pm #

    Your opinion only makes sense if you want to protect the failed literacy rate of 66% nationally. Which is much higher for underprivileged peop[le of color. You can’t fix something until you measure it. The only solution is to identify these children early and provide structured literacy interventions. Otherwise, they are doomed to a life of underemployment, incarceration, and social injustice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tultican June 14, 2021 at 8:28 pm #

      I question your failed literacy rate of 66%. When I was teaching math and physics at the high school level, I only met a few students who could not read and they were early years language learners. Structured literacy is not a universally accepted method for teaching reading. Some say it makes students hate reading. Most of all the so called “science of reading” is anything but scientific. It appears more related to politics than pedagogy.

      Like

      • T Edward June 15, 2021 at 7:10 pm #

        Really Mr Ultican? I admire your work — I think you found your calling as a charter school muckraker. Your “All Hat And No Cattle” article on the Thrive fiasco is the funniest takedown of the incompetent shortcut artists the billionaires somehow keep anointing to run their ed reform projects; your “Open Letter to CCSA” is right on the money (around 2014-2015 the CCSA morphed from an earnest group of data and legislative wonks, urging charter schools to do self-evaluations and learn from best practices at more successful schools (against a lot of pushback), to a power-at-all costs organization willing to ally themselves with vampire squids, real estate investors, and shady politicians to take over California’s large urban school boards, surround Sacramento with “high quality” charters to influence the legislators, and other cockamamie billionaire-conceived schemes.

        This new CCSA failed miserably, wasted millions of dollars and scarce real estate resources, destroyed reputation and good will, and crushed any last hope that competent educators (ethical, experienced, effective) would use the Charter school law—originally conceived by the head of the AFT teachers union as a way to free the best public school teachers from incompetent District oversight— to create model public schools that all could learn from.
        https://www.aft.org/ae/winter2014-2015/kahlenberg_potter

        But using your experience teaching “advanced mathematics and physics” courses as a refutation of the 66% functionally illiterate* figure is a classic example of confirmation bias:
        Any student who made it into your advanced courses was at or near “expert reader” level. But ignoring that small sliver of the student body, the rest of your school, like most public schools, was divided into at least three tiers, all related to reading ability.

        Students in the lowest reading tiers don’t take AP classes.
        1. Students who cannot even decode or sound out the words in school texts despite years in the public school system;

        2. Students who can sound out the words but whose academic vocabulary and general associative knowledge is too small to (a) read with ease or pleasure (they are constantly forced to stop and consider words they don’t recognize, always backtracking to try to recapture the fading backstory); and too small to (b) comprehend the meanings of history, biology, physics, economics texts (students at this reading level do not even start, much less complete most reading assignments; they feel insecure in all vocabulary- and reading-heavy classes; and many start thinking of dropping out of school while still in grade school, according to NIHCD interviews)

        3a. Students who can decode academic texts fluently and whose academic vocabulary and general associative knowledge is large enough to parse words as they scan. These students often enjoy reading and in any case read so easily that they have enough mental energy left to read and re-read difficult academic texts (like your mathematics and physics books) until they get them.

        We can add two more subgroups:

        3b. Top readers who were lucky enough to have gone through a good algebra prep program (a small group, since most public schools—and public charter schools in San Diego– do a terrible job teaching elementary and middle school math). Without good algebra skills and problem-solving confidence even top readers are unlikely to thrive in Chemistry, Physics, Algebra II or Intermediate Math 2 and 3, or Calculus. And a final subgroup:

        3c. Level 2 readers with a natural affinity for mathematics, engineering-design, coding, and problem-solving whose reading keeps them from being placed in, or if placed, from passing, advanced math and science classes. In other words, STEM stars whose poor academic reading ability keeps them out of STEM careers.
        ————
        The “science of reading” refers to teaching phonics and decoding to beginning readers and does not apply to students in your advanced courses, where the problem is reading comprehension not fluency or decoding.
        ———
        * And, we should define terms. The UNESCO definition of “functional literacy,” though broad, is useful—[Functional Literacy] Refers to the capacity of a person to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective function of his or her group and community and also for enabling him or her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his or her own and the community’s development.— and their detailed breakdown of 5 levels of “reading proficiency”** is even better for teachers interested in equity and excellence for all students. Classroom teachers and school principals cannot ignore the literacy inequality and think they’ll help all children reach their potential. (http://tcg.uis.unesco.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2020/08/Metadata-4.6.1.pdf)

        Some professors and influencers (mostly non-practitioners) and educators (mostly at chronically failing schools or districts) have decided to attack the very concepts of functional literacy or reading proficiency; some are also working to prevent schools or states from measuring students’ reading (or math) ability. They have no compelling arguments against the concepts but carry on regardless. Their approach seems to be that if we ignore, or define away, our national reading catastrophe it will go away.

        ——
        ** UNESCO Reading Proficiency levels 3-5

        Level 3

        Texts at this level are often dense or lengthy, and include continuous, non-continuous, mixed, or multiple pages of text. Understanding text and rhetorical structures become more central to successfully completing tasks, especially navigating complex digital texts. Tasks require the respondent to identify, interpret, or evaluate one or more pieces of information, and often require varying levels of inference. Many tasks require the respondent to construct meaning across larger chunks of text or perform multi-step operations in order to identify and formulate responses. Often tasks also demand that the respondent disregard irrelevant or inappropriate content to answer accurately. Competing information is often present, but it is not more prominent than the correct information.

        Level 4

        Tasks at this level often require respondents to perform multiple-step operations to integrate, interpret, or synthesise information from complex or lengthy continuous, non-continuous, mixed, or multiple type texts. Complex inferences and application of background knowledge may be needed to perform the task successfully. Many tasks require identifying and understanding one or more specific, non-central idea(s) in the text in order to interpret or evaluate subtle evidence-claim or persuasive discourse relationships. Conditional information is frequently present in tasks at this level and must be taken into consideration by the respondent. Competing information is present and sometimes seemingly as prominent as correct information.

        Level 5

        At this level, tasks may require the respondent to search for and integrate information across multiple, dense texts; construct syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view; or evaluate evidence-based arguments. Application and evaluation of logical and conceptual models of ideas may be required to accomplish tasks. Evaluating reliability of evidentiary sources and selecting key information is frequently a requirement. Tasks often require respondents to be aware of subtle, rhetorical cues and to make high-level inferences or use specialised background knowledge.

        Like

      • tultican June 19, 2021 at 12:22 am #

        I did teach remedial algebra courses. So I met pretty much every kind of student. I still question that statistic.

        Like

    • T Edward June 16, 2021 at 6:49 pm #

      “The only solution is to identify these children early…”

      Absolutely. “… reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” — Feynman, 1986 Report on the Challenger Disaster

      What teacher loves standardized tests? They are a pain in the neck, constantly being redesigned, often poorly conceived, almost always poorly executed (for the first few years at least)… but without them the human talent for fooling ourselves triumphs.

      Teacher and schools need some kind of outside metric or else complacency and self-congratulations set in. My experience as a principal and math turn-around consultant is that often the teachers with the best classroom management skills had the lowest math scores in a school. No one would have believed it observing their classrooms; they were wizards who, without raising their voice, could get children to do anything– except learn math apparently.

      Now the NAEP is being redesigned to potentially remove its ability to identify students struggling in reading, and math.
      From the Fordham site (the writers downplay the problem of corruption in the charter school world, but their site is always worth reading even when you disagree with their take): “The drafters … set out to reframe reading and its assessment in “socio-cultural” terms, seemingly in opposition to the “cognitive” terms that have long undergirded the assessment process—and not just in reading.” https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/culture-wars-come-nations-report-card

      Like

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