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Selling Education Technology Via the Federal Education Technology Plan

28 Sep

In January the Office of Education Technology, a unit of the U.S. Department of Education, released its 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update (NETP). The update is not a reasoned meditation on the use of education technology informed by our nations vast academic research infrastructure. It is a polemic hyping the use of technology in America’s classrooms. Director Joseph South, Office of Educational Technology US Department of Education, concludes his introductory remarks:

“…, it is now more apparent than ever that the courageous efforts of educators to embrace the role of thoughtful, reflective innovators who work collaboratively with each other and alongside their students to explore new learning models, new digital learning environments, and new approaches to working, learning, and sharing is essential if we want technology to be an effective tool to transform learning.” (page 2)

The question is, do we want digital learning environments? Are they conducive to creative and healthy development? Are there dangers involved with this approach? Are we moving along a technologically driven path without the requisite caution? The NEPT is not troubled by such doubts.

I do not oppose the use of technology in America’s classrooms. I taught high school math and physics and at one time I worked in Silicon Valley as a researcher in the magnetic recording industry. However, the best use of technology in school settings is developed by education professionals and not by technology product developers. The educators goal is better pedagogy. The developers goal is a new widget (often with a short life span) that wins in the market place.

Audrey Watters has been writing about technology in education for most of the 21st century. Audrey’s latest book is The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology published in 2016. He made these remarks to a class at MIT on September 7th.

“I don’t believe we live in a world in which technology is changing faster than it’s ever changed before. I don’t believe we live in a world where people adopt new technologies more rapidly than they’ve done so in the past. (That is argument for another talk, for another time.) But I do believe we live in an age where technology companies are some of the most powerful corporations in the world, where they are a major influence – and not necessarily in a positive way – on democracy and democratic institutions. (School is one of those institutions. Ideally.) These companies, along with the PR that supports them, sell us products for the future and just as importantly weave stories about the future.”

I quote Watters here because his statement about the major influence of technology companies is completely borne out by a cursory read of the NETP 2017. It is not just in the US where the outsized influence of these giant technology companies is being felt. In August, the Open Review of Education Research Journal published a paper from New Zealand by Noeline Wright and Michael Peters. In Response to a 2007 document from the New Zealand Ministry of Education they wrote:

“This document advocates e-pedagogy, social learning and student-centred approaches. The lure of what digital technologies can offer in properly constructed learning contexts masks some of the ways in which it can be interpreted to fit a neo-liberal, privatised, deprofessionalised education agenda. This is an agenda using big data to create mastery learning feedback loops for learners. It is cheaper, more efficient and involves fewer teachers. However, a key issue with this kind of thrust is that the capabilities needed for successful citizenship and employment centre on creativity, adaptability, critical thinking and nuanced understandings of complex ideas. Mastery learning, instead, is often focused on providing behaviourist instant feedback, rewarding content knowledge rather than an ability to argue, critique, create and repurpose. This is because content ‘facts’ can be quantified and machine assessed.”

A Look at The NETP for 2017

Selling SEL and Technology

This graphic from page 11 is followed with, “A key part of non-cognitive development is fostering a growth mindset about learning. Growth mindset is the understanding that abilities can be developed through effort and practice and leads to increased motivation and achievement.” (proof?)

The next sentence informs readers, “The U.S. Department of Education has funded several growth mindset–related projects, including a grant to develop and evaluate SchoolKit, a suite of resources developed to teach growth mindset quickly and efficiently in schools.”

Once a student demonstrates they can pass the government sanctioned attitude test, they can get a micro-credential. Today, in China, one can earn citizenship merit badges. Behavior badging in China is explained in this video about gamifying good citizenship. Behavior modification is now a part of micro-credentialing promoted by the NETP.

The NETP is organized into five topics; Learning, Teaching, Leadership, Assessment and Infrastructure. By the time the reader gets to Assessment and Infrastructure some of the material gets redundant. Each topic is addressed with a set of assertions supported almost exclusively by antidotal evidence. After assertions are made, a report on how some school or district has successfully implemented the technology. Page one of the plan informs readers:

“This document contains examples and resource materials that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of any material is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.”

This disclaimer is completely disingenuous. This is exactly what the document does; it promotes these materials. On page after page the services and products endorsed invariably have large endowments from the technology industry. For example, a page 11 statement,

“For the development of digital citizenship, educators can turn to resources such as Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship curriculum or the student technology standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).”

When we look at the ISTE web-site, we learn that Dallas Dance the former Baltimore superintendent of schools who is under criminal investigation is on the board of directors. At the site you can read all about the benefits of being a corporate member of ISTE. We also discover that:

“Year around sponsor Microsoft Corporation is Supporting bold education reform, Microsoft’s mission is simple: support bold education reform to help prepare students for today’s highly competitive workforce, and support our U.S. educators with software and programs that fuel powerful learning and digital-age skills.”

In addition, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also kicked in $1.4 million to ISTE.

Common Sense says it’s “the nation’s leading independent non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology.” It also claims that 40% of its support comes from private foundations. In January the Gate’s foundation gave them another quarter of a million dollars. They have many working relationships with tech companies and an interesting board of directors including; Manny Maceda, Partner, Bain & Company; Gene T. Sykes Managing Director, Goldman, Sachs & Co.; and Bill McGlashan, Managing Partner, TPG Growth.

It is possible to make a count of all of the similar kinds of examples to these in the NETP but it takes a while. In another claim, the NETP states, “Technology access when equitable can help close the digital divide and make transformative learning opportunities available to all learners.” (Page 17) The example given is from San Francisco:

“BGC [Black Girls Code], founded in 2001 by Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer, aims to “increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color to become innovators in STEM subjects, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.”

How can I find fault here? To start with STEM is and always was a fraud. As for BGC, there is a reason that Verizon, Adobe, Salesforce, AT&T, Google, Oracle and others are giving BGC money. The New York Times reports that coding is being pushed into schools by the Titans of tech. There is an obvious down side to this corporate agenda; What if in a decade coding is no longer a skill in demand? Education priorities should not be driven by self-interested amateurs.

One of the more disturbing ideas promoted by NEPT appears on page 39. The example comes from a school district in Wisconsin that used the Digital Promise educator micro-credentialing framework as a guide, teachers in the district took a technology proficiency self-assessment, which they used as a baseline for their personal professional growth. The teachers then worked by themselves and in collaborative teams to develop specific professional learning goals aligned to district strategic goals, which they submitted to district leadership for approval.

The NETP explains,

“Once these goals are approved, the teachers establish measurable benchmarks against which they can assess their progress. Both the goals and benchmarks are mapped to specific competencies, which, in turn, are tied to micro-credentials that can be earned once teachers have demonstrated mastery. Demonstrations of mastery include specific samples of their work, personal reflections, classroom artifacts, and student work and reflections, which are submitted via Google Forms to a committee of 7 to 10 teachers who review them and award micro-credentials.” (emphasis added)

Digital Promise is a technology industry Pied Piper and their supporters are the most famous in the pantheon of technology industry “philanthropy”. The list includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Chan and Zuckerberg, Bill and Flora Hewlett; Michael and Susan Dell, Laurene Jobs and on and on.

The proceeding three examples were selected somewhat randomly. They are not necessarily the most disturbing or most egregious examples of the technology industry driving education policy through the National Education Technology Plan. There are at least twenty more cases that are equally as eye popping or more so. These are just three examples that demonstrate the unhealthy influence the technology industry has over education policy.

Conclusion

The ubiquitous power of the technology industry both in terms of money and political influence makes the gilded age look like a paragon of democratic action. They are selling bad products that are harming America’s world envied public education system. Our students have never scored particularly well on standardized tests when compared to the rest of the world, but they have outscored everyone by a wide margin when it came to creative thinking, developing new industries and advancing civilization.

These giant greed infested technology companies with their neo-liberal and libertarian ideologies have tremendous wealth which gives them great political power. However, as Diane Ravich has said, “they are few, we are many.” The people still control. We need to keep doing what educators do. We need to educate America about this ongoing dangerous attack on our schools and our democracy. We need to keep exposing these profiteers lusting after tax dollars that are supposed to go to educate America’s children.

Board Run Public School Districts

1 Aug

It is not always pretty when the public gets a chance to voice its opinion, but it is democratic. In the last week, I attended the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) and the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) school board meetings. It was reminiscent of Dicken’s depiction of Paris and London.

Sweetwater which has been living a nightmare for most of the previous decade was like being at camp sitting around a bonfire singing “John Jacob Jinglehimer Smith.” It wasn’t quite Kumbaya but it was close.

SDUSD was the opposite. Parents, teachers and various community leaders came to engage in public debate. It was a war of words and philosophy. It was far from a Kumbaya moment. People made their case in a public forum and with one dreadful exception they did so in a respectful manner.

At SDUSD it was Sex and Islamophobia

There were two contentious issues at the SDUSD meeting; sex education and protecting Muslim students from bullying. At the July 24th school board meeting, the sex education issue was raised under the agenda item E.1, called Vision 2020 Quality Schools in Every Neighborhood or LCAP goal four.

Let me explain some school speak. There was a 2013 change in how California divides up money to districts. The new system was named the local control funding formula (LCFF). It required money earmarked for certain categories of spending – for example bilingual teacher training programs – to be bundled and distributed to districts under a certain set of rules for how the money is spent.

The California Department of Education describes the Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP),

“The LCAP is an important component of the LCFF [Local Control Funding Formula]. Under the LCFF all LEAs [Local Education Agencies] are required to prepare an LCAP, which describes how they intend to meet annual goals for all pupils, with specific activities to address state and local priorities identified pursuant to EC Section 52060(d).

In other words, these are the plans that allow districts to spend money that used to be earmarked for certain state directed categories of spending.

LCAP goal four, focuses on SDUSD’s wellness initiative including health education and the sexual health curriculum. When the district staff finished their presentation for this initiative, the public comment period allowed anyone who wanted to make a comment speak for three minutes. To speak all people were required to do is fill out a small request form and hand it to a Board staff member.

It was like living the movie “Back to the Future” where our DeLorean had just arrived in good old 1955. A relatively large group of people apparently from the same Christian sect started denouncing the sex education curriculum as pornographic and against God’s Law. People in the audience were holding up Bibles and cheering on their speakers. The speakers were protesting the curriculum from Advocates for Youth that SDUSD adopted.

One of the main points many speakers made is that some research used by Advocates comes from the University of Indiana’s, Kinsey Institute. The institute’s web-site tells readers, “Learn more about the science-based discoveries—both past and present—that reveal the complexity of sexuality and relationships.” It also says, “Since Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking research in 1948, the Kinsey Institute has changed the world’s understanding of human sexuality.” Many of the opponents of Advocates for Youth indicated that the research at the Kinsey Institute is evil.

One speaker who identified himself as John Moore, a retired engineer, said we cannot trust SDUSD to select a good curriculum because they are doing such a bad job of educating students. To bolster his point, he claimed that in the latest high school exit exam (2014) there was only a 30% pass rate. A check of state education department statistics revealed that  public schools in San Diego Unified had a more than 94% pass rate.

A well-coiffed handsome man in his forties said that he was Mr. Brookes here on behalf of Ernie Sanders or at least it sounded like he said Ernie Sanders. I am pretty sure it wasn’t Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Brookes said that this sex education program was against God’s Law and that it promoted deviance and rebellion. He cited Mathew 7-12 as evidence. How “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself” fits this debate is unclear. He also said that Planned Parenthood is evil and that they support this curriculum.

More speakers advocated for the sex-education curriculum than spoke against it. A teacher who taught the program refuted many of the claims as being misinformed or just untrue. Other speakers made the case that this is a well-researched and widely used program. Advocates for Youth is the basis for sex-education in major cities throughout America.

Although disagreeing with the opposition to the new sex-education curriculum, my impression was that these were moral people who truly care about their community and family. For one who values democracy, seeing this free exchange of ideas was witnessing community based democracy at its essence. Meetings of publicly elected school boards are incubators of Americana.

The Environment Became Disrespectful

Agenda item E.2 was called “Addressing Tolerance Through the Comprehensive School Counseling and Guidance Plan.” The summary in the Board Documents says:

“… the District will not tolerate the bullying of any student; and clarifies that our Muslim students will be treated equally with respect to bullying.   A calendar of observances to be created shall include holidays of all faiths for the purpose of enhancing mutual understanding and respect ….  Staff have not been assigned specifically to address the bullying of students of any single religion; rather, ….  The District’s instructional materials are and will continue to be consistent with state standards which address all major world religions in the context of world history and culture.  …  Finally, staff is redirected from forming a formal partnership with CAIR to forming an intercultural committee which shall include representatives of from all faiths and cultures and which shall provide input to District staff on issues of cultural sensitivities and the individual needs of various subgroups within our diverse community.”

This statement modifies much of the stance the school board took on April 4 when it adopted its plan to deal with Muslim students being bullied. The April 4 board document summary covering this topic said:

“This report will focus on the district’s plan to address Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslim students and their families, as directed by the Board of Education on July 26, 2016.  This plan, developed in collaboration with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and in alignment with AB 2845, is being brought forward for formal board adoption.”

That April 4, staff presentation listed several actions the district would take including:

  • Review district calendars to ensure Muslim Holidays are recognized
  • Provide resources and strategies to support students during the upcoming month of Ramadan
  • Explore and engage in formal partnerships with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Charles LiMandri, President and chief council for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fundfiled a lawsuit in federal court may 22, 2017 on behalf of Citizens for Quality Education San Diego; San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation; Scott Hasson; Haoyin He; Xuexun Hu; Kevin and Melissa Steel; and Jose Velazquez. The individuals all were on behalf of their minor children. The key complaint in the lawsuit is:

“Under the guise of this antibullying program, Defendants have fallen in with the aforementioned religious organization to set up a subtle, discriminatory scheme that establishes Muslim students as the privileged religious group within the school community. Consequently, students of other faiths are left on the outside looking in, vulnerable to religiously motivated bullying, while Muslim students enjoy an exclusive right to the School District’s benevolent protection.”

Charles Limandri the Rancho Santa Fe lawyer who filed this lawsuit is a well-known activist in conservative causes. He was a vocal supporter of Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative that banned same-sex marriage. His Defense Fund profile says of Limandri:

“Since 1983, he has handled numerous high-profile civil law and pro-bono religious liberty cases including defending the Mt. Soledad Cross, San Diego Firefighters, Priests for Life, JONAH and many other organizations in state and federal courts, as well as before the United States Supreme Court. Currently, Mr. LiMandri is defending David Daleiden, Founder of the Center for Medical Progress, who is being investigated for his Human Capital Project, which used undercover video to expose the abortion industry’s buying and selling of aborted baby body parts.”

The San Diego Union reported on some of Limandri’s comments about this lawsuit.

“LiMandri said parents and his law firm have other problems with the district’s actions, including its partnership with the Council for American-Islamic Relations, which he said has a mission ‘to change American society and advance radical Islam.’”

‘“Of particular concern is the School District’s active collaboration with CAIR, which has longstanding, verified ties to radical Islam,’ LiMandri said in a statement ….”

“LiMandri said the lawsuit against the district is not asking for any monetary relief, although San Diego Unified could face a hefty legal fee if the case continues into a lengthy fight.”

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund which runs out of LiMandri’s law office in Ranch Santa Fe is associated with a national network of conservative legal organizations under the umbrella of The Alliance Defending Freedom. This association of more than fifty organizations includes The Heritage Foundation, National Organization for Marriage, and the Federalist society.

The San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation which put its name on the lawsuit seems to be an active political organization in San Diego working to protect the rights and further the interests of Asian Americans. The other organization that is party to the lawsuit, Citizens for Quality Education San Diego was founded by Mary Baker and is almost non-existent with no web-page or Facebook page.

Mary Baker is acting President of the San Diego/Orange County Chapter for the non-profit organization, Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights and is co-founder and member of Citizens for Quality Education—San Diego. Mary serves on two Executive Boards as President of California Federation of Republican Women—Southern Division and Rancho Bernardo Republican Women Federated.

At the school board meeting, so many people signed up to speak on this issue that the board limited everyone to one minute. Almost all speakers spoke in support of the boards original April decision and urged the board to continue with its plan to create formal partnership with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The speaker representing the Jewish Defense League said that if one community is unsafe then all communities are unsafe.

The San Diego Education Association representative called for profession development highlighting the needs to combat Islamophobia.

Mr. Contreras from the San Diego High School PTA urged the board to work with CAIR and address Islamophobia.

A former SDUSD student said that Muslim hate crimes have increased 800% since 2001 and that his little sister in middle school was being bullied – including having students try to pull off her hijab.

Board member, John Lee Evans, made the point that all students needed to be protected from bullying but from time to time in America, certain communities become targets and they need special attention.

A man in the audience started screaming: “obey the law you criminals”, “we don’t want sharia law”, “you’re a bunch of criminals that’s why you are being sued”. He continued angrily screaming over speakers especially board members for an extended period.

A very frustrated looking school board President, Richard Barrera responded, “If we are getting this kind character attack, we can see what our students are dealing with.”

All the board members of SDUSD seem to be quality reasoned people. They clearly backed down on this issue and I don’t blame them. Even if they feel the lawsuit against them is without merit, they must deal with the reality of budget constraints. Limandri said he is not asking for any monetary relief, but pointed out that SDUSD could face a hefty legal bill if a lengthy fight ensues. Limandri’s allies have very deep pockets and this seems to be an issue they want to embrace.

A Trauma Informed District

In Chula Vista, the new school year has started with many words of praise for the school board and Superintendent Karen Janney. For many years construction company money influenced board elections and successive superintendents had used access to that money to control board members. Through these dark times, people like Nick Marinovich of the Bond Oversite Committee spoke out about the excesses and blocked many corrupt actions by publicly airing them at board meetings.

Eventually members of the construction industry, the superintendent of schools and four of five board member of Sweetwater Union High School (SUHSD) district pleaded guilty to felony corruption charges. A newly elected board has been in place for three years and they have brought such positive change that Marinovich and several other community members who used to battle against a corrupt board are giving heartfelt praise. At the same time, saying they will still be watching and taking positions that the board and the superintendent might not like.

The big news at the July 24th board meeting was that SUHSD starting this school year will be a 100% trauma informed district. A new district discipline policy was presented. The presenter made it clear that this was not a plan in which students can do whatever they want with no consequences, but a constructive plan that includes restorative justice principles. Dr. Joe Fulcher and his team have been working on this plan for the past two years and they feel ready for full implementation in the 2017-2018 school year.

SUHSD Discipline Plan

Only at public schools with elected school boards, is the public allowed meaningful participation. Democracy is messy but it engenders the wisest outcomes. Don’t allow public schools to be stolen from your community by fantasy reform like Betsy DeVos’s siren song of school choice.

Editorial Peddles School Privatization Agenda

16 Jul

The San Diego Union editor deserves the bunkum efficiency award for packing so much baloney in a scant four paragraphs. The first sentence of the editorial headlined “Still more bad faith from state ED board” says:

“The State Board of Education’s defining characteristic is its ardent defense of an education establishment more worried about the interests of teachers than students.”

It is true that the education establishment in California does listen to input from teachers and their unions, however, today the establishment is dominated by billionaires like Reed Hasting and Carrie Walton Penner. There are many other establishment powerhouses like the California Charter School Association (CCSA), representatives of the education testing industry and education technology profiteers.

As your newspaper reported, by May, 2016, the CCSA was spending heavily to win seats on the San Diego County Board of Education:

“The political arm of the California Charter Schools Association has spent $220,000 so far on the San Diego County Board of Education election this year, following a difficult period for the independently operated campuses in the region — one that’s been marked by unsuccessful appeals and a string of legal challenges.”

After the recent LA school board election, the LA Times wrote in an article titled “How L.A.’s school board election became the most expensive in U.S. history,”

“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”

Clearly these forces for privatizing public schools in California are a significant part of the education establishment. They are anti-teachers’ unions, pro testing and have huge political clout. Governor Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools himself, has vetoed every piece of legislation that proposed any increased accountability on charter schools.

To say the establishment is “more worried about the interests of teachers than students,” is wrong. Or is it just a purposeful lie?

The interests of teachers and students are very similar and neither is getting a fair deal. Teachers and students are in the same overcrowded rooms, using the same facilities and have the same half-hour lunches. No one cares more for the welfare of students and understands more about good teaching than California’s professional educators.

The first paragraph concludes:

“This is once again on display with the state board’s response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind measure and governs how school systems that receive federal funds must operate. While the new law is much less strict than the old one, it still mandates that schools must be taken over by state governments if they are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments, graduate less than two-thirds of students or have ethnic groups with consistently weak test results.” (bolding added)

Here, I am ready to join with my conservative friends and call for the abolition of the United States Department of Education. Schools should be in the control of parents, teachers and students in the local community. The federal government has no business dictating school policy and especially dictating policy that is a known failure.

In 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to rapidly turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools. It was called the Scholastic School Improvement Grant program (SIG). Today, there is consensus among researchers that SIG was a complete failure. A study by Tina Trujillo, University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renée, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University stated one its conclusions:

“Conceptually, one of the most frequent critiques of these studies was that they relied on a single measure of effectiveness standardized test scores. While relying on standardized test scores was methodologically problematic because it falsely assumed that the assessments were valid and reliable, doing so as the sole measure of effectiveness also led to narrow conceptions of student success and the purposes of education ignoring the social, civic, and broader academic aspects of schooling. … Student scores on standardized tests are far too narrow to be the sole indicators of school success in the democratic model of schooling.”

For three-decades, states have been taking over local schools. Unfortunately, we have a three-decade record of failure. Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize tells the story of Newark New Jersey’s thirty-years with state run schools including how they squandered a $100,000,000 gift from Mark Zuckerberg. In Newark, the teachers were never the problem and neither was tenure or the union. It was always corrupt politicians and grinding poverty creating traumatized children. The state only made it worse when it disenfranchised local citizens.

Detroit is another horrifying example of the complete failure of a state led turn around. A Michigan state officials, Barbra Byrd Bennett, is now serving time for taking kick-backs  and the schools are worse off. After two decades of state control we read in the New York Times,

“Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.

“Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.”

The editor at the Union should be praising not denigrating the State Board of Education for trying to do the right thing in a tough spot. You should be pointing out how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is terrible legislation that is more about selling technology, mandating testing and privatizing schools than it is about improving education.

As I wrote to Diane Feinstein, ESSA continues the testing mandate and spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. Every student in America is required to take a big standardized test in grades 3 – 8 and grade 11.

The big standardized test is useless. It tells us nothing about the quality of teachers or schools. Peter Greene known for his wonderful education blog, “Curmudgucation”, responded to an essay by Morgan Polikoff (USC Rossier), a long-time Big Standardized Test supporter:

“Polikoff’s problem remains– the BS Tests are junk that provide junk data and damage schools in the process. Accountability is a good idea, but the standards-based high-stakes tests that we’ve been subjected to for the past more-than-ten years are junk, and they do not provide a useful, reliable, or valid measure of school quality– not even sort of. Nor have they helped– not even incrementally.”

Like the way that ESSA supports social impact bonds which profit bankers and 1:1 initiatives which profit the technology industry; mandated testing is fueling the testing industry. These bad ideas are being used to transform tax money meant to benefit students into revenue streams for corporations.

These are the kind of corrupt purposes you should denounce instead of school leaders who are trying to finesse this horrible federal law and our thoroughly unqualified Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

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Instead, you tacitly support high stakes testing as a way of evaluating schools. You legitimize the federal government and the state of California taking over San Diego’s schools. How big government of you.

Your editorial continues:

“But the State Board of Education is instead on track to approve vague, mushy Every Student Succeeds standards by the U.S. Education Department’s September deadline that appear designed to impede accountability, not guarantee it.”

In May, your paper editorialized with the headline, “Board of Education is missing mark on college readiness.” The lead paragraph said:

“An unsatisfactory process is expected to come to a disappointing conclusion Wednesday when the State Board of Education grudgingly adopts measures to gauge student progress — forced to do so to ensure California receives federal education aid.”

That editorial also emphasized:

But it still requires that schools be taken over by state governments if they graduate less than two-thirds of their students, are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments or have ethnic groups that have consistently weak test results. Under the proposal before the State Board of Education, beginning in fall 2017, schools will be evaluated on high school graduation rates; student results in English and math Common Core tests; gains made by English-language learners; and student suspension rates. Test scores in third-grade reading and eighth-grade math would be given additional emphasis.” (bolding added)

When coercing states to accept Common Core, Arne Duncan said state standards had to prepare students for “college and career readiness.” It was completely up to the states, but the department of education told them that Bill Gates’ Common Core satisfied “college and career ready.” It was a statement based on nothing; no research or historical evidence. In fact, California’s previous standards are widely viewed as better standards than common core.

A core problem is that standards based education is bad education. Along with the common core, the NGSS science standards are bad standards. Most states are moving away from them. So, I am ready to join you in beating up California’s education leaders for adopting bad education policies like NGSS and Common Core. They richly deserve the flogging.

However, it looks like you advocate these education standards and are for standardized testing as the only criteria for measuring schools and holding them accountable. That is just ignorance.

We have a wonderful method for holding schools accountable and giving them a constant path of improvement. In California, it is the Wester Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accrediting process. I have been through several WASC reviews and they are thorough and rigorous. A team of professional educators comes to the school and spends a week looking at everything and interviews as many stake holders as possible. Their report comes back with expectations to be met. This is real accountability performed by professionals that know education and can help. Testing is expensive and  worse than useless; it is misleading and destructive.

Your third paragraph says,

“Now The New York Times reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rejected such attempts to game the federal law by other states, upending expectations that she would defer to local control.”

In an interview by EdWeek, the Senator who led the writing of ESSA and is also a former US Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, was not impressed. The interviewer writes,

‘”I think we have a case of an assistant secretary who hasn’t read the law carefully,’ Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview. ‘The heart of the entire law … was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.’

“The technical, but important back story: Alexander was referring to a feedback letter Botel sent to Delaware on its ESSA plan, telling the state that it hadn’t been ‘ambitious’ enough in setting long-term goals for student achievement, sparking wonky outrage inside the Beltway and beyond.

“The education chairman noted in an interview that ESSA includes language specifically prohibiting the U.S. secretary of education from telling states what their goals can or can’t be—and that 85 senators voted to approve the new law.”

You end with;

“Will this lead to the board to do the right thing and adopt meaningful standards? There is no reason for optimism — because the board has a very different definition of what is the right thing to do than Californians who care about public schools.”

Common Core and NGSS standards and standardized testing are about monetizing schools and privatizing them. It appears that promoting that path is what you mean by “Californians who care about public schools.” Please realize that you and your fellow travelers are working to destroy a great public trust and a main pillar of democratic freedoms for “a few pieces of silver.”

Go Public, Trauma Informed Education and EnCorps

5 Jul

A story of intrigue, real education reform and wealthy ignorance.

A film maker, Rita Grant, called asking me to join an expert education panel at San Diego State University (SDSU). She said she found me when reading Diane Ravitch’s blog and thought I would be a good fit. The event was a screening of the film Go Public at EnCorps’ Summer Residential Institute, followed by question and answers with the panel. I was not familiar with EnCorps, Go Public or Rita but nothing ventured nothing gained. So, I went.

I arrived at the Aztec Student Center in time to see about 150 people in matching EnCorps tee-shirts posing for pictures. Apparently, all of them had worked in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field and were recruited by EnCorps to enter the teaching profession. I was pleased to learn that it wasn’t another fraudulent path to becoming a teacher. Encorps recruits STEM professionals to become teachers or tutors. If they choose to teach, they are must complete an accredited teacher certification course.

EnCorps

I met a wonderful group of people, but their organization’s reason for being is misinformed. It’s another education reform organization created by a well-connected misinformed rich person with little relevant training or experience in education, Sherry Lansing.

To be fair unlike many wealthy education philanthropists, Lansing does have some experience. Her foundation web site says, she “spent four years after college teaching high school English and math at public schools throughout the Los Angeles area.” Lansing graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree from Northwestern University in 1966. Her short experience is from five decades ago, an era with slide rules, mimeographs and typewriters. Maybe that experience is why – uniquely among wealthy school reformers – she seems to be a friend of public schools.

Lansing is known mainly for her career as a motion picture executive. Her bio at Huffington post says,

“During nearly 30 years in the motion picture business, Lansing was involved in the production, marketing, and distribution of more than 200 films, including Academy Award winners Forrest Gump (1994), Braveheart (1995), and Titanic (1997). In 1992, she was named Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures and began an unprecedented tenure that lasted more than 12 years. In 1980, she became the first woman to head a major film studio when she was appointed President of 20th Century Fox.

Lansing writes about founding EnCorps:

“California students rank 43rd in the nation in mathematics and science, according to the California STEM Learning Network. There are fewer than 1 in 6 in-state college students majoring in STEM, despite the fact that there are currently 1.5 million unfilled jobs in STEM fields in California, the STEM epicenter of our nation. How do we explain such sobering statistics?

“The solution to our STEM crisis is both obvious and exciting: Recruit and transition experienced STEM professionals into second careers as math and science teachers. They can both lead and revolutionize our most underserved school districts. Who better to teach and inspire our next generation of engineers and innovators than STEM professionals who have invaluable insight and real life STEM experience?

“This is the mission of the EnCorps Teachers Program, which I founded in 2007.”

Like the studies from the milk industry saying, “it does a body good” or drug companies selling us modernized snake oil, Sherry is citing statistics generated by an organization financed by Google, Cisco, Battelle and Time Warner. It’s wrong. There is not now nor has there ever been a shortage of STEM trained workers in California or America. Just a shortage of STEM trained workers willing to work as cheaply as some CEO’s would prefer.

Here is a quote from a 2013 article in the Columbia Journalism Review and this is not an outlier:

“Figures from the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, the National Science Foundation, and other sources indicate that hundreds of thousands of STEM workers in the US are unemployed or underemployed. But they are not organized, and their story is being largely ignored in the debate over immigration reform.”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers magazine, Spectrum proclaimed “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.” They counselled “Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.”

Writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Jay Schalin observed,

“Everybody knows that the best way to get ahead today is to get a college degree.  Even better is to major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, where the bulk of the jobs of the present and future lie. Politicians, business leaders, and academics all herald the high demand for scientists and engineers.

“But they are, for the most part, wrong. The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

Walter Hickey writing at the Business Insider stated,

“We clearly don’t have a STEM shortage. If we did, rudimentary economics would kick in and show either low unemployment for new majors or a rising price of computer science labor. People wouldn’t say they’re out of the industry because of no jobs.”

Michael S. Teitelbaum wrote a piece for Atlantic magazine titled “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage.” He reported:

“A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

So, Sherry there is no STEM crisis, but even a blind old squirrel is rumored to get a nut now and then. There is a looming national teacher shortage. Your organization is contributing to solving that situation and your people are wonderful. I was impressed by the recruits I met at SDSU.

Go Public

The main event of the evening was the screening of “Go Public,” a 90-minute long documentary to which Rita Grant was a contributor. “Go Public” is the story of one day at the Pasadena School District. Fifty film makers contributed segments that started with 5:30 AM alarm clocks going off in student homes and ended with those same students going to bed. It chronicled in detail a May Day in 2013 from the janitor unlocking school gates to students performing in after-school sports and music programs.

If you get a chance, see “Go Public,” do so. For any teacher, the scenes will be as if pulled directly from our own lived experience. “Go Public” shows how amazing public schools are and makes the point that everyone; parents, certificated staff and noncertificated staff, is key to the school’s success.

Rita told me that before she started making documentaries about public schools, she “had been drinking the Kool-aide.” I could relate. Before I started teaching, I believed that many teachers had become low quality burnouts who were failing students. Rita saw through the lenses of her cameras the reality of how amazing public schools are.

I believed I was on a quest to save public schools from “bad teachers.” At my first teaching assignment, I was startled to find nothing but dedication and professionalism. I have taught in both wealthy communities and poor ones, but the one constant has been the high quality of the teaching and dedication of the public-school staff.

Trauma Informed Education

The third member of our three-person panel was Godwin Higa, Principal of Cherokee Point Elementary School. Godwin is committed to “trauma informed education” for which his school is a model. Cherokee Point Elementary, part of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), is in a low-income ethnically dominated neighborhood known for many social problems: gangs, drugs, domestic violence, poverty, murder, incarceration, deportation, etc.

higagirls

One-hundred percent of the students at Cherokee Point qualify for free and reduced lunch and all of the children have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences which are root causes for many issues including cognition being compromised. Principal Higa wrote about his school in EdWeek:

“The impact of childhood adversity and trauma–such as physical and emotional abuse or neglect, or mental illness, addiction or incarceration of a parent or close family member–can last through adulthood. Research shows that children exposed to adversity are at higher risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, learning difficulties in school, contact with the justice system, as well as addiction and economic hardship.”

Rita Grant has pointed her camera toward Principal Higa and the work he and his staff are doing. In this short video(6 minutes), the concept of a trauma informed school and restorative justice are highlighted. Instead of punishment, trauma informed is discipline through respect, dialog and understanding. Hige makes the point that knowing the students, their families and the issues they are living with is vital.

When Higa first arrived at Cherokee Point, he was receiving hundreds of student discipline referrals from teachers and others. In addition, there were several district level policies that mandated suspensions for certain categories of violations. Higa successfully lobbied the district into only enforcing the state mandated automatic suspension for bringing a weapon to school.

During our panel session, Higa said, that he did not suspend any students for the past three years and referrals have reduced to about 20 per year. Some of those twenty referrals were for things like “Phillipe missed breakfast this morning and he seems really hungry.” Mr. Higa said, “Those are the kind of referrals, I don’t mind getting.”

Higa described their method at Cherokee Point in his EdWeek article sited above:

“We follow a trauma-informed model and restorative justice practices that help students learn to cope with adversity and resolutions in a healthy and compassionate way. All of our teachers are trained to proactively engage students and their parents, and collectively create a plan to address both the conflict and the deeper underlying issues. Parent leaders are training other parents about trauma-informed care at monthly workshops. We also have trauma-informed and trained counselors on site who provide intensive support to students who suffer from major traumas that teachers alone are not trained to handle.”

In 2015, SDUSD adopted a plan to became a trauma informed district. Superintendent Cindy Martin was asked if she could see a difference at the pilot schools where trauma informed is in place. She said, “The minute you walk on the campus you can tell. The warmth of the school, the energy of the school and connectedness and kids that want to reach out and talk to you.”

Unfortunately, SDUSD is in a financial crush between the huge stranded costs associated with unplanned charter school expansion and spending on technology. The Voice of San Diego reports on the implementation of restorative justice and trauma informed schools:

“A lack of human and financial resources seems to be behind the slow rollout of San Diego Unified’s restorative justice program, in which students who’ve done something wrong work together with their victims to listen and heal. One district official said San Diego Unified allocates fewer financial resources to restorative justice programs compared with other school districts around the state.”

For more information about trauma informed schools visit the adverse childhood experiences web presence, Aces Too High.

There are some genuine school reforms that excite education professionals and trauma informed schools with restorative justice programs being one of them. It is too bad the billionaires are intent on computer based depersonalized education, blaming teachers for poverty and privatizing public schools. Their enormous wealth could do some good if they listened to professional educators instead of obsessing over their own biased uninformed opinions.

The Education Method and Organization

24 Feb

It was wonderful that day I met Larry Lawrence at a Chicago Hotel frequented by Al Capone (The Drake Hotel). We were in Chicago for the National Public Education conference. I soon discovered two things: Larry only lives thirty miles up the beach from me in San Diego, County and he knows a lot about education. Larry participated in some of the key developments in the history of education methodology. Saturday, we met for lunch and I am still over-stimulated.

This is the third time we have met at the Ki Restaurant in Cardiff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All three times, Larry has come prepared with notes including an informal agenda. This time, I was pleased that he wanted to begin by talking about a proposed fundamental reorganization of school which decentralizes power and democratizes operations. I had made such a proposal in my latest article which Larry had read. This fit well with his thinking that was influenced among other things by his time at UCLA’s lab school working with John Goodlad and Madelyn Hunter.

The Math Wars

Dr. Lawrence’s professional experience began with “new math.” 1956 was Larry’s third year at Occidental. He had finished the advance Calculus course and decided to register for a class called “Modern Algebra.” After his first day in class, he started studying the class materials and came across a concept he had never seen before, “one to one correspondence”. That concept is now considered an essential understanding for preschool aged children but in 1956 he searched fruitlessly throughout his dorm for anyone who knew what it meant.

Larry spoke about the experience,

“This illustrates the absolute mechanical nature of my math education to that point. This is something I have carried with me throughout my teaching career. How even the concepts that we might consider simple, may have no meaning for our students when they have no context for understanding.”

In 1958, Larry moved on to Teacher College, Columbia University to study math education under the tutelage of Professor Howard Fehr. An obituary in the New York Times said of Professor Fehr:

“Dr. Howard F. Fehr, professor emeritus of mathematics education at Columbia University Teachers College and a founder of new math in the 1960’s, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

“Dr. Fehr, who retired from teaching in 1967 but continued in educational work, was a prolific author and an internationally known educator whose textbooks were used around the world. As the principal author in 1961 of a 246-page report titled ‘New Thinking in School Mathematics,’ Dr. Fehr helped introduce into American classrooms a concept of study and teaching that departed radically from traditional methods.”

Larry recalls Dr. Fehr’s class, “His ‘basic’ course laid out the fundamentals of the ‘new math’ – number systems, characteristics of a field, relations, functions, etc.”

After Teachers College (1959), Larry returned to his old high school, Morningside High in Inglewood, where he created one of the first high school calculus courses in California. In the summers of 1962 and 63, he attended a six weeks training course at the University of Illinois which was a program on how to use the math materials developed by Max Beberman and Herbert Vaugh.

Ralph A. Raimi states that “Max Beberman is generally regarded as the father of the New Math, his teaching and his curriculum project having achieved nationwide fame long before the 1957 Sputnik raised mathematics education to the level of a national priority.” Raimi also reports, “His thesis director at Columbia was Howard Fehr, famous then and later as an authority on the teaching of school mathematics, and a man who directed the PhD theses of many future professors of mathematics education.”

One of the problems for “new math” was it was often rushed into schools before materials were properly vetted or teachers were properly trained. The Stanford Mathematical Study Group (SMSG) under the direction of Edward G. Begle started producing curricular materials in 1958. Unfortunately this SMSG material became derided as “some math some garbage.”

“New math” also gets conflated with the progressive pedagogy. According to E. D. Hirsch, William Heard Kilpatrick was “the most influential introducer of progressive ideas into American schools of education.” (The Schools We Need: Why We Don’t Have Them, Double Day, 1996)

David R. Klein wrote A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century for Math Cognition. In it he wrote of Kilpatrick’s contribution to the math wars,

“Reflecting mainstream views of progressive education, Kilpatrick rejected the notion that the study of mathematics contributed to mental discipline. His view was that subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value, or if students independently wanted to learn those subjects. This point of view toward education comported well with the pedagogical methods endorsed by progressive education. Limiting education primarily to utilitarian skills sharply limited academic content, and this helped to justify the slow pace of student centered, discovery learning; the centerpiece of progressivism. Kilpatrick proposed that the study of algebra and geometry in high school be discontinued ‘except as an intellectual luxury.’”

Klein added,

“Meanwhile in 1920, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was founded, largely at the instigation of the MAA [Math Association of America]. The first NCTM president, C. M. Austin, made it clear that the organization would “keep the values and interests of mathematics before the educational world” and he urged that ‘curriculum studies and reforms and adjustments come from the teachers of mathematics rather than from the educational reformers.’”

The math wars were thus engaged in the early twentieth century. By the dawn of the 21st century it appeared that the NCTM ideology had won the battle. Teaching math became based on teaching a set of discrete skills. However, today, much of the Common Core math teaching philosophy appears aligned with the progressive ideas of Dewey and Kilpatrick. Common Core also embraces the principles espoused by the proponents of “new math.” The “new math” was not really aligned with either side in the math wars but was more about teaching a cognitive understanding or foundation for learning mathematics and developing teaching methods.

Concerning the “new math,” Larry notes, “While it was a struggle for most teachers in the early years, the concepts have become part of the math curriculum of today.”

The influences on Professor Lawrence (Goodlad, Hunter, Fehr, Beberman, etc.) were experienced classroom teachers, developers of pedagogy and leaders in university teachers’ education departments. They were all exactly the kind of people that founders of the no-excuses charter school chains like John King, Doug Lemov, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and others disregarded. Instead, they turned to the economist Erik Hanushek for their guidance on good pedagogy.

Organizing Schools

In my article “Education Reform Musing” I proposed a democratized approach to school organization. Instead of a centralizing power in a principle, I advocated elevating the position of department head to lead circular development and establishing committees comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and students to set policies and resolve disputes. Larry was intrigued by this idea and wanted to discuss how it might fit into the structure that John Goodlad had introduced.

In 1959, the year before he became director of the lab school at UCLA, Goodlad wrote The Non-graded Elementary School. Amy Diniz of the University of Toronto comments:

“In the Non Graded Elementary School, Goodlad argued that the rigid graded education system is not designed to accommodate the realities of child development, including children’s abilities to develop skills at different rates to different levels. (Goodlad, 1963) Goodlad suggests that one limiting assumption embedded in the graded school structure is that children’s achievement patterns in different areas of study are going to be the same. However, in reality, most children progress quickly in certain subject areas while struggling in others. As Goodlad’s research demonstrates, it is very common to have a child in grade two have literacy skills of a grade three but math skills of a grade two. With a graded structure that assumes that a child will progress through each area of study at the same pace, a child is given no freedom to develop at the pace that is optimal for his/her needs.

“A second assumption in a graded system is that all students will learn the necessary skills within a year and then be ready to progress to the next predetermined level. In graded systems, students are all placed on an identical learning cycle with no room for diversity of learning patterns. (Kidd, 1973) Goodlad recognizes that under the graded system, the only options teachers have to adjust for students’ different learning capacities and rates are to either promote or hold back a student. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that both early promotion and non-promotion of a student are not strategies conducive for learning and development (Goodlad, 1963).”

I have taught remedial algebra at the high school level and have personally observed students learning math skills and concepts. Unfortunately, they were not learning fast enough to meet the state imposed standards, so, I was forced to give them failing grades. Worse than the graded system is the standardized system. Instead of meeting students where they are, we harm them because the standards do not match their cognitive development. School in America has long been a sorting system that separates the winners from the losers based on a meritocracy with elements of classism and racism coloring the decisions. Even if it were not flawed, the false perception that students achieve the same mental development at the same age convinces many students that they are not as valuable as others.

At lunch Professor Lawrence sketched out a possible alternative. Instead of age 5 kindergarten, age 6 first grade, age 7 second grade and so on, he postulated the possibility of leaning cohorts.

Cohort 1 for ages 5 to 8

Cohort 2 for ages 7 to 10

Cohort 3 for ages 9 to 12

Cohort 4 for ages 11 to 14

Cohort 5 for ages 13 to 16

Cohort 6 for ages 15 to 18

The overlapping age grouping is on purpose to allow teachers flexibility in moving students to new cohorts. The Diniz article describes Goodlad’s vision for this new structure:

“Two elements of Goodlad’s non-graded system include a longitudinal concept of curriculum and planned flexibility in grouping. Firstly, curriculum is centered on continual and sequential learning, with behavior and content running vertically through the curriculum (Goodlad, 1963). Longitudinal learning emphasizes that all skills learned are in fact base components of more complex skills to be learned in the future (Goodlad, 1963). Secondly, grouping is organized around achievement groups, interest groups, work-study groups or a combination of the three with some groupings being heterogeneous in skills (social sciences) and other groups being homogeneous in skill levels (reading).”

Developing a practical method for implementing Goodlab’s ideas was professor Lawrence’s job when in 1966 he joined the UCLA lab school which came under the purview of the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Lawrence says, “My task was to work within my team of teachers to develop a math program that would address the needs of our multiage, team-teaching organization. For the next few years, I explored a wide variety of programs that included SMSG materials and several others that began to be published in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”

John Goodlab was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1960-1983, where he served as director of the Laboratory School and as dean of the Graduate School of Education (ranked first in America the last seven years of his tenure).

It is unfortunate that education reform became the domain of unqualified billionaires with no pedagogical understanding. It is time to take back our public school system. It is time to reengage with professionals. Privatizing public education is related to greed and foolishness. No excuse charters are related to abuse, segregation and arrogance. People who reject professionals for their own uninformed views are a menace to society. Let us build on the work of professionals like John Goodlab, Madilyn Hunter, Howard Fehr, Max Beberman and Larry Lawrence.

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

I have done a lot of whining about “corporate education reform” and the “test and punish” theory of education reform and “standards based” top down education. I am in full agreement with the conclusion Kristina Rizga reached after her four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

However, I am tired of being Debbie Downer. So, I will share my thoughts on a positive path of improvement for education in America.

Democracy and Local Control

Never let foreigners decide how and what should be taught in your kid’s school. By foreigners, I mean anyone that has never been in the school and lives more than 50 miles away.

Reed Hastings of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps. He taught mathematics in Africa. Yet, in 2000, this once liberal crusader used his vast wealth to lift the cap on charter schools in California. Today he may be even more infamous for telling the California Charter Schools Association that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

This is the problem with the uber-wealthy and their political assets controlling education. As statistics expert Gene Glass wrote “success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the masses expressed through democratic processes is far superior to the dictates of any one of us including political titans and the billionaires.

In 1891, at the NEA gathering in Toronto Canada, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The soul seeking peace and comfort under the dominance and permanence of fixed ideals shrinks with dismay from the inevitable blunders, stupidity, ignorance and calamities that invariably accompany all democratic growth. The short road of centralization seems to reach in a day that which takes years to accomplish under the patient waiting for that slow dawning of intelligence which leads to right action on the part of democratic communities.

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. That which has its birth in the desires and intelligence of the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people. It is rooted and grounded upon the people-“Vox POTTI. Vox dei.” But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.

Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in his book Education and Democracy,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

It is not just writers from Mother Jones or 19th and early 20th century American educators who warn of the deleterious effects associated with centralized power and ridged standards. The famed Japanese Buddhist philosopher and educator, Daisaku Ikeda writes in his book Soka Education:

“I have in the past called for the principle of the separation of powers to be expanded to give education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Because education is a profound endeavor that shapes the individuals of future generations, it should be completely independent of political interference.”

Throughout his long illustrious career Mr. Ikeda has developed friendships and established what Peter Greene calls “thinky tanks.” In the book mentioned above, Ikeda quotes Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman’s answer to a question he received at the Ikeda founded Boston Research Center for the 21st Century. He was asked how he views the role of education in society. Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be; what is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life?”

The former Rector of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, Francisco J. Delich is a friend who Ikeda wrote about in his book, Unforgettable Friends. Ikeda imparted:

“Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past [1976-1983], Dr. Delich is very deeply and personally aware of the evil of allowing government to control education. He wants to build a society in which political leaders respect educators. Education, he believes, is the very foundation of the nation.”

Rizga, Parker, Dewey, Ikeda, Thurman and Delich contravene the thinking of the billionaire class who believe schools should be centrally commanded like the monopolistic enterprises by which they were enriched. People of great moral purpose believe in democratic processes. They understand it is impossible for capitals of power to satisfactorily meet the educational needs of any community by imposition. Democratic processes based locally is the true foundation for developing education. In America, the heart of that development is the board managed public school.

Democratize Schools

 At the school, the power of principals should be reduced and the power teacher department leaders increased. Instead of running schools like a factory with a central figure in charge, schools should be run by committees made up of educators, students, community members and administrators. Many schools in California already have a faculty advisory committees made up of teachers and administrators. They also have school site councils consisting of students, parents and teachers. These groups should run the school.

Today, the only path for advancement available to educators is to leave the classroom and become an administrator. Instead of losing our best teachers to management, pay department heads more and utilize their expertise to improve teaching.

It is unrealistic to expect any one individual (the principal) to be an expert in all disciplines. Make the department chairs the curriculum experts. Add requirements to their position like a master’s degree and ten years of experience. The selection of the department head should remain the purview of the department staff.

Administrators should run school functions like facilities, registration, discipline enforcement, etc. The policies that they administer would be developed by the faculty advisory committee and the school site council.

In other words, let’s democratize our schools and respect all voices including students. District managers should be just that. They should be there to take care of budgets and personnel matters. Schools should not be subservient to districts. Quite the opposite; the district is there to serve the school. We need to get rid of the American ideology that posits a fabled superstar leader. Rather we need to embrace democratic action.

Curriculum

The concept of standards based education was motivated by the undeniable fact that good curriculum is a requirement for outstanding education. Unfortunately, this is the path to authoritarian top down control with its associated negative outcomes. I have written about some of these negative outcomes here.

Today, many states have adopted two sets of terrible education standards which I wrote about here, here, here and here. In a nutshell, standards do not really fit the needs of any schools and they are enforced by authoritarian means based on pseudo-science.

Standards based testing is totally useless for measuring anything other than the economic health of the community being tested. Standards based test cannot evaluate schools, teaching or student learning. As soon as high stakes are tied to them, they become a complete fraud.

We have the best trained teaching force in the history of America. Our teachers are fully capable of designing the curriculum for their schools. Strong department teacher leaders working collaboratively will produce much better curriculum tailored to that community for less money. Because the teachers who developed the curriculum believe in it and are personally invested in its success, they will do a better job of delivering it.

Reality Versus Marketing

Betsy DeVos who is completely unqualified by experience or training has just been confirmed as Secretary of Education. However, this is nothing new. Arne Duncan was also confirmed as Secretary of Education and he was completely unqualified by experience or training. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart heirs wield great influence over our present increasingly autocratic education system and none of them have the kind of experience or training that their level of influence requires. This is our present reality.

Bill Gates has made silly claims like experience, advanced degrees and class size are not that important to teaching and learning. Just yesterday, I read this post, “The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class” by Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University, Greenville SC. He observed that “Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.”

Public education is not a business. It’s an environment in which human beings grow intellectually, physically and socially. There is no product and it’s not really a service. Education is unique and trying to fit it into a business box may have seemed like a reasonable idea, but it didn’t work. Business leaders make poor education leaders because they do not have education expertise.

The truth is that expertise based on training and experience are crucial for any endeavor. A deep problem in some charter school chains is they were founded by people who rejected education expertise, scholarship and training. I give details about these schools in this post. There are many possible motives for our current odd propensity as a society to reject professionalism in education and pursue fool’s gold, but whatever the excuse we are harming America.

Yes there are failing schools in America. The cause for that failure are racial segregation, poverty, misguided political policies, racism and graft especially by politicians. The schools in Oklahoma City that John Thompson described fell into their miserable state because of top down mandates and lack of funding. Schools in Newark were the victim of decades of graft.

The failure of all of these schools would have been avoided if professional educators and parents were the dominant voices in the operation of schools.

The cost of testing and technology has drained enormous (unknowable?) amounts of money out of America’s classrooms. In his massive study of the rise and fall of civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

We are spending enough money to have splendid houses of learning from coast to coast but education monies are being squandered by politicians and business elites. Squandered on impractical or even harmful ideas like “personalized learning” (a kid at a screen running a program provided by Reed Hastings) or “blended learning” (fraudulent schools in the strip mall giving graduation credits for spending time at a computer) and endless testing. The last thing kids in the 21st century need is more screen time.

To create truly great schools, democratize them, limit technology and use teacher generated assessments.  Stop the money drain and use those resources and good sense to:

  1. Reduce class sizes
  2. Increase teacher pay and teacher education requirements
  3. Value experience
  4. Respect and unleash the vast amount of talent on the staff of every school in America.
  5. Believe in democracy.

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

What is authentic quality education? Reading books by teachers like John Thompson and Ciedie Aechs provides significant insight as they take us inside their schools. Kristina Rizga, a journalist who was imbedded within San Francisco’s Mission High, makes another wonderful contribution to this understanding. For four years, she sat in classes, interviewed students, teachers and administrators. At the same time she studied the pedagogical process with the guidance of friends like Larry Cuban. Her book, Mission High, significantly contributes to the comprehension of sound education.

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

Echoing Rizga’s point, The National Education Policy Center recently published a tome entitled, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. This following statement is in the introduction.

“Despite this legislative commitment to public schools, our lawmakers have largely eroded ESEA’s [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965] original intent. Moving from assistance to ever increasing regulation, states gravitated toward test-based reforms in the minimum basic skills movement in the 1970s. A watershed event occurred in 1983 with the report, A Nation at Risk, which was predicated on international economic competitiveness and rankings on test scores. The report was succeeded by Goals 2000, the first federal Act to require states to develop standards-based test goals and measure progress toward them. The stringent and reductionist No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 then followed on its heels. At each step, our educational policies became more test-based, top-down, prescriptive, narrow and punitive, and federal support to build the most struggling schools’ capacity for improvement faded.”

In the author’s notes, Kristina reveals what being imbedded meant, how she worked and the kind of relationships she developed.

“In 2010 I started sitting in on the classrooms of Robert Roth, the first teacher I picked, observing him and his interactions with students. I spent about two years coming regularly to Roth’s classes, sometimes going to every class for weeks. Then I spent one year, on and off, in Hsu’s class and about six months, on and off, in McKamey’s and Anders’s classes. The classes were so intellectually engaging – more than most of the courses I took as an undergrad at UC Berkeley – that I often had to remind myself that I’m not a student. I also spent a great deal of time in at least thirty other classrooms at Mission and other schools, observing various teachers and different pedagogical approaches.”

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

Rizga’s book tells the story of four students, three teachers and the principal, Eric Guthertz. Interspersed within these individual stories are pedagogical analysis, observed outcomes and research citations.

Alfie Kohn quoted the education historian, Ellen Lagemann, in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

Rizga makes a similar point. She defines two groups of progressive reformers,

“Most historians identify two major strands in the Progressive education movement: ‘Administrative Progressives,’ who focused on the top-down organizational reforms to create ‘efficient’ schools to produce productive workers, and ‘Child-centered Progressives,’ who prioritized transforming learning and teaching at the classroom level to make schools more intellectually and emotionally engaging for students.”

In 1904, the famous “Child-centered Progressive,” John Dewey, left the Chicago Laboratory School. He was replaced by “Administrative Progressive,” Charles Judd. It was symbolic; Dewey was out and “Administrative Progressives” were in.

Today, we might say that educators are out and the Democrats for Education Reform are in. Billionaires’ opinions about how to do school swamp professional research. Community schools are no longer the purview of elected school board. Today’s school boards are being reduced to nothing more than vessels required to carry out federal and state mandates.

Misguided and Racist Reform

Rizga posits that in order to “scientifically” sort students into tracked systems, a reform that is still with us today, was instituted: IQ testing and standardized achievement tests. She shares the dark history of their inception:

“As author Anya Kamenetz eloquently documents, some of the creators of these early tests were racists, driven by ideology about the roots of inequality more than science, and were using these tests as ‘scientific’ tools to argue that intelligence and merit were fixed, genetically inherited qualities. One of the creators of the IQ tests, Lewis Terman, the chair of psychology at Stanford University, argued that the low test scores of ‘negroes,’ ‘Spanish-Indians,’ and Mexicans were racial characteristics, and he was a proponent of forced sterilization.”

Rizga cites the work of, Yong Zhao, now at the University of Kansas and an expert in education of testing, “He observes that despite America’s mediocre performance on international tests since the 1960’s, it still files more patents and wins more Nobel Prizes than any other country in the world.” “Zhao who went to school in China and worked there as a teacher, notes that the problem of ‘high test scores but low ability’ (gaofen dineng) is a widely recognized issue in Chinese society, …” A study, Zhao cites, discovered that the highest scoring students in their province on China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination do not appear on any other lists of distinction such as prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, or engineers.

Through her account of students, teachers and administer, Rizga shows the debilitating effect of the top-down approach to education reform based on standardized testing. She describes how teachers and administrators struggled valiantly to mitigate the negative effects of modern “test and punish” school reform and its negative impact on students already burdened by poverty, language issues and other detriments.

Mission High Exists in Every Community

Mission High like all schools is unique. For various reasons many Mission students arrive at the school behind most students at their grade level. Mission has been threatened with closure, but the administration and teachers refuse to narrow the pedagogy. They continue to expose students to rigorous intellectually challenging material. Their students thrive. In fact, Mission teachers will tell you that the rigor and challenge is why students are engaged and growing. Rizga concurs, “Many schools respond by pushing low-income students into remedial classes and away from the intellectually challenging ones that most students I interviewed told me motivate them to come to school more than any other variable.”

While reading Mission High, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Mission Highs in which I have worked. Rizga’s description of Mission paints a picture of talented dedicated educators successfully slaying dragons for the sake of the children they have come to love.

I have worked in two high schools (Mar Vista High School and Southwest High School) that remind me of Mission High. And just like Mission both of these schools have immensely talented people dedicated to education who continue to walk into their buildings and fight every day to be able to give the students they have come to love great education.

Both Mar Vista and Southwest were forced to send letters home informing parents that the federal government had determined that these schools were “failing schools.” Parents were given the option to send their children to a not failing school in a better zip code. Very few parents transferred their children, because they saw what was happening in their community schools and knew these were good schools. However, many parents who had never had an experience with the schools did bus their children to that “good school” in a “good” zip code.

I have also worked in two middle schools in poorer neighborhoods and experienced the same mix of talent and dedication. One of those schools (Mar Vista Middle School) actually had half of the staff fired and the school reconstituted as Mar Vista Academy. A disruption that brought no positive change, but harmed both teachers and students. Disruption as an education policy is an “Alice through the looking glass” reform. It is crazy.

America has never had such a highly trained and effective teaching staff as today. If the “Administrative Progressives” would get out of the rode and the billionaire reformers would give educators the respect they deserve, schools in America would flourish as never before and once again be the bedrocks of American democracy.

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

In the Epilogue, Rizga describes what she observed about the teachers, a description that completely accords with my own experience and observation of teaching.

“Mission High teachers never complained to me about being overworked, but that toll is obvious to any visitor who spends significant time with them in and out of school. Every teacher I met frequently worked more hours than anyone I have met in the white-collar world – journalism, tech, law, corporate, and nonprofit. For more than a decade, McKamey woke up at 5:00 a.m., got to school by 6:30 a.m., left school at 4:30 p.m. for a dance class, then worked almost every evening and every Sunday. Every teacher I knew often met with his or her colleagues to plan lessons on Saturdays or Sundays, unpaid, because they didn’t always have enough time to do it during the workweek, when they teach five classes, need to read and grade hundreds of assignments each week, and must plan the next lesson. Many teachers met with students after school and on the weekends, unpaid. The most effective educators, like Roth and McKamey, had twenty-five years of teaching under their belts, but how can we expect a new generation of teachers to work such hours and stay in the profession for decades? No wonder close to half of teachers leave the profession before they acquire five years of experience.”

Kristina Rizga’s Mission High makes a positive contribution to understanding what good teaching is and why top-down standardized management is a fatal error.