Tag Archives: education entrepreneurs

DuFour; Just Another “Reformy” Consultant

28 Feb

DuFour’s new book, In Praise of American Educators and How They Can Become Even Better, is dismal. He has taken his once promising idea, (the PLC) and turned it into a vehicle for implementing Common Cores State Standards and teacher control. He is just another education consultant in search of “thirty pieces of silver.”

To be fair, the opening two chapters do address the relentless attack on educators and chapter 2 is called “The Phony Crisis.” Unfortunately those two chapters of faint praise for teachers and documentation of the false propaganda endured by public schools segue straight to “reformyville.”

In 2005 or 2006, I was teaching Algebra II when a young colleague suggested that we Algebra II teachers form a professional learning community (PLC). She had just read DuFour’s book and three tenets of his idea were appealing. PLC’s were to be (1) voluntary, (2) self-selected and (3) governed by consensus. Our Algebra II PLC agreed to meet every Wednesday for lunch. In high schools lunch is only 30 minutes but we did create value.

In fact, we were very productive. We created innovative lessons like solve around the room and solve around the table. We developed many assessments; we refined curricular pacing and shared our student challenges. Unfortunately, this was the sole time that I experienced a PLC in which I did not feel my time was mostly wasted.

Early in the book, Dufour cites Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, twice and he also quotes Mercedes Schneider’s A Chronicle of Echoes once. But after the first two chapters he cites nothing but reformist literature, Bill Gates sponsored think tanks and corporate reform entities.

He claims that the United States lags major economic powers; Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Australia in career and technical education. He makes the argument that schools should be developing skilled workers for American corporations by citing the Gates supported Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW); “The second part of the CEW strategy calls on the federal government to establish a Learning and Earnings Exchange that links high school and post-secondary transcript information with employer wage records.” (Page 78)

He praises Delaware’s top down approach for responding to a call by the international banking group Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to provide educators with more collaboration time. He writes, “In its Race to the Top application, it stipulated that all core subject teachers would be provided with at least ninety minutes each week to work as members of collaborative teams.” I am all for teachers having time to collaborate, but this does violate the principles of being voluntary and self selected which means it will be another onerous demand on teacher time with limited reward.

DuFour uses McKinsey and Company as the source that validates his PLC strategy:

 “The McKinsey & Company investigation of the world’s highest-performing educational systems has the following three conclusions.

… 3) The best process for providing this professional development is the professional learning community process …” (Page 81)

 Diane Ravitch calls McKinsey and Company “the global powerhouse behind ‘reform.’” She continues

“Where did David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards, get his start: McKinsey. Which firm pushes the narrative of a ‘crisis in education’: McKinsey. Which firm believes that Big Data will solve all problems: McKinsey.”

 DuFour attacks unions and repeats the false talking point coming from the Vergara anti-tenure lawsuit in California. Of course he cites the anti-teacher Gates and Walton funded group National Council on Teacher Quality’s call to end “last in first out” policies.

For DuFour, like all “reformsters”, the metric to judge schools by is the big standardized test. He says schools need to establish a set of smart goals for improvement. One of his suggested goals is “We will increase the school’s mean score on the ACT exam from 21.9 to 26.0.”

Speaking of the Big Standardized Test (BS Test) one of my favorite education writers, Peter Greene wrote:

“The BS Tests suck, and they suck in large, toxic, destructive ways. But if you’re a Common Core advocate, you need to see that the so-called Common Core tests are not aligned with the Core, that, in fact, no standardized test will ever be aligned with the Core.”

 Now we have arrived at the wonderful new purpose of the PLC. PLC’s no longer belong to teachers they are a vehicles for instituting Common Core State Standards (CCSS). So DuFour tells us, “High-yield districts put processes in place to ensure that teams are focused on the right work.” (Page 134) That “right work” is the implementation of the greatest advancement in American education ever, CCSS.

He cites the National Governors Association Center for best practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers call for these awesome standards to be benchmarked against the highest-performing nations in the world. He reports:

 “By September 2009, fifty-one states and territories had initially agreed to endorse the CCSS. Soon, however, the initiative became caught up in a political debate about the overreach of the federal government into a states’ rights issue (even though it had been launched by the states).” (Page 141)

 It does not seem to bother DuFour in the least that in 2009 the CCSS had not been written and no one outside of Bill Gates’ small circle new who was writing the CCSS. This might have been a good time to cite Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma. I called her book “the bomb” because it thoroughly debunked the kind CCSS propaganda that DuFour continues to propagate.

DuFour’s book is an attempt to sell his PLC consulting business to billionaire education deformers. It has no value for current educators because it abandons those principles that were valuable when he first proposed PLC’s.

Past Time for a Charter School Moratorium in California

8 Feb

In December 2015, elected officials and education professionals in Orange County, California joined a growing number of voices across our state calling for a charter school expansion moratorium:

“So today, we are asking Orange County residents to stand with our children and call for an immediate temporary moratorium on charter schools at all levels until there is transparency and accountability on par with public schools.”

 Michael Matsuda, Superintendent, Anaheim Union High School District

Al Jabbar, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Annemarie Randle-Trejo, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Brian O’ Neal, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Anna Piercy, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Kathy Smith, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

 

In their joint declaration, they pointed to concerns about lack of transparency in the use of money by publicly supported charter schools. They also worried that charter schools laws do not sufficiently protect students; stating this example, “The USA though, because of lax charter laws that favor privatization, is the only country in the world that allows public taxpayer money to fund schools operated by foreign nationals.”

 

To this last point, in January, a notice in the San Diego Union about Magnolia Public Schools piqued my interest enough to investigate. To my surprise, I found that Magnolia Public Schools were part of the Gulen charter school empire, the schools governed by the Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen. I found that California already has eleven of these schools including one here in my hometown, San Diego.

 

A Little Charter School History

 

In 1974 Ray Budde, who taught educational administration at the University of Massachusetts, presented the Society for General Systems Research some ideas for the reorganization of school districts in a paper he titled “Education by Charter”.

 

Ted Kolderie, one of the original designers of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota tells us:

 

“Ray Budde’s proposal was actually for a restructuring of the district: for moving from ‘a four-level line and staff organization’ to ‘a two-level form in which groups of teachers would receive educational charters directly from the school board’ and would carry the responsibility for instruction.”

 

Budde’s idea did not go anywhere for almost a decade and then came “Nation at Risk.”

 

President Regan’s Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, formed a “blue ribbon” committee of businessmen and other luminaries to produce a report on education in America. The committee included Nobel Prize winning chemist, Glenn Seaborg who had been the chairman of the atomic energy commission under three presidents. Seaborg was certainly a brilliant man but you would probably not hire him to be your dentist. It was the same with the rest of the commission, they were not experienced or trained educators.

 

Their report, “Nation at Risk”, asserted that America’s schools were so profoundly failing that the future of the nation was literally at risk. Normally a report of this scope and importance would be peer reviewed and its claims investigated before a government agency would make it an official product. It was, in fact, factually erroneous but its unsupported claims have plagued public schools and educators ever since the US Department of Education published it.

 

It was in this environment, that Albert Shankar, President of the American Federation of Teachers started promoting Budde’s charter school idea. A speech he gave in Minnesota in 1988 started the wheels into motion for the first in the nation charter school law that was enacted in 1991. A year later, 1992, California enacted its version of a charter school law.

 

In a 2012 article about the 20th anniversary of the California charter school law Bonnie Eslinger of the San Jose Mercury News wrote:

 

“One year after California became the second state in the nation in 1992 to pave the way for taxpayer-funded charter schools, a contingent of education officials and parents from San Carlos stepped forward to join the public school reform movement.

“In its application to state officials, the group said it viewed the proposed San Carlos Charter Learning Center “as one aspect of education, the entire community serves as the campus, and the school acts as a headquarters.”

“Today, the San Carlos Charter Learning Center is the longest-running charter school in the state, according to the California Charter Schools Association, which organized a media event Tuesday at the campus to herald the 20-year anniversary of the experiment.”

 

 

California Charter Schools Expand Explosively

Since those early idealistic days of charter school innovation, the charter school movement has enjoyed rapid growth. The California Charter School Association reports this staggering set of statistics:

 

 

  • 1,230: Charter schools in California
  • 80: New charter schools opened in 2015-16 school year
  • California: State with the most charter schools and charter school students in the country
  • 581,100: Estimated number of students attending charter schools in CA as of 2015-16
  • 7%: Estimated percentage by which charter school student enrollment grew in 2015-16
  • 36,100: Estimated number of new charter school students in 2015-16
  • Los Angeles: Region with highest growth in new charter schools
  • 27: New charter schools opened in Los Angeles region
  • North Coast & Bay Area: Region with second highest growth
  • 21: New charter schools opened in North Coast and Bay Area
  • 158,000: Estimated number of students on charter school waiting lists in 2014-15
  • 32: Schools closed in 2014-15”

 

Charter School Negatives

However, everything is not totally positive with charter schools. They were originally sold as an avenue for both education innovation and a way for parents to have choice in their children’s education. Today, the best innovations in education all comes from the public school system and choice is a mirage like those 158,000 students on charter school waiting lists. A recent study by the Texas State Education committee found that in Texas while there is indeed a waiting list most of those on it are applying for a few specific charter schools and that more than one-third of all the states available charter seats go unfilled.

 

As far as school choice is concerned, the education writer Steven Singer recently wrote an article titled “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice” in which he argues that charter schools actually limit parental choice. He noted:

 

“Most public schools are run by a school board made up of duly-elected members from the community. The school board is accountable to that community. Residents have the right to be present at votes and debates, have a right to access public documents about how tax money is being spent, etc. None of this is true at most charter or voucher schools.”

 

The Huffington Post reported in the 2012-13 school year while 109 new charter schools opened in California 28 closed that same year. Stability is well known as a key factor in healthy childhood development and charter schools have a troubled history of instability.

 

The most disturbing aspect of the charter school movement is the amount of fraud and profiteering associated. In December 2015, Bruce Baker, Rutgers University and Gary Miron, Western Michigan University studied some of the prominent ways that individuals, companies, and organizations secure financial gain and generate profit by controlling and running charter schools. They identified these four policy concerns:

 

  1. “A substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children is being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain, creating substantial inefficiencies;
  2. “Public assets are being unnecessarily transferred to private hands, at public expense, risking the future provision of “public” education;
  3. “Charter school operators are growing highly endogenous, self-serving private entities built on funds derived from lucrative management fees and rent extraction which further compromise the future provision of “public” education; and
  4. “Current disclosure requirements make it unlikely that any related legal violations, ethical concerns, or merely bad policies and practices are not realized until clever investigative reporting, whistle blowers or litigation brings them to light.”

 

Conclusion

We are privatizing the public education system built by our forefathers. It was the foundation of the great American social, economic and democratic experiment. We are doing this based on a crisis in education that never was.

 

In a brilliant article by psychometrics expert, Gene V Glass, it says, “A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” Let’s heed the words of real experts. It is time to put a halt to the privatization of public education long enough to see what we have wrought before we do further damage.

Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA

6 Dec

Dear Senators, Boxer and Feinstein

As senior members of the US Senate, please use your influence to stop the disingenuous rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

There is an effort to ram this bill through congress sight unseen. It only became available to the public and our representatives including you on November 30th. As educators from around the country see the details of this bill, they are deeply concerned for the future of public education in America. Is it the intent of the US congress to privatize public schools like Chile or Sweden did?

I left a job doing research in magnetic recording in 1999 to become a teacher. As a person immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, I was a big believer in technology. After more than a decade in the classroom, I am convinced education technology has been mostly a waste of money. It has not improved either engagement or understanding.

Yet, this federal law 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. My personal experience with these ideas says they encourage bad pedagogy. Multiple choices testing to assess drill and skill teaching is the basic strength of these methodologies and that is not good teaching.

This is little more than money being earmarked for the benefit of particular corporations. Most technology spending creates a net harm to our students who are forced into larger classes so districts can pay for the required hardware and software.

The social improvement bonds that appear on page 797 under the name “Pay for Success Initiative” look like a way for Wall Street bankers to get a cut of those education tax dollars. It is a legal opening for investment bankers to pocket taxpayer money. Is this kind of policy the new normal under the citizens’ united ruling?

Today, the biggest threat to quality public schools is the charter school movement. It is a huge problem in California. Charter school theory postulates that charters with less restrictive state regulations are going to experiment with pedagogy and then transfer their successful innovations to the “failing” public school system. This theory was based on a fallacy. Public schools were never failing especially here in California and we have not seen one successful innovative idea come from the charter sector. In fact, those seven-thousand “no excuses” charter schools in the United States are practicing methods harkening back to the 19th century; very regressive education brought by untrained inexperienced people.

Worst of all is the record of charter schools is one of fraud, instability and segregation. It would make sense for the federal government to closely scrutinize this out of control segment of education that is being used by hedge fund investors as an investment vehicle. Instead, this law spends significant money promoting charter schools and coercing states for the benefit of the charter industry. Section 4302 calls for:

 “(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;”

This facet of the law will harm public schools and expose more students to the unsupervised education market. It is not about improving schools for children; it is about pocketing those education tax dollars.

In his massive study of the rise and fall of numerous 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 must protect our precious public education system from the sharks; unfortunately, this law is a shark feeder.

In the December 5th Washington Post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle noted that “Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.” He believes this law will do significant harm to teacher education in America.

One facet of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) that I liked was the requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom. As the prominent author and educator, Mercedes Schneider posted to her blog on December 5th:

 “What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in ‘certification obtained through alternative routes.’”

 On December 10th, the writer and educator from South Carolina, Professor Paul Tomas, wrote on his blog a conclusion I have reached:

 “At best, ESSA is a very slight shuffling of the test-mania element of the accountability era; however, this reverting to state-based accountability will guarantee another round of new standards and new tests—all of which will drain state and federal funding for processes that have never and will never achieve what they claim to achieve (Mathis, 2012).

 “ESSA will be another boondoggle for education-related corporations, but once again, that profit will be on the backs of children and underserved communities.”

This law does mandate that every child in grades 3 to 8 and 11 is tested every year. The NCLB era has taught me unambiguously that standards based testing harms teaching and learning for many profound reasons. Feedback from this corporate testing is not timely and there is no learning component related to what is going on in the classroom associated with the big test. And worst of all this kind of testing seriously harms the love of learning and thinking. Massive testing is not just expensive, it is harming children.

I know there are many people like the leaders of the AFT, NEA and PTA supporting this law. They believe it is a lesser evil, however, I think they listened to their big donors before they read the legislation. When a group is getting millions of dollars from Bill Gates, it is easy to rationalize supporting his position. Please look closely at this legislation and stand up for parents, children and public schools in America.

Fix it or kill it.

Standardized Control

24 Sep

“He had been educated only in that innocent and ineffectual way in which the Catholic priests teach the aborigines, by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man but kept a child.” [1] Henry David Thoreau’s description of his visitor at Walden’s pond seems a likely description of the result of standards based education and testing. Known derisively as “test and punish” education, standards based education is a behaviorist theory. This is a philosophy that is antithetical to human growth and development; to the development of capable actors in a democratic society.

Education is a social science. Societies are so complex that cause and effect relationships are obscured. Therefore, education theories are not provable in the same way as physics theories. Our beliefs about education are necessarily driven more by philosophy than experimental result. Of course skilled social scientists observe pedagogy in action and share their observations, but it’s still only good guidance and not a proven principle like buoyancy.

During graduate school at UCSD, my chemistry buddy and I would marvel at the kind of weak evidence that was offered as proof for education theories. In my previous career, I had seen theories with substantial evidence supporting them – obliterated. There used to be a theory that the paramagnetic limit for the amount of information that could be magnetically stored was 20 gigabits in a square inch. I was on a team that demonstrated 78 gigabits in a square inch. That breakthrough has led to today’s cheap terabyte hard-drives and the abandonment of a popular theory. In social science, theories are never so clearly defeated.

Today, education is rife with unproven assertions which are often not tested at all. Such as: standards based education is good, a national curriculum is needed, common core standards are internationally bench-marked, college and career readiness standards must be implemented, international testing is producing important data proving the failure of US schools, standards based testing is meaningful, teacher evaluations should include value added measures, no-excuses charter schools are good pedagogy, public schools are failing, private business can do education better and cheaper, teachers and their unions are the biggest obstacles to improved education. The list of assertions without proof in education is seemingly endless.

It is how we think about human value that is the prism by which we must construct our education programs. Last year, two German writers, Sija Graupe and Jochen Krautz, wrote an article about the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “From Yardstick to Hegemony.” They tell us that “ the OECD which – as initiator of the PISA assessment process – has since the 1960s and on its own account “become central, providing indicators of educational performance that not only evaluate but also help shape public policy.”

Gaupe and Krautz make their point through quoting OECD documents:

“The OECD program has declared war on the established plurality of educational goals and discourses (which have consistently reflected and renewed these goals) in order to replace it with a single novel concept: ‘Schools should lay the very foundation for the attitudes, desires and expectations motivating a nation to pursue progress and to think and act economically.’

“The OECD Conference documentation of 1961 declares unequivocally: ‘It goes without saying that the educational system must be an aggregate of the economy, it is just as necessary to prepare people for the economy as real assets and machines. The educational system is now equal to highways, steel works and chemical fertilizers”. Thus the claim can be made “without blushing and with good economic conscience that the accumulation of intellectual capital is comparable to the accumulation of real capital – and in the long range may outmatch it.'”

The OECD has it philosophically backward and that leads directly to behaviorism and dehumanized education. The OECD views citizens as state assets instead of seeing the state as existing for the benefit of its citizens. From Yardstick to Hegemony contains this clear analysis of the situation:

“The environment to which pupils and students are to adapt is not the economy of real experience but rather a mere ideal concept generated by mainstream economists, particularly those of the Chicago School of Economics who, in their pursuit of ‘economic imperialism’, have applied it to education: Its concept of a market is a purely abstract super-conscious price and coordination mechanism according to which all human activity must be aligned. What this unrealistic worldview setting in turn impedes is any critique or will to change because rather than being understood by the public as a theoretical construct it is, according to the neoliberal economist August Hayek, accepted by most as an immediately evident truth. Whether they are true or false, economic theories and all assessments based on these (such as PISA) determine reality. Those who choose criteria as a yardstick for everything else establish an arbitrary point of standardization where verification need not be feared. These ungrounded criteria then become – untested and without further thought – the defining norm for all further actions. As long as people believe having more PISA points is better than less in order to be successful economically they will, of course, do everything they can to acquire more. Education is then forced to uncritically yield to the pressure of comparative assessment, even if it is based on pure assertion.

In 1891, the National Education Association met in Toronto, Canada. It was at this meeting that James H. Baker’s committee made its report on the need for standardizing education. It’s a natural tendency that as a movement matures people will appear who want to standardize it. The main argument for needed standardization was the difficulty high schools were having creating classes that prepared students for entry requirements at Universities because the requirements were so varied. The Baker Committee report led to the establishment of the Committee of Ten and the first curricular standards in the United States in 1894.

I wanted to read the Baker Report myself and while looking for it I found a wonderful essay called “The School of the Future” by Francis W. Parker from the Cook County Normal School, Chicago, Illinois. He was writing about the common school movement (page 82):

“It was the inspired conviction of our forefathers that common education is as essential to democratic government and growth as air is to life. Our forefathers had an inspiration and a belief; they had no prescribed plan, or no precedent for that plan. They did not have the least conception of the mighty growth of the seed which they planted.

“The common school furnishes the essential principles in the development and perpetuation of a democracy, and its growth and progress has been purely democratic; it has been and is, “of the people, for the people, and by the people.” The common school had its birth in the New England school district; and the New England school district with the town is the root from which sprung all the democratic forms of government which have developed in our country. In a word, the spirit and nourishment of the common-school system has always depended, and depends today, entirely upon the will of the majority. State and national officials are given little more than advisory influences.

“There has been no active attempt at centralization. It is exceedingly difficult for our foreign friends and critics to understand our so-called school system. They are accustomed to look upon public schools from the standpoint of centralization, which produces uniformity, conformity and evenness, so that the endless variety, the total lack of uniformity, the innumerable differences which our schools present, is to them almost incomprehensible.

“Each and every school district has a pronounced individuality. Every state and stage of progress, from the early nebulous formative period to the highest products of Oswego and Bridgewater, may now be found in adjoining districts.

“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 intelligences 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 populi. 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.”

The renowned historian, Arnold Toynbee established criteria for judging whether a civilization was in a stage of growth or decline. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.”[2]

I believe there is a superior way. Both John Dewey and the Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi counseled against standardized education. Dewey stated “Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.”[3] And Makiguchi theorized that “Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”[4]

In 1894, when the Committee of Ten was doing its work, very few teachers were well educated. Many only had high school diplomas. It is understandable that education leaders felt the need to provide teachers with detailed curricular guidance. Today that is not the case.

Salesmen trying to advance their charter schools might claim that they are innovative but they are not. The no-excuses charter schools are little more than behaviorist test preparation institutions. It is regressive education that borders on child abuse. The charter school movement which was originally viewed as an innovation incubator, but it has devolved into a blatant scheme to enhance corporate profits at the expense of tax payers.

There is an alternative. In 2015, there is scarcely a school district that does not have multiple professionals in education with doctorates and masters degrees on staff. Our public schools are perfectly positioned to lead American education to new heights and they do not need imposed standards. We have the intellectual and human resources needed for unlimited advancement, but they are being stymied by politicians and billionaire dilettantes that have no understanding of what good education is.

Stop all this imposing standards and testing baloney and allow our highly educated, dedicated and skillful national teaching corps to once again dazzle the world. Preserve our amazing public education system and protect it from voracious profiteers and their schemes to steal public funding for education.

  1. Thoreau Henry David, Walden, Thomas Y. Crowell Company (Apollo Edition, 1966) © 1961. Page 196
  2. Arnold Toynbee (DC Somervell), “A study of History” abridgement Volume 1 – VI, Oxford University Press, 1946, page 555
  3. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. Page 203
  4. Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001 Page 18

Lunch with Larry

6 Sep

I recently wrote an open message to my congressman, Scott Peters, urging him to reject the proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In it I said, “When fads like “new math”, “phonics only” or “whole word” came along, they infected many jurisdictions but not a majority of the country. As their weaknesses manifested, these fads were abandoned before serious damage occurred.” Federally centered power would end that protection from bad policy. After reading this post, Professor Larry Lawrence invited me to lunch to discuss “new math.”

I met Larry briefly in Chicago at the April NPE conference. I knew he lived in Carlsbad, California less than 30 miles north of my San Diego home. I was intrigued by his proposal to get together and discuss the “Zen of teaching math.” So I agreed to meet him at a spot between our homes.

Larry has been called a “consummate teacher of math” and has a significant pedigree. After graduating from Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, Larry did his undergraduate work at Occidental College where he was a classmate of star quarterback, Jack Kemp. Barack Obama also attended Occidental. When finished there, Larry went on to Columbia University’s Teacher’s College pursuing a Masters degree.

It was at Columbia that Larry was introduced to a more profound grasp of the principles of mathematics and how students can successfully develop mathematical thinking. In 1958, almost 30 years before California’s 1985 adoption of “teaching for understanding” also referred to as “new math”, Larry was learning from the movement’s fathers. (1)

Referring to the 1985 adoption of “teaching for understanding” Elizabeth Green tells us in her book Building A+ Better Teacher, “… the California teachers were struggling to understand students’ ideas, figure out what the students needed to know, and then use that information to respond.” (2) Larry and I agreed that this was the essential weakness with “teaching for understand” – the elementary school teachers did not have the training to do it.

On day one of his first math class at Columbia (Advance Algebra), the teacher gave an instruction for an assignment that stumped Larry. He went throughout the dorm asking everyone he could find to explain to him what “one to one correspondence” meant. No one knew! In 1958, few people apprehended the fundamental principles of mathematics.

Larry also brought along a prompt from his professor. I have shared the setup here:

Arithmetic by mail: Stan Brown had a pen pal, Al Moore, who lived in Alaska. Stan and Al corresponded quite frequently. Stan liked to receive letters from Al because he wrote about interesting things like hunting and fishing and prospecting for gold. Al enjoyed hearing about the things Stan did, especially about school, for Al had had very little opportunity to attend school. One day, Al wrote to ask if Stan would mind teaching him some arithmetic. Stan agreed but decided he needed to know how much Al already knew. So, in his next letter to Al he included a simple test, and asked Al to write in the answers and to return the test to him. Al sent the test back immediately; he said it was very easy and asked Stan to send some harder questions next time.

Take 2 away from 21.                                                  1

What is half of 3?                                                        ͻ

Add 5 to 7.                                                                  57

Does 2 x 4 ½ equal 9?                                                No

Which is larger, .000065 or .25?                                .000065

How many times does 3 go into 8?                             Twice

How many times does 9 go into 99?                           Twice

Which is larger, 3 or 23?                                              23

What is a number smaller than 4?                               4 (written smaller)

What is a number larger than 4?                                 4 (written larger)

Some of Al’s reasoning follows.

Anyone can see that 3 goes into 8 twice, and pretty neatly too, without any 2 left over. You put 3 into 8 the regular way and then you turn another 3 around and put it in on the other side of the 8.

In question 4, you don’t even need a ruler to tell that 2 x 4 ½ is different from 9.

In question 8, 23 is larger than 3 because 23 already has a 3 in it and a 2 added on in front.

Larry was an early adopter of “new math” when in 1959 he returned to Morningside High School to teach mathematics. Since taking that decision, he has dedicated his life to improving education in California. In the early 1960’s, Larry may have been the first California teacher to teach calculus in high school.

His career includes a stint at UCLA working in the lab school then known as Seeds. In 1975, he received his doctorate from UCLA and went on to work as director of curriculum for the Turlock School District. He also served as the principal of an elementary school in Upland California. In 1982, he returned to UCLA to again work in the lab school training elementary school teachers how to teach mathematics.

Larry’s story is also the story of education reform gone wrong. There are many Larry Lawrence’s out there who have dedicated their lives to understanding teaching and learning. They are a treasure. They have both theoretical knowledge and practical experience, but as Elizabeth Green reports (and then praises) people like Doug Lemov and Stacy Boyd purposefully shunned people like Larry when they formulated their “no excuses” charter school movement and embraced pedagogy spiced with “disruption.”

Larry told me that in 1993 he got involved with developing a charter school. The lab school at UCLA was having a difficult time surviving and they decided to become a charter. In retrospect, Larry says that was a mistake because on the whole, charters are damaging the public education system. Whether they are good or bad, “charters harm public education.”

It was a wonderful lunch at a second floor corner table overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The drive from La Jolla along old highway 101 to the Ki restaurant in Cardiff by the Sea is among the most breathtakingly beautiful drives in America. The restaurant Larry chose had a wide variety of; wraps, smoothies, tofu dishes and teas. The staff knew Larry by name. I had the cheeseburger.

  1. Green, Elizabeth. Building A+ Better Teacher, W.W. Norton & Company New York and London, ©2014 by Elizabeth Green – page 102
  2. Ibid. page 105

A Response to Congressman Peters

11 Jul

I received a reply from Congressman Peters (D-California 52) this April to my message against HR-5, “The Student Success Act.” The Congressman made several assertions concerning education that I discuss here in an open response.

Opening assertions by Congressman Peters:

“In an increasingly global economy, it is critical that we make educational investments that put our students in a position to compete with the rest of the world. For years, the United States has trailed countries like China and India not only in education investments, but also in student achievement. When crafting education bills, Congress should be sure that it is taking steps to close that gap, rather than broadening it.”

This paragraph states several widely held false beliefs. First of all the United States out spends India and China on education combined. According to the worldbank and a Chinese government data report for 2012, India spent less than 4% of GDP ($2.1 trillion) or about $80 Billion; China spent 4.2% of GDP ($10.36 trillion) or about $430 Billion; and the US spent more than 5% of GDP ($17.42 trillion) or about $800 Billion on education. Our education spending almost doubles India and China’s combined spending and per child we spend many times more than either country.

Student achievement measures depend upon what you want. If the goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives then our system is clearly out producing India and China. One measuring stick might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America had 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. Of the 8 Chinese, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo who won peace prizes both are considered criminals – Xiaobo is still in a Chinese prison; four are scientists who earned their degrees in the United States or Great Britain; and only the two literature recipients were educated in China. To recap, since 1949 two international and widely recognized citations for Chinese educated students compared to 313 such citations from our world’s best American education system.

It is common for business and political leaders to believe that standardized tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that is promoted by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation are reliable indicators of school quality and student achievement. For several reasons they are not. Walter Hahn from the University of Utah recently returned to Europe to investigate the changes in education since he left. He reports that about age eleven most students are tracked into either a university path or various non-university paths. Testing of the non-university track students is not typical. Same is true in Asia. We test everyone. Researchers also point to many other problems with international testing.

It is true that US students have never been top scorers on international testing, but large segments of our students are very competitive. However, focus on testing leads to bad pedagogy. Professor Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon has written extensively about the problem with hyper-focus on testing in China. He reports that the Chinese government has been trying since the 1970’s to reform its test focused education system. However, because of the culture steeped in millennia of testing is so ingrained, Chinese parents insure test preparation. It is normal in China to put children in test preparation private academies after school and on weekends.

Some of my colleagues have been paid to go to China and demonstrate teaching while Chinese delegations searching for education improvement have visited and observed at my high school, Mar Vista High School. They do not care that our federal government labels my school as “failing.” No one in China thinks they have a great education system. Professor Zhao recently wrote, “The only way China will win the global competition of the future is for the West to begin doing education the way China does.”[1]

Standards based testing is misleading. Professor Haladyna and associates conducted a highly regarded study that shows as soon as high stakes are tied to these tests, their validity is undermined. When institutions, teachers and students gain experience with high stakes tests they find ways to focus primarily on test preparation. I was even taught by a consultant at a teacher training, “if it is not on the test, it is a waste of time to teach it.”

Another example of how high stakes undermine test results is the SAT. For three decades, SAT scores have gone up, an industry has emerged to prepare students for the tests and the predictability of future success based on test results has gotten worse. The data is quite clear that high school grades with all their flaws are much more predictive of future collegiate success than SAT test results.

Your colleague Congresswomen, Susan Davis (D-California 53), asked me “how can schools be held accountable without testing?” This indicates a belief that standardized testing is a valid measure of school or teacher quality. Today, few people outside of the testing industry believe that to be the case. When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) forced high stakes testing on the nation, it did not enforce school accountability. Ironically, based on testing results, public schools were blamed for the result of poverty by the political and businessmen who were actually responsible. Kind of anti-accountability don’t you think?

To Congresswomen Davis’ question, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) testing because it does not have high stakes attached is a reliable metric. The best school accountability is performed by regional accrediting agencies which send in teams of current educators who spend a week or more evaluating each school. They interview; administrators, teachers, students, non-certified staff and parents. They visit every class room and analyze all school documents including action plans. Finally they give useful feedback with a clear idea of what they expect in the way of improvement going forward.

I bring all this up because the re-write of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been revived. Thank you for voting against the Student Success Act this July 8. I am hoping if the Orwellian named Senate version “Every Child Achieves Act” ever comes to conference you can help improve this law.

Poverty is clearly the over arching problem in education. We have great public schools with the most educated work force American education has ever witnessed, but we have out of control child poverty and it shows up as the key driver in every statistic. Here is some data from the department of education:

In 2013, approximately 21 percent of school-age children were in families living in poverty, an increase of 4% since 1990. But that poverty is much more damaging to certain ethnicities and as this table reveals it is reflected in testing results.
Ethnicity                               White          Asian         Black         Hispanic
Living in Poverty                   13%             13%          39%            32%
NAEP 8th Grade Math           294              306           263            272
NAEP 8th Grade Reading      276             280            250            255

Pretty much all of the schools that were labeled as “failing schools” by NCLB and slated for closure or “turnaround” were in high poverty areas; while no schools in upper middle class neighborhoods were touched. Having worked in both kinds of schools, I can assure you the teaching in the wealthier neighborhoods in California is not significantly better than the teaching in poorer ones. Teachers talk disparagingly about being punished for working in the wrong zip code.

STEAM initiatives and federal test and punish programs will not solve the achievement gaps among schools as long as pervasive poverty is allowed to persist. Sending education dollars to charter schools that now have a known history of disruptive financial failure and fraud will only hurt America’s students. Please get the federal government out of the business of running schools. Give the schools back to local control. NCLB was a huge mistake and we need a course correction.

In 1910, Commissioner of Education Elmer Ellsworth Brown wrote about the genius of the American system of education:

“Our educational organization answering as it does to our federal plan of government presents peculiar advantages as regards the making of a varied flexible yet inherently unified system of instruction. It is an organization not readily understood by foreigners. It offers many obstacles to the carrying out of any plans for rapid and uniform improvement. Yet the self governing character of its several members is of itself an incalculable advantage. Whatever unity is attained must be an inner unity an agreement through conviction.”

The hugely successful public education system in America has always come from the people of their own volition adopting the education ideas that best fit their own community. Soviet style command and control education undermines the great crucible of democracy that is public education and dooms the creative American spirit. Please end the disastrous experiment in federal control of education.

1) Zhao, Yong. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, © John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2014.

California Seal Bearers Breakfast

1 Jun

Saturday (5/30/2015) witnessed a wonderful and happy event. The thirty-one seal bearers from Mar Vista High School (MVH) were honored at a breakfast along with their parents and the teacher they chose to honor. I was selected for recognition by our school’s valedictorian, Mariaester and two other participants from my AP physics course, Kevin and Samantha.

In 1916, Charles F. Seymour an educator from San Diego, proposed a society to honor outstanding scholastic achievement in high school. Since 1921, this society has been honoring the most accomplished students from across California. On Saturday, we met to recognize the seal bearers for 2015.

Mariaester and Kevin are doomed to be enemies. She is going to Stanford and he is going to Berkeley. Samantha will stay in San Diego at UCSD. My kids are going to three of the top five universities on the best coast. How proud I feel.

Mariaester comes from a wonderful working class Mexican family. She is the third sister from her family to be in one of my classes. As valedictorian, her diploma will have an honors designation plus a bilingual designation. Mariaester was also a key member and starter on our banner winning water polo team. In her spare time, she was an active member of the Associated Student Body (ASB) earning a lifetime membership.

Kevin was a member of my VEX robotics team and a determined student. This year Kevin challenged AP courses in: physics, chemistry, government, English literature and composition and self-studied for AP calculus B. Kevin was also involved in the ASB and several other activities on campus.

Samantha like Kevin and Mariaester will receive an honors designation on her diploma. Samantha earned a 4.25 weighted grade point during high school. She also was very involved with the ASB and was awarded a lifetime membership.

At the breakfast, more than half of the students had been in either my AP physics or regular high school physics class. It was wonderful seeing these budding young adults accept their accolades and honor their teachers. The students, their family and the teacher they were honoring were called one group at a time to the podium to have their laurels recited. I got to go up three times and hear how goofy El Guapo (my alter ego) is. It was really fun.

Every year for the past eight, Mar Vista High School has been required by the federal government to send a letter to all of our parents informing them that we are a failing school. No! It’s bogus! These students are proof we are a great school opening bright futures for wonderful young Americans.

The documentary “Defies Measurement” masterfully exposes how the benighted education policies promulgated at the behest of know nothing billionaires are wreaking havoc. Great schools are destroyed and bad pedagogy is promoted. I wrote about the unjust “turnaround” of Mar Vista Middle School (MVM) two years ago. I worked there for a year. MVM is a feeder school for Mar Vista High School. Schools like Chipman Middle School and MVM were never failing but were either destroyed or harmed by greed and ignorance. In fact they were doing exemplary work opening the path of success in life for thousands of youths.

As much as I enjoyed myself on Saturday morning, I could not help being frustrated by the fact that wonderful American institutions like Mar Vista High School are being targeted by profiteers or harmed by sycophants. Future Americans are at risk of never having the opportunity to attend school in these bastions of Democracy that should receive the lion’s share of credit for America and all it has achieved.