Tag Archives: schools

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.

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.

“The End of Public Education”

27 Dec

Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Rochester, New York, David W. Hursh has written a fascinating little book with the above title. It is subtitled: “The Corporate Reform Agenda to Privatize Education.”[1] Professor Hursh makes two powerful points. First, the threat to public education’s existence is real and serious. Second, this threat is driven by neoliberal philosophy which is widely promoted by many extremely wealthy individuals.

“We may be witnessing the end of public education in the United States. Not in the sense that public funding of schools will cease, although funding is likely to decrease.” These are the first two sentences of the book. When you read Professor Hursh’s detailed account of the money and political clout purchased in the cause of privatizing public education in New York, the reader is left with the sense that the “End of Public Education” in that state is more likely than not.

Neoliberal Philosophy Shakes off Its Laissez-faire History

During a crushing worldwide depression and World War II, Franklin Roosevelt successfully established several popular government programs including social security. It was in this environment that the Austrian born economist Frederic Von Hayek attacked Roosevelt’s “new deal” and its Keynesian philosophy of economics underpinning. Hayek warned about the tyranny of government control in his book The Road to Serfdom. In the early 1950’s Milton Friedman, at the University of Chicago, started making similar criticisms of government programs which he said should be left to the market place and private business.

Hayek and Friedman were marginal personalities until the early 1970’s when the large government deficits caused by spending on the Viet Nam war provided some credence for them. Their rather old and discredited economic philosophy gathered new momentum and a modern name, Neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is a term whose usage and definition have changed over time. Since the 1980s, the term has been used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences and critics primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, its advocates supported extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neoliberalism is famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.”

Coevally, Richard Nixon appointed Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court. Quoting from Wikipedia “he had been a board member of Philip Morris from 1964 until his court appointment in 1971 and had acted as a contact point for the tobacco industry with the Virginia Commonwealth University. Through his law firm, Powell represented the Tobacco Institute and various tobacco companies in numerous law cases.”

Just before taking his place on the court Powell wrote a confidential memo to a friend at the Chamber of Commerce recommending more aggressive action in molding politics and the law in the United States to promote free enterprise. It appears that this memo sparked the establishment of several neoliberal think tanks including the American Heritage Institute and the Cato Institute.

These well financed think tanks and associated lobbying organizations have promoted a neoliberal agenda with spectacular success. Many of their ideas have grown to the status of what Professor Hursh calls “social imaginaries” or ways of thinking shared in society by ordinary people. For example, there is a widely held belief that government is inefficient and wasteful while private business and markets are efficient and fair.

Hursh says (page 34): “Venture philanthropists aim to use philanthropy to design and implement education policies of privatization, markets, efficiency, and accountability.” The “social imaginaries” that have been developed support their effort.

Relative to this idea he quotes the following explanation (page 44):

 “Olssen, Codd and O’Neill (2004) write that: ’every social transaction is conceptualized as entrepreneurial, to be carried out purely for personal gain. The market introduces competition as the structuring mechanism through which resources and status are allocated efficiently and fairly. The ‘invisible hand’ of the market is thought to be the most efficient way of sorting out what competing individual gets what.’”

Education Policy Decided by Unelected Foundations and Corporations

The most powerful neoliberal in the United States is Bill Gates. He is emblematic of the new form of government we have developed. Instead of a representative democracy, we now have governance by foundations. The people making the decisions do so behind closed doors and never stand for election. There are hundreds of private foundations across America spending large amounts of capital to shape a privatized education system. The big three are the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Foundation and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

Hursh reports (page 97):

 “Bill Gates uses his fortune to fund the corporate education reform focusing on the Common Core standards, curriculum and assessment and on privatizing education through charter schools. In addition, as evidenced by his funding of organizations such as NewSchools Venture Fund, he is interested in developing projects that will create profits for investors.”

Working with and supporting the foundations to drive the privatization agenda are thousands of corporations. There are real estate firms forming Education Management Companies so they can institute property lease-back schemes. There is an uncountable number of technology companies, both large establish ones and startups, angling to sell products of dubious pedagogical value to schools. There are consulting firms, investment bankers, hedge funds and on and on and on. The largest publishing company the world has ever witnessed, Pearson, has plans to control all curricular and testing services worldwide.

Democratic Party Supports the Neoliberal Education Agenda

Barak Obama and the Democratic Party’s have embraced neoliberal ideology especially in regards to education. In 2008, the hedge fund dominated group Democrats for Education Reform convinced Obama to dump his presumptive Secretary of Education nominee, Linda Hammond-Darling, and appoint Arne Duncan. Obama and Duncan put into place the test centric and competition oriented Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative. For the first time ever, in accord with neoliberal theory, states were forced to compete for education dollars.

RTTT was all about objective measures and competition. In order to win race to the top monies, states had to agree to enact Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent), evaluate teachers and schools based on testing results and open a path for more privatized schools (charter schools). The Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, enthusiastically embraced RTTT even parroting Milton Friedman, saying he wants to destroy “the public school monopoly.”

The great American public education system was not built by the federal government nor was it built by corporate structures. It was built by common citizens in their communities to educate their own children. These wonderful schools that produced what Neoliberals call “American exceptionalism” are being stolen from their communities. I agree with Hursh’s conclusion (page 105/6):

 “We need to defend public education as worth public funding and as an area in which everyone has an input, rather than only those who are wealthy or have political connections.”

 I hope my effort to supply a little flavor of what David W. Hursh has written about will encourage you to read his book and take action to save public schools from the ravages of greed, hubris and bad philosophy.

Hursh, David W. The End of Public Schools, Routledge, 2016

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.

Trekkie Standards for Science – The Framework

17 Jun

The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both supported “Outcome Based Education” and national standards which set the stage for the authoritarian model of education enacted by the George W. Bush administration. This new federally led model of education was also supported by many Democrats. Contemporaneously, many corporations both for profit and non-profit including the Carnegie Corporation, the National Academy of Science (NAS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) launched a political campaign advocating new national science standards.

It is odd that organizations comprised of world renowned scientists proposed adopting new science standards without thorough vetting or testing. When did scientists become reckless?

The development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) followed the example set by the untested and extraordinarily rapid adoption of the common core math and English standards. As soon as the principal writer of the framework for the NGSS was finished, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) gave its full throated support.

NSTA reported that “The NGSS is based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (Framework; NRC 2012) and is intended to reflect a new vision for science education.” Well new is not necessarily improved, top down is a bad theory of government in a democracy and instituting the untried NGSS nationwide is foolhardy!

The idea of a set of national standards in education is hardly new. In 1891, a committee of the National Council of Education gave us a recommendation for national standards.

“At the meeting of the National Council of Education in 1891, a Committee appointed at a previous meeting made a valuable report through their Chairman, Mr. James H. Balder, then principal of the Denver High School, on the general subject of uniformity in school programmes and in requirements for admission to college. The Committee was continued, and was authorized to procure a Conference on the subject of uniformity during the meeting of the National Council in 1892, the Conference to consist of representatives of leading colleges and secondary schools in different parts of the country.”

The result was the Committee of Ten Report of 1894, a set of national standards for 9 domains of learning published by the National Education Association (NEA). This first set of national education standards could be equated to the 1966 science fiction TV show Star Trek with its NCC-1701, the starship Enterprise. Now, the NGSS with its framework designated NRC 2012could be equated to the 1987 TV show, Star Trek the Next Generation, featuring NCC-1701-D, the new galaxy class starship also named Enterprise. Is that where the name Next Generation Science Standards came from? Is the naming of the new science standards more about marketing than good pedagogy?

Maybe the development of NGSS should have been led by Captain Picard instead of The Carnegie Corporation. Never the less Carnegie “has taken a leadership role to ensure that the development of common science standards proceeds and is of the highest quality by funding a two-step process: first, the development of this framework by the National Research Council (NRC) and, second, the development of a next generation of science standards based on the framework led by Achieve, Inc.”

Carnegie not only took on leadership in developing the standards, they also helped motivate the idea of new science standards. In 2009, the Carnegie-Institute for Advanced Studies Commission on Mathematics and Science Education wrote a paper, “Opportunity Equation”, in which they summed up the work of several recently published papers and called for new science standards. The papers cited were all from well funded entities that are known for leading education “reform” in America:

McKinsey & Company, National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers- Achieve, National Science Foundation Task Force on Cyberlearning, National Mathematics Advisory Panel, Achieve Inc., National Governors Association, ACT, National Research Council, and National Center on Education and the Economy.

 In “Opportunity Equation”, Carnegie Corporation says we need new science standards that “Build high expectations for student achievement in mathematics and science into school culture and operations as a pathway to college and careers. Enhance systemic capacity to support strong schools and act strategically to turn around or replace ineffective schools.” These ineffective schools will be identified by assessing the achievement of standards with national normative testing.

Private money from the Carnegie Corporation was used to pay the National Research Council (NRC) which is a sub-group of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to write the framework. Although NAS was incorporated by Abraham Lincoln to do research for the US government, it is still a private corporation working on a contract basis. About 85% of its contracts come from the federal government, but some of its contracts are like this one.

The framework states this goal:

“The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.”

In a blog titled “The Next Generation Not-So-Scientific Standards” Jennifer Helms, PhD, writes “Notice the words or phrases “appreciation,” “possess sufficient knowledge…to engage in public discussions,” “consumers,” “able to continue to learn.” These are science appreciation standards, not science learning/understanding/synthesizing standards.” Maybe Jennifer is wrong but she has a point. The Framework does deemphasize knowledge and emphasizes practice. This may be an improvement in science teaching and it may not. We don’t know. It has not been tested.

I have two main criticisms of the Framework itself. In one of its three dimensions of science, instead of calling simply for science practices; the dimension is expanded to science and engineering practices. Adding engineering practices is not useful. Also, the Framework is overly complex and difficult to synthesize.

There is no need to introduce engineering practice in the K-12 system. At the next level there is very little differentiation between physics or chemistry majors and engineering majors until they reach third year. Science and engineering majors need to learn basic science before they are expected to apply it. Pretending that adolescent children are ready to study the nuanced differences between scientists and engineers is a distraction from learning the fundamentals of science.

In addition to shooting educators in the foot with unneeded leaning goals, the framework is a Rube Goldberg contraption. Three core dimensions are promulgated; (1) science and engineering practices, (2) crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields and (3) core ideas in four disciplinary areas: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering. There are eight practices, seven crosscutting concepts and thirteen core ideas to apply. The framework defines all of these and gives guidance on how each should be instituted at different grade levels thus ensuring that the standards based on the framework will be an unwieldy and unreadable monsters.

The framework that the NRC produced reminds me of something Michio Kaku says in one of his educational videos about the search for the Higgs Boson. He states that the current standard model of the atom was so messy, “only a mother could love it.” This framework is so messy and overly complex; maybe even a mother couldn’t love it?

The framework has some first rate ideas enshrined in it and many reasonable sounding teaching principles. After all, some genuine geniuses were contributors. I thought while reading it that science-teacher education programs could find real value in studying this document. The fundamental weakness is that it was produced by corporate entities in a pseudo open environment and is being instituted in an authoritarian manor.

From the framework: “The committee recognized early in the process that obtaining feedback from a broad range of stakeholders and experts would be crucial to the framework’s success. For this reason, we secured permission from the National Research Council (NRC) to release a draft version of the framework for public comment. The draft underwent an expedited NRC review in early July 2010 and was posted online on July 12 for a 3-week period.”

I was one of the 2000 people that sent feedback, but I certainly did not do a David Coleman “close read” of this more than three hundred page document, nor did I have the opportunity to discuss what I read with anyone else who had read it. Educators and others were given three weeks to read, digest and comment on this major change to science education that is intended to be adopted nationwide. That feedback period’s only value was that it allowed NRC to claim public inclusion in the process.

I have concentrated on the NGSS framework here and will write a second piece on the resulting standards. This is not how change should come to education in a democratic country. The science framework is not an idea that was published and then by dint of its brilliance adopted by America’s science educators. Instead it is an authoritarian mandate that is being instituted before being thoroughly evaluated by education professionals. I have written before about my conviction that standards based education is bad education but this untested science framework forced on the nation by financial and political power is education malpractice.

iPads in School – Not Even if Free

1 Mar

Last November I trudged over to Chula Vista High School for the mandatory get trained up on the iPad or else session. A harsh cold front had dropped the local temperatures into the low 50’s and I actually had to wear a sweater (something we San Diegan’s rarely do) which I forgot because it was so warm when I left. It’s tough working in San Diego County, but I digress.

When I left Silicon Valley to become a teacher in San Diego, I was a big technophile. As each year passes, I become less enthralled with technology in the classroom. I teach some physics classes so I would like carts of laptops loaded with digital acquisition systems and I certainly like photo-gate timers that allow students to meaningfully investigate kinematics. I could see spending on high speed video equipment and electron microscopes but not on toys like the iPads.

I also teach mathematics. Before digital boards were installed, I had whiteboards all around a very shabby classroom. I could send multiple students to the boards which increased engagement and provided me with real time assessment. Now I have less board space to accommodate the expensive equipment. Spending on the digital whiteboards has dubious value. They make the teacher more dependent on a fragile technology that does not significantly enhance teaching and lessons are undermined when the technology fails and technology does fail. iPads are wonderful for checking social media, or email, or looking up restaurants, or playing games, but they do not solve any pedagogical problems. They are a technology that fails from time to time and unlike electronic whiteboards they introduce management nightmares to the classroom.

The number one application of the iPad at schools is – by far – gaming. Students quickly figure out ways to load games and play them instead of engaging in the learning. One of the major points of emphasis at my training was learning how to quickly assess what off-task things the students are doing with their iPads.

These devices have relatively small screens but school districts are buying licenses to load e-books on iPads instead of buying printed textbooks. Seven years ago, my math students were given the opportunity to check out an e-text instead of a printed book. Printed texts are heavy and we have no lockers at my school, so many students opted for the e-books. Within the first six-week grading period every student who opted for an e-text went to the library to get a printed book. In general, math textbooks from the giant publishers are poor, but they are wonderful when compared to studying mathematics from a giant publisher’s e-book. Of course on an iPad, e-texts are even worse, because the screen is too small.

To nurture the use of iPads in classrooms a learning management system must be in place. The system in my school district is called Canvas. Canvas may have the worst interface of any program I have ever used and that is saying a lot. One of the reasons this system has such a difficult interface is that it is designed to facilitate online education. Maybe this explains why schools are being pressured into buying iPads and learning management systems. The real purpose may be to put public schools on line, profit corporations that sell into the system and reduce the need for teachers.

That is a recipe for substandard education, but elites in this country do not seem to value quality education for common people. Bill Gates and his children went to Lakeside School, Barak Obama’s children go to Sidwell Friends School and wealthy people where I live send their children to schools like La Jolla Country Day. All of these pricey private schools have small class sizes ranging from 10 to 20 students and they do not give their students textbooks on iPads.

During my training in November, the youthful teacher who was leading the session was clearly excited by the possibilities with iPads. We were all required to make a video, use an app called Prezi and take a Kahoot quiz. Videos made with an iPad are of less quality than existing technology from those deprived pre-iPad days. Prezi is an app that has similar but reduced capabilities to PowerPoint which is a tool often associated with boring didactic lessons. Kahoot is an interactive group quiz facility that has limited application but could be used to start a conversation.

A colleague mentioned that some bright young teachers have made a few creative lessons with iPads. I am sure that is true, but I bet those same teachers could make creative lessons that do not involve iPads. iPads are not the seed of creativity. That seed exists in the person with a desire to bring teaching and learning alive.

Even if iPads were free, I would recommend against introducing them into the classroom and they are definitely not free. Spending on technology in public schools is straining budgets and causing class sizes to balloon. For fifty iPads and the support infrastructure required for their use in a classroom, another teacher could be hired and class sizes reduced.

Is it ethical to give these devices to students? Recently I read in the New York Times that Steve Jobs limited his children’s use of technology and that other hi-tech leaders like Chris Anderson were concerned about the danger to their children from these devices. An excerpt from the article:

 ’“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

“Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends. …

“The dangers he [Anderson] is referring to include exposure to harmful content like pornography, bullying from other kids, and perhaps worse of all, becoming addicted to their devices, just like their parents.”[1]

The BBC has been conducting surveys about the dangers of internet enabled devices and the awareness that parents have of these dangers. They report:

 “Many children aged nine to 11 are indulging in very risky behaviour online, suggests a survey. Many are sharing personal information and playing games rated for much older children, found the survey drawn up by the ISC2 IT security education group. In addition, 18% of the 1,162 children queried said they had arranged offline meetings with friends made via the web.

“Meanwhile, a second survey suggests 55% of young people in England accept cyberbullying as part of everyday life. Security experts have urged parents to help their offspring stay safe by being more involved with what they do online.” [2]

With schools giving cyber-space enabled devices to their children, parents lose the ability to control their child’s exposure to the dangers of the World Wide Web. Children become more sedentary and device addiction is a real threat. Giving every student these devices is probably not pedagogically helpful, fails any reasonable cost-benefit analysis, and is not ethical.

1) Bilton, Nick, “Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent”, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/fashion/steve-jobs-apple-was-a-low-tech-parent.html?_r=0

2) BBC, Technology News, http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-24580139

Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School

27 Mar

In February, while attending a science teacher’s professional development at Mar Vista High School, I first heard the rumor that Mar Vista Middle School (MVM) was going to be closed, all of its staff dismissed and the school reopened as a charter school. Since 1961, this venerable institution has been a treasure in the poverty stricken neighborhood situated one mile north of the world’s busiest border crossing (San Diego-Tijuana). At the March 11, 2013 board meeting (Sweetwater Union High School District) the rumor was confirmed, a restructuring plan for MVM was approved. Or as one person observed, “they legally stole an asset belonging to a poor community for their own purposes.”

This is modern American school reform and truthfully speaking, no one knows what is really motivating the Sweetwater School Board. Oddly, Thomas J. Winters, the current principal of MVM, a man with only one year of experience as a principle was tasked with making the decision about which restructuring plan to select. He chose from available alternatives specified in education law “close the school and reopen it as a focus or theme schools [sic] with new staff or staff skilled in the focus area.” (1) So, a high quality staff, which in most cases had spent more than a decade providing heroic service to one of San Diego counties poorest neighborhoods, was to be relieved of their positions. They were guilty of working in a poor neighborhood! The enormity of cynical school reform for profit and self-promotion is beyond injustice.

The Elementary and Secondary Education ACT of 1965 as amended in 2002, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) specifies that schools which fail to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for five years shall be punished and mandates a menu of remedies. MVM had failed to reach AYP from the very inception of this law bringing it the dubious record of being labeled a failure by the federal government for ten straight years. Many local residents, especially those with no direct involvement with the school, believed what they were repeatedly hearing about this “failing school” – “the problem is bad teachers unwilling to change.” Even teachers from across town who do not work with students of poverty or significant numbers of language learners suspected there must be something wrong with the MVM staff.

I worked at MVM in school year 2004-2005. It was clear to me that as motivated and competent as the staff was they were going fail unless this obviously flawed law (NCLB) was modified. Schools in communities with high poverty rates were set up for failure by this ill-conceived federal takeover of education. How is it possible to convince people that MVM is a wonderful highly effective educational institution, when a federal law is written that makes even significant growth in performance look like failure? Was disaggregation an evil plot or just bad law with unintended consequences? I don’t know, but I do know that MVM is actually a very successful school and is a significant community asset. In a just world the staff and school would have been lauded for both their efforts and achievements. These valiant educators should have been lionized as an example of what can be accomplished when selfless teachers work to fructify the weal. Instead they have been vitiated!

My personal reasoned conclusion solidified by practical experience is that standardized testing is odious. It clearly narrows curriculum and promotes soporific lessons that develop mimesis not creativity or the ability to think. That said: these same horrible tests show that the staff at MVM got the message. The teachers saw that the school’s survival depended on effectively teaching to the tests. The baseline year for NCLB testing was 2002 in which math and English are the only two categories that matter. The arbitrary level for passing was set at 16% of math students scoring proficient or better and 13.6% of English students scoring proficient or better. In 2012, AYP pass rates entered the hockey stick portion of the law (the period when pass rates go up precipitously to reach a whimsical 100% proficient or advanced by 2014). The 2012 AYP pass rates were set at 79% proficient or better for math and 78.4% proficient or better for English. The 2012 targets are so unrealistic that even Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was predicting an 82% failure rate. (2) Nevertheless, they are still being effectively utilized by questionable actors to declare schools like MVM failures and take control of them away from the local community.

From 2002 thru 2011, the overall school scores at MVM always exceeded the AYP targets. In 2011, 51% of the eight graders at MVM took Algebra with 40% scoring proficient and 44% scoring advanced on the California Star Tests (CST). The 44% advanced was the highest percentage of advanced algebra scores in the district. That year the algebra students at MVM outscored even the schools whose students were from the wealthiest families in the district. The MVM scores were amongst the top Algebra scores posted in California that year (2011). Plus, almost 50% of English language students scored advanced or proficient. This great achievement was not acknowledged! Two sub-groups did not meet AYP so MVM continued being labeled a failing school. The scores of English language learners and students with disabilities, kept MVM from achieving AYP success. Amongst English language learners only 31.8% achieved scores of proficient or advanced in English and amongst disabled students only 31.6% scored proficient or advanced in math. Both failing categories showed a huge improvement from the 2002 levels of 0% proficient or advanced in either category, but that was not good enough.

In an open letter from “Concerned and Offended Staff” to Principal Winters it stated, “Please remember that it was not the teachers at this school who have dismantled the great programs that our parents are missing. It was not the teachers who have dismantled the award winning ASAP program and raided its grant money for general use, this was done by school and district administrators.  It was not the teachers who dismantled the NOVA team of which parents spoke so highly, this was done by school site administrators. It was not teachers who ended the award winning music program that Fred Lee built and is remembered so fondly by parents and students.”(3) The music program was truly magnificent. The jazz band was consistently judged as best middle school jazz band in California. The ASAP program was a daily 3:30 PM until 6:30 PM after school program that provided tutoring and club activities. Maria Catalina, who is a NASA affiliated science teacher, had an astronomy club. Guadalupe Trejo a motivated and talented bilingual science teacher had a robotics club and Justin Ezell sponsored the Huck Fin club. The highly talented Gugenia Gurrola was working with language learners on mathematics and of course Cathy Stutzman had the most amazing tutoring sessions I have ever seen going on in her math classroom. The NOVA team was an honors program that offered enrichment for higher performing students. Unfortunately, the economic downturn of 2008 and administrative decisions led to defunding these popular and successful MVM initiatives. When the state loosened restrictions on where money could be spent, the district defunded these programs and shifted the funds to other schools to help them achieve AYP success.

Today, music teacher Fred Lee, who was pressured into leaving MVM if he wanted to continue teaching music, still works for the district in an upper-class neighborhood weaving his magic at Rancho Del Rey Middle School. In 2006-2007, MVM received a Golden Bell for its outstanding reading program which promoted recreational reading at home by providing reading strategies to both students and their parents. (4) The San Diego Union reports, “The Golden Bell Awards, now in their 33rd year, promote excellence in education in 18 categories. The awards single out programs — developed by California teachers and administrators — for innovation, sustainability, making a difference for all students, and a commitment to meeting the needs of all students.” (5) At one time, programs like this along with Mr. Lee’s music program and the NOVA team enticed many parents to send their students to MVM even though the school was labeled a failure by first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration.

In general, schools in poor neighborhoods are set up for failure under NCLB. Schools in poor neighborhoods with large percentages of language learners and disabled students have no chance to succeed. MVM was facing a demographic impossibility.

Year      Percent Disabled       Percent ELL (a)   Percent SE (b)    Percent Hispanic

2002-2003          11%                        28%                    64%                       62%

2006-2007          12%                        30%                    64%                       69%

2011-2012            13%                        44%                    76%                       75%

a-English language learners     b- Social and economically deprived (6)

It is important to note that about two-thirds of the disabled student and language learners are also socio-economically deprived. AYP accountability rules mandate that a student is not just in one category but their scores normally count in multiple categories. A failure in any one category means failing AYP. At MVM, Socio-economically deprived students are about three-fourths of both the disabled and language learners’ categories. In all, MVM had to pass 25 AYP specified categories but just two categories were the root of the failing scores for 10 years. The NCLB rules of disaggregation were originally written to protect minority students from being hidden within the statistics, but ironically those rules became a major vehicle by which poor communities have their schools closed or appropriated by private entities.

The category of language learners is particularly insidious for MVM. In neighboring Tijuana, it is common for students who have been kicked out of school to move in with a relative in San Diego to attend school. Often, these are particularly difficult children who do not perform well. Schools are also punished for doing their job too well. If a student develops strong language skills, they are reclassified and no longer counted amongst the language learners’ category. It is a genuine “Catch-22.” MVM was facing a triple whammy, high poverty rates, a high percentage of disabled students and almost half of the students were language learners. Still this school was producing high levels of achievement. Three students from MVM’s era of “failure” have won Gates Millennium scholarships; several have gone on to The US Naval Academy and many others are attending top ranked schools throughout the US including the Ivy League. Only hubris and pecuniary desire explains not protecting and cultivating this venerable institution.

In the year I was at MVM, I got to know Cathy Stutzman among others. I remember being stunned when I walked into her classroom and saw two overhead projectors going and Cathy moving between them continuing to push the tempo and teach Algebra. Moreover, every student in the room was totally engaged trying to keep up with this high energy educator. I asked Cathy, how MVM was able to achieve such amazing test results in the 2011 Algebra CST testing. Two years prior to that, I had asked another math teacher at MVM, Randolph Arciniega, who I admired and looked to as a teacher mentor, “what is new at MVM?” He briefly described how they were following Cathy’s lead because she was showing some amazing results. Cathy said she perceived that students at MVM were behind when they came to the school and also needed more introductions with Algebra concepts in seventh grade to succeed in Algebra testing the following year. She felt the lessons needed some spiraling. Cathy convinced the administration to let her loop classes and teach all seventh grade classes one year and then move with them to eighth grade in the subsequent year. She also persuaded the principal to let her add several algebra concepts to the seventh grade curriculum. By 2009, all of the math teachers at MVM were looping and teaching Cathy’s modified curriculum in seventh grade.

The amazing 2011 results occurred in the last year that MVM looped math classes. The new principal, Thomas J. Winters, who was a brand new principal as were his predecessors at MVM, stopped the looping curriculum. That decision led to a significant drop in test scores. Maybe this is some of what the “Concerned and Offended Staff” were alluding to when they wrote, “You have stated in the past that there is “no bad data” but you have proved yourself wrong by providing the DSLT [District Site Leadership Team] with only partial and biased data regarding the efforts and accomplishments of the staff of Mar Vista Middle School. We have heard from teachers who were part of the DSLT who have stated that you purposely guided the DSLT to the conclusion that it is the teachers that are keeping Mar Vista Middle School from succeeding while ignoring other important factors.” (7)

Bush’s NCLB and Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) both stress test based accountability which has lead to jejune pedagogy. The best charter schools practice problem and project based education principles which were widely spread in public schools before these two pernicious laws were enacted. The federal government has taken more and more control of schools away from local communities and instituted rules that undermine public education. In our discussion, Cathy told me, “I felt we were fighting for survival and that testing was all that mattered. I could no longer employ project based methods. I had to focus on scoring well on tests.” Near the turn of the millennium, Cathy was able through a grant to purchase a class set of graphing calculators which besides the typical uses she also employed in a mathematics art project. The students had to create a piece of art by transferring graphs of ten different functions onto paper. When the art pieces were completed they were mounted and displayed in the school’s cafeteria. She relates the story of how one of her poorer students – almost all D’s and F’s – made a really colorful and beautiful graphing creation. When Cathy looked at it she praised the student but told her that “unfortunately it is not complete because you did not list the functions on the back.” The girl said, “That’s alright – I remember them.” The girl immediately sat down and listed all ten functions perfectly from memory. Federal accountability rules now effectively ban public schools from offering this kind of engaging pedagogy.

I believe Principal Winters came to MVM intending to succeed at his first assignment as a principal. Still, it does seem eerie how perfectly the demise of MVM fits the profile of schools being closed or taken over across the nation. It is in a poor community with a large minority population and the level of professionalism amongst the teaching staff is high. In fact, under the reporting mandates of NCLB, Principal Winters reported that 100% of the teaching staff at MVM is rated as highly qualified – meaning they all have a college degree in the field that they teach, plus they each have more than a year of teacher education training. As recently as January 24, 2013 Principal Winters officially reported, “Students at Mar Vista Middle School and in the Sweetwater Union High School District are expected to master state and district standards which will prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Mar Vista Middle School provides a safe and secure learning environment that contributes to students’ academic success.” (8) Either the latest school accountability report card is misleading or the reasons for closing MVM are fabrications. MVM is a great school with a great staff, but like schools in poor and minority neighborhoods across the country the parents have modest political capital. Schools like MVM are vulnerable to modern “Carpetbaggers.” I believe that is the true reason underlying the unwarranted demise of MVM and hundreds or possibly thousands of MVM’s across this country.

(1) http://boarddocs.suhsd.k12.ca.us/Board.nsf/Public – 3/11/2012 – Superintendents Agenda Item 6.

(2) http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2011-12-15/schools-federal-standards/51949126/1

(3) Unpublished letter to Principal Winters, February 2013

(4) MVM School Accountability Report Card 2009 http://research-evaluation.sweetwaterschools.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/84/files/2012/10/SARC2009_MVM_Short.pdf

(5) http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/dec/03/seven-local-districts-among-golden-bell-award/

(6) MVM School Accountability Report Card 2009 http://research-evaluation.sweetwaterschools.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/84/files/2012/10/SARC2009_MVM_Short.pdf

(7) Unpublished letter to Principal Winters, February 2013

(8) http://research-evaluation.sweetwaterschools.org/sarcs/ – 2012-2013 SARC Mar Vista Middle School.