Tag Archives: Teachers

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.

Common Corporate State Standards and Other Obscenities

19 Feb

The largest change in the history of American education is rolling out across America in a most unusual and imprudent way. The Common Corporate State Standards (CCSS) written by corporations to facilitate profits are a colossal copyrighted Trojan horse. The official CCSS web site says, “The NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hereby grant a limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to copy, publish, distribute, and display the Common Core State Standards for purposes that support the Common Core State Standards Initiative. These uses may involve the Common Core State Standards as a whole or selected excerpts or portions.”(1). It sounds very much like some ‘alphabet soup’ government agency has copyrighted the standards but that is not the case – it would be illegal for a government agency to copyright the standards! No, the corporate sponsors and foundations who finance the private non-profits NGA and CCSSO, who wrote the standards, own the copyright. Bill Gates has more sway over these rights than anyone because he put in the most money. No elected or school official has the legal right to alter any of the standards. They must be used as written. Support for the CCSS has been developed by giving money to generate good media and positive scholarly responses. The standards have not been thoroughly piloted. Curriculum supporting the standards has not been written and educators certainly have not been trained in how best to institute this new approach. In fact, most educators do not know much about the CCSS other than it is supposed to increase testing significantly and anyone who questions CCSS or the rush to implement them is for the status quo and for giving incompetent teachers the right to continue harming children with the aid of their evil teachers union.
It seems there are three groups promoting CCSS. Group 1 is made up of very sincere motivated educators who see CCSS as a path of true reform in education that will promote understanding and reasoning. Group 2 is made up by people of extreme hubris who are using education reform as a way to establish their own legacy as founders of new charter schools or of increasing personal power. Many members of this group have no educational training or experience and have no respect for those with experience teaching or administering schools. Group 3 is a large powerful group that sees CCSS as a key to unlocking a fabulous money making opportunity and only care that people believe what they are selling. From them we get such terrible ideas as giving every 7th grader an I-pad and testing regimes that turns learning into a behaviorist nightmare. If reasonable people do not start listening to professional educators these CCSS are guaranteed to be an even bigger failure and significantly more damaging than No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its evil cousin Race to the Top (RttT).
In a way, group 1 is the most troublesome. Many of its people have doctorates in education, they are young and they want to make their mark in the world. Most of them believe in some form of the constructivist pedagogy advocated by Piaget and Dewey. They are delighted to see a focus on less standards and activities designed for students to create understanding. Many of them believe that the opportunity for true education reform which was thwarted by NCLB has finally arrived. Recently, I encountered a long time acquaintance of mine who fits this description. When I mentioned that the once pro-standards advocate, Diane Ravitch, has pointed out that these standards have not been tested. I was told the Diane Ravitch and I should both shut up and stop obstructing real progress. Because they believe in the educational theories that the standards are purported to facilitate, these people, who should see the perversity of this national standards movement, are blinded to the lurking evils. The big questions that none of these advocates want to face include: How are the standards going to be tested? How will the testing data be used? Isn’t it likely that the school year’s final summative exam will become the accountability tool used by the national leaders of education, public and private, who have arrogated local control over education to themselves? Won’t that turn these standards into just another behaviorist means that undermines good pedagogy?
Bill Gates has done more to advance the cause of CCSS than any other person. The New York Times reported that his foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009 of which $78 million was devoted to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy. “The Alliance for Excellent Education, another nonprofit organization, was paid $551,000 in 2009 “to grow support for the common core standards initiative. The Fordham Institute got $959,000 to “review common core materials and develop supportive materials.” Fordham’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., was widely quoted praising the standards after their March 2010 release (2). In 2008, Gates teamed with Eli Broad and the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) to make presidential candidates focus on issues like standards, teacher quality and accountability. Linda Darling-Hammond was Barack Obama’s spokesperson on education, but during the Democratic Party’s national convention while teachers were in the crowd “fired up and ready to go” Gates, Broad and the DFER were busy hijacking education policy. They were able to push out professional educators like Darling-Hammond who were seen as too friendly to unions and replace them with people like the failed Chicago school CEO, Arne Duncan. He has no education experience or training, yet he became secretary of education. He would not qualify to be a substitute teacher in many school districts. His qualifications were that he supported testing accountability, charter schools and disliked unions. Even educators at places like University of California Berkeley have received large grants to help promote the CCSS. CCSS advocates have successfully used their incredible financial resources to make these standards seem like an idea developed by and supported by enlightened educators from across the nation. Independent voices have been muffled but not quite silenced.
Group 2 the people of extreme hubris and power lust are convinced that public education in America needs them to start a new school system or develop a new education management paradigm. Eli Broad does not appear to be financially benefiting from his philanthropy or his academy for school administrators. This arrogant man strongly believes that trained educators are incompetent fools when it comes to management and that only people from outside of the education community can save America’s schools by employing the wise management practices of the business community. Broad has taken the absurd position that experience in education – unlike experience in all other human endeavors – is a liability so education leadership should be given to people with no experience. It never occurs to him that the biggest problem with American schools is the lack of respect powerful men like him have for professional educators. In my own school district, our superintendent wants to develop a K-16 school system. Under his leadership, our district has started a charter school that is now competing with the local elementary schools which send us their students. The elementary system is well staffed with professional educators and is competently led. The community is served well by these schools. Yet, this lifelong educator that leads my district justifies undermining the difficult work of these fine institutions with his vision for a K-16 institution. Charter schools are appearing in many places that have good public schools – not responding to a need only to the ego of their founders.
Group 3 is a cancer on our society. For the most part they are not concerned with how students fare. They only lust for the profit center that education spending in the United States represents. In addition to the private management groups that are starting charter schools nationwide, Jed Bush is leading a nationwide digital education campaign. Lee Fang reported, “The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of ‘facilitating growth’ of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.” In another section of the same article Fang tells us about the strategies being put forward by lobbyists like Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush. Fang writes, “According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists (3).” Levesque’s remark that Fang referenced was about how much better it would have been if Mark Zuckerberg had given his $100 million to support the right candidates instead of giving it to the Newark public schools.
The motivation for the CCSS was certainly at least in part a view that education in America was poor and needed to be reformed. However, a good case can be made that a sustained attacks on public education which was kicked off by the Reagan administration in 1983 with its “Nation at Risk” report is more responsible for this view than reality. “Nation at Risk” which was produced by mainly corporate actors and with little input from professional educators drew conclusions that were not sustained by the facts. Nevertheless, the meme that public education in America was failing took root and is a justification for the modern corporate driven education reform movement. I called these CCSS the Common Corporate State Standards, because in my view the standards were written by corporations for corporations and have little to do with a sincere effort to improve education. It is much more reasonable to believe that people like Rupert Murdock expect significant return for their investment in these standards than to believe these corporate sponsors are putting up share holder dollars out of their altruistic impulse to support public education. The list of corporate sponsors for the non-profit Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) that owns the copyright on the CCSS is long and, not surprisingly, dominated by testing, and on-line education companies.

Corporate Partners: AdvancED, American Institutes for Research (AIR), Data Recognition Corporation, ETS, Global Scholar, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IQity, McGraw-Hill Education, Microsoft, Pearson Education, Evaluation Systems Group of Pearson, Promethean, ACT, Apple, Corwin Press, Evans Newton Incorporated-Partnering with Schools for Student Success, Intel Corporation, K12 Inc., Measured Progress, Measurement Incorporated, MetaMetrics, The Menta Group, Northwest Evaluation Association, School Improvement Network, TaskStream, Wilson Language Training, Cisco, The College Board, Discovery Education, International Business Machines Corporation, Pearson’s School Achievement Services, Questar Assessment, Inc., Renaissance Learning, Inc., SAS, Scholastic, Texas Instruments, Truenorthlogic, Wireless Generation (4)

This corporate intrusion into education literally removes assets from the classroom and puts it into the pockets of testing companies, consultants, publishers, and others. Politicians and scholars have been corrupted by the corrosive influence of corporate money and children have been harmed. How can Chicago’s incredible teen murder rate be seen as anything but dramatic proof of the dangers inherent in turning our schools over to non-professionals? It is beyond irony that the leader of the education reform movement in Chicago, which is a spectacular failure, is now the secretary of education. Politicians like Barack Obama, Antonio Villaraigosa and Rahm Emanuel turn their backs on professional educators and embrace extreme testing, value added measures (VAM) and the end of seniority rights for teachers. There is no validation for VAM or CCSS but these unproven theories are being implemented with great haste. Can anyone call that reasonable or prudent? Yet, Obama uses RttT to bribe states into adopting CCSS, VAM and charter schools immediately. What is the rush? Unfortunately, the politicians listed above look good when compared with their political opposition – people like Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal.
The abominations keep multiplying. In many poor communities the only functional institution is the public school and it is well known that children in stable environments do better. Why then do education czar-mayors like Bloomberg and Emanuel choose to close neighborhood schools where students are not good at multiple choice tests? Did they notice that these schools all happen to be in poor neighborhoods? Many of those closed schools were great, but standardized testing does not test for quality of teaching so excellent institutions were sacrificed at the altar of testing accountability. Children living in difficult circumstances have their life further disturbed by the people who should protect them. Suffering neighborhoods are made to suffer more. Some of the students leave the neighborhood to attend new charter schools. Some don’t! In either case the function of community schools to build neighborhoods and develop culture is ended and the propensity for violence is increased.
I recently read “The Inner Philosopher” which is a dialogue between Lou Marinoff, Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at The City College of New York, and Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools and President of the Buddhist lay organization, SGI. I conclude with a few quotes from their conversation:

“From a society without philosophy emerges education without philosophy, which in turn gives rise to human beings with no philosophy, a dark portent of the future of humanity.” (Ikeda, Page 2)

“The current Western epidemics – observable from Europe to North America – of obesity, bullying, hedonism and consumerism, along with the decay of social fabric, the deconstruction of education, the collapse of community, and the decline in birth rate appear to be symptoms of a grievous and possibly terminal illness of Western civilization itself.” (Marinoff, Page 74)

(In the US) “The education system has been purged of content, while the media pander incessantly to the demand for celebrity scandal and callow sensationalism. Overexposure to visual media coupled with inattention to written tradition have produced a generation of cognitively impaired children, millions of whom are daily drugged with stimulants.” (Marinoff, Page 75)

“Sadly, contemporary American culture is rooted in vice. Indeed vice is glorified, sensationalized, celebrated, and rewarded. The economic collapse of 2008, which plunged the United States into recession and destabilized the global economy, was caused primarily by unrestrained avarice – systemic vice on a colossal scale.

“Even the legendary homespun virtues of the American grass roots, whose praises were so eloquently sung by the likes of Tocqueville, Emerson, and Whitman, are being undermined and overwhelmed by rampant corruption in public and private sectors alike. The inevitable result is moral degeneracy and societal collapse.

“As Toynbee writes, the ‘breakdowns of civilizations are not brought about by the operation of cosmic forces outside human control’ but by ‘loss of mental and moral balance’ in the values and conduct of their leaders and constituents.” (Marinoff, Page 139)

“I aspire not merely to impart knowledge but also to awaken the powers of my students’ minds. This can only be accomplished via person-to-person interaction, personal example and dialogue. Even the greatest libraries of the world, or the vast storehouses of data on the World-Wide-Web, cannot rival the teacher-student relationship.” (Marinoff, Page 157)

“Many leaders, who ought to be working for the good of society and the people, are blighted by an arrogant elitism and motivated by a corrosive drive for personal gain and lust for power. Nichiren decries such people as ‘talented animals.’” (Ikeda, Page 160)

1. http://www.corestandards.org/public-license
2. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/education/22gates.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2
3. http://www.thenation.com/article/164651/how-online-learning-companies-bought-americas-schools#
4. http://www.ccsso.org/Who_We_Are/Business_and_Industry_Partnerships/Corporate_Partners.html#level3
5. Ikeda, Daisaku, and Lou Marinoff. The Inner Philosopher: Conversations on Philosophy’s Transformative Power. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dialogue Path Press. 2012.