This is the 151st and last post of 2013 for this blog. Here are some of my favorite quotes from it’s pages during the past year. The quotes are my words, unless otherwise (and often) noted. Go to the links provided for the original context of the quotes.
“I’ll say it until the day I die: I am proud to be an American public school teacher. I am proud of the great kids of this country. I am proud to be a part of a system that produces such fine young men and women.” — Jersey Jazzman
If we privatize public schools now, then the public oversight will be lost and our descendents will have a hard time recovering it. Public schools don’t belong to the parents of children attending them today. They belong to us all…everyone who has ever attended…everyone who has ever paid taxes…everyone who has ever been a part of the community.
“The American teacher stands on the front lines of poverty and inequity that our fellow Americans refuse to acknowledge, on the front lines of the real social condition of our nation–not the advertised one–and we stand together. When we look over our shoulders, there’s no one there backing us up. The rest of the army is off pretending there is no fight to be had here, no excuses to be made, no hardships to decry, no supply lines to worry about, that things in American society are just hunky-dory outside of the fact that the teachers just don’t care enough…” — John Kuhn, Superintendent of superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, Perrin, Texas
“…History will recognize that the epithets they applied to your schools said more about leaders who refused to confront child poverty than the teachers who tried valiantly to overcome it. History will recognize that teachers in these bleak years stood in desperate need of public policy help that never came. Advocacy for hurting children was ripped from our lips with a shush of “no excuses.” These hateful labels should be hung around the necks of those who have allowed inequitable school funding to persist for decades, those who refuse to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they may come to school ready to learn.” — John Kuhn
“People agree with everything I say,” Kozol continued. “They say, ‘Yes, it is unfair they don’t get as much per pupil as our children.’ Then they say, ‘Tell me one thing. Can you really solve this kind of problem by throwing money at it?’ And I say, ‘You mean, can you really buy your way to a better education? It seems to work for your children.'” — Jonathan Kozol
When something is repeated often enough it becomes “common knowledge” even if it’s not completely true. “Reformers” and others who have the destruction of America’s public education system as part of their agenda, repeat the myth that “American schools are failing” over and over again. They have done that so often that it’s accepted as truth. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
“Bail out the bankers and bankrupt the school teachers — we will still teach…I will never follow the lead of those who exclude the kids who need education the most so that my precious scores will rise. I will never line up with those whose idea of reform is the subtle segregation of the poor and desperate. I want no part of the American caste system.” — John Kuhn
“When people have said ‘poverty is no excuse,’ my response has been, ‘Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.'” — Gerald Bracey
…even though you, Mr. President, have said that we have too much testing, your Race to the Top program requires teachers to be evaluated using student test scores. Standardized tests used to evaluate student achievement were not made to evaluated teaching and learning. I don’t know if you learned anything about tests and measurements when you were in law school, but if you did you would know that tests should only be used for that for which they were developed. If you develop a test for use as a measure of student achievement, then that’s what it should be used for…and only that.
“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children…It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” — from Becoming a Nation of Readers, quoted in The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease
Money doesn’t solve all the problems by itself. It must be spent wisely. One of the things about the “increase” in school funding in a lot of places, or the “huge amount of the state budget directed at public education” in some states is that the money is being spent on testing and test prep materials. The students don’t get the full benefits of increased revenues…but the testing industry does.
Our teachers are drowning in a sea of standards and testing, scripted curricula and increasing class sizes, accusations and blame. Is it any wonder that many of them have neither the time nor the energy to fight back against the billions of dollars worth of insults and abuse hurled against them as a profession?
Teachers touch the future by relating to their students. Our students will learn from us and remember us for the kind of people we are, not for the homework we assign, the lectures we give, or the standardized tests we administer. Content knowledge, pedagogy and assessment are important, of course, but in order to make a positive impact on students’ lives, which is after all the main reason we are in this profession, teachers must build positive relationships with them.
Myth #4) Poverty is just an excuse.
False: Poverty matters.
“Thousands of studies have linked poverty to academic achievement. The relationship is every bit as strong as the connection between cigarettes and cancer.” —- David Berliner, Our Impoverished View of Ed. Reform, Aug. 2005
The myth of the bad teacher resonates with the general public in part because nearly everyone has been to school and has seen teachers teach. Everyone remembers a “bad” teacher — often defined as “a teacher my parents or I didn’t like” (This is not to deny that “bad” teachers exist, but many, if not most, are weeded out in the first 5 years of their career where nearly 50% quit or are “counseled” out). The memories of their childhood and/or young adulthood in school leads people to believe that teaching is simply providing information and being nice to children. The problem with this is that the memories are distorted by the fact that they are childhood memories complete with the lack of judgment and experience that comes with childhood.
You can’t make children learn just by raising or changing “standards,” increasing test cut scores, belittling and de-professionalizing teachers, while at the same time ignoring out-of-school factors. Spending millions on test-prep, test administration, and test result analysis is not investing in education. No amount of testing, and union bashing is going to help students who come to school hungry, sick, cold, terrified, and/or homeless.
The fact is that as a nation, we don’t really care about student achievement. We care about test scores. If we really cared about student achievement we wouldn’t be closing schools whose students are struggling. We wouldn’t be evaluating teachers using test scores and punishing those teachers who work with the most difficult to educate students. We wouldn’t be rewarding “successful” schools with more funding, and we wouldn’t be replacing experienced educators with trainees.
Arne Duncan, remember, has no experience in educating children. His stint as CEO of Chicago Public Schools was focused on closing public schools and opening privately operated charters. Duncan’s college degree is in Sociology, the study of human social behavior, not education. His college and previous professional experience is in basketball. His closest brush with actual teaching was watching his mother tutor students. He never taught in a public school. He never even attended a public school.
It’s therefore understandable that he knows nothing — absolutely nothing — about the process of teaching and about what goes on in the classrooms of America’s public schools. He apparently doesn’t know that teachers are constantly evaluating their students. Standardized tests are, of course, not the only way that student evaluation occurs (and by this statement I am making an unfounded assumption that standardized tests do, indeed, evaluate student learning). Teachers give tests, quizzes and homework, lead discussions and observe student behavior and work…and in doing so, gain an understanding of a student’s progress.
“Every dollar that fattens the educational industrial complex–not only the testing industry and the inexperienced, ill-trained Teach for America but the corporations now collecting hundreds of millions of dollars to tell schools what to do–is a dollar diverted from what should be done now to address directly the pressing needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children, whose numbers continue to escalate, demonstrating the utter futility and self-serving nature of what is currently and deceptively called ‘reform.’” — Diane Ravitch
“The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.” — Eduardo Porter, New York Times
“Education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools. And the people who do it are the teachers and the students and if you remove their discretion it stops working…” — Sir Ken Robinson
“I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet? Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read ‘exemplary’ in the suburbs and ‘unacceptable’ in the slums?” — John Kuhn
Politicians, policy makers and pundits claim that it’s the schools and teachers who are to blame for low achievement. They do this in order to redirect the blame away from themselves and the inadequate safety nets provided for people living in poverty, the loss of jobs, and the inability of our leaders to deal with the effects of poverty.
The facts that nearly 25% of the nation’s children live in poverty and that approximately 50% of all school children are poor, are ignored when talking about academic achievement even though the correlation is clear.
President Bush II referred to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” when he was pushing for passage of No Child Left Behind. What we have now is the “hard bigotry of neglect and denial” towards our children who live in poverty.
The failure of policy makers to deal with the side-effects of poverty (low birthweight of infants, drug and alcohol abuse, toxicity in cities, lack of health care, food insecurity, violence, lack of mental health services, mobility and absenteeism of children in school, lack of high quality preschools, lack of summer programs for children) is the number one problem affecting education in America.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.