Posted in Charters, Due Process, Public Ed, Quotes, reading, Tenure, Testing

Random Quotes – August 2014

TESTING

The state of Vermont stood strong against the U.S. Department of Education and Arne Duncan. They lost their NCLB waiver, and were forced to send a message to all parents telling them that their schools were “failing.” Instead, they wrote a letter to parents letting them know how federal education policy is failing. It would be nice to see more states do this. Where are all of Indiana’s “local-control” Republicans? An important read…

An Important Message to Vermont Parents and Caregivers

The Vermont Agency of Education does not agree with this federal policy, nor do we agree that all of our schools are low performing.

…It is not realistic to expect every single tested child in every school to score as proficient. Some of our students are very capable, but may have unique learning needs that make it difficult for them to accurately demonstrate their strengths on a standardized test. Some of our children survived traumatic events that preclude good performance on the test when it is administered. Some of our students recently arrived from other countries, and have many valuable talents but may not yet have a good grasp of the academic English used on our assessments. And, some of our students are just kids who for whatever reason are not interested in demonstrating their best work on a standardized test on a given day.

NEA president-elect: Teachers are neither strangers to, nor enemies of, tests.

Too often and in too many places, we have turned the time-tested practice of teach, learn, and test into a system of test, blame, and punish. That’s not right, it’s not education, and it’s not good for our students.

TENURE BATTLES

The battle over tenure isn’t really about tenure…or “bad teachers”…or students rights. It’s about destroying the teachers unions.

Why that ruling against teacher tenure won’t help your schoolchildren

What’s curious about this is that they seem to have a unanimous view about the reason California schools are supposedly so bad: It’s the teachers unions.

Not the imbalance of financial resources between rich districts and poor. Not the social pathologies–poverty, joblessness, racial discrimination, violence–that affect educational attainment in disadvantaged communities.

Not California’s rank at the very bottom of all states in its per-pupil expenditures, at $8,342 (in 2011), according to the quality index published by EducationWeek. That’s 30% below the national average of $11,864, reflecting the consistent shortchanging of the K-12 system by the state.

…”Students Matter has done nothing that will put a needed book or computer in a school,” Cohen observes. “Not one wifi hotspot. Not one more librarian, nurse, or counselor. Not one more paintbrush or musical instrument. Not one hour of instructional aide support for students or professional development for teachers. They don’t have any apparent interest in the more glaring inadequacies that their considerable wealth and PR savvy could help.”

@Campbell_Brown Lawsuit Fails the Test of Common Sense

If teacher tenure and due process is a threat to school quality, why is it that the best public schools in New York State and in the nation, all have strong teacher unions, teacher tenure and due process, and brilliant, independent-minded teachers who stay in their profession over the course of long careers? Do we really want the schools in New York to be like schools in Mississippi or Louisiana, where teachers work in fear of offending legislators, abusive administrators, or self-interested parents, and can be easily removed from their posts for reasons having little to do with the quality of instruction in their classroom?

The Misleading Argument That Blames Teacher Tenure

In short, if you’re a tenured teacher, you are an impediment to Excellence. The only way you can help children is by getting rid of your tenure, standing up straight and walking to Arne Duncan in Washington DC and saying, “Please sir, I want to be fired for any reason. Or for no reason. I want to take personal responsibility for all the ills of society. Neither you, society, poverty, parents, nor children themselves are responsible. I’m ready to be dismissed at the whim of Bill Gates or the Walmart family and I agree with you that Katrina was the bestest thing to happen to the New Orleans education system.” 

CHARTERS

Charter schools are not public schools. They are private schools running with public money. They are for the most part unaccountable to the public.

Tax money should be for public schools, run by elected public officials. As poor a system as that is, at least it’s accountable to the people.

How will charter schools deal with their corruption scandals?

Management companies insist — without much challenge from the state — that taxpayer money they receive to run a school, hire staff and pay suppliers is private, not subject to public disclosure.

Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan charter schools association, said school expenditures are “appropriately public” while “things that would be related to the company itself and its internal operations are appropriately private.”

Greg Lambert, an NHA representative, spelled out the company’s position to the board of the Detroit Enterprise Academy in 2010 when several members were demanding more transparency.

“Mr. Lambert stated that the public dollars became private when they were received by NHA. He further indicated that because NHA is a private company, the information need not be disclosed.”

THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION – CURMUDGUCATION

During my career there were always education fads which came and went. The “next big thing” was always going to make teaching easier, learning better, and everyone happy. Of course that didn’t happen and we were able to take the good things from each fad and toss the hype. Most of those things were, in the long run, worthwhile because they either 1) added something good to the curriculum or pedagogy or 2) gave us an idea of what not to do.

Peter Greene (Curmudgucation) sees a change in that. Now, the “fad” — No Child Left Behind, Common Core — has become the law.

The Permanent Politicizing of Education

The traditional approach is that somebody sells it to the state department of education, and soon, college professors and state ed department employees fan out to do professional development across the state. Teachers listen critically and take back what, in their professional opinion, belongs in their classroom. Rinse and repeat every three to five years.

But CCSS and NCLB dispersed consultants from new educational corporate start-ups, whose argument was not “We’ve brought some ideas that we think will help you.” It was “Politicians have passed some laws that mean you must pay attention to us.” How many PD arguments about effectiveness or validity or educational soundness have been cut short by a presenter who shrugs and says, “You know, we could argue about this all day, but the bottom line is that here’s what the law says.”

NCLB and RttR determined that politics would be the delivery system for delivering educational programs, meaning that folks who want to sell a bridge to Educationville must sell it to politicians, not educators. NCLB was not about winning the hearts and minds of teachers; it was about compelling them to get in line with the force of law. CCSS promoters did not set out to convince educators across the US that CCSS would make schools better; they sold it to federal politicians and high-level bureaucrats.

Greene continues…despairing over the destruction of the teaching profession.

The 21st Century Teacher

She will be a low-skill, low-cost, highly replaceable cog in a big machine. She will not be a bad person, but she will be adrift in an institution that offers her little real help to do a job for which she has little real training, and she will have a damned hard time doing the job well, as much as she may want to. Her one consolation will be that the job won’t be hers for long.

READING WARS

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Diane Ravitch blasted the “Balanced Literacy” program in NYC and San Diego.

She didn’t critique the program or it’s value so much as its implementation. It was implemented top-down without necessary teacher buy-in. She was correct, of course, though, in my opinion — as a former Reading Recovery (an important facet of Balanced Literacy) teacher — it was not the Balanced Literacy program that was at fault. It was, like so many other things, forced upon the teachers without adequate professional development. The announcement that “we are now doing Balanced Literacy” came from on-high and anyone who disagreed be damned.

Token professional development was provided and some folks found it worked, but others weren’t convinced and not enough time was spent in actual learning about what Balanced Literacy actually is.

Whether she liked the program — in its true form — or not doesn’t matter. Last week she came out in favor of a “balanced literacy” approach (note the non-caps). In her comments below she states that “Reading teachers understand that students need both phonics and meaning.” In its simplest terms, that is balanced literacy.

A big problem in the U.S. is the lack of time for professional development and the fact that American teachers spend such huge amounts of time — compared with other nations — in direct contact with students. One of the most important facets of the Finnish educational “revolution” is that children are in school for about a half day, teachers spend the rest of the day in collaboration with their peers, study, lesson planning or professional development. When you train your teachers well, the Finns have found, your children don’t need to spend as much time in school.

Why I Don’t Care About the “Reading Wars” Anymore

As for me, I no longer think this “war” is a worthy cause. Reading teachers understand that students need both phonics and meaning. They know that children need to be able to sound out words but that it is boring to do that for weeks on end. Children need meaning. They get it when their teachers read to them, and they get it when they learn to read by themselves.

I am no reading expert, but I can see good sense in both approaches. I have seen balanced literacy classes where children were enjoying reading. I understand the importance of phonics as a tool to help children get off to a strong start. Wise teachers know when and how to use the literacy approach they need. Children’s needs are different. Good teachers know that and don’t need to be told by legislators how to teach. (And for older children, I love grammar, spelling, and diagramming sentences).

I read recently that NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina was reviving balanced literacy in the New York City schools, and some of my old allies wrote to ask if I was outraged. No, I was not. Balanced literacy can co-exist with phonics. Children need both decoding and meaning. Most important, they need to learn the joy of reading. It unlocks the door to the storehouse of knowledge.

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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.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.