November 2012 Archives

Today I am taking time to review an insightful new book, authored by Lois Weiner: The Future of Our Schools; Teachers Unions and Social Justice (2012, Haymarket Books.) This work presents a useful guide to teachers who wish to make the most out of one the most powerful tools we have - our unions. In our discussion of how to improve schools, teacher unions are a frequent focus of discussion. The education "reformers" portray unions as defenders of the status quo and protectors of bad teachers. On the opposite side, we also hear those who are frustrated when teacher unions ...


Guest post by John Thompson. Perhaps because they demonstrably lost the 2012 election, conservative school "reformers" are being much more candid about why bubble-in accountability has failed. A month ago, conservatives were united in their support of Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, Idaho's "Luna Laws," and other efforts to dramatically expand high-stakes testing. Now, conservative Mike Petrilli is not alone in admitting that, "Top-down, one-size-fits-all efforts such as formulaic teacher evaluations tend to overemphasize the high-stakes testing that can take the joy out of learning. Parents and teachers in richer areas typically hate this pressure." Similarly, conservative Andy Smarick can now ...


Guest post by John Chase. Teachers who may be looking for a complex informational text for their students to practice with in preparation for the new assessments might consider using the following excerpts from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was amended 12/2/11. (selected passages and bold font added for clarity and emphasis) ...These amendments are needed to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education (Department or we) continues to implement FERPA in a way that protects the privacy of education records while allowing for the effective use of data ...All education data holders ...


Wherever the "reformers" are working to divide us, we need counter campaigns aimed at strengthening our unity. We need to make sure less experienced teachers understand the value of due process, and the reasons we object to "data-driven" evaluations and pay systems. We need to develop social and educational activities that bring generations of teachers together, so they recognize how much they have to learn from one another, and how much better they can be when they support one another and work together. We need serious outreach efforts to communicate with parents, both urban and suburban. Our public schools are ...


These schools are struggling - they are hamstrung by the relentless pressure to raise test scores, and the budget cuts that close libraries and cut essential student services. But we need a campaign to highlight the efforts being made every day by our determined army of educators. We are on the real front lines, in schools like Highland Academy in Oakland and the democratically controlled schools in Chicago, and a thousand other schools in communities across the country. The "reformers" have decided that we are the obstacles to their grand vision - the transformation of our schools using the miracle ...


Some parents at the school, such as Mike Nunez, ask the poignant question, "Does it really all come down to money, class, and/or race?" Nunez notes South Lake Elementary has one of the highest poverty and minority rates of all the nearly 100 schools in the district. He stated that in the history of Brevard County, six schools in the North Area have been closed, with each of them lying in economically depressed areas (never in any areas considered to be "Affluent" neighborhoods). Additionally, Nunez suggests that no written criteria for how schools were chosen for possible closures have ...


Guest post by John Thompson. Chad Alderman's "If the Yankees Used 'First-In, Last-Out'..." is much too typical of the contemporary school "reform" movement. Like so many accountability hawks, Alderman loves to expound on topics that he knows well, but he reveals very little understanding of real life conditions in schools. This sincere advocate for students writes at length about what would happen to the Yankees if they inexplicably adopted the seniority system. He says nothing about schools or his reasons for believing that his baseball analogy is appropriate. Of course, it would be just as absurd for major league sports ...


Have you ever heard this one? A number of times in my career, I heard teachers, usually new ones, it must be said, announce in frustration that they were sick and tired of dealing with the kids who were disrupting class, and that from that point forward, they were going to forget about the "ones who aren't ready to learn," and put their energy into those who are. I even had a teacher tell me she set up her seating chart and put the "bad" kids in the back. There are a number of reasons this is a bad practice. ...


Yesterday I received a message from a reader. She wrote: I am convinced that educators in this country have lost their senses. At least, they seem to have lost their consciences. I sent your blog - What Hurricane Sandy is Teaching Us About Students Under Stress - to my fellow teachers this week. No one responded to the post via e-mail. I can understand that, since our school e-mails are monitored. But no one would talk to me about the "storms" our kids are living through when I mentioned your article at school. Now, you may think, this is not ...


This morning the CNN Schools of Thought blog carried the following: Dear Mr. Lucas, I have recently read of the $4 billion that you will receive for selling your movie empire to Disney, and your plans to give most of this money to support education. This is wonderful news. I deeply appreciate this generosity. I am writing a letter to encourage you to think outside the box as you decide how to spend these funds. It is critical to consider where educators find ourselves in 2012. The George Lucas Education Foundation already has made a substantial impact on our schools. ...


This week as the East Coast cleans up after Hurricane Sandy, we are hearing from teachers how they are responding to the trauma and stress their students are bringing to class. From Brooklyn Heights Montessori teacher Launa Schweizer, we learn how her students are coping. As the day wore on, I discovered that the children who had spent the week without power, who were displaced by rising water, or who had seen significant property damage, had little ability to do schoolwork. They craved the comfort only their friends could provide, but actual focused learning was impossible. They arrived without their ...


Last week I got some disturbing news from a science educator in Kansas. John Richard Schrock is a biologist who works at Emporia State University in Kansas, preparing science teachers. In September he wrote about a visit from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and shared this graph, with the following caption: The number of new licenses awarded by Kansas State Department of Education KSDE to biology, chemistry, physics and earth science teachers over the last decade, all show a dramatic drop immediately after No Child Left Behind was imposed, and remain low under Duncan. The biology graph is representative. The ...


Guest post by John Thompson. As more and more schools implement various forms of Value-Added method (VAM) evaluation systems, we are learning some disturbing things about how reliable these methods are. Education Week's Stephan Sawchuk, in "'Value-Added' Measures at Secondary Level Questioned," explains that value-added statistical modeling was once limited to analyzing large sets of data. These statistical models projected students' test score growth, based on their past performance, and thus estimated a growth target. But, now 30 states require teacher evaluations to use student performance, and that has expanded use of algorithms for high-stakes purposes. Value-added estimates are now ...


Yesterday's post challenging the ability of some education reform "liberals" to shed core values such as support for unions, desegregation and the institution of public education apparently hit some sensitive nerves. In particular, Chris Arnold, whom we recently saw praising the "parent trigger" movie "Won't Back Down," took me on via Twitter. You may recall that Mr. Arnold caught some flak for initially failing to disclose his affiliation with The New Teacher Project, a Gates-funded non-profit that has pushed hard for "reforms" in teacher evaluation. In an exchange that took place over the past 24 hours, he asked me: How ...


Will they continue to support special exemptions that allow Teach For America novices to be considered "highly qualified teachers"? Will they support the expansion of charter schools and the use of the deceptive "parent trigger" even as they increase segregation and leave the toughest to teach students behind? Will they support the expansion of sham virtual schools like K12 Inc even as they divert public funds to clearly inferior alternatives?


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