May 2013 Archives

I first recoiled at Arthur Levine's tired old vision of schools in his Education Week Commentary. Then I saw how out of place it was.


Under the fear created by NCLB/RTTT, large scale ability group tracking has made its way back into schools. Because tracking is commonly considered odious, and the research does not support it, no one calls it that. It is now given cuter or more palatable names like 'Walk to Read' or 'Intervention Time' even 'Flexible Grouping.' (Although some schools have flexible grouping and intervention time that takes place in classrooms and is quite lovely.)


The salient point is that in addition to making these schools a priority, the staffing at these schools underwent a change that now has created swiss-cheese-like holes in our teaching contracts. You see, the schools are allowed to hire teachers outside the district surplus process, and only have to take surplus teachers they want. Open positions at "priority schools" are not on the district's list of available positions at the surplus meeting. They've made a practice of picking up the least senior teachers, and even brand-new hires from outside the district. This has occurred while elementary teachers with up to ...


Schools of Education will become an endangered species if this bill becomes law. Advocates have long hungered for "disruption" of the "monopoly" that schools of education have had on teacher preparation. This bill would create big incentives for states to allow virtually anyone to set themselves up as a teacher preparation academy.


Bill Gates suggested that in time teachers and voters would come along to see the benefits of the experiments the billionaire reformers want to do in our schools. That was four years ago - and the experiments have run their course. A research paper by Elaine Weiss and Don Wong took a close look at the results in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago, exactly the three cities touted by Gates as the petri dishes for his market-driven experiments.


The experienced teacher is the key: the conductor, musician, coach, and magician-of-motivation all wrapped into one person. Those who push the corporate education reform agenda do not understand or have forgotten what a great teacher does, so their solutions "crowd out" experienced teachers. Rather than investing in the human potential of teachers and students, they choose to invest in "bubble tests" and self-paced digitalized learning that are good for the profits of education corporations, but lousy for kids, parents, and communities.


inBloom, the non-profit started with a hundred million dollar investment from the Gates Foundation, is planning to create a digital record which, barring catastrophe, truly could be a permanent record of every K12 student, from their first interaction with the schools to the last. The amount of information they are planning to collect is staggering. Here are the several hundred categories, which include academic records, attendance records, test results of all sorts, disciplinary incidents, special ed accommodations, and more.


I did some of my own data analysis to determine how many school days will be non-teaching for me this year. It does not include the amount of classroom time that was lost to preparing my students for state tests. That data is forthcoming. In addition to the 40 days I will have spent doing state test work, seven school days were devoted to attending New York City DOE professional development workshops. A few were quite useful to my teaching practice; at one I learned new strategies for teaching reading and writing to ELLs (English-language learners), and another validated my ...


This is a future I believe is possible given the systems and structures being promoted by technocrats like Gates. This is NOT the way the system has been described by Bill Gates or any of his representatives. They tend to use the language of feedback and collaboration. But as I have been asking, if collaboration is the goal, why must this be embedded in an evaluation process, which has the goal of determining who ought to be fired?


Across the country, many local school boards, superintendents and principals have been speaking out against excessive testing. Parents, teachers, students and community groups should work with them to reduce the number of tests and any stakes attached to them. Those who still support the status quo need to be educated and, if necessary, pressured. In cities with appointed school boards, political pressure often will need to work through other avenues.


Across the nation, a rebellion is brewing against testing overuse and misuse. But just saying "no" isn't enough. In fact, high-quality feedback from assessment is vital to teaching and learning. Students, teachers and parents need to know whether kids are making progress. Communities and taxpayers deserve to know if schools are serving children well and children are succeeding. To win change, activists must offer proposals for better assessment systems coupled with demands to end harmful practices.


Over the past few months, I've been involved in dialogues and public meetings aimed at furthering the testing reform movement. Our conversations focused on how to win key goals: less testing, lower stakes, and better assessment practices. In this post, I focus on basic goals and strategy for launching a campaign. In subsequent posts, I will discuss the importance of pushing for high-quality assessments, and then propose tactics to educate the public, develop strong coalitions, and persuade policymakers.


Kirp then dissects the dramatic turnaround of the entire school system of Union City, New Jersey, and he shows how we can build great schools on the strengths of our democratic culture. Its answer did not come from technocrats from the outside, but from a local culture of "abrazos" or caring. Rather than firing our way to the top, Kirp shows that school improvement must come from trusting relationships. The secret sauce of Union City's success is "respeto," or respect.


Bill Gates has described himself as a technocrat, so perhaps it is natural that he would fixate on some piece of technology as the missing element. But the real things that are missing are the time that teachers need to work together, and the understanding that this time will be most fruitful when teachers are given the autonomy to tackle the challenges they face, rather than micromanaged and driven by test score data.


Teachers - and union leaders -- may feel as if they should get on board, to try to steer this process. However, I think this is a ship of doom for our schools. I think its effect will be twofold. It will create a smoother, wider, more easily standardized market for curriculum and technology. This will, in turn, promote the standardization of curriculum and instruction, and further de-professionalize teaching. The assessments will reinforce this, by tying teachers closer to more frequent timelines and benchmark assessments, which will be, in many places, tied to teacher evaluations. And the widespread failures of ...


this highlights for me, the moral dimension that Merrow ignores, when, at the end of the film, he proclaims this experiment a success. How can we accept that a third of the schools in New Orleans have been consigned to the status of dumping grounds for the other two thirds? How can we celebrate the creation of a system that allows schools to wall themselves off from students who are the most damaged by poverty and violence - and relegates those students to schools that cannot possibly succeed in this competitive scheme?


The kids who come to school with less get less from school. Closing the achievement gap with high-stakes, test-centric teaching combined with low resources, few opportunities and a lack of support has failed. The best way out is to close the mushrooming opportunity gap, create more equitable opportunities and gauge how well states and districts are doing to create those opportunities. Achievement follows from opportunities to learn.


So what is wrong with these machines and this mechanical "personalization"? The modern versions of the teaching machines are certainly more sophisticated than these dinosaurs of the 1950s. But they have more in common than just the promises made on their behalf. If we look over the shoulders of children in computer labs today, most of the programs are variations of those described by Dr. Skinner. Students are given a short text or math problem and must provide the correct answer. Often there is a game or snazzy cartoon characters who dress up the process and make it more fun, ...


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