On Saturday, I had the pleasure of moderating a non-fiction panel for Las Comadres and Compadres organization featuring former Colorlines editor Daisy Hernandez and writer Alina Garcia-Lapuerta. The panel was uproarious and chock full of information for the burgeoning writers in the audience, some of whom already have their own works in the audience. Even though I was there mainly to let the other panelists shine, I also had the opportunity to reflect on my own successes and failures as a writer. With no agent, a super-tight budget for publicity, and a teacher’s / father’s schedule, I’ve still made plenty of headway with my writing.
I’ve had hundreds of rejections and made hundreds of mistakes, but, in the back of my mind, the word “radical” always grounded me. What does it mean to be a radical writer in a time of polished centrism? If radical means “far-reaching or thorough” (along with advocating for complete sociopolitical reform), then how does my writing propound that? In education, this is especially dangerous considering the levels of acceptability folks want you to reach before you’re welcomed into some circles whose borders you never actually see, just feel. If “radical” means getting to the root, not necessarily uprooting, where do we belong in that?
I’m writing this list not as a definition, but as a documentation of the ways and means for how I go about my business here, my book, or anywhere else I’ve written.
1. Look for what’s not being said.
The most difficult part of writing in any circle is to look for the things that aren’t “successful” in views and shares, but that are meaningful. For instance, in education, it’s super-easy to write a post about the plethora of venture philanthropists trying to privatize our schools. It’s equally easy to write about anti-testing too. Yet, I rarely find posts that incorporate both this element with what that looks like for the average classroom teacher (or student). The policy angle has been done over and again. Can we tell the stories without the shame that it’s not a carbon copy of someone else’s material?
2. Be unafraid to fail.
Many of my colleagues have this fear of failure, as if the blogs we write are the only shot we have of getting people to read us. That might be true sometimes, but usually, I’ve found that the more we write, the better we get, and the more our writing improves, the more people are willing to give your writing a second chance. We all have different levels of attention we given to On Writing Like A Monster | The Jose Vilson:
Many teachers know about how Tom said California would not agree to using student test scores for teacher evaluations (required for Race to the Top grant applications, and in most cases for NCLB Waivers), and that he was able to get a moratorium on counting new SBAC tests approved by Duncan. Many parents were also pleased with Torlakson’s decision because it saved students from being tested twice and allowed time for schools to adjust to new curriculum.
The moratorium on using student test scores to judge teachers was critical because these tests are not designed for that and should never be used for that purpose. The American Statistical Associationhas stated this rather plainly, but finding an elected officials to see reason on this has been hard to find. Few state education chiefs have had the courage of their their convictions to insist that children matter most in the face of education trends that favor data-driven junk science. Just on this point alone, Torlakson would have my vote.
But Tom is not just about supporting teachers, he wants to help make us better is ways that are based in research and proven methodology. When he was first elected we had a visit in Sacramento from Diane Ravitch. I got to see Tom there on the podium with her, one of the few state school chiefs to align themselves so clearly with teachers, communities and children and practices that emphasize American cultural values and strengths, that other top nations seek to duplicate. Also that day, I attended an event looking at teacher evaluation that featured eminent Stanford University education professor Linda Darling Hammond. Tom Torlakson announced at that event he was forming a new task force (headed by Darling Hammond) to look at teaching standards for the state. These are important because even though teacher evaluations are negotiated on a local by local basis, the standards often form the backbone of whatever is agreed to.
Observations: “Where Most of the Action and Opportunities Are”
In a study just released on the website of Education Next, researchers discuss results from their recent examinations of “new teacher-evaluation systems in four school districts that are at the forefront of the effort [emphasis added] to evaluate teachers meaningfully.” The four districts’ evaluation systems were based on classroom observations, achievement test gains for the whole school (i.e., school-level value-added), performance on non-standardized tests, and some form of measure of teacher professionalism and/or teacher commitment to the school community.
Researchers found the following: The ratings assigned teachers across the four districts’ leading evaluation systems as based primarily (i.e., 50-75%) on observations — not including value-added scores except for the amazingly low 20% of teachers who were VAM eligible — were “sufficiently predictive” of a teacher’s future performance. Later they define what “sufficiently predictive” is in terms of predictive validity coefficients that ranged between 0.33 to 0.38, which are actually quite “low” coefficients in reality. Later they say these coefficients are also “quite predictive,” regardless.
While such low coefficients are to be expected as per others’ research on this topic, one must question how authors came up with their determinations that these were “sufficiently” and “quite” predictive (see also Bill Honig’s comments at the bottom of this article). The authors of this article qualify these classifications later, though, writing that “[t]he degree of correlation confirms that these systems perform substantially better in predicting future teacher performance than traditional systems based on paper credentials and years of experience.” They explain further that these correlations are “in the range that is typical of systems for evaluating and predicting future performance in other fields of human endeavor, including, for example, those used to make management decisions on player contracts in professional sports.” So it seems their qualifications were based on a “better than” or relative but not empirical judgment (see also Bill Honig’s comments at the bottom of this article). That being said, this is Observations: “Where Most of the Action and Opportunities Are” |:
Peter Greene, blogging machine that he is, points us to a new video from the fine reformy folks at the American Enterprise Institute.Greene dispatches much of Michael Q. McShane's perambulating argument in his post, so I won't repeat it here. Take a minute or two to read him instead; it's worth it.I'll also point you to this paper by Bruce Baker for a summary of the "sizable and growing body
Jersey Jazzman:Jersey Jazzman Jammin' All WeekHow To Counter Silly Arguments About the NJEA Convention: A Teacher's GuideWe're fast approaching early November, which means the New Jersey Education Association's annual convention will be here soon. And that means the foolish arguments against the convention will also be upon us.Chris Christie once said that if teachers "cared about learning,&q
A dozen Harvard University students, members of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), assembled outside a university building on Friday, September 26th, calling on President Drew G. Faust to cut ties with Teach for America unless the AmeriCorps program makes major changes to its organization.
The group’s demonstration comes as part of a larger movement initiated by United Students Against Sweatshops, which holds that holds that Teach For America is working to privatize education through its relationships with big-name corporations that are threatening the sanctity of public education. The group had a TFA Truth Tour during March and April earlier this year, wherein protests were scheduled and executed on college campuses, including Harvard University.
In their letter to President Faust, the student group outlined the reforms they would like to see within the organization:
Send Teach for America participants only to areas where there is a teaching shortage
Work to provide these participants with more training and education
Eliminate the ties the organization has with such corporations as Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil, and JPMorgan Chase.
“We’re calling on Harvard to support and provide the resources for people who want to have lifelong careers in public education, not people who want to teach for a couple of years and then go to law school or business school,” said Blake A. McGhghy, a group member who directed the SLAM’s campaign on Harvard’s campus.
In response to the movement’s criticism of Teach for America, co-CEO Matthew Kramer issued a statement commending the program’s mission and efforts to help children from low-income and sparse opportunity communities throughout the country.
“In order to one day end educational inequity, we need to be fostering leaders in all fields related to education,” said TFA recruiter Tess Nicholson. “People at Harvard care about education, and the need for dialogue is here.”
The Miracle That Never Was – More Bad News for New Orleans School Children
Photograph; Fourth graders raise their hands to answer a question posed by teacher Cheryl Mackie while studying in preparation for the LEAP Test at Westwego Elementary School in March 2009. | Susan Poag / The Times-Picayune
There are Miracles that never were and those that flourish unabated. Who could have predicted that a country founded in democracy and freedom of information might deny its children an excellent, exceptional, and public education? Surely, Thomas Jefferson did not think this our mission. In a letter penned to George Wythe, on 13 August 1786 Jefferson exclaimed, “Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people.” Our forefathers did not think that ultimately “the people” would allow their “leaders” to redirect public funds to a Charter School education. But with a turn of phrase and a bit of persuasion countless were sold the idea that Charter Schools offered a better “public” education. But Miracle upon miracle Americans forfeited their vision. Perhaps, we became obsessed with the fear of failing.
A decade ago, an entire School District was defamed. New Orleans schools and students were characterized as products of a flawed system. Then Hurricane Katrina hit. This was seen as an opportunity, an opportunity to make a drastic change. And so we did. Encouraged or persuaded the people trusted a novel claim. “Education Reformers” said, a fully privatized [Charter School] District will be a win. The tacit understanding is “Come with us good people;” let us take a “LEAP” of faith. And in New Orleans we did. We leapt, perhaps before we looked, and possibly in the wrong direction. Now it is time to ask, are our children doing better?
The Miracle That Never Was – More Bad News for New Orleans School Children
Charles Hatfield of Research on Reforms recently released his analysis of the 2014 LEAP results in Math and English language arts. “The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) test is the series of annual assessments in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies in 4th and 8th grades.” It is Louisiana’s state mandated test taken by all the public schools to determine student and school district’s academic progress.
By now, it's a familiar story. An art teacher in a public elementary school, paying for her annual art supplies using a crowdfunding site. Her goal seems pretty modest--$1000--and nearly half of it is already in the can, mostly arriving in $10 and $20 increments. Her principal praises her for "thinking out of the box."
The teacher--Debra Ennis of Ypsilanti, Michigan--is careful to note that her school does provide basic art supplies, but the students can do more creative exploration and special projects with the added materials. She sincerely commends the community for valuing its children and its educators.
A spokeswoman for an adjacent district sniffs that her system pays for the classroom materials teachers require, without having to solicit outside donors--although, she adds, teachers can certainly reach into their own pockets for extras.
While I find the whole issue disheartening, I certainly understand why Ms. Ennis did what she did. In fact, I was Debra Ennis, for about 30 years. The first year I taught instrumental music, my annual band budget was $500. Even in the 1970s, that wasn't enough to purchase a new tuba, let alone outfit a band program with music and instruments and equipment. I spent decades mastering the art of year-round fund-raising, resource trading with other schools and just plain scrounging. I am sure there are band teachers whose schools provide all the financial support they need to run a quality program, but I've never met one.
While seeking outside resources isn't limited to art and music instruction, raising money for school programs is almost always described as a way to get "extras" (often qualified with "for the kids"). My question is: how do we determine what's essential in adequately funding schools--and what is an "extra?" In Ypsilanti, Debra Ennis teaches art to 400 students. Is the $2.50/per child she hopes to raise superfluous--a luxury?
Bill Gates and other ed. reformers praise China, Singapore and Korea as having the highest test scores in the world, of course, better than the United States they will tell you.
What they fail to say is that in America, public schools teach everyone—students with disabilities too. Students who come to school with learning disabilities wind up in classrooms with everyone else. Sometimes they get special assistance and sometimes they don’t. Certainly all is not perfect. But the point is, America’s schools do address special education. They have for a long time.
What must be mentioned, is that when a variety of students with different skills are all in one kind of class, it changes the dynamics of how and what is taught. When students are in a homogenous class, where students learn like material, teaching is much easier.
China, or should I say Shanghai (all of China is not tested), does not embrace inclusion. They might do well in raising reading scores of their students, but they do not include students with disabilities. In fact, one in four of their students with special needs are not in school at all. Only those with mild disabilities who can adapt can attend class.
According to Human Rights Watch, in China: “Students with disabilities have repeatedly tried to access mainstream education, but these efforts have largely ended in disappointment. They are turned away from mainstream schools because they ‘may affect other children’ or they ‘can’t learn.’ Even if they are initially admitted, some are later dismissed from the schools after a few months.”
Migrant children have trouble accessing school too. China has what is called a “hukou” system which makes it difficult for migrant families to obtain residency and public services. Think about America which opens its school doors to the influx of students who come from other countries with second languages.
Teachers get little training to work with students with disabilities who do get mainstreamed classes in China. Nor do students in special ed. classes have access to teachers with special training. And while they have invested in special education buildings for some, the disability areas are segregated and so specified many students are turned away.
Find out what is happening in HB1490 work groups. Bring your camera. Tell the truth.
A citizen journalist video taped one of the work groups gathered last week in Jefferson City to write Missouri standards, rather than adopting the privately non-governmental organizations’ written Common Core State Standards that have no accountability to the legislature and taxpayers. Concerned Women of America published the video on its site:
As you can see from the short clip, it was an extraordinary meeting and contained many aspects of a Delphi meeting. Note to the media: Many of the groups are meeting again this week on Thursday, October 2 and Friday, October 3. The public is invited to attend any meeting and video recordings are allowed. Math and ELA workgroups are in the Jefferson Building where DESE’s offices are located.
List of meetings:
Math 6-12 is meeting Thursday and Friday. Time will be updated.
ELA K-5 Friday 9am-?
ELA 6-12 meets in the 5th floor main conference room 10 am Thursday and 8 am on Friday
Science 6-12 meeting in the Truman Building Rm. 400 on both Thursday and Friday at the same times as last week… 9-4 on Thursday and 8-3 on Friday. Hoping to be able to arrange a meeting with the Elementary Science group and if that comes together then I don’t know where that would take place.