Friday, July 11, 2014

Obama Needs Better Advice on Education

Four well respected teachers who teach in high poverty schools got to have lunch with President Obama recently and give him their suggestions about how to get some of our best teachers to teach disadvantaged students. One of the teachers who has a blog wrote a post describing the meeting and made several valid points about the challenges facing teachers in such schools.

But he forgot to mention the most important point that should have been made in this discussion with the president. The biggest obstacle to getting excellent experienced teachers to teach in high poverty schools are the policies promoted by his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan,  that drive the best teachers out of those schools. Using No Child Left Behind rules and Race to the Top incentives, Duncan has bashed and stigmatized all educators who work in the most challenging schools. Why would any self respecting professional educator want to teach in a school that is always referred to as a failing school or is in constant danger of being closed or reorganized (forced into turnaround mode) requiring the firing at least half the teachers and all administrators?

The problem starts with semantics. When a school serves a high percentage of at risk students who happen to score lower on the almighty standardized tests, the system classifies the school as a failing school. You see it is not politically correct to ever place responsibility on the students, the parents or even crime ridden communities where children have to spend most of their energy just surviving from day to day. No, the system of evaluating schools Duncan has encouraged stigmatizes all educators and administrators in such a school even if they are doing a relatively good job for the students they serve.  For example, in Louisiana recently, all alternative schools (schools that specialize in serving low performers, students at risk of dropping out and major discipline problems) were all rated as "F" schools. But by definition, these schools were serving low performers. The real purpose of such schools is to try in every way possible to keep at risk kids from dropping out and providing them with salable skills so that they can have a decent life. Such schools should not be rated F just because the serve at risk students. But that's exactly what Duncan's "blame and shame" system does.

In Chicago where Duncan once served as the Superintendent of Education, they tried closing so called "failing schools" serving poor neighborhoods and transferring the students to schools that were rated as more successful. But studies found that on average, students who were provided with this supposedly great opportunity ended up doing even worse than they had done in their "failing" school. Not only that, many parents complained that their children were being put in danger by being forced to go to schools where rival gangs would welcome them with threats and physical harm.

Arne Duncan once said that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to New Orleans schools because it allowed reformers to get rid of the corrupt system that was holding kids back. The reformers of the Recovery District fired all the experienced teachers and replaced most of them with Teach for America Corps members who have a teaching commitment of only 2 years. Well its been 9 years now and the students and parents are still struggling. The RSD schools are performing at the 17th percentile in one of the lowest rated states, and only a very small percentage of the students from the Recovery District have a chance of ever completing college. The District has an average ACT score of 16.3. Yet there are plenty of examples of corruption and administrators of so the called non-profits who draw big salaries for minimal duties. Just this week, parents were required to stand in line for hours just to try to register their children in school.

Now Duncan has decided that experienced teachers are desirable after all. He was quoted as follows:

"When a school or a school district or a set of schools in a disadvantaged community has disproportionate numbers of inexperienced teachers, that is not a good thing," Duncan said. "You want a balance on any team. And what we are looking for is to increase effectiveness in disadvantaged communities."

It would be a good idea if someone finally told the president the truth. It is his Secretary of Education's policies that are driving good teachers out of the schools serving the most at risk students.

The solution? First Obama needs to fire Duncan. He keeps pushing the same ineffective blame and shame policies that are driving good teachers away from the high poverty schools. Then stop falsely labeling schools as bad based primarily on the poverty of the students they serve. Stop blaming teachers and administrators for problems over which they have no control. Then education authorities could look at reasonable incentives to get strong educators and the good role models into those schools.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Coleman Dictates Teaching Methods

If you were an experienced pilot, engineer, architect or surgeon, whom would you look to for guidance in building your expertize and generally improving your profession? If you were an experienced pilot, do you think you could get useful tips on flying a plane from person with only a college degree in philosophy. . . . or could someone who had a degree in government and public policy help you to be a better pilot? If we wanted to improve the operating rooms of our hospitals, would we hire operating room managers whose main connection with surgery was that they had been surgical patients?
Well the examples above are very close to equivalent to what is being done to the management of public education. In the video included with this article, middle school reading teachers are expected to be tutored in how to teach close reading techniques by three persons who have never set foot in a middle school classroom. The video in the article is a training video on the Engage NY website, a special website set up to help teachers learn how to teach the Common Core. The training session is a discussion of the techniques used in a reading teaching method called "close reading". The trainers are none other than David Coleman, the chair for the development of Common Core, John King the chancellor of New York state public schools, and Kate Gerson, who is now a Senior Fellow of the New York Regents Research Fund (a semi-official reform pressure group funded by Bill Gates). Of course none of them have ever actually had experience as middle school reading teachers (Gerson did work for a short time as a high school English teacher). But like the guy who stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, they have all attended middle school, so they must be experts, right?

Having these persons run a training session on teaching reading is like asking frequent airline flyers serve as trainers for airline pilots. Well they have had a lot of experience flying, haven't they? It does not impress me that David Coleman who was born to a privileged family once did a little volunteer work in inner city schools. We all know he is not qualified to retrain experienced teachers in how to teach reading! Neither are the other two people in this video. Coleman was once turned down for a job as a public school teacher in New York because he had no teacher credentials. So he started working for a company that provided consulting services to education and from there somehow became the supreme expert in education reform for the entire nation! And now he has chaired the writing of the supposedly great new education standards (the CCSS) and even smugly performs in a video proporting to show teachers how to teach. If I were a teacher who was being forced to watch such vidoes, I would be insulted and even humilated that my profession has fallen to this level of abuse.

It is the same thing with John White and many other so called leaders of the education reform movement in this country. Education is the only profession that I know of that is in the process of being taken over by rank amateurs and non-professionals. My gut tells me that this will not end well.

If you are a professional educator, please don't be fooled by the false credentials of these people who dispite the fact that they have never done the difficult job of educating children, intend to impose their fantasy world about education on the entire profession. There is no evidence whatosever that you can teach all kids the same exact things, at the same rate, no matter their background just by having "high expectations". This is pure hogwash! These mostly self appointed education leaders can teach you absolutely nothing about teaching. But they can destroy the teaching profession and turn educators into test teachers who spend most of their time rehersing students for tests, and they can turn major portions of our education system over to greedy profiteers who will systematically destroy public education. Wake up people!

It you are a professional educator who believes as I do that that our public schools are in great danger and that schools must remain free of privatizers and the influence of the new amateurs who happen to be rich and influential, you must become active in the fight for public education. Stay tuned to this blog and give me feedback from your point of view by sending me emails or commenting on my blog posts. Together we can make a positive difference for education.

So Who Appointed David Coleman?

As you can see from this well researched article in the Washington Post, it was the money and influence of Bill Gates that got David Coleman appointed as director of the Common Core project. First Gene Wilhoit and David Coleman approached Bill Gates and sold him on the idea of state of the art standards that would unify all K-12 teaching in the U.S. and make our students competitive with the rest of the world's students. Then when Gates decided to fund the whole project by buying off every group in the country that had any influence over K-12 education, Coleman as the salesman for the Common Core became the natural father for the whole project.
The Gates Foundation got to choose most of the writers of the Common Core, and the decision was made that apparently classroom teachers should have no part in the actual writing of the standards. Then the CCSS were copywrited and limited in such a way that they cannot even be revised or rewritten to correct the lack of age appropriateness, and numerous other errors that are poping up as the untested program goes into full implementation without so much as a single field test.