Saturday, March 22, 2014

An Open Letter to State Legislators Everywhere

Public education is the only form of education where every principle and practice of democracy is enacted by local citizens.
Public education is the only form of education that does not exclude children for any reason.
  • Please support the mission, intention, and benefit of public education! (I can't believe I actually have to write that sentence in 2014).
  • Please invest funds in public education that support the level and quality of education the State and our citizens demand. Spending costs out of our control have increased well beyond revenue to achieve those ends.
  • Please spend public funds where public funds should be spent and not divert those funds to those schools which do not include all children and schools that do not face the same and regulations and expectations of the public schools.

Private schools, parochial schools, and charter schools have their place in our American society; however, they are not all accessible to every child, they exclude children who do not behave or fit their niche; and they do not operate with the same restrictive regulations, underfunded mandates, unfunded mandates, and State laws that you have enacted in recent years.
So, how does one justify their receipt of public funds under the conditions by which these schools are governed and operated. Furthermore, how does one rationalize providing these exclusive schools with funds that reduce funding for our all-inclusive public schools?

You wouldn't allow a tax credit for the country club member who doesn't use the public pool (I hope). You wouldn't allow tax dollars for snow removal and street maintenance of private gated communities (I hope).  A pretty simple analogy but it is as simple as that.

Schools with means are being squeezed by understandable pleas to reduce local taxes; states that withhold funds in the form of IOUs; and ignored unfunded, underfunded, and unnecessary mandates - while students, parents, and innovative educators seek state of the art teaching and programs! Imagine what you've done to those without means.
  • Stop diverting funds from the last bastion of true democracy and common space in our nation.
  • Stop manipulating voting rights so the underserved lose their voice.
  • Stop selling out to privatizers and contracted business models of McSchools with McTeachers.
  • Stop rationalizing that regimented students in segregated programs is the new civil rights
  • Stop the takeover of local and State Boards of Education with special economic and ideological interests. 

Since 1954, your predecessors fought hard to make schools accessible to and inclusive of all students, not some.  You are on a trajectory to a pre-Brown, pre-Title IX, pre-IDEA, pre-Plyler v. Doe era. 
Please - go back and read the Constitution (U.S. and State) whose principles you swore to uphold for every citizen. 
Be courageous and lead for all children, not the segregated re-isolation of some which allows some to be less equal than others.
Be courageous and lead for all children, not enacting laws which allows some to be more equal than others. 
Be courageous.  Rise above the culture of testing, gotcha accountability laws, and micromanaged curriculum; and resist special interests.
Let leaders lead and teachers teach. 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Welcome Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch spoke to a full auditorium at our high school last week.  I thought the few of you who read my blog might enjoy it.  I was unaware she was a Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award Winner!  Link to her speech is below.

Dr. Ravitch, we welcome you to our district where we embrace our diversity - public discourse in our school and the community – and our pursuit of “school the way it oughta be” for every single student, not some, every day.

I expect that Dr. Ravitch is speaking to the choir tonight and there are many who agree with all that she presents - and there those who perhaps do not.  As Dr. Ravitch knows, as a practitioner, I must admit I find myself positioned awkwardly on some issues.  On one hand, I rail against those seeking to control or dismantle the mission of public education.  My colleagues and I are those leading the charge against excessive testing, labeling teachers with scores, narrowing curriculum as a result of the former, unfunded mandates and more.   On the other hand, I see that we must leverage continuous improvement in our schools – through professional learning and not more testing -  and I see the value in rigorous academic standards as long as the local district has choice in the design of their curriculum with dynamic instruction and authentic assessments. 

So - as I thought about this introduction, I kept going back to the story that many of you have most likely heard - the story about the drunk crawling around under the corner streetlight.  He is approached by a wise Samaritan who asks what he is doing.  “I lost my keys over there across the street.”  “Then why are you looking here?” she asks.   “Because the light’s better!    Yes – there are too many people – many of whom who are not educators – who have drunk the kool-aid – that are too many seeking to dismantle public education and crawl under the light as the ideological glow of quick fixes, a business model, a way to churn out test scores, or a way to fund their beliefs. 

Diane Ravitch knows that light is like Dorothy’s rainbow, that there is no superman, and, as she highlights in the first half of her book, that too many people are espousing myths and looking for answers in all the wrong places.  We are fortunate that Dr. Ravitch knows there are many keys to be found to educate every single child in remarkable public schools with remarkable professional teachers and leaders and local policy makers – and those keys can be found in the second half of her book. 

Dr. Ravitch comes to us via the public schools in Houston, Wellesley College and Columbia University.  She is a research professor, was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by our neighbor President Bill Clinton, and among her many achievements, received the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize, an award that honors those who champion informed judgment to advance the public good, use sound analysis and research in policy making, and contribute to the civility of public discourse while pursuing a bipartisan approach to society’s most pressing problems.   
So, at this time, I would like to introduce Dr. Ravitch – but I am not – that distinguished role belongs to a teacher, one our school librarians, Susan Polos. 

link to speech: 



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Recommended Reading

Recently, the NYT ran an article: “Suggested Reading for Mayor-elect DeBlasio”

I was thinking about what books I would suggest to him – and other policy makers - as they “reflect” on education, and to the new reformers before they fix things that aren't broken, destroy public education for their own benefit, and/or stifle amazing teaching any more.  My (growing) starter list:

Teaching As a Subversive Activity - Postman and Weingartner
Inquiry, relevance, “crap-detecting,” problem solving, projecting learners into the future
Oh how we have lost our way

Death at an Early Age (and all subsequent books) - Jonathon Kozol
A standard and required reading decades ago and today. Perhaps more today as poverty skyrockets and the poverty/wealth gap is wider

Democracy and Education (and all other books) - John Dewey
Another standard.  Dewey.  Experiential education.  Inquiry. Principles. Real world.

Reign of Error  and Death and Life of Great American Great School System - Diane Ravitch
Reign of Error explains current misguided reforms, the "who?" and motives of new self-proclaimed reformers, and  Dr. Ravitch's insightful solutions and guide to the future   Death and Life is the “how we got here” from years of inclusion through years of school-bashing to today and it is must reading for anyone in education (or politicians and others who  think they are)

Leadership and the New Science - Margaret Wheatley
Complex and broader than schools – but the essence of thinking systemically from the original “system” – the ecosystem

The Myth of Educational Reform – Popkewitz, Tabachnik, and Wehlage
Old, out of print, and as relevant today as when they researched “Individually Guided Education, teacher/school responses, and school culture

Transformation of the School - Larry Cremin
A necessary history of our roots and what matters in education

Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education  - Richard Kluger
To understand public education in America, one must understand Brown and all its nuances.

Con Respeto: Bridging the Distances Between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools:  An Ethnographic Portrait  Guadalupe Valdes
Insights to family, values of learning, community, and expectations

The Fifth Discipline - Peter Senge
Because schools are not factories

I Seem To Be A Verb: Environment and Man's Future and Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth - R. Buckminster Fuller
The titles say it all - everything is connected and in our hands

Boundaries by Maya Lin
again - it's all connected and meaningful with simplicity and wonder

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children - Todd R. Risley Betty Hart
Words - professional and poverty homes - before kindergarten

Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman - Earnest Gaines
American History and understanding the roots of today’s challenges.
“Anytime a child is born, the old people look in his face and ask him if he's the One.” 

The Water is Wide - Pat Conroy
High expectations!  “Willie Mays would be proud of you. Beethoven would be proud of you!” 

Seedfolks – Paul Fleischman

and, To Kill A Mockingbird    just because, necessarily

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's Not (the) Standards

Standards are not the problem.  The problems are quick-fix legislation, corporate co-opting of standards, excessive testing, narrowing the curriculum, and other decisions with negative effects based on the CCSS.

Based on two high-stakes tests  (ELA and math) every spring in every grade 3-8, schools...
  • evaluate and put a score on teachers (uggh)
  • label districts, schools, and professionals
  • narrow curriculum to test focused lessons, worksheets, and weekly formative assessments 
  • feed the text/test producing corporate profiteers with the monopoly on "CCSS aligned" stamp of approval
  • give politicians fodder for quick fix platforms that have no chance of helping the kids they seem satisfied  to oppress and segregate
And, consequently...
  • strip the school day of the arts, p.e., projects, and field trips 
  • eliminate teacher innovation based and student interests 
  • turn teachers into script readers and competitors (for "average" students and a spot in the predetermined quota of "effective" teacher)
  • replace spirit days with "test prep" "motivational assemblies"
Eliminate all of the above and the Common Core Standards are a non-issue.    
(Ok - they need work assuring alignment with the development of kids, reducing the tight alignment to a potentially narrow curriculum and college (only) ready - but we (practitioners) can (and must) reject the politics, the reform Kool-Aid, and misnomer that standards must dictate curriculum and testing in order to preserve high academic standards and expectations).

Standards are not the problem.  We've always had them - even "national" standards and guidance from NCTE, NCTM, NSTA, NCSS and other professional organizations.  Even some state's standards were sound and rigorous.  They guided us.  We tweaked them.  We "unpacked" them.  We dismissed some.  The standards were not the curriculum nor the dictates of what were on nationally normed, benchmark standardized tests.  

The Texas Miracle and NCLB brought us annual testing.  Tests that once served as a barometer and the  stuff of concept/item analyses and professional insights to student learning became drivers of policy and practice.  Race to the Top further increased the stakes, narrowed the curriculum, and sucked the innovation (and morale) out of  teaching.  

Take the high-stakesness out of testing and the standards are a non-issue - and the attacks are diversions from addressing the root causes of educational challenges and feeding the political, corporate, takeover of public education.  

Our biggest problem with the Common Core is letting corporations co-opt them into charter school methodology, teacher-proof curriculum, pacing guides and endless formative assessments, TFA scripts, and a political fixation on data.  Supported by quick-fix legislation (annual testing, charter schools, teacher evaluation tied to tests), profiteers hit the jackpot when they realized that linking standards to annual testing and teacher evaluation offered a monopoly to publish a boat load of text and tests.  Out goes the baby with the bathwater.  And, that's scary!  

Friday, September 20, 2013

THE Root Cause: Annual Testing

One courageous decision could improve the quality and integrity of public education dramatically (and save millions of dollars, self-esteems, innovating lessons, music programs, quality teachers, and schools)

Because of annual testing…
·         Kids take high-stakes tests annually  (time, money, pressure)
·         Kids who do not yet speak English take two high-stakes tests annually to prove they don’t yet speak English well which hammers at their self-esteem and motivation
·         Kids with disabilities feel unnecessary pressure annually taking tests out of reach
·         Parents, students, the media, and others place far too much value and pressure on a once a spring one time test as an indicator of progress
·         Teachers feel pressure to align curriculum to and teach for the test which narrows the curriculum
·         Teachers feel pressure to align curriculum to and teacher for the test– minimizing innovation, using student interests, field trips, etc.
·         Teachers, psychologists, and administrators spend far too much valuable planning time on data analyses instead of child development and authentic progress
·         Principals feel the pressure to assign more time to core time to testing which eliminates time for art, music, p.e. recess...
·         Teachers feel more pressure to align and teach for the test because of it affects their evaluation
·         School and district “evaluation” (and the dreaded rankings) drive more pressure to focus on the tests and scores
·         The more high stakes testing, the more formative standardized-like testing that goes on duplicating high-stakes testing (and less new instruction)
·         Because of the volumes of data, decisions about grants and other school supports and the dreaded rankings are based solely on scores and not comprehensive quantitative and qualitative evaluations
·         Follow the money to testing corporations, text and technology corporations, and data warehouse corporations (and the scary monopolies that do all three)
·         The economic opportunity cost is staggering:  millions that could have been spent on professional development, staffing, technology, and more

Test students only at the end of year clusters or at transitions from primary to intermediate, intermediate to middle school, middle school to high school, and the junior year – and all of the above go away!

Standardized testing was designed to benchmark how a school is doing, how a cohort of students is doing over a few years period, and how a curriculum is doing (alignment with standards and gaps).   It was one of dozens of means of information to see how a child is doing on a percentile basis compared to others.

If it wasn’t for Rod Paige’s Texas Miracle which was no miracle that turned into George Bush’s NCLB whose regulations were developed in the shadow of 9/11 that labeled schools as failures and diverted more funds to private interests and charter school which eight years later became President Obama’s higher stakes by RTTT to compete for desperately needed funds… we wouldn’t be stifling children’s learning experiences and what I call “school the way it oughta be” in order to pass tests. 

Periodic testing is valuable.
Annual testing is devastating.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

(derived from my back-to-school speech to faculty and staff) 
“…there are new challenges evolving in response to changes for inclusivity in schools that began 50 years ago, challenges from critics determined to force their 21st century educational version of  'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' on all of us"
Get Ready.  There are going to be a lot of 50th anniversaries in the next several years.   For us baby boomers – that’s most of your parents or dare I say grandparent - that will be significant. 

It means they’ll press you to watch a lot of  TV specials, listen to them wax nostalgic about the sixties, and feel their excitement for space exploration and the British explosion of music. I imagine in 2019, some will convince you take a trek to Bethel when Woodstock turns 50.  And, this is too good to pass up - they’ll tell you more than you’ll want to know about the World Series Championships of the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Amazin’ Mets in the same decade! 

In a few months, we mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and soon after, the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was recently overturned by the Supreme Court.  No doubt, your classes will include lessons about more assassinations, war, and America burning.  We will see retrospectives and interviews with those who were there… there fighting in Viet Nam, protesting on college campuses, raising environmental awareness, marching for civil rights – those who were there for the sixties.  

And, I hope you will listen and learn – because our mission today and our challenges emanate from that decade.

Why?  Because the sixties opened doors and amplified voices that needed to be heard and set the stage for change – changes that reflect advancements in equity and social justice – desegregated schools, Title IX rights for women, rights for students with disabilities, a Supreme Court decision that entitles immigrant children a right to public education, and rights for those who are gay and lesbian.

We just marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech.”  Dr. King’s message was about the future, rights, and freedom.  He spoke of the non-violent means for the 20th century version of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Today’s leaders - carrying the torch - speak to us and our students about many of the same challenges - and new challenges evolving in response to the very changes that began 50 years ago and are testing the 21st century version of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Dr. King’s speech was about a responsibility we inherited - all of us today – all of you who maintain our school buildings and technology, the records and resources, and the lessons and activities in our public schools.  As those immersed in public education, we inherited that vision as he stated, so “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of  their skin but the content of their character.” 

You are the bearers of that vision.  You are why and how children rise above perception and low expectations to become successful young men and women. 

And, we are mindful that in spite of so many children who have succeeded, there are outsiders who believe some students cannot excel, outsiders who wonder why some of these students are in public school classrooms or schools in the first place, or outsiders who profile these students or hold low expectations for them – those who (pre)judge the book by the cover. 

There are those who want to narrow the curriculum, divert public school funds, test excessively, rate and rank professionals, and turn schools into an efficient business model.

You are the bearers of the vision of “Every single student, not some, every single student every day” succeeding, achieving, experiencing, and belonging in your classroom and offices, in hallways and on playgrounds, on our playing fields and stages, and across our district. 

So, with everything on your plates, too much of it coming at you too fast, this year our theme is to take stock in what we are doing - - to keep learning and getting better at what we say we do before we add anything new - - to be sure we are all on the same page; not scripted, but aligned and headed in the same direction. 

If we do that, then we will achieve that mission of success and a sense of belonging for every student, not just some, every day. 

Same page.  Every student.  Those continue to be our essential questions – our through lines – our “do now’s” so the promise and dreams of 1963 and the accomplishments that followed become the reality of 2013 and beyond.   





Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reform, Tragedy, & #MOW50

Friday.  I woke up ticked off.  I went to bed with the charter school plague, competition in education, attacks on professionals, and annual testing on my mind. I spent way too much time researching CEE-Trust who is moving in on Missouri (aggh)! and reading tweets and articles written by Commissioners (NJ) stuck on union busting and states (Missouri) bringing in charter “incubators.”    Oh, and we got our “HEDI” scores (teacher evaluation scores based on student testing) yesterday. 
So, no sleep, and woke up to read attacks to a few of my tweets about charters and excessive testing.  

Then…  I read our son’s article (he’s a sports columnist).  He was very good friends with one of the people killed in the Denver theatre massacre last year.  She was an energetic, motivated new writer who a week before she was killed was talking about collecting sports equipment for kids who lost everything in the wildfires.  As a tribute last year, with the help of several pro teams, television folks, and individuals in Denver, her mother brought her idea to life and collected over 25,000 pieces of sports equipment.  Whew. 

Mass shootings puts things in perspective – and then a stream of thoughts and connecting way too many dots follow with reflections on:
·         Far too many young people – and old – are dying in theatres, schools, and malls.
·         There is too much trivial, political, selfish stuff that the adults fight over and even try to legislate (or not) for their own gain when people are dying in theatres, schools and malls.
·         There are tragic deaths on the streets that equal the numbers who die in theatres and schools but don’t get the same national attention.
·         Those who try to address mental health, social services, and just a little – even just a little - gun control for those who are unstable but they can’t get past the first sub-committee or budget draft.
·         That it really does take a village – parents, religious institutions, community recreation, and schools – to raise kids who want to take on causes, teach, to write remarkable stories, and serve in other ways… and here it comes…
·         but reformers and profiteers are sucking the life out the very public agencies, community endeavors, and schools that round out the love and values instilled by parents and spiritual groups... and too many law/policy makers who are silent.
There are those who are turning schools into McSchools, looking to control kids, script learning, demean a profession, and implement a business model to cut taxes from those who can afford them and make a profit.  Schools that nurture community service, the arts, learning to get along, and addressing mental health the right way are being “transformed” – to become testing factories.  
Funding is stripped.  Taxes are too high, (when weren’t they?).  Still, those who can help out (legislators) by cutting absurd and outdated laws and funding mandates that are valuable refuse to stand up to the lobbyists and those legislating loop holes and tax breaks? 
When do we say, “Enough?” Oh, we do – but there’s far too much tree-thinking going on when Presidents and Secretary’s and Commissioners and Legislators and the Supreme Court need to see the forest.  Will they ever step back far enough to see that their factory model, for-profit, segregating, curriculum-narrowing, discriminatory, test driven approach is doing nothing to level the playing field, address deadly social issues, and deliver on the very promise they’ve convinced themselves they are resolving?  And, closing schools to be replaced by these charter factories... well
I’m sticking with the Dream, the believers, the young people who get real community service, the teachers who innovate, and good old fashioned relevance.  So, I am off to D.C. for the March on Washington. 

(and now back with more to write...the Dream, the Dream Act, voting rights, segregated schools, profiling and stereotype threat... soon)