Saturday, December 10, 2016

re: Teacher observations have been a waste of time and money

The US is the wealthiest country on the planet, and Mark Dynarski wants to implicate teachers for low test scores.

Mark Dynarski gets it wrong with teacher evaluation (Brookings, Dec. 8, 2016).

Mark Dynarski does not understand assessment: "The crucial question is whether students are learning. To answer that, we need some measure of learning: a test." Tests do not measure student learning. Tests measure a student's ability or choice to achieve high test scores.

The author does not understand science: "Teacher evaluation systems need a stronger scientific basis." Science would consider a systemic, holistic approach, and then isolate variables. Individual humans are too varied to prove (or disprove) a teacher's effectiveness. Trends or patterns within one classroom with 25 students, or across several classroom with 150 students, in the same year or over several years, SHOULD vary based on students' interests and needs, and the extent to which a teacher is supported by her/his school. There are too many variables before, during and after school to link teacher effectiveness with "objective" test scores.

Perhaps the author does not understand inequity: "We need a more solid research and measurement foundation about what aspects of teaching improve learning." Data from The Spirit Level shows that among the wealthiest 23 countries on the planet, those with the biggest income inequality (i.e. the U.S.) have the highest rates of depression, mental illness, teen pregnancy, incarceration rates, drug abuse, obesity, and violence, and low educational "achievement" rates (see Fig. 1 below).

Fig. 1: Among the top 23 richest nations, educational scores decrease with an increase in income inequality.  For more on the impact of income inequality and health and wellness, check out The Spirit Level.

The author does not understand pedagogy: "We are spending billions to little effect because we do not know enough about what we are looking for." I know what I am looking for; I'm sure it varies among colleagues -- and I'm OK with that. I think that effective teachers:

  • cultivate a love of life-long learning 
  • promote critical and creative literacy 
  • foster democratic civic engagement
If the above outcomes come close to what we are looking for within the profession, then we should ask teachers to design their own professional learning plans so that they become more effective at realizing these aims. Still, we need to listen to teachers and create the equitable societies outside school so that students come to school ready to learn: well-rested, well-fed, and feeling safe and curious.

If students come to school and aren't ready to learn, then we need to support educators and create equitable in-school conditions and capacity to help children learn.

Focusing on education as a means to redress poverty will help to a point: but it will not address the source of inequities, i.e. income inequality.

The author has a point: "We need a more solid research and measurement foundation about what aspects of teaching improve learning." We need hybrid teaching roles so that more teachers can conduct meaningful research and advocate for effective systemic strategies that promote student engagement.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Here's the Deal: We already know what needs improving.

Education Post's sensational headline reads, "Here’s the Deal: We Can’t Help Teachers Improve If We Don’t Know What Needs Improving (11/29/16)." Author Thomas Toch argues that better teacher accountability metrics will lead to—what? Higher test scores? A stronger workforce?

How about we improve teaching with the aim of a more green, healthy, and sustainable America?

And we already know what needs improving.

Our country needs to improve family access to safe neighborhoods, healthy housing, meaningful employment, and balanced nutrition. We need to improve parents' and guardians' access to time and resources so that they can make sure their children are curious, energetic, well-fed, well-rested, and learning ready.

We need to improve student and staff access to green, healthy, and sustainable schools; beautiful schools that conserve energy and water, foster wellness, and advance equity between people, planet, and prosperity are good for students. This will help teachers.

We need to improve the capacity of educators to collaborate on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and policy that enriches students' love of learning, critical and creative thinking, and democratic civic engagement. 

We need to improve supports for educators as they exercise their professional expertise.

We need to improve teachers' stewardship of the profession. 

We need to improve our civic commitment to American values such as democracy, liberty, and justice for all.

We need to improve our courage. 

This will help teachers.

Check out the organizations below.
Green Schools National Network U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Green Schoolyards America Women Of Green Center for Green SchoolsEcoRise Youth Innovations Eco-Schools USA National Environmental Education Foundation Shelburne Farms Center for Ecoliteracy GreenFutures UN Sustainable Development Platform The Networked Teacher Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse Caucus of Working Educators Badass Teachers Association Center for Teaching Quality Teacher Powered Schools Teach to Lead Network for Public Education Sustainable Happiness

Monday, September 26, 2016

What does a society look like with no racism, sexism, classism...?

I believe that one of the best responses to economic and social inequity is joy and happiness. After all, what does a society look with no racism, classism, sexism...?

I want to live in prospering, abundant, and democratic society, and I want to help create it. I am probably best situated to do so when I am coming from a place of well being. It is our well being that we risk when we maintain inequitable social and economic structures. And our civility towards our brothers and sisters can become masked if not stunted, as well.

This short video from Matthew Cooke, called Race Baiting 101, profiles some of the complexity of how the Masters conjure lateral conflict among the 99%. The video has compelling arguments and stark images that hopefully affirm how we are connected in our humanity. So although there is a bit of ugliness in the video, I think it serves as a good reminder of why I am aligned with the hope of Black Lives Matter, sustainability, feminism, and other movements for a better world.

I also remind myself that the embrace of well being, as a political act, is not a form of surrender. To want to be everywhere, all of the time -- to right every wrong, to confront every injustice -- is to succumb to the violence. I choose to acknowledge the violence, educate myself, and focus on what I want, rather than what I don't want.

In solidarity, and in peace without appeasement.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What is a Culture of Sustainabilty?

By Gamal Sherif 
Everyday, teachers work hard to foster passion, engagement, and equity into our schools. What do we need to make this work sustainable? What has to happen within our schools -- or within ourselves -- so that students and staff have beautiful environments that conserve energy and water, foster wellness, and advance social and economic justice?

On Saturday, October 15, 2016, Francine Locke, the Environmental Director at the School District of Philadelphia, and I will be hosting a workshop about sustainability at the Global Education Forum in Philadelphia, USA.
Our workshop, entitled GreenFutures - Local Action for Global Stewardship, will focus on how GreenFutures overlaps with the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). As part of our introduction, we're going to ask participants a series of questions that are designed to cultivate small-group discussion -- and more questions!
One of our first questions is: "What is a culture of sustainability?"

Beautiful green schools that engage students and staff do so, not because of solar panels, farm-to-cafeteria, or clean air and water, though these certainly do help! It's something else.
How would you describe a culture of sustainability? Let us know what you think via email, tweet, or the ProgressEd blog.

Or just feel it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Letter to Bernie Sanders: A green, healthy, and sustainable U.S. for peace in the Middle East

Dear Bernie,

I've been thinking about your positions on war and peace, and I was especially interested in your comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an American with Hebrew and Arab roots, I'd like to make a few suggestions about the best way to advance peace here in the U.S., and in the Middle East.

I think that, as Americans, we have to focus on what we want here in the U.S. as we address inequities around the world. I recommend that we advocate for a green, healthy, and sustainable America. I’ve outlined some general principles below.
  • Green: reduce energy consumption and conserve water. The result is that we reduce greenhouse emissions, stabilize our climate, and create green jobs. A green economy fosters interdependence rather than violent competition for resources such as energy, land and water.
  • Healthy: provide free health care and promote effective working conditions. People have a right to be healthy, and we need to create a culture that values emotional, social and physical wellness. We need recreation in schools and communities, contact with nature, experience with the arts and sciences, and a sense of belonging. Healthy Americans take care of themselves, their families, and their communities. Healthy Americans also have the time to influence local and global politics for a just world.
  • Sustainable: study and advocate for systemic economic, social and ecological balance. War isn’t good for children and other people, and it is expensive. War is a result of fear, desperation and greed. Conflict in the U.S. and in the Middle East results from an imbalance that positions economy against society and the environment. Alternatively, sustainability is a road map to a flourishing world that ensures a high standard of living for all, in the present and in the future. For more information, read the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The Middle East is a beautiful part of the world that could easily celebrate cultural diversity, honor and protect indigenous people, and even create abundance through low impact eco-tourism.

For Americans, the best way to bring peace to the Middle East is to focus on a green, healthy and sustainable America as we promote a culture of peace and joy at home and abroad.


A modified version of this letter was published in The Swarthmorean on Mar. 11, 2016.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

And what about a "progressive" teacher union movement?

What is the difference between a progressive, liberal and Marxist union? The answer, in part, might have something to do with the emphasis on members' stewardship of the union.

Thanks to Xian Franzinger Barrett and his colleagues at the Chicago Teachers Union for inspiring the Caucus of Working Educators (WE), a social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). WE is challenging the Collective Bargaining Team (CB) for leadership of the PFT. CB has run the PFT since the 1980s. Ballots go out this week and are due by Feb. 19, 2016.

In this informative 10-min video, Kelley Collings provides a summary of how WE came together, the importance of union member stewardship, and the emergence of hope for the schools and the city.

PFT's Kelley Collings, candidate for VP of Middle Schools

Sharif El-Mekki, a principal with Mastery Charter Schools, has worked in Philly since the 1990s, and shared a few comments on what I will call CB's "old school" v. WE's "new school" unionism:
I'm excited about WE's desire to align with social justice issues that impact communities. They appear to look at the profession as a natural alliance with others who are fighting oppression from various angles. Encouraging.
WE's "new school" unionism has already had an impact on the PFT, the city, and teacher leadership. Should WE win the upcoming election, I expect and hope that they will build on the best of the CB legacy and then continue to innovate.

Back to the question of the "progressive" union. The Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN; ca. 1995) has published a paper called "Three Frames of Progressive Unionism," which emphasizes:
  1. industrial frame
  2. professional frame, and 
  3. social justice frame 
Although the document has changed over the years (i.e. from 2005 to 2011, v. 5), and is arguably less "progressive," I've found that the three frames are helpful tools to understand the sociology of unions. Steve Owens has a lot of knowledge about TURN and may be able to provide more context.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

American Education Week and Neoliberal Market Efficiencies

Founded in 1921, American Education Week was designed to inform "the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs." 17 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed "the teachers and patrons of American schools" about the relationship between democracy and education.
As American Education Week is once more observed throughout the schools of the United States, opportunity again is afforded to evaluate the part which our schools play in the preservation and promotion of democratic life.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education (Sep. 27, 1938).
Roosevelt's comments, though brief, provide sharp contrast with the writings of Joanne Weiss, who served as President Obama's director of Race to the Top and then Secretary Duncan's Chief of Staff. Weiss actually sees teachers as passive recipients of education reform -- to be fed data -- rather than co-constructors of democratic practices that engage students, families, and colleagues. From Weiss' Harvard Business Review (HBR) post:
It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students – and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents (Mar. 31, 2011).
Weiss' comments reflect the notion that teachers are passive observers within their own profession. She assumes that teachers do not, in fact, do research everyday on what works and what doesn't work for children. And when we place her comments within ED's push for the adoption of common standards across the U.S. via Race to the Top, her framework becomes so much more dangerous. From her HBR post:
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.
Some may note that Weiss' post was from 2011, and that her views might have "evolved," in part, due to the good work of ED's diverse, passionate, and caring colleagues. Yet with such a Machiavellian view of education, I wonder how Weiss even ended up in ED in the first place.

I'm not interested in gnarling Weiss' reputation.

I am interested in engaging colleagues in a critique of the anti-democratic practices that sometimes pass for a "kinder and gentler" neoliberalism. A neoliberalism that sees children as a revenue stream, and teachers as an obstacle to market efficiencies. The threat to our democracy is real, and the saboteurs are in the room.

Sometimes, nuance is not good enough.