Thursday, December 22, 2011

Everything's amazing and nobody's happy

Over at Education Week, my buddy Patrick Ledesma posts an insightful article about the use of technology, a sense of immediacy, and the implications for [public] education.  The idea is that public access to privatized messages from teachers can increase an individual teachers' wealth.

The video, Everything's amazing and nobody's happy, is pretty funny, and Patrick infers that creative teachers can wrangle technology for personal gain.  Perhaps.

I appreciate Patrick's insightful perspective -- and I never really liked all those zeros (watch the video). But why is it that we sometimes align the maximization of individual liberty ('...a level of voice...") with economic prowess ("... financial security...")?

I like money, but I want democracy AND sustainable wealth. If we privatize, what mechanisms are left in place to sustain the public democracy AND sustain wealth?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Teacher Professionalism and Leadership

In a recent USA Today article, Wendy Kopp (CEO of Teach for America) and Dennis Van Roekel (President of the National Education Association), recommend “3 steps improve the USA’s teachers.”
Specifically, Kopp and Van Roekel suggest that we:
  • Use data to improve teacher preparation.
  • Bring new talent to the teaching profession.
  • Give teachers opportunities for continuous professional development.

Everyone wants to improve, but it would be helpful to determine what the specific problems are before we create policy guidelines.  Once the problems are identified, teachers should be directly involved in creating, implementing and evaluating the solutions.

Of course teachers are life-long learners and we are, therefore, interested in continuous improvement. However, when it comes to student learning, the focus on teachers is incomplete. We should also consider the students' readiness to learn when they arrive at school.  

In order to learn, students need to be well-rested, well-fed, safe, and curious when they arrive at school. If that's not the case, then we need to look to the social and economic context in which the children live outside of school. And yes, teachers do have some perspective on that context.

An over-emphasis on teacher quality is a distraction from what truly ails us: students' and teachers' diminished ability to make informed and strategic decisions about their learning.   

Over-emphasis on teacher quality as the "...single biggest factor in student success..." implies that if students are not succeeding, or learning, then teachers should be held accountable. Yet research from the Center for Teaching Quality has shown that teachers are less effective when they have poor working conditions.

The onus is on teachers to advocate for effective working conditions, among other things. Teachers should be involved in the design and implementation of curriculum, instruction, assessment AND policy -- all aspects of our working conditions. This emphasis on teacher leadership ties in very well with the US Department of Education's Blueprint for Reform that emphasizes teacher professionalism.

Within the article, it is not clear if Kopp and Roekel are referring to worthwhile assessments of "student learning" -- or simple measurements of "student success." Poorly designed standardized tests CANNOT be used to correlate the quality of teacher training programs.  

Why use bad data to create wishy-washy (or worse) policy?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Big Money In Education Reform

I know a lot of extraordinary teachers, so please consider applying for this award below :). 
A Major New Award for Extraordinary Teaching
Amazing teachers deserve more attention. That’s the idea behind the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, a new award that honors extraordinary teachers with $25,000 and the opportunity to share their expertise with educators nationwide.  Offered by TNTP, a nonprofit organization [led by Michelle Rhee for its first 10 years] led working to ensure that more students learn from excellent teachers, the prize will be given to up to five teachers each year.  Any full-time teacher working in a high-poverty public school, including charter schools, may apply. The deadline for applications is Friday, February 3, 2012. Learn more and apply online at
[COMMENTARY]  There is some big money behind some types of education reform.  Not all of that money is designed to sustain democratic public education.  
When Michelle Rhee, or others, say that "...the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher...," more questions are raised than answered.  On the surface, one might think that teacher quality would imply that teachers should somehow be involved in creating the schools (and policies) that influence their effectiveness.  Yet many reformers -- conservative, neo-liberal or heavy-handed Marxist -- often overlook teachers as the experts in the room.  Quite undemocratic.  
Some messy questions to consider:
  • If students are not doing well (on standardized tests), does this imply that teachers are merely "ordinary" or just plain lousy at their jobs?
  • If teachers are not as effective as they could be, are there other in-school variables that influence student learning?  What does it mean when we isolate the teachers as a single variable and ignore the other variables that could affect student learning?  What if smart teachers are saddled with stultifying working conditions, dangerous hallways or classrooms, or children arrive at school hungry, tired and/or stressed?
  • If you take an effective teacher and move her/him from 5th grade to 3rd, and then to 4th, will her/his effectiveness be compromised year to year?
  • Why is it that under-performing schools often have higher teacher turn-over and higher rates of newer teachers?  

Friday, November 4, 2011

PA Charter Schools and Democratic Accountability

The School District of Philadelphia has decided to close 9 schools in an attempt to reduce the excess capacity by 14,000 seats.  Since 2000, the District has lost over 50,000 students.  And since PA approved charter legislation in 1997, over 48,000 students have enrolled in charter schools.

There is a clear connection between the loss of students to charters and the disinvestment in traditional public education, i.e. the closing of schools.

But charter schools can co-exist with traditional public school districts, provided that the state-level charter legislation is more teacher-friendly.  By involving more teachers in democratic educational reform, we are more likely to benfit from their professionalism, creativity and expertise.

Charter legislation in Pennsylvania is presently not that teacher-friendly in that it marginalizes teachers (and local unions) from the innovative charter school process: teachers who work at the school can't serve on the board of a charter school. Nor can they be members of the local bargaining unit. These two provisions exclude two important groups that could actually sustain worthwhile educational reform.

It could get worse.

According the the Education Law Center, PA state Senate Bill 904 and House Bill 1348 are designed to change charter school legislation so that there is actually less democratic accountability: 10-year renewals rather than 5, conversion of any school to a charter, and a state-level commission to directly approve charter schools.

If we're gong to revise charter school legislation, we can do better:
  1. Charge the PA State Commission with explicitly helping LEAs, parents, teachers and unions study, modify and/or adopt effective innovations within the charter school networks.
  2. Modify the oversight of individual charters to require teacher representation. If the argument has been that teachers have had little influence over the direction of traditional public schools, then teachers should be able to effectively influence public education through charters, if necessary.
  3. Allow PA charter employees to opt-in to (or cooperate with) the membership of the local union's collective-bargaining unit. This will help the employees within a charter ensure due process. As for "seniority" that is associated with unions, charters should be explicitly permitted to retain site-based hiring (a provision that already exists within traditional public schools). Charters should also be required to design their budgets that do not penalize (or discourage) experienced teacher applicants due to their higher salary expectations.
  4. Allow/encourage local unions (or their partners) to open and supervise charter schools. If the argument is that the LEA and it's policies hinder teacher effectiveness, then local unions should be able to manage charters effectively while maintaining union membership within the LEA.
  5. Require that charter schools provide opportunities for teacher leadership through teacher-led professional development, peer evaluation, common planning time, and engagement-oriented (rather than compliance-oriented) administrative supervision.
  6. The legislation should also be explicit about using "multiple measures of teachers' effectiveness" in determining faculty retention, teacher salaries, etc. Assessing teachers' effectiveness on high-stakes standardized tests is an incomplete and ineffective strategy. The use of multiple measures to determine teachers' effectiveness is in alignment with position statements by the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the US Department of Education's Blueprint for Reform - Reauthorizing ESEA.
It's time for more democratic accountability -- in all aspects of educational reform.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What do well-funded schools look like?

Below are a few things we could do to create well-funded, dynamic and engaging schools.  What would you add, take away or modify?

  • Create smaller class size; I don't care what the research says, I just know I can be more effective when I can know fewer students more deeply.  Right now, I have 125-145 students, depending on the day.  When I taught at an independent school, I had about 60-80 students/day. 
  • Build and maintain beautiful school facilities with a fully funded library, computer centers (or 1:1 laptops as needed), resplendent arts studios and athletic programs, well-funded class trips, and access to green space.  These sorts of things already happens in some schools, but it sometimes means we create privilege rather than cultivate democracy.
  • Have healthy, sustainable and tasty lunch programs - free to all, including faculty and staff.
  • Foster flexible teacher leadership so that individuals can have one foot firmly in the classroom (with benefits) and another foot in research-world (for policy, curriculum studies, or professional development).  Each school would formally have at least 1 such teacher leadership position for every 10 teachers, and the capacity for other positions to be created.

Education for Democracy is Patriotic

The more-than-adequate financial support of public education is an expression of democracy.  Unfortunately, public education is under-funded.  Teachers need to balance defense of the profession (How can we manage budget cuts?) with advocacy for students (How can we ensure smaller class size, for starters?*).
What can we do to help advance the idea of public education as a foundation for our democracy (assuming we agree)?
CLICK ON THE GRAPHIC below for an clearer image that helps me visualize the relationship between democracy and education.  Comments/suggestions welcome. [* The graphic was designed to map the US Department of Education's emphasis on "college" and "career" as sub-sets of critical and creative thinking. As Gretel points out in the comments below, critical and creative thinking are life-skills that exceed college and career. I agree. GDS - 10-18-2013.]

* What are some features of adequately-funded democratic education?  See subsequent post.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Reclaiming Choice

    Gary Olberman, an effective advocate for progressive democratic education, shared an article from Forbes entitled "Why I Support the Teachers Unions."  One of many lines from the article that caught my attention:

    • Once they take away job security and collective bargaining rights, what’s to stop them from taking away pay, benefits, and everything else?" 
    There's also an interesting discussion about how school choice has been used to undermine public education.   I agree.

    Though I'm unsure about the demonization of "choice."  I think choice has been redefined, inappropriately, by some sectors within our society,  as a method to privatise public education.  But what if we reclaimed choice as an expression of democracy?

    For example, why not advocate for teacher-led public schools that offer a variety of choices in terms of curricula, instructional strategies, community partnership, etc.?  One-size curriculum for all, where all students have to be tested on the same day, doesn't give teachers or students much choice about how or what or where they learn.

    At the school level, effective teachers can provide choices for individuals within any particular curriculum.  Yes, we will study "cells as building blocks,"  but what are the myriad of ways that well-supported teachers can help engaged students choose how they develop, or experience, that scientific understanding?

    And we've got to give teachers choice in the schools they serve.  In the larger districts, such as Philadelphia's, teachers are assigned without any consideration of "best match" to a specific community.  Students, parents and teachers should be able to interview prospective teacher candidates and then choose those that are best aligned with that community's pedagogical approach -- all in the name of democracy.  

    We've got to develop the capacity of our schools to make smart choices that maximize individual freedom while also honoring collective equality (if not equity).  And if we can't trust our teacher leaders to do this, then we have a serious problem.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    The Excellence Myth & Poverty in America

    Over at transformED, Dan Brown discusses the impact of poverty on over 46 million Americans.  Part of the problem is that it's hard to be poor in America.  And when poor people go to school, it's often hard for them to learn well.  And when students don't learn well, teachers get blamed.  Dan argues that the "No excuses" mantra about teachers doesn't really address the debilitating violence of poverty.

    I think Dan has also picked up on the myth of excellence. It's the same ideology that produced "Waiting for Superman," as if teachers just worked hard enough, everything would change.

    Although individual teacher excellence is important, we also should look at lateral relationships, or capacity, or what some call social capital. If our society can help cultivate each person's or community's social capital, then kids (and teachers) will show up at school well-rested, well-fed, feeling safe, curious and nurtured, and ready to learn.

    Poverty diminishes social capital in that people have little influence over their environment/surroundings (i.e safe neighborhoods, stable networks, access to healthcare, libraries, food, etc). If you're a teacher, your social capital is diminished when policy decisions happen without you, when PD is done to you, and when your creativity and initiative are smothered by standardized testing or teacher-proof curricula.

    It shouldn't be a crime to be poor in this country, but it is. And families and children (and teachers) are punished for their proximity to poverty.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Effective Teacher Evaluation: Stuck in the Middle

    According to an article in EdWeek, New groups giving teachers alternative voice, "...52% of teachers now have 10 or fewer years in the profession...."  Many of these new teachers are interested in new models of compensation, teacher leadership and career choices.  Not all teachers, regardless of their experience, agree on what it means to be an effective teacher.

    Some of the newer teachers are finding their voices in new teacher advocacy groups, some of which are aligned within unions (see NEWTLA in Los Angeles) or outside of the local (see Educators 4 Excellence in NYC). Some of these groups receive funding from the Gates Foundation, while others do not.  It is arguable that E4E could be characterized as neo-liberal in its call for 1) teacher evaluation to be based on student growth and 2) the elimination of seniority.  Other groups, such as Teachers Union Reform Network, seek to integrate labor, professional and social justice models of unionism.  And as a member of Teacher Leaders Network, I've seen my own positions on educational policy be characterized as either too conservative or too liberal.

    Some of our own colleagues may agree with some or all of these new teacher groups' platforms.

    There is no clear political designation for these emergent groups, yet I would argue that our unions could be more communicative, both horizontally among members, and vertically between members and the union officers. For example, with Philadelphia's upcoming negotiations about the teacher contract (which expires in 2012), effective communication is a concern.  Where and when do teachers get to influence the direction of contract negotiations?

    The issue of "teacher evaluation" is moving towards Philly, and it would be wonderful for teachers to have more of a say in what it could look like. In order to do that, we'll all have to do a lot more research on effective teacher evaluation policy.  If we're going to influence our union to cultivate teacher voice more often, then we're going to have to have concrete ideas that we can get out in the public discourse.

    I'm delighted that some site-based unions will be taking a closer look at teacher evaluation. I wonder where Philly's Teacher Action group is.

    What do you think is effective teacher evaluation?  What does it look like?  How can it be designed to foster student engagement, teacher voice, and professional growth?

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    18 year-old Advocates for Worthwhile Teaching

    Check out Sinnea Douglas, a 2011 grad of Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy (SLA), share her take on worthwhile teaching in the poem "When I become a teacher."

    Sinnea started working with poetry in Matthew Kay's lunch-time poetry club at SLA in 2009.  By 2001, Sinnea and her buddies from Philadelphia's Youth Poetry Movement won the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival.

    Rock-on Sinnea, you're beautiful.  And thank you!

    (Thanks to Laurie Calvert from the US Department of Education for finding an opportunity toi share Sinnea's words on the teacher landing page at the website.)

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    U.S. annualized corporate profits: $1.68 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2010.

    This past Wednesday, May 31, 2011, Philadelphia's School Reform Commission passed the District's budget.  The SRC also passed a resolution to cancel previously approved  collective bargaining agreements if they are not re-negotiated by Jun 30, as if unions were somehow responsible for the District's budget deficit.

    When it comes to laying off teachers, eliminating programs, or dishonoring the legacy of teachers unions, where is the focus on the incredible wealth being amassed in the private sector?  If there's a shortage in funds for public education, then raise taxes.  This is an argument that the SRC can stand behind.

    Although it may not be the most well-received (at least nationally), I wish the SRC had said something like "We call on local, state and federal governments to structure taxes to support public education as a foundation for a civil democracy."  After all, the New York Times reported that as of "...Jun, 2009, U.S. annualized corporate profits rose 42 percent, to a record $1.68 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2010."

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Stumbling towards democracy

    Over at CTQ, we're wrapping up our Teaching2030 bookclub.  One thing I've learned is that good people don't always agree on educational reform.  And that disagreement is a source for learning; check out what a Susan Graham, a CTQ colleague, had to say about educational reform funding cycles:
    • And since the funding cycle for grant money isn't all that long, I can't wait years for evidence of success, so long term results like the 30 year Tennessee kindergarten study aren't feasible measures. Besides, end of year test scores are funded by someone else and don't eat into my grant budget.
    Susan, thank you for the frank description of educational reform cycles.  There's a lot here to help us be more effective with our efforts.  For example, if funding cycles are driving reform schedules, then we'll have to work on that -- as long as the cycles are stultifying.

    I'd like to offer another perspective of educational reform.  The funding of public education, and reform, represents a revenue stream.  That stream can be directed towards 1) the cultivation of democratic education or 2) the accumulation of private wealth.

    I know that educational reform is not as black and white as democracy v. privatisation, and that there is some overlap.  For example, non-profits participate in educational reform, whether they are the "good guys" or the "bad guys."

    However, I'd rather stumble towards democratic education than disrupt valuable learning by:
    1. demonizing teachers
    2. entrapping students in endless standardized test-prep
    3. marginalizing families
    4. ignoring the fundamental social issues that create educational inequities in the first place.
    We are all teacher leaders.  Some of us may dabble in, or even embrace, teacherpreneurism.  But no matter how we identify ourselves, I think we should closely examine what it is we think is the purpose of public education.  If we want to make some extra money as we lead, or teach adjunct, or administer grants, or facilitate PD, then fine.  If teacher leadership is a means for us to be more effective and to exercise our voice and to influence reform efforts, then terrific.

    Whatever we do, we should be intentional.  For me it's about democratic education.  So invite me to your next PD and we can tear into some good readings, map curriculum, or develop professional development plans.  And we can work out the remuneration at a later date ;).

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    If I were Secretary of Education...

    Education Week blogger and school teacher Nancy Flanagan tells us about her plan for national education reform -- especially if she had the resources of the Department of Education at her fingertips.

    If I were Secretary of Education, I'd revise Race To The Top so that --
    • "civil democracy" was promoted as a central aim of education;
    • college and career readiness were framed as natural outgrowths of a civil democracy;
    • teachers had the time and resources to develop meaningful assessments that tell us about students' critical and creative thinking strategies;
    • teachers were invited to participate in policy discussions, teacher education, research and program administration (perhaps with modified, i.e. reduced, classroom assignments);
    • resources were leveraged for systemic reform that supported safe communities, stable families, national healthcare, and meaningful employment.
    What would YOU do, if you were the Secretary of Education?

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Mind the gap -- on education for democracy.

    Is there is a gap between the power of the Gates Foundation, what teachers do everyday in the classroom, and what Teaching 2030 (T2030) proposes?  How closely are these three aligned?
    The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) has emphasized the importance of cultivating and sustaining teacher involvement in local and national education policy.  What infrastructure has to be in place so that this happens more effectively and more frequently?  And how can we financially sustain such initiatives?  Supporting smart professional learning communities, and then publishing books like T2030, are no easy tasks.
    Where, when and how do we look at the bigger picture?  Are we just fish, swimming is a school, hoping to influence the sway and swirl of our fellow educators, policy-makers, legislators and advocates?  Diplomacy is an anchor with CTQ, and sustained collaboration with the Gates Foundation would be nice.
    Yet where, when and how do we draw the line?  Do the authors of Waiting for Superman merely have an accurate, however incomplete, picture of public education?  Or is there a coordinated effort to redirect the public education funding stream towards privatisation?  If so, what do we lose in the process?
    In an article in today's New York Times (Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates), we are reminded of the Foundation's leveraged interest ($373 million since 2009; $3.5 billion projected 2011-2016) on education reform:
    • Gates Foundation funding:
    • Teach Plus - Indianapolis: "...outspoken teachers helped persuade state eliminate seniority-based layoff policies."  (partial).
    • American Enterprise Institute - DC: " influence the national education debates." $500,000 (2009).
    • [P]hilanthropic advisory firm, - NYC: " mount and support public education and advocacy campaigns." $3.5 million.
    • Harvard University: " place 'strategic data fellows' who could act as 'entrepreneurial change agents' in school districts...." $3.5 million [emphasis added].
    • campaign lobbying of presidential candidates: $16 million (2008).
    • Alliance for Excellence in Education (Jeb Bush), DC: " grow support for the common core standards initiatives...."  $550,000 (2009).
    • Fordham Institute (Chester Finn), DC/OH: " common core materials and develop supporting materials...."  $959,000.
    • Center for Education Policy, DC: " track which states adopted the standards." $1 million (2009-2011 est.).
    • AFT & NEA, DC: $6.3 million (2008-2011).
    • social action campaign focused on the film Waiting for Superman.  $2 million (2010).
    To what end?  What is the Gates Foundation (and others) trying to accomplish?  The educational mission statement from the Gates Foundation websites prioritizes college readiness: The foundation has set an ambitious goal in K-12 education: to graduate all students college-ready. Currently, only a third of students graduate on-time with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond high school. Together with our partners, we are working to provide all students—especially low-income and minority students—with the opportunity to realize their full potential.
    Is college readiness an adequate platform for meaningful educational reform?  How does eliminating teacher seniority for layoffs increase college readiness?  How can the change levers within T2030 be leveraged to find common ground?
    What if public education was about the cultivation of a civic democracy? 

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    A New Teacher Unionism

    Steve Owens, one of my colleagues from the Teacher Leaders Network, recently posted some interesting questions on his blog:
    • What constructive role do you see for unions in education reform?
    • What suggestions do you have for how the Department can build the capacity of stakeholders to participate meaningfully in the great policy debates of our time?
    Steve is a music teacher, president of his NEA local, and a classroom-based Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the US Department of Education.  Steve helped me understand about the three branches of a new unionism that, if integrated, could help enrich public education.  For Steve, and many of his colleagues within the Teachers Union Reform Network, new unionism includes the integration of industrial, professional and social justice models.  I'll write more about new unionism later, but I wanted to address Steve's questions.

    I think unions can have a much stronger role in advocating for teacher leadership. For example, I’d like to see more unions working with districts to create regional (if not school-based) “fellowships” in which teachers have 1/2 classroom responsibilities and 1/2 policy/research responsibilities. What a terrific way to cultivate teacher leadership and give teachers the time and resources to refine their understandings of policy and research.

    The Department can get more stakeholders involved by focusing on state-level school board associations, parent groups, administrators and student unions. I’ve attended school board meetings and have been concerned about the adversarial comments flying back and forth between these stakeholders.

    The Department is in a position to leverage relationships so that more people are talking about more of the same things. For example, how can the stakeholders work together to protect teacher (and principal!) pensions? If we want the best teachers (and principals) for our students, then we can surely collaborate to create the best working conditions that attract and retain highly qualified, creative and synergized educators.

    Even if we don’t all always agree on specific solutions, the shared understandings will help us keep the conversation focused.

    So, back to Steve's questions:
    • What constructive role do you see for unions in education reform?
    • What suggestions do you have for how the Department can build the capacity of stakeholders to participate meaningfully in the great policy debates of our time?
    What do you think?

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Teaching for profit -- say what?

    Over at The Future of Teaching, John Holland has raised some interesting questions about the differences between "teacher leaders" and "teacherpreneurism." Check out John's graphic (below) to get a sense of where John is heading:
    With this graphic, John has done a terrific job of probing the differences between “Teacher Leader” and “Teacherpreneur.” I like money as much as the next person, but I wonder about the “non-profit v. for-profit” dichotomy.
    By associating teacherpreneur with profit, we embrace a extrinsic reward model of education. The implication is that teachers would do more/better only if we were paid better. I certainly would like a higher salary, but I think we’ve got to focus on effective working conditions that help teachers flourish. Nor are many of our colleagues just plain “lazy.”

    Besides, in order to garner “profit,” you have to exploit some resource.  What services are we going to cut in order to create this profit?   If we insert profit into public education, then the goal becomes more about making money and less about fostering democratic habits of mind and body [& spirit].  Is "for-profit"  a model we want for public education?

    Why not just pay teachers really well for their important, child-rearing endeavors and elevate collaboration, creativity and critical thinking as our aims?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

    I support unions because they are fundamental to a healthy and vibrant democracy.

    Unions foster individual liberty while ensuring social equality.  Unions exist on the "commons" of our lives and stand for the sustainability of collective bargaining, safe and effective working conditions, and justice.

    The good folks at EDUSolidarity are leading a campaign to support unions.  Read about them HERE, and consider showing your support.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Staying on Message

    What's your message about public education?

    How can we continuously engage the public without sounding like a broken record?

    The short list:
    1) Refer to investments in public education as an expression of patriotism.  Divestment in funding of education is unpatriotic.
    2)  Describe smart spending at college (pre-service teaching), district and/or school level so that the ideas get out there.  What programs need to be in place to foster love of learning (or "engagement" or "sustained learning")?  Inform as you advocate.

    The longer list:
    1)  Stay on message.  Public education is about love of life-long learning and civil democratic engagement.  Even though it is exhausting, we've got to have everyone rehearse, investigate and explore this #1 assumption.
    2) RTTT emphasizes student preparation to  "... succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy."  RTTT and other federal, state and local programs should also promote democratic engagement.  Public education is an opportunity for students to learn about the infrastructure of democracy.
    3)  America's economic, political and social prowess depends on creative and critical thinking.  Standardized tests do an incomplete job of assessing either.  Invest in professional development so that teachers can develop engaging and rigorous curricula that foster both critical and creative thinking.
    4)  Assess students' growth using a variety of measures, including 8-9 multiple intelligences (MI).  Standardized tests incompletely assess verbal & mathematical.  Creative and critical thinking has to rely on other domains such as collaboration (interpersonal), time management (temporal -- I think I just invented that MI), and analysis of mistakes/course correction.  Failure is an essential ingredient of learning.  On this count, high stakes testing measures the wrong things.

    We can also assess (K-12 and beyond):
    -student attendance
    -parent participation
    -graduation rates
    -employment rates
    -sense of civic engagement
    -health statistics
    -student post-secondary employability
    -students growth towards stable home ownership or renting
    -students access to libraries, parks and safe neighborhoods
    5)  Develop a rubric with schools, parents, students for "school readiness."  What do students need to benefit from a rigorous, engaging (and therefore joyful) curriculum?
    6)  Assess teachers growth in collaborative "aims" [not "goals"-pet peeve] that are aligned to everything above -- or parts of above because we are not gods -- and bench-marked progress (1/4ly, yearly).

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    International Teaching Standards?

    My colleague Zac Chase just shared an article that a national emphasis on reading and math has resulted in a drop-off in science education -- as compared to students scores in other countries.   That's certainly possible.  However, I think we can view literacy and numeracy alongside, or integrated with, science education.  How can we do this?  By providing the time and resources for teachers to co-plan effective K-12 curricula, especially within elementary schools.

    Elementary teachers are especially well-situated to create integrated curricula that help students identify problems, create solutions, measure outcomes, and co-present with classmates. For example, the study of an urban brownfield (or the African savanna) could easily develop students' language, social studies, math and science skills.

    Back to the international comparison of students' test scores.  If NAEP is going to be used to compare students' scores with other countries, then what metrics are the other countries using?  There's something very unscientific about standardized test scores in general, and when comparing NAEP to other types of tests, in particular.  Perhaps the TIMMS tests are better for international comparisons -- but to what end?

    I was a bit annoyed when President Barack Obama said that we have to beat other countries in science and math education.  US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been saying the same thing.   Both Obama and Duncan have suggested that America's economic future is a stake if we fail to enrich math and science education.  Yet if our educational prowess is a means to economic dominance, then somebody, somewhere, has to lose.  (Besides, it's American capital that is outsourcing, junk-bonding and/or embezzling.  Where is American corporations' sense of patriotism?  Oh, I digress).

    Of course I want America to have a healthy and sustainable approach to education.  Yet I thought the purpose of education was to bring us together as a people on the planet.  Where are the international content (and instructional) standards that all people, all over the world, are collaborating and reflecting on?  When do we say we have to work with people all over the world to develop the wide range of learning experiences that meet all children's needs?

    When do we say that teachers, all over the world, have to have the working conditions where they and their students can thrive?