Archive for December, 2015

One Person CAN Make a Difference… Even At the Top

December 26, 2015 Comments off

Yesterday Diane Ravitch featured a heartwarming story that was posted a few days ago Emma Brown of the Washington Post describing the heroic effort of Tiffany Anderson, a school superintendent in Jennings, MO. Jennings borders Ferguson and shares its demographics… and problems. But instead of introducing a rigid curriculum to improve test scores, Ms. Anderson restored the arts and went to work at the root causes of poor academic performance: food, clothing, and even shelter. Her bottom line, which Ms. Ravitch flagged in her column, should be the bottom line of all school leaders:

We need to have the urgency for other people’s children that we have for our children, so we move at warp speed,” Anderson said.

Read the article and you’ll see that a committed, hard-working and highly focussed individual can make a huge difference.


Hilary’s Math Gaffe Gets SOME Discussion on Public Education

December 24, 2015 Comments off

Two days ago, Hilary Clinton spoke at a high school in Iowa and made this statement:

“I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing better than average.”

When I read this report yesterday in a conservative blog, The Federalist, I figured it was just a hyperbolic statement that her opponents seized on… but today the Washington Post, the New Republic, and a host of other mainstream media outlets seized on it… All of them emphasized the preposterousness of such a proposal and questioned what metric she was using to define “average”. Her point, though, was this: why would we want to send ANY child to a school that was below average? Maybe her gaffe will lead to a national dialogue on that question.

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Desegregation: Is the Best Way Chance, Choice, Charters, or Investing in ALL Schools?

December 24, 2015 Comments off

Last week the NYTimes ran an article by Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres titled “What Would it Take to Integrate Our Schools?” The op ed piece described the reality of NYC schools, which are highly segregated, and suggested the best way to address this issue was through “controlled choice”:

Rather than assign students to a zoned neighborhood school, controlled choice allows parents to rank their school preferences across a district — and then uses a computer algorithm to balance those choices to achieve a diverse mix of students in each school. The mix can be based on a variety of socio-economic, academic and geographic categories that the Supreme Court has ruled are permissible.

While Lander and Torres might argue the point, “controlled choice” is really a lottery… and while it might result in racially diverse schools it would more likely result in even more economic stratification since few parents would choose to attend under-resourced schools in dangerous neighborhoods. Indeed, at the end of the article Lander and Torres acknowledge that after years of work controlled choice would fall short of the mark:

…we’d still be left with many segregated schools. But we would be moving forward to address a grave injustice. And by showing that diverse schools work, we will build support for even more — both here and across the country.

Today’s Times has several letters offering alternatives to “controlled choice”, all but one of which are based on some form of choice. One letter from the Executive Director of Magnet Schools sees them as the solution. A second letter from a group of Hebrew Charter Schools sees their schools’ recruitment strategies that aim for diversity as the solution. And a charter school executive sees the proliferation of new charters into all neighborhoods as the solution. One writer, a Brooklyn parent, Steve Hamill, states the obvious: improving ALL schools might be the best way since parents base their choices on the schools that have the most resources and, as it stands now in Brooklyn, the schools with the most choices are those whose parents can dig deepest in their pockets. And how deep are they digging?

Give the excellent new principal at Public School 282 — my son’s school — $3 million for more programming (the fund-raising difference between our P.T.A. and a neighboring private school), and parental choice will drive desegregation and improve educational outcomes.

That’s only $3,000 a child per year for my son’s school. Scale up this level of investment systemwide, and a million children would benefit.

How schools can achieve equitable outcomes when they have different resources bases? The short and obvious answer is: they can’t! Hamill concludes his letter with this paragraph:

To fix the injustice of our segregated schools, this proposal (i.e. controlled choice) must be matched with a sizable investment from the city and the state to make sure that even the children who lose a better “lottery” can get an excellent school.

Hamill is right… but his idea that equity can only be accomplished through more spending would not warrant an op ed piece in the newspaper… it would be dismissed as “throwing money” at schools… which only seems to work in affluent neighborhoods and communities and has no relevance whatsoever when discussing schools serving children raised in poverty.

Someone in Washington Needs to Repeat Superman’s Exhortation to Children in 1949

December 23, 2015 Comments off

I have been deeply disturbed by the response of our Presidential candidates and majority of Governors to  the Syrian refugees crisis…  a crisis that is arguably the result of our presence in the Middle East and developed countries’ failure to tackle climate change- both of which are the ultimate underlying causes of the the fighting in that country.

As readers of this blog realize I have also been dismayed at our country’s response to the school shootings. Instead of applying funds to programs that compel students to engage with each other, that promote mutual understanding, or engage alienated students or funds to provide schools with more staff to deal with mental health issues we’ve spent our scarce resources on surveillance cameras, door locks, security systems, and armed guards.

I have also been dismayed at the shrill tone of the Republican candidates in offering their “solutions” to terrorism, which is to point fingers at brown-skinned immigrants and Muslims as the source of our nation’s problems. And their “solutions” to poverty all involve implicitly blaming those raised in poverty for “bad choices” they made and not facing the fact that the economy s it is structured now only offers bad choices when it comes to jobs.

Finally, I contrasted all of this to the world I remembered in my youth… when teachers urged classmates to connect with me when I was a “new kid in school”… when our school in OK welcomed a new student who was a Hungarian refugee… or even as late as 1978 when the HS I led welcomed a Vietnamese refugee. I also recall being taught in about the racial injustices in the South in junior high school in the early 1960s and hearing our President then exhorting us to join the PEACE Corps.

With all of that as a backdrop, I saw this cartoon on Facebook and couldn’t believe it was real:



I was so incredulous I went to Snopes and found that this cartoon was a colorized version of an earlier one from a book cover that was distributed in schools in 1949. Here’s Snopes’ explanation followed by the original cartoon:

2×18″ brown paper with black art images and text. ©1949 Nat’l Comics Pub. Inc. Distributed by The Institute For American Democracy Inc. Book cover features art image of Superman that appears to be by noted Superman comic book artist Wayne Boring showing Superman standing with group of children, text balloon reading “… And Remember, Boys And Girls, Your School — Like Our Country — Is Made Up Of Americans Of Many Different Races, Religions And National Origins. So …” and continues underneath “… If YOU Hear Anybody Talk Against A Schoolmate Or Anyone Else Because Of His Religion, Race Or National Origin &Amdahl; Don’t Wait: Tell Him THAT KIND OF TALK IS UN-AMERICAN. HELP KEEP YOUR SCHOOL ALL-AMERICAN!” Book cover has handling wear, mostly along center vertical fold line, resulting in numerous small creases not greatly infringing into art area. Fine. Art area featuring Superman remains VF. Scarce.


Now, instead of asking students to tell a classmate that “Talk Against A Schoolmate Or Anyone Else Because Of His Religion, Race Or National Origin” is “un-American” we have Presidential candidates exhorting the opposite. Instead of having students accepting responsibility for putting a stop to the kind of bullying discourse Superman saw as un-American, we teach them the mantra “If you see something, say something”… in other words, let someone in authority take care of the problem. We need someone to take up the Man of Steel’s role and teach our children— and our Political leaders— that intolerance and racism are un-Amercian.

What No Child Left Behind Left Behind @alternet

December 22, 2015 Comments off

I’m glad to see another progressive educator pointing out that ESSA is no improvement whatsoever… and his last paragraph mirrors what I’ve posted her for weeks:

…with more authority re-devolving to the states, the broader foundations of what has been the educational status quo in America for a generation are allowed to continue and in some cases are actively perpetuated: the creep toward privatization, the traditional approaches to pedagogy and curriculum, the bribe-and-threat manipulation of educators and children, and, above all, the reliance on standardized testing. For worse and for worse, the heart of NCLB lives on.

I’m willing to wager he would agree that no bill is better than what we have with ESSA…. Read on! 

What’s behind the recent “historic triumph”?

Source: What No Child Left Behind Left Behind @alternet

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Questions Over Measurement of Learning Leads to Questions Over Credit Recovery

December 22, 2015 Comments off

“A Wink, a Nod, and a Diploma”, Robert Pondiscio’s USNews and World Report article, questions whether the recent celebration over increased high school graduation rates is the result of many students gaining diplomas through “Credit Recovery”, the means used to accumulate the credits needed for a student to graduate from high school.

Using two anecdotes about students who graduated from credit recovery programs as examples of the kinds of programs that lead to a diploma, Pondiscio laments the fact that there is no national standard for credit recovery and intimates that the increase in graduation rates might be the result of chicanery:

Earlier this year, the U.S. graduation rate hit a record high of 81 percent. How much of that is due to credit recovery? At present, we can only guess. “I do believe credit recovery is contributing to the increase in graduation rates, but it is very hard to distinguish ‘good’ credit recovery from ‘bad’ credit recovery,” says Russell Rumberger, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. “The former would provide a level of rigor and learning similar to regular classes, while the latter does not. The problem is that we have little data on credit overall or data on the quality of credit recovery being provided.” The result is an amorphous blob that is ripe for abuse, overlaid onto school systems that already have every incentive to graduate students and send them out into the world, ready or not.

And here are some examples of paradoxes that arise if we, as a nation, decided to change schooling to address the concerns about “credit recovery”:

  • Quantifying the “amorphous blob that is ripe for abuse” requires the setting of national standards… and we are moving further away from such a standard by the passage of ESSA
  • There is an implicit assumption that diplomas gained by accumulating credits based on seat time are somehow more valid than those accumulated through credit recovery… and we are increasingly recognizing that learning takes place outside the classroom is often more valuable and relevant than that that takes place in the classroom.
  • There is an implication that credit recovery that replaces direct instruction with passing of a test is invalid… yet we allow students to get college credits for passing AP tests.

These underlying cross currents need to be addressed in some form, and I believe the best means of doing so is by abandoning the archaic seat time measure that is the basis for the factory school and replacing it with some kind of credentialing mechanism that requires a demonstration that a student possesses the skills and knowledge needed to advance to the next tier of learning or for entry into the workforce. We have the wherewithal to move in this direction, which is more akin to Illich’s “Deschooling” than Skinner’s behaviorist testing schemes… but we won’t move that way at all as long as we loosen and de-regulate the standards for measuring learning.

And therein is the biggest paradox of all: in order to loosen the structure of schooling we need to tighten the structure of measurement.

MOOCs To Date: Minuscule not Massive, and NOT Broadening Opportunity

December 21, 2015 Comments off

As one who believes that access to computers is a social justice issue and on-line learning might provide equity of opportunity, I was dismayed to read two recent articles on the state of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

Earlier this month, Sindya N. Bhanoo, a writer for the NYTimes, reported on a study by John D. Hansen,  a doctoral student at Harvard who found that the majority of those taking advantage of Harvard’s MOOC offerings came from affluent neighborhoods, which was not the target audience.

“Just because it is free and available online, it does not necessarily mean that the chief beneficiaries or users are going to be the less advantaged,” Mr. Hansen said.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on the experience Georgia Tech is having with its MOOCs, and they are finding that students are taking longer to complete the on-line programs and the demographic of those taking the courses is not what Georgia Tech anticipated:

Nearly 80% of students in the online program are from the U.S., with many already employed. The campus-based program, meanwhile, overwhelmingly attracts international students who move to Atlanta and enroll full-time.

But like the campus version, the online degree still skews heavily male and has a small share of under represented minorities. Mr. Isbell said Georgia Tech is becoming more “intentional” about attracting women to help diversify the talent pipeline.

While MOOCs are providing a low-cost alternative means of attaining a degree, they are not graduating as many students as hoped for nor are they attracting  wider demographic, which was another anticipated result.

The Wall Street Journal headline for it’s article is “Online Degree Hits Learning Curve”. Time will tell whether it is hitting a wall.