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Monday, September 27, 2010

Robot Factories

Over the weekend, I read what I thought was an excellent guest posting by Joanne Yatvin on Valerie Strauss's The Answer Sheet blog, Turning schools into robot factories. When I finished reading the piece, I was surprised at the number of negative, often nitpicking comments. I thought it deserved better. One of Yatvin's better lines was:

Many of the once excellent teachers I know have been reduced to automatons reciting scripted lessons, focusing on mechanical skills, and rehearsing students for standardized tests.

And her conclusion was excellent:

Out of a misguided belief that students’ test scores represent a country’s economic health and, perhaps, out of wounded pride; our leaders appear determined to convert our once great public schools into robot factories and to extinguish the brilliance and imagination that have fueled our country’s greatness for more than 200 years.

Maybe I'm a bit too sheltered, but I've often been taken aback by the vitriol of reader comments to well written articles that do not match the readers' views. While not specifically dealing with education, a piece by AP National Writer Jesse Washington is illustrative of the problem: Racist messages pose quandary for mainstream sites.

Getting back a bit to Yatvin's article, she wrote of never missing the newspaper comics because she thinks "their creators are some of the most intelligent and well-informed people on the public scene. As a group, they have mastered the subtleties of language, politics, philosophy, and human behavior." Shortly after reading those words, I ran into Tea Party Takes Over Comics Page on the Boston Globe.

The newspaper comics page: some find it to be innocuous, even at times irrelevant. But there's a growing concern among a certain segment of the country that the comics page is out of step with mainstream values, if not an outright cesspool of treasonous, pinko propaganda. So in the interest of fairness and balance we present comics reinvented by "Tea Party cartoonist Joe Smith" -- with a little help from Ward Sutton.

I'm sure that one will produce some interesting comments!

A Good Read

Robert King continues his excellent series on Indianapolis PS #61's kindergarteners with Kindergartners' 1st test shows who's set to read. His series gives a good look at some of the realities of education and should be required reading for our President, Secretary of Education, and all of the other non-teacher education "reformers."

Odds 'n' Ends

NBC's Education Nation event is underway. The summit is being held today and tomorrow in New York. Brian Williams hosted a Teacher Town Hall yesterday along with an online chat that overwhelmed the folks at NBC with the volume of teachers participating and commenting. A promised transcript of the complete chat comments never materialized online, and the comments posted and those shared on Brian Williams's broadcast were heavily filtered. The President appeared today for an interview on the Today Show, once again glorifying charter schools and missing the point that charters, high stakes testing, and Teach for America won't fix the problems that exist in American education.

Here's some reaction by teachers to the event:

Education Nation is a sham. Sabrina Stevens accurately described it as "a public forum just participatory enough to include rapid-fire snippets of a useful conversation, but not participatory enough to ensure proportionate representation of those whose futures depend on the outcome of this conversation." But NBC will probably get their expected bump in ratings as a string of non-teacher education "experts" take the stage to extol their "solutions" for education.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NBC Crosses the Line

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Brian Williams and education correspondent Rehema Ellis presented a video story last night at the end of the Nightly News that pretty clearly shows the network's intent and bias with its Education Nation event. The video clip showed a sincere young teacher from the Teacher Town Hall event who called for an end to tenure and felt that "the union contract is getting in the way" of teaching her children.

Such feelings among young teachers aren't all that uncommon, and the teacher shown had every right to express her opinions. She probably hasn't experienced the need for tenure/due process in her young career. She also clearly lacks the perspective of having a school corporation take more and more of her hours from her without additional compensation to understand the need for "days and hours" provisions in teacher contracts.

What was so terribly wrong with the report is that NBC filtered out most comments about the necessity of tenure/due process from its online viewers and chose to present a view that was not representative of the teachers in the hall, online, and across the nation. And both Williams and Ellis showed their absolute delight at the young teacher's union bashing comments.

Earlier in the broadcast, NBC did show a video clip of a very reasonable AFT President Randi Weingarten telling NBC's Matt Lauer that tenure really wasn't the issue. She related that proper nurturing and effective evaluation of young teachers by administrators should weed out ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, the inclusion of the one-sided end clip by an obviously biased Brian Williams wasn't news coverage. Together with NBC's slanted selection of speakers at the event (Diane Ravitch and others with similar views were totally excluded.), NBC and Brian Williams are presenting their opinions as news.

Odds 'n' Ends

Nick Anderson and Bill Turque's Obama: D.C. schools don't measure up to his daughters' private school relates the President's assessment of D.C. Schools and his decision to send his children to an exclusive, private school. Valerie Strauss's The elephant that Obama and Lauer ignored: Poverty and student achievement tells of the President's continuing practice of ignoring the factor that most strongly effects student achievement in the classroom: poverty.

Valerie Strauss also has an interesting guest posting today from 14-year-old Nick Berray of Virginia, a member of the Scholastic’s Kids Press Corps, who covered a recent Presidential press conference. You can read his comments on The Answer Sheet, A kid reporter learns the ropes covering Obama, or on the Scholastic’s Kids Press Corps blog, Kid Reporter at the White House.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's late, well actually, early Wednesday morning. I'm tired and will be busy "tomorrow," so here's a quick and dirty rundown of things I found notable online in the last 24 hours.

Stephen Lazar was, briefly, one of the teacher panelists on NBC's Teacher Town Hall. He relates his experience in Education Nation: I Should Have Known Better. Seattle Education 2010's Parents and teachers across America express outrage at NBC's "Education Nation" tells more about the absurd NBC event.

Teacher Layoffs and War on Rethinking Schools makes some pretty strong and effective arguments about our nation and governments real commitment to education, or lack thereof.

An Outside Take on Waiting for "Superman" by Benjamin Sarlin on The Daily Beast is a good read.

Three good reads by Anthony Cody are Two Lies and a Half Truth: Teachers and our Jobs for Life, How Would a Journalist Cover Education Nation, and Is it Time to Trash Tenure?

And Sam Dillon's 4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong is a refreshing read about a big school that works.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

ADHD May Have Genetic Component

Researchers from Cardiff University in Wales have found a possible genetic component in some children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD May Have Genetic Component on MedPage Today relates that children with ADHD "were more likely than other kids to have large chunks of deleted or duplicated DNA called copy number variants." MedPage Today's Todd Neale notes:

Although the majority of children with ADHD did not have these variants, the findings suggest that ADHD is not simply a behavioral disorder, but a neurodevelopmental one [my emphasis] like autism, according to Anita Thapar, MD, of Cardiff University in Wales. She and her colleagues reported the results online in The Lancet.

MedPage Today's coverage of what may be a significant step in understanding at least one cause of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder appeared to me to be the most accurate and least sensationalized of the news stories and press releases available about the new study. Other coverage includes:

Looking Ahead

October CalendarUnless I've missed something, Columbus Day (11) (Thanksgiving Day in Canada) and Halloween (31) seem to be the holidays of the month from The Teachers' Corner October Calendar. While not on the calendar, covering the November mid-term elections will probably be something many teachers will want to include in their instruction in October. FREE, PBS Teachers, and the Teachers' Domain all appear to have good links to some solid teaching aides on elections.

For those hunting edcuation resources for the classroom, let me not so humbly suggest my Resource Sites for Teachers and Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students.

On the Blogs

Valerie Strauss takes a look at The strange media coverage of Obama's education policies on her The Answer Sheet blog today. She writes:

There will come a time when this current wave of "reform" proves as unsuccessful as past fads -- and journalists may look back on their fawning coverage and be very, very sorry that they gave [up] their objectivity on this subject.

The Failing Schools blog has added a third writer to the already excellent blog, Mark Friedman. His Cory Booker: Really a Historic Opportunity is a good read.

From across the pond, Scenes From The Battleground: Teaching in British schools looks at unnecessary special education placements in the UK. Total Eclipse of the SEN could easily be applied to our special ed system in America as well.

Nancy Flanagan's Bob the Science Guy--and the STEM Crisis on her Teacher in a Strange Land blog questions the whole practice of testing in specific subjects to attain the status of a "highly qualified teacher." She writes:

I would argue that what made Bob an excellent teacher was the very fact that he was a generalist. Every kid in that school system learned about science from a man who was broadly knowledgeable, showing them the function of scientific principles in their everyday life and modeling curiosity about the way the world works.

When Bob realized that he was going to have to take a whole bunch of courses and tests to become "highly qualified" under NCLB beyond his specialty of chemistry, "He retired, moved even further north, and began his new occupation of year-round hunting, fishing and book-reading."

Jenny Orr's Arms and Legs on her Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It blog tells of a broken arm on the playground and a kick in the shins from a first grader. I'd guess such stuff wasn't covered on NBC's Education Nation.

Another View on Education Reform

Frank Harris III, chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, adds his voice to those calling for a reappraisal of education reform in The Keys To Education Gap Are Race, Poverty, Parents on the Hartford Courant. Harris believes that "parents stressing the importance of education" to their children, and all that goes with it, is the biggest factor needed in education reform.

While I like Harris's zinger, "But it is easier to fire the teachers than it is the parents," parents are just one part of a complex set of problems that the afflict education in America. Until we get past the quick fix "solutions" being proposed by the Obama Administration and many education "reformers" that almost totally ignore the effect of parents, poverty, and so on, I'm not sure we'll make much progress in nationwide improvement in education. We will, however, close a lot of "failing" neighborhood schools and drive a lot of "Bobs," who we desperately need, out of education.

Odds 'n' Ends

Amazon We're at the end of another month, and I noticed that the archive for this week's Educators' News is "week300.html." I'm not sure that's any kind of a milestone, other than a nice, round number. Educators' News began publication in 2001, was discontinued in 2003 for a time, and then was my off and on outlet for daily comments about education until I became unemployed in early 2008. (And yes, I really did do a Johnny Paycheck in 2008!)

Since I began collecting Social Security this month, I've begun using the term "retired" instead of "unemployed." But over the last few years, I've really worked hard to make Educators' News something that might be informative and helpful for classroom teachers. If you agree, please share our URL with fellow educators. BTW: Using will get folks here just fine. We've owned that domain for a number of years, but have never switched the entire site over to it.

And since I'm rambling and have already promoted a couple of my resource columns above, let me list a few of my more political columns here. Since Educators' News doesn't run on any of the blogging sites and really is a bit of a hybrid of a news site and a blog, you won't find any of these articles linked from other education sites.

Gin Blossoms: No Chocolate CakeFriday, October 1, 2010

Another D.C. Budget Shortfall

It's a new month, a new fiscal year for D.C. schools, and guess what? The Washington Post's Bill Turque reports that the D.C. schools may face another budget shortfall. Rising costs for special education may cause a $30 million shortfall in the schools' budget. The problem was revealed as part of "an analysis by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi that places the citywide budget gap at $175 million for fiscal 2011.

Baltimore Moving to Merit Pay

Erica L. Green and Liz Bowie tell of a new teacher contract in Baltimore in City teachers would be able to earn significantly more under new contract (alternate link). The agreement establishes a four tier structure of pay for teachers "based on student achievement, evaluations and taking classes that improve their performance." Also included is a plan "for school-based options that give teachers more control over working conditions." A union ratification vote will be held later this month.

Virginia iPad Social Studies Experiment

Meris Stansbury's Virginia using iPads to teach social studies relates that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) "is implementing a pilot program that puts fourth, seventh, and ninth grade social studies curriculum on an iPad." In an attempt to "explore the potential of wireless technology and digital textbooks to enhance teaching and learning," 230 iPads have been purchased through a $120,000 grant from the governor’s Productivity Investment Fund to house a social studies curriculum created by Pearson Education.

Pearson’s iPad apps for the VDOE are derived from the company’s Virginia editions of America: History of our Nation (for 7th grade) and World History: Volume I (for 9th grade). The iPad program includes three components: An app with interactive learning games that introduce concepts to students through puzzles and fast-action challenges; eText on an iPad, where students access the social studies curriculum and create their own individualized texts; and a personalized assessment with remediation app for students to review and self-test.

Pearson's Virginia iPad Pilot page offers a sneak peak at their Interactive Learning Games and Assessment App.

Walt Gardner Takes the Times to Task

Walt Gardner has some biting, and I believe, all too accurate comments today on his Reality Check blog in Suicide of Teacher and Published Rankings. He writes that "the exact motive for [Los Angeles teacher Rigoberto] Ruelas's suicide is not clear...but what is undeniable is that the Times's decision was a contributing factor." Walt says the Times "exercised atrocious judgment that would do little to improve instruction" in publishing "rankings of 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers based on how much progress their students made in English and math on standardized tests." Moving beyond the tragic suicide of Ruelas, Walt concludes:

Contrary to what union busters want taxpayers to believe, teachers are not trying to duck responsibility. They welcome constructive criticism. In fact, they are hungry for feedback that helps them do a better job. That's why teachers attend summer workshops and weekend seminars. But the key to successful intervention is the way it is carried out. Humiliation is not the way to do so.

Odds 'n' Ends

Monty Neill, interim executive director of FairTest, makes some good points in a The Answer Sheet guest blog, Why won't Congress admit NCLB failed? He writes:

Testing is a cheap “fix.” Genuinely improving schools and teaching, and overcoming the poverty and segregation that are still the most significant factors in student outcomes, are expensive, complex and politically difficult.

New York Times op-ed writer Gail Collins has one of the fairer appraisals of the current education reform situation that I've seen lately in the mainstream media, Waiting for Somebody.

Jack Linden's Education has to be at home in the Seguin, Texas, Gazette-Enterprise is another call for reason in education reform. Linden, a retired history professor, places NCLB and RttT in the class of educational fads that have come and gone. He reasonably writes:

We need to educate for life long learning. That means that we have to teach reading, not just in the classroom, but from home. Perhaps that reading should be in not just reading for pleasure but how to read a technical journal. There needs to be time for thinking and creating without a machine. There is more to life than math and science. 

I ran across two interesting stories on Education Week yesterday, only to realize later that they were only available to EdWeek subscribers. Obama's ESEA Plan Short on Research, Authors Allege by Dakarai I. Aarons and Think Tank Critics Launch Policy Center by Sarah D. Sparks are worth a look if you already have access. Laura Bush Unveils Bold Principal-Training Initiative sounds a bit scary to me.

NASA Image of the Day

Since we haven't featured any space or astronomy photos in a long, long time on Educators' News, let me wind down the week with this stunning composite image of the Antennae galaxies. A Galactic Spectacle was assembled from imagery from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), the Hubble Space Telescope (gold and brown), and the Spitzer Space Telescope (red).

Antennae galaxies

Located about 62 million light years from Earth, the Antennae galaxies "take their name from the long antenna-like 'arms,' seen in wide-angle views of the system. These features were produced by tidal forces generated in the collision" of the two galaxies (NGC 4038 and NGC 4039). "The collision, which began more than 100 million years ago and is still occurring, has triggered the formation of millions of stars in clouds of dusts and gas in the galaxies. The most massive of these young stars have already sped through their evolution in a few million years and exploded as supernovas."

And if you hadn't guessed already, my copy of the Gin Blossoms latest CD, No Chocolate Cake, arrived yesterday. After one listen through, I think it's pretty good, although not quite like New Miserable Experience. Of course, albums by the Gin Blossoms tend to grow on you the more you listen to them. The CD, released on Tuesday, is available for purchase as a physical CD or download from Amazon, or for download only via iTunes.

Have a great weekend!

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