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Monday, June 6, 2011

It's All Odds 'n' Ends Today

I didn't run across any big stories in education over the weekend, but found one good news item along with several interesting columns.

A brief report by the Los Angeles Times' Howard Blume, Temporary pay cut approved by Los Angeles teachers, relates that "members of the Los  Angeles teachers union voted overwhelmingly to approve a temporary salary reduction in exchange for sparing thousands of jobs." The agreement still must be ratified by the LAUSD board on June 14, but should save the jobs of "teachers, nurses, librarians and magnet school coordinators" that would otherwise have been cut.

Jonathan Zimmerman had a really good op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, When Teachers Talk Out of School. Zimmerman writes about free speech and academic freedom of teachers in an age where a "wrong" comment on Facebook can get one fired.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly discusses possible cheating on Indiana's high stakes tests in ISTEP+ cheating suspicions arise: Study of erasures hints at coaching. Another article in the Journal Gazette by Devon Haynie, Marked schools play catch-up, tells how the Fort Wayne Community Schools used a turnaround strategy, with union support, to possibly head off intervention by the Indiana Department of Public Instruction.

eSchool News tells about BookDefy, a new free site for college students to sell, buy, or swap textbooks in New textbook exchange site helps students "defy" publishers.

Jay Mathews winds up his Presidential candidates tend to avoid education issues column by writing, "So if you crave an education debate, prepare to be bored in 2012."

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday "on a Dane County judge’s order blocking a law that curtails collective bargaining by public employee unions." Ed Treleven reports in Justices split politically as court takes up collective bargaining law that "questions from the justices appeared to fall mostly along the court’s political divide." With conservatives holding a 3-2 majority on the court, Treleven's report doesn't sound like good news for teacher rights in Wisconsin.

Paul Fanlund writes about the loss of civility in political conversations in Wisconsin in Walker should take bull's-eye off the backs of teachers. He also chronicles Governor Scott Walker's attacks on teachers, noting that Walker and the GOP are trying "to split the middle class, pitting those who work for private employers against public employees."

On Teacher Evaluation

Michael Winerip has an excellent article about the Montgomery County Public Schools' Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) teacher evaluation and mentoring program, Helping Teachers Help Themselves. He notes that the successful program does not qualify for Race to the Top funding, as it does not use student test scores in evaluating teachers. Montgomery superintendent, Jerry D. Weast, who is retiring this month, said, "We don't believe the tests are reliable. You don't want to turn your system into a test factory." Sadly, folks like Arne Duncan, who Weast says is a friend, don't seem to be looking at PAR as a possible model for teacher evaluation elsewhere.

Odds 'n' Ends

Here are a few other items that caught my attention.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rough Draft of DeclarationSurprise: Content Items

Here are a couple of content items that caught my attention.

The Library of Congress's Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence: A Primary Source Starter could be useful in the classroom...if you're teaching summer school. And if you are, and you're having some of the same hot weather we're having, I hope your air conditioning is working. (More on that, later.)

Science Nation continues to crank out good, weekly science stories. Their latest is Marshes and Sea Level Rise.

And Science Girl continues her solar system tour with Our Solar System Part 4: The Goldilocks Zone on Scientific Explorer.

And About the Heat

When thinking about how hot it's gotten this early in June, I'm reminded of Robin Williams' humorous Adrian Cronauer/Roosevelt E. Roosevelt weather report from the movie, Good Morning, Vietnam and Noel Coward's Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

It was 95o when I came in from gardening and mowing yesterday afternoon. My youngest son, Zach, called in the evening and related that it got up to 103o in the Minneapolis area!

And while I think of humorous stories about hot weather, I'm also mindful that a lot of schools that are still in session making up snow days from last winter may also be in the heat wave area. Even in my dotage, I can still remember how miserable we all were sitting in stifling classrooms in June at School 91 in Indianapolis. While I'd love to believe all schools have air conditioning (that works properly), I know better.

Whether you're already out for the summer, teaching summer school, or still making up snow days, I hope you're staying cool.

Diane Ravitch Answers Critics

Diane Ravitch's An Interesting Few Days is her response to critics, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, of her New York Times op-ed, Waiting for a School Miracle. It's a good article that should leave our SecEd embarrassed for the falsehoods he's perpetrating on the American public. I won't give it all away, but here are a couple of telling sentences from her rebuttal:

On one level, this is a story about politicians taking credit for improvements to justify their policies. But there is a larger, and I think more ominous story, and that is the effort to claim that we can safely ignore growing income inequality and poverty and concentrate instead only on specific school reform policies.

Odds 'n' Ends

Apple Computer's announcement this week of their new iCloud service contained a possible gem for teachers. While the new service mostly pertains to music and video, eSchool News noted in Apple's iCloud could help make digital instruction easier:

The new feature, allowing additional copies of previously purchased songs and books to be sent automatically to more devices, is available now. It means that a teacher could buy one digital copy of a book or movie from Apple's online store and have that resource appear on his or her computer, as well as up to nine other student devices at the same time.

Dale Dearnley's Central Falls Teacher: Why I Resigned lists her reasons for leaving the troubled Rhode Island school system:

  1. Lack of discipline and accountability for students
  2. Lack of Curriculum
  3. Lack of Respect and Abuse of Power

The last one includes harassment of teachers such as Dearnley who were "vocal against the mass firing of teachers without cause" last year.

In a related story on GoLocalProv, Central Falls Parents Plan Rally for Schools, Stephen Beale relates that an organizer of a rally to be held this evening said teachers have been "banned" from disciplining students. Lisa Nass, the organizer, noted that through all the changes at Central Falls, the "relationship between teachers and students has suffered the most." She "laid most of the blame on the current administration, which she said was so bent on reform that it had made things worse in Central Falls."

It was fine. They changed and changed and changed—to the benefit of whom? It's not helping the kids. They tampered with something that wasn't broken and now it's broken.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ed Harris shared a link today to an article about Prince George’s County Public Schools' current plan to lay off 93 media specialists, more than half of the total number in the system. Schools' media specialist force set to be halved next year by Abby Brownback quotes Ed, who is currently the media specialist at Woodmore Elementary School, as saying, "It's going to take away from the instruction the students can receive, the days when resources would be available to teachers and students." Ed isn't included in the layoff, but will be spread across three schools next year.

It was good to see a voice for reason on the CNN site this week in Helen Gym's Reformers, please listen to what parents want for schools. Gym offers some common sense wisdom about what kids need and thrive on in schools that will be totally ignored by the school "reform" crowd.

John Hechinger's Education According to Mike Milken gives us a good look at what a for-profit online school looks like.

Deborah Meier gets the "quote of the day" award for her line in When World Views Differ Dramatically:

With the millions of dollars Rhee has access to she'll have no trouble soon claiming soon that her new organization, StudentsFirst, represents enough teachers to present herself as the voice of real teachers in favor of serfdom.

Tom Luna's Controversial Education Reform Sparks Attempt At Repeal In Idaho by Jessie L. Bonner is a good update on the power grab in Idaho to "reform," or more properly, privatize schools there.

Rounding out a really wimpy posting for today is Walt Gardner's excellent piece about Principals as Management, Teachers as Labor.

Let me at least leave you with a bit of color I recorded in our garden yesterday.


Senior Gardening

Friday, June 10, 2011

Solutions That Work?

In the current climate of school "reform," I get worried when I see grandiose titles such as "Solutions That Work." So last night, I wasn't terribly thrilled when I came across the press release, Pennsylvania State Education Association Unveils "Solutions That Work" to Reform Public Education. The document from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) has lots of sensible proposals in it, but is flawed by the association's acceptance, endorsement, or acquiescence to evaluating teachers based on student test scores. And of course, the media response ignores the sensible proposals, going to the one item school "reformers" so love, as illustrated in the headline to Dan Hardy's article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, PSEA backs use of test scores in evaluating teachers.

I think it's sad to see a state teachers' association giving in to the "reformers" on an item that I believe will be repudiated in time.

I was glad to see that Walt Gardner wrote today on A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers. He writes about the Michael Winerip article I linked to on Tuesday, Helping Teachers Help Themselves, and the Montgomery County Public Schools' Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) teacher evaluation and mentoring program. He notes of the program:

This track record should put to rest the claim that involving teachers in evaluating other teachers will vitiate the rigor of the practice. Even before PAR came into existence, I saw how demanding teachers can be of each other. Let's not forget that when teachers at one level are ineffective, they create additional work for their colleagues at another level. As a result, it is in the interest of all teachers to be vigilant in their ratings.

They're Still Pissed

The school "reform" crowd continues to be seriously pissed off about Diane Ravitch's New York Times op-ed, Waiting for a School Miracle, and her subsequent rebuttal of their attacks on her views on the Bridging Differences blog, An Interesting Few Days. I ran across a more moderate piece via a Valerie Strauss posting by Mike Petrilli, The ends of education reform. While Petrilli is firmly in the "reformer" camp and writes of "Diane’s defeatism," he also has some sensible words about addressing school improvement in light of the many factors beyond educators' control. He also links to some of the radical "reformers" rants against Diane's articles, if you want to read them. Diane has obviously touched on a very raw nerve of the school "reform" crowd by shedding the light of day on the half-truths being put forward by our President, his Secretary of Education, New York City's mayor, and others.

Anthony Cody wrote yesterday in Is Diane Ravitch Insulting Teachers? Who Speaks for Us?

The remarkable thing in this event is not simply the fact that there is a debate here. It is how one-sided the debate has become. The "reformers" all seem to be sponsored flacks, and I am seeing virtually NOBODY speak up in defense of their project. Alter tweeted "the point of Diane's column was to discredit the progress those teachers have made." So far as I know, no teachers have spoken up to say they were offended.

He offers a challenge and even editorial space on his blog for dissenters (which, of course, won't hurt his web stats any):

So here is a challenge. I would really like to hear from any educators - people actually working in our schools, and not on the payroll of Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, or Bill Gates, who take issue with Diane Ravitch's critique of education "reform."

If there is a silent majority out there, as the Department of Education seems to think, here is your invitation to speak up. I offer the comment space below, and if you would like to write a full blog post, I offer that as well, without censorship or editorializing.

And if you agree with Diane Ravitch, please say so as well.

What do you think? Has the debate over education "reform" become one-sided? Are there teachers out there who support the policies of the Department of Education?

Odds 'n' Ends

Join or DieI find I'm linking more to the Library of Congress's primary sources collection. I think that's because they've stepped up their email PR effort, and I often have to fish their messages out of my junk folder. But the content is certainly something that teachers may be able to use in the classroom. Today's link is to Political Cartoons: Seriously Funny by Stephen Wesson and led me to the Ben Franklin image shown at right.

Here are a few other odds and ends I ran across this morning:

Also, Accelerated Readericon now has an iPhone (iPad) app.

A Few Thoughts on a Sunny Friday

I get a bit defeated at times writing Educators' News and seeing what school "reform" is doing to education and the teaching profession. The problems of measuring the value of teachers by student test scores should be abundantly clear, but the massive PR misinformation campaign by the "billionaire boys club" and the Department of Education seem to have convinced many that we need to junk public education, fire the teachers, and start all over again.

SuperTeacherWe're probably not going to find a magic bullet to cure what's wrong with education in this country. Firing the "bad teachers" sounds like a good idea, but when you base it on student test scores, it doesn't allow for a year or two, or heaven help you, three years in a row when you're assigned "the class from hell." It also doesn't take into consideration that good teachers are human and will have years when they're not at their best (illness, pregnancy, end of a relationship, loss of a loved one, etc.). I look back and wonder how my students survived when my first marriage was falling apart, followed by several years when I was again a bachelor and became SuperTeacher, as my faith and my classroom were about all I had to hang onto.

I started my teaching career in a school that the superintendent, who later went on to be a highly regarded State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said he'd like to "blow up." In today's rating system, it would probably have been classed as a failing school and closed, but the staff worked incredibly hard to provide the kids there a good education, despite the external factors that sometimes so blunted our efforts. Based on test scores, we probably all would have been gone in a couple of years, or at least under Indiana's new regime, denied salary increases because we missed the mark.

Our national leaders keep looking for the quick fix for education when improving education is a multifaceted problem requiring many approaches, often localized, to yield results. Their top down, one size fits all approach to school "reform" is a bankrupt policy that gives aide and comfort to extremists like Governors Mitch Daniels (IN), Chris Christie (NJ), Scott Walker (WI), State Supers such as Tony Bennett (IN) and Tom Luna (ID), and the business model "reformers" who have a buck or a name to make on education.

I was heartened a bit today to see Mike Petrilli's article (linked above), as the "reform" crowd has been absolutely savage and ravenous in their assault on the teaching profession. But just last night, my wife Annie, reminded me of the devastating effects on a child by having a sub-par teacher for a year or two or even three. In my mind, I saw the faces of those teachers with whom I worked who appeared not to care and saw how a student might be unlucky enough to track through their classes year after year. In my last ten years of teaching, I was often the one who attempted "to clean up the mess" when the child finally got two or more years behind and was placed in my special education class. Successful evaluation programs such as the PAR teacher evaluation and mentoring program give me hope that sanity may return to teacher evaluation one day. And of course, one can't do the one size fits all solution of trying to generalize PAR to every situation.

I don't have lots of answers to fixing education that are easy, as poverty is a giant problem that the "reformers" consistently want to ignore. Homes with parents who practically raised themselves are now producing children with little to no effective parenting. School funding is always a problem, especially in an economic downturn. I remember hoping each year in vain that my special ed room would be adequately staffed, only to see administrators and school board members choose to continue using it as a dumping ground for children they deemed as being of less worth than others. There was no satisfaction for me when my replacement was crushed under the caseload and fired after two years for being ineffective. I only saw the faces of the kids I felt I'd abandoned, but also remembered my wife's admonition, "You've got to get out. This job is killing you." I bailed, but it still haunts me.


As Mark Knopfler's The Bug so aptly states (link is to Mary Chapin Carpenter's cover of it):

Bugs on Windshield Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're just a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you're gonna lose it all
Amazon - Come On Come On

In June, Educators' News is usually the bug. Our site stats tank every year at this time, as teachers get away from teaching just a bit to recharge their mental and emotional batteries from the pounding they take in the classroom (and now in the national media). I guess I could start running some racy pictures or raise the level of my often raucous rhetoric about school "reform" to a new level to draw more hits. (And for a good laugh, take a look at Brent Hope's PIOUS = People for Insect Opportunity and Unconditional Security, from which I "borrow" the bug image above. Thanks, Brent!)

ChicagoIt certainly wouldn't hurt any if all the columns and blogs I frequently link to would follow Queen Latifah and Taye Diggs advice (reciprocity) from the tune, When You're Good To Mama, and share a link back here. Interestingly, the respected educational historian, Diane Ravitch, is about the only one to do so! I'd call her my girlfriend, but someone else has already used that line. And quite possibly, my writing may not be compelling enough to draw the external links needed to sustain this site.

But with the coming of summer, I'm probably just going to go with the flow and cut back postings through June and July to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Like most of you, my "job jar" is always full, and I still have fairly regular updates to do on our Senior Gardening web site.

Have a great weekend!


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