Assault on Teacher Education

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is leading the assault on teacher education in the U.S.

According to the President of this organization “Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools they need.”

NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh, has led the assault  claiming that teacher education has no real authority because it lacks specialized knowledge. She writes about teacher education, yet she lacks professional training in educational research and has no experience as a K-12 teacher or a university professor. Her writing is not peer-reviewed, nor subjected to kind of review and analysis that the writing is by educational researchers,  or others scholars in the fields of art, music, history, political science, computer science, mathematics. Scholarly peer review Most journals use scholarly peer review to judge professional work, such as in medicine or political science, and done by experts in the field of the scholar’s work.  Think tank “research” is typically not peer-reviewed, and it doesn’t matter whether the organization is on the left or the right of the political spectrum.  When reading reports that are non-peer reviewed, we should be cautious about the facts, principles, theories and conclusions drawn in these reports.

Leading the Assault on Teacher Education

Leading the assault on teacher education is NCTQ.

The NCTQ was created by the ultra conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 1999.  According to Anthony Cody, we gain insight into the NCTQ’s origin from this quote from Diane Ravitch which Cody included in his article, “NCTQ Prepares its Hit on Schools of Education.”  According to Ravitch, here is what the Fordham Foundation thought about teacher education:

We thought (schools of education) were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997, we had commissioned a Public Agenda study called “Different Drummers“; this study chided professors of education because they didn’t care much about discipline and safety and were more concerned with how children learn rather than what they learned. TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.

Screen Shot 2012-04-05 at 9.10.20 AMThis is not the first time that I’ve written about the NCTQ.  About a year ago I wrote a review of a NCTQ study on what teacher education programs teach about K-12 assessment.  In my review, I concluded that the researchers of the NCTQ study are stuck in a 19th-century model of teaching, and simply want to hold accountable, teacher education institutions to the principles and practices that teacher education rocketed through years ago.

In this blog post, I am going to focus on an article that NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh published online at Educationnext entitled 21st-Century Teacher Education. The article includes one illustration of  a red “teacher tools” box with a very large lock with teachers standing near.  The teachers are unable to unlock the “tools of teaching” inside the box.

According to Walsh, Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools inside the box.  For a 21st-Century article about teacher education, don’t you think its odd to use a 17th – 18th century invention as a metaphor?

The article is full of opinion, and lacks any research basis for her views of teacher education.  Furthermore, the tone of the article unabashedly negative, and she seems to enjoy using violent and militaristic metaphors.

Yet at the same time, the article is important because it identifies the nature of the assault on teacher education.

The author of the article doesn’t hold back on her opinions of Ed schools. Here’s one comment that will knock you over. She quotes and agrees with a former employee of the National Institutes of Health, Reid Lyon, who would like to take the following action against Ed schools:

If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which is very close to several schools of education in Boston, this remark is simply outrageous.  (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Boston, and attended graduate school at Boston University)

Cherry Picking

Her assault on teacher education, beyond the bombing metaphor, begins with a cherry picking exercise in which she chooses a few sentences from a major research study carried out in 2006 by the most prestigious education research organization in the world, the American Education Research Association (AERA).  The major research project was Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education, edited by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Kenneth M. Zeichner.  Walsh claims that the research was written by 15 prominent deans and education professors, when in fact there were 25 authors and panel members, only one of whom was dean.  The authors are prominent researchers and practicing teacher educators.

Walsh assumes that thinking about right and wrong (directions, issues, methods, content) is the way researchers in this volume of research think.  They don’t.  But she does.  And this is a major dilemma in analyzing anything that Walsh and her think tank has to say.

She claims that the AERA report outs teacher education by publishing a report that will give “balanced, thorough, and unapologetically honest descriptions of the state of research on particular topics in teacher education.” But, as I said, all she has done is pull a sentence out of a report of more than 800 pages.  Here is the complete paragraph containing this sentence:

This volume represents a systematic effort to apply a common set of evaluative criteria to a range of important topics in teacher education. It is our intention to provide balanced, thorough, and unapologetically honest descriptions of the state of research on particular topics in teacher education as a field of study. For many of the topics we considered, this meant that we needed to identify and acknowledge the considerable inconsistencies and contradictions that characterize the field. Our reviews were designed not only to note this state of the field but also to explain why this is so and to evaluate both the strengths and the weaknesses of different questions and approaches as we simultaneously identified promising lines of inquiry.  (Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 230-235). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Walsh has her own view of how teachers should be educated, and seems somewhat bothered by the depth of the research reported in the AERA study.  For the researcher, they’re interested in uncovering the nature of teacher education through inquiry, and then to use findings to document and encourage promising lines for further inquiry.  Walsh, beyond bombing schools of ed, has her own set of ideas that she thinks should be the substance of teacher education.

She claims that the volume demonstrates lack of credible research in teacher education. I don’t think she read the book.

For starters there are 12  chapters, and each chapter has between 100 – 200 citations, most of which are research studies published in peer-reviewed journals.  There is credible research in teacher education.  It might not be what Ms. Walsh wants to read.  For this book, all chapters “were vetted by scholars who brought independent expertise to the work and who had no stake in the panel or its report.”   Another words, it was peer-reviewed.  Walsh is not used to this kind of writing or research.  If she was, then her article as written on EducationNext wouldn’t have been published in any credible journal.

In the book, there are nine research syntheses that are used to highlight the current state of field in teacher education.  The “Executive Summary” which draws from three general chapters and the nine research reviews, might be valuable section of the book for “researchers” at NCTQ.

Teachers Should Be Trained

Walsh appears really upset with the fact that teacher educators don’t see teacher education as training.  (Disclaimer: I am teacher educator, and practiced teacher education at Georgia State University, Florida State, the University of Vermont, and the University of Hawaii for about 35 years, and I didn’t train anyone during that period, not even a dog).  She also objects to the concept or word “learning”, and can’t understand why teacher educators distinguish it from knowing real facts.  This is quite understandable, because she lacks the knowledge about how humans learn, and somewhere along the line missed out on a new field of inquiry known as the “learning sciences.”  Most teacher educators that I know and read embody the leaning sciences in their approach to designing teacher education curriculum, and teacher education courses.  The learning sciences is an interdisciplinary field that endeavors to further our understanding of human learning.  It is at the forefront of what teacher educators do, and unfortunately, Walsh doesn’t seem able or willing to entertain that thought.

Reading further into Walsh’s article, we find her take on methods courses in teacher education.  To Walsh, a methods course ought to send or give to the student what methods should be used to teach subject matter. Students should come into a methods course and be trained.  When Walsh found out that some of the top researchers in the field suggest that teaching is way to complex to be simply “taught” in courses based on a bag of tricks.

Walsh advances the achievement and authoritarian mentality of American education, and seeks to impose this view on teacher education.  Her conception of teacher education is simple when she talks about methods courses, and she seems bent out of shape when she reads the research that the authors of the AERA research study report to us.

Teachers Should Not Be Trained

In an amazing chapter on the Research on Methods Courses and Field Experiences by Renee T. Clift and Patricia Brady, Walsh picks two sentences from their research, but reverses them in her article, and then doesn’t tell us the full context of the research.

Here is what is in the Walsh article about methods:

A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. [They] are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”

If you go to the research chapter, here you will see how Walsh rearranged the authors thinking, and failed to give us the context:  Here is the full context and the two sentences highlighted:  (Note how she reversed the ideas.)

Across the four content areas, methods courses are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices, and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. Content-area researchers, often the course instructors, looked at multifaceted activities such as role adoption, personal relationships, and rationales for appropriating certain tools. Field experiences were increasingly connected to and embedded within methods courses and seen as extending coverage of concepts introduced in the methods courses. The field experiences provide prospective teachers opportunities to practice ideas or gain experience with concepts through small-group observations, tutoring, community experiences, and service learning in addition to observations and more traditional student teaching.
(Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 9825-9831). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The first science methods course that I taught was a collaborative effort with my colleague Ashley Morgan, who became my mentor at Georgia State University.  After finishing my Ph.D. in science education and geology at Ohio State University in 1969, I started my career in Atlanta, and the course I taught with Ashley was centered in the classrooms of an urban elementary school in the city of Atlanta.  Any conception that I had that a methods course was a training exercise vanished after working with Ashley Morgan at GSU.  Students in our course had continual experiences with children and youth and practicing teachers who worked with them on planning, teaching and evaluation.  For the next thirty-five years I was involved in developing and directing alternative forms of science teacher education based on theories of humanistic psychology, constructivism, and experiential learning.  Walsh would certainly not endorse the work we did at GSU.

Ms. Walsh doesn’t realize it but professional teacher education research, just like professional medical education research, has moved from a focus on general or generic teaching behavior, to thinking and learning about the context of teaching.  In the chapter Walsh refers to in the AERA report (Research Methods Courses and Field Experiences), the researchers examined methods of research in the teaching of English, mathematics, science and social studies.  Their review informs us that teacher preparation, just like medical education, begins with the beliefs teacher candidates have about students, teaching and learning and helps students explore teaching (or medical practice) to the “instructional, interpersonal, social, and historical factors that come into play one begins teaching practice.” (Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 9839-9840). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

21st-Century Teacher Education is the title of Walsh’s article, unfortunately, her view of teacher education set not in the 21st-Century, but more like the 19th-Century.  Teacher education is not the naïve view of Walsh’s.

Finding Teacher Education in the Marketplace

According to the NCTQ, students who aspire to teach should consider themselves consumers of teacher education, and using the marketplace model, they would be drawn to “high quality” schools.  The NCTQ wants to impose an “objective” measure of program quality.  Indeed they have the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review coming out in June, and it purports to rate teacher education programs across the country.  This new “consumer report for teacher education” will use admission standards, course requirements, content covered, how well students are prepared for the Common Core State Standards, the nature of student teaching, instruction in classroom management and lesson planning, and teacher candidates are judged ready for the classroom (Walsh, 2013.)  The NCTQ will also single out institutions that follow or track their graduates effectiveness on the achievement of K-12 student.

If this report is anything like the “study” they did of what teacher preparation programs teach about K-12 assessment, then it will not be based on critical research on teacher education such as the work of Linda Darling-Hammond in her book, Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs.  This book was published in 2006, the same year that the AERA study was published.  I wonder why Walsh didn’t reference the Darling-Hammond book?

In Powerful Teacher Education, the authors identify teacher education programs that have a long track record of preparing teachers who teach a wide range of students, and do it successfully.  In seven programs that they focus on, they all have the following in common:

an approach that prepares teachers to practice in ways that we describe as both learning-centered (that is, supportive of focused, in-depth learning that results in powerful thinking and proficient performance on the part of students) and learner-centered (responsive to individual students’ experiences, interests, talents, needs, and cultural backgrounds). These programs go well beyond preparing teachers to manage a calm classroom and make their way through a standard curriculum by teaching to the middle of the class. They help teachers learn to reach students who experience a range of challenges and teach them for deep understanding. They also help teachers learn not only how to cope with the students they encounter but how to expand children’s aspirations as well as accomplishments, thereby enhancing educational opportunity and social justice.  (Linda Darling-Hammond. Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs (pp. 7-8). Kindle Edition.)

Teacher education programs have embodied learning sciences research I cited earlier in this post, and consequently the field of teacher preparation is very different than that envisioned by the NCTQ.  Darling-Hammond, recognizing that teachers are not born to teach, and pointing out how complex and difficult teaching is, suggests that teacher education institutions must prepare teachers for “responsive practice.”  Finding out what really goes on inside teacher education programs was what her research was about.

The study that will be forthcoming from the NCTQ will not reveal anything about the actual programs that they evaluate.  If they use the same methods that used in their prior study, the new one will be written without visits to the universities, interviews with faculty or students.

One More Thing

Ethical and honest research in education more times than not brings to the surface conflicts and issues, that people like Walsh like to grasp and use as a weakness in the life of educational research.  Walsh is stuck in the very old model that the purpose of teacher education is train teachers to teach the facts of science, or math, and that Ed schools should be training factories turning out teachers who follow the orders from above to teach nothing but the facts.

The NCTQ‘s assault on teacher education is a well-financed effort whose goal is control teacher preparation, and take it out of the hands of professional educators, and turn it over to statisticians and politicians who want to ignore the rich field of educational research, and the work being done at many universities with school districts in their localities.  The research book published by the AERA that Walsh uses to degrade teacher education actually promotes a vibrant and powerful profession of teacher education.  Instead of blowing up Ed schools, we should be supporting efforts to explore multiple models of preparing teachers for our schools.

What are your conceptions of teacher education in the 21st-Century?  If you’ve read the Walsh article, what do you think of her views of teacher education?

 

 

 

Defunding the Common Core: Back to the Future

Charles Grassley, the Republican Senator from Iowa, has begun the process of removing funding from the Federal Budget that would be used by districts to carry out the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards have raised the ire of not only Republicans and right leaning groups such as the Heartland Institute, but also left leaning bloggers and educators and researchers who question the relationship between high-stakes testing and national standards.  Anthony Cody, over on Living in Dialogue on Education Week has researched and critiqued the use of the Common Core in our schools.  Indeed, the Michigan House of Representatives approved a budget that would prohibit the use of any state funds to implement the Common Core or the Smarter Balanced Assessments which are tied to the Common Core.

I want to focus on Senator Grassley’s initiative to defund the Common Core State Standards, and compare this effort to the defunding of National Science Foundation science projects in the 1970s.  The effort to defund the Common Core is a “back to the future” moment for me, as it feels like I am being sent back to the 1970s when Congress defunded NSF science education programs, resulting in serious reprimands, and fundamental changes in the way NSF developed curriculum.

The underlying reasons for each defunding actions are similar, and it is interesting to note how some things haven’t changed.  Senator Grassley wrote a letter on April 26 to Tom Harkin and Jerry Moran, ranking members of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Senate Appropriations Committee.  The gist of his proposal as stated in his letter to Harkin and Moran is to “restore state decision-making and accountability with respect to state academic content standards.”   In particular, Grassley does not want funds used by the Department of Education to develop, carry out or evaluate content standards, to adopt multi-state (read Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards) standards, or to enforce any provision of the ESEA Flexibility waivers that states are seeking in exchange for more flexibility in carrying out No Child Left Behind.   Harkin, a Democrat responded and said he supports the common core initiative.

What’s behind the effort to defund the Common Core?  And what caused the Congress to defund and cut funding for NSF science education programing in the 1970’s?  We’ll see that emotions, attitudes, and family values form the fundamental angst that led to actions 40 years ago, and now.

Please read on…

Back to the Future

Unlike the Common Core State Standards, most NSF science programs were developed at American universities or educational development centers, and enlisted the work of scientists, science education professors and K-12 science teachers.  For example, the first NSF program, PSSC Physics was developed at MIT in the late 1950’s.  Other universities wrote grants to fund programs in elementary, middle and high school science over the next three decades.  NSF proposals are peer-reviewed, unlike any of the work done to develop the Common Core or the Next Generation Science Standards.   NSF projects were field-tested in schools across the country, and then revised based on the feedback received through test centers.  For a brief history of the NSF, please follow this link.

The Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have not been field-tested, although they have been available for online review.

The NSF spent about $1.6 billion on science and mathematics education from 1958 – 1978.  Part of this funding was used to develop curriculum project materials (59 projects were developed) in the amount of $189 million or 12% of the full education budget.  Most of this was spent on developing the materials, but $82 million was used to implement the projects.  (Disclaimer: I received an NSF Academic Year Institute Fellowship to attend The Ohio State University in 1966, and was a writer for two NSF curriculum projects at Florida State University (ISCS and ISIS), directed the ISIS NSF Test Center at Georgia State University (GSU), and received grants from the NSF while at GSU).

In contrast, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $4 billion in Race to the Top Funds (RTT) to between 2010 -2012, but they mandated that states must adopt the Common Core to be considered for RTT funding.

ISIS.  From 1974 – 1977, I was writer and test-center director (in the Atlanta area) for the NSF curriculum project at Florida State University called the Individualized Science Instructional System (ISIS). The goal of the project was to develop and field-test about 100 science mini-courses for grades 9 – 12.  Professor Emeritus George Dawson of Florida State University assembled the entire collection of ISIS materials, including the pre-publication versions, NSF proposal details, and all related research papers ascribed to the ISIS program.  The idea was to develop a large number of  mini-courses that could be used by school districts that they could use to assemble their own curriculum.  Mini-course titles included, Kitchen Chemistry, Let’s Eat, The Physics of Sport, Tomorrows Weather, Salt of the Earth, Cells and Cancer, Birth and Growth, Human Reproduction.  When we field tested Birth and Growth, and Human Reproduction in high school biology classes, a number of parents complained, and insisted that their children not be exposed to these mini-courses.

During the first two years of the ISIS project, more than thirty mini-courses were developed and field tested in centers around the country, including Atlanta.  But in 1977, the ISIS Project Director, Dr. Ernest Burkman of FSU, was informed that the ISIS project funding would be reduced, and that no funds could be used to prepare teachers and districts to carry out ISIS.  Why did this happen?

The MACOS Controversy.  Enter Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), or better known to the education community as “The MACOS Controversy.”  Man: A Course of Study is an elementary science and social studies curriculum project funded by NSF and developed the Educational Development Center (EDC), Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Jerome Bruner took leave from Harvard to lead this fifth grade curriculum which examined the commonalities between human behavior and that of several animal species, and culminated with a series of short films documenting the lives of the Netsilik Eskimo people.

MACOS, between 1963 – 1975 received about $7.1 million to develop, carry out and test  the MACOS curriculum.    MACOS, like ISIS, developed curriculum materials (follow this link to an online archive of MACOS that is free for noncommercial use) that departed from the usual NSF curriculum project which consisted of a text-book, laboratory activities (often integrated in the text), and hands-on teaching materials specific to the project.  ISIS not only developed a curriculum with specialized hands-on materials, but its goal was to produce 100 mini-texts.  MACOS did not have a text-book, instead it created a curriculum that consisted of a variety of media, including films, and required extensive teaching preparation because of the course’s teaching strategies, and potential of the subject.

When MACOS went looking for a publisher, 43 American publishers indicated interest, but none of them was willing to sign a contract that had such implementation requirements.  As a result, the developer, EDC, in collaboration with NSF, agreed to lower the royalty rate to attract publishers.  Curriculum Development Associates of DC signed up, and began publishing the curriculum in 1970.   Forty-seven states and over 1,700 school districts used the MACOS program.  However, MACOS, as we will see, was a controversial curriculum project.

Publishers were aware that the content and pedagogy of the MACOS program was controversial, so it should have been no surprise that conservative politicians would discover MACOS, and go berserk.  Here is a brief overview  the MACOS curriculum written by Peter B. Dow, the director of the project, as cited in Karen Wiley’s 1976 research report The NSF Science Education Controversy: Issues, Events and Decisions.

Summary of the intent of the MACOS Project
Summary of the intent of the MACOS Project

The eventual defunding of MACOS and cutting of funds for other projects, including ISIS, had its origins in Phoenix, Arizona, the home of Congressman John Conlan.  Some parents in Phoenix were upset that their schools were going to implement MACOS, and as a result Conlan’s staff investigated MACOS, which resulted in Conlan moving in Congress that:

No funds authorized shall be available directly or indirectly for further development or implementation of “Man: A Course of Study,” MACOS.  Karen Wiley reported that Conlan raised specific complaints against MACOS, including:

  1. The content of the course is unfit for American children; the course advocates un-American values.
  2. The instructional methods of the course are manipulative.
  3. The implementation activities of the developer (EDC) go beyond the Congressional mandate; they constitute unfair competition with private publishers (recall that 47 publishers turned EDC down); and they exert undue influence on local decision makers (this is an odd one, because local schools make the final decision on the selection of curriculum and texts).

Conlan’s investigation expanded from MACOS to all of NSF’s curriculum development projects.  As Wiley wrote in her research report, the controversy expanded to professional societies and the media.

If you have the time, the video, Through These Eyes looks back at the MACOS project, and explores the social and educational implications of the controversy that was critical of national curriculum projects, especially MACOS which not only suggested that “man” was an animal, but that studying cultures different from our own could be an important teaching tool of discovery and experimentation.  This idea did not bode well with conservatives.

 

Through These Eyes looks back at the high stakes of this controversial curriculum. Decades later, as American influence continues to affect cultures worldwide, the story of MACOS resonates strongly.  The implications for today’s conservative agenda is relevant.

In the case of the Common Core State Standards, there is great similarity with MACOS.  The Common Core has been adopted by most states (47) and it is in the process of being implemented in many states.  But, long before Sen. Grassley wrote his “Common Core” letter, there was discontent with the Common Core by left and right leaning organizations and people.

MACOS content also raised the shackles of conservatives who thought that the curriculum was too progressive, and in their mind did not reflect the values of American families.  In their text, The Art of Teaching Science, the authors discussed the MACOS controversy, and wrote this:

Indeed, conservatives viewed progressive schools as ‘anti-intellectual playhouses’ and ‘crime breeders,’ run by a ‘liberal establishment.”  The MACOS curriculum was seen as a progressive Trojan horse.   Conlan’s staff investigated complaints and eventually, Conlan took steps to stop appropriations for MACOS “on the grounds of its ‘abhorrent, repugnant, vulgar, morally sick content.”   Nelkin claims that the Council for Basic Education objected to MACOS for its emphasis on cultural relativism, and its lack of emphasis on skills and facts. Even liberal congressmen got on the anti-MACOS bandwagon because of their desire to limit the executive bureaucracies, such as NSF, and for “their resentment of scientists, who often tended to disdain congressional politics; and above all, the concern with secrecy and confidentiality that followed the Watergate affair.”

The MACOS controversy brought the issue of censorship into the public arena. However, to avoid the claim of censorship, which probably would not have been acceptable to many in Congress, Conlan focused on the federal government’s role in implementing MACOS, as well as all other NSF funded curriculum projects. One issue that surfaced was “the marketing issue – the concern that the NSF used taxpayers’ money to interfere with private enterprise.”Along with this was the place that conservative writers such as James Kilpatrick, who attacked NSF science programs as “an ominous echo of the Soviet Union’s promulgation of official scientific theory.” The temper of the times was quite clear: “resentment of the ‘elitism’ of science reinforced concern that NSF was naïvely promulgating the liberal values of the scientific community to a reluctant public.” The result: on April 9, 1975, the Congress terminated funds for MACOS, and further support of science curriculum projects was suspended, and the entire NSF educational program came under review.

At the core of MACOS was The Netsilik Film Series, an anthropology program from the National Film Board that featured a year in the life of an Inuit family, and its relationship with the outside world.  It was the graphic images of the Netsilik people who clashed with the values of some individuals, such as in Phoenix, Arizona.

Peter Dow, Director of MACOS, explored the implications of MACOS in a paper written many years ago.  Dow points out that as Pablo Freire wrote that there is no such thing as a neutral educational process.  For Freire, education either leads the student to conform with the present system, or it becomes “the practice of freedom” which means that teaching will focus on creativity and discovery.  This fundamental concept is at odds with the conservative world view that has been discussed on this blog.  It runs counter to the authoritarian mode of living and education.

Finally, Dow comments made more than 40 years ago are relevant to the present “faux reform” that is being forced on schools today.  He said this about educational reform:

There is clearly a conflict between the pedagogy Freire espouses and curriculum building on a national scale if curriculum decisions continue to be made by state adoption boards to be imposed with no recourse on a powerless population of students and teachers.

Until curriculum decisions rest where they belong, in the hands of the users, curriculum reform movements will continue to be used as instruments of oppression. A liberating education must perforce originate from the aspirations of the participants.

Lastly, curriculum makers must become increasingly sensitive to the social and political implications of curriculum building. In designing curricula, we cannot escape the fact that we make choices and impose values on the constituency of students and teachers we serve. If no schooling is neutral, and we believe in freedom of choice, then we must increase curriculum options and be explicit about the social goals of our curriculum materials. And in our continuing search to understand the central purposes of curriculum, we would do well to have our ears tuned to the increasingly liberated voices of the young, and to keep the writings of Bruner, Erikson, and Freire close at hand. (“Man: A Course of Study” in Retrospect: A Primer for Curriculum in the 70’s, Peter B. Dow Theory into Practice , Vol. 10, No. 3, A Regeneration of the Humanities (Jun., 1971), pp. 168-177)

 Nowadays

There is a groundswell to defund efforts to carry out the Common Core State Standards.  The defunding efforts have gained traction in states dominated by Republican legislatures, such as Alabama, Texas and Michigan.  The present effort is a bit of a dilemma for progressives (like myself) in that we see ourselves in agreement with our conservative colleagues.  I‘ve written extensively on this blog that standards actually impede learning, and are like brick walls, preventing real learning from happening.  My concern has more to do with the implication of having single sets of content standards that people actually believe are important to the welfare of schooling.  There is little evidence to support the idea that standards, whether rigorous or not, make any difference in student learning.

Opposition to the standards comes from the left and the right.  If the opposition comes from the left, its typically a resistance to a one-size-fits all conception of curriculum, and a rejection of a single set of standards for all children and youth, and evidence that standards will do little to improve education, especially for children living in poverty.  If the opposition comes from the right, the right to choose comes to the surface.  Folks on the right tend to think that élite scientists or mathematicians are trying to impose an ideology that rejects conservative values. To conservatives, teaching and learning should focus on basic facts (of science, for example), and we should test students every year to make sure that they are getting the facts straight.

Grassley’s letter, and the legislative actions around the country to defund the common core show how dysfunctional our elected officials are in matters of educational reform. Instead of facilitating educational reform, Federal and state government policy has resulted in partisan bickering, and the serious impediment to improving life for students and their teachers.

In the 1970s, the Congress saw fit to dissolve a very creative and thought-provoking curriculum (MACOS).  Abandoning the Common Core might be the right decision, but what are we left to when Congress and state legislatures impose their values on local school districts, who really have the legal right and responsibility to education our children and youth.

What do you think about the movement to defund the Common Core?  Do you think this is a good idea?  Tell us what you think.

 

 

Governor of Louisiana Speaks about the Facts of Science

According is Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana we should teach the facts of science.  In an interview, NBC’s Hoda Kotb asked Governor Jindal if creationism should be taught in our schools. The obvious answer is yes.  In 2008, Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which modeled after a bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as Academic Freedom Bills. The Louisiana senate passed the bill unanimously, and in the House, the vote was 94-3.  Only three legislators opposed the bill in Louisiana. When Jindal talks about science education, as he did at a forum in New Orleans, we should check what he says in the context of how political activities of the right-wing through the activities of  ALEC, and the Discovery Institute have influenced his thinking.  Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education, which many observers suggest is an anti-science bill. Jindal knows better, but it is politically incorrect for him to put trust in the science educators of Louisiana who have opposed the Science Education Act since he signed it.  A former high school student, now an undergraduate at Rice University, has headed a campaign to change the Louisiana law.  Here is what I wrote about this activist science educator on this blog last month:

Zack Kopplin is an American science education activist. While he was a high school student at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, the Louisiana legislature passed the Louisiana Science Education Act signed by Governor Bobby Jindal. Zack Kopplin, who is now a history major at Rice University was very surprised that Governor Jindal signed this anti-science act, especially since Jindal has a degree in biology, and was a Rhodes Scholar. In his senior project, Kopplin initiated a campaign to repeal the Louisiana Act by recruiting Professor Barbara Forest, a philosophy professor who had testified in the 2005 Dover intelligent design/creationism case in Pennsylvania. He also teamed with Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson to write bills to repeal the act. Seventy-eight Nobel Laureates have also signed on to support Zack Kopplin. The AAAS and 70,000 people have signed his change.org petition.

Kopplin was interviewed by Bill Moyers. When Kopplin answered Moyers’ question, “What was it about the Louisiana Science Education Act that you didn’t like?, here is what Kopplin said:

Well, this law allows supplemental materials into our public school biology classrooms to quote, “critique controversial theories,” like evolution and climate change. Now, evolution and climate change aren’t scientifically controversial, but they are controversial to Louisiana legislators. And basically, everyone who looked at this law knew it was just a backdoor to sneak creationism into public school science classes.

Here is a clip from the full interview between Jindal and Kotb.  Its only three minutes, and I do suggest you watch it before going on.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 

According to Jindal, evolution, global warming and climate change, creationism, and intelligent design should be taught in the science classroom in Louisiana schools.  In his view, we should teach the facts, and let the student decide what do believe.  Jindal, in his interview, put it this way:

We have what’s called the Science Education Act that says that if a teacher wants to supplement those materials, if the school board is okay with that, if the state school board is okay with that, they can supplement those materials. … Let’s teach them — I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about ‘intelligent design’.” “What are we scared of?” he asked. (excerpted from the National Center for Science Education article, Jindal connects the dots.)

Jindal undermines the nature of science, and nature of science teaching when he make statements like these.  He undermines science teaching by ignoring the difference between science and religion, and being party to groups that disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design by spraying or crop dusting the legislatures with bills such as the Academic Freedom bill. Jindal claims that we should teach the facts of science to the kids in Louisiana.  The problem is,  I don’t think he knows the difference between a fact and a theory, or a law, or for that matter a religious belief.

What do you think about the remarks that Jindal made about the nature of science teaching?

Countering the Authoritarian Reform Agenda

I am going to argue in this post that progressive values should set the ideals of teaching and learning in American society.  These values are rooted in democratic ideals and citizen action.  Unfortunately the cloud of authoritarianism looms over education, making it difficult to design curriculum and instruction around progressive values.

This post is a counter to the  conservative world-view has taken hold of education in the U.S. and a continuation of the last post on this blog in which the nature of the conservative view was explored and used to explain the testing scandal that appears to extend beyond Atlanta.

elephantsAs Kendrick Smith states in his new book, Who Stole the American Dream?, there has been a rebellion in this country and it has been led by corporations, Washington lobbyists (who outnumber the members of the House and Senate by 130 – 1!), rightist “think tanks” and organization such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  According to Smith, this movement had its origins in the Carter Administration.  It was under Carter’s administration that power shifted in favor of pro-business.  Smith explains that in 1971, Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and member of the boards of 11 corporations, wrote a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., the Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was dated August 23, 1971, two months prior to Powell’s nomination by President Nixon to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Smith writes about this about Powell’s memo (referred to now as Powell’s Manifesto).

In a tone of exasperation, he chided America’s corporate leaders for bowing to mainstream middle-of-the-road policies and for adopting a strategy of “appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem.” The time has come, he insisted, for Corporate America to adopt “a more aggressive attitude” and to change Washington’s policies through “confrontation politics.”  (Smith, Hedrick (2012-09-11). Who Stole the American Dream? (Kindle Locations 375-378). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)

Powell’s memo, according to Smith, set in motion a momentous shift in the political balance of power in Washington in favor of business and conservative views.  One of the major recommendations in the Powell Manifesto was to counter what he viewed as a university campus assault on the “enterprise” system, and to do that he suggested that the Chamber of Commerce should assemble a staff of highly skilled scholars in the social sciences who “believe in the system,” and have the reputation to confront the likes of Ralph Nader, William Kunstler, and Charles Reich.

Shock and Awe

Bill Moyers referred to the Powell Memo as a Call to Arms for Corporations. Moyers explained that Powell’s message was:

to help galvanize business circles, that the “American economic system is under broad attack.” This attack, Powell maintained, required mobilization for political combat: “Business must learn the lesson . . . that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination—without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.” Moreover, Powell stressed, the critical ingredient for success would be organization: “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”

In Moyers terms, the counterattack that grew out of the Powell memo was a “domestic version of Shock and Awe.

Hendrick Smith states that the memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. According to Smith, “their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.”

Thus began the recruitment of scholars and ex-politicians in the social science and law who “believed in the system.”

In the 1990s and through the first decade of the 21st century, the middle class began to shrink, and the wealth gap increased to the extent that Smith characterized the new economy as “the economy of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.   Even beginning in the mid-sixties, Smith documents the rise of the radical right, and how extremism took over the Republican Party.  The drive to attack Social Security, Medicare, and constant insistence of lower taxes (especially for the rich).

In the introduction to his book, Smith talks about the “gross inequality of income and wealth in America, and suggests that it the “gravest challenge in our society.  As Smith acknowledges, if the extremes (of wealth and education) become too great, then equal opportunity is undermined, and our economy is at risk.

Although Smith does not talk about it directly, education has been subjected to the radical right’s dream to privatize public education by using public monies to fund national charter organizations to run local schools under the false banner of choice.  For decades, the right has pushed the idea of vouchers as another “choice” parents can make to educate their children.  It’s really not choice, because the idea is to channel kids into private schools, or charters.

One of the organizations that has underwritten much of the legislation that has been cropping up in state legislatures around the country is our old friend, ALEC.  ALEC has been exposed as  a right-wing “bill-mill” that writes legislation at the their headquarters in D.C., invites Republican state legislators to a lavish multi-day conference at which ALEC dispenses actions in the form of “model legislation or bills” that can be easily converted into local and state legislatures.

If you take a look at these model bills, it is clear that ALEC is in the business privatizing schools, and undermining teachers. As I wrote in an earlier post, there is a clear attempt to commercialize education and exploit children and schooling further undoing the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

Pushing Back:  Progressivism as Activism

In this post, I am going to explore another movement that has historically played a role to oppose corporate, authoritarian, un-democratic, and right-wing policies and beliefs, and that is the work and desire of progressives, who have played a role in American history, starting with the American revolution.

Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century. The conservative view has dominated American education, but we’ll also find that the progressive view has impacted American education in powerful ways at different times during this period. We’ll examine the foundations of the progressive view and then apply our findings to the nature of education, including teaching, learning, and curriculum development.

In an earlier post I used the theory developed by George Lakoff to explain the nature of the conservative world-view.  In this post I’ll use the theory to explain progressive education.

In Lakoff’s research, the nation-as-family conceptual metaphor can be used to help us understand our political worldview, and in my argument, this will also enable us to explain how progressive values differ from conservative values, and how they affect education in America.

In Lakoff’s research he has shown that this conceptual metaphor produces two very different models of families: a “strict father” family and a “nurturant parent” family. In his view this creates two fundamentally different ideologies about how the nation should be governed. I am suggesting that these two views can teach us about how education in America should be organized and “governed.”

In Lakoff’s view, the progressive world-view is based on the nurturing parent family. He suggests that nurturing has two key aspects: empathy and responsibility. Lakoff explains that nurturing parents are authoritative but without being authoritarian.

If we apply the nurturing parent model to politics, Lakoff suggests that what we get is a “progressive moral and political philosophy. The progressive world-view then is based on these two ideas:

  • Empathy: the capacity to connect with other people, to feel what others feel, to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others.
  • Responsibility: acting on that empathy—responsibility for yourself and for others. (Lakoff, George (2006-10-03). Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Kindle Locations 827-830). Macmillan. Kindle Edition)

In research on person or client centered theory by Carl Rogers many decades ago, he explained that empathy was one of core conditions for facilitative (counseling and teaching) practice. Realness of the teacher, and prizing, accepting, and trust were two additional core conditions. We will see later, that these core conditions will be important to consider as attributes of progressive educators.

In his book, Thinking Points, Lakoff identifies the following as characteristics of the Nurturant Parent Family:

  • A family of preferably two parents, but perhaps only one
  • The parents share household responsibilities (Egalitarian)
  • Open, two-way, mutually respectful communication is crucial
  • Protection is a form of caring, and protection from external dangers takes a significant part of the parents attention
  • The principle goal of nurturance is for children to be fulfilled and happy in their lives
  • When children are respected, nurtured, and communicated with from birth, they gradually enter into a lifetime relationship of mutual respect, communication, and caring for their parents.

In the progressive family, boundaries are set but in the context of building a caring environment with emphasis on building strong, open relationships. According to Lakoff, children develop best through positive relationships with others. Lakoff says that in this context, however, the parent (or teacher) can be authoritative but not authoritarian.

There are added values that emerge from the nurturing parent family and these include, protection, fulfillment in life, freedom, opportunity, fairness, equality, prosperity, and community.

Nurturing Family World View—->Progressive Principles in Politics and Education

There is a direct connection between the nation-as-family conceptual metaphor and the nurturing family which leads to key principles that emerge from progressive values. These will be fundamental not only in politics, but in education as well.

From Lakoff’s theory of nation-as-family conceptual metaphor, these four principles form the context for progressive morality. Here are summarized from Lakoff, George (2006-10-03). Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Kindle Location 846). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

  • The Common Good Principle–Citizens bring together their common wealth to build infrastructures that benefit all, and also contributes to individual goals.
  • The Expansion of Freedom Principle–Progressives demand the expansion of fundamental forms of freedom, including voting rights, worker’s rights, public education, public health, civil rights.
  • The Human Dignity Principle–Empathy requires the recognition of basic human dignity and responsibility requires us to act to uphold it.
  • The Diversity Principle–Empathy involves identifying with and connecting socially and emotionally with all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation. Ethic of diversity in our communities, schools, workplaces.

The progressive political view based on Lakoff’s theory in my view is applicable to education. Here I will make a few comments about progressivism in American education, and then explore three issues that face educators today: accountability, Atlanta Cheating Scandal, and VAM Scores & the Bad Teacher.

Progressivism in American education

The Progressive Education Movement provided an alternative approach to traditional school. It emerged at the end of the 19th Century and reached its peak in the 1930s. Influenced by the writings of John Dewey, and other theorists, progressivism promoted the idea that students should be encouraged to be creative and independent thinkers allowed to act upon their interests. Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:

One may safely assume, I suppose, that one thing which has recommended the progressive movement is that it seems more in accord with the democratic ideal to which our people is committed than do the procedures of the traditional school, since the latter have so much of the autocratic about them. Another thing which has contributed to its favorable reception is that its methods are humane in comparison with the harshness so often attending the policies of the traditional school. (John Dewey. Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books, 1938). pp. 33-34.)

Dewey’s analysis highlights the difference between the progressive and the conservative views of education.

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened it doors under the directorship of Professor John Dewey. It is still open. Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation. The school was learner-centered, and the curriculum was organized as an interdisciplinary approach to education. Teachers designed activities based on a theory of growth stages, and the activities engaged students in self-development and mutual respect. Dewey advocated the idea that thinking was an active process involving experimentation and problem solving. He also espoused the idea that the school had a political role as an instrument for social change.

Two aspects of the Progressive Education Movement that affected all of education were the movement’s notion of the child-centered curriculum, and the project method. Both of these ideas exist today, and have been given different degrees of emphasis. For example, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the child-centered curriculum was represented in the Humanistic Education movement (sometimes known as affective education). The humanistic ideas of the present day were similar to the progressive ideals of the 1930s.

The child or student-centered approach is a major paradigm implying beliefs about the nature of learning, the goals of education, and the organization of the curriculum. Emphasis on student-centeredness has waxed and waned historically as educators evaluated its merits relative to the “Back to Basics” and “Structure of the (subject matter) Disciplines” paradigms.

The progressive education movement represents the earliest efforts to advocate a student-interest-centered instruction. John Dewey in particular wrote extensively of his work in the Chicago school to reconcile the dualism between traditional and progressive education. (Teachers still find writings of Dewey to be relevant to current reform efforts and practical dilemmas of teaching. Among hundreds of publications by Dewey, some classical works to consider include How We Think (1910), Democracy and Education (1916), Experience and Education (1938). In these you can find Dewey’s perspective on reflective thinking, learning as growth, and the theory of educative experience.)

The progressive education movement sparked the development of a number of experimental schools, which embodied the philosophy of the progressive educators. Teaching in the progressive schools was an opportunity to involve students directly with nature, hands-on experiences with real phenomena, and to relate learning to not only the emotional and physical well-being of the child, but to the curriculum as a whole. There is rich literature on this movement describing innovative child-centered programs such as Dewey’s Schools of To-Morrow, the Gary (Indiana) plan, and The Parker School (Cremin, The Transformation of the School).

Progressive Teachers Today

Progressivism is an important aspect of the present education scene.

The progressive teacher is an educator that Lakoff would describe as having an educational philosophy similar to progressive political world-view. The progressive teacher is seen as the authority in the classroom, but does not act on authoritarian principles. In a classroom led by a progressive teacher, the teacher is a nurturing parent. Students in the progressive classroom are analogous to children in a nurturing family, and they would be respected, nurtured, and encouraged to communicate with peers and the teacher from day one. The classroom would be viewed as a community of learners, as the family is seen as a community.

The progressive teacher’s beliefs about teaching are formulated by many factors, but two that stand out are empathy and responsibility.

The progressive teacher would be a highly qualified and certified professional who not only has a strong background in content and pedagogy, but has a range of experiences with youth enabling them to understand students and treat people through the eyes of progressive morality.

Progressive educators would be research oriented. That is, they would tend to experiment with new approaches to teaching and would also do action research in their own classrooms to improve the teaching/learning environment.

Progressive educators would ask lots of questions.

  • Why is our state and district willing to accept a top-down authoritarian set of standards that weren’t developed with our students’ interests or aspirations in mind?
  • Do you know what the research tells us about the ineffectiveness of using high-stakes tests on students achievement?
  • Why does the state department of education have so much authoritative power over the inner workings of every school district in the state?
  • Why aren’t educators involved in the development of curriculum based on the lived experiences of students, and the interests that students might have for getting involved in real work?

Progressive teachers would strike, as the teachers in Chicago did last year;  they would refuse to administer a high-stakes test that they believe is not relevant to their work or their student’s learning; and they would raise questions about the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Progressive teachers would look at accountability, the testing scandals, and teacher evaluation in very different ways.

Issues Seen Through Progressive Educator Lens

Conservatives has created an authoritarian system of accountability, including the use of high-stakes tests to measure student learning and to test teachers and schools.  Progressive educators would look at this issue in a very different way.

Accountability

Progressive teachers are accountable to themselves, their students and parents, and school officials. However, progressive teachers reject the high-stakes model of accountability, and suggest that the research actually supports assessment methods that are truer to the real work that students do in school. Progressive teachers know intrinsically that a two-hour test in April simply does not tell us much, if anything, about what students learned.
The progressive teacher would deal with accountability from the moral values of empathy and responsibility. The progressive teacher behaves in such a way that students know that he/she tries to understand each student in such a way that they build trust not only for the teacher, but because of the teacher’s commitment to community, students build a trust for other students. And this is not an easy task.
The progressive teachers would work earnestly to move their school in a direction that is away from single high-stakes testing and toward a more realistic approach that would involve a range of assessment methods including the use of diagnostic tools to find out what ideas students already have, to using formative assessment (which does influence student achievement, if that is of interest to you), and summative methods. These methods can entail interviews, questioning, paper and pencil tests, projects, artifact presentations, portfolios, journals or notebooks, lab reports, final exams, and on and on.
Accountability in the progressive world-view does derive from the authority of the district, but the real carrying out of accountability measures in the hands of professional teachers, who are board certified, and qualified, just as my doctors are responsible to test, diagnose and prescribe a path to better health for my family. Teachers have comparable attitudes as doctors, which include empathetic and an ethic of caring.
This is the kind of accountability that is student-centered, because above all else, our goals ought to be in the service of students and their parents.

Atlanta Cheating Scandal

In the Atlanta test erasure scandal, nearly 200 teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools were investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and many of these teachers lost their jobs, were fired, or forced to resign.  Thirty-five Atlanta Public School educators were accused by a grand jury of racketeering, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.
Would cheating have occurred if the progressive world-view of education dominated the Georgia Department of Education and the Atlanta Public Schools? I have no idea. Perhaps. Maybe not.
But here is the deal. According to the Georgia Governor’s three-volume report, the Atlanta cheating scandal was caused by “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that spread throughout the (Atlanta) district.” That culture of fear was directly related to the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and students to make sure students scored high on the end-of-year tests at any costs.
According to the investigative report of the Governor of Georgia, bubble sheets were changed, perhaps as the Governor suggested, the culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation led to this scandal.
It is possible that none of this would have happened is schools were organized using the nurturing parent family model. Why do I think this might be so?
In the present conservative model of education, all the power for curriculum (standards) and high-stakes testing rests in the hands of state education officials. This decision was not made by teachers, or administrators in their district. Instead, the conservative agenda of placing all the emphasis on improving student test scores has become the major goal of education. I have shown on this blog that this is a misguided decision, and that no matter what we do, student scores will not be influenced by new standards, or more rigorous tests.
The Atlanta Test Erasure debacle, which has been repeated in many other cities, was the direct result of the failed policy of organizing learning around authoritarian standards and high-stakes tests. John Merrow has recently reported on Frontline  that there probably was widespread cheating or test erasures under Michelle Rhee’s tenure.  No doubt a failed policy existed in Washington under Rhee’s administration.  Authority for education can stay at the department of education, BUT they have to change the policies that hold classroom teachers and school principals from fulfilling their professional abilities. The authoritarianism that makes schools beholden to conservative policies needs to change.

Teacher Evaluation

The evaluation of a teacher’s performance is an important aspect of the progressive world-view. The teacher is the responsible adult in the classroom, and this implies that their work as a teacher must be evaluated.

The question is what kind of evaluation should be used to assess teacher performance?

There is a powerful force of government policy makers including governors and legislative representatives that have put into place policies that hold teachers accountable for changes in student test scores. The idea is to use the test scores of students to predict the value that a teacher adds to his or her students’ performance. This idea is called Value Added Modeling (VAM). Not only does VAM not have the support of researchers at major universities, but using such a system will destroy the central character of teaching from a progressive world-view, and that is empathy and responsibility. Even the National Academy of Science informed the U.S. Department of Education (ED) that VAM data should not be used to make high-stake decisions about teachers. This advice, in the form of letter to Secretary Duncan, was totally ignored by ED, and indeed, all states that received Race to the Top funding are instituting VAM as part of teacher evaluation, and in some cases VAM scores will represent 60% of the teacher’s evaluation.

In my own view, evaluating teachers using Value-Added Modeling is shameful and degrading, not only because VAM is unscientific and a fraud, but because it does an enormous disservice to professional teachers and their students.

Donna McKenna, an ESL teacher wrote a post that questioned how officials in her state could determine the value she adds to her class. She asked how they can look at her skills and talents and attribute worth to them without knowing her, her class, or her curriculum.

Then she added, “tell me how and I will tell you:

  • How all of my students come from different countries, different levels of prior education and literacy, and how there is no “research-based” elementary curriculum created to support schools or teachers to specifically meet their needs.
  • How the year for which you have data was the year my fifth graders first learned about gangs, the Internet, and their sexual identities.
  • How the year for which you have data was the year that two of my students were so wracked by fear of deportation, depression and sleep deprivation from nightmares, that they could barely sit still and often fought with other students. How they became best of friends by year-end. How one of them still visits me every September.
  • How that year most of my students worked harder than ever, (despite often being called “the low class” or “lower level” within earshot of them), inspiring me and the teachers around us, despite the fact that many of these same students believed they could never go to college because of their immigration status.

Please follow this link to Donna McKenna’s blog, No Sleep ’til Summer to read the full post her view of the value added idea.

Progressive teachers, such as Donna McKenna, offer all us a view of teaching that is inspiring.

Next Steps

The progressive world-view has had a long history in American education, and progressive educators continue to question the current conservative world-view that is shaping schooling in America.

Do you think the progressive world-view of teaching can make inroads into the conservative world-view of authoritative standards and high-stakes testing? 

 

 

 

 

From Educators to Racketeers: How Education Reform Led to a National Testing Scandal

Thirty-five Atlanta Public School educators were accused by a grand jury of racketeering, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

How could this happen in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS)?  The district is in a city that is home to The King Center, The Carter Center, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and many other institutions that embody academic, research and cultural and social change.   Each of these institutions collaborated with the Atlanta Public Schools, some more than others, in research projects, staff development programs, curriculum development, and other educational activities for decades.  Grants were received from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and many other funding agencies. The Georgia Department of Education has contributed to the APS by providing consultants to help teachers who work with struggling students in the lowest performing schools in Atlanta.  Some schools received funding from private foundations and corporations, as well as mentoring and training relationships with local universities, especially in science and technology.  (Disclaimer: I was professor of science education at Georgia State University from 1969 – 2002, and worked with teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools).

How could these educators end up being accused of racketeering?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Or does it?

The Parks Middle School Case

It might surprise you, but the Atlanta Public Schools did more than simply change answer sheets to improve student learning.  Did the students learn, in spite of some teachers’ and administrators’ behavior. They did because the teaching practices that were initiated, especially in reading and English/language arts, seem to hold as shown in CRCT test results the year AFTER the scandal.  I want to give some information that should be considered when we explore the nature of the charges brought against the APS.

In the Atlanta bubble test erasure investigation, Parks Middle School was center-stage in the investigation. According to the report, “cheating” occurred from 2005 – 2009. According to the report, the principal conspired with other administrators and some teachers to systematically changed answers on student bubble tests during these, and made an effort to keep this from the test coördinator.

But, during this period Parks was held up as a model of how to turn around an urban school. In fact a lengthy report in the form of a published paper (here) of Parks’ efforts and successes was included in the Governor’s Investigative report. Parks was involved in many creative curriculum efforts designed to help students make success.

I examined the data at CRCT website (Georgia Department of Education) for a three-year period, 2008 -2010. I wanted to find out how the scores changed (if at all) in 2010 in each subject area. As you can see in the areas of Reading and English/Language Arts Parks more than 90% of Park’s 8th graders met or exceeded the state target, even after the year when “cheating” was discovered. In the areas of math, science and social studies, we do see an appreciable decline in CRCT results in 2010.

At Parks Middle School, the increase in reading scores rose dramatically from 2004 from 35% to 74%, and then to 98.5 in 2009. According to the Governor’s investigative team, the scores in 2010 (the year in which we can be certain there was no cheating), students in the 8th grade at Parks still scored above 90%. The same is true for English/Language Arts.

Why Parks’ Students Scores Increased Dramatically. In a paper describing the Parks’ story of success, the dramatic gains in student test scores was attributed to effective leadership, data-driven planning and instruction, high expectations, strategic partners (corporate sponsors including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation), increased student discipline, and more professional development. The Annie Casey Foundation, which invests in charter schools, vouchers and organizations such as Teach for America, was a major contributor to Parks Middle.  The Foundation produced a video podcast of Parks success in turning around the chronic failure for many years. There is evidence that these did indeed occur, although some might argue with the “effective leadership” attribute.  But this is just the surface of the partnerships that Parks’ principal, Christopher Waller spearheaded since his appointment as head of the school.  The efforts that were made from 2005 on at Parks Middle School were impressive, and no doubt contributed to the success that was revealed in the years ahead.  Yet, with this success the school suffered financially by losing significant funding totaling more than $800,000 per year.

These dramatic increases in student performance were lauded, locally and nationally, and Parks received many awards, and enormous financial support during this period. Superintendent Hall praised the work of the principal, Christopher Waller, and both were recognized for creating conditions that made learning successful for poor children. Specialists in reading, special education and other areas were hired to give staff development and instruction for students. Waller launched Project GRAD at Parks Middle School, a reform model that included professional development for teachers, on going support, coaching and re-training. Twenty-five Atlanta elementary, middle and high schools now take part in Project GRAD. Project GRAD is a national program, and is in place in more than ten cities around the country.

Georgia State Department InvolvementThe Georgia Department of Education was involved with Parks Middle through the NCLB “Needs Improvement” schools support. The state assigned Dr. Cheryl Hunley to serve with Parks and six other area schools. Working closely with the principal, she provided professional development, and worked very closely with the entire staff at Parks.

In addition to these two major sources of professional development, Parks was also part of the SRT 2 (School Reform Team 2), an initiative begun by Dr. Hall which was led by an executive director who oversaw several schools. Training, support, and help was localized with in the district through four SRTeams.  In 2012, the new superintendent initiated a cluster model organizing the schools in Atlanta into 10 clusters composed of dedicated elementary schools feeding into dedicated middle and ultimately dedicated high schools.

There is no doubt Parks was involved in innovative school improvement. And given, the data that is shown in the Figure 1, we can conclude that these efforts must have contributed to some of the gains shown in student CRCT test results, especially in Reading and English/Language Arts.

Test Results. The results in Math, which did decrease in 2010, are disappointing. The scores in science and social studies show the greatest losses. But I remember several years ago that Dr. Hall was quoted as saying that there is no way that students will do well on the NAEP Science Test with out Reading and Math. She indirectly was saying that schools should emphasize reading and math to the exclusion of science, and perhaps social studies.

The data reported by the Investigative Team of the Governor’s Office, and the CRCT data for these three years does not answer all the questions. Teachers may have cheated in changing student scores, but students did learn and improve, and they need to be informed that all of their gain was not due to teacher’s changing their papers.

Parks Middle School Reading English Language Arts Math Science Social Studies
2008 93.5 94.4 81.5 49.2 79
2009 98.5 96.9 85.4 58.5 66.9
2010 94 89.4 70.2 35 28
Average 95.3 93.5 79.0 47.5 57.9
Figure 1. Percent of Students Who Met or Exceeded the CRCT State Mandated Standard by Subject, 2008 – 2010 at Parks Middle School. Note: 2009 was the year the Governor’s Office investigated excessive erasures in the APS. In 2010, there were few, if any, erasures on bubble tests.
 

How could these organizations be involved with Parks Middle School and not question or wonder about the success that their efforts were having at the school?  Did they believe that their efforts did make the difference?  Did they ever consider that other factors such as cheating?  Yet, as I’ve shown, there was more going on at Parks Middle School than cheating on student achievement tests.  If you read the article on Parks Middle School written by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that is included in the Governor’s Investigative Report on the Atlanta Public Schools, you will find details of the educational innovations that were put into place including after school programs for students, staff development for teachers, and partnerships with tens of organizations.  These probably played as much a part in increasing student’s ability to offer correct answers on the state achievement tests as did the erasures of student test sheets.

Preserving the Status Quo

I am going to argue that the cheating scandal, and the charges against 35 educators is because the country is mired in educational reform that has turned schools into testing factories. We can explain this mire if we look at two different political and social world-views, the conservative world-view (preserving things as they are), and the progressive world-view (forward-looking). Each world-view has played significant roles in American history, including public education.  Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century. The conservative view has dominated American education, but we’ll also find that the progressive view has affected American education in powerful ways at different times during this period.

In this post I will try to show how the conservative world-view has negatively affected the way public schools determine curriculum, hold schools accountable for student learning, and the effectiveness of schools and teachers.  The theoretical basis for the conservative agenda for education will come to light here, and we will see that the authoritarian nature of the conservative view effectively perceives teachers as workers who prepare students to take achievement tests.  Because of the top-down nature of an authoritarian system, teachers have little opportunity to influence educational policy, and have not been instrumental in determining the goals and standards which they are responsible for carrying out in public schools.

We would agree that the teachers and administrators who were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury are not only innocent until they are found guilty in an American courtroom, but we will see that they were an unfortunate part of an authoritarian regime that has claimed schooling in America.

The erasure and cheating debacle that happened in Atlanta was not directly caused by high-stakes testing.  And, it was not limited to the Atlanta Public Schools.  Other school districts in Georgia, and in school districts around the country including Washington, D.C., and New York City have shown very high erasure rates on student achievement tests.    In the Atlanta case, the Atlanta Journal Constitution launched an investigation into testing irregularities that they “uncovered” in some Georgia schools.  These irregularities lead to a full-scale analysis of millions of pieces of data that was available because of the open records law.  The AJC reports lead Sonny Perdue, then Governor of Georgia to appoint a special investigative team to probe the allegations of test tampering in the APS.  The report of this investigation was hand delivered to Governor Nathan Deal by the three investigators, Michael J. Bowers, former Attorney General of Georgia, Robert E. Wilson (Attorney and former District Attorney, & Chief Public Defender), and Richard L. Hyde (Former Atlanta Police Officer, and Lead Investigator for the Attorney General’s Office).

The cheating scandal in Atlanta and other school districts around the country is a symptom related to something bigger than achievement tests.  The cheating calls into question the nature of contemporary schooling.  We have a systemic problem that relates to why we have put so much emphasis on achievement test results, when we know that in the larger scheme of things, test scores do not tell us very much about student learning and the effectiveness of schools.  The end-of-the-year achievement tests are summative (a point in time assessment of what students know), and do not necessarily relate to the student’s curriculum.  A better way to assess student learning is to rely on the evaluation tools that local schools and teachers use to help students learn.  Numerous research studies have shown that formative tests (tests that a part of instruction), student journals, portfolios, student work, student conferences, teacher questioning and probing give a clearer picture of student learning.  Teachers across the nation have put into practice this form of evaluation and assessment.  Unfortunately none of this data is used to “measure” student learning in public schools in America.  It is reduced to a single end-of-the-year test.  We are on the wrong path.

World-Views

In order to understand how world-views can be used to look at education and the scandal that happened in Atlanta, and that is occurring in other school districts, I am going to reference the cognitive modeling and cognitive theory of metaphor by George Lakoff. Lakoff in his book Thinking Points:

formulated the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent. The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).

World view refers to the culturally dependent, generally subconscious, fundamental organization of the mind,” according to William W. Cobern, who has done extensive research on world-view and how it impinges teaching. One’s world view predisposes one to feel, think and act in predictable way, according to Cobern. World-view inclines one to a particular way of thinking.

Conceptual Metaphor of Nation as Family

According to research by George Lakoff and the Rockbridge Institute, the moral world-view of either conservatives or progressives can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family. Using this idea, ones political beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founding fathers, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here).

In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.  In the illustration that I have created, the authority or head of the family resides with the State Department of Education.  From the DOE, each school district is headed by a superintendent and team of school principles.  The teachers in each school serve the principal, who serves at the will of the superintendent.  It’s a top down organization, and that is a problem.

Conservative World-View

The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-discipline, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This list of characteristics helps us understand a conservative family’s world-view. As we look around us, and especially when we look at schooling today, we see the influence of the conservative world-view. Indeed, the fundamental values of the conservative world-view shape most aspects of public schools today.  The top-down conceptualization of schooling means that teachers are at the bottom of the organizational flow chart, and have little power in shaping policy, standards, and assessments.  Yet, they are ones whose jobs are dependent on policies that are not democratic.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

  • Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control ( it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
  • Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

The public schools in the U.S. reflect the core values of authority and discipline, and many of the laws and acts (especially the NCLB Act of 2001) was written by the authority of the government, and set in motion an image that suggests that students, teachers and administrators are siblings in the Family of Education, and are beholden to the Authority of Federal and State departments of education. It’s a top-down system, and conceptual metaphor of the “Strict Father Family” mirrors the way public schools are conceptualized.

At the top of the organizational chart for the Atlanta Public Schools was Dr. Beverly Hall, who retired in 2009, and was replaced by Dr. Erroll Davis, former chancellor of the University System of Georgia.  But the system of education in Atlanta is linked to and includes the Georgia Department of Education, which has the legal authority to decide the teaching and learning standards for all Georgia schools, and is responsible for measuring the year-to-year achievement of students on statewide assessments.  These assessments are used to decide the AYP or Adequate Yearly Progress of schools in the state.

Education through Conservative Lenses

Atlanta Test Erasure Scandal.  In the Atlanta test erasure scandal, nearly 200 teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools were investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and many of these teachers lost their jobs, were fired, or forced to resign.  Thirty-five, including the former superintendent were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury.  They face racketeering charges, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

What happened in Atlanta? Why did so many teachers and administrators cheat when they knew that they were being monitored by the Georgia Department of Education? Does the conservative world-view shed light on the cheating scandal?

According to the Georgia Governor’s three-volume report, the Atlanta cheating scandal was caused by “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that spread throughout the (Atlanta) district.”  That culture of fear was directly related to the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and students to make sure students scored high on the end-of-year tests at any costs.

In the years leading up to the time that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution crack investigative team released its report on the suspicious test erasures, the Georgia Department of Education assigned specialists to work closely with Atlanta administrators and teachers by providing staff development training, especially in schools that were identified by testing as “Needs Improvement.” Many of these schools saw their student’s test scores go up over several years. Did these scores go up because of cheating, or because of the professional support the schools received from the Georgia Department of Education?

According to the investigative report of the Governor of Georgia, bubble sheets were changed, perhaps as the Governor suggested, the culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation led to this scandal.

If we could find out who or what perpetuated the culture of fear, it might help us understand why wide-spread cheating took place. (Note: I do not use this case to single out the Atlanta School System; the evidence from various reports is that cheating has taken place in many other cities around the country; nor do I condone the cheating).

Accountability  In the conservative approach to teaching and learning, hierarchical rules were established to make the nation’s schools and districts conform to an imposed set of standards and authoritarian assessments. In the first installment of the NCLB Act of 2001, terms such as accountability for schools, adequate yearly progress and getting results were used to discuss the way schools would be evaluated.

Teachers would agree that they should be accountable for their work by creating learning environments where students are successful. However, accountability in its present form means that student test scores will be used as the measure of accountability. Using an arbitrary level of performance, yearly progress will be based on student scores, and these in turn will be used to reward or punish schools, as well as teachers and administrators. The “strict father family” model shines a light how standards and assessments are used to judge student learning, and teacher performance. Learning and performance will be adequate (good) or inadequate (bad or see as failure), and students, if they are inadequate, will be retained, or forced to take summer classes, and then tested again, and teachers will be evaluated using their student’s scores, and then appropriate rewards and punishments handed out.

Accountability in the conservative world-view derives from an authority, and what the authority determines is success. In general the authority of the state is able to “raise the bar” on students over time. It’s as if the authority is mad at students (because of scores on international tests?), and punishes them by making it more difficult to pass the tests. Is this the kind of accountability that professional educators would choose?

Culture of Fear?

Was it the former superintendent of Atlanta that created the culture of fear? Or did the culture of fear spread to the Atlanta School System from the Georgia Department of Education? Could the annual testing cycle and the stakes that are placed on student test scores create a culture of fear in a district?  Was the culture of fear created by a system of schooling based on the “Strict Father Family” conceptual metaphor in which a hierarchy exists that is never to be questioned?  Have we created a system of schooling that is so hierarchical that teachers, who work directly with students, are not viewed as decision makers, but simply as workers to carry out the instructions of those above them?  Are students capable of only learning information that they will be asked on multiple choice exams, or can they do problem solving and inquiry?  In the model of schooling that we have today, it is implied that when children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong, they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This is a very controlling and narrow view of students and teachers.

If we assume that the Department of Education is the authority in determining what students should learn in schools across the state, and the authority in determining how the student’s performance will be judged, then one way of looking at education in Georgia is from a conservative lens. In the conservative view, the state, acting as the authority figure, holds school districts, and schools accountable based on high-stakes achievement test scores of its students.

Rewards and punishments are handed out each year. Those schools that meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYI)–using attendance and test scores, are considered successful; those schools that do not meet AYI, are considered unsuccessful. If a school fails AYI for several years in a row they enter “corrective action,” which could lead to the take over of the school, or the firing of all the teachers.

What does this scandal tell us about the conservative world view?  Or what does the conservative world view tell us about what motivates professional educators to put themselves into a place that they have been charged with racketeering?

In the next post, I’ll look at schooling in America from the progressive world-view, and show that American values are progressive, and that education should be based on equality, human rights, social responsibility and inquiry.

What do you think about what happened in Atlanta?  Do you think that our system of schooling could have anything do with the wide-scale cheating that is occurring in American schools today?