A Vanguard of Voices for Educational Reform–Updated

Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I started this blog in 2005 to augment my book The Art of Teaching Science (Public Library), and to write about progressive & humanistic science teaching.   Over the years it morphed into a blog that not only explores science education, but its more of a discussion of the unnerving intrusion of corporate education-wannabes with lots of money who want to change education for their own ends.

In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.

In the title of chapter one of my 1992 book, Minds on Science (Public Library) I used the word “reconnaissance” as a way to introduce readers to the field of science teaching.

In this blog post, I am using the word “vanguard” to introduce you to people who are on the forefront of a movement to oppose and take action against groups and people who seek to privatize public education, and inflict harm into the nation’s schools by advocating standardization and high-stakes accountability.  These persons are for the most part people or small groups who have taken risks to speak out and act on the positions they hold, often in opposition to forces more powerful and financially more resourceful.

I used the word vanguard in a review I wrote of Mercedes Schneider’s new book, on Amazon, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  I titled the review of her book as Uncovering the Culprits Causing Harm to Public Education.  Here is what I wrote:

Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.

This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning should be, and who should lead the effort to improve eduction. Here are a few that have influenced and inspired me.

A Vanguard of Voices

Mercedes Schneider

One of these educators is Dr. Mercedes Schneider, who writes a blog at deutsch29 on education reform.  Dr. Schneider has a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods from the University of Northern Colorado, and was a professor at Ball State University.  With teaching experiences in Louisiana and Georgia, she returned to Louisiana to teach high school English.  From there she launched her blog, and just last week, published her first book.

Her book identifies people and groups that are very different from the “Vanguard” of voices that I’ve included in this post.  Here is a little more of what I said about her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

This is a must read book.

Anthony Cody

I met Anthony Cody several years ago online through his blog Living in Dialog which is published on Education Week Teacher.  He was gracious enough to re-blog some of my blog posts, and introduce me to NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  Anthony Cody worked for 24 years as a science teacher  at a high-needs middle school in the Oakland Public Schools.

Anthony is a National Board-certified teacher, and leads workshops on Project Based Teaching.  Recently he co-founded the Network for Public Education, which had its first annual meeting in Austin last month.  He has worked endlessly to bring dialog to the issues surrounding educational reform.  He was brave enough to engage the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in a series of exchanges, and has written more than 100 blog posts about the billionaires intrusion into public education.

His blog articles are some of the best on the net.

He can be followed on Twitter.

Chris Thinnes

Chris Thinnes is one of those educators you wished you had for a teacher.  If you are a teacher, he is the kind of administrator that you would want to work with.  His blog consists of his reflections and thoughts about education, and his reflections are deep and powerful.  He blogs at Chris.Thinnes.me.

I’ve been a lifelong advocate for inquiry and progressive & humanistic education, and shared on this blog some of the work that Chris Thinnes was doing with his colleagues at school.   I wrote this about his work:

Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically find the intersections of personal interest and shared priorities.” You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning. It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for several years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and aims as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

He wrote his reflections on the first Network for Public Education and titled it An Education Spring in Our Step: Reflections on the #NPEconference.  He says:

But I want to reflect on the conference from a more personal, perhaps more emotional, and potentially more self-indulgent perspective. I want to explore some patterns that I noticed, and some dynamics I found inspiring, in the community of #NPEconference participants. These had a profound impact on me that I’m likely to explore in the weeks and months to come: they helped restore, and to create anew, a faith that we can ensure – precisely by recognizing the nature and the impact of these dynamics in our community, and in our solidarity — the fulfillment of a vision framed most eloquently by my dear friend Peter Gow: “We want to see democracy, not capitalism, survive as the root, stem, leaves, and fruit of American education.”

You can follow him on Twitter.

Diane Ravitch

Like many of you, I became aware of Dr. Ravitch through her writings, not only through her most recent book, The Reign of Error (Public Library) but also when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Public Library), and the blog she co-hosted with Deborah Meir called Bridging Differences.  Dr. Ravitch’s blog, perhaps one of the most visited education sites on the net, uncovers and reveals the actions of a very large population of educators who are pushing back the efforts of the “billionaire boys club. (a Ravitch term).

For the people in this article whose ideas have inspired me, they would probably name Diane Ravitch as a person they look to as a beacon of strength and wisdom about the current state of education in America.  I would, too.

Dr. Ravitch is an historian and a research professor at New York University.  She is co-founder of Network for Public Education, and was the keynote speaker at the first conference of the NPE.

Read her on Twitter.

Paul L. Thomas

Dr. Thomas, a professor at Furman University is a voice that I go to learn the truth about poverty in the United States and how it affects the education of about 30% of the nations children and youth.  His writing on “the becoming radical” (blog), is must read for education reform.  Paul taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), where he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010).

He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).

You can find him on twitter and NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  His writings are linked from here.

Julian Vasquez Heilig

Dr. Heilig is professor of Educational Policy and Planning, and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas.  I’ve come to know him through his blog, Cloaking Inequity, which brings a level of research, mixed with anecdotal experiences, that is very difficult to beat.  It’s one of my favorite stops on the Internet, and I recommend it highly.  Dr. Heilig writes about important issues and topics.

One of the organizations that I think has connived its way into American schools is Teach for America.  Julian Vasquez Heilig has done extensive research to refute  claims that TFA is a practical way to produce teachers for public schools.  You can find his report here at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado: Teach for America: A Return to the Evidence.  You will find that Dr. Heilig’s blog is a real experience, and one that will bring you in touch with crucial issues on educational reform.

Follow him on Twitter.

Fellow Van-guardians

My intention in this article was to make the claim that there is a grass-roots movement of people and organizations that are unearthing new realities to prevent public schools from falling into the hands of corporate and philanthropic America.

I can’t even make a dent in the number of people who are calling out the billionaires such as Gates, and Broad, and saying “enough is enough.”  The struggle to prevent the continuation of test obsession and standardization is one that is fought on the ground every day.

To complete this article, I want to include the following people and organizations that are representative of a large number of courageous people who are willing to take risks to oppose actions of corporations and government that are not in the public interest.

Jean Sanders

Dr. Jean Sanders is an educational researcher and consultant who I met through this blog.  She says on her LinkedIn site that “my main concern now is the travesty of “takeover” of public education by mandarins, neophytes and corporate types who never spent a day teaching anything in a classroom.”  She has been gracious to read my blog, and take the time to write comments that extend my own learning.

Hanna Hurley

Hanna Hurley is a fellow Georgian, and activist who questions and writes about education.  She is a child advocate and special education consultant.  Follow her on Twitter.

Grant Lichtman

A fellow progressive educator, and geologist, Grant Lichtman is the author of The Learning Pond, a blog he writes, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School, and a forthcoming book on his 60 day trip around the United States visiting innovative schools. Follow him on Twitter.

Ed Johnson

Ed is a fellow Atlantan, and is an advocate for public education, and a Deming scholar.  He has written several posts on this blog, and he has shared Deming-based research on systems education, and in particular has analyzed NAEP Trial Urban District Assessments using control chart processes.  He was a candidate for the Atlanta School Board. He has inspired me by his activism, and relentless service to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Ed Johnson can be reached here.

Matt Jones and EmpowerED Georgia

Matt Jones, a public school educator, founded EmpowerED Georgia, and working with citizens in the state has created an advocacy group supporting public education.  EmpowerED Georgia has used its resources to oppose legislation that would privatize public education, or cut the funding for Georgia schools.  Matt Jones has been the leader of this group, and has inspired many of us.   Visit the EmpowerEd website for a collection of papers and positions on important education topics.

Follow EmpowerED Georgia on Twitter.

Chicago Teachers Union

The Chicago Teacher’s Union, representing more than 30,000 teachers, has set the tone for the way teachers can work together to protect public schools from corporate intrusion and government give aways (to charter management), and to pavé the way to improve education in public schools.  The union blogs at this site.

The Garfield High School Faculty

Teachers at Garfield High School boycotted the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  It was one of the first efforts by a school faculty to say no to administrators who insisted on using a test that the teachers felt was a waste of time and money.  MAP represents (in my view) the extreme in our obsession with testing.  Students are administered the test four times during the year to offer “measures” to tell if students reached certain benchmarks.  The use of benchmarks is a clever device, but the problem is there is no research or scientific basis for benchmarks.  They are pure opinion, and as the Garfield teachers rightly said, the tests don’t measure what they teach.  You can go to their Facebook page at Solidarity with Garfield high School testing Boycott.

John Kuhn

John Kuhn is a Texas superintendent, but to many of us he is a fearless leader whose presence at various conferences and meeting, and his new book Fear and Learning in America: Bad data, good teachers, and the attack public education (Public Library) provides the kind of evidence and support needed to further the opposition to the demise of public education.

Follow him on Twitter.

Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke came to my attention when we learned that Atlanta’s new superintendent was before superintendent of the Austin Unified School District.  Joyce, a school counselor with 30 years of experience, described what she called toxic environments in many schools because of our testing obsession.  She and I communicated, and I wrote several posts (Psychological Abuse: A Springtime School Ritual?) about her struggles, and later resignation when the superintendent simply denied that any of this was going on in these schools.  You can read her article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Edy Chamness

Ed Chamness, a former teacher, and parent in Austin, Texas, and professor Julie Westerlund founded the Texas chapter of the Opt Out Movement. I came in contact with Chamness and Westerlund when I reached out to Joyce Murdock Feilke to find out about what she called “psychological abuse” created by the state-wide obsession with high-stakes testing in an Austin elementary school where she was a school counselor.

Edy Chamness and Julie Westerlund were professional colleagues of Joyce’s and provided more and compelling evidence that children are being used in an experiment, rooted in punitive classic conditioning to meet the goals of the school district, which is increase student test scores and eventually graduation rates.


Yong Zhao

YONG ZHAO is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where is a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership(EMPL). His recent series, “How Does PISA Put the World at Risk” (http://ow.ly/x0g48) is only one example of his evidence-based deconstruction of prevailing myths in education policy and politics, both on his blog and in a series of must-read book-length works.

Blog: http://ZhaoLearning.com

Twitter: @YongZhaoUO

Jose Luis Vilson

JOSE LUIS VILSON is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He’s also a committed writer, activist, web designer, and father. He co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future with Dr. Barnett Berry and 11 other accomplished teachers. He writes for Edutopia, GOOD, and TransformED / Future of Teaching, and has written for CNN.com, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa NY. His first (and must-read) solo project, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, has just been released by Haymarket Books.

Blog: http://thejosevilson.com

Twitter: @TheJLV

Deborah Meier

DEBORAH MEIER encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. She is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987. Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education(2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are foundational texts for those interested in the intersections and dependencies of education and democracy: so, too, her EdWeek blog on “Bridging Differences.”

Bridging Differences Blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/

Twitter: @DebMeier

Thomas Hobson

THOMAS HOBSON is a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist, and the author of “A Parent’s Guide to Seattle.” For the past 11 years, he has been the only employee of the Woodland Park Cooperative preschools, allowing him to work very closely with families in a true community setting. His blog, by turns, demonstrates an exceptional acuity of insight about learning, teaching, children, and community — and lights a fire for us all to ask deeper questions about education in a democracy.




Who would you like to add to this Vanguard page.  Send me names and a bit of information, and we’ll add them to the list.  Thank you.

How to Make Sense out of Educational Reform

P.L. Thomas explains that to understand U.S. educational reform, foundational differences among the various groups or camps of reform need to be clarified.  And, in a post he wrote this week, he has provided a map that we can use to help us understand educational reform.

He states that all reform is driven by ideology.  He says:

and thus, those ideologies color what evidence is highlighted, how that evidence is interpreted, and what role evidence plays in claims public education has failed and arguments about which policies are needed for reform.

Education Reform Boxes and Categories

Dr. Thomas classifies reform into two categories, mainstream reform, and radical reform.  Mainstream reform has been the dominant agent of change in U.S. education, with two “overlapping” reform divisions including technocratic and bureaucratic reformers.   Thomas then creates two other divisions grouped as radical reforms, including libertarian and critical reformers.  These reforms have been historically on the sidelines, but libertarians (who I’ve always considered as conservatives in disguise) have benefited from the movement to privatize education by both the bureaucratic and technocratic reformers.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 9.30.38 PM
Figure 1. Educational Reform Chart, according to P.L. Thomas. Education Reform based on P.J. Thomas . Education Reform Guide Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com


Reform as a Continuum

Thomas envisions the four categories at the bottom of Figure 1 as a continuum, moving from the left to the right as shown in Figure 2.  I think it is important to note that Thomas suggest that those that claim that public education is failing do so with the full knowledge of their ideological foundation.  For example, if the organization Achieve claims that American science education is failing, it needs to acknowledge its bureaucratic and technocratic philosophy is driving its public statements.

For those of us in science education, since 1957, the refrain has been: American science education is inferior to other nations, and that if science (and mathematics) is not upgraded, then the nation faces a reality of being at risk (A Nation at Risk, 1983).  In the most recent rendition, even the prestigious National Research Council, which received funding from the Carnegie Institute, agreed with the authors of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), that K-12 science education is taught as a set of disjointed and isolated facts.

This can be debated. Most science teaching is organized around major topics, concepts or ideas. They are typically not taught in a disjointed fashion as the authors of the new standards claim. Look at any science textbook, and you will find that chapters are organized as unified units of content.  But it was in the best interest of the dominant élite to make the claim that science (and mathematics) is contributing to America’s loss of competitive edge, that American students are lagging in achievement of students in other countries, and that the future workforce will be unable compete in the global marketplace.  Standards in science or math are typically written and promoted by élite groups or committees of professionals, e.g. mathematic professors, linguists, or scientists.  It’s not surprising that it was an élite group of scientists who wrote the science framework upon which the Next Generation Science Standards are based.  But, this is not a new idea.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that the NGSS were written by classroom teachers.  The framework was established by the élite committees appointed by the National Research Council.  The science that makes its way into texts and that show up in standards are written by those who have the capital, and they typically go out of their way to defend it.  Look carefully at the NGSS, and you find that the approach and the nature of the content, K-12, has not changed from the previous set of science standards which were published in 1996.

Figure 2. Ideological/Political Scale from Left to Right by P.L. Thomas
Figure 2. Ideological/Political Scale from Left to Right by P.L. Thomas. Education Reform Guide. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com

From Ideology to Reform Examples

In the framework presented here based on P.L. Thomas’ analysis of reform, the bureaucratic and technocratic ideologies of reform dominate the American education reform scene.  There is overlap in these dominant ideologies, and billions of dollars have been invested and provided by private corporations, and the U.S. Department of Education.  For example, $4.5 billion was awarded to 11 states and the District of Columbia to implement the federal Race to the Top (RT3) program.

The RT3 is the embodiment of the mainstream educational reform because of its bureaucratic and technocratic ideologies.  Since 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has invested more than $2 billion in educational reform, most of it to support the RT3’s program of college and career readiness.  Follow this link to see a chart showing how the Gates Foundation spent it money on education.  College and career readiness are the code words for standards-based and high stakes testing.

In Dr. Thomas’ continuum scale, the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are examples of educational reform initiatives that overlap the bureaucratic and technocratic categories.  These two sets of standards support the ideology that claims that American schools must make sure that students achieve at high levels of mastery, and that teachers implement a curriculum based on a common set of standards written by elites in the fields of mathematics, science and English/language arts.  If you read the literature on the Achieve website you will find its ideology spelled out in statements such as these ( (Next Generation Science Standards.  The Need for Science Standards. Retrieved November 17, 2013. http://www.nextgenscience.org):

    • When we think science education, we tend to think preparation for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are wellsprings of innovation in our economy.
    • In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the college readiness benchmark levels in mathematics, and 69% of graduates failed to meet the readiness benchmark levels in science
    • U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing far below par and, if left unattended, will leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in a global economy.
    • To be competitive in the 21st century, American students must have the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the knowledge-based economy. Today, students are no longer just competing with their peers from other states but with students from across the globe.
    • Many feel it is necessary for American students to be held to the same academic expectations as students in other countries. The successes of other nations can provide potential guidance for decision-making in the United States.

These statements provide some of the rationale for reform initiates that fundamentally focus on raising standards and increasing student achievement.  Educational reform can be evaluated using “big” data systems that are based on high-stakes testing.  Failures are highlighted quite easily by these reformers because they make unscientific statements about what constitutes success.

In Table 1, I’ve organized Dr. Thomas’ analysis into a chart identifying the sector and ideology of his reform categories.  I’ve added another column that includes a few examples of the categories.  These are my interpretations, and any criticism of my choices should be directed to me, not to Dr. Thomas.

Please note that many of the examples shown in the bureaucratic and technocratic sectors overlap, e.g Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards.  I’ve also included a few historical events (Sputnik Hysteria), organizations (Achieve), and people (Paulo Freire) to provide additional examples of reform.

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 7.14.16 PM
Table 1. Ideologies and Examples of Education Reform based on P.J. Thomas . Education Reform Guide Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com (Examples are my own interpretations).

P.L. Thomas has provided an important tool for thinking about educational reform.   As he said near the end of his article,

Regardless, then, of how accurate anyone believes this guide is, I would maintain that step one is to acknowledge that “educational reformer” is insufficient alone as an identifier and that ideology drives all claims of educational failure and calls for reform.

What reforms, events and people would you add to the examples posted in Table 1?

Guest Post by Anthony Cody: Cui Bono? The Question Rarely Asked, Let Alone Investigated

This was written by Anthony Cody, who spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.

This post was initially published here.

By Anthony Cody

As our public schools are systematically re-engineered for dubious reasons, with questionable results, by people of uncertain motives, there is a disturbing lack of skepticism on the part of our watchdogs for the public good, journalists. One of the basic principles of reporting is to ask “cui bono” – who benefits? In the Watergate scandal, the key informant whispered to reporters Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.” But very few reporters today seem to be “following the money” in the field of education.

Veteran education reporter John Merrow recently delved into cheating scandals on his blog, Taking Note:

In other words, we’re cheating kids on their tests and stealing essential courses like art and music from them! Add to that, we are lying — because when kids get phony scores telling them they are proficient when they need help, that’s an out-and-out lie.

At what point does this trifecta — lying, cheating and stealing — become a felony? Seriously!

In the face of this disheartening news, one has to ask, “who benefits?” I’m stumped. Certainly not children, parents and teachers. Could it be the testing companies? Perhaps it’s the bevy of expert ‘consultants’ who advise school systems on how to raise test scores, how to calculate the ‘value added’ that individual teachers provide, and how to make education more ‘businesslike’ and efficient?

A far more important question than ‘who benefits?’ is: What are we going to do about it?

I want to make a special plea here to John Merrow and other journalists. Reporters hold a sacred public trust and fill a role no one else in society can. Before the rest of the public is even aware that something ought to be done, they must be informed that there is a problem. We need some real reporting here. And that means taking some risks.We have had a very heavy push from a host of sources to convince us all that “reform” of a certain sort is required in our schools.

False Ideas

These are the false ideas we are up against:

1. Our public schools are failing.
 Establishing this is essential because it justifies their destruction – and replacement by far more profitable ventures. There is plenty of evidence that this is not true, if one cares to look.

2. Charter schools are far more efficient than public schools, and produce better results as well.
 A new report contradicts the first claim, and the largest study of charters ever conducted contradicts the second. But many stories about charters do not dig for these facts.

3. The problems associated with standardized tests will be solved with technical innovations and the new Common Core standards. Narrowing of the curriculum will be fixed by having more tests in more subjects. Critical thinking will be fostered by better standards and tests scored by computers. Research on this is hard to find – these are largely the promises made by those who are selling these solutions. But the unproven assumption that these things are so underlies many stories now coming out about the Common Core.

4. Teachers are the number one reason students are doing poorly, and thus if we can eliminate ineffective ones, performance will shoot through the roof.
 This has spawned a host of reforms, including the elimination of due process, and Value Added Measurement systems to evaluate teachers using their test scores. Media outlets have actively propagated these unreliable methods. The Los Angeles Times created its own VAM system and published teacher ratings two years ago, and more recently New York newspapers published teacher ratings and wrote exposes of the “worst teachers” based on them.

Continue reading “Guest Post by Anthony Cody: Cui Bono? The Question Rarely Asked, Let Alone Investigated”

Waiting for Superman: A Documentary Film on Educational Reform

Yesterday I wrote about the documentary film The Race to Nowhere: The Darkside of America’s Achievement Culture by filmmaker Vicki Abeles.  The film, which will be shown Nationwide later this month, challenges the Federal and corporate reform efforts of standardization and high-stakes testing.  One statement made by Abeles sets the tone:

We cannot wait for large institutions or the government to make the changes our kids need today. Education should not be driven by political and corporate interests. There’s too much evidence that it isn’t working for any of our kids. Layers of change are needed, starting from the ground up.

From the ground up educational reform is a competing approach to educational reform—one that this blog supports, and describes as a humanistic paradigm.   Follow this link to read an interview of Vicki Abeles by Tracy Stevens to further understand Abeles philosophy of schooling.

The competing, and dominant approach (top down) to reform in American schools is a testing and charter school (choice) paradigm that is supported by the Federal Government, most state departments of education in the U.S., Corporate Boards, and the Billionaire’s Boy Club (a chapter title from Diane Ravitch’s book, Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Waiting for Superman, a powerful and new documentary film, offers us a look at this paradigm.

Waiting for Superman

On September 24th, Waiting for Superman (or when disaster strikes in America, heroes rush in) will be shown in selected theaters, nationwide.  The film was produced and directed by Davis Guggenheim, Academy Award Winning Director of An Inconvenient Truth.  The film probes the hopes, dreams, and untapped potential of five kids in different American cities.  It also focuses on several leading educators including Geoff Canada (Director of Harlem’s Children Zone) and Michelle Rhee (Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools).  The film “demonizes” the American Federation of Teachers, especially its President, Randi Weingarten, furthering the argument that something is wrong with teachers, and that “we” need to weed out the “bad teachers.”  The film also argues that Charter schools offer a solution to “failing schools.”

One thoughtful review of Waiting for Superman was written by John Merrow, education correspondent for the PBS Newshour.  Merrow, who has seen the film, starts off by saying there is much to admire about the film—the story, the graphics, the characters, especially Geoff Canada.  He also says:

The film strikes me as a mishmash of contradictions and unsupportable generalizations, even half-truths. And while it may make for box office, its message is oversimplified to the point of being insulting….The message of the movie can be reduced to a couple of aphorisms: charter schools are good, unions are bad, and great teachers are good.

There are other reviews of the film. In this review, I found the comments by readers enlightening about the film, especially questioning the assumption that the root of the problem are teachers, or that education can be isolated from the rest of society, thereby suggesting that simply improving schooling will in the long run help the students that need it most.

That said, here is one of the trailer’s for the movie.

Education in the Age of Technology

I tuned into a lecture yesterday presented by Allan Collins which was hosted by The Learning Sciences Group at Penn State, and organized by Penn State Professor Richard Duschl.  The title of the talk was Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, and is title of Collins’ book, co-authored with Richard Halverson.  The lecture is long, but you can scroll through the slides which accompany the video, and listen to various parts of the talk, and still get the main idea of his ideas about the future of education.

According to Collins, in this “age of technology,” the very technology which consumes so many of us, has had little effect on mainstream education.  As he pointed out, schools spend a lot of money on technology, but this technology is on the periphery of learning, and has not really been utilized to help students learn.  Indeed, we’ve spent so much on technology, that I remember visiting a science and technology center in a North Georgia school district, that piles and piles of “old” computers were taking up space, replaced with “newer” computers.

In the county that I reside, a former superintendent (he was fired because of his forward looking views on the use of technology) nearly implemented a program that would have put lap tops in the hands all elementary and middle school students.  This was a huge project (about 100,000 students), but he was accused of ramming a technology program onto schools without much research.  In truth, he was going to run a “pilot” program at several schools, and then use this experience to determine the next move for the district.  That never happened as he was run out of town, especially by the right wing newspaper, The Marietta Journal.

Schools today exist within a technological and scientific global environment held together by means of the Internet and various tools that we use to communicate, do research, and conduct business.  The world outside of school has consumed the world of technology, but unfortunately, our schools have not utilized the remarkable tools available to us to promote learning, and growth, and to move schools in new directions.  That said, there are many teachers who have been pioneers in the use of technology in their classrooms and districts, but the overall trend in education is one trapped by conservative approaches that center around standardizing the curriculum, and testing the heck out of our students.

One of the important ideas that Dr. Collins outlined was that there is an incompatibility between schooling and technology.  In his analysis, uniform learning, standardization, the value placed on testing the knowledge in kids heads, learning by absorption coupled with the teacher as an expert is incompatible with technology, and the reform that is needed to incorporate technology into learning.  In fact, he suggests that schools will become less important, that the seeds of a new system of learning are emerging (he outlines these and they include ideas such as: home schooling, distance learning, adult education, education TV, web communities, “technical” certifications, and internet cafes), that the industrial revolution model of today’s schools will give way to a new model of school, and will lead to lifelong learning.

Another idea that Collins explores is the idea of self-directed learning, which of course has been an idea that emerged from thinkers such as John Dewey, Jerome Bruner, and Carl Rogers, and creative teachers who provided the real-world experiences for theorists to develop their ideas.  Schools currently do not foster “intrinsic motivation,” but because of the increased movement toward having students learn the same thing at the same time, regardless of previous learning experiences, sets in motion a system of learning that says little to us about intrinsic learning.   Simply importing technology into the classroom will not result in intrinsically motivated learners.  For example, simply moving textbooks to an online or computer environment will not necessarily change the way we teach, or the way students learn.  A deeper paradigm shift is needed to incorporate the ideas that Collins is suggesting.  For me this paradigm is the humanistic science paradigm that I have explored on this weblog.

Collins explores ideas that I think are compatible to creative teachers, and educators who want to put students at the center of learning, and encourage new ways to educate youth.