Sunday, June 30, 2013
I met 16 year-old Tyree 2 years ago while mentoring his TFA semi trained teacher in the Bronx. He was still in the 8th grade. He was on the verge of being tossed out of his Bronx middle school even though everyone knew he was one of the brightest kids there. He and I connected. When I asked him why he was failing, he said… “I can’t stand this. Why should I be doing the same “frckn” thing since I was in 3rd grade? He is typical. They took his passion, his curiosity, and his humanity and replaced it with boredom.
When did we lose our way? The founding fathers knew that in a democracy public schools were necessary to have an informed citizenry. Public schools are not just to develop reading and math scores. Public schools are meant for the development of well-rounded adults able to contribute to their communities in whatever way they can, as college professors and auto mechanics, computer scientists and sanitation engineers. Public schools are meant to teach not just academics, but citizenship, and humanity. Public schools, next to family, are the most important institution in the socialization process of developing mature capable adults in our society. When did they turn into factories creating test scores, not adults?
Many of you see your boys and girls, little and big, hating and getting stressed in school precisely because of what schools are increasingly forced to do in this DOE controlled prescribed manner. But why is there a prescribed manner? I taught American History for years. One extremely important era was the post Civil War Gilded Age when US Congress was owned lock, stock, and barrel by the powerful Trusts of that era. A very famous political cartoon of the time depicted a legislative chamber watched over by HUGE figures of trusts represented by the FAT INDUSTRIALISTS of the era, like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie.
Similarly, education bills all over the country today are being guided by our version of these Fat Cats: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the Koch brothers, Eli Broad, and the Walton Family…. Today they are profiting from the education of our children by buying politicians from DC to Albany and indoctrinated them with their pseudo-science and their INADEQUATE $700 million BIG BUCKS!!! George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Wendy Kopp, Michelle Rhee and countless other so-called educational reformers have hijacked our education system. They provide corporations like Pearson profit at the cost of our children! They “embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” …Like the Common Core and Standardized testing.
NYS, for better and worse, has had K-12 syllabi and curricula for decades that other states hoped to emulate. It wasn’t perfect, but it was not prescribed. It wasn’t forced down the throats of schools, teachers, and children. They replaced it with Race to The Top formulas and The Common Core. We have to make our political leaders regret that decision to be bought off, bribed, and blackmailed by Arne Duncan’s and the Federal DOE.
I went to elementary school in a poor working class integrated South Bronx neighborhood. I learned to love school in 2nd grade because I was encouraged to learn by Ms. Rita Stafford, a teacher who thoroughly engaged all of us… We learned astronomy by hanging a solar system from the ceiling. We learned how to help our parents in neighborhood stores by learning long division. We learned how to fight for civil rights and for what is right by writing letters to President Eisenhower during the Little Rock crisis. We were published in the NYT. SHE is why I am here today. I am the SEED she planted! Because we love our children we must fight for their right to have a teacher like my Ms. Stafford, and perhaps many of yours who planted the seed of who you are today. Because we love our children, we must fight for the education they and the future of this country deserve. We must be sure we allow our children to flower as we have. Fight to repeal RTTT in NYS. Fight to get Assembly Bill A7994 passed.
With apologies to Quentin Taratino, and the movie Inglourious Basterds.. “Ed deformers ain’t got no humanity. They’re the foot soldiers of a teacher hating, kid smothering maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed. “…But I got a word of warning for all you would-be warriors. When we joined this command, we took on a debit. A debit we owe our children personally. “
Friday, June 28, 2013
Let's begin with his qualifications. If you wanted someone to be the chief administrator of education in the United States, what do you think you would look for? A law degree? A distinguished career in politics? A degree in Zoology? If not, you may not be a sitting president as the former holders of this office have all had these qualifications. Career politicians and lawyers; that's who primarily has been in office as Secretary of Education since 1979 when the office was created. Is it really that odd that our educational system has been a mess in the last several decades?
So, by these standards, Duncan fits right in. He got a Sociology degree from Harvard and he was co-captain of the college basketball team. However, at least he has some experience in education having been the CEO of a charter school (not a public school, however) and then working as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Chicago Public Schools, and later the CEO for same. There are mixed reviews for his success in this area.
It could also be said that the reviews for his tenure as Secretary of Ed. are also mixed. His chief program has been Race to the Top, a series of incentives to push schools to reform and, supposedly, be better. However, one thing to think about: is it really a good idea to think of education as a race, with winners and losers? I think most BATs would agree that education is not a competition and that using such a metaphor tends to suggest you do not understand how students learn. It may seem trivial to some but it sets the tone.
Arne Duncan has demonstrated contempt for teachers. He has said, "Class size has been a sacred cow, and I think we need to take it on." Bear in mind, this is from someone who never had to stand in front of class of any size day in and day out. How he would be qualified to hold this opinion is a bit mystifying. But, what is not mysterious is the contempt this shows. The implication is that teachers are lazy or lying when we say that class size matters. It says that if we were really good teachers, we could teach to a large class just as well as a smaller class; it shouldn't matter what size it is. As a teacher of 12 years, having had both large and small classes, I can tell you this is not even close to reality. Smaller classes are always better. The only people that think larger classes are better are those more interested in saving/making money out of schools than seeing that kids get a real education.
Duncan gave a speech in 2009 that called for, among other things, unions to change their minds about tenure and teacher evaluation. This is a tired argument that blames teachers and unions for the problems facing the schools. Tenure doesn't keep bad teachers in the classroom, however. Bad administrators keep bad teachers in the classroom. Tenure is probably mis-named. It is really just due process. It means that you can't decide on a whim to remove a teacher because you don't like the cut of their jib. It means that you have to observe and document the poor teaching. You then have to discuss with the teacher ways to improve their teaching and give them the opportunity to improve. If they don't improve, then you document that and you can fire them. What's unreasonable about that? The truth is, many administrators don't want to do the hard work it takes to work with a teacher and help them get better. It is the equivalent of seeing a kid failing in class and telling him he's failing and then giving him an "F" without any opportunity or help to get better! We wouldn't accept that in a teacher and we shouldn't accept it in administrators.
But, the bottom line to this BAT is that Duncan clearly does not understand teaching, unions, or teachers. He goes on in the same speech to make a case for merit pay. At first, merit pay seems to make sense. You give extra money to teachers who do a good job. Sounds good, right? But, tell me, how many times have you heard a teacher say, "I got into this job because of the money." "I work harder because they pay me more," is not something any teacher ever uttered!
The real problem, though, is how do you identify better teachers? Test scores? I guess that's okay if you are really looking for higher test scores. However, I bet if you were to ask, most people would say they think education should produce better thinkers, problem solvers, or even a love for learning. I doubt many would even say, without prompting, that education's goal is higher test scores. So, why would you pay for higher test scores? Maybe you would need to observe teachers in the classroom, then. But, that takes a lot of hours by administrators. What criteria would be used to judge a good teacher? Are you looking for specific teaching techniques? You'd need to be specific as there is money on the line. Do you think a teacher who has honors students might look better than a teacher who has low-achieving students? Might that bias your judgment? There are a host of reasons why merit pay is not so cut and dry.
Every business professional will tell you that giving a reward for a certain behavior is going to get more of that behavior. Is money really a good motivator? This article from Forbes says no. This article from the BBC does a comprehensive review of money as motivator and also concludes that money is a poor motivator. In fact, when money is the motivator, particularly for specific tasks, it tends to decrease motivation overall. From the article:
“I am not suggesting that they [people] should not be well paid for doing their work," says Deci. "I am saying we need to get out of the place of thinking that the way to motivate is to give them incentives for specific tasks. We need to think about how to make the workplace one in which people will get their needs satisfied and in which they will perform well.”It makes you wonder, with a degree in sociology, how does someone like Duncan convince himself that giving teachers an extra thousand bucks is going to make him work harder when a cursory Google search can lead to several reputable sources showing merit pay is a terrible idea, even if you do actually figure out a good way to judge teachers fairly.
On Tuesday, June 25th, Duncan gave a speech in which he allegedly defends the Common Core State Standards. The problem is, he avoids all the real issues that real teachers and critics have with Common Core and instead either sets up strawmen arguments or only addresses those held by crackpots and conspiracy theorists.
The real concerns about the Common Core were not addressed by Mr. Duncan. There are concerns that they are inappropriate developmentally for the lower grades. There are concerns about how these will be tested. There are concerns that the standards are being implemented without field testing and that they have been created largely without the input of teachers who will actually be using them. These are legitimate concerns. One of the largest and most serious concerns is that Pearson Education and other corporations stand to gain a great deal of money via textbook and assessment item creation. Pearson has the contract to create the assessments to be administered in 2014-2015. If you understand teaching then you must know that you should teach what you will test and test what you will teach. By Pearson controlling the testing, they are, in effect, controlling the teaching. A corporation's sole purpose is to gain greater profits for its shareholders. Corporations are not altruistic. One might argue that since Pearson makes money by educating students that it would be in their best interest to do a good job. But, that doesn't necessarily follow. How many products can you think of that are not of the highest quality but are still yielding a good profit for the seller? Therefore, it should be troubling that we are allowing, no, promoting the corporate takeover of public education in America.
The fact that Duncan does not address the real concerns about Common Core tells me that either he cannot because he doesn't have the wherewithal to defend the standards, or that he doesn't care to because they are indefensible and he serves the corporate agenda. In any case, you should feel insulted that he didn't offer a more substantive defense. The use of fallacies like strawmen typically indicates the speaker knows how weak their argument is and they are seeking to distract you from that weakness.
In 2012, Duncan gave a keynote speech, which you can view on YouTube or click below, in which he mentions the statistic that "Today, 2/3 of our teachers come from the bottom 1/3 of their graduating classes." (about 23:00 in) Larry Ferlazzo heard this stat being used elsewhere and dove into it in this blog post.
The fact is that people like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Bill Gates who purport to want reform in education have attitudes like this. They throw out "facts" like this hoping you won't look into them, hoping their media profile will carry the day and you won't question if it's true or not. All they want is to destroy the credibility of teachers and their unions.
Why? Teachers have traditionally been very highly regarded, except in the last ten years or so. We have the relatively unique combination of being highly educated and of noble purpose. We have college degrees, sometimes more than one, and we spend our days trying to help people. As such, our opinions have carried clout. So, you can imagine that an organized group of teachers, like a union, can wield a big stick. If you are trying to take over public education because you, as a CEO, can see all the money running through schools and you'd like to skim some of that by running it through your corporation, you would realize that teachers' unions could present a stumbling point, or even an outright brick wall. You'd need to neutralize them. You can't have teachers looking at your business practices and products too closely and determining them to not be in the best interest of education, or kids. And that's why you see one negative story after another about teachers in the media. You have to get people to think teachers aren't worth listening to if you're going to start dismantling public education.
This is why Duncan should fear badass teachers, the BATs. We are not afraid. We are knowledgeable. We are not motivated by money. And, despite his smear tactics, we are not from the lower percentiles. Worse than that, we are angry. We are tired of being labeled "failures" despite being successful against all odds and with rapidly diminishing support and resources. We are sick of the ad hominem attacks against us. Most of all, we are pissed off that these people are coming in with the goal of making money off of our kids instead of educating them. For myself, I see myself as an advocate for, and protector of, my students. I think many teachers share this mindset, and I know badass teachers do. It's part of what makes us so badass.
So, when you show up with a smile and a hand reaching into our district's pocket, trying to say that you are here for the kids and you just want good teachers (after all, who doesn't want good teachers?) when in reality what you're doing is tearing all of us down, good or bad, that your standards, your assessments, and your policies are specifically designed to allow you to control all of us, regardless of quality, then we get angry. And, now there are a lot of us, together, and angry. Duncan should definitely fear us us because we will not use outdated stats twisted to our own ends. We will use real, current facts to expose you. We will see to it that you, and the other charlatans, are tossed aside and ignored. This is our profession. This is our life! We are teachers, we are badass, and we are not going away.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
I am a guy who lives for summers. I wasn’t always like this but I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint the exact time in my life where the months of June, July, and August became such an integral part of my happiness.
You might be inclined to deduce that my yearning for these warmer times is related to a sports season or a passion for outdoor activities; perhaps even slower times at work. In some regards you might be correct but not exactly for the any one of the three multiple choice answers provided.
You see, my wife is a teacher.
When I met my wife she was not a teacher - she was a student. When we married she was finishing her degree and starting out on her own professional career. To say that I knew nothing about the educational system at that point would be an enormous understatement. In the nearly 20 years that followed I have learned everything that a parent, student, citizen, and spouse should know about the challenges that every teacher faces. Armed with those insights it is difficult to reconcile the carefully framed messages of politicians and privatized education proponents with the realities of life in the classroom.
My wife is a teacher. I’ve never once, in the history of our life together, seen her trading derivatives, speculate in real estate, engage in subprime lending practices, or make exorbitant demands on her employer for an outrageous salary. It is perplexing to me that over the past few years she and her colleagues have, at least in the eyes of many, become public enemy number one. I suspect that a good portion of this misguided angst is directly related to the economic environment; something that she had absolutely no part in creating. Is she without fault? Absolutely not. I have over the years thought that she would have been much better off taking her well-earned college degree and her intelligence into the private sector and guiltlessly accumulated as much wealth and material possessions as possible. Sometimes you just can’t talk sense into these folks.
My wife is a teacher. Instead of making money she decided to make a difference.
My wife is a teacher. For nearly 2 years she worked diligently to achieve the prestigious designation as a nationally board certified teacher – a designation that came with a small annual bonus. After meeting her end of the bargain, the state pulled the funding.
My wife is a teacher. She has worked for a decade and a half for far less money than her counterparts who are not public employees. She did this satisfied with the proposition that the pay was steady, a small retirement income certain, and the intangible satisfaction of steering the lives of children.
My wife is a teacher. Her income is now in decline. As a reward for her faithful years of service our state has decided that she should give back 3% of her salary towards her retirement. After all they say “this is what folks in the private sector do.” Tack-on another 2% reduction for the expired payroll tax holiday and the hits just keep on coming.
My wife is a teacher. Despite continuous assaults on her take-home pay, she shells out thousands of her own dollars for classroom supplies. She is impervious to the yearly barrage of administrative mandates established by politicians and so-called “educational experts” – she soldiers on.
My wife is a teacher. She is reviled by certain segments of our society who labor under the belief that she is underworked and overpaid. One would think that after fifteen plus years in a professional where a four-year college degree is a minimum entry requirement that most would not begrudge her a $40,000 a year salary. And for those less inclined to the truth, her salary is adjusted to smaller twice-a-month paychecks to cover the summer months when school is not in session.
My wife is a teacher. She is tasked with the enormous responsibility for the care and safety of your children. I’ll dispense with the lengthy analysis on this topic. Two words suffice – Newtown and Oklahoma. Someone please let me know the next time Lebron James throws his body between a child and the working end of an assault rifle and I will hold professional athletes in the same reverence I do teachers.
My wife is a teacher. For nine months of every year our family lives in the metronomic cycle of early morning wake-ups and late evening lesson-planning. We revel in the plethora of candies and candles, gift-cards and gadgets that herald the arrival of the “Christmas Break,” and I observe with interest the emotion that a hand-written note from a 1st grader can bring at the end of a school year.
My wife is a teacher. From August to May she had dedicated herself to the interests of her kids and her school. She has prepared and toiled, laughed and cried – and shared one hundred stories about the amazing kids that walk through her door each morning. She has left me wondering in awe how she does so much with - and for - so little.
It is the summer now – my happy time comprised of the few short weeks that I do not have to share her. My wife is a teacher – she is also my hero. I promise to return her in August.
‘Badass Teachers’ Fights for Public Education
Thousands of teachers have come together to push back against high-stakes tests and the privatization of education.
Monday, June 24, 2013
You might be a badass if you sit in professional development meetings and wonder why they sent you since you already do these things in your classroom. Moreover, you have told your colleagues about this, or maybe you tweeted it to your followers. In any case, for you, the professional development was not time well spent.
You might be a badass if your motivation to get work done for your class is because the kids will be better for it.
You might be a badass if you think merit pay would be stupid. How the hell do you figure out which teachers merit more pay than another? Test scores? Really? You want me to get higher test scores? Since when did higher test scores mean someone learned more or taught better?
You might be a badass if you spend evenings, at your own direction, reading about education, lessons, or subject matter knowledge. Why? Because it's fun.
You might be a badass if you spent your own money on supplies you used in the classroom.
You might be a badass if you were lesson planning and got pretty excited and couldn't wait to go to work tomorrow to show the kids the lesson!
You might be badass if you often think about how your lessons went that day and try to figure out how to make them better tomorrow.
You might be a badass if you saw a good idea and stole it immediately to use in a lesson tomorrow.
You might be a badass if part of your daily conversation with a spouse or friend is about how things went in class today. You might be a bigger badass if you worry aloud to said listener about how much the kids are learning and what you can do to help them.
You might be a badass if you ever started listening to the awful music your students listen to because you wanted to understand them better. Or, you watched the same TV shows or movies and oddly found yourself enjoying them.
You might be a badass if you have ever had a kid tell you something that broke your heart because you suddenly realized how hard their life was.
You might be a badass if you have filed a report for the police because you suspected child abuse because you were paying enough attention to notice.
You are definitely a badass if you filed a report because a kid trusted you enough to be the teacher they told about their abuse.
You might be a badass if kids are frequently telling you how much they like your class. The chances you are a badass is even higher if you teach high school and this happens. The chances further increase if the kids also complain about how hard your class is, how much work they have to do, and how you never watch movies, and you're their favorite teacher.
You might be a badass if you spent several days over the summer getting ready in your room getting ready for the year. You cleaned, decorated, straightened and organized so everything would be right when the kids showed up.
You might be a badass if your principal doesn't like you. (This one isn't always true. It's possible your an a-hole. You will need a few more badass traits than just this one. Just saying.)
You might be a badass if you speak at board meetings.
You might be a badass if your principal avoids you or is scared of you. There could be non-badass reasons they are afraid of you, granted. But, if you are a badass, your principal is scared of you because you speak the truth. This truth often makes more work for them. Many principals hate getting more work to do. Also, this truth might make them feel stupid. Or expose their stupidity. Principals really hate that.
You might be a badass if students try to take your class again next year. You are almost certainly a badass if even the kids who wouldn't work, wouldn't stop talking, and got in trouble with you also want to take your class again. Like, seriously? After all of that you still want to be in my class? Why? (It might be because you're a badass teacher!)
You might be a badass if you are watching a show or movie and think, "Oh, this would be really good to help explain that thing the kids are having trouble understanding."
You are almost certainly a badass if you get a copy of that thing and show it to them the next day.
You might be a badass if your kids didn't realize they were learning in class because they enjoyed it.
You might be a badass if kids didn't realize class was almost over. "That's it? Oh, wow, that went by fast!"
You might be a badass if kids want to eat lunch in your room. And breakfast, sometimes.
You might be a badass if kids say hi to you when they see you out of class.
You might be a badass if you're reading an article and want to read it with your class so you make copies and rearrange lessons so you can share it with them.
You might be a badass if you like going to teacher supply stores.
You might be a badass if you get angry when you have to do test prep during class time. You do it anyway and you might not say anything to the kids but you're still mad that you're wasting time going over test prep strategies. If you figure out a way to disguise your regular lesson as test prep, you are almost certainly a badass.
You might be a badass if you think standardized testing is stupid and a horrible way to judge how much a kid has learned that year.
You might be a badass if you realized that one of the biggest reasons for the push for Common Core is so textbook makers only have to make one book for all the states instead of multiple versions for various state standards.
You might be a badass if you're tired of people disrespecting teachers and you are sick of hearing how easy your job is, how short your hours are, and how long your "paid vacations" are. You'd love to have them try to control a classroom full of runny noses, whining, giggling, and waving hands that have to go to the bathroom. Or a room full of hormones, flirting with each other, giggling, and nasty comments to the other kid they hate that may or may not erupt into a fight. Even better, you'd like to send them with 30 homework packets, or 165 essays to grade. If not that, you'd like to have them do some lesson planning, just so they can get an idea of your "easy" job and "short" hours. Then, you'd like to let them live off your paycheck after all of that, especially when they can do some professional development and curriculum planning during "vacation" while you don't get paycheck, or if you do, it's because the district got to hold it, interest free.
You are almost certainly a badass if you want to do something about all of it. You want to stand up and be heard. You want to stop the testing, the valued-added evaluations, the merit pay proposals. You'd much rather have up to date text books, carpet without stains and holes, desks without writing on them, computers that work, up to date software. You'd probably murder to get more boxes of tissues, more paper, more pencils and pens, more copies and the ability to get a bulb for your projector or ink for your printer at the time it needs it and not in a week or two.
If you care about students, care how much they learn, take your job seriously, and get pissed when you know what could be done to help kids but get told, "We don't have the money for that," or "We need to see if that fits into the site plan before we can implement that." If you're tired of being treated like a curriculum delivery device rather than a professional practitioner of a craft that is part art and and part science. If you're tired of people saying "It's for the kids!" when it's clearly being done in the interest of adults, then you are probably a badass
|David Frizzell, Indiana Legislator|
|Teachers campaigning for Glenda Ritz in Indiana|