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When faced with the many competing narratives of the religions of the world, comparative myth/religion scholar Joseph Campbell explained to Bill Moyers that Campbell did not reject religion, as some scholars have, but instead reached this conclusion:
Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck to its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
Following the unveiling of Ravitch 2.0 in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Diane Ravitch now offers Ravitch 3.0 with her newly released Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.
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Since I am quick to criticize the media for its role in the failures of the current education reform movement—such as PBS, The Charleston Post and Courier, and Education Week—I must also recognize when a media outlet provides much needed insight into education policy that has clearly run off the tracks, such as the so-called Florida miracle and the enduring practice of assigning letter grades to schools.

In "Low-income schools struggle under state's grading system" (Miami Herald, August 10, 2013), Michael Vasquez and David Smiley offer a clear but disturbing picture of accountability in Florida:

With dozens of changes in just the past three years, the formula behind Florida'€™s A-to-F school grading system has been criticized as a confusing mess. But there'€™s been at least one constant in Miami-Dade and Broward results: The wealthiest schools never get Fs, and schools with high populations of poor students face an uphill battle to even get a C.

The trend is visible through a decade-plus of school grade results, dating back to the first grades issued in 1999.

Vasquez and Smiley, along with the Miami Herald, represent a needed aspect of journalism addressing education reform: Recognizing large and compelling patterns, and thus the consequences of education policy.

The analysis of assigning letter grades to schools in Florida exposes some important conclusions:

• Although high poverty rates don'€™t necessarily doom a school to a subpar grade, D and F schools are overwhelmingly serving students from poor neighborhoods, and the few schools that do overcome poverty to achieve an A are outliers. (There were nine such schools this year, all in Miami-Dade).

• Of the 209 schools in Miami-Dade and Broward with at least 90 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch, 78 percent received a grade of C or worse. Roughly 39 percent of these high-poverty schools received a D or F.

• Of the 43 local schools with much lower poverty rates (30 percent or fewer students receiving free or reduced lunch), 86 percent received an A, and none received a D or F.

Despite efforts to identify educational quality among schools by focusing on growth models, data used in accountability policies remain primarily a reflection of out-of-school factors. Further, the schools that sit outside the typical patterns are rightfully identified by Vasquez and Smiley as "outliers."

This analytical report on letter grades for schools in Florida is a strong example of quality journalism that seeks out and presents complex and detailed evidence, placing that data in the broader context of the many factors that impact not only the evidence we gather on our schools but also what conclusions we draw as well as how we draw those conclusions.

In the article, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho explains, "'Just as much as poverty can'€™t be an excuse, the exclusion of poverty as a factor is immoral.'"

Rare is the news article that allows a perspective this complex.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ushered in several grand promises in 2001, such as closing the achievement gap, but one of the central requirements of the legislation—the use of scientifically based research—is now poised to dismantle the entire accountability movement, including policies such as labeling schools with letter grades based primarily on test scores.

The evidence is clear that thirty years of accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing has failed. The next step is composing and sharing a unified message of that fact, while also building a coalition to reset the reform agenda so that we address poverty, equity, and opportunity in the lives of children and their families as well as in the schools those children attend.

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Billy Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Billy's experience introduces readers to Tralfamadorians:

The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings, especially about time....

The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the we way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another, like beads on a strong, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. (pp. 33, 34)

One of the most memorable moments of Billy becoming unstuck in time is his watching a war movie backward. Viewed in reverse, the film becomes a narrative of renewal, of peace, as fighter planes "sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen," and "[t]he bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes" (pp. 93, 94).

In the spirit of folding time back onto itself to give us clarity of sight, let's become unstuck in time while viewing American Indian Charter Schools.

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Fri Jun 21, 2013 at 05:14 AM PDT

NCTQ Fails US, World

by plthomasEdD

Some things are simply too complicated for public public consumption.

Rankings are one such example. By their nature, rankings often send messages that are deeply distorted, but we persist in creating rankings where none are justified.

Education has a long and ugly relationship with rankings, making a mess even messier (if that is possible).

Two aspects of the perpetual education debate are worth noting for their complexity: (1) The eternal claim that schools need to be reformed (see Deleuze), and (2) the incessant charge that colleges of education and education certification are underperforming.

The problems with both issues lie with the complexity of the answers.

Have many (if not most) traditional approaches to US public education failed, and do public schools need reforming? Yes, but not in the ways being promoted by self-proclaimed reformers—such as competition/choice, new standards, new high-stakes tests, teacher pay linked to those tests, and more charter schools (see the empty claims from Secretary Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and others).

Are there historical and current problems with education degrees and certification policies for teachers? Yes, but, again, not the sort being shoveled by think tanks such as NCTQ.

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Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 04:13 AM PDT

Merrow Is a Jolly Fellow (Not)

by plthomasEdD

I hate even to acknowledge John Merrow's most recent venture into not having a clue, but his attempt at humor is yet more evidence that the evidence doesn't matter:

The Common Core and the End of the World

In Merrow's evidence-free world, all who question the Mighty Common Core are nothing more than end-of-the-world loonies. To investigative journalist Merrow, Rand Paul, Anthony Cody, and Diane Ravitch are of equal credibility (that is, not credible).

That's pure and utter lunacy.

While it appears that many of today's media voices are unable to consider more than a dualistic view of the universe, the facts remain that some Common Core shouting (the Beck, Maulkin, Tea Party kind) is without evidence, and serves only a predetermined "I hate gov'ment" agenda.

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Fri Jun 07, 2013 at 05:15 AM PDT

Innovation Schools Nothing New

by plthomasEdD

Emma Brown in The Washington Post offers an important window into school reform occurring (ad infinitum) in Washington DC:

D.C. Council member David A. Catania plans to announce wide-ranging legislation Tuesday that could substantially reshape the city’s public education system, as he seeks to increase funding to educate poor children, give more power to principals, change the city’s school lottery system and end social promotion of children who are performing below grade level.
I suppose Brown, The Washington Post, and Catania are unaware that DC schools were reformed to perfection when Michelle Rhee ruled the land. But nonetheless, Catania appears to have all the appropriate slogans in place:
“So long as our school system fails, and it disproportionately fails poor people and people of color, it permits a culture of division,” said Catania, who in January became chair of the council’s newly reconstituted education committee. “If we don’t tackle this issue of the achievement gap, if we continue to relegate this city to a city of haves and have-nots that fall very hard across race lines, we’re never going to be the city we need to be.”
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As the first decade of the twenty-first century drew to an end, Frederick Douglass High School (Maryland) stood as a contradiction of social history, education and racial promise, the claimed failures of public schools, and the essential flaws in high-stakes accountability.

Focusing on Douglass High, documentarians Alan and Susan Raymond detail the realities of both day-to-day schooling in a high-poverty, majority-minority public schools and the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), enacted in 2001 with 100% proficiency requirements mandated for 2014.

Toward the end of the film, a voice-over explains that the accountability guidelines in place during the filming excluded exit exam data from graduation requirements for students, but those test scores were included in NCLB accountability decisions about the school and its administration and faculty. Panning across the test room and the voice-over reveal many students with their heads down during those tests.

While standardized testing has been a key component of education in the U.S. for a century, the accountability movement and the impact of high-stakes testing entered mainstream education in the early 1980s. One of the first uses of high-stakes testing then was the introduction of the exit exam, designed to prevent students from being passed along through the system and thus graduating without what proponents called basic skills. South Carolina was one of the first states to commit fully to the accountability movement, establishing standards, state tests, and linking graduation to exit exams.

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Sun May 26, 2013 at 05:28 AM PDT

i2: Innovative Innovators!

by plthomasEdD


i2: Innovative Innovators*


What is i2?

i2 is a venture designed to recruit and train educators without any experience or expertise in innovation, entrepreneurship, or cagebusting to serve as consultants for innovators, entrepreneurs, and cagebusters.

Who will i2 serve?

Innovators stuck in an innovation rut.

Entrepreneurs (and Edupreneurs) trapped inside the entrepreneurial (and edupreneurial) box.

Cagebusters caught inside the cagebusting cage.

Who should seek out becoming an Innovative Innovator?

Career educators, researchers, and scholars who have no background or experience in innovation, entrepreneurship, or cagebusting.

What is the secret to i2?

The simple two-step process to innovating innovation:

(1) Innovate!

(2) Technology!

Why is there a need for i2?

Soon, once all the innovators, entre-/edu-preneurs, and cagebusters revolutionize education, there will be millions of educators out of work, and once all the innovation, entre-/edu-preneurship, and cagebusting become the status quo, there will be a market for reforming the reform, innovating the innovation!

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Sat May 18, 2013 at 04:29 AM PDT

First Name and then Act

by plthomasEdD

I have a piece at Truthout that places the accountability era of education reform inside Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow:

Education Reform in the New Jim Crow Era

I invite you to read that and then consider the thoughts below about the need to name the things we want to change.

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My home state of South Carolina is a poster child of disfunction, a self-loathing mutt of myopic bible-thumping, state-rights' libertarianism mated with historical and systemic poverty born out of racism and the lingering burden of slavery.

SC voted for Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries and now stands as the home of former-governor turned Appalachian-trail-hiking pro-family Mark Sanford running again for office.

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Science fiction and horror are two genres that often find themselves intersecting where some form of power reduces humans to mere cogs in the machine. Technology, the future, aliens, and the like, it seems, can be terribly frightening.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four stands as one of the most comprehensive and enduring examinations of when that power abuse is in the hands of a totalitarian government. Dystopian SF that explores the dangers of "big government" resonates with the Libertarian thread running through the American public, but SF also aims its detailed satire and allegory at the nuances of just how governments become totalitarian.

Ridley Scotts' Alien and more recent Prometheus share more than a director and some sort of lineage in their narratives: Both SF films are horrifying tales of oppressive corporations. [Scott's Blade Runner can be included here are these films also include the dangers of megalomaniacs, especially corporatists and industrialists who use their ill-got billions for something other than the common good.]

While the mid-1950s spawned SF/horror films as thinly disguised propaganda matching the public hysteria about the Red Scare—the immediate and insidious threat of Communism (see Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a tour de force of such)—the Cold War eventually proved that the creeping cancer of Communism wasn't as powerful as political leadership and pop culture claimed.

What, then, does SF say about more credible fears facing humanity?

In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (1963) introduces into his fictional world Bokononism, a religion in which its messiah through the sacred text, The Books of Bokonon, confesses: "'All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies'" (p. 5).

The government of San Lorenzo finds its stability built on a fabricated conflict between General McCabe and the founder of Bokononism, Bokonon:

"'Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.'" (p. 172)
The charade driven by McCabe outlawing Bokononism and declaring Bokonon a fugitive continues at the expense of McCabe and Bokonon as men until their manufactured war between the righteous McCabe and renegade holy man Bokonon becomes essential itself:
"'McCabe was always sane enough to realize that without the holy man to war against, he himself would become meaningless.'" (p. 175)
Cat's Cradle examines the power of creating a demon for the public in order to keep that public distracted while the privileged remain privileged. Yet, Vonnegut's often slapstick and always raucous narrative could just as easily be about the U.S. at almost any point in the past century.

What should be feared about the U.S. government and society is better captured, in fact, by Cat's Cradle, Alien, and Prometheus than Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In other words, Communism and Socialism remain much invoked demons, but the dangers lie somewhere else entirely.

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To All Elected Local, State, and National Political Leadership:

No American needs anymore to name specifically the tragedy or the media and political responses because all have become both commonplace and predictable.

I will name nonetheless, not because these are unique, but because they are sobering messages that must not be ignored.

In recent days, a bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and during the subsequent news cycle as well as political tributes and rhetoric, the U.S. Senate failed to act on gun legislation that was prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that also spurred 24-hours media coverage and political tributes and rhetoric.

I want first to note that as a scholar and poet, I understand the need to frame tragedy in words. I wrote commentaries—"'They're All Our Children,'" "Misreading the Right to Bear Arms"—and a poem, "calculating (the erased)," after the school shooting and was once again moved to poetry, "they ran (15 April 2013)," in the wake of the marathon bombing.

Also I concede that words matter, and for me, writing is a type of activism.

However, like Hamlet came to feel about marriage, I am compelled to say to politicians, We will have no more tributes and rhetoric.

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