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Kossacks  --  I write most often on issues of education because I believe it is ground zero of the political battles for the future of this country.  Recently I encountered elsewhere a statement which says this more clearly than anything I have written.  I have received the permission of the authors, E. Wayne Ross, Kathleen Kesson, David Gabbard, Sandra Mathison, & Kevin D. Vinson, to distribute their statement more widely, most specificaly here at dailyko,s where one author occasionaly lurks.

PLEASE take the time to read and consider this.  OF EQUAL IMPORTANCE I ask that you RECOMMEND this diary to keep it more visible for others to see.  I think it is that important.

Saving Public Education - Saving Democracy

E. Wayne Ross, Kathleen Kesson, David Gabbard, Sandra Mathison, & Kevin D. Vinson

The Washington Post's recent mea culpa over its participation in the broader media's complicity in the Bush administration's reckless revival of naked imperialism in Iraq belies the fact that investigative journalism in the mainstream press died  in the 1970s.  The corporatization of the media that reduced "reporting" to "regurgitating" the official statements of politicians and their trained handlers, of course, began much earlier.  While Robert Greenwald's Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism reveals the extremes to which private and state power will go in colluding to control the public mind, many of us on the left have always been aware of the corporate  media's propaganda role in advancing the interests of the state and private power.

That elements of the broader public have grown more sensitized to these issues should not surprise us, given just how brazenly and consistently the Bush administration has lied.  Even after Bush declared "mission accomplished" in his flight suit on board the USS Abraham Lincoln, when Paul Wolfowitz smugly told Vanity Fair that  the administration had used Weapons of Mass Destruction as the "bureaucratic reason" for invading Iraq, the mainstream media scarcely reported his statement.  Understanding the standards of American journalism, Washington BBC correspondent Ian Pannell correctly predicted that Wolfowitz's remarks would not likely have any political consequences in the US.  

The public, of course, has good reasons to be concerned about the press and the  role it plays in a democratic society.  Though the enforced, two-party system of "representation" goes a long way toward making democracy meaningless, access to information and ideas remains crucial to the public's capacity to organize and resist. The internet, along with the boost it has given to a resurgent independent media, has greatly expanded that access.  Hence, the level of popular dissidence may be greater now than at any other time in US history.  The growing influence of the  internet and independent media may also be responsible for what limited questioning of official power we've seen in the mainstream news  rrganizations.

As Thomas Jefferson observed, the health of democracy depends on an educated and informed citizenry.  While the internet and independent media sources deserve much credit for helping to mobilize significant levels of organized popular protest in recent years, we should recognize that these outlets are essentially reactive.  That is, they respond to issues and events in the immediate present.  In this regard, they differ little from the mainstream media or even their right-wing counterparts. There is, however, an institution that plays a more formative role in shaping the public mind - our system of public schools.  Though children today grow-up in a  media-saturated world, we should not underestimate the potential of schools to help young people grow into adulthood with a discerning mind that will enable them to more critically evaluate the messages they receive from whatever news outlet.  And yet, with so much media attention focused on the horrors of the Bush administration's "war on terror" and the surrounding scandals, the press - including  progressive groups - has virtually ignored how the state and private power have colluded over the past twenty years to strip public schools of their democratizing potential.  In the twenty-one years since the Reagan administration's National Commission for Excellence in Education released A Nation At Risk, no high-minded bastion of journalist integrity in the mainstream press has recanted its parroting reportage of the Commission's claims.  Numerous books and professional articles have appeared in the interim to discredit those claims, but none of them have received any serious or sustained  attention from the media.  Neither has the media reported the miserable failure of educational privatization pioneers such as  Christopher Whittle (CEO of the Edison Project) to rescue troubled schools through the wondrous powers of the business model of management.  

The strongly bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has similarly received no scrutiny that would alert the public to its insidious policy implications.  In the first place, this legislation set ridiculously high standards that simply defied common sense.  NCLB requires schools and teachers to insure that all students perform at or above grade level within a three year-period.  This outrageous requirement includes children with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders no matter how profound.  By definition, then - getting these kids to perform at grade level, NCLB holds teachers accountable for doing what medical science has never accomplished; namely, curing mental retardation.  

NCLB also holds teachers accountable for bringing the performance of children from the most poverty-stricken homes up to grade level.  While Rod Paige, Bush's homebred (former superintendent of Houston's public schools) Secretary of Education, chastises anyone who dares to criticize these "high expectations" and "rigorous standards" as "racists," one must pause to wonder when policy makers discovered their new faith in the remedial powers of schools.  After all, the prison industry has long used third-grade reading scores to project how many new cells they will have to construct over the next twenty-year period.

While the policies of NCLB never receive any attention in the press, there has been some considerable recent outcry by Democrats and others because of the Bush administration's refusal to fund this legislation at its originally planned levels.  No one stops; however, to examine the policies themselves, or to listen to teachers' complaints concerning how this high-stakes-testing model of school/teacher accountability pressures teachers to adopt the most intellectually stultifying (drill and kill) teaching methods that remove the joy of teaching from them and any potential joy of learning from their students.

Beyond the fact, as revealed for us by Michael Moore's treatment of the Patriot Act in Fahrenheit 9-11, that the vast majority of our representatives in Congress
never bother reading the legislation that they sign into law (What does this imply in terms of accountability?), the truth about NCLB goes beyond any ineptitude on the part of its architects. NCLB sets impossible standards for a reason. Public  access to institutions of learning helps promote the levels of critical civic activism witnessed during the 1960s and 70s that challenged the power of the state and the corporations that it primarily serves. The current reform environment creates conditions where public schools can only fail, thus providing "statistical evidence" for an alleged need to turn education over to private companies in the name of "freedom of choice." In combination with the growing corporate monopolization of the media, these reforms are part of a longer-range plan to consolidate private power's control over the total information system, thus eliminating avenues for the articulation of honest inquiry and dissent. In the end, as evidenced by Secretary of Education Rod Paige's recent characterization of the National Education Association, anyone who contests state-corporatism will be labeled a "terrorist" or, in more Orwellian terms, a "thought-criminal."

While the progressive press and media are perfectly legitimate in pushing their  corporate counterparts for greater integrity in their coverage of issues and events, we believe that progressive news and cultural organizations of all varieties owe the public an even greater responsibility to report on the corporate and state assault to privatize public education.  We ground this belief in recognition of one very important distinction between the corporate-owned media that progressives have grown so fond of critiquing and public schools.  While both the media and schools function as major institutions in the dissemination of knowledge, information, and ideas, the mainstream media will continue to be privately owned and operated.  Therefore, the public will always find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to influence their editorial policies.  Public schools, on the other hand, are public.  That  is, insofar as they continue to be operated under public control, the public can wield considerably more influence over the policies that impact the educational  practices within public education than it can ever hope to wield over the corporate media.   This, in our view, offers the best explanation for the growing movement to privatize schools.  Privatization would effectively transfer the control of schools from public hands to corporate hands.

We want to believe that public schools serve us, the public, "We, the people." We want to believe that schools strengthen our democracy, our ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes that impact our communities and our lives. Educational resources need to be directed towards increasing people's awareness of the relevant facts about their lives, and to increase people's abilities to act upon these facts in their own true interests.  For the past twenty years, however, significant efforts have been made to resurrect a statist view of schools that treats teachers as mere appendages to the machinery of the state and seeks to hold them accountable to serving the interests of state and corporate power. Linked as it  is to the interests of private wealth, this view defines children's value in life as human resources and future consumers.  In order to combat this movement, progressive media outlets must begin doing more to alert the public to the disastrous consequences it holds for our schools, our children, and our democracy.  Progressives everywhere must begin doing more to demand that our institutions of public education foster critical citizenship skills to advance a more viable and vibrant democratic society.  They must push for schools to become organized around preparing young people for active, democratic citizenship through engagement with real-world issues, problem-solving, and critical thinking, and through active participation in civic and political processes. Informed citizenship in a broad-based, grassroots democracy must be based on principles of cooperation with others, non-violent conflict resolution, dialogue, inquiry and rational debate, environmental activism, and the preservation and expansion of human rights. These skills, capacities, and dispositions need to be taught and practiced in our nation's schools.

Progressives must also push harder to ensure that all schools are funded equally and fully, eliminating the dependence on private corporate funds and on the property tax, which creates a two-tiered educational system by distributing educational monies inequitably. Promoting greater equality in educational opportunity must also include demands for universal pre-k and tuition-free higher education for all qualified students in state universities. The past two decades have witnessed the increasing involvement of corporations in education in terms of supplementing public spending in exchange for school-based marketing (including advertising space in schools and textbooks, junk fast food and vending machines, and commercial-laden "free" TV). We believe that students should not be thought of as a potential market or as consumers, but as future citizens. We must call for the elimination of advertising in schools and curricula and of the marketing of unhealthy products on school grounds.

As suggested above, the current system uses "carrots and sticks" to coerce compliance with an alienating system of schooling aimed at inducing conformity among teachers and students through high stakes testing and accountability. This system alienates teachers from their work by stripping it of all creative endeavor and  reduces it to following scripted lesson plans. We believe that teaching is a matter of the heart, that place where intellect meets up with emotion and spirit in constant dialogue with the world around us. Advancing a more democratic vision of education requires us to work toward the elimination of high stakes standardized tests, and the institution of more fair, equitable, and meaningful systems of  accountability and assessment of both students and schools.

The current system also alienates students by stripping learning from its engagement with the world in all of its complexity. It reduces learning to test preparation as part of a larger rat race where students are situated within a larger economic competition for dwindling numbers of jobs. We believe that excellence needs to be defined in terms of teachers' abilities to inspire children to engage the world, for it is through such critical engagement that true learning (as opposed to rote memorization) actually occurs. Students living in the 21st century are going to  have to deal with a host of problems created by their predecessors: global warming and other ecological disasters, global  conflicts, human rights abuses, loss of civil liberties, etc. The curriculum needs to address what students need to know and be able to do in the 21st century to tackle these problems- and it needs to be relevant to students' current interests and concerns.

Progressives must also work diligently to enlist broader and deeper levels of public support for teachers.  Teachers matter. Teaching is a public act that bears directly on our collective future.  A broader movement in support of democratic and egalitarian reforms in education must include a commitment to ensure that teachers  begin receiving salaries commensurate with other professions.  At the same time, we must restore and expand teachers' control, in collaboration with students and communities, over decision-making about issues of curriculum and instruction in the classroom - no more scripted teaching, no more mandated outcomes, no more "teacher-proof" curricula. Local control of education rests at the heart of democracy; state and nationally mandated curriculum and assessment are a prescription for totalitarianism.

Children of immigrants make up approximately 20 percent of the children in the United States, bringing linguistic and cultural differences to many classrooms. Added to this are 2.4 million children who speak a language other than English at home. Those of us struggling to defend the public's welfare in public schools need the support of the wider progressive movement to ensure that the learning needs of English language learners are met through caring, multicultural, multi-lingual education.  Citizens in a pluralistic democracy, after all, need to value difference and interact with people of differing abilities, orientations, ethnicities, cultures, and dispositions. Our nation as a whole needs to discard outmoded notions of a hypothetical norm,  and either describe ALL students as different, or none of them.  All classrooms  should be inclusive, meeting the needs of all students, together, in a way that  is just, caring, challenging, and meaningful.

Because they do not increase the market value of children, arts programs have never been funded at sufficient levels.  Under pressure to increase student achievement rates (test scores), school districts in many areas of the country have eliminated art and music classes from their curricula to give students more time to spend preparing for standardized tests.  Progressive elements in our society have always supported these programs. We must, however, do more in order to reverse these economically-driven assaults on the arts in schools, hopefully expanding students' opportunities to  learn and excel in the fine and performing arts, physical education and sports,  and extra-curricular clubs and activities, in order to develop the skills of interaction and responsibility necessary for participation in a robust civil society.

In the end, whether the savage inequalities of neoliberalism--which define current social and national relations as well as approaches to school reform-- will be overcome depends on how people organize, respond, learn, and teach in schools.  With the  help of the progressive press and other media outlets, those engaged in the larger struggle for social, political, and environmental justice can, and must, renew their commitment to educational justice and a democratic vision to guide the functioning of our nation's schools. Concurrently, teachers and educational leaders need to link their own interests in the improvement of teaching and learning to a broad-based movement for social, political, and economic justice, and work together for the  democratic renewal of public life and public education in America.  Collectively, we must make these commitments and act upon them soon, while public control still exists over the public schools.  That control will not last unless we do.

E. Wayne Ross (University of British Columbia), Kathleen Kesson (Long Island University), David Gabbard (East Carolina University), Sandra Mathison (University of British Columbia), and Kevin D, Vinson (University of Arizona) are co-editors of Defending Public Schools (published by Praeger).

NOTE  the authors have requested that any distribution of the above statement include the final paragraph which identifies their editorial role for that one work

Originally posted to teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 02:43 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Please recommend to keep visible (4.00)
    I care not about mojo  -- after all, the words of importance are not mine.

    But I rreaaly think this one SHOULD stayu visible as long as possible.

    Thanks for your cooperation!!

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 02:39:39 AM PST

    •  NCLB/EQAO (none)
      "The strongly bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has similarly received no scrutiny that would alert the public to its insidious policy implications.  In the first place, this legislation set ridiculously high standards that simply defied common sense.  NCLB requires schools and teachers to insure that all students perform at or above grade level within a three year-period.  This outrageous requirement includes children with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders no matter how profound.  By definition, then - getting these kids to perform at grade level, NCLB holds teachers accountable for doing what medical science has never accomplished; namely, curing mental retardation."

      Hail from the thawing North where job action has recently put the kibosh on our own shambling monstrosity of standardised expectation buffoonery. Up here we consider  it a success when a school scores approach 50% at or above grade level, and I always found that to be an unrealistic goal given testing limitations, ESL, ELD, LD. and behavior concerns.

      Now I find that I'm damn lucky.

      Ain't it wunnerful when professionals are shunted aside?

      Every mouth breathing neo-con knows just what is wrong in the classroom, and just how to fix it. This from qa vast personal experience of actually being in public schools at one time.

      Kind of like someone claiming the right to oversea surgery because they have visited their doctor regularly.

      Good post btw.

      DFooK

  •  Amen! (4.00)
    Excellent piece, thanks for sharing. It certainly articulates many of the reasons why I became a teacher myself. And the part about "teacher-proof" lesson plans! I am in the Republic of Moldova, where the state mandates impossible standards, ineffective texts, and teachers make less than $300 per year (when they are paid at all). Religious conservatives are already attacking our public schools; we must work now to protect our future.
  •  I wouldn't be where I am today - (4.00)
     - were it not for the excellent education I received in a Pinellas County (yes, that Pinellas County) high school and a land-grant university. I simply cannot understand this drive to undermine the public school system as anything other than an attempt to ossify class boundaries and to exacerbate poverty. When our nation wanted to win the Cold War, we collectively decided every person who had talent for science and engineeering was needed, regardless, and we put significant dollars behind that assessment. As anyone who has read Rocket Boys knows, the public schools were used to bring on-line intellect and ability from every corner of the nation. Now, it seems, as your authors have so rightly explained, the good of the monied class is all, so a nation of thoughtless consumers must be created. If citizens lose their ability to make rational decisions and participate in our democracy, if the medical, scientific, and technical engines of our nation's productivity sputter and fail, then, to the wealthy, these are of no consequence. They will simply buy the government they want (or develop quasi-legal evasions when all else fails), and, as long as technical expertise can be had for a cheaper price overseas, what happens in America matters not.

    But, for the rest of us, it matters a very great deal. Recommended, and, thanks for posting this.

    Radarlady

    •  you mention 2 important institutions (4.00)
      public schools and land grant universities.  These were the landmarks of our national commitment to education as a means for all to advance themselves, a commitment to widespread available  and access to education that was not until recently matched by mosts other industrial nations.  These institutions played a major part in the economic success of this nation, and for the kind of political liberty we hve nejoyed for so long, both of which are now under serious threat.

      Our commitment to education was further demosntrated when after WWII the Congress passed the first GI Bill, a commitment to fruthering the education fo those who served this country militarily that continues even today.

      I believe that education is the real battleground for the future of our nation.  When I wrote that diary, it made the recommended list fairly quickly, and as a reulst got over 160 comments.

      I am afraid that despite my best efforts, and the effort of those who have already recommended it, this will scroll by too fast to make it up to the recommended list.  That would be a pity, because the statement the authors make is so claer, and so powerful, that all who visit this site should have the chance to read it without having to search for it.

      This is not about my wanting a piece with my name on it on the front page  --  this is about all of us recognizing how improtant this battle over education is.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 05:26:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It can be hard to get behind the teacher's unions (none)
        I only went to public school for two years.  In Boston I went to a private "religious" school which was okay, but then we moved to Brookline where I went to public school for the thiurd and fourth grade, and those teachers and curricula were terrible.  They were just dumb.  And Brookline is supposed to have great public schools.  Then I was lucky enough to get a scholarship of sorts to go to Winsor, an academically intense girls school.

        I want to believe in public schools.  Indeed, I might even teach in one if the salaries were better ($100-150K--I mean you have to put up with annoying parents and difficult children), but far too many of the people who teach are illiterate and anti-intellectual themselves.

        I think public education is vital, but I have to admit that I won't be having any kids until I can afford to send them to decent private schools.  (That's at leadt $20K per year, probably around $30K by the time you get to highschool.)

  •  thanks to all who HAVE recommended (none)
    it is now on the recommended list, and will have a chance to be seen by far more people.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 05:28:02 AM PST

    •  Thank you for raising this issue (4.00)
      I hadn't realized the extent of the attacks on cherished aspects of our education system.  I consider myself a product of the critical thinking and questioning methods I was taught in my public schools as a child.  As a (what is now called) "learning disabled" student - I don't think I would have survived today's process.

      I discovered several years ago that I was dealing with ADD and Dyslexia all through my public school years, but had the benefit of excellent teachers who were allowed to teach - not prep for mindless tests.  With the head start of 2 years in the French school system (Phonics - good for Dyslexia) before 1st grade (Army brat) I was able to stay ahead or given credit for alternate advanced work.  Standardized tests would not allow that!

      My sensibilities were also strongly shaped by teachers who demanded critical thinking and challenged the role that society shepherds you towards.  One essay assigned by my 7th grade teacher on "Conformity" changed my life.  Suddenly my eyes were opened to the tremendous pressures from society and peers to adhere to "social norms".  I've been trouble ever since ...

      Like you, I really worry about the constraints placed on today's teachers and the mediocrity designed into the system.  I worry about the redirection of resources away from already challenged public schools - forget that my "gay" tax dollars go to fund a system that is actively hostile to me.  I'd love to be more active in challenging these things - but Texas is pretty much a lost cause.

      Good luck in your crusade - oops, "campaign" (sorry ... "language").

  •  More info on the evils of NCLB (4.00)

    here boo, here boo, want a cookie? good girl.

    by tepster on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 05:52:55 AM PST

    •  good list of resources - and a quick note (none)
      1.  if you are really interested in public education, go to the first link tepster supplies, fairtest, and sign up for the Assessment Reform Network  --  it was on that list serve that the item I posted in the diary first appeared

      2. You will within a day or so see me also post a piece by Bracey, again with his permission, that is also quite relevant.   Jerry is a well-knwon author, regularly appears in Phi Delta Kappan which is an important magazine about education, and knows about which he speaks /writes, because he served at one point as the guy in charge of testing and statitiscs for the Virginia Dept of Education.  He runs EDDRA, the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency website, which maintains a moderated list.  The website is currently undergoling maintenance, but when it is back up, it something yhou want to check, and if interested in how people present distorted information about education for political and other purposes, the list is absolutely essential.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 06:02:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Another good education theory site... (none)
      http://www.sdkrashen.com/main.php3

      Steve Krashen is one of the unsung heroes of education. He built on a lot of the theories of Noam Chomsky regarding language acquisition. By necessity, he has also had to become a political advocate of unpopular but pedagogically sound stuff like Bilingual Education and Language Experience/Whole Language approaches to teaching Language Arts.

      Anyone who truly cares about educating children (as opposed to making them unquestioning consumers and serfs) needs to take heed of what Steve Krashen has been advocating throughout his career. It runs completely counter to the educational snake oil peddled by people like Rod Paige, but it's what kids really need.

      Welcome to Planet Baka. Enjoy your stay.

      by MamasGun on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 09:14:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agree with you about Krashen (none)
        who because he is so effective has actually been subject to so elements of the Mighty Wurlitzer himself, to the point where it got personal and nasty.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sun Apr 03, 2005 at 11:14:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is the topic of the century (4.00)
    Definitely RECOMMENDED!

    this one sentence

      All classrooms  should be inclusive, meeting the needs of all students, together, in a way that is just, caring, challenging, and meaningful.

    IMO is where the trouble starts.  It is there, with a teacher in a class of 33 (my granddaughter's class size in MN), that s/he is expected to handle

    • physically disabled kids with very special needs,

    • emotionally troubled kids acting out with hitting, biting etc.,

    • learning disabled kids who sometimes get special teaching and sometimes not

    *kids who come to school ill prepared (no breakfast, little hygiene, no paper/books), and

    still hope to teach to the middle of the group who are ready to learn.  Let's not mention those that are ahead of the class and bored silly.

    Each teacher needs a method of dealing with teaching this wide variety of learning problems.  

    I do believe kids should be "mainstreamed" into public school, but there should always be side avenues within the system and school, for specialized handling.  One teacher, alone, cannot deal with this wide variety of abilites and still teach to her abilities.  

    I recently went to an open house for my kindergarten age grandchild.  Two children could not speak English and neither could their parents.  Much of the teacher's time was spent on these 2 sets of problems.  she knew some Spanish and could lead them through what was happening -- the rest of us?  the other parents and grandparents did their own thing without any help from the Teacher.  She did not get involved in anything the other kids did.  Is that an example of what happens everyday?  I would imagine it is.

    those children who cannot speak English have every right to be in the school.  And need to be there.  But the school needs to furnish many interpreters to accompany some of these parents/children so that the teacher can teach to all, allowing the children to learn English through the intermediary.

    •  I have mixed feelings on class size (4.00)
      I have written for publication on the issue of class size, and posted that piece as a diary here

      I clearly see the benefit of having smaller sizes.

      On the other hand, one challenge that is thrown up is that the effort to move to smaller class size could mean less qualified teachers would be hired -- kind of how professional sports to some degree declined with the inclusion of expansion franchises.  I think this could be addressed by a proper commitment to training and supporting teachers.  And clearly some more quaolity people might be attracted were the conditions not so onerous and the workload so heavy.

      That said, I have something of a quandary  -- because I am for the msot part delight with the students I have, and would not want to give up any of them, even most of those who can be royal pains in the posterior!  Those are far easier to reach and turn around then those who are merely sullen and withdrawn.  And I hate like hell to give up on a kid.

      As we move to Government to being a 10th grade course next year, we are allowing the better students to simultaneously do the state requirements and AP American Govt (which is officially a one semester course from the standpoint of college credit).  (we are also allowing juniors and seniors to be who did not have a chance to take this course to also enroll, and they will do the work for Comparative Government when then 10th graders are doing the state work  -- this is part of the problem, as you will see shortly).

       I know that a significant number who are signing up for the course are doing so because right now I am the only one scheduled to teach it.  I expected two sections, with up to 25-26 students each.   When I checked before we went on break a week ago, the enrollment was over 90 and rising.  Now some will drop out because of scheduling conflict, but it looks like we are going to ahve at least 90 and maybe more than 100, largely because more upperclassmen than we expected signed up.

      It would be unfair for me as one of 6 who teach government to get all of the cream of the crop, so if we go to four sections I will lose some of these kids, including some I have taught before and would be dlighted to teach again.  RFight now I am wrestling with the question of how many per class I am willng to take toa void ahving four sections   I think I am willing to go to 30, knowing that all of the students are highly motivfated.  That could be a killing load, because at AP they do a lot more writing, which takes much longer to correct.  I may require them to do it electornically, and use the power of computers to make suggestions and corrections, but that does not lessen the reading, only the time to make corrections.  I think it is too many, but I am torn about what to do.  I am right now the only one who has begun to prepare to teach the course, and because of that I am not going to any seminars this summer, not even one which would ahe paid me a $3,500 stipend for 5 weeks (and I could have stayed for free with my niece, with whom I used to teach).  

      There are no ideal solutions.  Clearly if we truly believe in public educationw e cannot do it on the cheap, we will have to commit more resources.  And people are entitled to know what they are getting for their money.

      But as the authors of the piece I posted clearly note, what we are currently sseing is not how to improve public education, but how to destroy it.  That is why the piece was so important, and why I am grateful for those who have elevated it to the recommended list, and for all who are participating in the dialog through their comments.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 06:37:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  We are suffering (4.00)
    at the hands of the Drill & Kill teaching (Ha!) method at my house right now. Due to below national average scores in testing for the 5th grade last year and late arriving test study materials, my 11 year old has more than 20 pages of math and reading 3 out of 5 days a week now, and having some very late nights getting it done.(and that is with parental assistance) He also hardly ever gets a recess because the class is too busy drilling, had homework over both Christmas vacation and Spring break, and more often than neccesary has homework over the weekend. My straight A (most of the time) bright,thoughtful, compassionate, well behaved kid, who up until this year was in a program for the talented and gifted student (a program no longer available due to lack of funding) now absolutely hates school. My beautiful child whom teachers fought over to get in their class at the beginning of every year, now wonders what he did to deserve this kind of punishment. How do I explain it's not his fault- that mom and dad are too broke to live on the more monied side of town where the parents can afford to spend a few thousand dollars each on the endless school sales programs and fundraisers that make up for the shortfalls of the school district's budget these days?
    I could go into the extra added troubles I have had all year trying to get an aide for my 13 year old who has Asperger's Syndrome,or the fear I have about what kind of education my 8 and 5 year old girls are getting now and the troubles that might lie ahead for them because of this abomination called NCLB, but that would be another rant that would takes me hours to even try to articulate.
    We will be moving at the end of this year to another state, and all I can do is light a candle and say a prayer that things are better where we are going, but I know the reality is even if things are ok now at the new schools they will be attending, one bad set of test scores could put them back in the same place we are now- just with a different zip code.
    •  I weep for your child (4.00)
      most children arrive at school excited to learn.  For far too many, by middle school grades school has become a burden.  

      Learning should be fun, not a punishment.  It should be palpable with excitement.

      I tell my kids that I am determined to have fun, because if I am not having fun they are going to be bored out of their minds.  I am not always successful, I ahve my bad hair days, and sometimes there are things we just have to get through.  

      Perhaps because I had a msierable time in high school I am committed to NOT reproducing that for the students who come through my classes.  I try to be unpredictable (which is one reason they don't give me special ed classes, believeing those need far more sturcture), I make bad jokes, I try to let them know I am a real person, I show up at their concerts, their athetic competitions, if I read about them in the paper I give them acknowledgement before their peers, and i constantly try to make whatever we are studying connect in some ways with their lives.  

      I worry about all the times I fail to reach kids, or that a lesson doesn't work, or that I miss something about a kid.  After doing this for a while (this is my tenth year in public schools after 20 years in data processing), I think I'm starting to get it.  I worry about all the teachers who do not work in environments that are supportive enough to let them develop.  I have worked for four principals in 3 schools.   I have been chastised, quite rightly, on a few occasions, including recently.  But all 4 have been supportive, as have the three social studies supervisors for the two districts in which I have worked.  I realize that not all teachers have that kind of backing.  I do think many could develop it, paritcularly if they would make a commitment to include the parents as much as possible.  Parents are perhaps my second strongest group of advocates, after the students I teach.

      Even in states with oppressive testing regimes, there are schools that maintain a sense of real educational purpose beyond merely the test scores.  Before you commit, try to find such a school.   Ask to speak to the principal about his/her philosophy.  Ask if you can visit the school, and get a sense of what the school is like.  Perhaps you can even get permission for your child to shadow a student of his age for a day, to experience the school.   The ask him what he thinks.

      I am passionate about public education.  Perhaps in reading what I write and what I post form others some sense of this comes through.  I am hoping to stir up that smae passion in others.  If we are vocal enough, and committed enough, we can make a real difference.  This is ground zero in many ways in the struggle for the future of this nation.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 06:48:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not just the fine arts (4.00)
    Because they do not increase the market value of children, arts programs have never been funded at sufficient levels.  Under pressure to increase student achievement rates (test scores), school districts in many areas of the country have eliminated art and music classes from their curricula to give students more time to spend preparing for standardized tests.

    Let's not forget Technical Education. Too often this area is viewed as 'shop' class in which and misfits can be stored to sand wood. This couldn't be further from the truth today. In a world increasing based on technology literacy, it is ironic that these programs are often scaled back or cut just as quickly as Music and Art classes. Often seen as classes for the students not going to college, therefore of secondary importance, these course are often under funded, poorly supported, and cut as they are not "required" courses of study in most states, or required for college entrance.

    Tech Ed, or Industrial Technology is where students are exposed to future careers and taught to problem solve using real world open ended projects. Where do kids learn about Web design or Engineering in a school without Tech Ed? Where do students learn trade skills to give them a direction to go on to some sort of advanced schooling? What gives the creative misfits (I use this term fondly) something of interest to keep them in school until they graduate?

    It's not just the arts and music in danger here. Thanks to the almighty test and our focus on getting every kid into a "good" college, meaning a prestigious 4-year university, education in this country is losing sight of a large percentage of students and NOT preparing them for productive futures.

    •  your point is well made (none)
      I would note, however, that an interest in technical things does not preclude an interest in the arts, or even in academic subjects.

      Clearly our schools need to equip our students with certain basic capabilities.  But it is just as clear to me that our schools should allow enough exploration for our students to discover in some way who they are and want to be, not just what we think they should be.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 06:50:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  a great curriculum... (4.00)
      ... integrates the strict "academic" with real world applications that the students can understand. Even I, as a mathematically inclined gifted student, frequently muttered about the pointlessness of the math I was learning. The real world has plenty of examples that reinforce the academic lessons as well as giving real and useful trade skills. When I watch good construction people at work, it's clear to me that they know as much about the physics and strength of their materials as a typical engineer. Skills used in gardening and in cooking are strongly related to biology and chemistry (and planning a successful garden uses geometry, math, and business plan skills). Watch "Good Eats" with Alton Brown on the Food Network for a great example of a mix of science, history, and cooking.

      Instead of cramming kids with apparently random facts, cram them with problems that they internally need and want to solve - and then offer them the solutions in the academic classes. Think of how well you could integrate, say, the construction of a house a la Habitat for Humanity with an academic physics or mathematics class. It's unfortunate that you'd be restricted mightily by liability considerations, but even so, some clever fieldtrips and interactions (have them calculate how much lumber would be required for a particular section of the house) could go a long way.

      And hey, construction work isn't easy to outsource.

  •  Dissenting (4.00)
    Pardon me for not jumping in with everyone else in the rah-rah echo chamber.

    While I sympathize with the overall direction of this diary and the referenced work, I have some serious objections.

    On education, as well other issues such as medical marijuana, death-with-dignity, progressives are discovering the merits of federalism, states' rights, or what have you. In short, wielding the awesome power of national government is not so welcome when it is in the hands of the bad guys.

    So if accountability is not imposed by Washington, or even by each state, then are you prepared to accept the standards of accountability determined by each local school district, even when their choice is to insert Creationism or Abstinence Only?

    If you don't like federal intrusion in educational standards, you have to take the good with the bad.

    Secondly, I think there is an opportunity for an issue-based coalition on education that transcends the boiler-plate battle lines of right vs left, conservative vs progressive. Yet this paper goes to great lengths to wrap its education agenda deep inside a broader progressive agenda:

    They must push for schools to become organized around preparing young people for active, democratic citizenship through engagement with real-world issues, problem-solving, and critical thinking, and through active participation in civic and political processes.

    Sounds good, and should have left it at that. Unfortunately, the very next sentence is where we are connecting this unassailable education goals with a more ideological agenda:

    Informed citizenship in a broad-based, grassroots democracy must be based on principles of cooperation with others, non-violent conflict resolution, dialogue, inquiry and rational debate, environmental activism, and the preservation and expansion of human rights. These skills, capacities, and dispositions need to be taught and practiced in our nation's schools.

    So here is where more than 50 percent of the national audience will throw out the entire pitch because it is inextricably linked with other political objectives, right or wrong.

    Do I personally agree with those objectives? Mostly.

    Non-violent conflict resolution? Sure, unless you're up against Hitler.

    Cooperation with others? On public interest areas, of course. But in many aspects of life, competition is preferable.

    And my qualifications are moderate. Others whose support you'll need will dismiss this report as a polemic screed whose aim is not to advance education, but to advance a left wing agenda.

    And to relate my two areas of concern, you cannot both rail against dictatorial mandates, and in the same breath demand ideological standards.

    •  balance and patience- (none)
      I am a home-educator, my children attended public schools, and you have a good point, which is where my own frustration comes in.  It is nearly impossible to separate a teacher from their ideology in the classroom.  Out of that frustration I  simply walked away from the system.  Call it a boycott.  

      I prefer to think that progress in education will come when the old system is rendered obsolete.  The difficulties in consensus,years of trial and error, and political discussion are a testament to that.

      Unfortunately, until someone actually GETS IT, children will fail and suffer.

       The classroom system, herd mentality, monolithic infrastrucure, and administrative centralization are no longer applicable in our dynamic economy.
       In this regard, I come to my conclusion that education in this country cannot be met in a one size-fits all infrastructure that is costly, and wasteful and does not encourage variety in perspective.

      I think we will shortly follow a period of decentralization in this country, whether we like it or not, with more grassroots involvement, and more networking-and situational involvement.  This will become necessary in all functions, governmental, educational, and in the business community.  As our economy changes, so will the education system to reflect that.

      Discipline in critical analysis should be the higher goal, not the perspective itself. I would rather fund my public library system to give access to all people, and allow children to work independently and in groups through advanced technological innovation, such as remote classes, CD-ROM coursework, and a combination of class-and home-education.  This would lower transportation and maintenance costs, plus reduce the administrative function and power.  

      It would also encourage parents to be more active in their childs education.  When the family is involved and values the process, children are more successful.  

      •  sometimes home schooling can make sense (4.00)
        my sense is that for what i teach students do far better having me as a teacher who challenges them and their thinking than most parents can.  I have students who come to me never having previously been in a classroom  -- our high school draws not only those, but also those who have been in Catholic, Christian, private and other school situations before they walk through our doors.

        Do I have a political orientation?  Hell, yes.  It it would be dishonets when i am trying to get my students to become active in the political processes of this nation to pretend otherwise.  But my role is NOT to indoctrinate them in what I beliee, but to empower them to explore, think, come to their own positions (even if those may be different than either mine or those of their parents), and to be able to articulate persuasivelythat for which they are passionate.  

        There is now a student at Liberty University attending on their most prestigious scholarship.   That he attends there should tell you all you need to know about his political and religious orientations.  And yet he asked me to write his recommendation for that scholarship.  Why?  because I had respected him enough to challenge him, and also helped him learn how to dialog with people very different than him.  He felt that I could accurately describe his growth.  I made clear in my letter that he and I were very different, which is one reason I had enjoyed having him as my student.  You will note that I did not say "enjoyed teaching him" because my understanding of my role is not to peel back skulls  and pour in information.  

        Among the parents most supportived of me are those who are politically and.or religious conservative.  Our school, which is 55% African-American, and which has a fair number kids whose parents are civil servants in the federal government or who teach at local colleges and universities, including Maryland, Gallaudet, American, George Washington and Johns Hopkins , has in general a very different ethos.  One of my closest friends on the faculty, a Disney Award winner who teachers Latin, is fruther to the right politically than I am to the left.  We share a number of kids, and we are passionate about challenging our kids.  We demonstrate to them in our friendship that political disagreements do not have to mean either discourtesy or hostility.  

        In how I teach I am being myself. In what I teach, I am challenging my students to learn what it means to be themselves.  

        I agree that teachers should not impose their values on students.  And certainly we have to exercise judgement about what of ourselves we share with students.  But for adolescents in particular, they want to be perceived and accepted as individuals, unique in themsevles, even if they do not yet know what those selves are.  My wife when she visited my classes told students in my most difficult class that they should relaize how much ai care, that i love them, which is why I get frustrated when things don't go well.  Since that visit more than a month ago, there has been a significant change in the behavior of some of the most problematic of the students in that class.

        Education is a series of relationship.  here I call msyelf 'teacherken" but in reality I am still learning what being a classroom educator means.  I am on a joint exploration with mu students.  To some degree they have to teach me what I need to know to help them succeed.

        Sorry, youn touched a button, and got a screed.  You concerns are valid, but there are many ways to address those concerns. By my writing and commenting about educational issues I am trying to make difference such that you will not have to feel that your only alternative is homeschooling.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 08:36:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I understand that- (4.00)
          You should probably know where I live now-Mississippi. And in supposedly one of the better school districts in the state.  There are some good teachers, but the system is a top down highly centralized, and it is in intellectual gridlock.

          I know there are wonderful schools and teachers everywhere. I admire them, and respect them.  But what I have seen down here disgusts me.  My children could not learn anything in that school.

           My kids  got depressed and isolated by teachers who felt they should teach them the "right way to think". Forget about Shakespeare and the Enlightenment, forget about evolution, my son was chastised by a teacher for even saying the E word. And slavery? Forget it, hardly ever happened, and the 5% of slaveowners that existed were so good to their slaves that they couldn't get them to leave their plantations, they were just begging to stay. An 8th grade American History class included the Disney movie Pocahantas.  My kid just came home and laughed.

          They spent about four hours of the day doing worksheets, and busy work, because they either cannot, will not, or do not want to actually teach. In one semester, my son read the entire Robert Jordan series in Gym class because they just sat on the bleachers.

           When the whole "I hate France" thing came up, they were singled out for their French last names.  Teachers thought it was funny, and even added to it by teaching all the reasons that France is bad.  Every room has the Pledge posted with the words UNDER GOD in bold.  On September 11th, National Day of Prayer, there was a music video representation that showed children praying and people waving the Rebel flag-not the American flag.  It was produced by the school district.  I pulled them out the next day.  We had come from NY, and that was the most disgusting display of Anti-Americanism they could have been exposed to.  My fellow New Yorkers died under the United States flag- not that disgusting rag of division.

          As for home education, you are right, it is not for everyone, but I think that a balance could be met, such as the problem of large classrooms,  why not meet two or three times a week, and independent work on the days in between?  Have smaller groups meet to work on projects or discussions in between lecture hall style periods.  I just think good teachers are getting the short stick, and bad teachers make out because they still get paid.  I do not advance home education as a solution to the education system, only as a supplement to what should be a redirected and dynamic system.  

           I do support the system as you envision it, to a large degree.  it just hasn't happened all over like that, and I can tell you that the conservative philosophy is undermining the publically funded education system, and will continue to do so.

           My solution is a half-way point that conservatives cannot argue.  The software companies that produce Christian schooling materials are also intent on making home education the norm.  The problem with their materials is obvious (check them out)  and Neil Bush even stands to benefit from education software.  

          Understand that my gripes come from the unique position  of being at ground zero of the conservative agenda (My expertise is political science, so I tend to overanalyze and make comparisons)  

          My point is that the education system they have devised in the South is chronically underfunded, unprofessional, is geared toward producing service-industry quality workers, (special ed kids work in the kitchen as part of their education, most are black, go figure)the casinos give a lot of money, but it cannot go to funding salaries, only one-time purchases.  My hope is that Haley Barbour is replaced with a progressive, at least in education.

          I just do not see any way to fix this system here.  How many schools are like this?  I have no idea.  My thinking was that I certainly could not do any WORSE.  Most of us who homeschool locally are college graduates with  several degrees between the parents.  The ones who are not send their kids to public or private schools at high school.

          •  it is not consistent across the South (none)
            there are states that have made a real commitment to education, oftgen under Democratic governors, although I have heard from teachers in some of those states who are quite critical of the governors who were involved with education, most particularly of Jim Hunt in NC

            I also note that the problem is not just in the South.  Things like you describe have occurred in Pennsylvania, in various places in the West, in eastern Washington State.  

            I certainly recognize how fortunate I have been in the systems and schools in which I taught, and in the administrators above me, as I have remarked elsewhere on this thread.  I know of system in which I would not attempt to teach for just that reason.  And when I had an open contract for Arlington Public schools and one high school wanted very much for me to come there and sweetened the pot by offering me the soccer coaching job, I strongly discouraged them from pursuing me because I knew their principal, whom in many ways I admired, insisted on having everyone on the same page at the same time.  Knowing both a parent and a teacher there from my own high school (one my classmate one a classamte of my sister), I found out that she had not been able to impose that on the science teachers because she did not want to risk their leaving, but was quite insistent on that in my area of social studies.

            Let me be clear  -- there are NO universal solutions.  I am not the teacher for every student.  My school is not the school for every student.  I believe in having a diversity of approaches, to meet the needs and the desires of people who are different, families and students.  I am not hostile to homeschooling for those for whom it makes sense, and i certainly as a non-parent cannot fairly criticize a parent who makes that choice, although at least where i teach I see little justification  for it.  What I don't want to see is the difficult situation used as justification for distorting ALL of public education.  That is one reason I remain engaged in this struggle.

            Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

            by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 09:52:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  When did dialog become a verb? (none)
          •  from Ask the OED (none)
            OED = Oxford English dictionary, which is why the response in the box will be "dialogue" the British spelling:
            dialogue

            (US also dialog)

              * noun 1 conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or film. 2 discussion directed towards exploration of a subject or resolution of a problem.

              * verb chiefly N. Amer. take part in dialogue.

              -- ORIGIN Greek dialogos, from dialegesthai `converse with'.
             

            Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

            by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 10:48:25 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  The school as a war zone (none)
      I very much agree with you.  The undercurrent in this article is that we should attempt to use the public schools to advance a political agenda.

      This is wrong.  The schools should be focused on teaching students how to think critically.  They should not be used to advance polarizing agendas.  

      I am dubious that such indoctrination really works.  But I certian that it undermines support for the public schools.

      •  I think you badly misread the intent (none)
        that the authors are poltically progressive happens to coincide with what they believe schools should be.  What they seek for schools in no way represents a political indoctrination.

        in fact, what is being done to schools right now, to which they object, is a form of indoctrination.

        And we cannot avoid politics in this battle, because others have already made this a political issue.

        The onloy Republican for whom I voted in the past decade or so was Dave Foster, who is on the school board here in Arlington. I do not know him well, but I did for a year teach in the middle school his daughter then attended.  I know how dedicated Dave was to making the schools the best they could be.  Arlington County is heavily Democratic  -- and yet Dave was overwhelmingly reelected against an attrractive and committed to education Democrat.  

        There are Republicans who are committed to a positive vision of public education, just like there are Democrats whose positions on education quite frankly I abhor.  In that sense what I seek is not necessarily partisan, although given the dominance of the Republican party both nationally and in far too many localities by people who WOULD impose their values on the public schools it is ahrd to engage in this battle in a totally non-partisan fashion.

        I am perfectly willing to support anyone who is properly committed to public education.  One reason I was so opposed to John Kerry was that he had been the poster boy for the DLC on bashing public education, something many supporting him did not know.  

        But please, if you care about public schools, try to see what is of value in what the authors offer, and build on that.  Stay engaged.  If you withdraw because you think it is political, you will wake up and find out that you were right  - it was so political that schools will no longer be able to teach the kind of critical thinking you say you want.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 08:44:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry - don't agree (none)
          I do not think the intent of the authors is to pursue a content neutral curriculum. In fact, I know goddam well they don't.  

          Just because the religious right wants to impose their values on the schools, does mean it is OK for the left to pursue it as well.

          I am VERY involved in the public schools I send my children to here in Florida.  The overwhelming majority of parents want the schools to stay out of these debates.  In fact, the message is clear:  stop trying to impose YOUR values on MY kids.

          The real battle is over support for public education generally.
           This battle includes:
          *Better funding/respect for teaching
          *More parent involvement
          *Better teacher accountablility

          The first and the third go hand in hand.  Not all of the criticisms the right makes about public education are invalid:
          *Low  expectations - I have seen this in Florida over and over.  I once asked a seventh grade math teacher if his students would be ready for calculus in their senior year.  The response: "well, the only people who need to know that are engineers ...".  This would be news to anyone in econometrics or medicine.  
          *A profound lack of writing skills among teachers.   I seldom get ANYTHING from principals that is not strewn full of typos and plain flat bad English.

          Of course, the main reason for the right hate for public schools has little to do with these criticisms.  

    •  We can do better, without coercion (none)
      Well, baldandy, I can find only one word in the quoted section you append with which I disagree:  the word "activism" after environmental.  I think the word should have been "sanity".  Activism conjures unpleasant images amongst conservatives.

      And yes, frankly, let's get back to a thousand points of light.  If Utah wants to go back to the dark ages and deny evolution, I think that at that point, it is up to parents and others who live there to sue in court for some better options.  Local control is not a bad thing.  It will require people to consider, study and investigate what kind of schooling they want their children to have.  Admittedly, it might be a drag to be born into a dogmatic Christian enclave that admits no diversity of opinion, but from my perspective, it is anyway.

      I guess what I am saying is: let's not put so much trust in government to fix public curriculum that we lose the ability as human beings to think for ourselves.  We can't force people to believe in anything.  Education is not coercive, at least good education is not.

      And check out today's NYTimes.  In the science section, researchers claim to have found the spot in the brain where "trust" is developed.  Apparently, trust in other human beings, like other aptitudes, can be developed and strengthened with repeated exercise.  

      Most of what you seem to be objecting to--cooperation, non-violent conflict resolution, dialogue--appears to presume that these meta-skills do not need to be built-in to the learning environment.  I would respectfully disagree.  I do not consider our current political arrangements--bomb when conflicts arise, exploit natural resources for private gain at public expense--to be sustainable or humane, and in fact, are the result of a lack of imagination and compassion for others.  

      We get the kind of world we imagine and prepare for.  The "blueprint" as such in this article is a good point of departure for communities and educators to understand what directions are open to us to become better at what we do. In a world committed to human decency, I honestly believe that another Hitler will be repelled by a strong consensus of many nations, creative problem-solving and the conviction that we all have something we share in common.

      Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

      by Mi Corazon on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 08:58:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What if.... (none)
        The paragraph I questioned was written differently:

        Informed citizenship in a broad-based, grassroots democracy must be based on principles of self-reliance, individual initiative, personal freedom, moral strength, traditional values and spiritual faith. These skills, capacities, and dispositions need to be taught and practiced in our nation's schools.

        Like the original, the expressed goals are vague enough to find merit in any audience, but they are familiar frames or code-words that identify a particular ideology.

        My only point is pragmatic: attaching education agenda to a broader ideological agenda is likely to sink the education agenda before it can even get under way.

        •  you write (none)
          My only point is pragmatic: attaching education agenda to a broader ideological agenda is likely to sink the education agenda before it can even get under way.  

          First, the discussions on education are already attached to a broader ideological agenda  -- those people who want to (a) impose intelligent design in biology classroom, (b) mandate participation in patriotic exercises like the Pledge of Allegiance in violation of the Supreme Court decision in W Virginia v Barnette; (c) provide for EXPLICITLY CHRISTIAN in many case prayer in public school settings, in things like graduations, football games, and if they had their way even in the classroom in the procedures for opening the school day;  (d) do away with teacher tenure so that they can more easily get rid of those with whose politics, religion or educational approach they disagree; (e) prevent the teaching of the very critical thinking you claim to want tuaght -- some of these people think that such teaching undercuts the authority of parents or even of God, and only want  specific facts or patriotic orientation to be taught, other wise they claim schools are undermining America.

          Education is inherently a political act.  Am I not supposed to teach my students that despite his noble wrods in the Declaration Jefferson owned slaves until the end of his life?  That is the kind of teaching that leads to disillusiiionment when students find out that what they were presented was hagiography, not history.  Instead isn't better to point out the human flaws of our founders, but simlutaneously teach students about how apply the standards of one period of time may be very unfair to those who lived in an entirely different world?

          I can criticize teachers' unions from the perspective of having been a building rep.  But I also know that without unions many teachers would be run over by teamrollers consisteing of those with agendae, whether they be self-aggrandizing administrators,  overly political school boards and superintendents, or ven elected official who really only want their point of view to be presented.

          Your rephrasing is interesting, and since I know that at least one of the authors will read this thread, perhaps he may decide to comment on it.  But the battle on education is going to be fought in a political arena.  That nis not in dispute.  Rather than arguing against it, why not approach it from the standpoint of how it can be political without being partisan?

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 09:41:22 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  My response (4.00)
          would be that "informed citizenship" implies an understanding and an aptitude for working within some larger framework, like a family, community, corporation or state.  As such, the values that you list are largely individual skills--many of them very important--but are not by themselves indicative of becoming "informed citizens".

          At issue here is the balance between individual abilities and collective responsibilities.  There must be a balance.  I believe that "individual initiative, personal freedom, moral strength and spiritual faith" are very important individual qualities.  (I don't know what "traditional values" are exactly.)  As such, any good curriculum would explore these things and ask students to reflect, critique and advocate for their understanding and development.  (As state sponsored schools however, there is only so far we can go in development of a spiritual faith.)

          I would argue however, that absent an ability to cooperate with others in a group, (whether family, church, corporate or state) that these individual qualities become much less valuable and, possibly, antithetical to a smoothly functioning society.  Individual freedom is always in tension with collective norms and responsibilites.  (We don't want individuals taking guns to school because it would seem to undermine collective security.)

          What's more, even your allusion to the importance of competition fails to acknowlege the centrality of cooperation and dialogue.  Namely, in order for competition to exist, we must first agree on the rules of the game.  Thus, two competing teams show up at the same place, same time and agree to abide by the rulings of the officials.  Likewise, even within capitalism, a company depends upon the "teamwork" of its employees in order to compete with another company, and both agree to play by the rules (hopefully).

          It is precisely when individual values trump collective norms that "winning at all costs" becomes an ethos unto itself and rends the social fabric.  (I would argue that this is behind the lapses of certain corporations in the last few years: Enron, World Com, Adlephia, etc.  It's also taken us to the edge in terms of our environment.)   That's why I will continue to agree with the major spiritual traditions of the world that a healthy dose of "compassion" is the highest human good.  

          Finding consensus on these core educational goals is not automatic or easy, but I think what these authors have done is to lay out a quality argument for values which will allow society to progress and resolve key questions without destroying the world in the process.

          Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

          by Mi Corazon on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 09:44:47 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Reply to both... (none)
          ...teacherken and mi corazon:

          I sense a lot more common ground with corazon's take on this than ken's.

          I agree that the dichotomy of individuality and community should be balanced, perhaps the litany of goals should reflect that kind of balance. The very lack of it gives it that partisan/ideological odor that bothers me.

          Ken seems to think that the ideological divisions are unavoidable so might as well get on the correct side and teach that side to the kids.

          The best teacher I had was an openly conservative Republican, (think George Will, but as a gymnastics coach). He only occasionally injected his opinions in class, and in a parenthetical way when he did. He taught AP History, and structured much of the class around Historiography and also presented multiple interpretations and expected the students to scrutinize all sides and form their own arguments and conclusions.

          In short, he taught critical thinking.

          He encouraged competition in class and presented a coveted award to the best student, judged by the classmates. He also assigned multiple group projects to foster teamwork and cooperation.

          Ideologically and politically, he probably would not have been well received, nor feel comfortable in the authors' vision of public education. But we will always need teachers like him.

          •  A last thought (none)
            Funny, but I also  use competition in my classes, between groups.  And I also allow students to vote on the best student--in terms of being a group member--and award that student an "A".  And I also prod for, praise and develop critical thinking in everything I do, from journals, to exams, to discussions.

            He sounds like a great teacher to me.  And there is nothing wrong with the core conservative philosophy of self-reliance, limited government, private philanthropy, etc.  I just don't like welfare for the already enfranchised, or pandering to the Christian special interests, or handouts to the military-industrial complex.

            But, to my point:  in terms of the history of this country, never was a road built, nor a school financed, nor a barn raised without some notion of the collective.  You might believe that this happens where necessity is the mother of invention, but I say it is time to structure these vital skills into our educational system, especially now, when individual aspirations seem ascendant over collective needs.

            Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

            by Mi Corazon on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 10:34:25 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  No I think you misread me (none)
            as I have noted elsewhere, perhaps the person in the school to whom I am closest is a teacher more conservative than I am liberal / progressive.  That is on politics.  We share a common commitment to our students and to our school.

            My remarks are that the battle is already engage on political grounds.  Many of most supportive parents are politically and religiously conservative.  That is NOT a problem.  They know that I am not concerned with indoctrinating their children, that I want to challenge, provoke all of my students to go further, to develop themselves.

            I do not think it is possible to work together on public education issues with those who think teaching critical thinking is the work of the devil.  I do not know how we can propose attempting to find common ground with those who believe that have all the answers, and that their vision of schools and teaching should be imposed on all, and to hell with any Supreme Court decision that say otherwise.

            I am like the school teacher whose appeal brought down the Arkansas law that required teaching creationism inf biology classes.  In Epperson v Arkansas  the appellant was herself an evangelical Christian.  She was also a biology teacher.  She felt the law was an improper imposition of religion in a science class.  I would just as strongly oppose those whose agenda would impose a left, or a religion is bad, view on our public schools.  heck, I teach Comparative Religion, I think the subject is so important.

            So please make a distinction between what i believe are the possible politics of the dispute, and what I do in my classroom.

            I do not want indoctrination of any kind. All my students get challenged.  I might note that my 9th graders recently heard that in many ways the domestic policy opf Richard Nixon was more progressive than that of Bill Clinton, this in a school that is predominantly African-American, where Clinton is to many fo the students a hero.  I also pointed out to them that both presidents had to deal with Congress controlled by the opposing party, Nixon for his entire period of service, Clinton for 6 years, whcih does show that not all can be placed -- positively or negatively  - at the foot of the person in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW.

            I DO want people to get seriously engaged in the issue concerning public education, so that we do not lose the struggle to save our public schools as a meaningful and valuable part of learning rather than indoctrination and training.

            Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

            by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 10:43:11 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  an article worth reading (none)
    this will be one of several comments containg info from and a link to articles relevant to this thread.

    I got this from the Public Education Network, which sends out emails with a variety of items such as this.  If you find this of interest, go here to subscribe to that email list  and to find out more about PEN go th their homepage

    HOW MUCH IS A GOOD SCHOOL WORTH?
    The practice of moving for a child's education has a long history in American planning -- in a sense it was exactly why the early, racially segregated suburbs were invented. But in the Sand Francisco Bay Area, where the cost of a lowly hovel starts at $400,000, figuring out where one can afford to live and raise children is particularly thorny. Urban public schools vary greatly in their effectiveness, writes Carol Lloyd. (San Jose has everything from the top-performing schools in the state to the
    worst-performing schools.) Almost all are suffering from underfunding, so even for families committed to public schools, it's a painful equation. Of course, you could move to a better school district, but generally, other great minds have thought the same thoughts and have already pushed those real estate prices up. This predicament leaves many families with a tangle
    of questions: Are there any great public schools secreted away in
    little-known, not totally unaffordable neighborhoods? Is it worth paying an extra $100,000 or even $200,000 for a home in a nice neighborhood to get your kid into a good public school? With our education system forced to use testing as a measure of success - - marking some schools as failures, others as models -- it's not so hard to imagine that such price margins will only swell, making the real estate market into a glaring mirror of our social inequities and our individual hopes to escape them.

    Here ths link

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 07:13:42 AM PST

    •  This is a big issue. (none)
      Cities, schools and race are a complicated tangle, but their interaction is a prime mover of our education system.

      In short, school success and quality is determined by most people on the basis of absolute, aggregate test score peformance, rather than value added.  The predominant factor in aggregate test score performance in schools is the socio-economic makeup of the student body.  Poor kids, on average, do worse than rich kids academically.  I wish it weren't so, but few facts in social science are better established empirically.

      This skews how people go about looking for "good schools", which is the biggest reason people cite for not moving to cites.

      This quote, from a Daily Kos poster is typical:

      I also have friends in the suburbs. They still think that DC is what it was back in 1968. They still see the DC government as being "inept" and the city being "crime ridden" in general. They don't want to move here because of "bad public schools" and so forth.

      So I think that the reasons why the population in blue cities is decling is because of rising property taxes, gentrification, and horrible public schools. When you have horrible public schools families aren't going to move into such a city.

      Middle class families in central cities send their children to private schools, choice of out their neighborhood schools and so on.

      Interestingly, in Colorado, where any child can "choice in" to any school in the state, it is not poor families in poorly rated schools who use the option (creating integration), it is middle class families, white and black, who live in neighborhoods where they are not in the majority, who choice out of their neighborhood schools.  There are about two schools out of a hundred in the District that middle class black parents who don't live in the neighborhood are overwhemlingly choicing into, and four or five schools that middle class white parents -- many of whom live in lower income Hispanic neigborhoods -- are choicing into, resegregating the school system.  The dominant objective is for middle class parents to try to get into the school which has the highest test scores in the district.

      Moreover, middle central city parents choose private schools to stay out of schools that are rated poor, in phenomenal numbers, despite the fact that those schools are largely "poor" because those middle class children have been taken out of the system, hence driving down the test scores.  The parents aren't being irrational.  The intense "mama bear" instinct is generally a good one, and parents use the information that is available to them.

      Until the perception of horrible public schools, caused by low test scores in central city schools, which have little to do with the quality of the teaching  going on there, is overcome, many people will avoid central cities all together and many more will seek private educations, all of which undermines public support for schools that need support more than most because they have higher need student bodies.

      The biggest thing we need to do, is to start evaluting schools on a value added basis.  Until this is done and publicized widely, the public won't even know which schools are actually doing a good job and which ones are sitting on their laurels.  Bad incentives, like the No Child Left Behind Act, and similar school report cards we have in Colorado, encourage the wrong kind of behavior (like trying to discourage kids who would most benefit from increased educational attention from coming to your school).

      •  depends on how the value-added is derived (none)
        Sanders approach in TN is a black box.  It has been criticized for a number of things, including in an evaluation done a number of years ago that was demanded by the TN State Auditor's office.  That evaluation found that Snaders was making claims that could not be substantiated.

        Next, measuring value-added means measuring the same students twice.  On that I don't disagree.  But WHEN one does the first meaasurement makes a huge difference.   Measuring Spring to Spring will inetivalby reproduce the socioeconomic distortions present in our current testing regimen  - lower SES kids actually show a loss of knowledge when emasured Spring to Fall, while those higher up on SES not only retain, but also sometimes show improvementg as a result of enrichment activites available to those with more assets.

        Further, it is not clear that a measurement of students can be extrapolated to school effects, or even teacher effects.  If the measurement has been deisgned for valid inferences at one lvel, it is highly unlikely to be valid for inferences at the other level  -- on this there has a consistent agreemtn from the professional organizations most involved with psychological and educational measurement, AERA, NCME and I believe also APA although I am not positive on the last.

        NCBL as originally proposed by Bush would have given a bonus tot hose schools which provided value-added scores to the parents for the teachers of their children.   But that is after the fact, and c an provide only general guidance to the parents.

        Sanders claimed that his TVAAS controlled for outside influences on the results.  There are those who dispute that, and also argue that his controls are no better than a properly done regression analysis.  When I was reseraching value added assessment, when in my doctoral program I went to Maryland for one course in educational measurement and testing, I had occasion to have an extensive conversation with a gug at NWEA, a non-profit which offered its own value-added assessment methodology. I also read everything available in the educational literature to that point -- books, articles, webpages  -- and I mean everything.

        I agree that a properly done value-added measurement is in many case far more meaningful.  However test scores should not be the sole measure that parents use.  Visit the school  -- are you comfortable with the environment you perceive?  Let your child shadow a student of his/her age, or perhaps of the age/grade s/he will be.   How does the child react?  

        Talk to parents of students currently there.  What do they have to say about the place?

        A school can gednerate high test scores, even on value-added assessment, without educating the children in its care -- sufficient drill and kill on the underlying test to do the valoue-added assessment can give such a psotivie result, but may (a) indicate a lack of real learning, and (b) totally turn of the chidren to meaningful learning.

        Unless and until we can stopp looking ofr the one magic measurement that tells us all, we will not be able to meaningfully address the changes that ARE needed to make our public schools better for ALL of our students.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 09:30:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Test scores aren't prefect (none)
          but that doesn't mean that they aren't useful, if used properly.  The public very much wants information that is comparable from year to year and school to school, and given this demand, parents should be given more useful, rather than less useful information.

          Certainly, it is possible to teach narrowly to the test and make modest improvements.  But, the test scores are not being wildly inaccurate when they indicate that the academic achievement in schools that servee low income, often minority, communities is abysmal, while academic achievement is much better in middle class suburban schools.  Teaching to the test may be exaggerating the differences, rather than clouding them, and it may waste some time, but I don't perceive time spent teaching to tests as one of the bigger problems with our schools.  

          A friend of mine recently transferred from teaching junior high school in the classic poor urban district to a suburban district.  The performance gap was real.  In one, the urban school, the students were stuggling with materials the suburban school uses for third graders and had a broad lack of academic knowledge.

          He was a good teacher.  His students often made more than a grade level of improvement during his year of instruction (if they managed to stay the whole year, which they often did not).  Getting a kid from the third grade level to the fifth grade level is wonderful.  But, in the current system, it looks as if he is still a miserable failure because he is in a school where junior high school students are performing academically at the fifth grade level and worse.  When you get kicked in the butt over and over again when you do an excellent job, why bother?

          There are bad teachers in the system.  Many have education certification.  And, there are significant varations from school to school, which have little apparent connection between traditional measures like principal and teacher experience, certification rates, and the quality of the facilities.  Ferreting out what is working and what is not working is not easy, and a school that makes parents feel comfortable is not necessarily a school that is actually teaching children well, which parents are in a poor position to evaluate compared to other options.

          •  I don't disagree with most of your comment (none)
            except to note that the quality of academic performance is not totally a function of what happens in that school  -- what goes on outside of the 6-7 hours a child spends in that school can make a huge difference as well.

            I absolutely agree that many schools in poor settings, which by the way also is very true of rural settings, do not get the quality teachers. They also don't have physical plants that provide an environment conducive to learning.  I remember when i was doing my MAT at Hopkins spending a day at Dunbar HS in Baltimore, and despite a very energetic and dedicated principal who spent time with the 10 of us form Hopkins spending the day, being appalled by what I encountered.

            Let me first be positive.  Beyond the principal, there were some good and skilled and dedicated teachers.  And given how many of their kids had to travel a long distance by public education in order to participate in some magnet programs there, the school had arranged to have a healt and dental clinic in the school  -- there was no way a student who had a cotro or dental appointment could otherwise avoid missing an entire day of school, which of course would be very counterproductive.

            But the student bathrooms had no doors on the stalls.   There was no toilet paper in the bathrooms  -- students who were allowed to go had to obtain tissue from a teacher before going.  The building was dingy, dull, and quite unpleasant.  i would be depressed in such a setting.

            And I clearly remember one teacher, and Afcrican-American woman who clearly wanted the students to succeed, but knew no way of managing a class except screaming at the kids, and who totally lacked any ability to communicate with the age groups before her.  It probably didn't mattter, because the number of factual errors she made in the one class period in which I observed her was appalling.

            Baltimore pay was very low.   She was "provisionally" certified, meaning she was not fully trained.  And she had 34 kids in on class, and if i remember two of them were very pregnant 10th graders.    Those kids were, despite the best efforts of the principal, being cheated.  

            Would I be willing to teach in such a school?  I've thought about it.  Could I make a difference?  Probably.   But would I be allowed to teach the way I know works?  Would I be supported on discipline?  I don't know.   Most important, is it possible to succeed in an environment so antithetical to learning?  That is my biggest problem.

            The building in which i teach is overcrowded (we now have 18 "temporary" classrooms outside, some of which have been in palce for 15 years), many classrooms lack windows and any control of the heating or cooling.  In general the building is not inspiring.  And yet, there is a spirit in that school that makes a difference.  The kids don't feel defeated an abandoned just by being there.  we are not perfect, but when Icompare what I saw more than a decade ago, or what I encountered on my one visit to Anacostia HS in DC, we are talking several orders of magnitude in difference.

            I do not teach only gifted and highly motivated children.  I dont' want to.   Some of my deepest satisfaction comes from reaching kids who have never had any academic success before I encounter them.  Some have no stable adult relationships in their homes.  More than a few know people who have been killed or injured in gang violence, sometimes in their presence.  And yet in our building our students feel safe, most kind unless they totally resist find at least one adult in whom they can confide.

            I don't have all the answers.  I'm not sure that there are answers to all the problems.  That is part of why I am so involved in this kidn of discourse.  I refuse to abandon hope, because that means abandoning children.  When I challenge people here, it is not because I think the problems on which they focus are not realo  -- I know that they are.  I don't want them to see use those problems as excuses.  Nor do I wnat them to accept what i view as the defeatist attitudes and rhetoric that I think underlay so much of what has happened recently that is harmful to pbulic education, and thus in my opinhion very destructive of the future of this nation.

            Sorry for the screed.  I do care.  And I have stayed active on this thread all day because I want to encourage this kind of dialog.

            Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

            by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 10:30:58 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  asdf (none)
            "The public very much wants information that is comparable from year to year and school to school."

            Well, good luck on that. There is NO WAY that they are going to get info. like that -- I'm sorry. If what you meant to say is that "the public" wants to be fed info. that they delude themselves into thinking is comparable in that way, that's a different story.

  •  another article from PEN (none)
    the Public Education Network:

    TEACHING KIDS TO TEACH
    With the need for teachers rising, administrators across the country are scrambling to come up with ideas to find and train qualified educators. Florida's Broward County alone will need 13,000 new teachers over the next decade. As a result, district officials there have taken a novel approach to build their teacher-force: recruiting teenage teaching candidates and
    promising them a job after college. Rather than recruit from out of the area, Broward County officials are "growing" their own teachers. Two years ago, the district started the Urban Teacher Academy Project (UTAP) to prepare students for careers in urban education. The first group of students graduated last June, and the program, which began in one high school, is now expanding to four. Participants are paired with mentors,
    are trained in teaching techniques and classroom theory, and student-teach in elementary schools. After high school, UTAP students receive scholarships to a local college. When they finish, there's a guaranteed job. Scholastic Administrator magazine spoke to Broward County's superintendent, Frank Till, about his district's bold approach to teacher recruitment. According to Till, "Öif district officials are smart they'll increase their talent base by recognizing that four years down the line,
    one of their best sources for potential teachers is already sitting in a high school classroom." Read the full interview at:
    this link

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 07:17:01 AM PST

    •  You know (none)
      There are a lot of talented science and engineering types who would be interested in teaching, people with experience out 'in the real world'. However, it's difficult for them to move into teaching - they don't have teaching credentials and they don't have the time and money to take a year to get one. Instead of making scholarships for high school students, how about making scholarships for welcoming some of these people into the teaching profession? And the way teaching pensions are structured, completely separate from Social Security and non-transferrable, hurts teachers who want or need to leave and other workers who would be interested in becoming teachers.
      •  there are programs already (none)
        for example, there are a number of universities that have arrangements with local school districts where the trainees intern for a year while they are being trained to be teachers, simlutaneously getting real world classroom experience while getting the formal classwork for their certification, and usually the tuition for this is free.  I do not know if it is paid by the school district, or is funded from other sources.    Science and math are areas of real demand.  I do not know all the universities now doing this, but in the DC area I know the George Washington U (otherwise qujite expensive) has such a relationship with Fairfax County Schools (which is a very good system).  I believe George Mason U may also have such a program.

        Also, in some states if one is prepared to teach in an area of shortage and go to a school that needs improvement one can get provisional certification and do the necessary coursework while one actually earns an income.  I would presume science and math might fall in those areas.  I remember that one year Maryland colelges and universities certified exactly TWO people in physics  -- I knew high schools in our district that needed more than that.

        I would offer the follwoing caution   -- anyone who thinks they wnat to teach should arrange to shadow a teacher in their curricular area for a day or two, so that they have a realistic idea of what awaits them.  It would be NOT GOOD to go through allt hat training, enter a classroom full of idealism, and then realize the real world does match what you thought it would be.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 08:09:52 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Inspiration and perspiration=real learning (4.00)
    TeacherKen, thank you again for keeping these issues alive and before this community. Kind of funny, but, if I had read this article three years ago and been a daily member of Dkos then, I would have never felt the mission to write my book.  At least I have the consolation of knowing that I have, kind of completely on my own, found my way to an enlightened perspective on what is happening in schools.

    So true, and so sad.  I think the light of day is being shed on NCLB, and its fraud will eventually be exposed.  (Funny, that it is republican Utah right now leading the way.)  And anyway, the pendulum in education always swings back and forth.  So the fight is worthy and we will get change.

    There is something uniquely dangerous though in the pervasive call for "accountability" in schools.  I am all for accountability, but we need to agree on what it means.  As long as it is measured solely by test scores, it will mean an unfortunate dependence and obsession with standardized testing.  

    I think we need to remember that the ultimate accountability is to kids, to their parents and to the community which is funding schools.  If we can show that those stakeholders are satisfied with what happens in the school, we will be fine.  But there have to be real-world, alternative measurements than just a number.  Kids aren't numbers; they are human beings and we get a much richer, more complete sense of their education when we look at them holistically rather than as a mere statistic.

    Speaking of "accountability", the recent report on pre-war intelligence cites a "massive failure", one that has caused untold suffering.  I have to ask and continue to press this point:  Where is the accountability for those people?  For the politicians, the bureaucrats, etc.?  I want accountability, we need accountability, but let's start with our leadership, political and corporate, and not just bash low-level public servants who work one of the toughest jobs in America for relatively low pay.

    Finally, it all comes down to teaching.  As much as NCLB is a massive fraud and a tremendous waste of resources and focus, when the bell rings and I start class, it's all about what I do as an educator.  As a result, we need to put the focus on our teaching corps and our teacher training institutions.  It is a people profession, not a factory floor or a cog on a wheel show.  We must emphasize this again and again:  relationships, relationships, relationships, quality curriculum, personal integrity, real caring.  It literally is the toughest job you'll ever love.

    This is a "mega-issue" and progressives everywhere need to jump on it.  The problem with NCLB is not funding--it is its essential thrust of moving us toward meaningless conformity to a mindless drill and kill model of education.  Without critical thinking, our culture and the world is doomed to extinction.

    Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

    by Mi Corazon on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 07:19:30 AM PST

    •  NCLB (none)
      Those of you who  watch a lot of children's television on PBS may have noticed that the tagline that used to be, "funded by a Ready To Learn Grant" is now something like "funded by a Ready to Learn/No Child Left Behind Grant." Hearing that every half hour is surprisingly powerful.
    •  Disdain for Public Schools (none)
      A implicit subtheme of the "I'm alright Jack; you're on your own" philosophy currently being promoted is that public schools are a second choice.  It often seems assumed that families who have "made it" or want their kids to succeed (either economically or spiriturally or both) will naturally send their kids to private schools. It's particularly ironic to me that several of my children's public school teachers proudly and unabashedly send their kids to private schools.

      Dealing with funding shortages, mandated testing, and other difficult issues can make public schooling more challenging.  And undoubtedly there are many wonderful private schools. However, there's something unsettling, regressive and elitist about trying to divide kids into educational haves and have nots.  If some of the parents who invest thousands of dollars a year in private schooling would spend part of those dollars and part of their energy on supporting public education, we would all benefit.

  •  Teachers (4.00)
    [Full disclosure - I am a teacher.]

    It often strikes me, when in conversation about memories of school, how often someone says, "That teacher changed my life." For example, in this thread, TechBob says,

    My sensibilities were also strongly shaped by teachers who demanded critical thinking and challenged the role that society shepherds you towards.  One essay assigned by my 7th grade teacher on "Conformity" changed my life.  Suddenly my eyes were opened to the tremendous pressures from society and peers to adhere to "social norms".  I've been trouble ever since ...

    I once taught a class in a university ed dept. I assigned a paper that required the students to synthesize ideas from several topics that we had covered in class. About a third of the class handed in papers that were simply randomly copied sentences from the textbook. I gave them poor grades, on the grounds that their "papers" showed incoherence, lack of analysis, no logic, and plagiarism.

    They protested (went to the dean) because, as they explained it, there were no factual errors in their papers. (Hats off to the textbook writer, I guess.) And, they said, it was their understanding that as future teachers, they were not supposed to grade "subjectively."

    I tried to give them examples of what a good paper would be, and (in general terms) described the papers I had received from the students in the class who had turned in what I considered "real" papers. (Ummm . . . their own thoughts, in their own words, synthesizing and analyzing, as the assignment stated - too much to ask?) Competitive grading, they cried! They had been taught in other ed classes that this was verboten.

    This is just one example (there are many) of how society - and unfortunately some profs in ed depts, it seems - see the role of a teacher to be this: I will stand in front of the classroom and say out loud 100 factoids. On the next exam, I will ask you to regurgitate some of these (randomly selected) factoids. If you can repeat back to me accurately at least 70% of them, you will pass this course and move along to more factoids in another course. When you have amassed 120 hours of credit this way, we will give you a bachelor's degree.

    This kind of "teaching" will never change anyone's life - well, not in any positive way. But it is what many people think we teachers should be doing. Not only sad, but scary, as the statement you posted says so well.

    It's intuition that is continually opening the doors of thought. - Buckminster Fuller

    by Janet Strange on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 07:53:27 AM PST

    •  yeah they want teacherproof curricula (none)
      I remember Herman Berg, former superintendent in Alexandria, who said that when he wlaked down the hallway of a school he should without entering the room be able to know what every single teacher would be doing  -- in otherwords, everyone should be moving through a fixed curriculum in a locstep fashion, whether or not the students were grasping the material.  Gotta move on, coverage, coverage, coverage.

      The approaches we are currently imposing on public schools will not produce either productive workers or productive citizens.  They have the real potential to seriously damage this nation's future.

      And I am amazed at how many of those who insist on imposing such things on p;ublic schools never have their children in schools that are forced to do this.  Either they pay to put their kids in private schools not subject to these mandates, or they proclaim that their kids go to public schools while ingorning the fact that those school have socioeconomics that pretty well guarantee that their kids will do well enough on mandated tests that they can still largely teach in a positive, student-cnetered fashion.  

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 08:14:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Another Brick in the Wall-part 3 (none)
      So true-it seems like a waste of time, but for a lot of people that is all they expect to be able to do later in life.  Follow the leader, that's their whole life, any wonder why we are in the mess we are in?
  •  "All the children are above average" (none)
    NCLB requires schools and teachers to insure that all students perform at or above grade level within a three year-period.

    Grade level is just another name for average.  Hence, this objective is not just hard to achieve, it is statistically impossible.

    Unfortunately, not many of our legislators are good at math.

  •  Do I take the plunge? (none)
    I've enrolled in an alternative certification program, but I'm having serious doubts now. The more I learn about NCLB, the more I am drawn to going for my masters, and ultimately a doctorate. Yet I want to help children to learn.

    There are no easy choices these days, eh?

    •  if teaching is right for you (none)
      which you cannot know until you spend some time in a classroom (find a school that will let you shadow teachers for a day or two, particularly in your curricular area  -  offer to work as a volunteer to see what school is like )  there is nothing personally more rewarding.

      Do I get frustrated?  Hell, yes.   I have to take time away from real learning to ensure that my students know HOW to take the tests for which they will be required to sit.  I lose increasing amount of class time for county mandated benchmark tests designed to let us know if the kids are learning what they need for state tests.   But I do not follow the county sequence, nor do most of the teachers in my department, because we have found another sequence gives the kids better understanding, and oh btw leads to higher scores on the state test.

      Join our struggle  -- we are trying to change what is happening to our public schools.   NCLB was built on false premises.  Like so much in our public life, many who write for mainstream publications in this area (education) really do not know enough to be able to write critically about the claims offered by some advocates.  That is starting to change, and those of us gifted with writing skills can always take advantage of open fora  -- LTE and op-ed pieces can make a difference.

      if we do not participate in the public discourse, it will be dominated by those who seem intent on destroying public schools.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 08:20:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Please, please (none)
      go for it. Public schools desparately need more teachers like teacherken. Find out if you can be one of those. Depends on the state you're in, but the good alternative cerification programs offer both time in the classroom and pedagogical training.

      I got as far as student teaching (in a traditional ed program) and then decided that I just couldn't handle high school teaching. I went back and got a PhD and now teach at a community college. I love it, it seems a perfect fit for my personality and skills, but there are days that I feel guilty for not sticking with HS. I'm a good teacher - I can say without blushing or false modesty that I seem to have a talent for it - and sometimes I think, dammit, those kids in HS need me.

      So, I'd say, please try out public school teaching. If it doesn't "fit" you, then consider community college. We do good work there too. Although, I should warn you that getting a "real" (full-time) job in a community college is difficult - most of us who have them had to pay dues in the form of teaching as an adjunct for some years first. And being an adjunct really sucks, if it's your primary job.

      It's intuition that is continually opening the doors of thought. - Buckminster Fuller

      by Janet Strange on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 09:32:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Too bad we can't have both worlds... (none)
        and the system in which we can teach children part time and teach in a university part time. I suppose that amply illustrates my indecision at the moment.

        Thank you both for the encouragement.

        •  you are welcome, and (4.00)
          don't assume that you can't do both   -- there are schools which have half-time positions.   My department chair is stepping down so she can take a halftime position to spend more time with her husband, who is quite ill.

          Find a place where you can do halftime say in the morning at a school, then do afternoon / evening at a junior college or univeristy that runs an extensive evening program.

          Of course, the benefits will be less.   But such a course id doable,ifi that's what you really want.  probably easier to accomplish in a major metro area such as that in which i live (DC)

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 10:12:00 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think ultimately... (none)
            it is important to continue to frame diaries such as this excellent one, as appealing to everyone, wether childless or not. We all have a stake in the education of children in this country.

            I've been studying for the praxis 1, and reading early American history. Amazing how focused early Americans were on educating themselves, and their children. We need to return to this attitude.

  •  The authors are mistaken about at least one thing (4.00)
    "The strongly bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has similarly received no scrutiny that would alert the public to its insidious policy implications."

    The Superintendent of Public Instruction in CA, Jack O'Connell, has been up and down the state (and back in Washington) explaining to people why NCLB is seriously flawed and harming education.  He refers to the law as No Educator Left Standing and got 16 other state superintendents to sign a letter asking for major changes into how NCLB is administered.

    In fact, he has been so public and critical (in his very polite way, he's no bomb-thrower much to my dismay) Rod Paige hated meeting with him and the new Sec. of Ed., Margaret Spellings simply won't meet with him.  He has also been pointing out the hypocracy of Spellings and her "they're my kind of people, they're republicans" comment regarding Utah.

    The press covers O'Connell's activities in the usual sloppy, lazy manner they do everything else and it's usually burried deep in the paper.  But he is out there beating the drums.

    I know O'Connell a bit, and between this and his constant barrage of fire at Arnold for his lies and broken promises on education he is becoming the most hated Democratic education advocate in America by Republicans.

  •  Slots for Tots (none)
    In Maryland now the current debate is whether the state needs to legalize, and push, slot machine gambling because we "need" the revenue to fund the schools. Nevermind what happens to the state's role in pushing vice if the cost of education should happen to go up - couldn't happen, right? God forbid we should have to use tax money to pay for children's educations, we need it all to pay the police and build more jails because there are so many damn criminals running around for some unknown reason. And Maryland is supposed to be one of the good states.
  •  School is the Problem, Not the Solution! (none)
    I encourage all at DKos consider rejecting this thinking utterly and understand that the way to save America is to destroy "public education":

    http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/tma68/7lesson.htm

  •  Yes, the arts--and not as an afterthought (4.00)
    The authors are right about just about everything, I think, but unquestionably about the need for arts education:

    "Because they do not increase the market value of children, arts programs have never been funded at sufficient levels.  Under pressure to increase student achievement rates (test scores), school districts in many areas of the country have eliminated art and music classes from their curricula to give students more time to spend preparing for standardized tests.  Progressive elements in our society have always supported these programs. We must, however, do more in order to reverse these economically-driven assaults on the arts in schools, hopefully expanding students' opportunities to  learn and excel in the fine and performing arts, physical education and sports,  and extra-curricular clubs and activities, in order to develop the skills of interaction and responsibility necessary for participation in a robust civil society."

    Strong words, but they do not go far enough.

    Too many Americans are the unconscious heirs of a religious bias that sees the arts as something frivolous, a set of self-indulgent pleasures that are therefore morally questionable, at best a dispensable ornament and nothing more.  

    They could not be more wrong.  The arts are a fundamental dimension of humanity, an irreducible component of all human cultures (even those ideologically least hospitable to them), and to deny children access to them as an integral part of education--to refuse to advocate their inclusion in education on those grounds--is to starve them of their birthright, to advance an impoverished, utterly distorted, and ultimately politically dangerous understanding of what it is to be a human person.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child who knows the full range of him- or herself as a person, and can recognize that in others.  

    A child steeped in the arts is a child uniquely equipped to understand and dialogue across cultural--and, yes, political--divides.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child who knows that the capacity to be a gifted person, empowered to understand and create, is not limited to those who are good with words or those who are good with numbers.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child equipped to understand history as it was lived--not just as anomalous, pivotal events and the outcome of vast, abstract forces, but as ways of being in the world, living traditions that shaped lives and communities and gave them meaning, for good or ill.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child who has learned how to think and perceive and feel and create in ways that are by definition divergent, innovative, personal, unconventional, yet responsive to the depths of human traditions in the past--a child, in other words, singularly ill-equipped to be the subject of tyranny or the compliant worker-consumer-conformist in a corporate-dominated world.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child who understands intuitively why the arts have always been seen as dangerous and powerful and therefore essential to be controlled by tyrants large and small, whether in the theocratic oppressions of early modern Europe or in Stalinist and the post-Stalinist Soviet Union or by slaveholders in the Americas and elsewhere or as the beachhead of assault on free public expression in the "culture wars" by Tom DeLay and Dick Armey when they went after the National Endowment for the Arts in the late 1980s.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child who therefore understands intuitively why Soviet dissidents created a tradition of samizdat literature and why enslaved African Americans danced and made music as acts of purposeful, active defiance against slavery--and why there was nothing superficial or trivial or dispensable about those acts.

    A child steeped in the arts is a child singularly equipped to be fully human, to recognize and celebrate the humanity of others, and to know and understand in ways beyond words and numbers and slogans and propaganda what it means to be free.

    The assault on the arts in our public schools, their virtual eradication, is justified on the grounds of dwindling budgets.  But do not misunderstand: that has been possible only because some people understand what the arts truly mean, and would suppress them--and far too many others, heirs to a distorted and disincarnate Puritanism, regard them as trivial and are willing to see them go.

    In the battle to reclaim our public schools for a full and open-ended humanity, as training grounds for active, humane, engaged, and democratically-committed citizens whose beliefs and expressions no one--no teacher, no parent, no corporation, no government--can predict or control, with all the real and glorious danger that that implies--in that battle, the arts are at the center, not at the periphery.   Let us never forget that, because the history of tyranny in all its variations shows that tyrants and would-be tyrants never have.  And that, in the end, is why the arts must be integral to the education of all American children, and why their reintegration in our public schools constitutes a vital strategy of active defiance to all those of whatever political persuasion who would seek to tyrannize us now.

    "I hope we shall take warning . . . and crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations. . . ." --Thomas Jefferson, 1816

    by Leaves on the Current on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 10:40:15 AM PST

  •  The Privatization of America (none)
    The concentration of wealth, property, and power into private hands, particularly corporations, that has taken place over the past 25 years is one of the major changes in American society which is helping to undermine the democratic process.

    Previously, I had thought of Republican efforts to undermine the public school system as a way to push children into parochial schools, thereby helping to furthering their theocratic agenda.

    But as is apparent, the real agenda of the Republicans revolves around coporate power -- just look at the difference in what Bush was talking about on the campaign trail (gay marriage) to what he is talking about today (Social Security). So I'm surprised at myself for not detecting that Republican efforts to undermine our public schools has as much, if not more, to do with pleasing corporate interests than religious ones.

    Thank you very much for posting this diary, and for the authors for writing the above article. Extremely informative and eye-opening.

  •  Republicans have no interest (none)
    in saving democracy or public education.

    I think everyone knows that democracy and public education are linked.  No one needs convincing.

    Rpug interest in destroying public education is directedly related to their interest in destroying democracy.  Everything BushCo does with respect to education makes sense when seen in this light.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 12:43:31 PM PST

  •  There is so much more to it..... (none)
    The authors of this piece have lots of good points, but they have also missed the point. I began teaching the primary grades in the late 50's, and it is obvious that the learning has gone down, rather than improved, especially in the last 15 years. I am only discussing the early years, because that is what I know.....
    Children need a good background - to be able to read well and understand the basics of mathematics by the end of the second grade. The idea that teachers should not follow a program and teach specific sequential lessons echoes through this article - and primary teachers who 'make-it-up' each day are cheating our children, fun as it may be for teacher and students. I have a grandson in the first grade who has some problems - and isn't getting sequential specific lessons to learn to read - and so isn't progressing well at all - except for what his parents do at home with him, he would not be learning to read.
    There are two defining rules:
    Children are different from one another, so children learn differently. Some children learn to read visually and some are auditory learners and need phonics.
    Children will always learn faster and more thoroughly with specific sequential lessons.
    Learning should be through mastery in sequence, with individual differences accounted for. (Sorry for the dangle!)
    The idea that these lessons are only drill or boring is foolish - good teachers teach interesting thought-provoking lessons. Self-esteem comes from SUCCESS! Critical thinking must have background knowledge.
    I could go on at great length, but I really should get back to work!
    •  what you say cannot be universalized (none)
      first, when doing certain kinds of skills building there is no doubt that one must go through many things in a sequence.   But at the secondary level there is much less of this kind of instruction in skills, and hence the kind of step by step approach may be counterproductive

      second, those of us who do not always go in the same step by step fashion are not necessarily just making it up.  In fact, I have to think very hard of how to do a lesson for each class i teach, even in consecutive periods, because the mix of students can be so different.  And what worked last year may not work this year, because the life experiences of this cohort might be very different.

      Oh, and btw  even on some basic skills the differentiation among students may be far more than just the type of learner they are.

      I taught myself to read words and music by the time I was 3.  Okay, I'm somewhat gifted, and I lived in a house rich in both textual an d musical resources.   But I am also highly dyslexic, something I did not finally recognize until my early 40's.  I read English very quickly, because I read in chunks, translating the image i graps using among other things my peripheral vision, in my mind.  I also have very good pattern recognition skills, which in the case of domains with which I have familiarity enable me to skip some parts and still fill in the lbanks with a very high degree of of accuracy.   As a result, no one, including myself, understood why I struggled so much with foreign languages, especially given my musicality that I had a terrific ear for sound and sound patterns.

      And the answer was the coping skills I had been using tor ead English did not work when things liek word order are different (try german) or especially when the alphabet was different  -- quite important in my various attempts at Hebrew, Greek and Russian.  French was the most accessible of the languages I attempted, and i can actually read some French, even though i can neither speak nor write it.

      For me the key has to be that teachers are able to know the students in their care, and have a sufficient board toolkit to be able to apply the right technique of instruction to meet the needs of that particular student.

      I ahve been teaching public school for 10 years now.  I see significant differences in the students i get.  Part of the lack of preparation I now see is in my opinion a direct result of the imposition of more and more tests of a kind on whichs tudents can be successful without learning how to think or to express themselves.  I have no doubt that my students are capable of learning -- skills and content  - when it is of itnerest to them.  But far too much of what they are experiencing before I get them is not connected to their lives or interests.  I do not believe education shold be punitive.  

      My wife's brother was the only oen of five siblings who was not spectacular in his K-12 education.  he went to Colorado State, where he got really interested in wildlife biology and entymology.  Now this once upon a time lackadaisacl student who had little itnerest in reading and even less in writing, has finished his master, is working on hjis dissertation proposal, devours the professional literature in fields that interest him, literature to which he also contributes.

      And he is even becoming quite comfortable with both meidcal and legal literature, as he has taken over with pwoer of attorney for my mother-in-law, who is having all kinds of problems and is not capable of acting in her own behalf.

      Why the difference in what he can do?  Because it connects to things that matter to him.  And if we want our schooling to be meaningful to our students, so that they succeed, we have to take into account who they are, their passions and their fears.

      Perhaps some of what the authors of the piece I posed in the diary are wrong about some things.  I certainly do not claim for myself nor for anyone else perfect knowledge. And that is part of the point of the authors  -- those who would mandate the way we teach, the lesson we do, and how we measure our effectiveness, are acting as if they DID have perfect knowledge.  And in the process they are loosing site of what is most important  -  the uniqueness of each child.  Oh there will be overlaps, there will be things that willb e applicable to the vast majority of students in a class.  But what about thsoe 3 or 43  otu of thirty who are different, as i was different, as my suster's daughter was different, as the eldest son of my sister-in-law and her FBI agent husband is so very different?  How do we serve them, help them to grwo into the person they can be, rather than what we -- or the government- wnats to make them be??

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 02:38:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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