Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bullying of Students by Adults will Continue, in the Name of 'Free Speech"

I wrote to my state Representative (with whom I'm on a first-name basis, not because we agree, but because I hound him so often), and my state Senator. I posted it on my previous blog. I asked for their help in creating buffer zones around schools to protect kids' privacy and parents' rights. Here is my paraphrase of his response...NOW I no longer believe in the Constitution?? Seriously?

He accused me of opposing the Constitution and freedom of speech. He told me HE DOES believe in freedom of speech, as long as people are following the law. He told me he talked to 'several' students at NNHS and they were find with the demonstrators at North. He ended with his right to disagree with my stand...he doesn't agree with my concerns.

AND, my response. Clearly we will get no help from this Norman Rep, unless more than just my voice is heard.

"Oh, you have deliberately misinterpreted my words and tried to assign motivation when there is none. You have not responded to my concerns at all...buffer zones do not impede anyones' right to speech. It allows fourteen-year-olds to go home without having brochures of a very graphic nature thrust into their back packs at school.

You have not responded to my concerns about parents' rights. In the school, they have the right to approve of curriculum and books that are sensitive in nature. If they decide they don't want their students to participate, the school gives them alernative assignments. In schools, we must have a signed permission in order to videotape or photograph students. We cannot publish their name in a school directory without parent permission.

But as they are leaving that school where parents DO have rights, and they cross onto the sidewalk, suddenly parents have no rights. Their child -- minor child -- can be videotaped without consent, that video can be edited and posted on YouTube, without parent permission. The child's face is clearly identifiable and the child is clearly being mocked for his beliefs.

I would feel the same way if the military comes into school and talks to minors without parent permission (not sure, but I think that's already ok). I felt the same way when the OSDE published the names, addresses, and IEP labels of students who had failed to graduate because of EOIs and had requested waivers. I hear in Chicago school officials are interrogating children whose parents opted out of testing...interrogating children without their parents being present.

This is an issue of parental rights, sir. You have heard from students who were not offended. I hear from ones who were offended and traumatized. Trading stories is not going to solve the problem.
Students are required by law to attend school. They must pass from the care of the school to the care of their parents. Inside the school, parents have rights. Inside their homes parents have rights. Outside the school on the sidewalk, they seem to have no rights. No rights to privacy, no rights to choose what their child is exposed to.

Buffer zones limit no one's right to free speech. They would perhaps protect sensitive, impressionable kids until they were again in their parents' presence.

So, I'll turn the question around. So, you are fine with strangers videotaping your grandchildren on the steps of the school, and then posting that video, with their faces clearly identifiable, on YouTube, to ridicule and mock them?

Are you truly saying parents and children have no right to emotional safety or privacy?"

A friend called it like it is: AHA is bullying our kids, and there is nothing, according to my Representative, I can do, since bullying (free speech) is in the constitution (sic). What about all those laws they pass about bullying in school, and cyberbullying? 

So, now I'm really worried and interested...what kind of rights DO parents have when their minor children are traveling from home to school and school to home? What does society owe these parents? I thought I knew, but perhaps I don't. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

An Education in Ugliness

A local affiliate of a group, AbolishHumanAbortion has now picketed in front of both Norman high schools. At both schools, parents and community members created a Wall of Love...trying to shield the graphic posters and brochures, and just generally trying to support the students, reminding them they are safe, adults do care. I met some amazing moms; hugged some amazing students. I watched youngsters rise to the occasion, and find the coin Mr. Rogers. We were the helpers...but there was precious little we could really do to protect.

This week, I participated at my school, Norman North. I thought I was standing up for parents' rights. I know inside Norman North, parents have the right to approve of controversial curriculum offerings. They must be asked if they want their students' names to appear in school directories. They must give permission for their children to be photographed or videotaped at school. In my syllabus I had a statement that told parents they could direct their students' choices of books and I would support them.

I participated in the Wall of Love with that same attitude. Parents deserve the final say in what their students see and learn, and when that happens. No one outside the family should encroach.

How very naive. How very stupid.

Kids were videotaped without their permission...that's apparently legal. Children were shown graphic posters that inspired some of them to nightmares. Apparently that's legal too. Children were approached and engaged in sensitive conversations with highly trained operators. Legal.

We did stand with the students...I told more than one she was safe, we were there for her. We did support our students...we just cannot protect them as I hoped. We could not protect their parents' rights as I hoped.

I'll be back when we need another Wall, but I will be deeply aware of how the deck is stacked against our efforts.

"Love wins. Love always wins." Tuesdays with Morrie

My letter to my state Legislators:

Yesterday and today, I went to Norman North to be a Wall of Love in counter balance to AHA -- Abolish Human Abortion -- and their graphic, aggressive campaigning. My personal beliefs about abortion are not the issue here, and that's not what drove me to North. The physical and emotional safety of MY kids -- YOUR kids -- was. 

Here is what I heard and saw:

  • One friend's sister watched a picketer follow her friend down the street until the girl took a brochure
  • Children who saw the graphic images on the oversized posters have been reporting nightmares
  • Girls were pursued, and brochures were placed into their backpacks
  • One picketer was seen repeatedly moving from the sidewalk onto school property in pursuit of a student
  • Picketers verbally browbeating kids to the point they began crying
  • Special education students viewing the posters
  • Students coming up to us, thanking us for being there for them

Picketers, wearing cameras in special harnesses videoed kids without their parents' permission, and they have now edited those videos and posted them on YouTube. One video is entitled. "Norman high student unable to defend pro-choice position." I am incensed he or she was put into that position by a well-coached agitator. This issomeone's child. MY granddaughter will be at Norman High next year. It could be her.

I will be honest and say I've not watched any of the videos. I will send you links without watching if you want me to. I cannot watch. These are MY kids.

One of the local leaders is a former can't teach for 30 years in the same town without knowing some people. I told him my concern was that the vast majority of the students at North were minors, under the age of 18. His glib, rehearsed answer was, they were old enough to get an abortion, so they're old enough to see his posters. My response was, "Not without their parents' permission." Apparently, he's right and I'm wrong.

Yesterday, AHA stayed on the sidewalk that I could see, but the taping went on, and multiple videos were posted last night.

We have taught our kids for years about STRANGER DANGER, and now we've thrown kids out to be approached by people with very focused motives, eager to exploit. If that's not stranger danger, what is?? 

I thought parents had some kind of rights...the right to tell other people NOT to approach their child, the right to a presumption of privacy...the right to NOT be taped and blazoned on YouTube.  But I have learned parents have no rights once their child leaves the safety of the school, until she reaches the safety of her home.

We need buffer zones around our schools! We need them now. We need parents to have some sort of rights to who can and cannot videotape their children. If parents can't assure their children they're safe, who can?

I'm sick to my stomach right now...horrified that this group in all its slickness has all the rights, and our motley group of passionate mothers have none.

I want my students safe. I want their parents to be able to keep them safe.

What can I do to start the process to establish buffer zones around schools? I will tell you, the rumor -- unsubstantiated -- is AHA will target our middle schools next. 

I am in tears as I write this. I need your help to keep our kids safe.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It Ain't Funny Money...the Funding Crisis is Real.

I hear such dire numbers about public school funding in Oklahoma:  $199,429,221.00 fewer dollars tothe schools than in 2008, according to OEA.  1,500 fewer teachers than in 2008. 40,000 more students than in 2008, according to Together OK. Per-pupil expenditures in Oklahoma cut 22.8% -- the most drastic cut in the nation. And yet, politicians try to put us on the defensive when we demand support and resources for our schools.
To be honest, those numbers swim in front of my eyes and I can’t even make sense of them. They’re so vast, they remind me of Monopoly…and frankly, I don’t like Monopoly…all that funny money just makes me nervous.

But here are some figures that  do make sense. A friend figured out that the state’s per-pupil investment is $17 per day – per student.

According to the cost estimates on Rep. Kern’s ‘guns inschool parking lots,’ the state will save $49 by not jailing people who do bring guns onto campus. So. $49 to jail someone…$17 to educate them. I haven’t had to hire a babysitter in years – my granddaughters are nearly old enough to begin that time-honored profession. I’m not sure how many hours of babysitting a harried parent can buy for $17, but I’m pretty sure it’s fewer than a school day, with instruction and supervised playtime. And materials and resources and computers and books. Pretty sure that $17 wouldn’t go far ( UPDATE! Just found an article that quotes the price for an hour of babysitting at $14.50-$15 per hour. So you could get a teenager to sit for about an hour while you ran one errand for the amount the state invests for a full day of instruction!).

$17 a day. What a bargain! Public education in Oklahoma defies the ‘you get what you pay for’ adage. Oklahoma taxpayers get a heck of a lot more than they pay for.  And our policymakers begrudge every penny…they throw up arguments to ‘prove’ we have plenty enough funding. They are dead wrong

In order to bring this discussion back to numbers I can comprehend, I found a price comparison page…let’s talk about prices in 2008 – when schools were supported 22.8% higher.

So, let’s price out a typical breakfast then-and-now…actually not 2014 -- 2013. In 2008, bread cost $1.68 on average – last year, it was $1.98. Imagine buying that bread at 2014 prices with fewer dollars in your pocket than you had in 2008. Eggs – gotta have eggs. They cost $1.29 a dozen – last year they were $1.88. Bacon? $2.96 in 2008. $4.98 in 2013. OK, we have toast, eggs and bacon. Let’s add coffee. $5.49 on average in 2008 per pound. $7.98 last year.  Milk: $2.65 to $4.28.

$13.30 in 2008 -- $30.12 in 2013.  I KNOW these prices are not Oklahoma-specific, but they make my point…prices have not dropped, or stayed the same. Imagine...this is breakfast for your family. They need breakfast. They deserve breakfast. The Oklahoma Legislature says we should be satisfied with LESS than the 2008 amount of funding to buy breakfast at today's prices.

A big  surprise for me involved doing the laundry after breakfast. Tide soap powder was $5.98 – last year, it cost me $11.98 to clean up my mess!

And let’s say I get frustrated and want to escape to a movie? In 2008, a ticket would run, on average, $6.95. Average last year? $10.25

Prices have risen since 2008 on nearly every product and service. Schools pay those higher prices for everything. Food, computers, books, supplies, resources, building supplies, electricity, gasoline to run the buses, vehicles.  

But what if you had 22.8% fewer dollars now to spend than you did in 2008? That is what schools face every day. They don’t pay 2008 prices. They pay 2014 prices…with fewer dollars than they had in 2008. No household could sustain this pressure, and yet our schools have.

At the same time as our enlightened policy makers have squeezed schools, they’ve added more and more unfunded and underfunded mandates. They’ve increased the requirements, increased the testing. Required schools to complete testing online, which means more computers, more band-width.  

We’re coping with these mandates and requirements with a $17 a day investment from our state. When a politician asks you ‘How much more do you want for schools?’ I think we need to say, ‘More than $17 a day.’ I may write that on my sign for the Rally on March 31.

I have a modest proposal for increasing the funding to schools. 
  • Stop all standardized testing if the money goes to testing corporations out of state. Why should we be enriching other states with our educational dollars? 
  • Stop any and all unfunded or under-funded mandates to schools. If a mandate is important, include full funding. If it’s not, then no one needs it. 
  • Restore funding to 2008 levels.

NOW. No excuse, no shilly-shallying. DO IT. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

On Rereading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Rediscovering a Reading Community

"We read to know we are not alone." C.S. Lewis

To Kill a Mockingbird…I’ve probably taught it fifteen times, at West Mid High, Central Mid High, and North. I loved reading it, and would never cheat and teach without rereading. I loved Scout; I wanted to be Scout. When asked, I will always say this is my favorite book. 

I own two (count ‘em, two) autographed copies. One is signed in the most beautiful script, flowing ‘Harper Lee.’ 35th anniversary edition, with Lee’s forward, 
and the 50th anniversary edition, with a beautiful personalized inscription signed by Mary Badham, the actress who captivated us all as Scout. Two treasures. I would bring the copy signed by Lee to school, and let students look.

I’ve often tried to work it out, and remember the first time I read this book…the first time I read, “Macomb was an old town…a tired old town.” I know it was first published in 1960 – the year I was a freshman in high school. My mom, wise but uneducated in the traditional sense, had floor-to-ceiling bookcases that were her college degree. I’m sure I would have met Scout and Dill and Jem there. But I cannot remember.

I DO remember Mom telling me Dill was actually Truman Capote, the famous eccentric author. I remember telling friends that when we would discuss the book, but everyone rolled their eyes at me…if they even knew who Capote was. In my house we did.

But when did I first read it? The film was rushed out very soon after the book. I’ve heard Rock Hudson was slated to play Atticus! ((Shudder)) The book, the film, like Scout’s being able to read…it’s always been a part of who I am…

Rereading it over the last few days, and posting pictures of favorite passages to Facebook has reminded me of what it means to be a member of a community of readers. Many of my students in my class, Reading for Pleasure, came into class believing reading was lonely, solitary behavior of social losers and misfits. They didn’t know we readers love to talk about our books…what we’re reading, what you’re reading. What we want to read next. Our favorite books…our amazing books. Our top ten, ever changing and expanding, like the universe.

My non-readers saw quickly that reading is participating in the world’s biggest book club. We discover soul mates when we talk about books. We instantly bond with someone who loves the same books we do.

I bought myself a brand new paperback, but I kept the old 'teacher copy' for old time's sake. Lots of memories in those yellowed pages. So, I reread, I posted. Then I watched as my own reading community responded to the posts. I participated in multi-generational book clubs…teachers, former students, friends. We all have memories of this book and the power it holds in our lives.

Friends found funny memes and shared...the cat who's so frustrated because there are no birds killed, the famous "Tequila Mockingbird" bar. I joked about the one student who thought this was going to be a hunting manual. We all had a great time.

Shanna remembered years ago, when she read TKAM in my class, she literally could not let go of the book. When it was time to return the school’s books to the book room, she held the book (remember the old blue and yellow paperback cover) to her chest and told me she could not give it back. We agreed to ‘disappear’ the book, and declared it missing. She still has that copy. She is expecting her first child and is sad she and her husband won’t be naming her daughter, ‘Scout’.  Rachael saw me several years ago at her class’s 10th reunion. She told me she also snitched a copy, and when she returned home, tagged me on the picture of the book! What power this book holds over us.

Matt told me these posts had inspired him to reread the book, and explained that his dad gave him his first copy, and he intends to share the book with his newborn daughter…when she’s older!

Teacher friends have entered the conversations…talking about their favorite moments to teach.  What passages make them laugh and cry. The connections they find and share with their students.

Bianca and Malinda, close friends in high school. Classmates, connected on one post and declared we must have a book club. I remember both ‘girls’ falling in love with the book. Even separated by years and geography, they remembered.

I think I value the insights of my teacher-friends the most…so much we can learn from each other. Tim and I talked about how much we love Mrs. Dubose and Dolphus Raymond. Sabrina and I remembered the funny scenes that led us to tears. Lyn made amazing connections with other classic novels.

This book means something to us all…individually and together. We connect, we remember. We are taken back in time to the moment we met Scout and Dill and Jem. And Atticus…the dad we all wished we’d had. The teacher, the mentor.

The book helps us see our world anew. I recall a trip to a Pueblo in New Mexico. Driving through some pretty grim areas, I saw a small house with rose bushes. Carefully tended, lovingly coaxed from the hard soil. I immediately thought of Mayella Ewell’s geraniums. We must have beauty in our lives; we deserve it.

I read this book, knowing there are three lines that will make me cry. I wait for them; I let them wash over me and touch me.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand…Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her…she was the bravest person I ever knew.” With this, Jem and Scout, through a rambling first half of the book, have learned all the lessons they’ll need to sustain them through the trial of Tom Robinson and beyond. They don’t know they’ve been learning and storing these lessons, but they have.

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin.’” Everyone in the courtroom knew, from the beginning, how this trial would end…everyone but Scout and Dill and Jem. But Atticus never gave up. I remember how angry my students were, perfect Jems, at the verdict. They saw the wrongness. They raged against the injustice, just as Jem did.

“Hey, Boo.” That perfect moment when Scout recognizes her rescuer…her protector. She KNOWS. She connects. She grows in that moment, and sees the rightness of Heck Tate’s decision to say Ewell fell on his knife…it would be like shooting a mockingbird.

And there's Atticus’s humble, “Thank you, Arthur, for my children.”

I continue to cry from that moment until the end…when Scout takes Arthur’s arm as they stroll back to his house, when she stands on his porch and sees the last few years play out from his point of view. That magic moment when ‘the children’ become ‘his children.’ The return home…to their steadfast father who would be there in the morning.

I am so grateful that I was able to introduce this book to fifteen-years-or-so of students in my English 2 classes. I’m grateful many remember it fondly. I’m grateful I have friends who care about it as deeply as I and are willing to discuss it in public.

I’m grateful that two dear friends gave me gifts of precious autographs. I’m grateful, always, for Scout’s voice: wise, clueless. Insightful, impatient. Observant and so smart.

I think there’s only one kind of folks. Folks.”

I am so grateful that lots of folks I love, love this book. But I wish I could recall that first time I read ironic that I can't.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Important Quotes from BAD TEACHER by Kevin Kumashiro

I have been blowing up my FB groups with quotes from Bad Teacher by Kevin Kumashiro. I read the book on Kindle -- a friend and I tried to see how I could lend it to her; but, alas, it can't be lent. It is very much worth the price, and I would love to help boost sales. I reviewed the book here. This is important for anyone who cares about public schools and public education.

My Kindle allowed me to collect my highlights, and I've been sharing them. Here are the ones that spoke to me:

I read this on my Kindle, and I learned how to collect my highlighted passages…soo much to share:

  • Today’s controlling metaphor is schools-as-businesses, with students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while test-prep information is stuffed into their little up-turned heads by low-paid clerks disguised as teachers. Within this model it’s rather easy to think that privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that standardized state-administered (but privately developed and quite profitable) tests is a rational proxy for learning; and that a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools —but never on lawmakers, foundations, corporations, or high officials—is logical and level-headed.
  • band of dilettante billionaires who work relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, and promoting, always spreading around massive amounts of cash to underline their fundamental points: dismantle public schools in favor of some sort of privately-controlled administration; destroy the ability of teachers to speak with any sustained or unified voice and crush the unions; sort the winners from the losers through a relentless      William Ayres – Intro
  • School reform is making the failures of vast numbers of America’s children inevitable . What is going on?
  • Guinier suggests that there are at least three types of questions that we should be asking, reflecting three ways of understanding power and powerlessness.
  • Who is winning and who is losing? Who made the rules? What is the story that we tell the losers to get them to want to continue playing?
  • Less commonly asked is who made the rules to this system of testing? And more specifically, are tests constructed in ways that advantage those groups that are already scoring well?
  • One common argument about the value of such tests is that they are more objective, compared to grades that can be inflated or rankings within a less competitive subset of students. But such tests are not objective.
  • Choices have to be made about what types of questions to include on such tests, and one criterion for making those decisions is how those who previously took such tests scored on those questions. What this looks like in practice is the existence of several questions on the test that do not count toward a student’s score and, instead, are potential questions for future tests that are evaluated in terms of how the group of test takers as a whole…thereby ensuring that the test produces a distribution of scores that mirrors the current distribution .
  • The practice of standardized testing has been framed in such as a way as to make it seem fair, effective, objective, and as a way as to make it seem fair, effective, objective, and incontrovertible. Changing how we assess learning requires not merely changing the tests; it requires changing how we think about tests and testing.
  • As long as educational improvement means higher test scores, three assumptions remain unchallenged: Standardized tests effectively measure all students’ learning, learning means doing well on those tests, and teaching means raising those scores.
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings has argued that our nation’s preoccupation with test scores masks more structural and systemic problems with public education.
  • …gaps in test scores are being used to justify initiatives that exacerbate inequities. When schools do not meet AYP, they must divert a significant amount of time and resources away from teaching in order to meet new
  • Under current reforms, the more students struggle, the less their schools are allowed to teach, and the less they are made to look like flourishing school systems in this country and to other nations.
  • In this characterization, all of education rests on the shoulders of teachers, hence the frequency of blaming teachers for all that is wrong with some public schools,
  • The parallel, here, with the colonizing, assimilating mission of public schooling in the United States is uncanny.
  • The metaphor of teacher-as-savior has a long history in American schools, and Teach for America capitalizes on this image.
  • When we narrowly define the good teacher merely in terms of the ability to raise test scores, we inevitably are categorizing all others as bad, even those who, in so many other ways, are successful, admirable, valuable, impactful, effective, ethical, and good. There are many possible ways to define the good teacher , but today, we seem to be stuck in a pretty narrow framing.
  • Important, here, is how standards-based reform has become operationalized in public schools across the nation. Whereas the ideal of standards can embody the highest level of performance, the practice of standardizing curriculum and assessments with scripted curriculums and norm-referenced tests reduces learning to a much-narrowed endeavor.
  • Such is the ideology of neoliberalism, which is guiding educational reform. Whereas classic liberalism places value on the agency of individuals and on freedoms from social and structural restrictions in the pursuit of self-expression and self-actualization, neoliberalism situates such concepts in a market-like economy, asserting that individuals reach their highest potential when put into competition with one another, like businesses in a “free-market” economy, unrestricted by top-down regulations, or at least unrestricted by regulations that aim to level the playing field.
  • Two aspects of neoliberalism help to advance a probusiness agenda: privatization and personal responsibility…commonly expressed values of freedom and meritocracy ,
  • Neoliberalism, in other words, promotes an understanding of equality and freedom that presumes a level playing field, and that expects some to win and many others to lose.
  • The freedom of charter schools from many of the regulations placed on regular neighborhood schools raises questions over whether such regulations were intended to improve public schools or were really intended to encourage the creation of alternatives to public education.
  • recognition that the frames of fear, values, standards, and competition overlap in ways that reinforce one another: a state of crisis ( fear) makes us seek out reassuring stories of who we are as Americans, increasing the desire to defend commonsensical stories of traditional American values (family values), as we seek out ways to reform schools that build on related values of meritocracy, self-sufficiency, and equity (standards and accountability), and in a context that encourages each of us to do our best (competition).
  • The commonsensical frames of fear, values, standards, and competition make it easy to overlook the deeper problems and to place all blame on teachers. In turn, the attack on teachers implicate those who are responsible for preparing teachers, which is why many parallel initiatives are underway to undermine teacher preparation.
  • Research has not shown that alternative, fast-track programs are successful in producing more effective teachers. If anything, research shows the opposite: when teachers are not learning new ideas, they fall back on their own experiences and observations, and turn to common sense, which are often the very ideas and practices that need to be questioned and improved upon. 2
  • Current reforms are reducing what teachers need to learn about students, learning, curriculum, assessment, and educational contexts, thereby reducing their ability to understand, create, tailor, and problem-solve. Current reforms are reducing the role of teacher to one of a mere “technician” who can implement the already scripted and authorized curriculum.
  • If schools should merely be following the official script, then preparing independent-minded teachers is the problem, not the solution.
  • One such alternative to public schooling is homeschooling, which is also advocated by the Tea Party, and which is supported in large part by for-profit curriculum and service providers, accounting for millions of school-aged children.
  • Simply put, the new common sense tells us that improving education means raising test scores, and that raising test scores is possible when teachers know the content.
  • Teachers receiving traditional preparation are more likely to be teaching in prosperous suburban and elite-urban public schools, whereas teachers from fast-track alternative preparation programs are far more likely to teach in struggling schools serving students who are predominantly working-class and/ or people of color.
  • Perhaps the creation of fast-track alternative teacher preparation programs was never meant to improve teacher quality overall. After all, the most elite schools are not recruiting from the fast -track programs. Fast-track alternative teacher preparation programs exist primarily for schools with large percentages of students of color and students living in poverty, suggesting that such reforms target only certain groups of students, with only certain outcomes expected.
  • Research has shown that incentivizing teacher salaries by tying teacher evaluation to student test scores does not raise the quality of instruction or student achievement. 12 So, too, with other reforms, like turnaround school policies, high-stakes testing for promotion and graduation, school-choice and voucher programs— none are supported by research. At a time when the rhetoric of educational reform calls for evidence -based, data-driven decision making, the lack of research to support the reforms described here certainly raises the question of “Why?” Why are Americans so compelled to buy into these proposals?
  • Current reforms are allowing certain individuals with neither scholarly nor practical expertise in education to exert significant influence over educational policy for communities and children other than their own.
  • There is also much profit to be earned from public education. The American educational system today is a $ 500 to $ 600 billion enterprise, funded overwhelmingly by public dollars, with billions of dollars in services and products being outsourced, and with political lobbying groups like the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), financed by hedge-fund millionaires who are leading the push to further outsource.
  • …in recent years a handful of millionaires and billionaires have come to exert influence over educational policy and practice like no other time in American history, despite the fact that philanthropic giving has always constituted less than 1% of total educational funding.
  • At the top of the chopping block was public education, considered by some to be a drain on the government and a crutch for society, not only because it was the most expensive of domestic enterprises but also because it exemplified a socialist enterprise.
  • Conservatives called for the entire school system to be privatized, made into a free enterprise, and the conservatives’ strategy of choice was school vouchers. Early on, Milton Friedman, one of the leading proponents of free-market reform, argued that, “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.”
  • The conservative foundations especially target funding to organizations that aggressively lobby in state legislatures and Congress, and that engage effectively in media campaigns, thus ensuring that their ideas are enacted into law with public support. Consequently, the conservative movement has emerged as an interconnected web of organizations with aligned missions and coordinated strategies, often facilitated by shared board members. 4
  • Unlike traditional philanthropy, which sought to—at least in principal—“ give back” to society, venture philanthropy parallels venture capitalism with the goal of investing capital in ways that earn more. In contrast to venture capitalism, one benefit of venture philanthropy is that it operates under different incorporation laws, providing tax shelter for what are really financial investments .
  • Whereas traditional philanthropists view their giving as donations that support what others were doing, venture philanthropists view their giving as entryways into that work.
  • Such cuts, of course, disproportionately impact students of color and working-class students, who are the ones who disproportionately populate the public schools and public universities , which brings us full circle to the time of the early philanthropies when wealthy White businessmen were using their wealth to change the education of primarily poorer students of color, often with even greater disparities resulting. The change is not only in educational policy, but also in public-policy decision making more broadly, signaling the transition from public deliberation by an elected government to decisions of self-appointed individuals with no accountability to the public.
  • The two leading venture philanthropies, the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, do include among their grantees historically liberal organizations like teacher unions. However , their funding priorities and strategic initiatives are so framed by neoliberalism, and their partnerships with conservative organizations and leaders so extensive, that their impact is indistinguishable from the conservative foundations.
  • Overwhelmingly, by number of initiatives and amount of funding, the leading venture philanthropies are prioritizing the privatization and marketization of public education, with such initiatives as outsourcing of school management, which can best be seen in school districts that are targeted for charter-school growth, where the majority of charter schools are managed by for-profit companies; incentive pay for teachers; alternative routes to certification for teachers and school leaders; and school choice and charter school initiatives.
  • A 2011 study by Newsweek and the Center for Public Integrity revealed that , despite the billions of dollars invested by the top four philanthropies over the past decade, the ten top-receiving urban districts showed little gains. Yet these investors continue to be driving education reform. 9
  • The blaming of teachers goes hand-in-hand with the current national obsession with high-stakes testing, turnaround-school policy, marketization and privatization of schooling, narrowing of curriculum, lessening of teacher preparation, and experimentation of school reforms by investors, which all are making schools look less and less like the best schools and less and less like what America’s children need and deserve.
  • Are current reforms building on sound research, or do they fall back on common sense? Common sense is not always supported by research.
  • Common sense tells us, for example, that if students are struggling with reading and mathematics, then schools need to cut out the other subjects and focus on the basic skills, laying a solid foundation before advancing to other subjects. But research tells us otherwise: Students actually learn basic reading better when reading in context and across the disciplines than when only drilling on basic skills, and similarly, learn basic mathematics better when applying mathematics to solve complex problems than when only drilling on basic skills.
  • From high-stakes testing of students to performance pay for teachers, from turnaround policies for schools to choice programs for parents, from less preparation for teachers to for-profit management of schools, current reforms not only lack a research basis, but more important, have already been proven to lead to widened disparities.
  • Of course, research is a vastly diverse enterprise: researchers are asking different questions, using different methods, and drawing various conclusions that can be used to justify any range of policies.
  • Third, Are current reforms guided by a vision in which all of America’s children can flourish, or are they framed by a commonsensical story that has led to the opposite outcome? Perhaps the most salient story today is that of competition solving all problems.
  • fail. But competition does not always raise the bar. The level of inquiry in a classroom can go up when all students are supported and engaged, which means that the success of one child is greater when others around that child are also succeeding .
  • Here is where, as a nation, we need to think deeply about what we really want for our children , what we really believe are our core values as a democracy.
  • Chicago School Reform: Myths, Realities, and New Visions (originally published in February 2011, updated in June 2011, and available in its entirety at http:// ).
  • The four visions: provide bold leadership that addresses difficult systemic problems and avoids scapegoating the “usual suspects”; develop and implement educational policy and reform initiatives that are primarily research-driven, not market-driven; improve teaching and learning effectiveness by developing standards, curricula, and assessments that are skills-based, not sorting-based; and ensure the support, dignity, and human and civil rights of every student.
  • Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE).
  • Just as teacher preparation should refuse to offer lesson plans or strategies that presumably work for all students in all contexts , so too should advocacy refuse to offer strategies for all to replicate without attention to the particularities of the local context and the strengths of the local actors.
  • Too often , we ask only the first question, Who is winning and who is losing…But particularly in today’s context where billionaires are driving school reform, we also need to be asking Who made the rules?...What are the stories that we tell the losers to get them to want to continue playing?
  • My ideas about moving from blaming teachers to seeing the bigger picture do little to change educational debates and policies if I converse only with people who already agree with me. I must also be meeting with partner organizations, facilitating workshops and public forums for various constituent groups, writing articles and speaking in interviews for the news media, blogging on the Internet, issuing press releases and other public statements, lobbying my elected officials, speaking with my own family and former classmates and neighbors, marching with signs in the streets, rallying with bullhorns at the capital, dancing in a flash mob downtown, painting in a public mural in the park, performing with an open mic, and of course, continuing to do my own homework and learning from others in order to resist complicity and self-righteousness.
  • In a context where common sense has been framed by ideologies rooted for decades in efforts to undo public education, we should not be surprised that current reforms are producing the exact opposite of the stated goals, including and especially reforms that come from politicians who identify as liberal, investors who identify as altruistic, and superintendents who identify as proponents of public school teachers and advocates of those students who are struggling the most. Improving public education requires more than having good intentions. It requires more than our common sense. It requires doing our homework.
  • Change is inevitable, which means that we can stand by and watch, or we can intervene, engage, innovate, create, transform. Yes, change is inevitable, and therefore, we all have a role to play in ensuring that those changes reflect our vision and our values. Too often, the problems seem overwhelming, and the barriers insurmountable. But our responsibility to our children and our next generation, as members of our communities, as participants in our democracy, is to refuse to lie complacent and complicit.

Kumashiro, Kevin K. (2012-03-16). Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture (The Teaching for Social Justice Series) (Kindle Locations 1403-1406). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

BAD TEACHER by Kevin Kumashiro -- A Review

Kumashiro, Kevin K. (2012-03-16). Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture (The Teaching for Social Justice Series)

I think I was expecting a funny, angry book…one that set up the myth of a ‘bad teacher’ and then railed. Instead, I got a measured discussion of the history of education reform in America…its darker implications.

Not a lot of new information, but connections...And the more connections I learn, the easier it is for me to see the big picture and the small one.

Kumashiro begins with questions; he thinks in questions, and he organizes this short book in questions. I like that.

Lani Guinier (some of us remember her)offers three questions people should be asking about power struggles: Who's winning and losing? Who made the rules? What is the story we tell losers to get them to want to keep playing. Powerful way to begin this discussion of the history of education reform, the difference between traditional philanthropists and today's venture philanthropists, who are definitely in the business for profit. They want influence, and they buy it.

He talks about standardized testing and the dangers of focusing ONLY on tests, and making scores the definition of good teaching. He talks about teacher preparation and why traditional education schools are under fire: "If schools should merely be following the offical script, then preparing independent-minded teachers is the problem, not the solution." We're dangerous.

Kumashiro says there's between $500 to $600 BILLION dollars to be skimmed by profiteers from public education, and we're just sitting here, letting it happen. He reckons venture philanthropists invest, perhaps, 1% of schools' budgets, but man, do they get a huge opportunity to influence policies.

More questions: Are current reforms making America's schools look more like the best schools in our nation, or are they widening the gap? Are current reforms building on sound research, or do they fall back on common sense ("RECEIVED WISDOM" -- a new term...we all know how schools work because we all attended them)Are current reforms guided by a vision in which all of America's children can flourish? We know the answers...but I appreciate the questions.

Then, Kumashiro discusses efforts in Chicago to build do the work of really talking about what works, to build the research base, and to assemble the players. CHICAGO SCHOOL REFORM: MYTHS: REALITIES, AND NEW VISIONS is their book. Here is their website...looks like it's still going strong.

Their four visions: bold leadership that addresses real problems; develop and implement initiatives that are research-driven, not market-driven; improve teaching and learning; support the human and civil rights of every student...I can get behind that.

More questions: Why movement-building? Who are our allies? What are the problems? When will we see our goals met? Where should we act? Why do we need to reframe? How do we do all this?

Important I need to do my own research on what's happening with them. We all know the schools in Chicago are really suffering...I have not heard of this movement at all...What can I use for our struggles here in OK?

I think we have a lot to learn from this book. I will include my highlights in a second post…too long to make one post…too important to NOT include.