Around the Edu-horn — July 31, 2012

Some of today’s top @Eduflack Tweets …

Exam Schools from the Inside : Education Next: 

RT @TNTP: How can we keep our best  in the classroom? Read our new report, The 

Around the Edu-horn — July 30, 2012

It’s back.  With all of the cool kids still playing on that Twitter thingee, Eduflack is bringing back his daily roundup of some of the top Tweets from @Eduflack …

Addressing Poverty in Schools 
To Earn Classroom Certification, More Teaching and Less Testing
NY’s Classrooms Need Top Teachers, 

Triggering Parents

No matter where you go in the education reform discussions, it is impossible to avoid some sort of discussion on parents and families.  Earlier this year, as Connecticut was working its way through a comprehensive reform law, we had teachers blaming parents for kids coming to school ill-prepared to learn and incapable of showing educators the respect needed in the classroom.

There was even the head of a local teachers union who declared that teaching would be much easier if it weren’t for the kids and parents involved.  Now who could disagree with that?
In return, parents voiced frustration with teachers.  Groups like the Connecticut Parents Union demanded greater oversight and accountability for teachers, calling for overhaul of tenure laws and seeking to revisit a previous legislative fight to bring a “parent trigger” to the state.
Of course, the Parents Union was talking about a law like that adopted in California (and enacted by more than a dozen other states).  The “Parent Trigger” is the ultimate form of family engagement.  When a majority of parents or guardians in a given school agree that their children’s school is in need of turnaround, they can vote to reconstitute the school and bring about the sort of school improvement so many parents think.
No surprise, then, that the coalition of the status quo is opposed to such actions.  While we want parents to make sure their kids do their homework and bring their books to school, we certainly don’t want them meddling in how a school operates, what it teaches, or what is expected of educators. 
As the power of the “Parent Trigger” continues to grow, and as more and more parents seek this sort of power, it only makes sense that that coalition is going to try and discredit the effort.  They resort to name calling (with Diane Ravitch and others taking to the Internet to call it the “parent tricker.”  Get it?)  And then going even further to suggest that the who “Parent Trigger” movement was some sinister corporate plot to fool parents and turn all of our schools into Wal-Marts and One-Hour Martinizers.
Fortunately, there are some that are seeking to set the record straight.  There are some that are speaking up to educate and inform about the real origins of the Parent Trigger and the real power of meaningful parental engagement.
Over at redefinED, former California State Sen. Gloria Romero has a terrific piece on the Parent Trigger in California.  Why is this piece so important?  Senator Romero is the actual author of the California Parent Trigger law.  Speaking directly to Ravitch and her followers about efforts to disparage the origins of the law and the people who advocated for it, Romero writes:

Diane, I’m a product of public education, from kindergarten through Ph.D. I believe in the power of education. I understood the dreams of my mother, and the recognition that it is education that lifts us out of poverty and is the gate of entry to the American Dream. I never forgot where I came from, including that I was “counseled” in high school not to attend college. Too many kids like me from “the other side of town” experienced and continue to experience the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Hollywood makes nice movies about standing and delivering on behalf of kids, who are caught simply by virtue of zip code in chronically failing schools. But even then, generation after generation of children are sent back to those same schools with the same bureaucrats running them, simply to fail yet again. I proudly represented East Los Angeles. Garfield High School was in my district – that iconic school that Hollywood later immortalized in ”Stand and Deliver,” starring Eddie Olmos as Jaime Escalante. (I knew him too, and know great teachers matter.) But once the movie left the theaters, the demand for change dissipated. I wanted to revive it. We need to revive it.

Remember, my generation learned lessons not only from the non-violent boycott of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also from the by-any-means-necessary view of Malcolm X. Therefore, I also believe in the urgency of now, the power of the boycott (yes, I knew Cesar Chavez too), and the courage it takes to declare that we shall overcome by any means necessary. I know firsthand that separate is not equal. I have personally experienced what it means for kids like me when teachers and principals don’t believe in us, and tell us that our educational futures do not include a path to college.

So we may never agree on the law itself. But I ask you to be honest about its origins. And about the hard work and integrity of the people, mostly women of color, who understood what this meant for our children and our communities. Please do not disrespect me, a Latina from the Eastside, by falsifying the idea of the bill, and how I took an idea, shaped it into legislation, and gave life to it by forming a coalition that took on the number one political force in California – and succeeded!

In our quest to improve public schools for all, we must, at some point, move beyond the name calling and the ascription of personal motives and focus on the quality of the idea itself.  If one doesn’t like Parent Trigger, offer an alternative path for parents to get substantively involved in the direction of their local public schools.  But insinuating that parents are easily tricked and there are shadowy figures manipulating state senators, the clergy, the civil rights community and so many others who brought the California law to existence does no one any good.

Little House on Ed Reform

After putting the edu-kids to bed last night, I was looking forward to spending a couple of hours watching the Home Run Derby, observing as some of MLB’s best sluggers looked to knock pitch after pitch over the wall at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Instead, I came downstairs to find the edu-wife driving the remote control.  She had no interest in watching the Derby.  No, she was getting ready to settle in for a rerun of Little House on the Prairie.
The episode of choice was episode 16 of season seven.  The title?  Goodbye, Mrs. Wilder.  Season seven first broadcast in 1980 and 1981.  By this time, Laura was all grown up, now teaching in the Minnesota schoolhouse where she grew up.
Now Eduflack is not one who is typically going to get into a 30-year rerun of Little House.  But this particular episode was fascinating, showing us that the more things change in education, the more things stay the same.
Laura was being chastised by Mrs. Oleson because the school just wasn’t performing up to academic levels (or at least the levels some school board members expected).  Mrs. Oleson was desperate to win a state grant to improve the school (mostly through construction).  Teaching kids (and testing kids) on the three Rs wasn’t nearly enough.  They needed well-rounded children out there on the prairie, and Mrs. Oleson wanted to add French and art appreciation to the mix.  And since she held a teaching certificate, she knew she was correct and she convinced the school board to go along with her.  Laura disagreed, Mrs. Oleson accused her of not wanting to work that hard, so that “veteran” teacher Harriet Oleson took over the classroom to show that young know-it-all how it is supposed to be done.
We had some profiteering going on, as Mrs. Oleson insisted that all students wear school uniforms, and those uniforms could only be purchased at her mercantile.  We have parents threatening to pull their kids out of school because art appreciation amounts to pornography.  We have drill-and-kill in French.  And we have students complaining that the veteran teacher just doesn’t relate to them and doesn’t make learning “fun.”
Ultimately, the state saves the day, noting that the “new,” more balanced curriculum didn’t quite serve the students.  What farmers and wives of farmers needed to know French (outside of Louisiana)?  Who really needed to appreciate art?  And why do it at the expense of the “bushels and pecks” learning they needed to survive?
So it was back to basics.  French and art dropped from the curriculum.  The new, young teacher (think Laura Ingalls-Wilder as the precursor for today’s TFA teacher) taking back control of her classroom, refocusing the class on discipline and on reading, writing, and ‘arithmetic, and getting results on day one.  School again focused specifically on outcomes and how all kids would graduate career ready.  Balance restored to the prairie.
Not bad ed reform story telling for 30 years ago, let alone for the late 1800s.  Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

Showdown in Chi-Town

Just because it is summer doesn’t mean that things aren’t happening in local school districts.  In Chicago, for instance, teachers and their elected officials are headed for a showdown.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes to extend the school day and school year, while stepping away from previous promises of a pay boost.  The Chicago Federation of Teachers responds in kind with the authorization for a city-wide strike.

The debate has been an interesting one to watch, and in many ways serves as a microcosm for some of the larger discussions of education reform and school improvement across the country.
Teachers unions, however, have painted themselves into a corner by insisting that spending is the best predictor of educational performance — increase financial inputs and cognitive outputs will rise. In the past 50 years, real per pupil spending nationwide has tripled and the number of pupils per teacher has declined by a third, yet educational attainments have fallen. Abundant data demonstrate that the vast majority of differences in schools’ performances can be explained by qualities of the families from which the children come to school: the amount of homework done at home, the quantity and quality of reading material in the home, the amount of television watched in the home and, the most important variable, the number of parents in the home. In Chicago, 84 percent of African American children and 57 percent of Hispanic children are born to unmarried women.
Definitely an interesting read.  

“The Greatest Country in the World”

Last week, HBO launched its new original series, The Newsroom.  While it isn’t exactly Network, the new serial attempts to do for the nightly news what Aaron Sorkin did for sports television (through Sports Night) and politics (through The West Wing).

Of course, the whole things gets going with a monologue of outrage and platform setting.  When asked why the United States is the greatest country on earth, the protagonist (a previously uncontroversial TV anchor always trying to walk the middle), let’s loose on an unsuspecting college student with the following:

Cheryn [the liberal panelist], the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money. It costs votes. It costs air time and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Cuz they lose. If liberals are so smart why do they lose so goddamn always? [Addressing conservative] And with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia! Belgium! has freedom. So, 207 sovereign states in the world and 180 of them have freedom. 

And yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you ever wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know and one of them is: there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we are the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 179th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, 4th in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, a defense spending – where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. 

Now, none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student, but you nonetheless are without a doubt a member of the worst – period – generation – period – ever – period. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Yosemite? 

It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We struck laws – we passed down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money were our mouths were and we never beat our chests. We built great big things and made ungodly technological advances and explored the universe, cured disease. And we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy.

We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence – we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and, we didn’t scare so easy.

We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed by great men – men who were revered. 

First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough? 

And why do I offer this?  Interestingly, even Hollywood seems to determine our greatness, in part, by those student performance measures so many bemoan these days.