In a Perfect World Part One

In the age of Obama, there have been few things that people on the left and people on the right agree on. The health care bill (aka Obamacare) had elements deemed unconstitutional after a relentless effort by Republican governors/attorney generals to get the entire bill overturned. Congress has been at a virtual standstill on whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich in this country. However, one thing that many Republicans and Democrats agree on is the need to eliminate or stifle the power/influence of teacher’s unions.

Some of the popular thought about teachers unions include:

“[Unions] are major obstacles to reform.”
-Newsweek – March 19. 2010

“The unions… are ‘special interests protecting the status quo’…pillars of ‘a system that too often rewards mediocrity and incompetence.’”
-City Journal Spring 1997

“This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.”
-Houston Chronicle, 2007

And who couldn’t learn to hate teachers unions without seeing this YouTube video:

A fellow blogger, Sabrina, from The Failing Schools Blog responded to some of these notions in one of the most poignant pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time. While I agreed with 100% of the arguments she made in her blog, I figured that I would take Jonthan Alter’s advice.

“It’s very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time.”
-Johnthan Alter, Newsweek Columnist, on Waiting for Superman

I have decided to take the position of reformers like Rhee, Broad, Gates, and legions of other people around the country and think about what it would be like to live in a perfect word. A perfect world? Yes, a world without teacher’s unions.

Over the next three days I will posting stories of hypothetical teachers. Read there stories and vote on what should happen or what these teachers should do…IN A PERFECT WORLD.

Rachel Wood
Rachel Wood is a fifteen-year tenured veteran teacher. She works in a Title I school where 85% of the students receive free and reduced lunch. She has been teaching AP British Literature for the last five years helping her students get an average of a 4 on the final advancement placement exam. Mrs. Wood’s work in an inner-city school in Baltimore is very surprising to the people who knew her since she was child. She grew up in northeast Louisiana. Both of her parents were members of the local white supremacist group there. When Mrs. Wood told her parents that she was going to be a teacher in a inner-city school, teaching mostly African-American and Hispanic students, her parents essentially disowned her.

One day in late March she was excited about an activity that she was going to be doing with her class. She new that the AP examination was close and she wanted to get her students prepared for the writing response. Unfortunately, the period before her class the students participated in an assembly where a famous music artist came to school. When the students returned to class they were still very excited about the events of the last period. Mrs. Wood tried to get the class to settle down as she was ready to get started with the class. She tried turning out the lights, standing silently in front of the class, and even pointing out individual students on their behaviour. She became more frustrated as time went on. All of a sudden she screams loudly, “Please be quiet! We need to get started! What’s more important? You passing the AP exam or a nigger singing a song?” The class goes completely silent. She apologised for the remark and awkwardly returns to teaching.

Later that day she got a note from the principal in the mailbox to see him at the end of the day. The principal called Mrs. Wood in the office. He asked her, “Is it true that you used the “N” word during your AP British Literature class?” Mrs. Wood answered, “Yes, and I apologized for the remark soon after. I was very frustrated and the frustration got the best of me.” The principal explains to Mrs. Wood that there is no room for a racist at this school and she was fired.

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Editorializing Fear: Should the LA Times Release the Teachers “Value-Added” Scores to the Public?

The LA Times journalists who wrote the "Who's Teaching in L.A.'s Schools?" crossed the line between reporting and editorializing.

The article was fairly brief and to the point. It seemed like your typical article for the L.A. Times discussing the nature of education written by Jason Felch, Jason Song, and Doug Smith called “Who’s teaching LA Kids?” The article read “in Los Angeles and across the country, education officials have long known of the often huge disparities among teachers….but rather than analyze and address these disparities, they have opted mostly to ignore them.” Coming to set the record straight is Felch, Song, and Smith who will use value-added statistics to determine whether or not a teacher is effective. They calm the “[controversy] among teachers and others” by telling us that “the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.” To calm your fears even more, they give you a wonderfully bullet-pointed list of statistics that show how teacher “effectiveness” affects student achievement. Later on they give you information about what has come to be known as the “status quo” and the need to gain the parent’s trust. For those of you who read the article, you may be thinking…didn’t he skip a lot? I did. Honestly, I wished that Mr. Felch, and Mr. Song had done the same.

However, they didn’t stop there. They decide to use their journalistic “abilities” to malign two teachers in the article – John Smith and Karen Caruso. Mr. Smith described as teaching students who “start out slightly ahead and fall behind.” Ms. Caruso who thought that weekly vocabulary quizzes were “old school.” Again, if they had stopped there it wouldn’t have been so egregious and infuriating. The “journalists” took the opportunity to compare them to the two more “effective” teachers – Miguel Aguilar and Nancy Polacheck. All of this “journalism” comes from bits and pieces of information and an observation in classroom from one lesson. So there it was, all perfectly clear. But what wasn’t clear is how any journalist can gather any ACCURATE information from one classroom visit? It isn’t clear how a journalist could dismiss the fact that Ms. Caruso is a teacher of twenty-six years, a national board certified teacher, a avid attendee of professional development, a leader of the reading circles, and a PROFESSOR of future educators? However, what is clear that Mr. Felch, Mr. Song, and Mr. Smith was not out to report the news, they were out to forward an agenda. The same agenda that has been praised by their covenant “policymakers across the country,” like Bill and Melinda Gates. They are forwarding the same agenda of the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top education “reform” policy, which clearly is not as favourable as he had hoped. However, the “journalists” will categorize the controversy among “teachers and others” as a group who has over the years clearly “opted to ignore [ineffective teachers].”

Felch, Song, and Smith claim to speak on behalf of the parents who “even the most involved mothers and fathers have little means of judging instructors other than through classroom visits and parking lot chatter.” Felch, Song, and Smith claim to speak on behalf of true education reform that focusing on student learning. How dare Mr. Felch? How dare you Mr. Song? How dare you Mr. Smith?

The LA Times piece creating an unnecessary fear in the public.

No, Mr. Felch, Mr. Song, and Mr. Smith your words were not based on the consideration of parents or students. Your words were based on fear. They are trying to elicit the unfounded fear that a teacher with over twenty-years of experience and an educator of educators still lacks in her ability to be an effective teacher. They spread the fear that a teacher is simply unaware how an effective he/she really is. Spreading the fear that a principal like Ms. Oh, at the Third Street School, has the inability or the consistent ability to evaluate her teachers. We see how these “journalists” will elicit fear. Who would DARE go against the New Teacher Project who claims that teachers have long been evaluated based on brief, pre-announced visits by principals who offer a confidential and subjective assessment of their skills, [that] how much students are learning is rarely taken into account, and more than 90% of educators receive a passing grade.” This “revealing information” is based on the survey of 12 districts in 4 states – none of which were revealed or detailed in the article. The “revealing information” for them New Teacher Project who has sided with other covenant “policymakers across the country” and the Obama Administration.

This is nothing but the use of fear tactics and egregious editorializing up with which no one should tolerate. I hope that the LA Teacher’s Union does everything they can to demonize these “journalists” as much as they have demonized the teachers in this article and the teachers and principals in LA schools.

And instead of addressing the concerns of many people in the education blogosphere and the LA Teacher’s Union president who argued “that publicizing the idea of using student achievement to identify what makes for successful teaching might be, in his words, “leading people in a dangerous direction.” The LA Times choose to attack the union with rhetoric like:

• “If you are a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who likes playing Follow The Leader, you are probably not reading this column today”

• “What’s really dangerous is that kind of thinking: Cover your eyes and everything looks fine.”

• “If that represents the union’s logic, it’s no wonder students in Los Angeles are struggling and public support of teachers appears to be dropping.”

The arrogance is deafening. They cannot see past their agenda driven fear-mongering eyes to engage in a serious dialogue about problems plaguing the country. The advancement of the “value-added” agenda, the maligning and comparison of teachers (using their names), and the creation of the ludicrous “effectiveness” database only will lead to a DECREASE in quality teachers in the district. Teachers will leave the LA District, focus their instruction solely on standardized test scores, or cheat like what was done in Atlanta.

So there it is. The LA Times journalists will be allowed to do what they will. Surely, the Obama Administration won’t come out against it, especially in light of Arne Duncan’s ENDORSEMENT of the release of the scores.His endorsement comes under the dubious claim that the “public disclosure of the value-added results would allow school systems to identify teachers who are doing things right.”

Whether or not claim is dubious, the effects to his career are negligible. The effects of the inevitable strained parent-teacher relationship, the public humiliation, and the fear of being fired from a controversial assessment for LA teachers is incalculable.

Still one imperative remains. If these journalists retain any trace of dignity and honor the least they can do is reconsider the public database. Otherwise we will be subject to what Bonnie Weiss positively describes as “[the] creat[ion] a more market-driven approach to results.” We all know the problems with that.

Weigh in!

Observance or Oppression: Should School District’s Ban Web 2.0 Tools like Social Media?

Twitter

Battle of the Day: Monday, 16 August 2010

I ran across this article last night regarding the filtering of Web 2.0 tools that exist in most American public school districts. The article suggests that filtering is akin to content filtering used in China. While, I can see someone drawing that conclusion, the restrictions are rooted in different agendas. However, the result of both restrictions is the same.

The rise of Web 2.0 tools has changed the way people work, interact and publish content.  Having a Facebook, Twitter, Blog or E-mail account is just as important as having a phone number in the 21st Century. It shouldn’t be far-fetched that some of the more techno-savvy teachers would like to harness these tools to use in their classroom.

YouTube

Especially when tools like Facebook and Twitter has made it cheap and easy to communicate with a large group of people. The filtering of these sites has major negative implications on student learning and development.

Many schools offer basic computer classes that include desktop publishing, browsing the web, and research techniques. While these skills were adequate in the years leading up to the 21st Century, the continued focus on these skills are setting up students to be far behind. Web 2.0 gives students a variety of TOOLS using technology. These tools cross a variety of different platforms like social media, collaboration, and digital media. Students should be trained to properly use these tools in the classroom. When I was in school the use of computers was relegated to practice, to supplement, or to remediate the skills learned in the classroom. Most teachers/administrators had the idea that the use of computers was “something nice to have.” However, in the 21st Century the use of technology (including computers) offers a use of tools that students/teachers should be using to enhance learning. The use of these tools isn’t “something nice,” but is the same tools that are used by academics, business people, etc. The use of these tools in the classroom will give their students the opportunity to pair their learning with technology.

Students are using Web 2.0 as a means for communication and collaboration. Should teachers harness this trend?

There are a variety of reasons why districts choose to filter Web 2.0 sites including the fear of “inappropriate activity” to it being a distraction. While the fears of administrators are valid, it is a reflection of the lack of training not the ability for teachers/students to participate appropriately using Web 2.0.

What do you think? Should public school districts limit or restrict the use of Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook?