I Hate When You Put on the God Costume

Omnipotence – an agency or force of unlimited power

George Sr. - Arrested Development - Wearing the God Costume

I was told at a forum that I went to on education reform by a man who had a PHD in Education Policy that, “teachers are the most important factor in aiding whether or not a student succeeds.” I was struck by this comment. Not because I haven’t heard it before, but because someone with a PHD in education policy would ever utter those words. I thought to myself, Me? The most important factor in student success? I must be God.

Rhetoric regarding education reform is full of this level of unrealistic omnipotence. There is an alarming level of complacency in the idea that the teacher is the centre of education and the answer to failing schools is centred on addressing the inadequacies in the teachers across the country. Moreover, the omnipotent rhetoric doesn’t end with just attacking teacher “ineffectiveness;” it also exists in discussing the solutions to fixing failing schools.

Education reform will not come to past if there is a continued filter of omnipotence that guides rhetoric and policy. Rhee argued in her Student’s First Mission Statement that “[o]nce inside the school, a great teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s education. While there are many factors that influence a student’s ability to learn, a great teacher can help any student overcome those barriers and realize their full potential.” Can Michelle Rhee explain to a teacher how they are supposed to help a student “overcome” living in a home with lead paint and being subjected to lead poisoning through their developmental years? Can Michelle explain to a teacher how to help a student “overcome” the barrier of a father who is sexually abusing her, and the local child protective services say, “There is no evidence to prove that this child has been abused, because she is sexually active?” Can Michelle Rhee explain to a teacher how to help a student overcome the “barrier” that is in place for a student who is so exhausted when he comes to school because his parents get in physical altercations that keep him up nightly? These are all examples of students that I’ve had in the past, whose “barriers” stifled their “full potential.” The student with lead poisoning had to be placed a severe learning-disabled self-contained classroom, because he only read at the second grade level (he was in 10th grade). The student, whom was being abused by her father, killed herself because despite my (and other teachers) best efforts, she felt that no one could save her. The student, who witnessed daily domestic violence, watched his mother being killed and went into a deep depression because he was essentially an orphan. As much as these situations pained me, and still do to this day, I know that I did my best to help these students. It is my awareness that I am not omnipotent that keeps me going to help the students who have a lesser degree of personal circumstances. However, to Michelle Rhee, I am an ineffective teacher because each of those students was failing my class when their lives changed forever.

I wish I could say that these are unique problems that many teachers, who work in the toughest schools in this country, deal with. The problems that plague our schools are so much deeper than any one inadequate teacher, the bureaucracy of the teachers unions, the layout the teacher evaluation system, and the rigour of the state standardized tests. The problems that plague schools are historic, economic, racial, and societal. This is why I am confident that Michelle’s “RHEEforms” aren’t omnipotent, regardless of the number of billionaires, media outlets, and filmmakers that are on her side. There is no simple solution, and the mere fact that the Student First’s mission statement is nonchalant in “the factors that influence a student’s ability to learn” implies that solutions are omnipotent.

Principals? Administrators? the Federal Government? Angels?

The Student’s First blog featured a video that was a compilation of teachers, who were concerned about school reform, and one teacher’s comments gave me pause.

“When we have to contract out how many hours a teacher spends, how many hours they get paid after school…how many hours they have to be on school premises…that is not putting kids first.” – Barbara, Learning Specialist

Additionally, in an interview with nj.com, Michelle Rhee argues:

“I don’t think we need to reform tenure. I don’t think there is a need for tenure. Teachers need to understand they are not going to be discriminated against. If they feel they’ve been unfairly terminated, they need to have a process by which they can address that issue. School districts need to ensure firings are not happening in an unfair manner. But all of those things can happen without tenure being in place. [T]here are federal protections in place against discriminatory firings.”

In both the statements by Barbara and Michelle Rhee there is an “air of omnipotence” that seasons their rhetoric. The “air of omnipotence” is demonstrated here in three forms:

• Teachers are not human; therefore they should give all of their time, effort, and energy towards educating students with little to no compensation.
• Principals and other administrators are infallible; therefore they will not subject teachers to any practices that may be deemed discriminatory.
• If a non-infallible principal happen to slip through, then the omnipotent anti-discrimination laws by the federal government (you know…the law that makes sure that women and men are paid the same) will protect them and their reputation while they go through the courts.

I am sure most of you reading this are thinking that these statements are ludicrous. Nevertheless, this is the nature of their rhetoric. This is what happens when you scapegoat one group of people in a system with a lot of players. There is an unrealistic precedent created that will not lead to the reforms needed. This is why the Due Process (pejoratively known as “Tenure”) and teacher’s unions are important. These two elements of the educational landscape do their best to level the playing field for the people who work with STUDENTS day in and day out. While I will never assert that teacher’s unions are infallible and omnipotent, stripping the landscape of these two entities only serve to leave unrealistic expectations for all players. When I was unfairly fired from a charter school a couple of years ago, I created/adopted a mantra that I will always believe: “As long as schools are run by people, we will always need unions.”

Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining: Jason Song and Jason Felch Leave’s Questions Unanswered about LA Times Project

Title Source: Judge Judy’s Autobiography Title

This picture sums up my feelings during the Felch/Song chat from Thursday.

Have you ever watched paint dry? Have you ever watched a spider spin its web? Have you ever watched a documentary made in the 1970’s? I would imagine that for at least the former two most would say “no.” I would also imagine that it would be seem as something utterly boring and a complete waste of time. Well, today we can add the “chat” with the authors of “Who’s Teaching LA’s Kids,” Jason Song and Jason Felch.

Initially, I was excited to be able to have a very candid, but informative discussion about the purpose, rationale, and plans in regards to their article from Sunday. However, that is not what I got. That is clearly not what Sabrina from the “Failing Schools Blog” got either. (If you have sensitive eyes you should skip the next sentence). That hour was the longest disingenuous attempt at a masturbatory “conversation” I have witnessed in a long time. It was more upsetting, because it was supposed to be coming from journalists, whose job is to be transparent – they failed miserably.

Cherry Picking Questions

It was clear that Sabrina attempted to ask some questions that many may have had on their mind, but as you can see from her tweets, Song/Felch cherry-picked the questions that they wanted to answer and had no interest in a substantive debate or conversation.

“I’ve sent 4 comments so far, all asking about the possibility of misleading the public by offering no context. 1 fragment made it through.”

“I think I’m up to 8 comments submitted, and one “pending” on the site itself. #headdesk”

“9 comments. Instead we get softballs like “will you do more profiles in the future?”

As journalists, I would have expected that the Jasons would have been more transparent in their intentions, furthermore more clear and concise to the answers to the chat member’s questions. However, the entire hour felt like a political stump speech. The few cherry-picked questions that were answered did very little to address the concerns that exists across the blogosphere.

Issues with Valued-Added Assessments

One of the many concerns that came up across the blogosphere is the limitations of value-added assessments. It became clear throughout the “chat” that Felch/Song was intent on circumventing the actual issue by either justifying it with “expert analysis” or using ambiguous words to describe why they are still effective in assessing teacher performance.

[Comment From Clay Landon]
Diane Ravitch wrote on your paper’s editorial page that a standardized test is an awful way to measure a child’s educational achievement. Why do you feel such a test should be used as a measurement of teacher effectiveness?

Jason Song:
One thing all experts said is that value-added analysis shouldn’t be the sole factor in determining a teacher’s effectiveness. Most districts that use it count on value-added for 50% or less. But the test are aligned to state educational standards, so many feel they could be a valuable evaluation tool.

How does this answer Mr. Landon’s question? The mere fact that the tests are “aligned to state educational standards” is not an all-inclusive answer to demonstrate the benefits of the use of tests as a means for evaluating teacher effectiveness. Additionally, the answer was not all-inclusive of the potential problems that may arise from using test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness. The answer Mr. Song gave to this question clearly indicates that he is possibly aware of the problems, which is why he wanted to make clear that “most districts…count valued-added for 50% or less” on evaluations. If he was not acknowledging the problems, he clearly didn’t make it clear he wasn’t.

One of my favourite comedians in the world is George Carlin. Since his early days of being a comedian used the phrase (a phrase I use in my classroom) that “language will always give you away.” I love that phrase because it is concise in saying that the words you choose reveal the way you are actually thinking about things. It was clear that Mr. Song and Mr. Felch knew that there were many reservations (including from education statistics experts) of the value-added approach. Despite the knowledge of the reservations they insist on using it and justified it by detailing their “methodology.”

[Comment From Kev]
How can factors such as severely emotional chaos at a student’s home and local gang activity, for example, factor in to a teacher value? My wife teaches in Highland Park where very few parents seem to really care that their children are learning, and certainly don’t care if they advance past their own education which is frequently illiterate.

Jason Felch:
The value added approach has limitations, but its strength is that, for the most part, it does score judge teachers by who their students are — something they have little control over. How can it do this? By measuring student progress against their own past work, not that of other children. Statistically speaking, this controls for many of the factors beyond a teacher’s control: student poverty, limited English, chaos at home, etc. The assumption underlying the approach is that many of these factors are consistent in a student’s life…if a student was poor in 2nd grade, they’re likely to be poor in 3rd.

If my student wrote a paper using the words “for the most part,” “controls for many” and “assumption” I would question their argument as something that they aren’t clear or convinced of themselves. I believe that these answers speak to my blog piece “Editorizing Fear.” There is a convoluted dismissal of the research that shows that it is difficult to control for many factors that a teacher may have to deal with on a daily basis, and they justify it by following it up with their “research findings.” Clearly, Mr. Song and Mr. Felch are advancing an agenda one, that prays on the desperation of a chronically failing urban school district and using the teacher as scapegoats. (P.S. You should read @TeacherSabrina’s piece “Scandalize their Name” for more on the scapegoating).

Effects with Releasing the Scores

One of the most ubiquitous concerns across the blogosphere concerning the article and the LA Times project is the releasing of teacher’s value-added scores. Many of the concerns centred around the fact that releasing the sores could cause undue hostility from parents, some who are ill-informed to properly analyze the data. Once again, Song/Felch does little to address these concerns.

Given that parents generally want the “best” teachers, do you worry that this will generate more parental pressure on teachers and cause more teachers to “teach to the test” rather than focusing on providing a more wholistic learning experience?

Jason Song: It could generate parental pressure, but, as I said before, value-added analysis is only part of the picture. It only measures performance on math and English standardized test scores right, so if a parent wants to make sure their child gets exposure to art or other subjects or a teacher’s classroom manner, they’ll have to find other sources of information or visit a school.

[Comment From Effective Teacher]
Jason and Jason — The two of you are doing profound damage to select LAUSD teachers. Your cautionary notes that this data only provides one facet of the true picture will be lost on parents who see their children’s teachers labeled as ineffective.

Jason Felch: And what about all of those incredible teachers who, like one we featured in the story, are eating lunch in their classrooms, unrecognized and unstudied? In the end, we came down on the side of publication. We’re trying hard to put the data in context, and giving all teachers an opportunity to provide additional context or comments before the scores go live.

Mr. Song was completely nonchalant when addressing the issue of teachers possibly teaching to the test. I guess to Mr. Song that fact that releasing the value-added scores “could generate parental pressure” is not much of a problem. Apparently, Mr. Felch doesn’t seem to care either. Mr. Song’s weak justification for this is “valued-added analysis is only part of the picture.” However, he has done little to show that valued- added assessments are only part of the picture. He essentially editorialized VAA as the best measure to assess teacher performance. Parents, who are not equipped to analyze the data, are then left to interpret something that is flawed and in his words not complete. However I guess it’s okay for a teacher to get fired while a parent “make[s] sure their child gets exposure to art…[and] a teacher’s classroom manner…[through] other sources of information.” Mr. Felch’s weak justification is that “we came down on the side of the publication.” How is this journalism? Isn’t journalist supposed to supply the whole picture? At least he was honest, coming down on the side of the publication means choosing what will sell. With the current demonizing of teachers in the media, it is clear that any “parental pressure” or that the “true picture will be lost on parents” is just a negative externality.

Journalist Education Credentials

[Comment From LA Times Subscriber]
What credentials do you hold to judge the teaching profession? Do you guys have degrees in education?

Jason Song:
I don’t think many people would label either me or the other Jason as an educational “expert.” But we observed many teachers multiple times and have researched value added analysis for almost a year and checked our findings with leading experts, so I feel we’re on solid ground as journalists.

[Comment From Guest]
They should actually teach for a year, too. 😉
Jason Felch:
I thought you’d never ask! Before going into journalism, I taught middle school and high school students. I also founded and ran an after school program for “inner city” kids in San Francisco, and am very familiar with their challenges. My colleague Jason Song has covered the city’s schools for years.

It was clear that Mr. Song and Mr. Felch tried to maintain their image as an authority on the matter. Mr. Felch even went as far as saying that he taught middle school and high school students before he became a journalist. I am not negating that it is true. However, it is clear that Mr. Song and Mr. Felch are not aware of the daily realities of a teacher, especially a teacher in a urban school. Why? Because of the answer to this question.

[Comment From Mr.G]
What are your plans for “Grading the Administrators”?

Jason Felch:
Good question. Research shows that teachers are the most important influence on a student’s learning. But principals are also important. Many also used to be teachers. We’re exploring ways to reliably get at this with the data. Stay tuned!

I guess that Bill Gates and Jason Felch are looking at the same “research” when making the dubious claim that “teachers are the most important influence on a student’s learning.” Any teacher knows that they are very influential on their student’s learning, but that there is a lot more that influences children. What happened to the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child?” However, when talking to teachers in affluent suburban school districts, magnet urban schools, and some private schools they all sight many factors including parent involvement, home status, and personal issues. It is and will always remain a RIDCULOUS notion that teachers are the most important influence on a student’s learning. Especially when teachers have to combat with many different influences including some of the horrifying ones detailed in the “Failing Schools” blog. If there is going to be an examination of teachers, then there should be concurrent examination of administrators. Not only do they hire the teachers, they set the tone for the school. Read “Stepping Up to the Plate” by my good friend Erin for more information on that.

I think my tweet and Sabrina’s tweet sums up the sentiment of the entire “chat” from Felch and Song.

@mppolicy: The #LATimes chat was one of the most unproductive hours of my entire life. #smh #ineedsomeair

@TeacherSabrina: Wow, that was a total sham. I wish I’d saved the comments I submitted in vain.

Shake my head Felch/Song.

Ally Papers: Stepping Up to the Plate and Improving School Culture

One of the questions that I asked Jason Felch and Jason Song in their “chat” today in regards to using value-added assessments to evaluate teacher “effectiveness” was:

What if the teacher has an unsupportive principal (ones that will deny PDs or limit resources), how is a teacher supposed to be more “effective”?

It was sad that I couldn’t get a decent answer to my question. My response to the “chat” will come with the next post. However, my good friend Erin Woodson, a second grade teacher in Chicago, wrote a wonderful piece to help people understand how school culture/leadership affects teacher drive and “effectiveness.”

The line between developing "classroom culture" isn't that different from developing "school culture."

School culture is different in every school. Although schools may try to model their mission after one another, the ultimate deciding factor in how the mission will be tackled depends on the culture within the school. Students notice the positive, negative and neutral attitudes within a school. Therefore, “there is a need to connect everyone’s caring to create a school culture of care” (Doyle & Doyle, 2003). A teacher leader improves the school culture through advocacy. When a teacher leader collaborates with his or her colleagues, the school culture advances and students embrace the unification.

The school culture affects a teacher’s desire to become a leader. Many teachers believe that the “leadership demands seem different” (Bowman, 2004); therefore, they shy away from any opportunity to become a leader. Administrators or even fellow teachers may condemn the teacher for wanting to take a leap of faith for something that is meaningful to him or her (Bowman, 2004). Even though the other teachers criticize the teacher about taking a chance as a leader, they may want to do the exact same thing, but do not have the courage to do so. There could be a fear of being the “black sheep” amongst the faculty or in an extreme case, losing a job.

Aside from the torment that a teacher could face amongst his or her peers, there is always the possibility of the administration not accepting the idea of a teacher taking on leadership responsibilities. Research performed by Allensworth, Mazzeo and Ponisciak (2009) of the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) focused on the mobility rate of teachers in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Many factors, such as gender, race and the socio-economic status of students, were taken into consideration. However, the school culture and organization affected most novice teachers’ decision to transition to another school. Stability was four to five percent higher amongst teachers who viewed their principal as a strong instructional leader and felt a high level of trust (Allensworth, Mazzeo and Ponisciak, 2009, pp 26). “The degree to which new teachers are welcomed and assisted by school faculty has a significant influence” on whether or not teacher plan on continuing teaching at the same school (Coca, Easton and Kapadia, 2007). Teachers who feel they can trust their principal are more likely to stay and work toward more of a leadership role within the school. Their opinion is valuable and they have “influence over school decisions” (Allensworth, Mazzeo and Ponisciak, 2009).

Teachers are leaders. In a classroom full of leaders it is important that the principal cultivates leadership qualities and "buy-in" into the direction of the school. It improves school culture and improves teaching.

Before a teacher can lead, he or she should evaluate the effect of their teaching on the classroom students. According to the REACH model (Merideth, 2007), an excellent teacher leader should have all of the five characteristics: risk-taking, effectiveness, autonomy, collegiality and honor. Along with these five elements, a teacher, as just a teacher, should also (a) have high expectations for students, (b) spend time-on-task and (c) teach for mastery learning (Wells, 1987). A teacher with high expectations can teach at a fast pace encouraging students to work to the best of their ability along the way. The time used for instruction is defined as time-on-task. An effective teacher utilizes all available time for teaching and learning activities. Teachers must create and execute an atmosphere in which students can succeed (Bowman, 2004). Using the theory of mastery learning creates this atmosphere. Mastery learning sets a percent goal and gives feedback to the teacher immediately. The teacher analyzes the percentage of mastery, reflects and if the goal is not met, re-teaches until students master the skill (Wells, 1987). An effective teacher leader combines REACH leadership elements and classroom teacher characteristics to work toward improvement of the school for all students.

To aide in the positive climate of the school culture, the teacher leader has to work to establish trust and collaboration. Most “everyday leadership dilemmas are laced with complex motives and played out on an uneven political terrain” (Bowman, 2004) which makes it hard to venture out to advocate for change. However, when the administration is open to including teachers, parents and community members in the decision making of the school (Doyle and Doyle, 2003), there is more cohesive structure. The principal is the instructional leader of the school (Michigan State Board of Education, 1990), but that instructional leadership is most effective when all participants are included in the decision making process. School-based planning allows for focusing on joint decision making to implement new policies or curriculum in the school. Students sense cohesive leadership amongst the faculty and staff. As a result, they will want to mimic this marriage of trust and collaboration in their interactions with one another (Wells, 1987).

Students are aware of a teacher's feeling about the school community. As the "tone-setter," positivity must flow from the top-down.

When teacher steps up to a leadership role, it positively affects the school culture. Although there may be hesitation and resistance initially, the ultimate result brings more awareness into the school. Faculty and staff are more aware of the contributions their peers can make to the progression of the school. Students are also more aware of how faculty and staff work together to enhance instruction and the social climate. A supportive administration keeps pioneering teachers in their school and coaches them in the leadership process. By asking for the input of teachers, principals make the teaching and learning environment more comfortable for new ideas and strategies.

All for None: The Racial Failure of the Duncan/Obama Agenda

Barack Obama

Barack Obama at the Urban League Conference Discussing Education

“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” These were the words that echoed throughout the mind of many Americans as they watched Barack Obama ascend from a state senator to a prominent Democratic US Senate candidate. These words also echoed into the psyche and the rhetoric that has surrounded the idea that we currently live in a post-racial America. Who knew that in three short years he would be elected the first African-American president of the United States? What better indication that we truly live in a post racial America?

Ronald Takaki wrote in his book A Different Mirror using Maya Angelou’s words, “Race has functioned as a metaphor necessary to the construction of Americaness in the creation of our national identity. ‘American’ has been defined as white.” American has been defined a white. As inflammatory as one may see these words, there is truth to those words. Mr. Takaki went on to talk about how a cab driver thought he was immigrant, because he has Japanese heritage although his family had been in America for 100 years. The cab driver (whether intentionally or unintentionally) has portrayed the fact that a “Post-Racial America” is a nice idea, but doesn’t align itself with the actual reality of the situation.

Unfortunately, Barack Obama working with his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has ascribed to the idea that because we are all “American” that their “revolutionary” education reform plan Race to the Top is a measure that will benefit everyone equally. As Tim Wise discusses “To be fair, of course, the rhetoric of post-racial liberalism wasn’t something invented by the current President. Rather, it has its roots in the period immediately following the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s. It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, for instance — an advisor to President Johnson before becoming a United States Senator — who first suggested that the nation would do well to engage in “benign neglect” when it came to the issue of race.” However, the “benign neglect” doesn’t just affect the rhetoric or the discussion it affects the future of Black Americans, Hispanic Americas, Asian Americans, Arabs Americans, etc. Why? Because despite what people may want to believe in their hearts, the history, experiences, and position of these people are very different from each other. A one-size-fit-all approach to education reform in his country is NOT the answer. Furthermore, reform measures like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTP) will not solve the problems of everyone. What it does it is make “Americans” be able to sleep at night.

Jonathan Kozol in his book Shame of the Nation discusses the paradigm of the one-size-fit-all approach.

“New Vocabularies of stentorian determination, new systems of incentives and new models of castigation are termed “rewards and sanctions,” have emerged. Curriculum materials that are alleged to be aligned with governmentally established goals and standards and particularly suited to what are regarded as “the special needs and learning styles”…a new empiricism and the imposition of usually detailed lists of named and number “outcomes” for each isolated parcel of instruction…are just a few of the familiar aspects of the new adaptive strategies.”

I read a lot of education blogs and education newspaper columnists who praise these efforts as a way of turning around education for “everyone.” However Kozol sheds light on the actual outcome. “Although generically described as “school reform” most of these practices and polices are targeted primarily at poor children of color.” Isn’t that what I am arguing for in this blog? Yes/No, yes I am arguing for a targeted approach however, not an approach that is “valued chiefly as responses to perceived catastrophe in deeply segregated and unequal schools.” (Kozol, 64) In other words, “Americans” cannot tell people of colour what the problem is when they are the creators of the problems then in turn mandate a solution. At the bare minimum, there is a conflict of interest.

The “Conflict of Interest” reform polices of Bush/Spellings and Obama/Duncan are prevalent in NCLB and RTTP. The policies ask for the creation of choice in public schooling so parents can choose a “better school” for their child. There has never been a mention of historically disinvestment in public schools that has been documented in many narratives including Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. The policies punish schools (teachers in RTTP) for failing students. However, there is no mention of the lack of resources for schools/teachers that has been a consistent problem and complaint since for decades in urban/rural school districts. The policies call for the creation of high stakes tests so that the government knows whether or not the students are succeeding. However, no one discusses that fact that these test typically measure the bare minimum in standards and do assess for other aspects of the students including “soft” skill increasingly seen as important in a service-based job market. Theoretically speaking I could go on and on, but I am going to choose to stop. Not because I feel that I’ve driven in the point, because all of this misses the ball.

My experience working with students of colour has presented me with a set of challenges that I have not seen addressed by the policies of Spellings/Bush and Duncan/Obama. I have had students who are homeless and the only meal of the day is the lunch at school. I have had students who have vision problems, but cannot afford glasses. Even if they get public assisted glasses, they have to wait for weeks and fall behind in school. I have had students whose older siblings are molesting them everyday, but afraid to say anything under the fear of being “stuck in the system.” I have had students who have no one to go home to at the end of the day, and therefore no one to keep them accountable for their homework assignments. I have had students who wanted to complete my research paper, but don’t have a computer at home to type it on and complain that the library doesn’t have word processing. While, these problems are not unique to students of colour in urban/rural school districts they have chronically been seen as prevalent problems. However, there is very little discussion of these problems. This is a reflection of not only a failed education policy, but also the fact that a post-racial America doesn’t exist. It is only when are ready to have a REAL discussion. We need a real discussion of the SPECIFIC historical and contemporary disadvantages of students of colour in urban/rural school district. We need a discussion that will make “Americans” feel uncomfortable. As long as we continue to believe that is not happening, we allow “Americans” to hide behind the notion of a post-racial America.

Print? The Final Frontier?

I’ve had ample discussions with many of my friends that are around my age about the need for handwriting in school. When I was in school is was absolutely mandatory that we not only practice our handwriting, but be proficient at writing the letters. This goes for both print and cursive. 1st-3rd grade we practiced print writing and 4th-6th grade we practiced cursive handwriting. Grades 7-8 we were finally given the autonomy to write in whatever style we liked. Many of my friends who were in grammar school in the late 80’s and through the 90’s had a curriculum similar to this one.

Recently, I have read the second article of the year in regards to whether or not school districts should require their teachers to teach cursive handwriting. The most recent article “School Adjust How Writing is Taught in the Text Age” discusses this paradigm shift. Many education administrators site three reasons why cursive handwriting needs to be reevaluated.

1. In the days of high-stakes testing many districts have had to really streamline “ancillary” subjects like handwriting so they can spend more time with reading and mathematics.

2. As we conclude the first decade of the 21st century, many students aren’t communicating through pen and paper writing — let alone cursive handwriting.

3. Even when students are writing using pen and paper they typically skew to print writing instead of cursive.

Cursive writing should be here to stay.

Personally, I think these are all valid reasons why a district should re-evaluate the handwriting curriculum. However, to eliminate cursive handwriting would be a big mistake. I have two reasons why I think it would be a mistake:

1. If you are not a fan of high-stakes testing to evaluate student learning, then eliminating handwriting from the curriculum wouldn’t be consistent with that logic. If you analyze many of the “reforms” going through our system today, you begin to send a trend where little by little we are asking to dismiss many things that were core to our own learning. For example, reducing the amount of time student take elective courses (art, music, etc.), doubling the amount of time students are doing reading/mathematics, etc. Eliminating cursive handwriting from the curriculum would just add to schools just focusing on “core subjects” and straying away from creating the “whole student.”

2. Ironically as I am writing this blog I realise that once again I am not physically writing something down on a piece of paper. I am using type for a medium of communication. This shows my privilege in my access to technology for communication. However, I am one of the few people in our society that has this privilege. The article that I using as a basis for this blog discusses how many students use technology as means of communication. I will grant them that.

Texting is NOT the only form of communication.

However, as long as ALL students don’t have consistent access to communication through technology then eliminating cursive handwriting would be problematic. I feel it needs to be understood that handwriting is just one form of communication. This one form of communication is the easiest to teach (usually through repetition and application), the cheapest to teach, and is universal among all literate people in our society. Using WordPress for blogging, creating a Meebo account for streamlined communication, and developing a Linked-In page for social networking is not easy to teach, cheap to furnish, or particularly universal among everyone. Web 2.0 has done an excellent job at providing communication services free of charge, but training principals, teachers, and students in these Web 2.0 applications is not free. Therefore, until ALL districts provide ALL stakeholders with the tools and the knowledge to use texting, IM, and Web 2.0 tools, districts must not be quick to eliminate handwriting (including cursive) from their curriculum. Rather, they should find a way to strike a nice balance.