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A Review of Joel Klein’s Book, Posted on Gary Rubinstein’s Blog

I don’t usually reblog, but this bears repeating. Joel Klein is quite a piece of work…

Diane Ravitch's blog

Gary Rubinstein posted a review of Joel Klein’s book by someone who worked in Klein’s Department of Education central offices for many years.

I have not read Joel Klein’s book. I have had calls from two reporters asking if what he said about me was true. I asked, what did he say? They said: He claimed that I had turned against “education reform” (e.g., charters, merit pay, school closings, and high-stakes testing) because he refused to give a job to my partner or promote her or fund her program. I answered that I never asked Joel Klein to give a job to my partner; I never asked him to promote her or to fund her program.

When Klein arrived in 2002, she was executive director in charge of principal training at the New York City Board of Education. Just about the time Klein started as Chancellor, her program won a…

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Welcoming a New Generation of Teachers

My university welcomes the Class of 2018 this week which means that I will begin teaching a new class of first year students enrolled in our secondary education and secondary/special education programs.  It goes without saying that I am consistently impressed with the caliber of young person I meet each year.  They have committed themselves to a program requiring hard work from them early in their college careers, and they have committed their talents and futures to a profession that is intellectually and emotionally demanding.  These are the types of young people I have admired since I began my work in teacher education in 1997 at the beginning of graduate school, and it is genuinely exciting to know how many of them over the years have stayed in teaching, honing their craft, becoming leaders and teaching many 1000s of young people over the years. This is incredible work.

My first year students were born in 1996, when I was still a high school English teacher, and they began Kindergarten in 2001.  This means that among the myriad of things the media likes to remind us that Millennials have “never known”, this class of Millennials has never known a school system without the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization of 2001, popularly known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  Hailed by President George W. Bush as refusing “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” NCLB ushered in an age when school districts, schools and teachers were to be held accountable by student results on mass standardized tests.  While President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program was billed as loosening the punitive measures of NCLB, it has further entrenched mass test-based accountability by pushing states to adopt common standards and to include the results of students’ standardized test scores into teacher evaluation.  Any current hot potato issue in elementary and secondary education, from the Common Core State Standards, to the mass standardized testing and the use of those tests to evaluate can be traced back to the premise of both of these laws:  accountability of schools for students’ annual “progress” on mass testing is an appropriate lever to effect positive school change.

The cumulative impacts of these reforms on teachers, teacher morale and schools is a subject for another blog, but suffice to say that despite recent efforts to paint the picture more rosily, overall teacher morale has suffered and has suffered more in our schools that need help the most.  It hardly helps that most high profile efforts to “improve” teaching focus solely on weeding out teachers deemed to be ineffective and placing pressure on all teachers to demonstrate effectiveness via standardized test scores.  Absent in those reforms?  Improving school working conditions, increasing teacher collaboration and leadership, emphasis on markers of student learning and accomplishment outside of mass testing, addressing community poverty impacts and looking at what opportunities actually exist in our economy.

Despite all of this, I will meet a group of young people who want to teach.  Experience tells me that all of them, despite the environment in which they grew up, believe in the transformative potential of education and are genuinely committed to inspiring future generations of students.  

But this is also where a cautionary note must be sounded.  The process of becoming a teacher is not one that actually begins with university classes.  Most people begin to make the commitment to teach many years earlier.  Talk to an elementary school teacher, and you will frequently find someone who began with make believe games set in an imaginary classroom.  Talk to a secondary school teacher, and you will often find someone whose love of subject matter set her apart from peers from middle school forward.  During their long “careers” as K-12 students, future teachers observe upwards of 15,000 hours of teachers teaching which forms the backbone of what Dan Lortie called “the apprenticeship of observation” with which all teachers enter their formal preparation.  Unlike professionals in medicine and law, most students of teaching are intimately familiar with being the recipients of teachers’ practice, and it is that familiarity that largely inspires them to enter the field and informs their deeply personal visions of what it means to teach.

Many researchers have noted to much of what future teachers learn from this apprenticeship is incomplete and fails to capture all of the work that goes on beyond teachers’ in classroom performances.  Regardless, it is a beginning, and an important one to people who want to teach — it is our job in teacher education to layer upon it, making elements of it problematic so they can be revised and adding to it the hidden pedagogical skills of teachers that are not generally learned before teacher education.

If learning to teach, if the very commitment to learning to teach begins with the process of one’s own K-12 education, then it is vitally important to the profession and its future that we are mindful of the kinds of schools in which the future’s teachers are currently enrolled.  I would argue that we have done a poor job historically, but especially in the past 15 years, of listening to what teachers themselves believe will help them be better at their profession.  According to Francie Alexander of Scholastic, INC., a survey conducted for a joint Scholastic-Gates Foundation study by the Harrison Group found the following

  1. Most teachers feel heard in their own schools, but 69% do not believe they are listened to by district, state and federal players.
  2. 71% believe they need more time to study and understand the Common Core State Standards before implementing them.
  3. Teachers value collaboration, but 51% cite a lack of time for collaboration as a challenge.
  4. 99% of teachers believe their work goes beyond academics.
  5. 88% of teachers believe the rewards of teaching outweigh the challenges.

While that survey cited high levels of teachers “enthusiastic” about the Common Core standards, more recent surveys have shown significant cratering in teacher support.  Further, the overall satisfaction reported in this survey has to be weighed in contrast with the 2013 findings of the 29th annual Metlife Survey of Teachers which found only 39% of teachers said they were “very satisfied”.

There is a lot of “churn” in the waters of education today, and it is beyond admirable that so many teachers are able to take professional satisfaction in the concept of the “small victories” many of them routinely see in their work with students and community.  It is equally admirable that young people with exceptional talents and skills seek to join the profession.

But we must be careful that reforms are not allowed to alter the aspects of schooling that make it such rewarding work.  Mass test-based accountability that reduces teachers’ work to an “effectiveness rating” tied primarily to test scores is a toxic approach.  Not only does it disrespect the fullness of the work teachers know that they do, but also it over emphasizes what can even been learned from such tests, and few current reform advocates put their efforts behind better support, collaboration and leadership.  Schools must remain humane places where teachers and students can meet as far more than average annual progress calculations, or we will lose those who wish to become teachers because they want to do good in the world.  If our vision of school tilts too heavily towards the technical/rational aspects of measurement in learning and ignores the humanistic development side, we will end up with future teachers who lack a rich and full vision of their profession.

Think of it this way:  If you have a baby born this year, she will be ready to enter high school in 2028.  Many of her potential ninth grade teachers were born in 2006 and are beginning 3rd grade this Fall, the grade where most high stakes testing begins in earnest.

What kinds of school experience do you want your child’s teachers to have?

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Reflections on Ferguson — What does education mean in a world like this?

On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18 year-old African American, was shot dead in the middle of the afternoon by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.  Eye witness and police accounts of how the fatal encounter began differ, but three different witnesses reported that Mr. Brown had his hands in the air when Officer Wilson fired the shots that killed him.  As news of the killing and its circumstances spread, Ferguson, a community of 20,000 that is two thirds African American, saw protesters take to the streets where, on the first night, some looting occurred leading the police force to use tear gas to disperse crowds.  On the next several days, different protests were met with similar tactics, and then on August 13th, this happened:

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The Ferguson Police Department, a force on 53 officers, only 3 of whom are African American, made a demonstration of military power at their disposal that shocked many across the nation.  Combat body armor, military fatigues, armored vehicles, high powered weapons and police snipers were deployed to “control” a crowd of protesters that were peacefully assembled.  As night came on, the police decided to disperse the crowd again, and these were scenes that the nation saw:

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Police did not limit their use of force and intimidation to protesters: journalists were harassed and arrested in a McDonald’s for not leaving, and a camera crew from Al-Jazeera that was working behind the police barricades and easily identifiable as reporters was tear gassed:

In response to the events in Ferguson, MO, solidarity protests have happened across the country with protesters displaying the “Don’t Shoot” posture that has become symbolic of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Brown’s death:

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Michael Brown’s death itself and the militarized police response to the following protests raise troubling questions about what it means to educate marginalized populations in the United States today.  Despite legal and legislative victories in the 1950s and 1960s that dismantled America’s legal apartheid state and despite efforts to take White Supremacism out of the mainstream of American social and political thought, it is plainly clear that the lives of minorities, and especially of African American and Latino men, remain in crisis.  This is not to downplay the realities of other racial groups and of women minorities, but it is to highlight a specific set of circumstances that make hope difficult to muster and maintain.  For example, Michael Brown did not have a criminal record.  He was a recent high school graduate, and he was supposed to begin attending college this month.  That didn’t matter, and he was treated as a person of suspect character and potential criminality when Officer Wilson made contact with him for no better reason than he and his friend were walking on the street rather than the sidewalk.  Mr. Brown’s friend and Officer Wilson give very different accounts of how that encounter unfolded (although Mr. Brown’s friend gives a similar accounting of his friend’s final moments as other witnesses), but there never would have been an encounter without Mr. Brown having been approached with suspicion in the first place. This demonstrates a real crisis in American society: to a large portion of the majority population, black men’s dignity and even their lives, do not matter.  It does not matter if Mr. Brown’s life can be shoehorned into a “good kid” narrative, because his presence as a black man on the street was enough to justify suspicion.

Following Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida, NPR host Michel Martin of “Tell Me More” hosted a conversation among a panel of African American reporters and commentators.  One of the most striking segments in the discussion was the concept of “The Talk,” a conversation that many African American parents of all social classes have with their sons.  “The Talk” is so specialized a conversation that many young men’s own sisters are unaware that this is advice that their brothers have received, but it was treated by the panelists as largely common knowledge.  In “The Talk,” parents advise their sons about how to behave if approached by the police, how to conduct oneself in a store so as to avoid accusations of theft (always take a receipt and a bag), how to speak to those in positions of authority.  The gist for general consumption is that it is, even in 2014, not good enough for a black or Latino male to be AS good as his white peers; he has to be absolutely beyond reproach, and, even then, he has to prepare himself for how he will act when, not if, he comes under suspicion merely because he is male and of color.

This is not advice that has a duplicate among white parents in the United States.  Racial hatred in the United States may no longer wear the snarling face of Bull Connor and it may not legally enforce segregation, but it still manifests itself in the daily indignities visited upon men of color and in the knowledge that one can always be suspected of criminality simply by minding one’s own business.  A death by a thousand cuts is still deadly.

While the Civil Rights Movement abolished legal apartheid in the United States, segregation remains a persistent problem because income segregation has been rising ever since we abandoned aggressive integration of schools and communities as a matter of policy. Since 1980, the Residential Income Segregation Index (RISI) has climbed to worrisome levels, and because income and race are proxies, especially in urban communities, communities that are segregated by income are defacto segregated by race.  Mr. Brown’s high school, for example, had only two graduation gowns for the entire senior class to share for photographs.  Young men like Michael Brown are born into communities starved of resources, in possession of crumbling institutions, and segregated from political constituencies that wield influence over decision makers, and when they, through strength of will, talent and with support of responsible adults in their lives, succeed, they are still entitled to be treated as criminal suspects first.

In addition to the individual and collective slights of institutionalized racism, the entire community of Ferguson was given first-hand account of what can happen when people protest such treatment, especially in marginalized communities.  While the militarization of the police in America is not a new subject, it has rarely been on display as obviously and shockingly as in Ferguson, Missouri on August 13th.  Such equipment used to intimidate and harass protesters and journalists in a community of barely 20,000 highlights the disturbing ways in which police forces across the country have been turned into para-military forces and are aided and abetted by federal programs designed to get surplus military hardware into the hands of even small town police departments.  While these resources have most commonly been used, unnecessarily, in drug related raids, the police in Ferguson decided to put them in full view of the nation, making visible the military style police tactics that have afflicted high poverty communities for some time.  It is not merely the presence of such arsenals and their potential use that is worrying, it is the fact that such arsenals represent a tragic shift away from the proper role of policing as serving and protecting a community to the role of occupying that same community.  Officers expected to use and deploy these tactics are themselves transformed via training and experience into a force tasked with putting down disorder; hence, police snipers on armed vehicles taking aim at lawfully assembled protesters and police harassing, arresting and tear gassing journalists.

What has changed is not the treatment of communities (the ACLU made it very clear that militarized police forces take heavy tolls on communities of color), but we can no longer pretend that we do not know.  Even a police department of 53 officers has high powered weaponry and armored vehicles, and they are willing to use them.  The consequences are appalling, and the fact that a democratic society tolerates those consequences is even worse.

Which is what brings up the question of education and what it means to appeal to schooling this society.  School is an enterprise that is premised around hope and purpose.  In order to truly engage with the operation of school, a child has to believe that there are reasons and purposes that make sense and has to have hope that school will lead somewhere desirable.  For very young children, it is possible to appeal to their need for connection and to their desire for adult approval, and, even then, deprivations from extreme poverty and lack of familial resources and stability can greatly complicate teachers’ work.  For adolescents, however, those complications are layered with the child’s own awareness of how the world has worked around him.  Seeing and believing that education holds promise when one has been subjected to “stop and frisk” policies while simply talking to friends on the street or when one’s neighbors have been subjected to military styled raids by the police takes extraordinary optimism and an ability to project a future that is not based on local experience of family and friends.

Such matters are made even harder when an unarmed teen is killed in the streets and when the protests in response are put down with a show of military power in a town of only 20,000.

That we blame young men raised within and conscious of such injustice for having trouble with optimism is one of our country’s cruelest jokes.  Education in this context is necessarily a complex enterprise with no easily scaled solutions, requiring a lot of hard work with each student as an individual.

But a growing amount of our attention in urban education is being consumed by charter school chains who claim, in essence, to be miracle factories.  As proof, they point to student populations that are largely minority and to scores on standardized tests that match or exceed suburban school systems.  Praised by politicians and recipients of lavish funding from venture philanthropists, such schools often enjoy well-appointed facilities and offer well-crafted optics of minority students in well-disciplined classrooms.  On the surface, their claims of having “figured out” urban education look plausible, but the reality is much less miraculous than that.

First, while students in most states are awarded seats in charter schools by lottery, it is not true that the population applying is identical to the general population in the school district.  At a minimum, such students have parents and/or guardians who are aware of and desirous of the promise of a charter school.  Second, student attrition at the charter school networks that claim such miraculous results is typically higher than in district schools, sometimes shockingly so, and the patterns of attrition are not random leading to classes with significantly fewer students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, who have learning disabilities and who are English language learners.  Third, many such schools do not “backfill” vacated seats which means that, paired with non-random attrition, the remaining classes of students are those who entered the school more likely to perform well on standardized tests.  Fourth, many of these schools dedicate substantial time to test preparation and to creating a culture where standardized test performance is the sine qua non of their mission.  In New York State, fully public schools are not allowed to spend more than 1-2% of the academic year in test preparation, but no such limit exists for charter schools.  These are all matters I tried to remind former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of when he enthused about Success Academy’s recent test scores on Twitter:

Mr. Klein is intelligent enough to know the meaning of the figures and reporting that I put in front of him.  He also knows that “replicating” the results of Success Academy is an inherently limited prospect because even if the charter school chain expanded to take in all of the children that it is willing to enroll and keep, that will leave all of the students Ms. Moskowitz’s schools have pushed out over the years.  Mr. Klein’s call to “replicate” this model is a call that will leave fully public schools full of students who are MORE poor, MORE disabled and LESS proficient in English than they are now even with New York City’s shockingly high RISI.  And I have never known Mr. Klein or his allies to advocate for funneling more academic resources, better teacher support or upgraded facilities to the district schools that would remain in such a system.  Indeed, as Bruce Baker of Rutgers University demonstrates, Governor Cuomo has made funding for fully public schools worse across the board without a peep of protest from Mr. Klein.

And it is important  also to consider what is being praised as a “remarkable” accomplishment.  The Success Academy chain does have noteworthy test scores, but those are inherently limited markers of student achievement and capabilities.  According to my colleague Dr. Christopher Tienken at Seton Hall University, for a multiple choice standardized test to thoroughly measure a SINGLE discrete skill, it takes twenty-five questions:

Either a test is thoroughly-designed and covers very few skills, or it covers many skills poorly. While students in the “miracle” charter schools gain very high test scores on the standardized tests, the more time in school that is aimed at preparing for the test formats, the less time is spent on creative, critical and flexible thinking.

What is galling, therefore, is not that such schools demonstrate achievement in standardized testing measures.  What is galling is that they are touted as having found “THE” answer when it comes to educating students who live within urban poverty, and that they have received both political and philanthropic favoritism even as their models for accomplishment push more and more disadvantaged students into zoned schools that are starved for resources and community.  Meanwhile, so long as these schools are touted as having found “the secret sauce” society at large continues to ignore the deprivations of poverty, insisting that with enough “grit” ANYONE can climb out of poverty.  Taxes don’t get raised on the wealthy.  We ignore how wages have stagnated for decades, the near destruction of the lower middle class and how a college education is more a means of not falling into chronic economic insecurity than a way to get ahead.

Most importantly, we can continue to ignore how income segregation results in racial segregation.  We can pretend that communities which are predominantly minority are not routinely treated as if everyone in them is a criminal suspect.  We can convince ourselves that there is no society wide responsibility to expand opportunity, alleviate the deprivations of poverty, fully fund our education system or directly confront the racism that still plagues how our institutions interact with people of color. In the minds of today’s education “reformers” none of that matters – schools and teachers and kids are supposed to climb up from underneath all of it with nothing more than a tough attitude and a battery of standardized tests.  And throughout all of this, teachers and students are offered no additional support, just more testing and more responsibility, and when the results do not happen quickly, teachers and students are labeled as failures.  It is like adding extra weight to Sisyphus’ burden and then blaming him for the existence of the stone.

Education is a hope-based enterprise.  The most dedicated and talented teachers can inspire hope in the young people under their care, but if society shares no responsibility for that hope, it cannot last.  Michael Brown is dead because he lived in a society that demanded he, and every man with his skin color, prove his innocence at all times.  The community that rose up to protest that fact and to insist that his life had value because ALL lives have value, was subject to militarized police brutality. Until we demand that the powerful in this country stop pushing comic book narratives and stop insisting that all we need for our urban youth is a “no excuses” school, until we value the lives of all of our children, until we admit to collective responsibility, in partnership with teachers and schools, for children, and until we pry racism out of our common institutions, this will not get better.

Those who look for simple answers that demand nothing of themselves and everything of teachers and students perpetuate this cycle.

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Data Mining in Education — Incredible Potential, Incredible Arrogance

When inBloom fell apart, I expected that the argument would continuePolitico reported yesterday on the scope of data mining in education — and the stunning arrogance of some technology entrepreneurs.  According to the report, some analysts expect that data mining in education could lead to 300 billion a year in economic growth, and I find that credible.  I already use “small data” in my classroom via social media feeds that let me know what my students are thinking about as they read and to craft my planning around that input.  The potential of “big data” to craft learning tools for use by teachers and students is likely incredible.

And it will be thoroughly undermined by the secrecy and arrogance of its proponents.

Jose Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton, a leading “adaptive education” firm, is portrayed as frustrated and dismissive:

When parents protest that they don’t want their children data-mined, Ferreira wishes he could ask them why: Is it simply that they don’t want a for-profit company to map their kids’ minds? If not, why not? “They’d rather the NSA have it?” he asked. “What, you trust the government?”

Ferreira said he often hears parents angrily declaring that their children cannot be reduced to data points. “That’s not an argument,” Ferreira said. “I’m not calling your child a bundle of data. I’m just helping her learn.”

He goes on to say:

“It just helps children,” Ferreira said. “That’s all it does.”

But Ferreira misses the point by acting as if all he is facing is knee-jerk and reactionary parents misconstruing his work.  Data analytics may be powerful, but the firms involved in it have not be upfront or informative to either school districts or parents and guardians of school aged children.  While it is true that businesses have always made money via our public schools,  I can walk into my daughter’s first grade classroom and I see the publishers of her textbooks and other classroom materials.  The money spent is part of a public budget. I can engage in her curriculum, and I can consult with her teachers about her strengths and struggles.  Even more to the point, I get to know the teachers who know her school work the best and my voice and perspectives are heard.

But when the federal government alters education privacy law to suit the interests of data mining and when the firms themselves are unclear even to school districts how data is safeguarded and used, parents have legitimate concerns that cannot be dismissed.  With the rush to implement Common Core and the accompanying testing poised to create vast amounts of data from 10s of millions of students, it is even more important for technology entrepreneurs to spend time actually engaging parents and teachers about the potential of these tools and the safeguards on student privacy they intend to use.  If they are unwilling to do that, and Mr. Ferreira’s statements are not encouraging on that front, then the pushback is both inevitable and deserved.

They are not selling iPhones to adult consumers.  If I purchase a smart phone that has the potential to generate data about myself, I am capable of wrestling with the implications of that both legally and morally.  My two public school children, however, are legally obligated to be in school, and their public education is matter of concern for both our family and society as a whole. inBloom’s major error was only engaging state level DOEs when setting up a system that would have effected 10s of millions of children.  It looks like the big data firms that are eager to get in on the 8 billion dollar market in software and digital materials are not learning from that.

These are my children.  They are my responsibility. You need to sell these products to me.  You need to give me an opportunity to opt my children out of your system.

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Citywide Testing Rally – Join us on Thursday April 24th PLEASE POST AND SHARE

NYC Citywide Rally Against Current Testing

Movement of Rank and File Educators

Please join us for rally and press conference to demand Not One More Year Lost – Our Children are More than a Test Score!


WHEN:
    Thursday, April 24th @ 4 PM
WHERE:  NYC Department of Education, 52 Chambers Street
WHO:      All families, educators, and supporters of educational justice
HOW:      More info here and please accept and share the Facebook invite
WHY: We will be uniting to demand policies that support our children and our schools.
What do we want?
– We want real learning every day NOT test prep
– We want transparent, developmentally appropriate and valid assessments
– We want child-centered, rich curriculum
– We want standards that truly support child learning

– We want funding for schools not for private testing companies

Make your own signs!!  Some of the themes for the action are:
– We demand REAL accountability from the top, not on…

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