Vergara v. California

I think a lot of people have heard the buzz about the Vergara v. California case in california last week.

I was particularly interested in the response from our Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

I don’t think the last sentence could be emphasized enough …”we all need to continue to address other inequities in education–including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.”

Tenure is not the primary cause of problems in schools and those who attack tenure first are not looking to improve schools they are trying to destroy education. If you want to improve education in our worst schools, start with repairing or replacing the buildings, feed the children 3 times a day with healthy food (not the crap they feed them now), make the schools inviting, keep the schools open until 9PM and hold parenting classes, English classes for adults, dance, art, anything to increase the sense of pride and culture in a neighborhood.

Education is more than just skills and standards, it’s the glue that binds us. More on this tomorrow I hope.

Edcampusa, pedagogy not policy

Monday June 9th, 2014

 

Four days ago it was my youngest son’s birthday. I woke up early and made him breakfast in bed, handed over presents of a Lego Steve and toy light sabers (he is way too young for a real light saber), then I packed my bags.

lego steve lightsaber

 

My wife and I had debated driving all night on the 4th, but instead decided we really didn’t have enough resources to drive the family 1,000 miles away in a car with well over 200,000 miles on it just so dad could go to a conference. Again and again I’ve had to justify to my wife why I was spending my own money to go to Washington DC for a conference. She is used to losing me for the occasional Saturday, especially when the conferences are free, this time I spent close to $400 to pay for the trip.

Luckily I have relatives who would have taken offense if I didn’t sleep in the guest room and eat all their food because my district won’t pay for out-of-state conferences. I also used vacation days, I don’t earn professional development credit, and as career networking goes, well this is education and an edcamp to boot, there just won’t be high-powered executive looking to hire away great talent. I love my job, but occasionally I dream about being able to pay the mortgage on a regular basis.

On Friday June 6th 7:30 AM I showed my driver’s license to the security guard and was permitted to enter the hallowed halls of the Department of Education. Over the past several months an energetic and very excited teacher fellow, Emily Davis (I think the only person, besides myself, at the edcamp who follows more people on twitter then she has followers), had worked hard to carve out space for us edcampers to do what we do at edcamps right there under the noses of the driving force of programs such as Race To The Top.

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Mr. Duncan stopped in for a few minutes in the morning and then was off.  The cynical amongst us called it a drive by, others reasoned that one should not expect the Secretary of Education to dump his entire schedule to chat up a random selection of teachers. (Rumor has it that he had an interview with NPR.)

Arnie

There were some folks from the Department of Education in the sessions with us, some more obvious than others. The great thing about an edcamp is one person is the same as another. Perhaps if Duncan had stuck around, all the sessions he took part in would have devolved into a group of people trying to talk at him, (and occasionally throwing tomatoes). It may have been for the best that he left us alone to try to do what we do at edcamp.


topicsThere are always a few session on policy at an edcamp. This of course was edcampusa, some, perhaps all, thought is was the opportunity to have real teacher voice heard at the Department of Education. Whatever, we aren’t the first group of teachers to visit, though perhaps the first grassroots group of teachers.  Edcampers are by no means a political organization, rather they are educators who are actively stepping up to make changes in their schools and classroom.  I guess, being invited to the Department of Education felt like being asked to consult on policy.

policyDuring edcampchicago in 2012 (maybe 2013) I led a session on the RESPECT document. A paper written by former Department of Education fellows about how they envision a “renewed and transformed teaching profession in the 21st Century.” I talked to one of those fellows during that time and she said that as Arnie went on a bus tour around the country they would set up shop at each stop and ask teachers to comment and improve the document. There was space online at the Department of Education website, that allowed interested educators to comment on the document. During my session at edcampchicago of 300 attendees I think 4 showed up.

At edcampusa my session on webmaking with Mozilla was only attended by one person. (the session on maker spaces had 6 I think) She knew more about the subject than I did. As a college professor she was excited to see what happens when kids get a hold of tools such as webmaker and Scratch. On the other end of the spectrum, sessions on “How we should schools be evaluated” and “Measuring Education” were generally full.  I guess we should forget about the classroom and focus on fixing education, isn’t that the way most reformers do it?

At work as a technology integration and professional developer I spend a lot of time talking about pedagogy.  Using technology is not about the technology, it’s about quality teaching practices. The teachers don’t like it, the new boss wrote me up for it. Yet, I refuse to change, I refuse to be a person who teaches tools. (Seriously, when was the last time your boss hired someone to teach you how to use the accounting software at work?)

Most teachers and edcampers aren’t policy wonks, they are interested in changing classrooms. This can be seen as policy talk, but what we really do at edcamp is talk pedagogy, even if we don’t call it pedagogy. Pedagogy is the basis of quality classroom instruction, it is also the bedrock under which we should write school policy.


The natural question is how much of the policy talk actually made it across to the people in the Department of Education. Were the people from the Department of Education, that joined us in session mostly teacher fellows, there for a year and gone, or were they full-time staffers who actually have a voice in creating education policy? (How many people in these huge public buildings actually affect policy and how many just keep the government running?) We certainly had a star-studded group of educators who could speak well on such topics as education policy. Just these 8 could make a think tank worth millions.

Then again, to not have heard what we have been saying for so many years, testing is being misused and is statistically useless for evaluating teachers, schools need to be more student-centered, teachers need a voice, the model of schools we use is hopelessly outdated, and more. All of these things are not new, they are not a big secret. Heck, most of them are in the RESPECT document. They are just not being implemented.

Did we need to go to the Department of Education to tell them? Or do they need to come to us and see what we really do? Tom Whitby suggested that instead of doing a bunch of edcampusa in Washington DC, the staff should leave Washington and visit edcamps around the country. I know they have gone out in the past to visit schools, but the dog and pony shows that happen when outsiders visit a classroom is not a true indication of what really happens in our schools. Take a Saturday and spend 5 or 6 hours with teachers, don’t even tell them you are from the DOE, edcamps are like that, they don’t check your credentials at the door. Just be careful you might learn something.

Philosophy of Education at a School

The Academy will prepare elementary school students for rigorous secondary studies through exceptional foreign language programs, outstanding academics, and rich extracurricular activities. Its innovative interdisciplinary programs will instill within its graduates a global perspective.

Based on a pressing community need as described by local parents and community leadership, the Academy will prepare students in grades K-6 for both knowledge-based careers and lives as members of a democratic society through classwork that emphasizes global awareness and continual enrollment in foreign language classes.

This is the philosophy of education of a charter school. I took the above from a website and removed the name, but honestly is it any different from most schools? Are they really saying anything?

Rigorous – a word without a clear meaning https://plus.google.com/102111820124999073838/posts/hezKi7ckUv8

Outstanding academics – has anyone really believed that schools would skimp on the academics?

Rich extracurricular activities – I love how this is a bonus in charter schools, but an extra available for cutting in public schools.

Prepare students for knowledge based careers; lives as members of a democratic society; and global awareness (through foreign language) – I think this is part of the mission statement of every school in the country.


When we think philosophy of education why are we thinking content? Why don’t we think of method of delivering content? Especially at a charter school.

Try this for a philosophy at your school – We will meet our mission blah, blah, blah, all the stuff above, through classrooms that emphasize student independence, project based learning, critical thinking, measured through informal formative measures daily. Graded through student portfolios.

Or perhaps that is too liberal and wishy-washy. Your school would rather emphasize a back to the basics curriculum. – We will meet our mission blah, blah, blah, all the stuff above, through strict classroom discipline, expert content delivery, measured through objective testing, and graded through accomplishment.

Now which school would you like to send your child too? Better yet rewrite a school philosophy that works for you.

 

School Reform

School reform. The idea pushed by some is that we can rate teachers by effectiveness those measured as least effective are to be fired and replaced with effective teachers.

First question: How do you rate the effectiveness of teachers? Value added measurements has been proposed, but of course is statistically inaccurate. Principals of course could observe and rate teachers. That has been done for years and as it turns out upwards of 90% of all teachers are rated effective. At first glance, this sounds wrong, until you realize that while a teacher may be the most influential person in a child’s educational life that influence only goes so far.

Second question: How do we find better teachers? Are the students who get the highest grades the best? Are those with the most content knowledge the best?

Third question: If we replace 10% of the teachers this year and scores don’t improve do we replace 10% again next year? Do we give the new teachers a grace period to learn how to teach?

Really, this whole thing has been an excuse to show this clip from Torchwood?

Keeping Kids Safe

Do we keep our children too safe?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a teacher who was fired for posting a picture on Facebook. Not only was she fired, but I had a few friends mention that they thought it was pretty gutsy of me to repost the picture.

I get what they are saying. As public educators, we are held to higher standards than the general public. We need to recognize that much of our public lives are going to have to be G rated.

On the other hand, I am an adult and at least part of my life has adult situations. This blog, for instance, is not meant for kids. Instead, it is written for an audience of teachers. My kids have no wish to read this blog, but I wouldn’t dream of blocking it. I wouldn’t post a picture of myself in a compromising position, but I feel it is appropriate to use someone else’s digital citizenship mistake to encourage discussion. However, that is not the point I want to make today.

Last week we had a great discussion about teenagers and the internet. This particular teenager had some extra difficulties, but what was most amazing is how many of the warning signs she exhibited could so easily have been mistaken for normal behavior. Take an hour and watch the video if you haven’t yet.

Suddenly, I see digital literacy and digital citizenship not only as important subjects for students to learn, (How many promising careers, college scholarships, or relationship have been seriously damaged by posting the wrong things online?) but now it can be as touchy as teaching health to middle students. I can protect my students from most outside threats, but how to I protect them from themselves? It is both the reason for teaching digital skills and the danger.

He Grabbed her Breast; She Posted it to Facebook

Laraine Cook, was fired as girls basketball coach at Pocatello High School  Her fiance Tom Harrison, a football coach at the same high school was reprimanded. All because of this picture. breastAccording to Huffington Post, she was fired because she posted the photo. So here are my questions:

  • Can the picture be that offensive if a national website is posting it?
  • Yes, teachers are held to a higher standard than the average person, but is this too far or not far enough?
  • Do you think the school district was right in firing her?
  • Should her fiance been fired also?
  • Is the school actually being sexist?
  • Yes, she is a role model for young girls, must role models always be virginal?
  • He is a role model for young boys, is he being held to that same standard?
  • As an educator myself should I get into trouble for re-posting this picture?
  • Who is the girl in the back? Should she get into trouble also?

Why Good Teachers Don’t Have to be Tough

Originally Joanne Lipman, wrote the article Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results. I was not impressed, as I feel motivating students can be done more effectively through finding and stimulating a students intrinsic motivations.

Nancy Flannigan responded with a great article in Education Week, Gettin’ Tough! Or Not.

I think she responded better than I could have. However, A friend in G+ asked me to expand a bit and so I did. While I am not so sure I want to reveal my inadequacies as a teacher to the general public, sometimes I think that is a good thing to do.

Debbie Morrison asked, “do you think parents object to teachers’ methods seen as heavy handed?”

My answer:

I would, as a parent, pull my child from a classroom like that.

My philosophy is that people who use those tactics don’t know better or believe they are useful motivational methods.

It is true that I have in the past, and occasionally still do, use some form of coercion to get the students to follow my directions. Nothing along the lines of what this music teacher had done, never name calling or poking with a pencil. I have, however, found myself leaning toward a student and raising my voice. (A subconscious use of size and authority to intimidate)

Always, always, always after having lost composure like that I have regretted it and realized that if I had kept calm I could have found a better solution that did not involve me forcing a student to follow MY rules.

I like to think of it as being “smarter” than the students. I’m the teacher and I planned the events of the day, I should also plan for students choosing not to follow my plan.

In the end I think of these methods of student management as the beginning form of violence. And that leads me to one of my favorite quotes, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent” spoken by Salvor Hardin a  character in Isaac Asimov’s book Foundation.

I don’t feel I am an incompetent teacher and thus I should not have to resort to these methods. Of course I always add a bit of my own to the end and that is “Not everyone is competent all the time”