photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com

I recently read an article entitled, “Education’s Status Quo to Parents: How Dare You Use the Parent Trigger and Make Decisions!” on the blog Dropout Nation.  I won’t get into the details of the article, which was about the uproar over a private company helping parents in California use the “Parent Trigger” to call for the closing of a failing elementary school.  Rather, a comment by the author of the post grabbed me.

We had been engaging on various points back and forth in the comment area and one of my comments claimed that many of these privatized charter schools are not scalable. They cannot replace traditional schools on the larger scale. To which the author, RiShawn Biddle replied,

The obsession with scale, both among traditionalists and school reformers, from where I sit, fails to consider what actually happens in the real world. Which leads to another point: Your concept of a “corporate” approach is rather false. In the corporate world, there is rarely full standardization; companies will approach their operations, markets and array of products and services differently. Proctor & Gamble is different from Colgate-Palmolive and from Unilever. All are successful in the space in which they compete and satisfy the needs of their customers. Same is true for Apple and Microsoft. What these companies do have in common is what all successful companies share (including strong talent development, and clear focus on product, service and customers). What each company does that is particular to its corporate culture and historical development will not work for others.

I stopped to think for a minute.

While I find it heartbreaking to think of students as customers and schools as customer service–first of all, this applies only to private schools with tuition, second, it’s a team effort so the road goes both ways.  I wonder about the argument, “it’s not scalable.”

We are constantly talking about how learning should be individualized, how we need to teach students, not subjects, how what works for one student may not work for another.  So why are we constantly seeking that one model that ‘works?’

As I stated in my comment on the post:

Privatized charter schools are not scalable. What IS scalable is giving ALL schools the freedom they need to educate students. Give ALL parents the power to make changes in their schools not because they are privately run charters, but because their school has the freedom to meet the needs of the community rather than bow down to district mandates.

There are a lot of ‘franchise’ type charter schools out there right now (Mastery, KIPP, Harlem Success and others), and I won’t expound on my feelings for some of them, but these kinds of school networks ARE trying to scale their model by taking over more and traditional public schools.  Whenever a traditional public school is taken over by a charter school, in my experience here in Philadelphia, the ‘no excuses’ environment and high expectation for parent involvement often causes huge attrition rates.  Where do these students go? Back to a traditional public school.

It seems that the more control the government wants to have over schools the worse off everyone is. In a district as big as Philadelphia, with over 200 schools, we have the federal government telling us what to do thanks to Race to the Top, and we are run by the state rather than an elected school board. We have programs that are mandated across the board for all low-performing schools (usually scripted programs) and decisions are made for sometimes all elementary schools across the board no matter what part of the city or what population the schools serve.

This is what scalability looks like.  And, as Biddle states, it doesn’t work.

So when will politicians, teachers, unions, parents and edreforms galore stop looking for the magic solution and understand that any organization that deals entirely with people is complicated and defies the logic of scalability? We need schools that serve the communities and children in which they stand, not the blanket mandates of districts and large network franchises.

 

 

I recently wrote a post on the excellent group blog, The Co-operative Catalyst, called “Who’s the Boss?” in which I explored the idea of teachers being in charge of a school. More and more I’m feeling that not only is this a trend, but it is an important movement.

This past Thursday I attended TEDx Philly, a gathering of inspiring and motivating movers and shakers in Philadelphia. I was struck by the talks by Chris Lehmann and Simon Hauger who both signaled a need for big changes in education.

Lehmann, as many people know, started his own school here in Philadelphia within the School District itself but partnered with The Franklin Institute. His talk about how High School sucks and why it doesn’t have to be that way, highlighted the authentic, real-world experiences The Science Leadership Academy offers its students. As a perfect example, his students were documenting the entire event on film with still photography and video.

Simon Hauger, the renowned West Philadelphia High School teacher whose students beat out the likes of MIT and Cornell in the Progressive Automotive X Prize for their hybrid vehicle, spoke as well about how school should be. In fact, he is in the process of organizing his own school, The Workshop for Democracy and Social Entrepreneurship. 

photo courtesy of Budzlife on Flickr

Educators in the classroom know that the current state of affairs in education is not working. As members of the front line, they know what works and what doesn’t. They also know that the models that work do not always neatly fit into quantifiable charts and graphs that can be analyzed by computers and politicians.

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have had a conversation about starting ‘our own school.’ What’s amazing is that most of these conversations as well as the concrete, real-world examples, have a different kind of leadership.

Leadership in schools started and run by teachers are democratic in nature. They have flat leadership and the entire staff works as a team. Some of these kinds of schools do have administrators, but these leaders are just that: leaders.  They are not The Boss and they do not manage their staff like a CEO of a business.  Hauger’s school describes its leadership and organizational structure as one of democratic cooperation:

The school employs a shared leadership model in which roles, responsibilities, and accountability are clearly defined, but decisions are made collaboratively.  (http://www.workshopschool.org/drupaled/?q=node/26)

Teachers are ready to step up and take the reins of reform. We are ready to take responsibility for educating our students and we WANT to be held accountable.

What we don’t want: to be held accountable according to an outsider’s standards. We can and will hold each other accountable as part of a team. If the quarterback isn’t throwing winning passes, then the whole team fails. We know that NCLB is not going away any time soon. Politicians will still want their line graphs and percentages. Let’s show them that students can be successful in other ways that are still quantifiable and that test prep, bi-weekly benchmark testing and other methods that ‘teach to the test’ are not as effective as learning experiences that teach the whole child and force real-world problem solving.

This kind of learning is messy. Which is why we need a strong, supportive team for feedback, inspiration and accountability.

So let’s stop looking for band-aid reforms and quick fixes. Let’s start to rethink the leadership and organization of school itself. Let’s start our own schools that are within districts, not experimental charter schools. Let’s change the system from the inside and truly affect change. Let’s take charge of our own buildings and do what’s right for kids and their families.

If you have an example of a teacher-run school, please post a link or name in the comment area.

 

My friend, Tom Whitby, an educator and blogger has put out a call for blog posts centered around positivity in education to counter all of the negativity going on.  I recently wrote a post on the Cooperative Catalyst blog called “What (Really) Works,” trying to focus on what works in education rather than what doesn’t. 

I refuse to get caught up in the “what’s broken” conversations. It’s the same reason I rarely sat in the lunchroom at my former schools. Sure, we all need some group therapy every once in a while, but when we focus too much on the negative, we start to lose sight of why we do what we do.

So I invite you, whether teacher or parent or community member, to be an ‘Edupunk.’  Don’t get sucked into negative conversations. If the people around you are talking about how schools are failing kids, how we are behind other countries in test scores, how we should fire bad teachers and expand charters, I challenge you to bring up the fact that there are lots of successful schools doing amazing things with students and teachers who are dedicated to doing whatever it takes not to raise student test scores but to raise students’ consciousness and give them meaningful educational experiences that will prepare them not for a test or a job but for life.

If you need examples of some of these schools, districts and teachers, here are a few examples:

There are so many others I could name who work hard every day and take risks in the classroom in the name of innovation and authentic learning experiences.

So rather than focus on the media, let’s be Edupunks who go against the negativity and do what’s best for kids. If we talk enough about what works and what’s working, we might actually get somewhere.

 

This past Friday was a half day at my school for Professional Development. As a nice surprise, our CEO took the entire staff to see Waiting for Superman at a movie theater downtown. It was a very thoughtful (and exciting) outing.

As I sat in the theater before the movie started, I realized that I was going into the movie with a lot preconceptions and I already had a sick feeling in my stomach.

As the movie progressed, I realized that there was very little in the movie that I didn’t know already. I recognized Geoffrey Canada’s voice before I even saw him. I had learned about the Rubber Room in NYC 2 years ago when This American Life dedicated part of a show on them with interviews with actual Rubber Room teachers. Most people in the theater, including my colleagues, were learning about a lot of things for the first time. The other thing the movie failed to mention? Mayor Bloomberg and the union have agreed to do away with rubber rooms altogether.

Throughout the movie I was frantically typing notes into my iPhone, and trying really hard not to be a curmudgeon. I’ll be honest, I did yell out a comment or two, but I tried to control myself.

Who are the Real Superheroes?
To me, the real heroes in this movie are not the teachers or the education ‘reformers,’ but the families and parents of the children the movie follows. We watch parents who have struggled themselves but have made a conscious decision to put their children first. We see a parent who takes a 45 minute subway ride just to visit a school that her child has a tiny chance of getting into. These parents are empowered in that they seem to know what their options are, they see the value of education for their child and they are willing to do whatever it takes to give their child the best education they can.

To me, the shameful thing is that while this movie shows the dedication and love of these parents, it chooses not to celebrate these engaged and caring parents. Instead, it chooses to demonize teachers and unions and lift up a small group of ‘experts’ as the true heroes of education reform.


Public Schools are Evil
At one point, the movie states that these poor performing schools are doing damage to the neighborhoods in which they exist. I can’t argue that fewer graduates means more youth on the streets and higher crime rates, but what the movie doesn’t discuss is the deeper issues that influence students outside of school. If you know more people who have been to prison that have gone to college (a statistic from the movie) a school has a huge hurdle in helping you understand the importance of school. This hurdle is magnified by uninvolved or neglectful parents.

What really saddens me is that what the movie doesn’t discuss is the fact that many of these low-performing schools in high-poverty neighborhoods are teaching scripted programs, have cut out art, music and other creative arts and teach primarily to the test. Of course a student in a school like this would find no value in education. Worst of all, the teachers have little say in the introduction and implementation of these programs. This is NOT a generalization. I taught for 5 years in a school like this. We were nearly at the bottom of the list of state test scores.

What IS evil about public schools?

The wall in my old classroom.

Yes, there are a number of poor-performing or novice teachers (though for some reason if you’re a Teach for a American teacher this stigma doesn’t apply to you) and yes, it does require a series of paperwork to ‘get rid’ of a poor-performing teacher. However, the true evil is many traditional public schools are over-enrolled, under-staffed, under-funded and in many cases, the buildings themselves are falling apart.

The world Jonathan Kozol described in 1991 in his book Savage Inequalities has not changed much. In fact, Camden, which sits a stones throw across the river from Philadelphia, is, I believe, still one of the lowest performing districts in the country.

Teachers Unions are Evil
One of the most disturbing parts of this movie is the way it depicts teachers’ unions. There was ominous music playing when AFT president, Randi Weingarten appeared on screen and many in the audience, including those in my staff may as well have booed at her.

Throughout the movie, the Guggenheim refers to the fact that the education reformers always find that ‘the union gets in the way.’ At one point, Jonathan Alter, a Newsweek writer, actually used the term “menace” when referring to unions. This from a man who writes about the economy and from a magazine who wrote the ‘brilliant’ cover story: The Key to Saving America’s Education or Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers. (To which I responded: Shame on You, Newsweek)

I have my own issues with unions, and I’m not a gung-ho union supporter. That said, I understand their importance and their place in education.

It a complete and utter myth that union teachers are lazy and do the bare minimum because they can. Some of the best articles I have read about education have come from American Educator, a publication of the AFT.  The union and its members is dedicated to celebrating good teachers and good teaching.

The movie describes what some districts call the ‘lemon dance.’ This is a process by which administrators agree to shuffle around their poor-performing teachers to share the burden rather than fire them (wait, we should blame that on the teachers?).

This process happens constantly in the School District of Philadelphia with administrators. A strong administrator will be pulled out of his or her school to go ‘fix’ a school with a poor-performing administrator. This poor-performing administrator is then either shuffled to a new school or put behind a desk at the central offices. Principals have a union, too.

For the 7 years I taught in the unionized School District of Philadelphia I met teachers from all ends of the spectrum. 90% of them were talented, hard-working and dynamic. They had classes of anywhere from 25-30 students with no aid. They weathered fights and lock downs, they taught students were neglected, malnourished, students with a variety of learning difficulties, and they did this often in a building with a broken heating system, no air conditioning, peeling paint, broken stairwells and a schoolyard that looked like a prison yard.

The other 10% were like the 10% in any other profession.

So why did they still have jobs? Yes, partially it was because of due process. Not tenure, as some would call it, but what I would like to call ‘due process.’ (Thanks to Ken Shelton for reminding me of that distinction.)  Some of these teachers were receiving extra support and had already been disciplined. Some had not been disciplined, but were offered extra support by school coaches.

Others? Lord knows. In some cases, everyone in the school knew they were a poor teacher, but nothing was ever done about it. In my opinion, it may have been too much of an effort to go through the discipline process. Or, maybe certain steps had been gone through, but then the administrator never pushed further.

Why, you ask, have due process at all? Why make it so difficult? It may seem simple enough. Do away with due process and you can get rid of these poor performing teachers more easily.

Here’s why.

Many administrators here in Philadelphia solve the paperwork conundrum by just writing teachers out of the budget. However, they usually don’t write out the poor teachers. Instead, they write out the people who speak their mind, the people who stand up for themselves. The people who won’t accept the status quo.

Without due process, without a union, these people would essentially be out of a job just because they stood up for what they believed in. I am not speaking hypothetically here. I personally know of two people who were written out of the budget for these reasons.

So why else are unions important?

In a large, urban district, a lot goes on in any given day. A teacher may be dealing with a dangerous child who has destroyed a room 2 or 3 times without repercussion. They may be publicly teased or harassed by a co-worker, an administrator or a student. A union is there to help them out.

The current system of tenure (due process) does get a few things wrong.

I was granted tenure by the School District after 3 years and a day as any employee is. However, I had not received the necessary official observations required of a non-tenured teacher. Despite that fact, I was granted tenure automatically.

That system is inherently flawed. No one really knew what was going on in my classroom.

I wonder, as a side note, how Michelle Rhee herself kept her job after applying masking tape to her students’ mouths during her first year as a Teach for America teacher.  I’ll tell you one thing, though. Her union would not have been able to do much if she asked them for help.

However, focusing the conversation on tenure is a waste of breath. It is, in my opinion, the least of our worries at this point.

Divide and Conquer
What I feel that this movie has done is successfully pit ‘us’ against ‘them.’ Charter versus traditional public, union versus non-union.

I see this in my day to day conversations and it breaks my heart. Recently, on Facebook, a friend told me that I was part of the “Charter school movement.” I had no idea, first of all, that there was such a thing. This statement just reaffirmed my beliefs that we are moving away from the real issue, which is educating children.

My response has become my personal mantra:

I’m a part of the educating kids movement. Charter, regular public, whatever works ;) I think all schools should be free to do what they think is right for kids. So do most of my union buddies.

Why the Movie Appeals to Us

One thing that Guggenheim does to reel the audience in is to use scenes that depict school the way it looked when ‘we’ went to school. The desks are in rows. The kids are using pencil and paper. They are taking tests. There is some carpet time with a story. He also intersperses some school scenes from the 1950s and 60s. There is a warm sense of familiarity to the scenes that helps pluck our heartstrings.

The problem?

from Wikimedia Commons

None of the scenes depict a truly innovative or progressive school. School just doesn’t look like that anymore. To see what progressive and innovative education actually looks like just see George Lucas’ response to the movie and watch the videos at the bottom of the post.

What is it That Teachers Do?
If you were hoping to get that answer from this movie, be prepared to be let down. There is little insight, aside from the clip of a teacher whose use of rap songs to teach the alphabet and other concepts inspired KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. Other than that, it’s all similar to stock footage. One can also assume that the teachers they filmed were at the charter schools and not a local public school where pretty much the same kind of teaching probably goes on.

What you will see, however, are images of kids heads opening like a door with a teacher pouring knowledge into their brains. Because we all know THAT’S how teachers do their best teaching.

Some Surprises
There were a few comments about the profession that really amazed me. One came from Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone. In describing his path to teaching and his experiences, he stated that he became a Master teacher in his 5th year of teaching.

I was floored.  I am in my 6th year of teaching and I am hardly a master. In fact, I believe that there is no such thing as a Master teacher. If you call yourself a Master, it implies that you have no more to learn, that you have mastered everything you need to know. Anyone who has ever taught before knows that, as a teacher, you can never master everything you need to know about teaching. Becoming a teacher means dedicating yourself to a life of learning new things.

The second surprising comment came from Michelle Rhee, who stated that she came into her job as Chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, knowing that she’d be a one-term chancellor. She is also a TFA graduate. What does it say about her motives or dedication to students and families to come into such an important, powerful job with that mindset?

What it Gets Right
As I went into the movie trying very hard not to be a curmudgeon, I made a point of finding parts of it that I agreed with.

The first statement I agreed with was actually by Michelle Rhee. She stated that after all of the trials and tribulations she had been through that in the end, it’s “always about the adults.” While we may not agree on why that is or which adults we are speaking about, it is entirely true that in the discussion and implementation of school reform, it is most often the students who are thought of last.

The movie also makes an important case for the detrimental effects of tracking students. However, it is not necessary to attend a charter school to avoid tracking. Many schools have done away with it. It’s a shame that the one featured has not yet.

I also agree with the movie’s statement that we have an obligation to other people’s children.  Now who ‘we’ are in the movie I’m not sure, but I would agree that we are in this together.  I would also agree with Guggenheim’s statement that “schools haven’t changed, but the world around them has.” This indeed, is one of the roots of the problem. Too bad he didn’t take the time to show schools who are changing with the times and it’s a shame that he says that almost at the end of the movie.

Final Thoughts
All in all, Guggenheim has produced a film that is heart wrenching and has a clear message. It provides a solid jumping-off place for dialogue to happen.

Let’s just hope that the dialogue happens and that people learn to read between the lines of a well-produced and well-funded movie.

I hope that others will join me in my mantra.

I’m a part of the educating kids movement. Charter, regular public, whatever works ;) I think all schools should be free to do what they think is right for kids.

Other posts about the movie:


Abandoning Superman - John T Spencer
Seeing Waiting for Superman – Kirsten Olson
We’re Not Waiting for Superman, We’re Empowering Superheroes — Diana Rhoten
Larry Ferlazzo’s list of posts about Waiting for Superman 

An excellent description and explanation of Charter Schools:


The Toll– Chad Sansing


Superman image from Xurble on Flickr

 

Tonight my feathers have been rustling over the soon to be released documentary, Waiting for SupermanBefore I go on, take a look at the trailer.

Okay, here we go. So when I first watched the trailer I immediately felt doom and gloom come swarming down from above.  I knew exactly where the movie was heading.  The long and short of it: “Education is broken. It needs to be fixed.” But we all knew that anyway.  Sprinkle in some Michelle Ree, some Arne Duncan, some Geoffrey Canada and you’ve got all of the big names in school reform.  The problem? I assume that there’s a lot of discussion about what’s wrong and a lot of generic, crowd-pleasing rhetoric about how education needs to change. Kids don’t have a chance when the teachers are incompetent and a child’s only chance is to get into a lauded charter school like KIPP or The Harlem Children’s Zone‘s Promise Academies.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that the HCZ has done wonderful things and is a great initiative.  It’s also funded largely by private donations.

I predict that teachers’ unions will be blasted, that Randi Weingarten will be made to look like the devil and that there will be no concrete examples given of successful schools that are NOT charter schools.  I also predict that there will be a lot of talking heads and not a lot of actual teachers in the movie, further perpetuating the myth that we are stupid and don’t know what we’re doing.   There will definitely not be an appearance by Diane Ravitch.

I guess what worries me is that this movie is wonderful mid-term election fodder and it will stray the conversation from the real issues of ineffective government accountability policies, lack of funding and an overall lack of creative vision when it comes to education. In addition, I fear it will perpetuate the idea that the US is at ‘war’ with other countries to get back on top when it comes to education. If we are trying to ‘win,’ then, as described in a recent Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, we’re not doing a very good job.

When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

Everyone else in the world seems to have figured out that inquiry and problem-based learning creates a better learner and a better citizen.  Education is not a battlefield.  If we treat it like one, then yes, we will end up with the system we have today.  Or as Neil Postman spells out in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

The institution we call “school” is what it is because we made it that way. If it is irrelevant…if it shields children from reality…if it educates for obsolescence…if it does not develop intelligence…if it avoids the promotion of significant learnings…if it induces alienation…if it punishes creativity and independence…if, in short, it is not doing what needs to be done, it can be changed; it must be changed.

 And that was in 1971.

So I hope that this movie will address the real issues. I hope that all of the rhetoric on the website about changing the education system and “demanding world class standards for all students” doesn’t turn out to be a marketing ploy.  I definitely plan on making a point to see it as soon as it comes out.  If you do buy a ticket to see the movie, and you get a Donors Choose voucher, use it to help fund my project!  I do have to thank them for that.

For more commentary on the film, check out these posts:

An Inconvenient Superman by Rick Ayers
Waiting for Superman Sends Educators to Detention Hall by Bonnie Goldstein

 

Maybe it’s because it’s summertime or maybe it’s the general atmosphere of education these days, but the online education community has been a flutter with talk of what needs to change in education.

What I’m wondering is how much of this is new or different than years past. I am fairly young, so my memory is short in comparison with those who have been teaching longer than I have. In a conversation with my mother the other day she mentioned that many of the changes to education that I was mentioning mirror the attitudes and reforms of the late 1960′s and 70′s.

Honestly, my one course in the history of schools and schooling didn’t really do the whole picture justice, so my own understanding of trends in education is limited. However, it is becoming clear to me that what many great minds in 21st Century education transformation are discussing is nothing new. John Dewey wrote about learning as a social process at the turn of the century just as we tout the power of social media to change education as we know it. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky‘s theories along with Dewey’s are credited with inspiring the Constructivist learning theory that describes knowledge as being constructed by the learner.  This theory is behind many 1:1 laptop programs that support individualized learning. In addition, Howard Gardner‘s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, proposed in the last century, is often referenced when discussing how digital tools of this century can support and transform student learning.

So what really is new in education for this century?

Is the issue really that even with all of these supported theories and innovative thinking that schools have not changed to reflect these theories? Or is the issue that educators are revolting against the No Child Left Behind Act and the widespread standardized testing that goes against these theories? Or is it the recent Race to the Top initiative that bears a close resemblance to the changes proposed by the A Nation of Risk study from the early 1980s?

I believe we live in a time like no other history. I believe that education has to evolve to meet the challenges of this world. However, I wonder how much of what we do fundamentally as educators really needs to change. It seems that we still quote theorists of old when we talk about teaching in the 21st Century.

So what can we learn from the past? Are we taking the time to look back at what others have accomplished or the struggles and challenges they encountered or are we too focused on the future?  I think we should not have the misconception that the changes that we discuss and the ideas we have are necessarily new.  The tools, yes, but not the underlying theories and pedagogy.  I am intrigued by this paper I came across describing the “social- and cognitive-connectedness schemata” as a way to describe what learning looks like in the 21st Century.

I think it is undeniable that technology has changed the way we think and process information. I am looking forward to reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr for that reason. 

Perhaps nothing is really new in education when it comes to theories because we are, for lack of a better term, at a tipping point in education. We know that we are cognitively being changed by the digital tools in our lives, but how we are changing is not quite certain yet. It may take a whole century for these changes to deeply affect how we teach and how we learn, or they may not change anything at all.  At this point in time I would argue that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to what we do in our classrooms. I would also argue that the advent of digital tools have helped support the theories of the last century.

What are your thoughts?

photo courtesy of Mark Brannan on Flickr

 

Tonight’s #edchat conversation both invigorated me and irritated me at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, it had nothing to do with #edchat itself, but rather the topic. We have talked ad nauseam about reforming education. We have hashed out what needs to be done, what education should look like and why it’s important that we DO something.

So where do we start? How do we start?

As I was watching the tweets go by I began to think: we have a huge community that participates in #edchat. A huge community of taxpayers, parents, community members and educators.

To really move our words into action we need to start with those who make policy–our legislators.

I have drafted an open letter to a legislator that can be edited to fit the needs of any local community. The letter could also be adjusted to be sent to President Obama or Secretary Duncan.

The idea is to use the Google Doc to collect signatures. The understanding would be that once the letter’s body has been agreed upon it would not be changed,  but people could add their name at the end of the letter.

The letter can be passed around using Twitter, Facebook, email or any other digital method until the desired amount of signatures is acquired. The letter can then be downloaded as a Word document and forwarded to the legislator. I’m hoping to get 200 signatures of parents, teachers, admins and other community members once a version of the letter has been refined for my local community.  It is vital that all stakeholders are represented in the digital signatures!

Make your voice heard!

Copy the letter to your own Google Doc and get the message moving!

Of course, I don’t claim that this letter is perfect or speaks for everyone. It is a template to start from.

I’m hoping to get at least 25 people to commit to starting the initiative.

If you are going to participate, please fill out this Google Spreadsheet so we can track our progress and our reach.

Thanks and keep fighting the good fight!

For more information on how to find your local legislators:

Find your state Senator: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
Find your Congressman/woman: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

photo courtesy of hebedesign on Flickr

 
photo courtesy of fmgbain on Flickr

During this week’s edchat I saw a name scroll by that made me look twice. Mixed among the many tweets was a tweet from Diane Ravitch.  I had just recently read an adaptation from her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education in American Educator, which I had really enjoyed.  For those of you not familiar with Ravitch, she was Assistant Secretary of Education for George W. Bush and a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act when it was first passed. Over the years she changed her views and is now adamantly against the policy.  In short, she is highly influential and well-respected amongst many educators and policy makers.

Thus, seeing her name scroll by caught my eye and my attention. It also caught attention of some other edchat participants. What ensued was a debate over whether to acknowledge her presence or not. On one side, edchat is not about who is more important, or as it was put, about ‘rock stars.’  On the other side, edchat participants want their voices heard. Some of us feel like we’re trapped in a bubble, with all of our ideas, reflections, experience and knowledge bouncing around inside our community without escaping into the mainstream.  “I wish Arne Duncan was here to hear this,” or “It’s too bad Obama isn’t at edchat tonight” are some of the comments I’ve read over the last year.

So, when Ravitch’s name crossed my twitstream, it was a big deal. At least to me. I thanked her for participating in the conversation. This sparked a conversation with an edchat participant I respect about whether we should be highlighting people who participate in edchat just because they are influential.

What makes edchat unique is that it is for and by the participants. While there are moderators and organizers, it is ultimately the participants who choose the topic and make the conversation. The conversation moves so fast (Ravitch herself confessed it was too fast for her!) and there are so many ideas flying by that when an idea or comment catches my eye, or if I engage in conversation, I may only have enough time to make a note of the Twitter handle. Often, I must go back afterwards and look through the stream to learn more about a person I was conversing with. More than often, this person becomes part of my learning network.  While they may not be as highly influential on a larger scale, they are influential to me and I respect their ideas and the dialogue that we share.

So do we treat someone who is influential and well-known, an established member of the education field, differently than we would a colleague?

I don’t think we should treat a ‘rock star’ in education differently than our colleagues. I think we should engage them on the same level we would our colleagues. I think we do need to keep in mind, however, that if we don’t remind ourselves of someone’s influence or if we shrug someone off due merely to their influence, we run the risk of perpetuating the ‘us vs. them’ culture between those of us who are in the classroom and those outside the classroom or those with seemingly little power and those who seem to have all of the power. Of course, ideally, it should be educators who are the policy makers and educators who run schools and the school system. In order for this to happen, we need to engage policy makers and so-called ‘rock stars’ in our conversation and expose them to our day-to-day struggles and our innovative ideas and practices in the classroom.

What are your thoughts?
 

This tweet came to me from Greg McVerry during this week’s #edchat conversation about promoting creativity in schools.  The discussion thread was about assessing creativity.

While I do not think that creativity itself can be assessed, I do think that it needs to be part of the assessment process.

And I’m not talking about the creative pictures students make with Scantron bubbles or turning test papers into origami.

I believe that as education becomes more individualized and differentiation becomes a mainstay in classroom delivery, it is important that we assess students the way we are expected to teach them.

If we discover that a student finds it easier to write out a math answer in paragraph form, or that a student expresses ideas best through drawing, why do we test them the same way–death by bubble?  If we know that a student needs to move to learn, or that a student works better with background noise, why do we test their knowledge while they sit sedentary in a silent classroom?

I am reminded of the wonderful story that Sir Ken Robinson tells in his TED Talk and in his wonderful book, The Element, about Gillian Lynne, who was thought to have a learning disability as a child due to her restless nature. Through the wisdom of an insightful psychologist, it was discovered that there was nothing wrong with her.  She was just a dancer. She ended up being a world famous choreographer with Broadway productions like Cats on her resume. Her grades in academic subjects even improved once she started dance school.

So what should assessment look like if we are to include our students’ creativity in the process?

I believe that the way our students attack a new situation, a new problem or challenge forces them to use their creative strengths.  We, as teachers, need to know these strengths as well as foster them and expand them.

So how do these strengths fit into the assessment process?

Back to the bright, colorful tweet at the top of the page.

Student-assembled portfolios.

Allow students to choose the assignments, projects or achievements that best show how they have met the learning standards set for them at the start of the year.  Allow them to keep a blog, an online portfolio or website. Allow them to verbally present these portfolios if they choose to. Challenge them to explain the process they went through picking each piece, much as a researcher or scientists explains the process by which he or she reached a conclusion.  Challenge students to reflect on their own accomplishments, their own learning. Allow their creativity to shine. Even a first grader can put together a small portfolio of his or her best work. I’d love to be a fly on the wall as they explained each choice!

This of course requires us, as educators, to provide a variety of learning experiences and assignments and well-defined expectations for quality work.

But we’re already doing that. 

OK, Devil’s advocate. I know, I know–how can we measure AYP goals in this manner?  Let the students still take the darned tests. But don’t let them be defined by them.

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Another post to ponder
What is creativity anyway?  by Elizabeth King

Resources
Critical Thinking Sites by Jerry Blumengarten

 

When I first entered the world of education as a freshman in college, teaching was all about reaching my students, making connections, conveying knowledge and creating exciting learning opportunities for them.  I spent a month in Tohatchi, New Mexico teaching at a boarding school on the Navajo Reservation.  This experience opened my eyes to all of the politics surrounding education.  The history of boarding schools, the socio-economic status of Native Americans, societal issues, cultural issues, it was all in my face.

It didn’t stop there.

When I entered my first teaching position in Philadelphia I was exposed to how political education was.  I am still saddened at how education has become a pawn in the politics game.

Whether it’s unions versus school boards or government officials who run on the “hold bad teachers accountable” platform just because it’s in style. Whether it’s our own Secretary of Education and President touting charter schools as the fix-all for public education while local neighborhood schools are depicted as chaotic, dangerous places of little learning or their condoning of blanket firings of teachers in Rhode Island while teachers blast them for these actions and words.

Politics has even pitted teachers against each other as states applied for Race to the Top money, a political agenda created to make big government appear to be taking a stand for ‘better education.’

Unions stand strong against any kind of change in ‘how things are done’ in fear of giving an inch and losing a mile. Sometimes it is necessary to get with the times and realize that things can’t always be how they always were.  I am of the opinion that my own union traded a benefits package deal for signing the Race to the Top paperwork when negotiating our new contract.  Many of the new contract stipulations were right out of the RTTT wording.

These are the real reasons why innovation and meaningful change seem so unattainable these days.

When I was a child I figured, when I became an adult, that everything would make sense. I figured that adults would be just, fair, level-headed and mature.

What I discovered was that adults are often senseless, unfair, irrational and immature.

I have accepted the fact that my profession of choice is politically charged whether I like it or not. My position, however, will be as it always is. I will side with my students’ best interests and I won’t pick sides blindly and I will stay open to all viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not.

I challenge you to do the same.

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