Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sell Outs.

I just read a government document entitled Transforming the Teaching Profession which is signed by – among others – Randi Weingarten (AFT president) and Dan Van Roekel (NEA president).  I read this document and was highly impressed by the vague wording that made it sound like a kumbaya moment – yet, for those who know the true meaning, it’s more of the same garbage which hinges everything on teachers, standardized test scores and throws in a few lines about student health and nutrition at the end.

I shared the document on Facebook and commented, including Randi directly in my comment so she could see my thoughts. I wrote, “And signed by those who negotiate with children's lives - Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel. Love the vague wording. Just spit it out and call it what it is. The layman would need a secret decoder to understand it. But no worries, as they say, ‘It is in this spirit of collaboration that we offer this joint statement on elevating the teaching profession to improve the education of our students.’ ”

Randi wrote back, “Actually it is similar to what the countries that outcompete us do- its a value statement

I wrote, “Yes, and it is clear to me what is valued by those who signed it. Yet, as I stated, I don't believe it is clear to the rest of the country. Lots of vague wording that really translates to a focus on standardized test scores with minimal if any attention to sheltering children from poverty. Stephen Krashen says it best.

Let me give a few examples from the document.  This statement comes toward the end of the document – rather telling simply in its placement at the end:  Further, we must be prepared to get the best teachers and principals to the highest-need students (including low-income students, minority students, English learners, and students with disabilities), and to ensure that all students have access to the other resources (such as technology; instructional materials; and social, health, and nutritional services) necessary to support their academic success.

Yes – first teachers who supposedly can overcome anything and then.....the other resources

So, in order of importance concerning “the other resources” we have:

Instruction materials
Social, health and nutritional services.


And last but not least we have a discussion regarding communities – you know - those communities they are destroying as organizations charged with protecting children embrace corporate education reform ideology?  

Here’s the “Engaged Communities” piece at the end of the document: Finally, no community can flourish unless its children are safe, healthy, well-nourished, and well-educated; and no school can be a strong pillar of a thriving community without deep community responsibility for and ownership of the school’s academic success. Thus, recognizing that the fate of communities and their schools are inextricably linked, we must make schools stronger by educators embracing community resources, expertise, and activities; and we must make communities stronger by anchoring them around highly effective schools.

It really sounds lovely, especially the whole flourishing part. This final piece is going to be damn hard to put in place with kids scattered all over the map as they jump on a bus headed to a charter school.  It’s going to be really hard for teachers to engage with their communities when they are fired and replaced by SCABS – also supported by those who signed the document - as noted in the section titled Top Talent, Prepared for Success (where they discuss embracing alternative pathways to entering the teaching profession).  Can't imagine where all these community resources are going to come from considering all of our tax dollars are spent on high stakes testing.  And what ownership? Really?  They've stripped communities of all ownership.

The introduction to the three page document makes the focus and the need for collaboration clear – and it doesn’t include protecting children from poverty.

Improving student learning and educational equity require strong, consistent, and sustained collaboration among parents, teachers, school boards, superintendents and administrators, business leaders, and the community. And such improvements require that we all take responsibility for the academic and social well-being [underline added] of the students in our charge. It is in this spirit of collaboration that we offer this joint statement on elevating the teaching profession to improve the education of our students.

Academic and social well-being? Kind of hard if you’re hungry, tired or sick like the 21% of our children currently living in poverty.  What about them? How about physical and mental well-being?  Quit feeding the children high stakes tests while placing student and teachers in institutions ruled by fear – try that for starters.

Can you imagine how different things would be if they would write value statements about protecting children from poverty?

These are the kind of documents that make me want to spit nails – BS documents that are signed by those who are charged with protecting children.  Sell outs. Get them out of office and get in some real leaders who don’t negotiate with educators’ and children’s lives. And visit us at United Opt Out National to join our new Don't Negotiate campaign.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

John Sherman Visited The Project School. David Harris Didn't.

Today I am sharing a post that few would see otherwise; it currently resides on the Facebook page of The Mind Trust, a nonprofit planning to dismantle and privatize the Indianapolis public school system - they would tell you different.  

I share this - and will continue to share such posts - because mainstream will not.  In this fight to save public schools we can share the truths, educate the masses and together rise up and say NO to corporate education reform.   

At United Opt Out National we make noise - with intent - we get loud - so that someone might say - what is that noise? And why are you doing that? We respond - we are glad you asked.  Let us tell you why.

The Mind Trust has recommended the closing of The Project School in Indianapolis. The CEO, David Harris, makes the recommendation without ever stepping foot in the door of The Project School.  He bases his recommendation on standardized test scores, which do not tell us about authentic student learning - they do tell us one thing – which children are living in poverty.  Read my previous blog to learn more about David Harris and The Mind Trust.

In this post today I share the words of John Sherman, who recently did indeed visit TPS to study poetry with students in fifth and sixth grade as part of his Individual Artist Program grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. 

Here is his post:

I have just spent four amazing sessions at The Project School, working with 5th and 6th graders on poetry, as part of my Individual Artist Program grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. I am so impressed with the dedication and hard work of the school’s teachers and parents, the excitement of the students to discuss poetry and other artistic forms, and the quality of work they created as a result of our time together. There is intellectual fervor at The Project School. The young people, as well as many of their parents and faculty with whom I also interacted, were so engaged in our discussions not only of poetry, but, through the use of my posters of my poetry and photography, of many wide-ranging topics from Stonehenge to Anne Frank to African culture to the civil rights movement in this country, and I was pleased – and amazed – at how well informed the children were.

Unfortunately, intellectual fervor is lacking at the Mind Trust. “Trust” is hardly the word I would use for this organization whose goals I find suspicious, whose lack of basic knowledge of the classroom (I am a former classroom teacher in public and private schools), whose demands that  teachers be held accountable for their students’ performance – deliberately ignoring a multitude of external factors -- is a willful disregard for the truth. Who is really behind The Mind “Trust”? (Perhaps we should put “Mind” in quotes, too, as the severe lack of intellectualism and common-sense doesn’t indicate much of a “mind.”)

What is its real agenda? It has fooled a lot of people in this community – and other communities, as well – into thinking it has our children’s best interests at heart, yet even a casual review of its demands should cause every citizen to raise his/her eyebrows at the ignorance expressed by the Mind Trust’s claims and statements; more to the point, we should all be repulsed by its agenda that will provide a lot of money for the wrong people – while pretending to be so worried about the education of our children, something that is truly not a concern of this organization.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the media would conduct investigations of the Mind Trust, and expose it, rather than give it so much uncritical attention, so we could move forward with real educational reform that lacks hidden agendas.

 Follow the money!

 John Sherman

Feel free to visit The Mind Trust Facebook page and let them know what you think. Join us. Make some noise.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mind Trust's David Harris: His Next Step Will Be Over You

As a former public school teacher who knows a lot about authentic assessment, I am always fascinated to read directives given by the likes of Mr. Harris, who hasn't taught - yet can suggest a school closing based on standardized test data - data that quite honestly, is worthless – if indeed you wish to know about real student learning.  Mr. Harris, CEO of Mind Trust, recently stated that The Project School (as well as three other schools) in Indianapolis should be closed, based on their low test scores. 

The research on test-based incentive programs shows that these mandates do not raise student achievement, yet, this prized standardized test data continues to be used to determine the success or failure of our public schools. Standardized test data does tell us one thing - which students are living in poverty. At TPS approximately 71% of the children receive free or reduced lunch.

The Project School is a charter school, but it is an “old school” charter school - the kind of charter that existed before profiteers co-opted the concept. One can be quite certain that high stakes testing is not a part of the TPS philosophy (note the word PROJECT – not bubble sheet).  The mission of The Project School reads as follows:

"The mission of The Project School is to uncover, recover and discover the unique gifts and talents that each child brings to school everyday. Our school works collaboratively with families, community members and social service agencies to solve real problems, as well as create art for public spaces. Students graduate from The Project School as stewards of the environment with the will, skill, capacity, and knowledge to contribute to the greater good."

Assessment components at TPS include:
  • Literacy Assessments—conferences, interviews, anecdotal records, authentic student work, Reading Miscue Inventory
  • Math/Logical Assessments—Investigations assessments, formal and informal teacher created assessments, instructional rubrics
  • P3 Ongoing Assessment—formal and informal teacher created assessments, instructional rubrics
  • Formal Standardized Assessments—ACUITY, ISTEP+
  • Student Exhibitions
  • Museum of Authentic Work
  • The Culminating Event
  • Electronic Portfolios
  • Student-Led Conferences
  • Project School Progress Report
  • Intensives
Quite honestly, out of all the assessments listed above, the formal standardized assessments are the least valuable and certain to represent the narrowest view of what the students at TPS know. 

Corporate Education Reformers who are privatizing public schools these days use standardized test scores because it is efficient and allows them to fail schools with a cut and dry approach – look at the data – not the learner.  If they bothered to look at the multitude of assessments of REAL learning, it would be much more difficult to fail schools. Imagine the growth you could demonstrate by looking at authentic student work, conferences, anecdotal records and exhibitions - all found in the list of TPS assessments.  However, Mr. Harris has never set foot in the door of TPS so he wouldn't see any of that.  The real strengths, needs and next steps of the students at The Project School are unknown to him.

Corporate education reformers spout directives with no knowledge of teaching and learning. I believe Mr. Harris has a degree in political science and is a former attorney. Go figure. Same game, new name.  Mr. Harris is a cookie cutter corporate education reformer.  He couldn’t evaluate a reading miscue analysis or decipher the value of anecdotal notes if he tried.  He doesn’t know the learners at TPS  - their hopes, dreams and day to day struggles.  The educators at TPS know these things, but their authentic teacher evaluation of the students does not count in the world of high stakes testing.

I admire TPS because they have attempted to focus on real learning and real teaching in the face of high stakes testing.  While many schools have caved and resorted to focusing solely on test prep, TPS has continued to follow their mission – that takes guts in today’s fear-based public school system, thanks to cookie cutter prototypes such as Mr. Harris who are charged with the overhaul of a school district.

Egos are big in this fame game played by corporate education reformers.  Protecting the children of the 99%  is not. Children's lives are unnoticed and ignored. How frequently do you see the story of a community destroyed by high stakes testing on the front page of your local newspaper?  Who reports the stories of these children whose lives are disrupted due to school closure?  Who shares the children’s feelings when their future is thrown to the highest bidder?  

No one in mainstream media reports these stories. Instead you see the bravado of corporate education reformers who squish schools like bugs and smile for the camera.

So, if Mr. Harris gets his way, what will happen to the children at TPS?  Does anyone care?  Will it fuel the school to prison pipeline?  Where will the children go to school?  Will they join a new school community focused solely on test prep?  Will they all be sorted and thrown in different schools, no longer attending school with their neighbors?  Will the TPS community of families slowly fade as parents head in different directions to take their children to school?

If I know the parents of TPS like I think I do, I believe Mr. Harris is in for a long fight.  And I intend to publicize what mainstream media will not. 

Perhaps Mr. Harris is suggesting shutting down schools to make room for new charters headed to Indianapolis.  Perhaps these new charters require less overhead – such as Carpe Diem.

Six Carpe Diem schools are indeed headed to Indiana. ALEC loves them. See chapter five of their latest report card.  Six schools will soon arrive, focused on ALEC’s love of technology and lack of teachers. This isn’t innovation – this is mind-numbing education delivered via computer with a few teachers (4) left to fill in the regimented gaps.  ALEC wants good little worker bees – not movers and shakers like those found at TPS.

Our country which prides itself on innovation is developing a generation incapable of thinking critically, conceptually or creatively.  If Mind Trust were truly inclined to help the children of Indianapolis they might just take that charter school incubator money and funnel it into wrap around services at schools for children living in poverty.  They might look at these schools which are considered failing and really dig deeper than a bubble sheet by looking at real assessments, such as those shared on the TPS website.  If Mind Trust were really about preserving and improving public education they would consult and respect the educators who know the community, culture and needs of the learners.  If Mind Trust cared about the children of Indianapolis they would listen to the parents who love TPS and are proud of the accomplishments of their children and their school.  If you wonder why they don’t, well simply look at the money trail.  Real learning, real teaching and protecting children from poverty do not create profit. 

The likes of Mr. Harris and Mind Trust do.