Archive for February, 2010

The Right Kind of Education

Feb 28 2010 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,education

The title of this post is taken from Chapter 2 of Krishnamurti’s Education and the Significance of Life, which I was reminded of while reading Larry Cuban’s blog about Great Teachers:

For the past quarter-century, however, policymakers and politicians have chopped, grated, and mixed together the goals of schooling into a concoction seeking to make education an arm of the economy. They scan international test scores, focus on achievement gaps, and boost teacher pay-for-performance plans. This policy direction has shoved the notion of "œgreat" teaching into one corner of the ideological debate and thoroughly erased the distinction between the "œgood" and "œsuccessful" in teaching. Now "œgreat" teaching means test scores go up and students go to college. A big mistake.

When the educational mission is reduced to a test score, as it now has become, demoralization of all involved is the end result. Who, but corporate bean counters and politicians give a damn about any of that? Certainly not the kids. Not the parents. At least, not the ones I know. Test scores tell us nothing about who we really are as a community or as individuals. They are “funny money” created to serve an alien economy that only recognizes bottom lines, no matter how irrationally they were derived. As an educational practice, it is destructive and self-defeating.

But enough of all that. Larry Cuban mentioned Vivian Paley, and linked to her Wikipedia page, which contained a link pointing to an excerpt from her book, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play. The book chapter that is posted online is a piece called Big “A” and Little “a”, which tells about what happens when Kindergarten imports first-grade curriculum content in order to boost achievement scores. The result, says Paley, is that play is banished from the grade where it has always been regarded as the primary instructional mode. Taking a long look back at an earlier time in schools, she notes:

Short attention spans were not yet considered a deficit in my schools in Great Neck, N.Y., and Chicago in the sixties and seventies. We saw that the children’s concentration was intense when they played and we filled the other times with playful rhyming games, songs, and poetry, to which we added picture books and fairy tales. The children’s own chants and shouts rang out as they ran, climbed, jumped, pushed, pulled, and rearranged their environment, all in the name of fantasy play. Restlessness, impulsivity, and timidness faded in the quest for a dramatic role, and daydreams awakened into social play and big arcs of paint.

Teachers, she recalls, began noticing superheroes and Barbies appearing in students’ repertoires of imaginary characters, and they began to wonder about the influence of television on children’s imaginations. Later, as increasing numbers of students entered kindergarten after having been cared for in pre-school centers, play gradually came to be regarded as unproductive, and a waste of time, giving birth to the “academic kindergarten” and the labeling of young students as “at risk.” The solution for students who enter school “behind” from the start has been to provide them with increasing amounts of academic skill instruction, and to give them less time for imaginative play. Says Paley:

We blamed television for making children restless and distracted, then substituted an academic solution that compounded restlessness and fatigue….We no longer wonder “Who are you?” but instead decide quickly “What can we do to fix you?”

I see this happening throughout the elementary school curriculum. More time now is required for Math and Reading instruction, and less for Science experiments. In fact, there may be more real science going on in the boys’ bathroom than in the classroom. I realized this the other day after I walked in on a fourth grader who was kneeling in the sink so he could make “fog” on the mirror with his breath. I asked him if he was learning anything, and the poor kid hustled out of the room, worried that I was going to complicate his day.

But, back to Krishnamurti. His little book, Education and the Significance of Life is a gem. In Chapter 2, he criticizes the overemphasis on method and stresses the value of self-knowledge. And, like Vivian Paley, he celebrates the value of play:

To understand a child we have to watch him at play, study him in his different moods; we cannot project upon him our own prejudices, hopes and fears, or mould him to fit the pattern of our desires. If we are constantly judging the child according to our personal likes and dislikes, we are bound to create barriers and hindrances in our relationship with him and in his relationships with the world. Unfortunately, most of us desire to shape the child in a way that is gratifying to our own vanities and idiosyncrasies; we find varying degrees of comfort and satisfaction in exclusive ownership and domination.

Surely, this process is not relationship, but mere imposition, and it is therefore essential to understand the difficult and complex desire to dominate. It takes many subtle forms; and in its self-righteous aspect, it is very obstinate. The desire to ”serve” with the unconscious longing to dominate is difficult to understand. Can there be love where there is possessiveness? Can we be in communion with those whom we seek to control?

I believe this is something that anyone who aspires to become a “great teacher” needs to keep in mind. The school reformers will never get it.

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Central Falls – could be ANYWHERE

Feb 26 2010 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,education,politics

“Teaching really is not a job. I don’t teach; I’m a teacher. I’m a teacher. That’s who I am.”

… but, obviously, it’s a hell of a long way from Wall Street:

Mr. Dimon said he did not know whether he would have taken the $25 billion that the government lent to JPMorgan during the 2008 financial crisis to bolster its capital if he knew then how troublesome the TARP money would be for the bank.

"œThe mistake was we let the government and the politicians not differentiate between irresponsible companies and prudent companies, from irresponsible, imprudent, and everybody got lumped together in the same boat," Mr. Dimon said "œYes, a lot of those companies needed TARP to survive, and yes, a lot did not."

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Millot: Sound Decision or Censorship at TWIE (V)

Feb 25 2010 Published by under education

-Marc Dean Millot:

This last post is not about This Week in Education editor Alexander Russo"™s decision to pull "œThree Data Points. Unconnected Dots or a Warning" because Andrew Rotherham suggested a colleague at Scholastic should make it so. It"™s simply a list of my reflections on reactions to this series.

Thank You. I must thank five independent educator-bloggers who offered their hands in friendship for open debate. My posts can be found at Jim Horn"™s Schools Matter, Norm Scott"™s EdNotes Online, The Frustrated Teacher, Tom Hoffman"™s Tuttle SVC, and here at Borderland. The complete record resides at TFT. I could not have responded as quickly or broadly if they had not lent me their platforms and credibility with their readers "“ and done so even though we disagree on some important policy matters. They are the ones who took risks.

Now that this series is ended, I will end my guest column status on their sites and return to the school reform blogosphere sometime in the future. In the meantime you will undoubtedly see a few of my comments on others"™ sites.

Effect. Convincing these unknown colleagues to borrow their blogs offered me a quick response to Russo"™s decision and Rotherham"™s blog posting. One upside of the "œfive-blog" strategy was the potential to reach a larger audience. The downside might have been that it was harder to follow the series, yet most of my colleagues reported higher than normal traffic when I posted on their sites.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I had hoped to generate some interest in the mainstream education media. Diane Ravitich and Anthony Cody did post on their blogs in edweek.org, but I have no reason to believe the national media is interested. If you think they should be, let you favorite education reporter know. Reader suggestions can have influence.

Silence. Before I go deeper into the blogosphere"™s reactions, readers have probably noticed that neither Russo nor Rotherham recognized any of my posts on their blogs, or any blog. For both it was probably the best "œcommunications" strategy. From their perspective, any response would simply add fuel to the fire and keep the story going. Neither has a credible rejoinder on the merits, and the blogger"™s usual knee-jerk reaction "“ the snide remark, was unlikely to go over well. Accepting responsibility and fault was never in the cards.

However, we do know that someone with Education Sector has spent hours reading my series "“ see here and here, so ignorance is not a valid plea for Rotherham.

General Trend of Comments. When I had edbizbuzz.com on edweek.org I found that: comments were made by a tiny proportion of readers, opponents were far more likely to comment than "œallies," a good portion of negative comments were ad hominem, and that edwonks who might be the targets of my posts were well-defended by their "œblogroupies."

This was the opposite experience: a much higher ratio of commentators to readers, more vociferous agreement than disagreement, ad hominem attacks directed against Russo or Rotherham, and no comments from either"™s entourage. My guess is more “destination readers” followed the series than might follow a typical site.

Russo and Rotherham: Both have had several years of non-stop edublogging; plenty of time to make friends and enemies. No one expressed great admiration for Russo, but there were few real attacks on him. Rotherham was a different story; he has a great many detractors. There are the usual suspects, like the Klonsky brothers, but quite a few people who do not blog expressed similar sentiments.

Conspiracies. The series definitely became fodder for those inclined towards conspiracies around Scholastic, the Gates Foundation and for-profit education. As I"™ve written before I"™m not inclined in this direction because I don"™t think people are sufficiently disciplined.

I would say that Scholastic was the unwitting accomplice of a friend or colleague of Andrew Rotherham "“ no executive of any standing had anything to do with ordering Russo to pull the post. Maybe someday I"™ll remember or figure out the guy"™s name.

As for Gates, New Schools, their grantees, EdSector etc., my own experience with very large nonprofits is that senior staff can leverage their organizations in ways their presidents and boards can"™t dream of. Instead, see a network of people "“ Shelton, Smith, Rotherham etc., with a similarly focused view of school reform from a similar subculture of philanthropy, similarly invested "“ psychologically or otherwise – in a specific group of grantees, working towards the same ends. It"™s not a conspiracy so much as an open secret. They"™ve never hidden themselves from the public, they"™ve spent a decade daring people to challenge their positions. They are a case of emperors wearing no clothes.

Finally there is nothing like a coherent "œfor profit education industry." It"™s kind of like talking about the "œUnited Nations." The industry is divided at least between the multinational publishers, their local consultants and everybody else selling products, services and program. The first two groups want no change to the status quo and would be happy to repeal NCLB. The few, mostly weak, trade groups have badly fractionated the broader industry"™s Washington presence. And within any segment of the industry there are literally hundreds of small for- and nonprofit organizations motivated by every force known to man.

Very few in the for-profit world are interested in running public schools "“ it"™s a very unprofitable business. Having reviewed the economics of both the charter management and teacher training businesses, I would say the new philanthropy actually wants to push the burden of their own subsidies onto the government, via RTTT and I3. Finally, there"™s just not a lot of exchange going on between the for-profits and the nonprofit represented by the naked aristocracy. Sure it exists, but its not very likely that anyone at for-profit Scientific Learning knows anyone at nonprofit KIPP knows anyone at for-profit University Instructors knows anyone at nonprofit Success for All knows anyone at Scientific Learning. With a foot in both worlds, I can say they are two different worlds and cultures "“ although they share the fee-for-service revenue model.

Hearsay. I did not explain the term in my first post because there was enough jargon as it was and, although I am a lawyer, I felt I could make my point without still more. But as reactions to the series progressed Rotherham"™s post demonstrated the risks policy wonks face when they forget the limits of their expertise by managing to confuse a lot of readers.  What follows is the best, simple discussion on point that I found online http://www.lectlaw.com/def/h007.htm :

[A] statement introduced to prove something other than its truth is not hearsay. For example, testimony may be offered to show the speaker’s state of mind.

Example: Dana and Bruce were fighting, and Dana shouted “Bruce, you are a lousy bastard.” Marla heard the argument and was asked to testify at Dana and Bruce’s divorce trial. Marla was permitted to repeat the statement “Bruce, you are a lousy bastard,” because it is not hearsay. It was not introduced at the trial to prove that Bruce has lice or is an illegitimate child, but rather to show that Dana was angry.

What I wrote was not hearsay at all. I introduced the information, not to prove "œthe fix is in," but to show the state of mind of people interested in the RTTT and I3 grants program. If Rotherham, or maybe his contact at Scholastic, had looked the term up in a dictionary and reflected on its application to my column, you probably would not reading this post.

Censorship. There also seems to be some confusion about this word. At least one commentator suggested that Russo"™s decision was not censorship. It was not "œgovernment" censorship, which is how most people think of the term. After reviewing various dictionaries on the web, Wikipedia offers a fair summary of its meaning:

Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor.

Readers can decide who the censor was: Rotherham, the Scholastic employee, or Russo. The net result was censorship.

Millot. No great opposition to me, actually a great deal of personal support. Some commentators had a very hard time accepting that I"™m pro-market. Frankly, I think there is more common ground between those who share my view of a school improvement market and teachers than many educators believe. This would be a useful area for discussion and at least one blogger "“ Anthony Cody, has extended an invitation to have such a dialogue. We shall see.

Other complaints included too much detail, too much legalese, talking too much about me, and my use of the Millot-Russo email record.

Without going on and on (any more), some quick responses: The detail, legalese and autobiography were deliberate choices. I did not want to engage in a running, sniping, indecisive blog battle. Short items leave too many openings for misleading counterargument. I decided to take "œone bite at the apple" with each segment of my argument; I wanted readers to have all the facts relevant to making up their own minds. Printing the email transcript was the hardest decision, but absent it, this would all be "œhe said, she said." Russo"™s termination of the contract without public explanation left me no choice, and he never disputed the record.

Would I do this again? Absolutely. And if you ever face the decision to sit this out or dance "“ I hope you’ll dance.

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Visited

Feb 17 2010 Published by under borderland

screenshot
Visit length: 4 hours 21 mins 20 secs.

Go figure.

Let’s hear from Diane Ravitch:

When someday we trace back how large segments of our public school system were privatized and how so many millions of public dollars ended up in the pockets of high-flying speculators instead of being used to reduce class size, repair buildings, and improve teacher quality, we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it.

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This is Not A Test

Feb 13 2010 Published by under borderland,literacy,politics

After noting the disappearance of Marc Dean Millot’s post from Alexander Russo’s TWIE (Scholastic Inc) blog, I got an email from Millot asking if I’d be interested in providing him with some blog space to explain what happened. I said OK, and he says he’ll submit something here in the next few days. In the meantime, he’s putting the story online in various places, serial fashion. To follow the thread thus far, visit Schools Matter and Education Notes Online. It gets more interesting by the day.

In the Schools Matter post, Millot challenged Andrew Rotherham’s evidentiary standards for what constitutes bad faith acting, and he explained his interest in this matter:

I started K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets report, an information service that covers federal, state and local grant and contract RFPs for commercial and nonprofit organizations providing goods and services around teaching and learning. It is literally my business to keep up to date on federal grants, and talk about them with my clients and the media.

It is in my interest that these kinds of competitions are both based on the merits rather than relationships, and perceived as such by providers of school improvement products, services and program. One of the biggest hurdles to marketing my services, especially to the entrepreneurs leading smaller businesses and nonprofits, is the belief that the RFP process is a sham, that contracts are “wired.”

I don’t much care for what Millot calls “the school improvement industry” because I don’t see much improvement coming from that direction, and I don’t see market-based “solutions” taking us where we need to go, based on just about everywhere I look. But I do have enormous respect for Millot’s straightforward honesty and his knowledge about how policy and business interests interact, and I agree that public business should be done fairly and out in the open. At Education Notes Online, Millot questions Russo’s judgment in removing a post because of pressure from Rotherham, suggesting that yielding to pressure from Scholastic might hurt Russo’s “bad boy,” media-outsider image.

And now, today, another test of Alexander Russo’s editorial independence presents itself:

Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines earned more than $150,000 last year for serving on the board of one of the nation’s leading educational publishing companies, a firm with more than $16 million in contracts with the school district over the last five years.

Scholastic Inc. provides the main reading intervention curriculum for the Los Angeles Unified School District, a program that is part of the company’s fast-growing educational technology business.

Scholastic and LA Unified Schools both come out looking bad in this story. Will it get any attention on TWIE? Naturally, I’m suspicious of the motives of people when billions of dollars are on the table. But the other story here is about how information is both circulated and contained by corporate media. To get a clearer view of how that works, people should see this video, based on Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent:

Or read the book, itself; it’s at AAAARG.ORG.

In The New American Century, an article adapted from Arundhati Roy’s speech to the World Social Forum in Mumbai, 2004, Roy levels this sobering charge:

It’s important to understand that the corporate media don’t just support the neoliberal project. They are the neoliberal project. This is not a moral position they have chosen to take; it’s structural. It’s intrinsic to the economics of how the mass media work.

Almost nothing is really what it says it is. “It’s all in the editing,” says Roy.

7 responses so far

In Case You Missed It

Feb 06 2010 Published by under borderland,politics

Earlier today, Marc Dean Millot at TWIE, published a report, Three Data Points. Unconected Dots or a Warning? which seems to have been deleted. Millot reported:

I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources – the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education’s competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department’s political appointees.

I saw the post in my news reader earlier in the day, and I figured Millot’s warning was yet one more reason to treat money cloaked as school reform with suspicion and cynicism. This evening I saw Kenneth Libby’s commentary on Millot’s post, and I attempted to follow the link back to the original article, only to discover it was gone. Hmmm… Too controversial, maybe? Libby drew a line from the monkey business that sank Reading First straight to Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top. Kenneth Libby pointed to additional regulatory provisions in the ARRA legislation that promote partnerships with private sector interests, adding fuel to the fire. Messy. Very messy, and not hard to believe that a conflict of interest may be in the works, considering who the players are. But who knows? It’s a blog, and Millot was just reporting what he was hearing. Scholastic’s move to bury the post by taking it down just adds to the intrigue. Millot was right; the Dept. of Education needs to deal with the charge out in the open.

Fortunately, thanks to the resilience of the internet, we have Google’s cached version, and Millot’s post [pdf] lives on.

millot: unconnected dots or warning?

Education Sector applauds Scholastic’s move to take down the post. But, the important thing about blogging is that we’re not all “serious” publishers.

Update(s): Link added for reference to Reading First corruption, and corrected attribution to the post at Schools Matter. Also, I found an article by Sec. Duncan at ed.gov with the ironic title, “Race to the Top "“ Integrity and Transparency Drive the Process,” which outlines the RttT selection process, and states:

The Department"™s legal ethics team also eliminated any applicant with existing or potential conflicts of interest, including people currently employed by a state department of education or school district. In the end, we chose 58 highly qualified and distinguished peer reviewers, each of whom will receive an honorarium of about $5000 for their work. They include retired teachers, principals and superintendents, college professors and scholars, business leaders and education advocates. Their names will be kept confidential until the winners are announced so as to shield them from undue outside pressures. The education world is relatively small so it is quite possible some names will emerge, but the Department will not confirm the names of any of the peer reviewers until the first round is over.

…which is obviously not completely transparent and seems to say that it can’t be, because nobody in a decision-making position can be counted on to have any real integrity. Cynical, yeah. Like I said. That’s how it goes now.

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