"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Death of Exceptionalism in our Culture and Education. We are Now to Strive for the "Common".

I keep my eyes open for the word "common" today in education articles as the Common Core standards are hotly debated in education circles. Proponents believe states should be studying the same subjects with the same assessments and as the plan is unfolding, with a common curriculum. Proponents believe this will equalize opportunities for students nationwide to learn and be tested on the same assessments which will result in a level "playing field" for students.

Opponents of the standards believe they will not make American students more globally competitive, nor will they increase test scores. Some opponents argue states have given up their state sovereignty and signed onto unfunded debt for an unproven system. These opponents have argued if standards are too low in a community, the state and local levels have the constitutional authority to adjust these standards. Conversely, some states are arguing their standards were higher than the new mandated standards set by the consortia.

The word "common" was also used recently by David Brooks in describing a culture in which immigrants could assimilate into and Hotair picked up the interview:

“Here’s the case: You know we have a common culture,” Brooks said. “If we’re going to assimilate people, if we’re going to be one nation – it helps to have a common culture. There’s some things that do join us. And government has some role in help creating those things, in funding the things that join us.”

Hotair takes exception to Brooks' argument:

Here’s the rebuttal case: the government’s role isn’t to create a “common culture.”

I would further that comment and add it's not the government's role to create a "common education" either.

Remember this administration's goal for education? From Arne Duncan:

The 2020 goal is the North Star guiding all our efforts to improve education. Roughly 60% of Americans will have to earn college degrees and certificates by 2020 to regain our international lead, compared with about 40% today. And the truth is that America can only have the best-educated, most competitive workforce if parents, students, educators and entire communities begin to rethink and remake the educational status quo.
**(One issue with Mr. Duncan's statement: parents, students and communities were not invited to "rethink" and "remake" the educational status quo. This task was left to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governor's Association and the Department of Education).

The Common Core standards will allegedly be the first piece in the puzzle of remaking the educational status quo. We will make all states teach the same subjects with the same standards with the same assessments and that will make our education experience common. Will it make it exceptional? I don't believe that's the goal of common core standards. Look at this document from Achieve, a partner in the crafting of the Common Core standards and how it addresses the issue of states being allowed to set additional standards for their state up to 15% (how's that for giving away sovereignty in education):

...a central driver in the creation of the CCSS was to develop standards that were
common across states lines – and clear and focused – the opposite of the “mile wide, inch deep” standards so prevalent in many current state standards. A literal interpretation by states of the 15% guideline (that is 15% added at every grade level and in each subject) would undermine the very reason the states developed the Common Core State Standards in the first place.

What's the definition of exceptional? Exceptional: Better than average: SUPERIOR. What's the definition of common? There are many definitions but one particularly caught my attention: Common: falling below ordinary standards: SECOND-RATE.

Just like David Brooks thinking the government should provide a common culture, there is the belief from the DOE that we should also have a common education (reference the above mentioned Achieve document). Think of that: a common culture and a common education. We truly are becoming a non exceptional country. We now have to depend on entities as NPR and the Department of Education to set our standards? My goodness. How did the immigrants 100 years ago and the states ever survive without Federal governmental funded entities nudging them in their lives?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why Are Teachers Sporting NEA Buttons for School Board Candidates at Parent Teacher Conferences?

Retiring NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin tells it like it is and why the NEA is effective: "It is not because we care about children...it's because we have power." The NEA exists to advance the education employees. It's not about the children. The NEA's primary purpose is to protect employee rights and collective bargaining. Watch the video here.

Then read the following report from a Missouri watchdog about parent teacher conferences in the Rockwood School District and the NEA buttons teachers were wearing at those conferences. When teachers tell you "it's all about the children"...you might want to refer them to the video. And why are teachers wearing buttons for specific candidates? After watching the video, I would be hardpressed to vote for ANY school board candidate endorsed by the NEA. It obviously could give a whit about students, and any candidate who courts its endorsement should be avoided at all costs.

Here's the report from the Rockwood Parent Teacher conferences:

Last night, my family had a date-night. We all went to my childrens' elementary school in the Rockwood School District for the Book Fair and Parent-Teacher Conferences. What was usually one of my favorite nights (because I get to hear how wonderful my kids are, and am offered new ways to challenge them), quickly raised eyebrows, as I noticed a badge ALL of the teachers were prominently sporting. Every one of the teachers was wearing a badge that encouraged parents to vote for 3 of the 6 current candidates for Rockwood's School Board. Wish I had thought to get a picture, or interview the teachers on who these Candidates were and why we should vote for them. I sat there, instead of listening to how awesome my child was, I sat there thinking, "Is this the purpose of a Parent-Teacher Conference? I mean, really, to subconsciously endorse Candidates via buttons via NEA backed union teachers who probably don't even know the Candidates' first names?"

For the record, these badges did actually have "NEA" written along the side, and in a clever acronym, KiDS, endorsed Keith Kinder for "K', used little human figures for the "i", Matt Doell for "D" and Steve Smith for "S". So I did a little research into Rockwood NEA, and if this doesn't frighten you http://www.rnea.org/gen.html I don't know what will. These 3 Candidates have all accepted money from the NEA (in fact all but one current Candidate, Mike Geller, have accepted money from the NEA), and by their biographies, I do not see ANY advocacy for the children. . .which is who I thought the Board was supposed to be. Checks and balances don't seem to work so well when you stack the deck with the people who are the heart of the problem. . .mind you, they are getting PAID OFF for it as well.

So, in my conclusion on the shameful subconscious plug situation, I will be casting but ONE vote for Rockwood School Board of Directors (there is logic behind that-- under-voting increases the power of your vote). I will be voting for Mike Geller, the only candidate who rejected money from the self-proclaimed "progressive group of teachers", who just so happens to be the only Candidate who seems to be in this for his children, and not some sort of political aspiration! Rockwood NEA, your cute little plan seems to have back-fired on you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Profitting from Education

For some, education continues to be about the money. Maybe now, however, it will also be about the jail time. Derek Hunter reported in Big Government that Steven Eisman, a noted Wall Street short-seller, was called to testify at a Congressional hearing against for-profit colleges, a topic he appears to have no expertise in. The reason why he was summoned, it turns out, is because, “…Eisman and other short sellers may have been given advanced notice of key regulatory moves by the agency, which would have allowed them to position themselves early in the market, and profit handsomely.” (The Daily Caller)

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) wants the SEC to investigate the relationship between Eisman, another short seller Manuel Asensio and the DOE because documents obtained through FOIA requests, “reinforce … apparent collusion between Mr. Eisman and Education in an effort to manipulate the price of stocks in for-profit education companies.”

Read the Big Government post which contains a video of Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) questioning inspector General of the DOE Kathleen Tighe about these improprieties. Hunter closes with this recommendation,

“But the pressure is building from Capitol Hill to expose this seeming corruption. Whatever the end result of an investigation is, an investigation is warranted. It’s the least should expect from the ‘most transparent administration in history.’”

DOE tells principals they are required to monitor speech on and off school property

Rahm Emanuel said, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." Well, the White House created a crisis for them, a crisis of bullying, and the Department of Education jumped at the chance to use it to force school administrators to crack down on free speech. The Daily Caller broke this story today

Back in October, when everyone was in the heat of the campaigns, the Department of Education’s Russlynn Ali sent a Dear Colleague note to school officials across the country alerting them to the new broader definition of civil rights rules they have developed

Key points in this note:

"… federal officials have reinterpreted the civil-rights laws that require school principals to curb physical bullying, as well as racist and sexist speech, that take place within school boundaries. Under the new interpretation, principals and their schools are legally liable if they fail to curb “harassment” of students, even if it takes place outside the school, on Facebook or in private conversation among a few youths."

And Facebook is happily abetting this effort by implementing a feature allowing people to easily report “harassing language” on its network to school officials. In fact, they were said to be “thrilled” to work with the White House. Note, however, that the existence of this feature removes school administrator’s ability to claim they didn’t know about the offensive post. Since the Obama administration’s Department of Justice is not out investigating Black Panther voting rights violations, presumably they will have time to investigate Amanda’s repeated attempts to warn Becky on her Facebook page to stay away from Jason, or else.

But perhaps the biggest kicker in all of this is the Department of Ed’s new found powers to enforce punitive actions. "Following the discovery of “harassment,” officials may have to require mandatory training of students and their families, according to the Ali letter."

Is it any surprise that the force behind the expanded rules is Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay Lesbian Straight Network and now head of the Dept of Ed’s Safe and Drug Free Schools division? The main focus of the agency's harassment campaign is the protection of homosexual students. Once a broad policy is in place, however, it allows any individual or group to complain about harassment and further REQUIRES the school to take action. No chance for abuse there. No siree.

Lots of people have other suggestions on how to deal with bullies, solutions that are more direct and, more importantly, free. There is now a video from Australia that has gone viral which plays out one of these solutions. It shows a kid who decided not to be the victim of bullying any more.

This video strikes a particular chord with those who have themselves been the victims of bullying or who have kids who have been picked on. The current direction school policy is heading regarding bullying seems to be completely wrong, and only serves to prolong or escalate the problem. Kids have been told to “walk away,” “use their words,” or “find an adult” who can help. Casey can been seen trying to ignore the other kid’s taunts while his friend aptly comments, “Man, this is going to be pathetic.” Kids who fight back or defend themselves are frequently punished because many administrators believe they would be condoning violence if they did not punish everyone who threw a punch. My own son was punched in class and told the attacker to “Knock it h--- off!” For using swear words, he was given a two day detention. Casey was given a 4 day suspension. But at least in Casey’s case, I don’t believe that particular twerp will ever bother him again. The comment sections where this video is posted are loaded with people who said their own torment only stopped once they stood up to the bullies who then backed off and left them in peace.

The privacy rights issues associated with the DOE’s letter are enormous and making very few people happy. The pressure on school administrations is huge now because they are “legally liable” if they don’t actively work to find and stop the harassment. Just what we need in times of fiscal crisis - a new administrator to monitor social networks. What say we all give them a hand and stand up to the bullies at the DOE in the administrator’s (and our own) defense and tell them we will not tolerate this level of intrusion.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Expeditionary Learning - A tough road, but is it worth it?

According to one presenter at the recent Education Policy Conference put on by the Constitutional Coalition, China may have it over America in terms of rote learning of existing material, but they still envy American entrepreneurship. That creative drive has launched thousands of companies in the United States making thousands of products that, to date, the Chinese can only copy. Their teachers recognize this limitation in their education model and asked the presenter how she taught her children creativity.
The Kauffman Foundation founder Ewing Kauffman, himself an entrepreneur who started a successful pharmaceutical company in America, wanted to make entrepreneurship a more common and achievable prospect for others. The Foundation has as one of its goals to better prepare students for success in an entrepreneurial economy. In that spirit they have offered seed funding to several schools in the Kansas City area to develop a Harvard Graduate School of Education concept called expeditionary learning.
A recent article chronicled one school’s experience with expeditionary learning:
Seven-year-old Dominic Allen can explain a lot of it - which fits the movement's aim that children take leadership of their education and work as a community in group projects. "It's a learning thing," he began. Dykman's class for several weeks now has anchored its lessons in reading, math, science and social studies on the journey of four bicyclists who are some 12,000 miles into a quest to bike through all 49 of the continental U.S. states.
Dykman knew about the group, Bike 49, because one of the riders is her cousin. When she and her fellow teachers at Delaware Ridge in Bonner Springs, Mo., last summer began plotting out potential "expeditions" for the school year, the Bike 49 experience clicked as another way to cover many of the required learning targets with engaging projects.
"Those are Bike 49 words right over there," Dominic said, pointing at a bulletin board that included "sustainability," "navigate" and "route." That's for their reading and writing lessons. They're also talking about the animals the bicyclists have seen (science). They've measured bike parts (math). They've used maps and charted the riders' course across the nation (social studies). They're writing letters to newspapers about saving the environment and using less fuel (activism). They even got into the healthy eating lessons endorsed by the bicyclists, Dominic said…
The truth is, expeditionary learning - like a taste for tofu - might not be for everybody. For starters, "it's hard work," said Corey Scholes, who coaches some of the area schools in expeditionary learning. Eight area schools are trying to pull off the whole-school transformation, as part of 165 schools nationwide using a model inspired by Outward Bound's team-building, wilderness adventure program. Bonner Springs, with four schools, and the West Platte School District, with two, are trying to complete the revolution district-wide. Red Bridge Elementary School in the Center School District and the private Kansas City Academy are changing at the school level.
"It's one thing understanding what it takes," Scholes said. "It's another thing to execute it." The eight schools that chose to become expeditionary learning schools did so with seed funding from the Kauffman Foundation. Three charter schools in Kansas City that also attempted the transformation with Kauffman funding have given up the program.
The transformation is hard, Expeditionary Learning program director Ron Berger said, because whole staffs have to row hard against a national current that judges schools chiefly by how they prepare for state tests. Red Bridge Elementary has felt the pressure of making the state's test standards as it has moved into its fourth year of expeditionary learning. The school had always met the rising standard of making adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act - until the first two years in its new model. The school made it back to AYP in its third year. But the struggle goes on, Principal Danelle Marsden said.
"Expeditionary learning is tugging us this way, over to the real world," she said. "And we're being tugged the other way, telling us to teach for this test in this format." Expeditionary schools have to make time for their "community circle" where they meet as a school once or twice a month to share stories of student growth and leadership. They make time for their "crews" where students of all grade levels meet in small groups with one of the school's adults to build a family sense of caring.
….Red Bridge is making Missouri's steep performance standards, and Bonner Springs and West Platte stand as some of the high-performing districts in their states - suggesting they're covering the content bases while adding the expeditionary enrichment.
"Achievement depends so much on how much kids care," Berger said. "It depends on kids wanting to be their best as a person and as a worker."
The founders of expeditionary learning, based in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, began shaping the model two decades ago with Outward Bound, known for its ropes courses and other team-building adventures.
By 2004, research analysis by the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform labeled expeditionary learning as having "highly promising evidence of effectiveness." About that time, members of the Kauffman Foundation's brain trust for education began taking a serious look. The foundation saw great promise in the model, said Munro Richardson, Kauffman's vice president of education.
"The most powerful thing was seeing each child's expectations for learning," he said. " ... Kids are really aware of what they're learning and how they're progressing." In the model's attention to community, he said, he saw connections between children and adults "that ensure kids don't get lost."
….Under the traditional model of education, Delaware Ridge Principal Cindy Kapeller said, children too often focus simply on getting the work done. "They turn it in and then it's no longer theirs," she said. "In the new way, it's about the quality of the work. It's an extension of themselves." Like the children learning in the Bike 49 expedition, she said, talking about things like environmental waste and the fuel we use.
"It's going to change who our first-graders are."
Will expeditionary learning make it to your school? Parts of it, maybe, but given the described amount of work involved in developing lesson plans, coordinating with teachers and parents, and the pull towards excelling at state assessments, it seems unlikely. It was interesting to note the author’s focus on Outward Bound’s use of team building exercises. He forgot to mention that OB is also interested in people developing strong self reliance. Their Maine program actually drops you off on an island for a three day “solo” with 5 gallons of water, some fishing line, a hook, and a few matches. Entrepreneurs, while recognizing the value in maximizing other people’s skill sets in working towards a goal, are often the people willing to go out alone into an unchartered island of the market and risk their own survival for the achievement of a dream. If expeditionary learning forgets that element, it will fail to meet Ewing Kauffman’s goal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Puzzle Piece Needed Most for Education Reform. And it's the One Piece the Government Can't Mandate.

Here's an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on what ordinary people can do to promote public school reform. These sentences caught my attention:

As a city, a state and a region, we can revolutionize school curricula, impose new testing regimens and move from traditional schools to charter schools to something in between. We can blame teachers, strip them of tenure and punish or reward them until the cows come home.

But it’s difficult to see how anything we do will matter unless children have caring and encouraging adults on their side when school is not in session.

The article states broadening community involvement in public schools is important. Question: How can you broaden community involvement when students are once again taken out of their failed communities and bussed into the suburbs? Open enrollment may allow children to escape "failing schools", but it is difficult to seriously entertain community involvement with students who commute one hour each way to and from school.

If the common core standards, new assessments, charters, open enrollment and virtual schools won't fix the problem, and the ticket to a good education is community involvement, how can the government and legislators mandate people to care for the children in that community? Perhaps that's the underlying missing piece in the education puzzle.

Figure out how to find the piece to that puzzle: Adults who don't/can't/won't care for children and don't/can't/won't value education. That's a puzzle the government or legislators can't complete. And as long as school decisions on curriculum and standards remain far away from the local level, parental involvement will become more and more removed as well. Why would parents become involved in a system in which they have no voice?

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