"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, August 13, 2011

It's Good to be the Good Guy: Teaching in Korea...by Doug Lasken

Doug Lasken is an educator whom I admire for his writing and view of education and its various challenges and mandates, many of which have been detrimental to student learning. He and I have been corresponding about educational issues, and he is a thoughtful writer, teacher and mentor. The educational community is richer for a teacher like Doug.

Below is his account about his recent teaching experiences in Korea that notes the differences in the view of teachers in that country vs. the United States. We hope to have more of his stories about his time in Korea. Welcome, Doug!



For a while now I've had to get accustomed to the characterization of my 25 year teaching career with the Los Angeles Unified School District as a series of reprehensible acts on my part. As a teacher, I've been the bad guy.

First, over the 16 years I taught elementary, I wanted to teach immigrant children how to speak, read and write in English. Prior to 1997 when the passage of Propostion 227 mandated that immigrant children in California should learn English, my views were considered reactionary and contrary to the best interests of Hispanic children. I was told bluntly that by refusing to teach exclusively in Spanish I was destroying the children's chances of success. One coordinator told me I was perpetuating "English as King." And here I thought I was after English as the common language!

It seemed to me also that I should teach the content of core subjects. In elementary, I thought kids should know their times-tables, the decimal system, elementary science (I had great lessons from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasaden), and the fundamentals of reading: phonics, spelling and basic grammar. In my 10 years as a high school English teacher, I believed that students should know grammar and should read some novels. I found I was wrong on all counts. It seemed that memorization of the timestables damaged a child's ability to do critical thinking in math, that concepts like measuring one's distance from an object using parallax should never be taught, rather children should "discover" or "construct" such concepts for themselves (an approach called "constructivism" which pressuposed that human knowledge is not cumulative), again to preserve "critical thinking skills." And with the coming of Whole Language I was advised that the teacher should sit back while the children teach themselves to read, which they will do if the stories are engaging and have nice illustrations, and I was directed in no uncertain terms to immediately cease all instruction in phonics, spelling and grammar, as these would- you guessed it- destroy all hope of reading with criticial thinking skills. And two years ago, as if to ensure fond memories after my retirement, Los Angeles Unified decided that reading novels is a pointless exercise for today's students. Elitist professors, we were told, had forced novels on the high school curriculum at the turn of the last century, and it was time to recognize that we are an information age now and kids need expository reading. So much for Brave New World. Let's assemble that hammock!

Every one of these pedagogical oddities was endorsed at every level of California's adult administrative empire, from local school board and superintendent to state board and state department of education, up to and including the federal Department of Education. Never before has so vast an assortment of adults been so completely in the thrall of critical thinking skills without apparently having any themselves. Test scores tell the story: American high school graduates' proficiency levels have fallen and are falling in all areas. No wonder the Obama administration is suddenly against all current testing (though wants to spend billions on brand new testing). Let's shoot the messenger.

In the years leading up to my retirement in '09 (and intensifying after) I faced another set of negative characterizations, this one pertaining to the practical aspects of my profession. It seems that the nation's failing economy has been largely my fault because my motive for entering the teaching profession was to enrich myself at the public trough. To help me in this nefarious quest I joined a teachers union, my partner in crime. The union and I conspired to jack up my salary over 25 years to about $70,000. I must confess further that my union buddies and I saw to it that I will receive a pension of about two-thirds of my highest year's salary for the rest of my life, plus...oh the shame...I will have medical coverage! Have you ever heard of anything like this in any other sector? No wonder the state and federal governments are going bust! You need look no further for an explanation.

Let me hasten to add that I'm no apologist for teachers unions. Clearly my perspective diverges from the current vilification of unions on the financial side, but let's be clear that the unions have been complicit in the destruction of American public school pedagogy. In Californina, the United Teachers of Los Angeles and its parent, the California Teachers Association, as well as the national unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, were 100% in support of the prohibition of English instruction of immigrant children (known euphemistically as "bilingual education") and the abandonment of direct instruction of content entailed in Whole Language and "constructivist" dogmas in science and math.

Well, as it happens retirement has opened some interesting doors for me. I am writing from Seoul, on my second tour through the UCLA Writing Project, teaching at South Korean private academies. I'm crazy for Korean food- it really clears the nasal cavaties- but the compelling benefit of this job is that I've gone from bad guy to good guy. I love when that happens. Firstly, no one is asking me to stay clear of English because the kids don't know it. In fact, it seems that their status as English as a Second Language (ESL) students is considered a reason to teach them English. Who would have thought? I'm being paid fairly, and no one seems to begrude me that. Forget constructivism here: they want information, skills and methods. Here's another bonus: a special bond between teacher and student is prized. I will transliterate it roughly as "cho." I am encouraged to interact with my students in a number of ways, for instance by going out to lunch with them (sometimes the company pays), by staying after class to tutor, and by discussing essays late at night via email. Last night the students, the school director, another teacher and I went out to see the new "Harry Potter" movie (this morning my class will read David Denby's review of it in the New Yorker). This stands in stark contrast to the morbid fear in the US of going beyond tightly restricted boundries, where the supposition is that teachers (especially males) in addition to being lazy and self-serving, are predatory. In fact it seems that in Korea the teacher is prized as a key element in enhancing civilization and culture.

Not to say teachers get a free ride here. In the realm of the private academies the moms see to it that a teacher who does not deliver disappears pronto. But the default position is that teachers are a key element in the human endeavor. Would that not seem to be the rational view for any civilization?

Doug Lasken is an English teacher, debate coach, and freelancer. Reach him through his blog at http://laskenlog.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 12, 2011

Children Are Used to Push the Message of Contract For The American Dream

So after Common Core is all done and all our kids are properly educated by the Capital "S" State, what do they look like? The bright shiny faces in this video from Van Jones's Contract For the American Dream, tell us what their ideal world is like.

Am I being too petty when I ask, why did they have to give the kid with a lisp the piece about Social Security?

It is the lowest of low to use children as propaganda tools, but when you view them all as human capital would you expect anything different?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Common Core Standards, ALEC, Jeb Bush and the "Frozen People" (American Taxpayers and Citizens)

At the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in New Orleans this past week, Jeb Bush's "progressive conservative" organization squashed effective discussion between legislators who wanted to discuss slowing down/stopping implementation of common core standards. Neal McCluskey writes:

In this space, we’ve been telling you about a few efforts in state legislatures to complicate adoption or implementation of common standards … A move that had the potential to involve many states unfolded last week in New Orleans, but was stopped in its tracks. And none other than former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, revered by many conservatives, was involved in stopping it.

The Education Week report links to a letter that Mr. Bush sent to a subcommittee of the American Legislative Exchange Council that was slated to simply take up discussion of model legislation opposing national standards. Mr. Bush urged members to table the proposal. In other words, he urged them to not even talk about it, because apparently even considering that the Common Core might have dangerous downsides should be avoided, even among people who believe in individualism and liberty. (emphasis added)

McCluskey posted a follow-up article ("School Snatchers Invasion Confirmed!") about what happened in the meeting:

Yesterday, I blogged about a letter from Jeb Bush reportedly causing a subcommittee of the American Legislative Exchange Council to table model legislation opposing national standards. Subsequent to my writing that, a follow-up Education Week post reported that debate wasn’t, in fact, quashed by Bush’s letter. Unfortunately, it appears consideration was postponed for another reason: Most state legislators have no idea what’s going on with national standards:

“Legislators have heard of it, but not a whole lot of states engage legislators in discussion of the common core,” said [John Locke Foundation education analyst Terry] Stoops, who describes himself as a common-core opponent. “Some wanted to know more about it, because state education agencies or state boards of education didn’t give them much information, if any, on the common core.”

If this is accurate, it confirms exactly what I’ve been saying for months: Despite being told that the national standards drive is “state-led,” the people’s representatives have been frozen out of it. Worse, it suggests that national-standardizers’ strategy of sneaking standards in is working. (emphasis added)

After I reposted McCluskey's article, a reader asked me what could we do in our state to get rid of these common core standards? Based on McCluskey's report, here is what needs to be done. The legislators need to be educated on what these standards entail, how they have been left out of the process by their state education boards, and the enormous amount of debt this will cost their state:

  • Determine which legislators are members of ALEC and contact them with your concerns.
  • Provide them with information on common core standards from this non-partisan (and non-corporate sponsored) website: www.truthinamericaneducation.com
  • Ask the ALEC legislators why he/she would support such progressive and centralized mandates as common core standards. They do not allow local control and are being pushed through via federal funding enticements and are the plans of Arne Duncan and the Obama administration.
  • Ask the ALEC legislators why Jeb Bush is supporting the Obama administration's vision for education?
  • Ask the ALEC legislators why Jeb Bush doesn't want a debate on the standards?
  • Ask the ALEC legislators how common core standards are constitutional?
  • Ask the ALEC legislators how common core standards involve parents, taxpayers and communities?
  • And perhaps most importantly: ask the ALEC legislators how these educational mandates are different from the Obamacare mandates? Both create centralized control and power and diminish state and individual rights.
In in fact ALEC is dedicated to Jeffersonian principles, Common Core standards are antithetical to those principles and the members of this organization should call for action to dismantle adoption and implementation in December. And perhaps members such as Jeb Bush and the education reform organizations should be schooled in the Constitution they hold up as a guide.

Aren't you weary of being frozen out of the process of educating your children, paying your taxes, and having no voice? It's time to expose progressive conservatives for what they are: elitists who have no interest in a representative republic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some Tough Honest Words from Mayor Nutter

There is a child whose mother is dead, whose father is in prison on a drug related conviction, who has been taken in by his only findable relative, his aunt. This boy, we'll call him Ellis, is struggling in school. Because early on his attendance at school was spotty at best, he missed many crucial days of learning. He shows indications of having learning disabilities because of his mother's drug use. Now, in middle school, he has at least one person in his corner, his aunt, who is trying to help him catch up and reach whatever his potential is. The teachers at school are trying to do what they can to help Ellis but, in addition to these other strikes against him, they face a large roadblock.

Ellis's father did not sign over his parental rights to the aunt before his incarceration. He has virtually no relationship with either the Aunt or Ellis and therefore has made no effort to complete this important transaction. Why is this transaction so important? Because school officials are not allowed to talk to non-custodial adults about a child's education. The Aunt cannot be given Ellis's grades, she cannot meet with teachers and she cannot access the school's computer system to find out what homework he has due or assignments he is missing. She must rely on his word about such things, and even the best middle school student tends towards less than full disclosure on school work. She cannot demand services for him to work on his learning disability because the courts (and therefore the school system) do not recognize her authority to do so. And since he has a living parent, he cannot even become a ward of the state to move the ball down the field.

His Aunt is trying her best to be a strong influence on him, but his peers in the city are pulling him in other directions. Her hands are tied, and so are those of the school in terms of trying to help him.

The point of this story is not to rail against the system that put these blocks in place. The point is to draw attention to the cultural impacts on education and ask those in charge (i.e. A. Duncan) whether increased assessments or school intervention can really help a child like Ellis. His case may be extreme, but he comes from a community that shares these problems to one extent or another. It is a community of unwed mothers or single parents, where even the place you sleep each night can be random and uncertain. He comes from a place where dads are often missing, both personally and financially. The drug culture and economy flourish so kids have no choice but to turn against the establishment in order to survive. This means both the law and education are rejected.

This past weekend Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia stood in front of the congregation of his church and railed against the real problems children of the inner cities face. His speech came as a result of the flash mobs that have been plaguing his city as of late, but his message had far reaching implications (Go here to hear his entire sermon.)

He spoke at length about the role fathers play in their childrens' lives.

"Fathers have an important role to play, not more important than mothers, but just as important. You’re not a father just because you have a kid, or two, or three. That doesn’t make you a father. A father is a person who's around, participating in a child's life; a teacher who helps to guide and shape and mold that young person; someone for that young person to talk to, to share with, their ups and downs, fears and concerns. A father provides a structure for a young boy on how to become a good man. A good man. A father also has to be a good role model to help a young girl become a strong woman. If you’re not doing those things, you’re just hanging out there or bringing a check or some cash by, that’s not being a father. You’re just a human ATM. And if you’re not providing the guidance and you’re not sending any money, you’re just a sperm donor... That’s not good enough."

He made another critical observation when he said, "That’s part of the problem in the black community… Too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of and we end up dealing with your children. We’re not running a big baby sitting service, we’re running a big government and a great city. Take care of your children. All of them…. You were around for the sex, now be around for the parenting." When was the last time you heard a Democratic leader acknowledge that the government is not there to raise your children?

Nutter campaigned for Hillary Clinton before the primary and then became a vocal supporter of President Barack Obama. His speech makes him wildly out of step with Obama's administration now, but he is part of a growing movement in the black community who is speaking out against the direction of their culture. He advised kids to, "Keep your butt in school. Graduate high school. Go on to college. Make something of yourself and be a good citizen here in this city. And why don’t you work on extending your English vocabulary… beyond the few curse words that you know, some other grunts and grumbles and other things that none of us can understand what you’re saying."

Though Common Core, Agenda 21, RTTT and even NCLB tend to hold government accountable for a child's future and employment, Mayor Nutter believes, "If you go to look for a job, don’t go blame it on the white folks or somebody else. If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ’cause you look like you’re crazy! (wild applause)."

Addressing these cultural problems is an absolutely necessary step if there is to be improvement in education in this country and a narrowing of the achievement gap. Hats off to Mayor Nutter for providing a roadmap on not only how to achieve this, but also pointing a finger where the responsibility for our kids lies.

Why Is a Debate on Common Core Standards being Quashed and Delayed by Jeb Bush?

From Neal McCluskey at Cato:

A primer on lack of educational transparency and the unconstitutionality of common core standards.

Debate on common core standards has been tabled at this time.

Aren't you becoming weary of your tax money being spent and providing your children for governmental programs....and you have no voice? Is this an example of a totalitarian democracy?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arne Duncan's Waivers and "Upping our Game".

Arne Duncan has been dribbling in half-truths while implementing his goals for education. Common core standards are to be "voluntary" and "state led", but states were threatened with the withholding of Title I funding if they did not "voluntarily" agree to become participants in the national standards plan. Consortias are to be "state led", however, they are being funded by private companies with federal money.

Yesterday we wrote about Duncan's waivers to NCLB mandates to certain states:

With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration will provide a process for states to seek relief from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.

What wasn't clear from this DOE statement is exactly what education reform was called for by Arne Duncan. Let's look at Duncan's stated goals for education reform from EdWeek:

• There would be three kinds waivers under No Child Left Behind, and states would have to sign up for all of them—it wouldn't be an either/or thing. This is something Duncan made clear in the initial waiver announcement.

• To waive the 2014 deadline for all students to be proficient in math and language arts, states would have to adopt college- and career-readiness standards and assessments. It's not clear yet what that would mean. But, presumably, Common Core would be involved. Student growth could be used to measure achievement.

• To essentially freeze in place the law's system of sanctions, states would have to propose their own differentiated accountability systems that would incorporate growth and establish new performance targets. States also would have to establish differentiated school improvement systems that more accurately meet the needs of schools with different challenges. The accountability systems would not have to include choice or free tutoring. Districts also no longer would have to set aside Title I money for such programs.

To waive the law's highly qualified teacher requirement and get funding flexibility, states would have to adopt evaluation systems for teachers and principals that are based on growth and make sure districts actually do what they say they're going to do.

Are these more federal mandates masquerading as local control so states can escape the "impossible to reach" federal mandates already in place? It sure sounds like it.

If you have some time, read this release from The White House on education:

"A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can out-compete countries around the world. America's business leaders understand that when it comes to education, we need to up our game. That's why we’re working together to put an outstanding education within reach for every child" (emphasis added)

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Syllogistic Dishonesty of Arne Duncan

If we are doomed to common core standards, I hope the communication arts standards include learning about syllogisms so students can begin to dissect political arguments and babble, and determine what is truth and what is spin.

What is a syllogism?


Logic . an argument the conclusion of which is supported by two premises, of which one (major premise) contains the term (major term) that is the predicate of the conclusion, and the other (minor premise) contains the term (minor term) that is the subject of the conclusion; common to both premises is a term (middle term) that is excluded from the conclusion. A typical form is “All A is C; all B is A; therefore all B is C.”
deductive reasoning.
an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument.

We previously wrote about how this current "reform" of education (touted by Arne Duncan and many Republicans) takes away any semblance of local control. Now let's focus on the syllogistic "deceptive argument" Duncan is furthering.

Politico reports Duncan has used his alleged authority (this has been called into dispute) to issue waivers for certain No Child Left Behind mandates instead of legislating through a waiver-granting process. NCLB was to be reauthorized by September and Duncan believed Congress was dragging its feet and the reauthorization would not be ready. To the reader not familiar with the political misgivings about NCLB's impact on education, it would appear as if Duncan is truly riding in on a stallion, giving the school districts relief from the onerous mandates. Here is the press release from the US Department of Education which states in part:

With the new school year fast approaching and still no bill to reform the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration will provide a process for states to seek relief from key provisions of the law, provided that they are willing to embrace education reform.

Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan jointly announced the President's directive in the White House briefing room on Monday, August 8. Barnes explained that the administration's proposal to fix NCLB has been with Congress for 16 months, been the topic of numerous meetings and hearings, and been subjected to partisan politics in the House. Last March – a full year after submitting his proposal – the President called for a bill before the start of the school year.

And to add to this wonderful executive order, the press release ends with this:

Duncan said that NCLB is "forcing districts into one-size-fits-all solutions that just don’t work. The President understands this and he has directed us to move ahead in providing relief -- but only for states and districts that are prepared to address our educational challenges."

"There is no magic bullet for fixing education and the best ideas will always come from the local level -- from the hardworking men and women in our schools doing the hard work every day to educate our children," Duncan said. He added, "We're still hopeful that Congress can continue its work this fall. In the meantime, states and districts have an opportunity to move forward."

Duncan is using the syllogistic argument in a deceptive manner. Here is Duncan's argument as laid out in this press release:

  • Major premise: One-size-fits all solutions don't work and the best solutions are provided at the local level
  • Minor premise: Federal relief and funding will be provided to states prepared for those states that address our educational challenges
  • Conclusion: One-size-fits all solutions don't work and federal assistance will be provided to those states that address challenges provided by local government

Wow! That is a panacea to educational challenges! Too bad it's too good to be true. What is Duncan's idea of providing federal relief and funding? From Politico 44:

Duncan announced in June that if Congress fails to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by Obama’s deadline of the start of the next school year, he intends to develop a program that allows states to apply for regulatory relief if they pursue certain reforms. Duncan didn’t specify which requirements states would be asked to meet, nor did he specify when the program might be put in place. (emphasis added)

Could it be that this requirements might just be the Chicago-type of reform found in Race to the Top? Could these requirements be akin to why many states signed onto Common Core standards even before they were written...because Duncan threatened to withhold Title I money if they didn't agree to implement them? Where is the mention of local control in the Politico 44 piece?

There isn't any mention of local control because there is no interest in local voices shaping educational policy. The stakeholders mentioned time after time in federal documents with Race to the Top and common core standards don't include parents. Or taxpayers. And neither does this waiver. He talks about local control but he has no intention of giving federal money without more federal mandates...and that is the subject of tomorrow's blog.

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