Tag Archive: Education Reform

The Education Reform Tsunami Has Left Destruction in its Wake

It’s been about five years now, more or less. Five years of this so-called “Educational Reform Movement,” spearheaded by self-proclaimed “mavericks” like former D.C. School Superintendent Michelle Rhee and now embraced by a host of her destructive admirers like Newark’s Cami Anderson, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and others. These ‘reformists’ eagerly tore up decades – even centuries – of bedrock educational values and practices to embrace new ones. The promise was no less of a revolution, a ‘total transformation’ if you like. If we followed their advice and were willing to absorb the painful changes they recommended, our public schools, regardless of geographical or socio-economic setting, would be transformed. Gone would be the tired school model of old, with its emphasis on teacher-centered learning, student accountability and lecture. Replacing it would be a dynamic new model, consumer-driven, student centered, administratively powered…and it would produce the equivalent to an educational Heaven on earth. From it would emerge brilliant, creative, confident students, eager to engage in debate and Socratic dialogue, ready for day one at the best colleges and universities in the world.

It didn’t happen.

The reformers’ call for change varied by region, but their core beliefs were wrapped up in a few common concepts. Teacher tenure or any related form of institutional job security was to go. New evaluative tools for teachers would no longer take their content knowledge, style or experience into consideration; now the focus would be on how students responded to them. Every moment of every day was to be documented, quantified, reviewed and revised in a torrent of new paperwork floating between teachers and their administrators. And in the end, from teacher jobs to the very existence of any particular school as an institution, high stakes testing would determine all. Community building, intellectual curiosity, and the love for learning were out; fear, disruption, testing and constant contention were in. Again, reformers said that it would be messy, and it was, but as time marched on America’s students would emerge sharp, competitive, ready to work in today’s global knowledge-based economy.

Not happening.

And what is most curious are the studies. Educators, reformists and their opponents, love to point out studies. Studies come to all sorts of conclusions, and to be fair, it’s not difficult to find one or two that seemed almost predestined to back a specific design or approach. But what studies have not shown, what there is no evidence of, is this massive shift, this dramatic change in temperature, which was promised. Not one. In some districts test scores are a bit higher; in others, lower. But nothing revolutionary. Zilch. This reformist tsunami, like its real-world equivalent, produced a dramatic wave but left only destruction in its wake.

Believe me, I want to be proven wrong on this important point. I want to see some real, dramatic evidence that the disruptive changes implemented in our public schools did indeed produce revolutionary, seismic results. But there are none. Not a single ‘super school’ has emerged from this movement; in fact, what we’re seeing in places as different as the urban district of Newark to the rural districts of Central Florida is much of the same: careers wrecked, schools disrupted, students bewildered and institutions stripped of community spirit and memory. Insecurity, fear and fury now emanate from parents, teachers and students. Boards of education meetings have been transformed into shouting matches. Don’t take my word for it; even the ‘great reformer,” of Chris Christie, Cami Anderson, no longer bothers to attend any community-based meetings in Newark. Even she knows that her ideas are so absolutely bankrupt, so steeped in failure that she avoids any forum where she might face the very public she claims to serve.  

So why has this movement failed? Why has it wreaked complete havoc on our public schools with little indication of groundbreaking, progressive results? There are a great many reasons, but first and foremost is the flawed reformist belief that somehow schools can be magically separated from the communities that produce them. Reformists tell us that larger, complex issues such as poverty, unemployment, child neglect and abuse, crime, lack of technological access, child nutrition and student society can somehow be conveniently divorced from the day-to-day operations of any school and classroom. They stipulate that a single teacher can be held exclusively responsible for months and months of student academic outcomes, and that somehow the communities and families that produce them bear little or none.

Okay, so perhaps you’re thinking, if I’m so smart, if I’m so confident that the reformist approach to modern public education is so destructive, then what works? What is the magic formula that will indeed allow us to convert our students, every single one of them, whether they attend school in leafy Livingston or in the extremely mean streets of Camden into competitive Princeton applicants?  

I need time to ruminate on that one, but I think I have an idea. I’ll follow that up in my next blog.  

Public Education’s Berlin Wall Moment is Fast Approaching

As teachers and students begin to gear up for the return to school this September, most if not all of them are filled with something that, while sometimes present in life, is now completely dominating: dread. This dread is a direct result of the present “Corporatist Model” that is currently working its way through our public schools. For people who do not quite understand the basis of this dread, let me explain.

The Corporatist Model of Schooling goes by many names and has many promoters; most not being educators. It is the belief that our schools are wholly, totally and completely responsible for all personal, academic and ultimately professional results of the students that cycle through them. But it goes much deeper than that; in a quest for control, this model stipulates that every moment of every class, every interation, every day, must be accounted for. Every lesson must be planned with scientific precision, and documented thoroughly. Every assignment and interaction with students must be comprehensively rated, quantified, and analyzed. Each teacher really isn’t an educator or mentor; he or she is more or less of a document machine, creating funneling documents to mid-level administrators for comment, revision and evaluation. Teachers then keep detailed files on their students and their work and rate them according to statistical models, again to be processed by mid-level administrators and scrutinized, critiqued, redone. Teachers don’t really consult with one another except to engage in “common planning” or “statistical inquiry.” Their meetings with superiors are typically cold, stressful and filled with jargon while minutes are taken at gatherings to be held against educators later. There is no community anymore, because it has been destroyed and replaced by an atmosphere of fear, loathing and fatalism.

Of course, the end result is how the students will perform on high stakes tests, because again, teachers are ultimately held responsible for the results. Forget that many students come to school without breakfast, abused, furious, tired, high, sick or injured. It is all on the teachers.

Let me tell you how this all ends, because it won’t end well. We have a precedent, and it’s not a small one.

The Corporatist Model is perhaps misnamed, because though workers at Microsoft or General Motors might find this institutional/statistically-based model familiar, most who know it don’t live in America. They live in places like Vietnam, Russia, Bulgaria and Cuba. There, people were victimized by an equally controlling philosophy that sought to regulate every aspect of their lives, from daily regimens to national economic policy. It was called Communism. And it failed, miserably, everywhere.  

Like Communism before it, the Corporatist Model of Education embraces a completely false set of assumptions, all centering around control. But when it comes to managing the upbringing, educating and nurturing of human beings, while guides are helpful, massive bureaucratization, micromanaging and regulation does not produce the desired results; and typically produces negative ones. The skillset needed for a population to function well in a Democracy can never emerge out of such nonsensical regimentation. Critical thinking, creativity, and a genuine enthusiasm for learning, as well as an appreciation of the world around us, can’t be drilled into someone’s head. The skills to successfully survive at Microsoft? Perhaps those can.

People who have lived under Communist regimes will of course attest to the violence used by rulers, but they will also tell you of the drab, miserable day-to-day sterile mode of existence. Orwell writes of it in his masterpiece 1984. It is a world of number counting and counters, unwavering dehumanization through constant petty criticism, accompanied by fear and stale ideas. It is an atmosphere where anyone with any spark of creativity or passion is instantly identified and flushed out. It is a place where change and justice might be preached in theory but ruthlessly suppressed in practice.

Communism has largely run its destructive course through history, at least the Soviet brand. Few people take it seriously anymore, because as a value system it is so utterly soulless. It only produced results under great and intense duress, and those results were shabby at best. And when there were achievements (like Sputnik), they were never followed up. The system eventually caught up and arrested all forms of excellence.  

We are already seeing the same effects of failure in our Corporatist-minded schools. This model has been working its way through the system for almost a decade now, and its leaders, like Lenin and Stalin before them, are largely disdained and discredited. Michelle Rhee, once the darling of the movement, was chased out of Washington, D.C. Superintendent Cami Anderson, Newark’s-once highly regarded ‘reformer’ is universally despised except by New Jersey’s arrogant, equally disgraced governor Chris Christie. She rules a deteriorating regime in an atmosphere of terror that sees the same sort of purges and irrational leadership worthy of Stalin’s times. Even in the suburbs, school boards like Highland Park are going as far as to buy out Superintendents who preach the same nonsense.

It will collapse, this model. It won’t fade out. It will fall. It does real damage to all involved. The level of failure is emerging, and it is massive. It has reverberated all the way down to our teaching academies. Young, intelligent, ambitious people are running away from public education, and frankly, I don’t blame them. They’re dodging a bullet by entering professions and industries where merit and creativity are actually rewarded.

Years from now, perhaps as few as three or five, we will look back with remorse on this Corporatist Educational Model that declared war on our best and brightest educators and students – only to sputter and fail. We’re almost there.  

Christie can’t take the heat in Paterson

After this happened in Paterson today, Christie had some trouble with people who disagree with him at his “town hall” in nearby Caldwell and ejected some he didn’t want to hear from. – Rosi

Cross-posted with Marie Corfield.

1 of 4 - PATERSONApparently Gov. Christie heeded the old saying, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” and high-tailed it out of the Silk City after uttering about 25 words in his swearing in of Mayor Jose Torres. But I don’t think it was the typical Jersey-style summer-in-the-city, +90° hazy, hot and humid weather that forced him out. No, I think it was the approximately 50 Paterson education professionals who showed up armed with their best teacher voices to protest. Clad in red shirts to symbolize Trenton’s bleeding of the school district, they were there to deliver a message to Gov. Christie: state control is hurting their students, their schools and profession, and forcing many education professionals out of their jobs because they can no longer support their families and pay their bills.

Note to Christie: Those who live by the accountability sword will die by the accountability sword.

Promoted by Rosi

From the moment he was sworn in four years ago, Gov. Christie has been on a personal jihad against public education, unions and teachers. Labeling us “greedy” and “selfish”, and our apartheid schools in high-poverty districts as “failure factories”, he’s done everything possible to brainwash the general public into thinking our schools are overrun with bad teachers who must be held accountable.

He succeeded in getting a new evaluation system passed (my district uses Danielson)* that now tracks every pencil stroke of a student against their teacher. No stone is left unturned as administrators evaluate everything from how a teacher greets her students at the door, to whether students are able to solve their own social problems. And forget about expecting to be found ‘highly effective’ (a score of 4 on a 1-4 scale). Every teacher in New Jersey has been spoon-fed the mantra, “live in 3; vacation in 4”. To be highly effective, students pretty much have to teach themselves and solve their own problems. So, if you are a highly effective teacher, you essentially teach yourself into obsolescence. And yea, that’s totally reasonable, especially with kindergarteners.

Ras Baraka: The Cake Boss of Public Education

Ras Baraka Blueprint for Education - Newark

My daughter is a foodie. She’s only 14 but she loves to watch cooking shows. Two of her favorites are:

Chopped where “four chefs compete before a panel of expert judges and turn baskets of mystery ingredients into an extraordinary three-course meal. Course by course, the chefs will be ‘chopped’ from the competition until only one winner remains. They have seconds to plan, and 30 minutes to cook an amazing course with the basket of mystery ingredients given to them moments before the clock starts ticking.”

And…

Cutthroat Kitchen, which “hands four chefs each $25,000 and the opportunity to spend that money on helping themselves or sabotaging their competitors. Ingredients will be thieved, utensils destroyed and valuable time on the clock lost when the chefs compete to cook delicious dishes while also having to out-plot the competition. Nothing is out of bounds when money changes hands and we see just how far chefs will go to ensure they have the winning dish.”

My favorite is Jersey’s own Cake Boss about a big, loving, Italian family that, along with a dedicated staff, creates amazing edible works of art. Fourth generation owner, Buddy Valastro, has carried on the family’s tradition of excellence and expanded Carlo’s Bakery from its flagship store in Hoboken to a state-of-the-art production facility and satellite stores throughout the Garden State. Watching the show, it’s clear that Buddy cares deeply about the people he employs, the products he sells and his customers. He strives for excellence, trains and treats all his staff like family and makes the necessary investments to ensure they have the best ingredients and equipment with which to work their culinary magic.

When I attended Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka’s education policy press conference on Presidents Day, visions of these three shows danced in my head. You see, the good, the bad and the ugly of teaching and education ‘reform’ are found in all three.  

FIX IT! Because This IS NOT How We Do Things In Highland Park. Here, We RESIST!

Promoted by Rosi. Who would ever think that progressive Highland Park would turn into a Ground Zero for ed “reform” or union-busting? This week, on short notice, more than 300 people turned up when they saw the Highland Park School Board take a sudden wrong turn. One of them was Darcie Cimarusti = Mother Crusader. She stood up to speak. Read the speech below the fold. Now consider that 15 days ago, Darcie was elected to the school board she addresses in her speech …

Cross-posted with Mother Crusader.

I’ve honestly never seen anything like what happened Monday night in my home town of Highland Park, New Jersey.

Scores of Highland Park residents and union supporters came out Monday night to the auditorium at Bartle Elementary to protest layoffs of nine staff members at Highland Park’s schools, including two top union officials.

The school board and administration were literally surrounded by critics: So many people showed up that they had to take out a partition in the wall, doubling the size of the room and letting the overflow crowd tickle into the nosebleeds. (emphasis mine)

Highland Park school board meeting crowdYup, that’s right. The Board, at the recommendation of our brand new Superintendent, approved a Reduction in Force (RIF) of nine district employees on November 4th, 2013. The RIF included the President and Vice-President of the Highland Park Education Association, and came after contract negotiations reached an impasse.  (Note: A tenth employee was RIFed on October 7th, 2013 but this position is often not added to the nine RIFed on 11/4)

…Are Doomed to Repeat It

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

The educational testing mania that has gripped the country over the past decade has bared a lethal truth: we are terrible at learning history. As a teacher of that subject, I have seen it become devalued as the focus on math, science and language arts tests have rendered history and social science courses less important in the curriculum. Some students even take a lower level history class so their homework load doesn’t interfere with what they consider to be more useful, and tested, offerings.

And this is new, right? Wrong.

That pain in your tush is the bite history just took out of it.

It turns out that the past is telling us what every working educator knows about evaluating both students and teachers based on a standardized test: it doesn’t work and can falsely label people as failing when in fact they are not. It’s as true now as it was in 1845.