Education and the Roundtable Lesson.

I followed a link tweeted this morning to this article on "The Hampton Institute" webpage which describes itself as working class think tank.

I read a lot about thinking.  Thinking is what teachers are about and it's what we want our students to do.   This article describes the antithesis of the typical K-12 classroom.

  If we are ever to progress in the field of education we have to abandon our idea that student success is totally dependent on WHAT we teach them, that teachers are like bad bosses who think they have to tell their employees what to do every day, that parents need or even want a grading system that pretends to reflect their child's intellectual and behavioral performance, and that our public education system works best when structured like a poorly run business or government - top down -where the person at the bottom, whose product drives the success or failure of the company and who has the most responsibility,  has the least authority, respect and compensation.

The answer lies, as usual, in sitting down at the table with an honest desire to determine how to move from the entrenched methodology we have perpetuated for so long to a system that accommodates all the factors influencing teaching and learning.

 I recall a scene in The Once and Future King where King Arthur sits down at the Roundtable with his knights to plan the future of the kingdom.  That book with its many lessons on leadership and humanity was written long before the Paris Peace Talks.  For those of you too young to remember, those talks were stalled for months because agreement could not be made on who would sit at the head of the table.  Guess what the solution was.  Do we ever learn?

I am not naive nor have I been isolated the last few years from the influences driving the current disaster portrayed as education reform.  The Might Is Right mentality driving reform (indeed much of  both public and private policy) didn't work for Arthur in medieval times nor did his transformational Might FOR Right. The problem simply became more complex in trying to determine what was Right!

Certainly there is no more hope for a 21st Century Camelot than there was in Arthur's day, but the education of our children has to at least reflect an understanding of history and lessons to be learned.  People, not corporations or government, must control their own destiny and our students must be allowed to figure that out along with solutions for the future if we expect to ever abandon the battleground.

The purpose of education as per Common Core is to prepare for college and the workforce. Journalist Chris Hedges is one of many writers who describes the true purpose of education like this:

"We've bought into the idea that education is about training and 'success,' defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death." -Chris Hedges

Listening for Student Voices

Chris Friend & Sean Michael Morris I Education I Theory I November 25th, 2013

Teachers don't teach; instructors don't really instruct. The lecture-based course fell out of favor years ago, and we know today to bring front and center the role students play in their own learning. "Education," says Paulo Freire, "becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." When critical and independent thinking are the most valuable products of learning, we must ask and make space for students to work and create on their own. It isn't enough for them to take notes and then recite; learners must invent -- not just the products of their knowledge, but also their own learning.
These lofty goals require risk. If we give students the freedom to choose their own path, they might choose poorly or make mistakes on our watch. But we must be willing to allow them the challenge of this authority, the dignity of this risk, and the opportunity to err and learn from their mistakes. They learn and gain expertise through experimentation. We are given responsibility for a classroom because we are experts in our fields, which we become after years of work and experience, learning things that are very difficult to put in a textbook or instruction manual. These experiences require time, and often frustration. We have to try, and risk failure, so that we also can learn.
The words experience and expert both come from the Latin word experiri meaning "to try". If we want our students to become experts, we have an obligation to give them the opportunity to try things, without the real danger that otherwise exists outside a classroom environment. Our students must have the chance -- and the compulsion -- to experiment in their thinking and with their work. That's what school is for. Because one day it ends, and everyone involved in this grand experiment, both experienced and novice, must become experts in their own right.
If we decide that our classrooms are places where trying happens, then we transform them into laboratories; and in a laboratory, with happy people of varying skill sets working side by side, anyone can make a discovery. As lab managers, then, we do not approach our work as "I've solved this problem, let's see if you can too" but as, "here's a problem with many possible solutions." Everyone is invited to try, allowed to fail, encouraged to succeed. Our job becomes making sure that all the appropriate equipment is available for success to occur.
People learn naturally , regardless of whether a teacher helps them do it. They don't need us to let them do what we hope they will do in our classes. Our students need to work through each experience on their own apprenticed terms, not on ours. In " The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year," Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz explain, "freshmen build authority not by writing from a position of expertise but by writing into expertise." And because "being a novice allows students to be changed by what they learn," we have an obligation to our students -- indeed, a mandate -- to make our classrooms sites of trial and experimentation, rather than routine and repetition.
There's only one of us, but plenty of them, so is it really our classroom? When we view a class as "ours", the term brings with it an inherent sense of ownership and even domination. We want students to have control over their learning. But because they're in school, an institution built around hierarchy, at most they can have the illusion of control within the limits set by the instructor or the institution.
This is the fly in the ointment of critical pedagogy. Teachers must teach students to think for themselves, to feel empowered, and to cultivate their own learning processes. And yet, to teach that is to assert the educator's own authority. Even when we step aside from the podium, the act reminds everyone in the room under whose power the podium really is, and who has the ability to resume that position at will.
Good teachers bemoan the separation of instructor and student, and ply our trade to bring student voices into academic conversations. We may make efforts to publish student work, involve students in conferences and discussions, create student-led courses, let students set class rules or evaluation standards, and more. But too often these efforts reinforce the division they mean to overcome. A good teacher works to give students the space, the opportunity, and the motivation to learn on their own. The best teachers upend the hierarchy and strategically use their authority to make teachers unnecessary. In her recent blog post about listening to learners, the author reticulatrix states, "Some people feel excluded from dominant discourse. Some do not want to contribute to the dominant discourse. Some of us are fed up of being consistently on the wrong end of power structures with the academy. Furthermore, many of us have already been doing just fine creating our own conversations and resource repositories [...] it now seems to me even more than before, that academics are often busy talking to themselves inside their own bubbles."
Learners of all stripes are having conversations about learning, networked collaboration, and open education entirely outside the academic environment. In fact, many of these conversations eschew academics because of the myriad complexities those "authorities" bring into discussions of teaching and learning. Learners are talking about learning, and they might share with educators... if educators are willing to listen more than speak.
Teachers should not be gatekeepers for student voices, and once we suppose we are, we miss half the conversation. When teachers serve as gatekeepers, when we tell students explicitly what they should learn for our courses, when we establish requirements or procedures for their learning, we aren't functioning as teachers; we aren't allowing students to engage in genuine, self-directed, natural learning. We are instead being scriptwriters. The more elaborate direction, specific instruction, and constraining requirements we provide, the less our students rely on themselves to think and learn. They work to adopt our mindset, to decipher and satisfy our expectations, and to gain our knowledge and experience, rather than using their own curiosity and their own experimentation to risk learning something new… and we stifle learning. Instead, we need to be in the business of manufacturing opportunities.
Classrooms murmur. They hum and buzz -- with experimentation, with discoveries at all scales. Underneath the lectures, slideshows and exams, voices rustle. These are the voices of students, learners of all shapes and variety, online and on-ground, higher ed and K-12, formal and lifelong. These voices don't talk just of course materials and content. They talk about what is taught, and how, and about what and how they want to learn. They talk about the things that matter to them. Students have plenty to say about learning, about the failings of higher education, about their own futures and careers. If we think they're only concerned with life outside of school, we're mistaken; learners have a deeper investment in our teaching than we do.

This article was originally published at Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Technology.

Measuring Our Children With A Broken Ruler

This article from The New Yorker Magazine expresses the broad dissatisfaction for standardized testing when used as a measure of learning.  Share it widely!

Anna Allanbrook, the principal of the Brooklyn New School, a public elementary school in Carroll Gardens, has long considered the period of standardized testing that arrives every spring to be a necessary, if unwelcome, phase of the school year. Teachers and kids would spend limited time preparing for the tests. Children would gain familiarity with “bubbling in,” a skill not stressed in the school’s progressive, project-based curriculum. They would become accustomed to sitting quietly and working alone—a practice quite distinct from the collaboration that is typically encouraged in the school’s classrooms, where learners of differing abilities and strengths work side by side. (My son is a third grader at the school.) Come the test days, kids and teachers would get through them, and then, once the tests were over, they would get on with the real work of education.
Last spring’s state tests were an entirely different experience, for children and for teachers. Teachers invigilating the exams were shocked by ambiguous test questions, based, as they saw it, on false premises and wrongheaded educational principles. (One B.N.S. teacher, Katherine Sorel, eloquently details her objections on WNYC’s SchoolBook blog.) Others were dismayed to see that children were demoralized by the relentlessness of the testing process, which took seventy minutes a day for six days, with more time allowed for children with learning disabilities. One teacher remarked that, if a tester needs three days to tell if a child can read “you are either incompetent or cruel. I feel angry and compromised for going along with this.” Another teacher said that during each day of testing, at least one of her children was reduced to tears. A paraprofessional—a classroom aide who works with children with special needs—called the process “state-sanctioned child abuse.” One child with a learning disability, after the second hour of the third day, had had enough. “He only had two questions left, but he couldn’t keep going,” a teacher reported. “He banged his head on the desk so hard that everyone in the room jumped.”
As a result, Allanbrook has changed her approach to testing. This year, while tests will be still administered at B.N.S., and children in the third and fourth grades will have as much practice taking them as they ever have, the school is actively and vocally preparing to support families who decide to opt children out of the testing. Alternative activities will be provided on those days, as will alternative ways of measuring children’s progress. (Among other methods, kids who opt out of state tests will be given alternative tests produced by the Department of Education, one in English language arts and one in math, each lasting just forty-five minutes.) Allanbrook says that her decision to speak out was motivated in part by thinking about the fifth-grade social-justice curriculum at the school, in which children who are about to graduate are asked to consider the question “What are we willing to stand up for?” “As parents and educators, this is the very question that we could be asking ourselves,” Allanbrook wrote in a letter to parents this week.
The dismay felt in the corridors of B.N.S. has not been a singular response. Throughout the city and beyond, there is a burgeoning opt-out movement, with parents, teachers, and administrators questioning the efficacy of the tests as they are currently administered, in measuring both the performance of teachers and the progress of students. More than five hundred New York State principals have signed a letter of protest, which cites the encroachment of test prep on teaching time, and the expense of test materials, which come out of stretched school budgets. Educators are also questioning the methodology of the tests, which are graded on a bell curve, with the results closely associated with socioeconomic status. Only three per cent of English-language learners in New York State passed the state tests last year, and only five per cent of students with disabilities did so. Among African-American and Hispanic students, fewer than twenty per cent passed. AsDiane Ravitch has noted on her blog and elsewhere, the demoralizing effect is being visited upon those who can least afford the discouragement.
The regime of testing has expanded in recent years, in the wake of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and a belief that what goes on in a classroom can most accurately be divined by data. Defenders of the Common Core curriculum, which seeks to insure that students nationwide are being taught according to the same standards and are meeting federally defined expectations, argue that testing is an effective means of determining whether standards have been reached, thus protecting the interests of children most at risk of being failed by the educational system. Among the interests that standardized testing certainly does appear to be serving are corporate interests. Pearson, the largest educational publishing company in the United States, not only provides the standardized tests but also sells curricular materials for teachers to use in tailoring their teaching to the tests, test-prep materials for children to study in advance of taking those tests, and remedial materials for children to use after they’ve failed them. (It also inserts so-called field tests—questions for possible use in future tests—into its exams, turning public-school children into unwitting guinea pigs for procedures to be administered to other children.) In 2012, the most recent year for which it has made data available, Pearson reported that its educational-publishing revenues for North America were up two per cent, compared with an industry decline of ten per cent.
There is questionable wisdom in entrusting a for-profit corporation with measuring how well kids learn to read, write, compute, and think, the last of which is especially unlikely to be accurately gauged by industrial-scale metrics. The skepticism about Pearson was reinforced last month, when the company’s charitable arm, the Pearson Foundation, was obliged to pay $7.7 million to settle accusations that it had funded the development of educational software to be used by its for-profit parent, in violation of the law. That came after the revelation, last spring, that Pearson had flunked its own scoring of the city’s gifted-and-talented tests. Almost five thousand children were given the wrong score and were initially denied places in schools for which they were eligible.
In pockets of the city and of the region, principals and teachers and parents are refusing to go along with the program—igniting an Occupy Education movement in all but name. In one high-profile act of defiance, the Castle Bridge elementary school, in Washington Heights opted out en masse of tests for kindergarteners that were what educators call developmentally inappropriate and parents call completely insane. Groups like Change the Stakes and Teachers Talk Testing are agitating for reform through the holding of town meetings, the gathering of petitions, and the making of video protests featuring despondent children and frustrated parents. In a recent poll of New York City voters, twenty per cent said that education should be the top priority of Mayor Bill de Blasio—a higher proportion than for any other single issue. There is guarded optimism about de Blasio, a public-school parent who, on the campaign trail, spoke disparagingly of the Bloomberg Administration’s investment in standardized testing, and has appointed as schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, a former teacher and principal who has spoken about her opposition to teaching to the test.
Parents who complain about testing—particularly affluent, educated ones—are easily derided, as they were by Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Education Secretary, a few months ago, when he described critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” But parents who challenge the status quo on testing are not motivated by a deluded pride in their children’s unrecognized accomplishments, or by a fear that their property values will diminish if their schools’ scores’ drop. They are, in many cases, driven by a conviction that a child’s performance on a standardized test is an inadequate, unreliable measure of that child’s knowledge, intelligence, aptitude, diligence, and character—and a still more unreliable measure of his teachers’ effort, skill, perseverance, competence, and kindness.
They are also motivated by the belief that those parents who are least equipped to speak out are the mothers and fathers of the children who are most vulnerable—the most likely to have their educations diminished by months of repetitive test prep, most likely to find themselves reduced to the statistical data at the wrong end of the bell curve. Parents in this year’s opt-out movement are standing up for something larger than their own child’s test-day happiness: the conviction that all children have better things to do with their days than fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice sheet, and that all children have better things to do with their heads than bang them against a table in despair.
Photograph: Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post/Getty

Rick Hess' Magic Bullet

You know how kids (8-100 year olds) will use your own words against you to get themselves out of trouble?

Little Rick: "He called me a nerd!!!"

Little Jay:  "Yeah YOU did!!!"

Are those of  us professional educators who have expended so much time and effort blogging, testifying, providing research and expertise. . . to prevent what we recognize as a grand effort to privatize public education (my simplified characterization that goes by many names) beginning to see the fruits of our labor?

Another I-Told-You-So moment appeared in Rick Hess's blog this morning that I am re-blogging here. Funny thing - Some of it doesn't sound  any different coming out of the mouths of Petrilli, Fordham, Greene and the rest than when we say it, but somehow it comes off as a Revelation from these people.   And, make no mistake about it, their intent is suspect and caveats abound.  Spinning has the effect of making one dizzy though.

Fordham:  We should impose regulations on voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs (vouchers).

Petrilli:  ". . . the answer (to bad schools) cannot be 'let the market figure it out.'

Jay Greene:  ". . . Test results fail to capture most of the benefits produced by . . "  (He limits it to choice schools but it us a universal truth).

Cato Institute: "By requiring every school to administer the same tests, states would ... stifle diversity and innovation..."

Hess:  "I share Greene's key concern about the problems with relying too narrowly on reading and math scores to judge school quality." and " I'm hugely concerned about opening the door to increasing levels of regulation and state interference in school operations."   

The bog ends with Hess's grand exit as he backs out the door:  "Fordham's report didn't give me any reassurance on either count. In the end, while I'm with Fordham in principle, for the moment, that leaves me closer to Greene, Coulson, Bedrick, et al."

Round and round and round she goes.  Where she stops, nobody knows! 

Voucher Programs, Private Schools, and State Tests

Last week, there was something of a kerfuffle over the Thomas B. Fordham Institute'sproposal to impose new regulations on voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs. Fordham called for requiring all participating students to take state assessments; mandating public disclosure of those results, school by school, except for schools that enroll fewer than ten total students in tested grades; and requiring schools that enroll a substantial number of students to have their eligibility determined by how their students perform on state tests.
Fordham vice president Mike Petrilli explained, "Bad schools happen. They happen in the public sector, the charter sector, and, yes, the private sector. And... the answer cannot be 'let the market figure it out.' Because it hasn't, and it won't--and somebody must."
The proposal drew strong objections from an array of voucher proponents. University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene argued, "Testing requirements hurt choice because test results fail to capture most of the benefits produced by choice schools... a series of rigorous studies have found large long-term benefits for students able to attend schools of choice even when short-term test results show little or no benefit... Choice schools cause students to graduate high school and go to college... [and] to more competitive universities at much higher rates. And choice causes those students to enjoy much higher salaries later in life."
The Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson and Jason Bedrick wrote, "By forcing every school to administer the same tests, states would... stifle diversity and innovation. ... The Common Core-aligned tests create a powerful incentive for schools to teach the same concepts in the same order at the same time. This would make it all but impossible for schools to experiment with new ways of tailoring education to meet the needs of individual children" without getting crushed on the aligned assessments.
I've four thoughts on all this:
First, Fordham's stance requires a lot of hair-splitting. After all, this is the same Fordham that has decried the regulatory overreach of No Child Left Behind, critiqued state accountability systems, and fretted about the problems with traditional school system governance. It's theoretically possible to make those claims and still turn around and argue that voucher programs need much more test-based accountability and state regulation, but it does presuppose that policymakers have a Goldilocks-like ability to find the "just right" solution. Color me skeptical.
Second, I share Greene's key concern about the problems with relying too narrowly on reading and math scores to judge school quality. However, and it's a big "however," I don't blame Fordham or choice skeptics for having problems with Greene's argument. After all, many choice advocates have long slammed districts and promoted school choice by pointing to reading and math scores. I've got a lot of sympathy for those who feel like Greene's position constitutes something of a bait-and-switch, with choice advocates are changing the rules when it suits them.
A similar point arises with regard to another Greene criticism. In the column quoted above, he observed, "The only piece of evidence that Fordham presents to support the claim that state testing requirements improve performance at choice schools is the finding that scores rose when Milwaukee private choice schools were required to take the high stakes state test. But as Pat Wolf, one of the authors of that study, noted -- the score increase may well be just an artifact of private choice schools deciding to start prepping students for that high-stakes test now that they were required to take it. In other words, Fordham is confusing real learning increases with test manipulation." Now, it's a terrific point, but it again can feel like choice advocates are changing the rules. After all, the same point can be made about the research suggesting that district schools in Florida had higher test scores when at risk of losing students to vouchers under the state's accountability system. Yet, in that case, choice advocates don't see evidence of possible "manipulation," but of choice's ability to make schools improve.
Third, the Fordham report is smart and polished enough, but feels surprisingly naïve about the realities of the legislative process and regulatory creep. The folks at Fordham are smart and savvy enough to know that regulation has a way of expanding. I don't see anything in their proposal that reassures on that score. Once there's a precedent that voucher students in private schools should be subjected to state assessments, what's to stop a well-intentioned, enterprising legislator from suggesting those schools really ought to have certified teachers, a state-approved curriculum, state-approved facilities, a state-approved plan of emergency services, or whatnot? Absent compelling limits, it's all too easy to imagine legislators or state education officials imposing such seemingly sensible, innocuous measures. The result would be an open invitation to bureaucratization.
Fourth, if you care, where do I come down on this? I accept the principle that Fordham is espousing: that when schools take public funds to educate students, it's reasonable to ask that they be more transparent about performance--and perhaps to base eligibility on certain agreed-upon performance outcomes. But I'm real concerned about relying too heavily on reading and math scores, especially given the presence of the Common Core. And I'm hugely concerned about opening the door to increasing levels of regulation and state interference in school operations. Fordham's report didn't give me any reassurance on either count. In the end, while I'm with Fordham in principle, for the moment, that leaves me closer to Greene, Coulson, Bedrick, et al.

Louisiana Public Square on LPB: FORUM- "01/14 - Decoding Common Core

(click on the title above to go to the LPB program page)

From LPB's website:

"Louisiana is one of forty-five states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards for Math and Language Arts, the first-ever national academic standards. Supporters of the Common Core standards say they will increase rigor and help every student learn what they need to succeed. Critics say the standards are untested, being poorly implemented and lower expectations for students.
So, what do Louisiana educators, parents and students think about Common Core? Do the new guidelines encourage students to think and be more persuasive, or do they stifle educational innovation by removing local control? Louisiana Public Square explores the controversial academic standards on “Decoding Common Core” Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 7pm on LPB HD." 

Lee BarriosPublic Education Activist
Beth CourtneyHost of Louisiana Public Square
and President/CEO of Louisiana Public Broadcasting
Ken BradfordAssistant Superintendent, Office of Content; Louisiana Department of Education

Ken A. MillerExxonMobil Plant Manager
Kirby GoidelGuest Host, Political Science & Mass Communication Professor at LSU

Maya BennettCommon Core Teacher Leader

Brett GeymannState Representative, District 35, R-Lake Charles