Thursday, December 25, 2008

Farewell, Joe Kincheloe

Joe Kincheloe, amazing educator and author (who first introduced me to the study of Critical Pedagogy), died of a heart attack on December 19th.  He founded the Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy, and was a professor of Education at McGill University. You can find an announcement and slideshow of Dr. Kincheloe on the website.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Giroux and Saltman Comment on Obama's Education Pick

Henry Giroux and Kenneth Saltman comment on Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan: Obama's Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling.
It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with Duncan's history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices - both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services. At the heart of Duncan's vision of school reform is a corporatized model of education that cancels out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market or the prison. No longer a space for relating schools to the obligations of public life, social responsibility to the demands of critical and engaged citizenship, schools in this dystopian vision legitimate an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values and those privatizing and penal pedagogies that both inflate the importance of individualized competition and punish those who do not fit into its logic of pedagogical Darwinism.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mime Spoken Here: Awesome book on Mime (yes mime!), Aritstry, and Drama Education

While I'm in the academic mode, a few more thoughts on another book I recently read:Mime Spoken Here : The Performer's Portable Workshop.Read more about acclaimed mime and author, Tony Montanaro.

As a teaching artist (with little mime training) who is looking to transition to a full-time teacher who incorporates and utilizes drama as a way of learning in the elementary classroom, I came across several unexpected connections in Montanaro’s Mime Spoken Here. To me, the book not only encouraged an understanding and appreciation of mime work on an introductory level, but also inspired an understanding of Montanaro’s goals and work as an educator—knowledge that translates directly to those practicing drama in education.

Montanaro’s insights into premise, character, and improvisation can be applied throughout the acting world, and also further into understanding oneself and one’s work (in whatever field). Montanaro’s exercises in premise stress that the premise or motive will change how one does something. He notes that the ability of the actor to believe in the motivation will enhance and create credibility, even in the simplest of exercises. Montanaro points out that mime, at its foundation, is about understanding life and its physical forces--a beautiful idea. Montanaro notes, “It is important to remember that mime is a reflection of life, and that life is much more than the outward appearance of a living thing.” 

Connections: Montanaro and Dorothy Heathcote
Montanaro’s work led me to make connections between his insights and drama in the classroom—particularly, process drama work. His chapter on improvisation offers several connections to process drama. The dictionary definition of improvise includes the phrase “without preparation,” but Montanaro argues, “whether you can predict the future or not, you’re always prepared for it. Each moment is informed by the moment that precedes it. Everything that happens has been set up; it is prepared to happen." 

This thinking mirrors the approach that Dorothy Heathcote takes with a new class with whom she is working on a process drama. She often walks into a classroom and says, “What would you like to do a play about today?” While this question seems to require no preparation or prediction of the future, Heathcote prepares both beforehand and during by using her previous experiences and the connections that she can make between themes, history, and experience, what Betty Jane Wagner names “the brotherhood” (making connections to all of those who have been in similar situation) and “segmenting” strategies in her book, Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium.

Montanaro’s “Rules for Improvisation” are applicable for all teachers and specifically, teachers engaging in process drama in the classroom:
  1. Read what is coming at you from all directions.
  2. Listen to what the present moment is “suggesting” to you.
  3. Follow your impulses dispassionately and faithfully.
Sadly, much of the curriculum mandates in our current educational system leave little room for improvisation. But “good” teachers look for student reactions and understanding in order to work in the moment; they follow impulses by recognizing teachable moments. Facilitators of process drama would find these rules to be applicable and similar to those encouraged by Heathcote.

Another of Montanaro’s statements that applies to the realm of drama in education is: “Some people believe that improvisations are field days for the uninhibited.” As Montanaro suggests, this can repel “the more serene and complacent types.” It is important that teachers and students alike interested in drama in education understand that they need not be haphazard, wild, or outspoken. He notes, “Improvisation, approached correctly, teaches acuity, perceptiveness, and presence-of-mind.”

In continuing to learn about the area of process drama and its use in the school classroom, Montanaro’s recommendations and insights into improvisation are all the more useful. The teacher engaging a classroom in process drama needs to have a grasp of improvisation, as well as an understanding that improvisation can still allow the teacher to maintain structure. Perhaps the most applicable portion of Montanaro’s writing on this topic is this:
The improvisers come equipped with a certain repertoire of skills and tricks, and they look for opportunities to showcase these skills. Some improvisers bring their own ‘safety nets’ with them—backup plans just in case something goes “wrong.”
These improvisers are expecting something from their improvisation; they are planning its future. If the improvisation happens to take them into an area of ‘weakness,’ they break the improvisation and follow Plan B—the safe route.
Montanaro stresses the importance of working with what is happening in the improvisation, “Nothing should be thrown away or ignored simply because it doesn’t meet your expectations or accentuate your strengths." This is similar to Heathcote’s notion of accepting and working with what the students suggest to her, without judgment, knowing that we can always uncover universal meaning in the way we work with and reflect on the topic students have chosen for the drama.

Broader Implications
In his section on premise, Montanaro explicitly makes connections from his own classroom to the broader education system. In outlining the importance of premise work, Montanaro warns against learning by rote. He stresses that teachers must understand why they are directing the students to do something—going even further to say, “if the motives are not noble, the teacher should rethink his/her approach.”

Premise is a crucial topic—not just for mimes and actors. It is a critical subject for educators and students of all kinds to better understand and reflect upon. Montanaro concludes his chapter on premise by hoping and predicting that educating systems will incorporate the importance of premise work. “When students’ attention is constantly turned away from effects and back to cause, they discover better and better reasons for doing what they’re doing. They discover the inspiration to try new things and the courage to become mavericks.”

Beautiful Book: Steven Nachmanovitch's Free Play

Nachmanovitch's Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Artis an amazing and inspiring book that is truly applicable to its title: life and art. (A few excerpts from an academic paper I wrote are below.)

Nachmanovitch’s perspective on play was filled with an understanding of feeling and emotion, life’s inter-connectedness, and discomforting encounters with the unknown. He says, “The creative process is a spiritual path. This adventure is about us, about the deep self, the composer in all of us, about originality, meaning not that which is all new, but that which is fully and originally ourselves.”

Flow and Embracing Emptiness
A dance professor once reminded me that a beautiful dance is not created from a sequence of movements. The dance is made beautiful in the way the dancer connects those movements. Without the flow, the dance is lacking. Life, like dance (or art), is not only about a series of milestones or singular movements, but the flow between those milestones—our unfinished work (also true in education and learning). Nachmanovitch comments, “A momentous and mysterious factor that keeps us going through every obstacle is the love of our unfinished work.” Loving and paying close attention to the "in between" moments, the flow, and the creation of the work (the process) is as important as the milestone or the finished work itself.

I also appreciated Nachmanovitch's comments on the power of emptiness:
When we face our emptiness and look at it from the outside, it may indeed appear frightening or alarming, but when we move in and actually become empty, we’re surprised to suddenly find ourselves most powerful and effective. For only empty, without entertainment or distracting internal dialogue, can we be instantaneously responsive to the sight, the sound, the feel of the work in front of us.
Life is about continually valuing our unfinished work and responding to its ups and downs, finding strength within emptiness. 

Nachmanovitch’s chapter entitled “Childhood’s End” struck a chord with me, specifically when he mentioned the school as a place that breeds conformity. His story about the young child who learned to draw the right kind of trees rather than abstract ones is something that I have seen happen throughout classrooms. Nachmanovitch reminds us that “Schools can nurture creativity in children, but they can also destroy it, and all too often do.” More and more, students are not encouraged to look outside the box, but to fit comfortably into the box hat has been created and formed by normative society and positivistic learning structures.

Nachmanovitch argues, “education must tap into the close relationship between play and exploration; there must be permission to explore and express.”

I love Nachmanovitch’s term “Heartbreakthrough.” (And think it is connected to Freire's Conscientization.) A time when “the power of creative spontaneity develops into an explosion that liberates us from outmoded frames of reference and from memory that is clogged with old facts and old feelings." Heartbreakthrough is the return to play that we need as adults. Heartbreakthrough is liberation from the pressures of adulthood, the pains and habits of everyday life and a renewed faith in what is beautiful, pure, and simple: play. It is surrender to the depth of oneself and one’s creativity.

Free Play encouraged me to understand the ways in which play permeates life, and the ways in which a lack of play can take a toll on one's life (so important to also understand as an educator). Childhood play is amazing, and at times all of us long to return to childhood's innocence. Yet, at the same time, after going through the process of hurt, disappointment, and hardship, the return to innocence and the return to play can be all the more meaningful and rewarding.

Peace Corps for Artists?

NPR's All Things Considered discusses the possibility of an Artists Corps teaching artist model and examines Kiff Gallagher's MusicianCorps.
President-elect Barack Obama has said he believes the arts are good for people. During his campaign, one of his ideas was to create an Artist Corps — a kind of Peace Corps for artists who would work in low-income schools and communities.

But what would this actually look like?

There's already a model being developed for musicians called MusicianCorps. Kiff Gallagher's idea would be similar to AmeriCorps — in exchange for a year or two of service teaching in schools and after-school programs, musicians would get health care and a living stipend. Gallagher has the attention of Obama's transition team.

He also has the attention of private industry — the Hewlett Foundation gave MusicianCorps a $500,000 grant for a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area.
More background on Gallagher's idea and Obama's arts interest:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Educational Leadership Conference at Yale

Levers for Change
Hosted by The Yale School of Management
Friday, February 13th, 2009 at The Omni Hotel in New Haven, CT

  • Dennis Walcott, Deputy Mayor of Education and Community Development, New York City
  • Roland Fryer, Economist and Professor, Harvard University (this guy)
Panelists Include:

Definitely the corporate-leaning side of ed reform folks...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Upcoming Webinar on Quality Arts Education

Americans for the Arts is hosting The Qualities of Quality: Excellence in Arts Education and How to Achieve It. Details:
December 17, 2008 at 2:00 PM EST, 1:00 PM CST, 12:00 PM MST, 11:00 AM PST
(90 minutes)
Many children in the United States have little or no opportunity for formal arts instruction so access to arts learning experiences remains a critical national challenge. Additionally, the quality of arts learning opportunities that are available to young people is a serious concern. Understanding this second challenge – the challenge of creating and sustaining high quality formal arts learning experiences for K-12 youth, inside and outside of school – is the focus of a recent research initiative, The Qualities of Quality: Excellence in Arts Education and How to Achieve It, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The study focuses on the character of excellence itself and asks three core questions: (1) How do arts educators in the United States—including leading practitioners, theorists, and administrators-- conceive of and define high quality arts learning and teaching? (2) What markers of excellence do educators and administrators look for in the actual activities of art learning and teaching as they unfold in the classroom? And (3) How does a program’s foundational decisions, as well as its ongoing day-to-day decisions, impact the pursuit and achievement of quality? In this webinar, we will share the findings of this study and introduce some of the tools developed by the research team for use by practitioners committed to examining and improving the quality of the arts learning experiences they provide for young people.

Presenter: Steve Seidel, Director, Harvard Project Zero and Director, Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education 
P.S. Speaking of Project Zero, this is cute...

Not Your Typical Substitute Teachers: Super Subs Bring the Arts To Schools

Interesting group in California called Super Subs infuses the arts during day-long programs in schools.  Smart model if the teaching artists are actual licensed substitutes and can be on their own with students in a classroom--this wasn't clear to me.
If this doesn't sound like a typical class, that's because it isn't. These aren't your typical teachers; they are substitutes. And they aren't your typical substitute teachers, either -- they're Super Subs.
The brainchild of Barboza, a retired teacher, the Super Subs program is a way to bring arts and music to underserved students. Barboza recruited a group of friends -- some of whom once played together in a semiprofessional band -- to be the subs. At first, the idea was to give back to schools in the community where they all grew up. But after experiencing success at their local schools, they decided to take their show on the road.
Here's how it works: Barboza and the twenty other musicians, artists, writers, and designers he's recruited take over classes for the day. They teach their own brand of music, art, writing, journalism, and self-esteem. The visits don't cost schools a dime. The Personal News Network, a social-media Web site run by one of the Super Subs, picks up the tab, and most of the Super Subs volunteer their time. 
A teacher says:
"Our kids don't necessarily get experiences like this. You know how when you think back to high school, there were a few days when something happened that you really remember as being great? I want this to be one of those days for these kids."
But why can't they have this every day? Wouldn't it be great if all (or at least most) learning could create great, memorable, transformative experiences?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Linda Darling-Hammond to Spearhead Obama's Ed Policy Working Group

Darling-Hammond is a real (some might say touchy-feely) educator who cares about transformative teaching and learning and social justice. An exciting pick.

Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she has launched the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the School Redesign Network. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school reform, teaching quality and educational equity. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the executive board of the National Academy of Education. She has been a leader in the standards movement, chairing both the New York State Curriculum and Assessment Council as it adopted new standards and assessments for students and the Interstate New Teachers Support and Assessment Council (INTASC) as it developed new standards for teachers. From 1994-2001, she served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, was named in 2006 as one of the most influential affecting U.S. education, and Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation's ten most influential people affecting educational policy. She received her BA from Yale University, magna cum laude, in 1973 and her Doctorate in Urban Education from Temple University in 1978. She began her career as a public school teacher.
More info:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Higher Education Today

Paulo Freire says, “The educated individual is the adapted person, because she or he is better “fit” for the world” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). It can be argued that universities have largely become mechanisms that mold students to conform and adapt to the normative structures of society, rather than question the status quo. How often do we see a "problem-posing" environment in the higher education lecture-based or even seminar classroom?

Here's an interesting video created by students at Kansas State University: "A Vision of Students Today." You can find more information on the ethnographic project here.

One student in the video says her bubble tests won't help her deal with or prepare her the problems of the world--war, ethinic conflict, hunger....

Another student says, "I did not create the problems. But they are my problems." Higher education should promote pedagogies that encourage real dialogue in which students explore and understand their place in the world as both oppressors and oppressed, along with their potential to create and re-create new realities. Freire calls this "Conscientizacao," threatening the place of the status quo and questioning the prevailing picture. Going beyond the statement, “This is how life is,” and understanding one’s place within social mechanisms. Individuals and groups have the power to change the narratives of reality.

The college classroom has the potentional to be what Freire terms "co-intentional," but often isn't.
Teachers and students (leadership and people), content on reality, are both Subject, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 2007)
Another of my favorite essays that's only somewhat related: William Deresiewicz's The Disadvantages of an Elite Education."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Upcoming Event: Reach All - Teach All

An event worth attending. The moderator is a colleague of mine in NYU's Catherine B. Reynolds Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship.
Reach All - Teach All
Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Panel Discussion
Part of the Target First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum

Saturday, December 6, 2008, 8 p.m.
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art Forum, 4th Floor
Free tickets available at the Visitor Center at 7 p.m.

Moderator: Martha Diaz - Founder, Hip-Hop Association and Catherine B. Reynolds Fellow

Toni Blackman – Founder, Lyrical Embassy
Alice Mizrahi – Co-Founder, Younity Collective
Toofly – Co-Founder, Younity Collective

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Community Program Bridges Differences

Walking the Walk, an interfaith group in Philadelphia, brings students of various faiths together to take part in community service programs, reflect on their work, and also discuss their faiths, commonalities, and differences. 
they can meet with other teenagers wearing hijabs or yarmulkes, who are Muslim, Jewish or Christian, and talk — or text — about pizza, goofing off, television and the Jonas Brothers. Asked what was the most important lesson he had learned from getting to know young people of other faiths, Ibrahim, son of the imam, said without hesitation, “I learned they’re just like me.”
Find more info about the project here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Teaching about Privilege

Education for Liberation hosts its online forum, 'talkin bout on teaching privilege: Tuesday, November 18 to Wednesday, November 19.
talkin `bout….teaching truth to power, will focus on how educators can teach about injustice and inequality to a group with an identity of privilege (for example, teaching about racism to white people, teaching about sexism to men, teaching about heterosexism to straight people etc.). Most Americans have at least one identity of power—male, middle-class, straight, American citizen, white, Christian etc. How do we confront the issue of privilege with students? What are the challenges and benefits of this work? Is it possible to teach someone out of their power?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama and the Arts

Obama supports the arts. 
Obama began forming his culture plank in the spring of 2007, long before winning the Democratic nomination. He brought together a committee of artists and arts professionals, headed by Hollywood writer, director and producer George Stevens Jr. and Broadway producer Margo Lion.

The committee's members include novelist Michael Chabon, Broadway director Hal Prince, musicians Eugenia and Pinchas Zukerman, Museum of Modern Art president emerita Agnes Gund, as well as Lynch, of Americans for the Arts.
Here's the part I especially love:
The committee developed a program that advocates: the creation of an "Artists Corp'' of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and communities; the expansion of public- private partnerships to increase cultural-education programs; increased funding for the NEA; a commitment to ``cultural diplomacy''; attracting foreign talent in the arts; and providing health care to artists.
I'd been thinking about the need for an artist corp to address the lack of arts opportunities for particularly low-income students, but I guess my idea is a little too late...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beyond Gap-Closing: Some Thoughts

Does the overwhelming focus on closing the "achievement gap" channel our energy in the wrong places?

Say we are able to eventually "close" the gap, eliminate it. What would the purpose of education be then? How would our schools, testing, and/or curricula change? Would education look or feel different?

When we focus on "gap-zapping," as EdTrust refers to it, do we change the way in which we practice education? Should we seek to close the test-score gap at all costs? Does the end justify the means? 

Are we short-changing our students?

Paying Students for Performance

NPR airs a discussion of D.C.'s initiative to pay students for their performance and test scores. (a.k.a. bribing students, rather than changing teaching methods and curriculum so that they will actually find learning exciting...)

College Board to Offer Pre-Pre-Pre SAT

The College Board will offer another standardized test for students, reports The NY Times. The test will "help prepare eighth grade graders for rigorous high school courses and college." I'm not sure how a test helps students prepare for high school.
“This is not at all a pre-pre-pre SAT,” Lee Jones, a College Board vice president, said at a news conference. “It’s a diagnostic tool to provide information about students’ strengths and weaknesses.”

The College Board, which owns the SAT and PSAT, made its announcement when an increasing percentage of high school students are taking the rival ACT and amid mounting concern over what critics call the misuses of the SAT and ACT and other standardized tests in college admissions.

Those critics dismissed the new test for eighth graders as just what Dr. Jones said it was not: “a pre-pre-pre SAT.”

“Who needs yet another pre-college standardized exam when there is already a pre-SAT and the SAT test itself?” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, a nonpartisan group that has called for colleges and universities to make standardized tests optional for admissions. “The new test will only accelerate the college admissions arms race and push it down onto ever younger children.”
Do we really need yet another test? Especially when the SAT is not even a reliable tool?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Teacher Training Model That Makes Sense

Education Week reports on the Boston Teacher Residency program trains urban teachers by placing them with a master teacher in an urban classroom for a year. This way, there are less surprises when they take on their own classrooms a year later. 

The program makes sense in comparison to other models. In traditional teacher certification routes, students spend less time in the classroom, have little control over placement, and the cooperating teachers' teaching skills can be questionable. With Teach for America, to-be teachers spend less than a month in a classroom, teaching only about one lesson per day. 

Boston Teacher Residency's program sets future teachers up for success and attracts those who are serious about education and teaching in the long-term. However, does it lose candidates to TFA, whose teachers will receive a full salary during the first year of the program, unlike BTR participants who will only receive a stipend?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Billionaires for Bloomberg

What would another term mean for NYC public schools?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oh, The Things Money Can Buy: Admission to the Ivy League

This NPR report is hard to stomach. Sad and disturbing.

For $40k, Michele Hernandez will start working with your kid in 9th grade to ensure they'll get into the Ivy League. If Hernandez's schedule is too full to accommodate you, your child can take part in her 4-day admission boot-camp for only $14,000.

It's so sad.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Desperate Testing Shams

Schools in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana are transferring magnet school students' tests to the local schools that they would have attended. 
Jefferson school officials began rerouting scores last year at the urging of School Board member Judy Colgan, who feared the system's fledgling advanced studies schools were draining neighborhood schools of their brightest students and consequently lowering those schools' test scores.

School Sucks: but we'll bribe you with cell phone minutes!

Roland G. Fryer, Jr., former "Chief Equality Officer" for NYC schools and Harvard economist will head up the Education Innovation Lab, funded with $44 million from Eli Broad. The first year, researchers, who include "economists," "marketers," and "others" who are interested in reforming education will focus on studying "incentives" for students. This would include Fryer's plan to give middle school students cell phone minutes based on their performance. His plan won't be implemented in NYC (thank God), because the money couldn't be raised by private donors. Currently, NYC pays students in ninth and tenth grade up to $500 for test scores. It hasn't worked so far, but they're going to keep doing it.

Couldn't the money do much more if it was spent on teaching & learning--providing incentives for students to come to school because the subject matter is relevant and interesting, the buildings are welcoming, and teachers care about them?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Diversity is Shrinking in the NYC Teaching Force

The NYSun reports that the percentage of black teachers in New York City is dropping. In 2001-02, 27% of the teaching force was made up of teachers who were black, but that number has shrunk to 13%. The drop could be attributed for an initiative that required all teachers to be fully certified by 2003. In light of this, the city is beginning to focus on recruiting more black and latino educators.
The changing demographics come in a school system that is increasingly made up of non-white students.

Educators and advocates said they have been troubled by the data for several years — and they said they are especially troubled this year, the 40th anniversary of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville crisis, in which black community leaders challenged the city to make school staff more representative of the city.

"We want a school system that values educators who are invested in their students and who reflect the communities of which they are part," a member of the Center for Immigrant Families in uptown Manhattan, Donna Nevel, said.

The Department of Education's executive director for teacher recruitment and quality, Vicki Bernstein, said responsibility for the declining diversity lies with a state requirement that all public school teachers be certified by 2003.

The requirement was introduced in 1998, forcing the New York City public schools to scramble; before 2003, 60% of new teacher hires were uncertified, and 15% of the overall teaching corps in the city was not certified.

School officials said the mandate had a chilling effect on diversity, because the state certifies very few black teachers. According to a state report, in the 2006-07 school year, black people made up just 4% of new certified teachers who identified their race.
The article references the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict that occured 40 years ago. Taking Note's Richard Kahlenberg shares a summary of the events that is very much worth reading. Here's the intro:
New York City public schools opened peaceably again this year, making it all the more remarkable to recall the chaos that rocked the system 40 years ago. On what was to be the opening day, September 9, 1968, the vast majority of city schools were shut down as more than 50,000 New York City public school teachers went out on strike. The day marked the beginning of the first of three walkouts that kept 1.1 million students out of school for a total of 36 days through mid-November, constituting what was at the time the longest and largest series of teacher strikes in American history. The strikes persisted for so long because they were not about teacher salaries and benefits, issues of dollars and cents which can be easily compromised. Rather, they were about different visions of racial justice and the meaning of liberalism.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Smoke and Mirrors of Standardized Testing

eduwonkette interviews Daniel Koretz, author of Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us.

She asks an important question:
EW: What are the implications of score inflation for both measuring and attenuating achievement gaps? Because schools serving disadvantaged students face more pressure to increase test scores via the mechanisms you describe, I worry that true achievement gaps may be unchanged - or even growing - while they appear to be closing based on high-stakes measures.

DK: I share your worry. I have long suspected that on average, inflation will be more severe in low-achieving schools, including those serving disadvantaged students. In most systems, including NCLB, these schools have to make the most rapid gains, but they also face unusually serious barriers to doing so. And in some cases, the size of the gains they are required to make exceed by quite a margin what we know how to produce by legitimate means. This will increase the incentive to take short cuts, including those that will inflate scores. This would be ironic, given that one of the primary rationales for NCLB is to improve equity. Unfortunately, while we have a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that this is the case, we have very few serious empirical studies of this. We do have some, such as the RAND study that showed convincingly that the "Texas miracle" in the early 1990s, supposedly including a rapid narrowing of the achievement gap, was largely an illusion. Two of my students are currently working with me on a study of this in one large district, but we are months away from releasing a reviewed paper, and it is only one district.

I have argued for years that one of the most glaring faults of our current educational accountability systems is that we do not sufficiently evaluate their effects, instead trusting - evidence to the contrary - that any increase in scores is enough to let us declare success. We should be doing more evaluation not only because it is needed for the improvement of policy, but also because we have an ethical obligation to the children upon whom we are experimenting. Nowhere is this failure more important than in the case of disadvantaged students, who most need the help of education reform.
The willingness for policymakers to think critically about this question reflects their stake in the ed reform movement. 

Do we really want to improve and provide equitable and meaningful education for all students? Or do we just want to make it look like we've closed the achievement gap?  

Let's not accept shortcuts.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Optional SAT: Watch Out Test Prep Industry

A commission led by Harvard's dean of admissions calls for less emphasis on the use of SAT and ACT scores.
“Society likes to think that the SAT measures people’s ability or merit,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said. “But no one in college admissions who visits the range of secondary schools we visit, and goes to the communities we visit — where you see the contrast between opportunities and fancy suburbs and some of the high schools that aren’t so fancy — can come away thinking that standardized tests can be a measure of someone’s true worth or ability.”

Teaching Is a Popular Choice During "Hard Times"

England's Teacher Training Institute approaches nervous bankers, offering a "stable" job.
The Training and Development Agency for Schools is planning to visit London's financial districts in a bid to find people who might re-train as teachers.
The agency (TDA) says the credit crunch has already boosted inquiries about teaching as a career.
Its recruitment website has had a 34% annual increase in traffic.
It also says there has been a 13% increase since last year in the number of people registering an interest in becoming teachers.

Book to Read: Lives on the Boundary

Deborah Meier of Bridging Differences recommends Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary, an alternative to what she phrases as "another way" to educate, in opposition to "boot camp" methods of education. Rather than attempting to change the symptoms of a poor educational system--high drop-out rates, low test scores, etc., she reminds us of the importance of engaging students in the process of education.
Engaging students in pursuit of their own education is possible, and it’s the real “cure”—not just for the crisis of school dropouts, but the larger one of societal dropouts. It requires knowing each other well and having the power to act on that knowledge in respectful ways.
Here's the summary of Lives on the Boundary:
Remedial, illiterate, intellectually deficient—these are the stigmas that define America’s educationally underprepared. Having grown up poor and been labeled this way, nationally acclaimed educator and author Mike Rose takes us into classrooms and communities to reveal what really lies behind the labels and test scores. With rich detail, Rose demonstrates innovative methods to initiate “problem” students into the world of language, literature, and written expression. This book challenges educators, policymakers, and parents to re-examine their assumptions about the capacities of a wide range of students. Already a classic, Lives on the Boundary offers a truly democratic vision, one that should be heeded by anyone concerned with America’s future.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Life-long learning: University Without Walls

The Boston Globe highlights DOROT's University Without Walls, a program that offers educational opportunities to homebound seniors. Classes are held over the phone.
The curriculum includes more than 250 courses and runs the gamut from understanding feng shui and poetry writing to discussions on moral, ethical and philosophical issues and a discourse on women of the progressive era. Informational classes on money management, Internet surfing and medicine also are available.

"It gets me out emotionally. It releases me from the four walls around me," said Leeds, who has participated in the program for 12 years. Her fall selections include a course on the life and work of author Doris Lessing and a class on recording personal histories.

While the majority of the students are from the New York area, seniors in Alaska, Iowa and Texas also participate. The oldest was 105, but died last year.
For more information on University Without Walls visit:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Whatever It Takes - At what cost?

Bridging Differences is back, and Diane Ravitch has some important commentary on Paul Tough's Whatever It Takes, chronicling Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone.
Tough’s book is very hopeful. He cites a large body of evidence to argue that children will never fall behind cognitively if their parents and their environment provide them with enough stimulation and support from the beginning of their lives. This is the case, he says, no matter how poor their parents are, no matter how disadvantaged their circumstances. If we as a society do “whatever it takes,” we can close the achievement gaps and get every student ready for college or a good career.

However, and there is always a however, there is a depressing aspect to Tough’s book. As the author describes the situation, Canada is in complete sympathy with his powerful, wealthy board of directors, which includes hedge-fund billionaires. Not surprising. These directors care only for the numbers, and they don’t care how the schools get them. “The overall goal of the Zone might be liberal and idealistic—to educate and otherwise improve the lives of poor black children—but Canada believed the best way to achieve that goal was to act not like a bighearted altruist but like a ruthless capitalist, devoted to the bottom line.” (p.135).

The first principal of the middle school sounds like you, Deborah; she must have been reading your books. She is a progressive educator who worries about the whole child, about their social and emotional problems, and who wants the children to have a rounded education. But her school doesn’t get the test scores gains that the hedge-fund managers and the New York City Department of Education demand. She is removed and replaced by a KIPP-style principal. The wealthy men who run the board of the Zone are impressed by the KIPP model, which is described by one of them as “more of a military-style, real rote-learning, rote-behavior discipline thing,” because this model “delivered results.”

The new principal begins a regimen of test-prep, test-prep, test-prep, no-nonsense discipline. Drill, drill, drill. I won’t spoil the book for you by giving away the outcome, but I can only say that the school part of the book’s message was startling. Do poor black and Hispanic kids really need to be in “no excuses” schools that insist on rote learning and rote behavior? That take control of their lives and change their culture? Should this be the model for education for children of color in big cities? This was the message of Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom’s book "No Excuses," and it was echoed by a recent book by David Whitman, "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism."

Catholic Charter Schools?

Should Catholic schools be allowed to become public charter schools? To avoid closing, several Catholic schools in D.C. have worked out a deal with the school system in which they will become public charters. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New Issues of The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

The Freire Project has published the second (free!) issue of The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. Articles that caught my eye:
  • "But What Can I Do?" Fifteen Things Education Students Can Do to Transform Themselves In/Through/With Education"
  • "Liberating Grades/Liberatory Assessment"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Looking for Social Justice-Related Lessons?

Check out Education for Liberation Network's edLib Lab. You can search the database according to your topic, like "politics", or browse through the list.

Where's the Power in Arts and Education?

Barry's Arts Blog posts a list of the most influential people in the non-profits arts field. You can check his blog as to why they are influential, but here are the top 10 (he lists 25).
Consensus number one on majority of responses. Flush with cash from the Ruth Lily gifts, Bob has guided expansion of Americans for the Arts initiatives into advocacy, business, research, alliances, arts education, marketing and emerging leadership – building the nation’s largest and strongest arts service provider organization. Clearly the premier spokesperson for the arts sector in America. His seemingly laid- back, diplomatic style belies real ambition for the organization. A true political player – smart, savvy, and boundless enthusiasm.

Highly respected senior foundation leader much in demand for her thinking acumen and big picture analytical skills. Depth of experience adds to her bona fide creds. She is a voice of authority.

Former TCG head now at Doris Duke Foundation. Power and influence come from oratory skills and keen analytical insights. Much in demand speaker. Huge network of fans. When he speaks, people listen.

Long standing arts education leader. Knows the arena as well or better than anyone. Gets out into the field rather than staying office bound. If arts education is, in reality, a separate and distinct sector, he is the head man.

Likely the most respected independent consultant in the whole arts & culture field. Hugely influential. Respected by arts organizations, funders, artists and other consultants. Current guru of audience development theories.

Pioneer in the burgeoning area of direct artist services. Persuasive case maker, detailed thinker. Very focused. Global traveler and large network of contacts. . Both smart and realistic. Bringing the artist to the decision making table.

Though the Durfee Foundation based in Los Angeles is relatively small, her position as Chair of the Board of Grantmakers in the Arts has given her a large platform and influential voice in helping to shape Foundation agendas. Well liked. Term over soon.

Four prominent leaders of Foundations with arts programs, each with large agenda, huge budget and lengthy experience in the field. Strategic thinkers. Closely watched by other foundation leaders.

Chair of NEA always in the Top Ten due to huge impact of funding in rural states and broad grants budget. Bully pulpit used well. Was effective in increasing NEA budget via working well with Congress. As his term is nearly over, his stock is now fading. Lame duck status.

Long time leader and voice of state arts agencies. Wide network and deep experience. Understands the issues in depth; helps set agendas and priorities. Affable personality makes him accessible and well thought of.
Richard Kessler at Dewey21C has posted a list in response: The 10 Most Powerful People in Arts Education.  (It's not a very creative list - but perhaps it might be true.) Here it is:
1. Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
2. Ramon Cortines, Senior Deputy Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
3. Arne Duncan, CEO, Chicago Public Schools
4. Rudy Crew, Superintendent, Miami Dade County Public Schools
5. Carol R. Johnson, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools
6. Arlene Ackerman, The School District of Philadelphia
7. Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
8. Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
9. Reg Weaver, President, National Education Association
10. Checker Finn, President, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation

Okay, here's five more, that cross the threshold from power to influence:

11. Cyrus Driver, Deputy Director, Education and Scholarship, The Ford Foundation
12. Sarah Cunningham, National Endowment for the Arts
13. David Shookhoff, Manhattan Theater Club/New York City Arts Education Roundtable
14. Gigi Antoni, Big Thought of Dallas
15. Eric Booth, Consultant

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What about childhood?

I have been perusing through Emile: Or on Education (1762) by Jean Jacques Rousseau, believed to be one of the first books to outline child-centered educations. He says:
We know nothing of childhood; and with our mistaken notions the further we advance the further we go astray. The wisest writers devote themselves to what a man ought to know, without asking what a child is capable of learning. They are always looking for the man in the child, without considering what he is before he becomes a man.
When we define education with a focus on outcomes, industry, and workforce, we forget about educating the whole child and rather than attempting to make children adults. What about entering into their world and learning with them?

I recently watched Autism: The Musical. Tricia Regan, founder of The Miracle Project, talked about the trouble she had "controlling" her (mostly non-verbal) son's behavior. She, with the influence of other artists, realized the power in trying to enter his world, rather than drawing him out of it. If he was jumping and screaming, why not do that with him? If he was running around the room, why not do that too?

I was also reminded of the power of the figurative voice. Tricia's son was non-verbal, often having outbursts of uncontrollable behavior. It was amazing to see when he was finally put in front of a speech machine and said something to the effect of: "Mom, I want to put you on the spot. I wish you would listen more."

It reminded me of this previous post on critical pedagogy and special needs populations. The "voice" is so important, but also must be broadly defined and cannot be limited by the ability to talk or write.

The Storytelling Project's Antiracism Curriculum

Discuss race and racism with your high school students through the arts with The Storytelling Project Curriculum. (It's free.) The Storytelling Project was developed at Barnard and in NYC schools and includes over 30 lessons appropriate for high school students that include arts-based storytelling activities to discuss racism. Students study various stories of racism from dominant ones to concealed ones to their own. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

NYC Opportunity: Support Queer Students

Free! Here's the info:

Beyond Tolerance 2.0

"Building Alliances with Community Organizations to Support Queer Students and Teachers"

Saturday, September 20, 2008
12:00 PM to 3:30 PM
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender
Community Center
208 W. 13th Street
New York, NY 10011

NYQueer is a working group of the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) focused on gender and sexuality as they relate to school communities. The daily pressures of teaching students at any level (K-12) are such that teachers often feel as if they do not have the time, the support, or access to the resources they need for addressing gender and sexuality in the classroom. More specifically, they are unsure how to challenge heteronormative assumptions and combat homophobia and transphobia.

Recognizing the wealth of resources that both individuals and organizations in NYC have to offer in this area, NYQueer has teamed up with The Ali Forney Center, GLSEN, LIVE OUT LOUD, Hetrick Martin Institute, Connect 2 Protect, Bronx Community Pride Center, and the YES Program to create a workshop that brings together teachers and community based organizations working to support Queer youth.

This event will give teachers an amazing opportunity to learn about the many resources and services NYC community organizations have to offer our youth. Come learn how to better support our queer youth and create safer schools for queer students and teachers.

*This is a free event. Please RSVP.*

For more information or to RSVP write to: or visit

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Questions on Education, Business, and Power

I don't think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. --Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation

(Thanks, Education for Liberation and NYCore for including this quote in your Plan Book.)

"Ford Motor Company would not have survived the competition had it not been for an emphasis on results. We must view education the same way," the U.S. Secretary of Education declared in 2003.
That's a pretty scary statement.

Who runs our schools? The biggest names:
Is a business mentality the solution to our troubled education system? Should hedge fund managers be running charter schools? What happens when we place test results as the bottom line? 

Little Emperors: Chinese Culture and Education

Psychology Today's piece, Plight of the Little Emperors, focuses on the pressure that students in China are facing today.
The situation for urban young people in today's China, from preschoolers on up, is this: Your entire future hinges on one test, the national college entrance exam—China's magnified version of the SAT. The Chinese call it gao kao, or "tall test," because it looms so large. If students do well, they win spots at China's top universities and an easy route to a middle-class lifestyle. If not, they must confront the kind of tough, blue-collar lives their parents faced. With such high stakes, families dedicate themselves to their child's test prep virtually from infancy. "Many people come home to have dinner and then study until bed," says Liu. "You have to do it to go to the best university and get a good job. You must do this to live."
I haven't been posting lately, mostly because I've been busy teaching at a Chinese summer enrichment program in Brooklyn. It's been an interesting experience. The kids are great. But the program has allowed me to understand a little bit more about Chinese culture--particularly some Chinese notions of education. I marvel at the respect and dedication that the students and families place on education. 

Learning from my students about their culture and journeying with them in my drama class has been a positive experience. But the administration's views of education have been troubling to me. My drama class of 5th and 6th grade boys devised a theatrical piece about a ten-year old immigrant boy, titled Lee's Adventure: China to America. We worked hard with the goal of eventually performing it for students and families on the last day. In the end, it was cut from the final "awards ceremony" because it wasn't viewed as projecting a "quality" or "professional" image--even though the administrator had never stepped into our classroom to view it. Not even once.

So, it didn't surprise as much me when I read this piece on the little girl cut from singing the Chinese national anthem at the Olympics. She had the perfect voice--but didn't portray the right "image." 

In the end, we didn't get to perform Lee's Adventure or even videotape it as we'd hoped. When I sat down with the boys to reflect on our drama class experience, I was surprised. I wanted to give them a chance to be angry at me or at the school. While they were disappointed not to perform, one student said, "You know, it doesn't really matter if we have people watching our play. We know we did a great job for ourselves. I kinda think that's what's important." The other students agreed. That made it worth it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Planning to Change the World - One Day at a Time

Education for Liberation Network and The New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCore) have published Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Educators. The 2008-2009 Plan Book aims to help teachers incorporate social justice into classroom activities. (And is useful for those of us who use paper, rather than blackberries to keep track of our schedules! Of course, I don't know any teachers who have blackberries...)

What's useful:
The book offers a number of quotes related to social change & education. A couple of my favorites (although they are all inspiring):
  • Prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can't see it, you can't find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feeling of it is irritating. --Marian Anderson, opera singer
  • No government has the right to tell its citizens whom to love. The only queer people are ones that don't love anybody. --Rita Mae Brown, author and activist for gay rights
  • I don't think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future. --Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
There are conversation/journal questions throughout, to be used to spark discussion with students. For example, "Would you stand up for someone else's rights? Have you ever witnessed someone else's rights being violated? What did you do or what might you do next time?" They aren't daily or even weekly, so I wish there were more. 

I also like the ideas and titles for social justice recognitions to give to students. (I won't give them away here though...)

The calendar includes a number of significant dates--the best part is that these dates are paired with teaching resources in the back of the book. For example, March 9, 2009 will be the 50th anniversary of A Raisin in the Sun's Broadway debut--the first Broadway play written by a black woman. The book includes a link to a unit plan on the play that includes 18 lessons and resources materials. These dates and lesson plans/resources are an exciting part of the book.

A few pages of the book outline the work and successes of teachers for social justice. Also useful, but I'd like to see more.

Things that would make great additions to this book:
  • Elementary/Secondary Editions (differentiated)
  • More questions for conversations (daily or weekly)
  • Additional examples of the work of educators
  • An online version of the calendar
  • A website to track user's success or implementation of discussions or lesson plans
The bottom line:
A useful buy. The lesson plans, dates, quotes, and discussion questions are excellent resources to add to a social justice educator's toolkit. Why buy a planner at Office Max or Target when you can get Planning to Change the World for the same price?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

"Half a Chance" - Black Males and Public Education

Check out Given Half A Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. Here's an excerpt from the Executive Summary:
The 2008 edition, Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, details the drastic range of outcomes for Black males, especially the tragic results in many of the nation’s biggest cities. Given Half a Chance also deliberately highlights the resource disparities that exist in schools attended by Black males and their White, non-Hispanic counterparts. The 2008 Schott report documents that states and most districts with large Black enrollments educate their White, non-Hispanic children, but do not similarly educate the majority of their Black male students. Key examples:
  • More than half of Black males did not receive diplomas with their cohort in 2005/2006.
  • The state of New York has 3 of the 10 districts with the lowest graduation rates for Black males.
  • The one million Black male students enrolled in the New York, Florida, and Georgia public schools are twice as likely not to graduate with their class as to do so.
  • Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, and Wisconsin graduated fewer Black males with their peer group than the national average.
  • Illinois and Wisconsin have nearly 40-point gaps between how effectively they educate their Black and White non-Hispanic male students.
These trends, and others cited in Given Half a Chance, are evidence of a school-age population that is substantively denied an opportunity to learn, and of a nation at risk.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rethinking Dialogue: Critical Pedagogy and Special Needs Populations

I was perusing through the blogs and forums on The Paulo and Nita Freire Project and came across an interesting discussion forum: Critical Pedagogy and Special Needs Students:
I have been thinking about Critical Pedagogy in relation to various oppressed groups. If Critical Pedagogy advocates dialogue in its practice, how can we apply critical pedagogy with students with special needs?
Vanessa Paradis offers this response:
What is dialogue? Is it limited to words that we speak or write down on paper? Dialogue can occur in many formats (art, movement, touch, music, presence, assistive technology, etc..) as can be noted from all of the different blogs on the site. What all dialogue must have in common is love (Freire's radical love) compassion, and humility with an overriding motivation for social justice. McLaren and Jaramillo (2007) state, "The longing for dignity and justice for others, as well as for ourselves, has been a primary motivation for critical educators worldwide to engage in the politics and practice of critical pedagogy" (p. 196).
Our concept of dialogue expands with critical pedagogy. What are all of the ways we might engage in dialogue with people? I ask this because I do not have the answers myself and it is an issue that I seek more knowledge for, especially given that I have a daughter with autism and I have seen her struggle with trying to communicate something she so desperately wants to say, but it stays locked up in her brain anyway, until she cries out in frustration.
We also need to expand how labels and diagnostics define people's capabilities; the ideal would be no labels at all. Setting limits based on a Cartiesian ontology is a tragic error and serves to keep people locked into confined spaces from which they might otherwise escape (Kincheloe, 2006). A perfect example is the IQ test and allowing it to tell us what a person cannot do. Kincheloe (2006) states, "Since the self is always in context and in process, no final delineation of a notion such as ability can be determined. Thus, we are released from the rugged cross of I.Q. and such hurtful and primitive colonial conceptions of 'intelligence'" (Contructing a Critical Ontology, para. 2). This requires us to step outside the boxes we have constructed and to look through different frameworks or lenses.
When we define the prerequisites for dialogue as the ability to speak and write in the ways of the dominant culture, who are we seeking to shut out from dialogue? Who is afraid to enter the dialogue? 

Another pitfall occurs when we make assumptions that certain populations are "unfit" for particular dialogues. In his Introduction to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Donald Macedo writes about an occasion when he and Henry Giroux were asked to speak at Massasoit Community College (MA) to a group of unwed mothers in a GED program. The program mentioned that many of the women were considered "functionally illiterate." Macedo mentions one woman's response after the speech:
Professor Giroux, all my life I felt the things you talked about. I just didn't have a language to express what I have felt. Today, I have come to realize that I do have a language. Thank you.
The particular language in which dialogue takes place is not necessarily what is important. What is fundamental is that individuals, in relationship to others, find languages in which to communicate, dialogue, and create and recreate the world. The dialogue that, as Freire would say, "unveils reality," is a relationship. Must we limit this "unveiling of reality" to certain vocabularies, languages, degree-holding groups, or those deemed to have higher abilities or higher IQ's? Those that are experts? 

Who do we limit with our constructions of dialogue? How do we limit the power of art, music, drama, dance, laughter as languages and dialogue?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Elite Colleges: Making Minds or Careers?

What are the disadvantages of an elite, top-notch, Ivy university? William Deresiewicz frames them pretty darn well in "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education" from the current issue of The American Scholar.

Read the whole piece. Here are several tidbits that Dresiewicz pinpoints as serious disadvantages of the so-called "elite" educational institutions:
The first disadvantage of an elite education... is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it.
Elite colleges and universities pride themselves in opening up doors to their students. But what doors are they closing?
If one of the disadvantages of an elite education is the temptation it offers to mediocrity, another is the temptation it offers to security. An elite education gives you the chance to be rich—which is, after all, what we’re talking about—but it takes away the chance not to be. Yet the opportunity not to be rich is one of the greatest opportunities with which young Americans have been blessed. We live in a society that is itself so wealthy that it can afford to provide a decent living to whole classes of people who in other countries exist (or in earlier times existed) on the brink of poverty or, at least, of indignity. You can live comfortably in the United States as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist—that is, by any reasonable definition of comfort. You have to live in an ordinary house instead of an apartment in Manhattan or a mansion in L.A.; you have to drive a Honda instead of a BMW or a Hummer; you have to vacation in Florida instead of Barbados or Paris, but what are such losses when set against the opportunity to do work you believe in, work you’re suited for, work you love, every day of your life?

Yet it is precisely that opportunity that an elite education takes away. How can I be a schoolteacher—wouldn’t that be a waste of my expensive education? Wouldn’t I be squandering the opportunities my parents worked so hard to provide? What will my friends think? How will I face my classmates at our 20th reunion, when they’re all rich lawyers or important people in New York? And the question that lies behind all these: Isn’t it beneath me? So a whole universe of possibility closes, and you miss your true calling.
I realize that I am just about to quote the whole article, so read it for yourself.

The bottom line?
The disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brooklyn Students Say They Aren't Interested in Fighting Other People's Battles

"In the military, I would fight for someone else's perception of what is right and wrong, and I don't want that," said Jarel March, of East New York, a student at Williamsburg Preparatory High School.

Book to Read: Against Schooling: For an Education That Matters by Stanley Aronowitz

"In Against Schooling, Stanley Aronowitz passionately raises an alarm about the current state of education in our country. Discipline and control over students, Aronowitz argues, are now the primary criteria of success, and genuine learning is sacrificed to a new educational militarism. In an age where school districts have imposed testing, teachers must teach to test, and both teacher and student are robbed of their autonomy and creativity. The crisis extends to higher education, where all but a few elite institutions are becoming increasingly narrowly focused and vocational in their teaching. With education lacking opportunity for self-reflection on broad social and historical dynamics, Against Schooling asks “How will society be able to solve its most pressing problems?” Aronowitz proposes innovative approaches to get schools back on track."

The book is expensive, but here's a link to an Aronowitz article: "Against Schooling: Education and Social Class."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

SAT Spin

A recent study shows that the revamped SAT isn't any better at predicting college success than the old test was. The College Board began to revise the test in 2002, adding a writing section and taking away the analogies portion, when the University of California recommended that the school use a more curriculum- based approach to testing, saying that the SAT favored students from middle to high income families. (Think of the money lost if students applying to University of California schools weren't required to take the SAT!) The new test format was released three years ago. 
“The changes made to the SAT did not substantially change how predictive the test is of first-year college performance,” the studies said.

College Board officials presented their findings as “important and positive” confirmation of the test’s success.
Huh? Sounds similar to Bush's spin on the Reading First results.
“The new SAT was supposed to be significantly better and fairer than the old one, but it is neither,” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, a group that is critical of much standardized testing. “It underpredicts college success for females and those whose best language is not English, and over all, it does not predict college success as well as high school grades, so why do we need the SAT, old or new?”

“Given the data released today, what was the point of all the hoopla about the SAT’s revisions beyond preserving their California market?” Mr. Schaeffer said. “This is all spin. It’s been a marketing operation from the get-go.”
Why do we need the SAT???

Book to Read: Eugenics and Education in America by Ann Winfeild

Bill Ayers has an interesting post about Ann Winfeild's Eugenics and Education in America: Institutionalized Racism and the Implications of History, Ideology, and Memory (Complicated Conversation: a Book Series of Curriculum Studies).


Ayers' review:
Written out of the official story as quackery and the handiwork of a few nut-cases, Winfield demonstrates beyond doubt that eugenics was not only respectable, mainstream science but also that its major tenets were well-springs in the formation of American public schools with echoes in the every day practices of today. Formed in the crucible of white supremacy and rigid hierarchies of human value, American schools have never adequately faced that living heritage.

We no longer talk of “miscegenation” or “imbeciles,” of course, and we are likely to look upon forced sterilization and race-based marriage laws as archaic. But Winfield undermines any sense of smug superiority we might grant ourselves by drawing a direct line from those repulsive labels and practices to our own obsessions with “standards” and “accountability,” test scores and grades. White supremacy surely changes its spots but it remains durable and dominant.