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Which schools are the true ‘miracles?’

Hosierymillworkers

Let’s imagine that we lived in an era in which change was occurring incredibly rapidly. An era in which our information landscape was undergoing drastic transformations into new, previously-unimaginable forms. An era in which our economic landscape was destroying rock-solid, stable livelihoods due to threats from geographically-distant workers and/or devices that replaced not just human labor but also human cognition. An era in which our learning landscape was creating unprecedented powers and possibilities but also significant disruptions to deeply-entrenched institutions. An era which required ‘just tell me what to do’ learners and workers to be more autonomous and self-directed, that demanded that they be more divergent and unique rather than convergent and fungible. An era in which a premium was increasingly placed on adaptability, creativity, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving – all at a pace never seen before – just to make a basic living.

In this imagined era, would the ‘miracle schools’ touted by the media, policymakers, and educators be the ones that prepared kids to be successful on individually-completed, standardized assessments of low-level learning?

Image credit: Two of the tiny workers, U.S. National Archives

Thinking about charter schools

Stephen Dyer says:

I get and am sympathetic to the argument that kids need opportunities to escape struggling schools. And I have little problem with the few really excellent school choice options that are out there that genuinely do give kids opportunities to achieve their potential.

But when the vast majority of those opportunities aren’t any better (and are usually much worse) than the struggling school, and paying for these mostly worse options means the kids who remain in the struggling public school have far fewer resources with which to achieve, or the school to improve?

Well, I’m sorry. I just don’t get that.

via http://10thperiod.blogspot.com/2014/01/ohios-school-choice-funding-scheme.html

What kind of learning environments do high-poverty minority students deserve?

Paul Thomas says:

The public narrative around KIPP is based on embracing an authoritarian and highly structured model for high-poverty and minority students. Public schools have failed high-poverty and minority students in terms of disproportionate discipline and academic policies, including expulsion, suspension, failure, and retention; it appears by the evidence that KIPP and other “no excuses” charter schools mirror those failures instead of alleviating them. The school-to-prison pipeline and the school-as-prison dynamic are key elements of the larger mass incarceration era; KIPP’s association with strict discipline, high attrition, and selectivity are problematic for those of us who wish to break those cycles.

Public and charter schools are experiencing an increase in segregation of students by race and class; KIPP appears to be a part of that troubling pattern, again not a solution.

[In] Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope, … she details how KIPP and the other “no excuses” charters do in fact practice the sort of discipline policies about which I am critical: (1) a strict discipline code that includes SPARK (Carr, p. 11) and SLANT (making and maintaining eye contact, shaking hands, and other highly regimented behavior demands on students), (2) the Bench as as shaming discipline technique (Carr, p. 23), (3) a demanding culture that stresses “no excuses” for teachers and students (Carr, pp. 42-43), focusing almost exclusively on minority students from poverty (and not being implemented in white or affluent schools), and (4) depending so heavily on structure and external rewards that students falter once they enter college and have those elements removed (Carr, p. 188).

KIPP, specifically in its relationship with Teach for America (see Waiting for “Superman” and Carr), contributes directly and indirectly to several harmful and inaccurate claims about teaching and education: teaching quality is primarily a function of being demanding and not of experience or expertise (although this appears true only when dealing with high-poverty minority students since white and affluent students tend to have experienced and certified teachers).

via http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/criticizing-kipp-critics

Living outside the echo chamber

Fortune cookie: The purpose of argument should not be victory, but progress.

This past weekend I engaged in a really long discussion thread about charter schools in which I was definitely a minority voice. Was it maddening and frustrating? Yep. Was I personally insulted on numerous occasions? Yep. Is it highly possible that I made no dent whatsoever on anyone’s thinking? Yep. Was I sometimes glad that those people weren’t in charge of my children’s education and sad that they were in charge of others’? Yep. Was it good for me? Yep.

In his book, The Big Sort, Bill Bishop notes that we are geographically clustering into like-minded groups. The same is true online, leading to narrowcasting and increased likelihood of calcified thinking within echo chambers. When’s the last time we stepped outside our bubbles? How often do we voluntarily expose ourselves to alternative worldviews? (who’s in our Twitter stream? our RSS reader? our Facebook news feed?) And how are we going to come together to compromise and make necessary policy and other educational changes if we don’t even understand each other?

Image credit: The purpose of argument, jon collier

Test makers should not be driving instruction

In a post about the difficulty of New York’s Common Core assessments, Robert Pondiscio said:

Test makers have an obligation to signal to the field the kind of instructional choices they want teachers to make

via http://edexcellence.net/articles/new-york%E2%80%99s-common-core-tests-tough-questions-curious-choices

I’m going to disagree with Robert on this one. I’m fairly certain that test makers should NOT be the ones driving instruction…

Education is and always has been a civil rights issue

Alan Aja said:

Education is and always has been a civil rights issue. Children of color deserve far better than they are getting now. There is no halcyon era in the past when our schools were doing just dandy in this regard. But there was a time when we had a societal awareness that poverty was a pervasive and pernicious source of educational problems. There was a time when federal funds were not awarded based on competition between states, but on the needs of their students. There was a time when the Federal government promoted – even mandated – desegregation, rather than promoting semi-private charter schools that accelerate it.

via http://www.livingindialogue.com/civil-rights-or-civil-wrongs-a-closer-look-at-the-common-core

What testing should do for us

Multiple choice test

John Robinson said:

‘We would like to dethrone measurement from its godly position, to reveal the false god it has been. We want instead to offer measurement a new job – that of helpful servant. We want to use measurement to give us the kind and quality of feedback that supports and welcomes people to step forward with their desire to contribute, to learn, and to achieve.’ – Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time

Want to know what’s wrong with testing and accountability today? It’s more about a ‘gotcha game’ than really trying to help teachers improve their craft. Over and over ad nauseam, those pushing these tests talk about using test data to improve teaching and thereby student learning, but that’s not what is happening at all.

via http://the21stcenturyprincipal.blogspot.com/2014/08/time-to-dethrone-testing-from-its-godly.html

Image credit: Exams Start… Now, Ryan M.

So long as profits are being made, the inadequacies of ed reform ‘solutions’ can be masked

Anthony Cody said:

Here is the deeper problem with [Bill] Gates’ model for education reform. It is built on a vision for social change that asserts that in order for the needs of the poor to be met effectively, the drive for profit must be unleashed. Gates views this as the driving force for innovation.

All of [Gates’] ‘reforms’ undermine the democratic control of our public education system, and wherever possible, shift control into testing companies, private ventures, or individuals subject to corporate influence.

Market-based solutions have a major flaw. When profit is used as the motivator, the most needy students are not served well. The measurement systems that the Gates Foundation has promoted, such as VAM-based teacher evaluations, actually punish teachers who work with the neediest students. Charter schools have been found to consistently under enroll the neediest special ed students, leaving that burden to the public schools. Charter schools are increasing the level of segregation in many cities. Solutions based on technological innovations, so beloved by Gates, have yet to reduce inequities – and may even increase them, as this research suggests. The cities Gates lauded for imposing mayoral control of schools, and high pressure focused on test score accountability, actually performed worse than cities not under such regimes.

However, so long as profits are being made, the inadequacies of these ‘solutions’ can be masked, because the corporations making money can provide active financial support to lawmakers willing to give them support, and few in the media are willing to run the risk of incurring the epithets of the billionaires they might offend by uncovering the unsavory side of reform.

via http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/07/questioning_education_reformer.html

The takeover of Camden

Julia Sass Rubin said:

Many parents – and Camden public school administrators – also believe that a complete charter takeover of the district is inevitable and beyond their control. There is even a publicly-available blueprint that details the Christie Administration’s intentions to convert Camden into a New Orleans style all-charter district that includes a few remaining public schools to educate the children too challenging for the charter chains to take on – children with significant special needs; children who are not English proficient; and children whose families are too economically or emotionally distressed to meet the charter networks’ parental-involvement requirements.

via http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/07/charters_school_networks_and_s.html

So much for separate is unequal

“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Well, so much for that…

kindergarten poverty

via http://www.epi.org/publication/black-hispanic-kindergartners-disproportionately

See also the resegregation research from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

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