Tag Archives: policy

Notes from the UNI Education Summit

Notes from the UNI Education Summit in Cedar Falls, Iowa a couple of weeks ago…

Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol (wow, was he wonderful to listen to…)

  • I try to be bipartisan but former Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin has talked with me for years about the damage that testing is doing to children.
  • I’m glad there are so many educators here; I always feel safer in a room of teachers!
  • Teachers have been taking quite a beating lately. In many states they’ve become a scapegoat for all of the evils and injustices of society. But teachers are my heroes.
  • Teachers, particularly those who teach in our most disadvantaged communities, need to be protected.
  • I said to an African-American Boston minister after the Philadelphia disappearances, “How can I be of use?” He said, “You’ve had a wonderful education. I’d like you to put it to use for our children.”
  • The city department of education sent me out as a substitute. My first day was in kindergarten. I was absolutely terrified! Ultimately I survived. I’ve been working with low-income children, mostly Black and Hispanic, ever since. I’m currently working with children, families, and schools in the South Bronx in New York City.
  • I’ve written several books about those children. The sum of it all is that, almost everywhere I go, those funding inequalities are still with us. It’s sad that there is such thing as a ‘poor school’ in America, the wealthiest nation on Earth.
  • The rich districts can go way above foundational funding. In wealthy neighborhoods in cities, parents are holding fundraisers that earn as much as $1 million in a single night to add to their school’s budget.
  • Poverty is poverty, whether in cities or rural areas. The traumatic effects apply to children everywhere. But for minority children in concentrated neighborhoods of poverty, it goes to new levels. 
  • We see hyper-segregation of Black and Hispanic children in every city, large or small. Textbooks sugar coat realities a bit. The media does this too. They indicate that racial isolation is primarily a thing of the past. In reality the very opposite is true. These children are more isolated intellectually and separated physically than any time since 1968.
  • Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, white politicians who have never lifted a finger to solve inequity and segregation visit some urban school and give their version of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I still believe that Brown v. Bd. of Education was essentially correct. Isolation sends terrible messages to our youth.
  • Langston Hughes’ poem, What happens to a dream deferred? I was in Baltimore 8 days ago. 
  • There’s another kind of inequality: rich preschool education. I ask kindergarten teachers in impoverished neighborhoods how many of their children have had real, developmental pre-K for a couple of years beforehand (the kind that wealthy or middle class kids get). They say maybe 40%. The most exclusive pre-Ks in New York City cost $35,000 per child. They’re known as the ‘Baby Ivys.’ There’s not even a pretense at meritocracy.
  • When test scores come out, guess who does well and guess who gets blamed?
  • Could we take the billions of dollars that are going to testing companies and put it into rich, developmental pre-K? This should be a rich entitlement of childhood here in America, along with necessary wrap-around services. Instead of castigating poor parents, help them get the skills they need.
  • Virtually every sector of the population has to take standardized exams. Like in other states, here in Iowa high stakes exams start in 3rd grade. In wealthy neighborhoods in New York, there are strong parent movements to opt out their kids from the exams. The wealthy parents aren’t scared, but the poor people are.
  • In affluent communities, standardized testing takes a lesser toll. The kids easily score fairly well. Parents aren’t frightened of the test. Their concern is whether their children get into their first choice of college.
  • Principals of poor schools are the ones that are running scared. Teachers are obliged to write on the board the specific skill (and number) that they’re teaching. In New York City, it’s very prescriptive. Poor schools are told not to wander too far from the standards, there’s little time for student questions and critical thinking. “Curiosity is nice, but it’s not going to be tested.” Neither will delighted learning, which may indeed be a distraction. Delight and curiosity can get you way off track from the standards.
  • Endless, run-on sentences full of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ – second graders are almost as good as William Faulkner – at the end, there’s usually hidden treasure and good teachers know how to unlock that. Test-driven teachers usually cut them off and they never reach the hidden treasure.
  • Once we lock a child's spirit into sileng stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity - Jonathan KozolOnce we lock a child’s spirit into silent stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity.
  • Teachers in these schools are usually told they have to teach reading from standardized materials. Not all of these books are bad. I’m not a fanatic hippie type who thinks that phonics are a form of oppression. Neither are phonics the cure to all of the ills of society (e.g., the lady I met that I now call the Phonics Fanatic of Phoenix!). I hate the emphasis that many urban teachers have to place on decoding, not on the content of what they’re reading (e.g., scripted teaching methods). What happens to many of these children is that they lose the beauty of reading real books, books that are a joy to read. The only reason to read is for the joy it gives you, not to get a number plastered on your forehead. I majored in Elizabethan poetry. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse is right up there with Hamlet!
  • Learning for its own sake, immersing oneself into the joy and beauty of learning… in many inner-city and/or test-driven schools, this is being lost. There’s no time for orchestra or school plays (but there is in suburban schools). For poor kids who have less aesthetic beauty in their physical neighborhood, we owe it to them to have art and music in school.
  • Many teachers in poor schools are warriors for justice. They represent the best of America.
  • If you do teach in those neighborhoods, don’t assume that children are empty vessels waiting to be filled. Bring out the beauty that’s in their souls. Let their dreams and longings be the starting point for lesson plans, not something that’s cordoned off or relegated to 20-minute enrichment.
  • There’s usually a reason that parents can’t come to school, they’re dealing with their own chaos. Instead of demonizing them, find a way to reach them.
  • Children need beauty in their lives. Other than their family, the teacher is the only adult in their lives that’s around regularly. If you don’t give them happiness, who will?
  • “Mr. Kozol, the whole schools is talking about how quietly your children file down the hallways.” – our way of subverting the system so they would leave us alone and we could have fun without being bothered
  • Teachers often are afraid in poor neighborhoods. In 25 years, I’ve never been touched. I think it’s more psychological than physical. I think it’s the fear of those communities’ suffering and the challenge to their conscience.
  • Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) may have been the biggest hero that kids have ever had. He was a wonderful listener to children. He went with me to the South Bronx. On the #6 train in NYC, it’s only about seven stops from the richest to the poorest neighborhood in the city. Sanitation workers embraced him. Children said ‘welcome to my neighborhood, Mr. Rogers.’
  • The dreams and innocence of children will outlive us all. Life goes fast, my friends, use it well.
How do you measure 'richness' in education? Not with bubbles...

Dr. Mark Grey, Iowa’s (Rapidly) Changing Populations

  • Anthropology professor at UNI, directs the New Iowans Center
  • The context in Iowa is changing rapidly
  • Global events are having local consequences
  • Issues we used to consider secondary or tertiary (religion, language, ethnicity) have become primary
  • Two fundamental shifts
    • The Latino Boom, 1993-2008 (plus smaller populations of Bosnians and other refugees)
    • Today = Microplurality
      • many smaller, ethnically and linguistically distinct populations
      • e.g., 50 langages at Marshalltown HS, 100+ languages in Des Moines Public Schools
      • 180 estimated languages in Iowa now
  • 1990 = only a few Latinos; in 25-30 years, maybe over 400,000 (~12% of total)
  • One-third of Iowa counties reached their peak population in 1900; another one-third in 1950 or so
  • Iowa overall v. Latino median age difference = 15.4 years
  • Brain drain – we lose about half of our college graduates to other states
  • Birth rates in Iowa are less than 2.0; need 2.1 to replace the existing population
  • Four impacts on population = birth rates, death rates, length of life, migration (we have no idea what this will look like)
  • African-American population (including African refugees)
    • 2020 = 125,000; 2040 = 185,000+
  • Asian / Pacific Islander population
    • 2020 = 75,000; 2040 = 110,000+
  • Native-American population will stay fairly stable (but they’re incredibly diverse; numerous tribal affiliations)
    • 2020 = 11,000; 2040 = 13,000
  • Microplurality
    • Growing non-Latino populations in the Heartland
      • Southeast Asia (Hmong, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc.), East Asia (Chinese), former Soviet Union, ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Israel and East Coast), African (Sudan, Somalia), Central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Paulau), Ukrainian Pentecostals, Bhutanese from Nepali refugee camps, African-Americans from Chicago and Detroit, Iraqi refugees, and many more…
    • Iowans take pride in their acceptance of refugees – we have the only state-level office dedicated to refugee resettlement?
    • Sponsorship of refugees dropped to an absolute trickle after 9/11
    • African refugees are pouring into our state – usually they are secondary migrants (first stop was another U.S. location)
    • This is a legal workforce
    • In many districts, multiple languages but they only have a small handful of children that speak each language
  • We have labor vacuums – most local kids aren’t going to pack meat or eggs
  • University research and policy in an era of advocacy philanthropists and agenda-setting organizations
  • Foundations such as Gates and Lumina are bigger, more influential, more strategic, and directly involved in shaping federal and state education policy (K-16)
    • They spawn dozens of smaller groups, which then unapologetically stake out their spots at the capitol building (e.g., Complete College America)
    • Not a great concern for change supported by research – more concerned with ideology – simple slogans, with recipes for implementation
    • Quick to claim causation, but they ignore competing evidence
  • We have to face up to this brave new world
    • Recognize the role of these philanthropies and organization
    • Embrace methods that advocate and direct
    • Debate and criticize these approaches in public forums
    • Find ways to communicate complex information in simple ways
    • Can’t shy away from work with policymakers, have to co-opt their methods (e.g., social media)
  • See Rick Hess’ public presence list

 David Drew, Reforming STEM Education in America

  • What’s driving the emphasis on STEM? 
    • Shift to high-tech and service economy – what’s required for jobs has changed
    • Our nation doesn’t seem to be doing well on international measures of STEM achievement
  • False myths that undermine education reform
    • Restoring American K-12 education in its previous glory
    • the aptitude excuse (e.g., girls, poor kids, students of color can’t do math & science)
    • curriculum reform – the teacher is more important the curriculum – curriculum is important but it isn’t going to save us
    • finding new teachers – we need to do a better job of preparing AND retaining classroom educators
  • Compared to students in high-achieving countries, American students believe strongly that mathematical talent is innate and believe less strongly that effort makes much difference – Anne C. Lewis

There is no shortcut

Andreas Schleicher said:

there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people. 

via http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/education-post-2015.html

Simply throwing kids into adaptive drill-and-kill software is NOT sustained effort and investment in people (i.e., human capital development)…

When you teach science as recall rather than as thinking?

Creation Museum

Dan Berrett said:

Rates of scientific literacy among American adults hover below 30 percent. More than a third of them aren’t convinced that the planet is warming, and only half think human activity is causing climate change, despite consensus among scientists that it is. Even long-settled subjects are still clouded by doubt: 30 percent of Americans say parents should be able to choose not to vaccinate their children; 53 percent think humans and dinosaurs coexisted; and 70 percent don’t believe in the Big Bang theory.

via http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-Science-So-It-Sticks/229881

Our generally poor understanding of science has critical policymaking implications…

Image credit: Creation Museum 002b, becky johnson

Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee

Whipping people into line

Bullwhip

Sir Ken Robinson said:

It’s not the need for standards. It’s the way they play out. . . . testing is not some benign educational process. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that is absorbing massive time, resources and cash that could be used for other things. Its a massive profit-making machine. . . . You can look at the value of there being some sort of commonly-agreed standards and some core content that could be helpful to schools. That’s one conversation. You can look at some value of some form of diagnostic testing. But when you look at it cumulatively and lay the politics on top of it, it’s just a mess. . . . People are just exhausted by this whole enterprise. . . . If you don’t implement reforms, then you don’t get the cash. It’s just trying to whip people into line. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as other countries are showing, looking for more creative approaches to education. . . .

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/sir-ken-robinson-has-a-lot-to-say-about-u-s-school-reform-it-isnt-good

Image credit: 10’Morgan Blacksnake, AldoZL

 

There’s no diagnostic value in locked-down summative assessments

Diane Ravitch said:

It’s totally inappropriate to compare opting out of testing to opting out of immunization. One has a scientific basis, the other has none. The tests that kids take today have nothing to do with the tests that we took when we were kids. When we were kids, we took an hour test to see how we did in reading, an hour test to see how we did in math. Children today in third grade are taking eight hours of testing. They’re spending more time taking tests than people taking the bar exam.

Now, when we talk about the results of the test, they come back four to six months later. The kids already have a different teacher. And all they get is a score and a ranking. The teachers can’t see the item analysis. They can’t see what the kids got wrong. They’re getting no instructional gain, no possibility of improvement for the kids, because there’s no value to the test. They have no diagnostic value.

[It’s as] if you go to a doctor and you say, ‘I have a pain,’ and the doctor says, ‘I’ll get back to you in six months,’ and he gets back to you and tells you how you compare to everyone else in the state, but he doesn’t have any medicine for you.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/16/why-the-debate-between-diane-ravitch-and-merryl-tisch-was-remarkable

If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity

Sir Ken Robinson said:

Politicians often scratch their heads over [persistent educational] problems. Sometimes, they punish schools for not making the grade. Sometimes, they fund remedial programs to get them back on track. But the problems persist and in many ways they’re getting worse. The reason is that many of these problems are being caused by the system itself.

If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/how-to-really-change-education-excerpt-from-sir-ken-robinsons-new-book

How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?

#PinkApril30

Patrick Kearney said:

I had a Republican legislator [in Iowa] reference me saying that I was “wrong” in my writing on school funding. Yet, after saying I was “wrong” he admitted that Republican legislators are using large amounts of tax dollars (80% of next year’s state revenues) for corporate property tax relief. He wrote that the state simply couldn’t afford more than a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding, yet state budget experts say that we have $717 million in state reserves and don’t even need to touch our state surplus in order to support education spending and still balance the budget. He said he didn’t have any problems with teachers, but it sure seemed crazy that those darned teacher unions were asking for 4% salary increases (although Iowa teachers make at least $5,000 less than the national average). He admitted that the 1.25% growth included money from the governor’s Teacher Leadership Compensation plan that was never intended to be included in SSA (what used to be allowable growth). I was perplexed as to what I have said that is wrong. I’m not even saying Republican legislators are “wrong”, I’m simply saying that I disagree with their priorities. I disagree that losing over 1,000 teaching positions in Iowa make Iowa schools better. I disagree that our money is better spent on corporate tax loop holes and corporate property tax relief than on education.

via https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/april-30-2015-in-iowa

Image credit: ISEA

If you’re an Iowan, wear pink tomorrow

Pink slips tweet

Tomorrow is #PinkApril30, so named because of the unfilled teaching positions and educator pink slips that Iowa school districts will have next year because their operational funding won’t be enough to keep up with inflation despite our state’s strong economy and full reserves. It’s been an extremely disappointing year as we’ve watched our House propose to cut funding from both our public schools and our public universities. We’re already underfunded compared to most states and we know that investments in our youth are critical for current and future success, yet we are disinvesting in our children and instead finding new ways to reduce state revenue. It looks like we’re trying to be Kansas (sorry, Kansans).

Will wearing pink do anything to break apart our legislators’ intransigence? Will wearing pink do anything to force our policymakers to compromise? Will wearing pink do anything to give our schools what they need to keep the lights on and the buses running? No, probably not, but it might at least make you feel a little solidarity with the rest of us who are so dang frustrated…

Said No Iowan Ever

Nostalgic for factual recall

The memorize cassette

Two quotes from today’s article in The Des Moines Register, Iowa Poll: Common Core not so radioactive for Iowans:

Ah, the good old days

When Iowa Poll respondents opposed to Common Core standards were asked about their objections, some lamented the shift from traditional teaching methods such as rote memorization of facts and formulas to a focus on more critical thinking.

Because we’ve learned nothing about teaching math in 50 years

Civil engineer Jack Burnham Jr., a 40-year-old independent voter, also has a “very negative” view. “I’ve got a math primer from the 1960s,” he said. “That math worked just fine.”

Shifting the public’s conceptions about learning and teaching is an ongoing, uphill battle…

Image credit: the memorize cassette, Robert Oxford

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