Thanks, Scott

I’ve enjoyed the week. I’ll continue to watch for comments and respond to them for a week or so. And I’m sure I’ll be back regularly to the blog.

My best wishes to your readers…

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

The Purpose of School

I will not reduce public education to an economic institution.

It has become popular over the last few decades with the growth of the 21st
Century Initiative to talk as though school is primarily a preparation for work.
That idea is demeaning and dehumanizing.

When Thomas Jefferson envisioned universal education in America, he saw its
purpose as the equipping of leadership for the nation’s meritocracy. That idea never
really worked because the best and the brightest have generally used their
education to pursue personal goals (often in the business world) instead of in
public service. In America, they have that right. But I point out Jefferson’s
views to show that we seem to have come full circle – from education being about
producing good people who could service society to education being about a
student’s personal preparation for work.

I’ve talked elsewhere
about the purpose of school. Our school system provides a huge number of
safeguards for society – starting with ensuring that all our kids have had the
polio vaccine and been inoculated against measles by the age of four or five.
Having lived in the Third World for a few years, I don’t take that lightly.

The motto of my school is that we are a place committed to creating lifelong
learners. That’s an elementary school motto. And when I look at the
pre-K kids standing in the bus line at the end of the day, I hope that as a
faculty we’ve managed to whet their intellectual appetites that day enough to
make them want more tomorrow.

I hope that when I contribute to a math class for third graders or discuss
figurative language and poetry with fifth graders that I find a way to peak
their curiosity, to help them enjoy learning, and to equip them with the tools
they will need later in life to make learning itself an enjoyable activity.

I’m concerned with the jobs my students get – especially with the jobs my
special education students get. But I’m more concerned with the sort of people
they become. And what of the minimalist approach that looks at children and
teenagers and thinks first (or only) about their place in society’s economy? I
find it insulting to core. It makes me want to heckle public speakers and defend
the values I imbibed as a student of the liberal arts.

What place does the world of work have for Hemingway for the average
American? Is there a reason related to future employment to take kids to the Barter? What happens to Monet and Yo-Yo Ma in a school system
that thinks primarily about your future job?

I’ll leave you with this thought: Education is not the filling of a pail, but
the lighting of a fire. The words belong to William Butler

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

How Many More Graduate Hours Do I Need?

I’m tired of going to school.

I don’t mean the elementary school where I work. I actually like that.

When I entered the classroom I was told that the state appreciated me having
an undergraduate degree already (B.A. in Psychology, 1983) and that it was
especially nice that I even already had an M.S. (Adult & Technical
Education, a non-certification degree designed to further my career at the
college level, 2003) . They thought that my 18-hour graduate diploma in
linguistics was interesting but told me that the Australian National University
wasn’t accredited in America, and that they couldn’t do anything with those
hours and it didn’t really matter whether the ANU had produced Nobel Laureates,
they weren’t accredited. So with 54 graduate hours already to my credit, I went
back to school. Night school. Summer school. The school of inconvenience….

I learned stuff. It was good for a time.

It was also two grand a class because I live out of state and West Virginia
won’t give me a break on tuition just for teaching their kids. In three years I
spent $30K to keep my license.

If you know what HQT stands for, you can probably guess part of where I’m
going. I’m not, technically a highly qualified teacher. With three degrees to my
credit, I had to send home a note with a third grader this year explaining to
the child’s parents that I’m not actually qualified to teach him math or reading
despite my eleven or so years of college.

One of the things that most ticked me off about going to school myself was
that there seems to be a plan in place to prevent teachers from going past the
masters degree level. I can take classes that count toward a certification (for
$2,000 a pop) or I can take classes that lead to an Ed.S. (for $2,000 a pop).
But not both.

There was a time in my life when I actually wanted to be Dr. Cruey. The
material in this
pretty much put me off that for good.

At some point I started asking why I had to keep going to school. I have 108
graduate hours and a GPA better than 3.8. Can’t I, like, take a test or go to a
workshop? Especially since I’m not pursuing any academic credentials?

I was pleased recently to discover that the answer is “yes.” I recently
discovered a state where, if you already have a license in something,
you can add other certifications based on a test alone. I’ve passed the test
there for a PreK-5 certification, for a middle school math certification, and
for some increased special education credentials. In March I go take the test
for reading certification.

I don’t understand why there isn’t a national program to access what an
educator knows and could be allowed to teach. If I’ve passed the Praxis test for
the Principles of Learning and Teaching, and I’ve worked in the classroom, and
I’ve had positive evaluations, and I can pass a test on middle school math, why
shouldn’t I be allowed to teach math without taking 21 graduate hours of math?
The cynics among us at the classroom level sometimes argue that it’s
because the colleges would go broke if such a system was in place.

In the face of a teacher shortage in specific essential areas, eventually
there will just have to be a better system for licensing teachers. And academic
credentials will have to be separated from professional ones.

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

Technology and 21st Century Learning

You’ve probably heard of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. There’s a good chance you think it is mostly about technology in the classroom. But that’s a misconception.

The 21st Century Learning Initiative has more to do with applying a Constructivist approach to learning to the pedagogy of the classroom than it has to do with technology. If I had to describe the 21st Century Learning Initiative, I would phrase it something like this: It is the conceptual space where modern brain research, Constructivist learning theory, school reform, and the demands of the 21st Century workplace come together.

One of the fascinations that I have with the movement is this. On the one hand, I’m a special education teacher; special education, more than any other field of education, seems to cling to Behaviorist learning theory. On the other hand, I have a background in linguistics and a profound interest in reading education, and I know that language behavior is the place where Behaviorism is least useful in explaining or predicting learning.

Ultimately, the 21st Century Learning Initiative seems to be about promoting higher level thinking skills in the classroom and making the educational experience (particularly at the secondary level) relevant to life outside the classroom and after high school. That is where technology comes in. Technology is a tool for the 21st Century, it is a context for life in the coming decades. Students need to be able to cope with it and use it productively. But while productivity might imply familiarity with the tools, it places more emphasis on what students actually write when they use a word processor than on whether the students can use a word processer.

An example of this idea is a book I reviewed recently by Ted McCain. McCain is a technology person and an educator who writes and speaks about 21st Century Learning. I reviewed his book Teaching for Tomorrow: Teaching Content and Problem Solving Skills. To be honest, I was pretty hard on McCain. While he said things I didn’t like, the truth is that chapter three of his book provides an excellent approach to teaching problem solving. And his book illustrates my point: he’s a technology person who seems (in this book at least) more concerned with thinking skills than technology proficiency.

For any of you who have read McCain’s book, I’ll leave you with this question: Was I too hard on McCain?

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

Midnight in the Garden of Rural Poverty

The first school I taught at when I entered the classroom at a few years ago
was Big Creek High School. You may remember the movie the school featured
prominently in: October
I taught home ec as a long term substitute for about two months.
It had a parenting class, a careers class in social services, a personal
adjustment class for freshmen, and cooking (which was no biggie since I like to
cook). Fortunately the sewing curriculum had been done during the first semester
or I might have bled to death…

The county is slowly getting new schools. There was a time when almost every
little bottom and hollow had a small K-8 school with a few dozen students. I now
work in one of the last of those. My school has 90 or so kids in pre-K to fifth
grade. Our middle schoolers were moved a few years ago to a larger school.

When I think about what our schools need in my county it is very hard to
prioritize the things that come to mind. Many of our buildings date back to FDR
or before. And yet replacing them with larger, more modern centralized schools
seems to tear at the fabric of local society.

Education is not high on the community agenda. Why should it be in a county
where the real unemployment rate (the percentage of working aged adults who
don’t have regular jobs) hovers at around 50%? Elementary schools serve a
community function. But many in the community don’t see much benefit to going to
school beyond high school.

I suppose I’m a hillbilly, though many of my friends and neighbors aren’t
sure I qualify. My father was in the Army and I grew up outside of Appalachia.
But on both my mother’s and my father’s sides, many of my ancestors have lived
in an area between Knoxville, Tenn., and Christiansburg, Va., since before the
Revolutionary War. A little over a decade ago, I came home – to live and work
here for the first time in my life. I teach in a county that the Appalachian
Regional Commission designates as "distressed." While my
heritage and values might make me a hillbilly, I’m the most traveled hillbilly I
know. Between my father’s military career and ten years myself with a volunteer
service organization after college, I’ve lived on four continents and in 14 time
zones. I bring a unique perspective with me to the classrooms I work in.

I stood today on a little bridge our kids cross to get to their buses,
looking down into the water that flows under it. Our kids cross the Tug Fork (of Hatfield-McCoy fame)
twice a day over that bridge. The feud was some miles downstream from us.

I wanted John Edwards to be President. It’s easy to become a populist when
you work with kids in a place where the median household income is about $19,000
a year.

Midnight has come. I suppose my point is just that life itself seems to
complicate any consideration of education in poor rural communities. People who
tell me that the times are a-changing and that we should get used to the
economic demands of the coming days and change our approach to education
accordingly engender a resentment in me at times that I don’t fully understand.
When I look at the poverty and the needs of my school’s community, I find it
difficult to clarify the issues in the same pattern that the rest of the country
seems to be pursuing. I suppose I’ll leave it at that and go to bed, committed
to an effort to be most substantive with my issues tomorrow…

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

Black Wednesday (Dressing for NCLB)

Because education is largely a government function, there seems to be little
hope of ever disentangling politics and education.

Today I’ll wear black to
school. I’ve worn black to school almost every Wednesday since November 3, 2004.
Why that date? On November 2nd of that year I spent 13 hours helping people cast
their ballots for President in a polling place in Virginia. I went home, had a
short but sound night of sleep, and woke the next morning to discover that
George W. Bush was still President. I wore black to work that day, and I’ve worn
black almost every Wednesday since – 168 out of the last 171 Wednesdays. The
exceptions? The day after Democrat Tim Kaine won the governor’s race in Virginia
I wore more festive colors to work. (Since I work in West Virginia, half my
co-workers never fully understood why.) I also dressed quite colorfully on the
Wednesday after the most recent midterm election – the one where Democrats won
back Congress.

There was also a day earlier this year when we had Monday off and I just lost
track of what day of the week it was. My co-workers thought that was

I know that President Bush has his fan club. And I know that there are plenty
of people who dislike him for reasons other than education policy. But in my
mind, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is among the low points of Bush

I have several specific complaints about NCLB.

  • I don’t like the way it has reduced the scope of curriculum. I think it has
    de-emphasized the arts, for example, in favor of the most basic, pared down
  • I don’t like the focus it brings on mediocrity. The goal of education under
    NCLB is to move students who are barely failing on high stakes tests to the
    place where they are barely passing on high stakes tests. There is no reward for
    excellence. getting by is the goal.
  • I don’t like the unrealistic and punitive nature of the accountability
    provisions. The eventual goal of NCLB is 100% grade level mastery. Every fifth
    grader, for example, should function at the fifth grade level (unless they have
    some profound disability). Schools that don’t comply, don’t meet this standard,
    are punished. The problem is that so many of the factors related to a student’s
    performance fall outside the school’s reach. Basic issues of poverty and social
    fabric impact a school’s ability to achieve these goals; but the school has
    little power to address them. The simple truth is that there will always be at
    least one or two kids who don’t make the grade no matter what teachers do. And
    eventually NCLB’s accountability provisions will result in almost every public
    school being deemed a failure. It is a standard no other modern nation strives
    to achieve. It is unrealistic.
  • I think the law is underfunded. The requirements of NCLB at onerous in terms
    of both time and money.

You don’t have to be a complete cynic to think that maybe, just maybe, NCLB’s
accountability provisions are a poison pill in the law. The intention could be
to make public schools look bad – worse than they are – to justify the
privatization of education through the use of vouchers. And right there in
Bush’s 2009 budget, what do we have? Proposed funding for a voucher program.

NCLB has failed. The task now is to replace it with a law with broader
vision, a law more supportive of public education. Hopefully Congress will be
wise enough to call for far more input from the educational community than they
did in 2002.

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

Day One: Are You Following the Script?

Today was Day One in the script of the new reading program we started this
year. Not to be confused with Monday (which, obviously, it wasn’t). Unless
school is cancelled due to bad weather, next Tuesday (Feb. 11) will Day One
again in our five day reading cycle. But our county is having an instruction
support day on February 18; students stay home that day, and when they come back
on Tuesday (Feb. 19) it will be Day Five. Day One will get bumped to

Such are the joys of a scripted curriculum. We used to have spelling tests on
Fridays. Now we have them on Day Five, whatever day of the week that happens to
be. It took some getting used to, but it works okay now that everyone (including
the parents) is used to it.

I’m a member of the International Reading
. They have a listserv that I subscribe to and, frankly, the
concept of a scripted curriculum has taken a beating there in the last year or
so. Among the complaints:

  • The authors of this or that curriculum can’t really know and understand my
    kids (all of whom are unique, different from other kids in the world).
  • A scripted curriculum curtails academic freedom (a complaint usually
    accompanied with a degree of emotion).
  • Educators in the classroom have more “real world” knowledge of what needs
    to be taught and how it needs to be presented.

You get the idea…

We’ve used our new, scripted reading curriculum (I won’t mention the company)
since the start of this school year. Personally, I think it’s a step forward
from the past. It provides a degree of continuity in an environment where a
significant number of our kids are transient and move every few months to
another school in the county. It provides some level of assurance that we are
actually implementing recent research in our reading classrooms. For example, it
scripts in tasks for building background knowledge related to a story – an
essential (but sometimes overlooked) component of comprehension. It provides
shared tools for monitoring student progress. It provides a measure of quality

It also, to be candid, makes it easier for an administrator to decide whether
teachers are doing their jobs. If my boss comes in tomorrow and figures out that
we’re not on Day Two there may well be weeping and gnashing of teeth. At the
very least, some profound explanation is likely to be required. Heaven help me
if that becomes a regular occurrence. If I am at least on the right day, my boss
can now easily assess whether I am teaching the script. It is not a
word-for-word script; but it is pretty explicit as to what activities take place
today, what graphic organizers get used, how much time students are to have for
this or that activity, what assessments are to be employed, etc.

So to begin to evaluate my performance, my boss can ask a simple, immediate
question: “Is he following the script?” In the past my boss had to ask, “Is what
he’s doing working?” That was a far more difficult question to answer.

Today we started a five day “week” that emphasizes the skill of generalizing
and practices the comprehension strategy of prediction. Day One always includes
a pretest on this week’s spelling words. Day One always includes a read aloud
that develops listening skills. Our question for the week has to do with how
people adapt to their physical limitations. We introduced vocabulary for the
story. We used our SmartBoard to begin a concept web that we’ll return to
throughout the week to help reinforce background knowledge. And even though
we’re trying to impart reading skills during this time, most of this week’s
content is science oriented in our daily reading block.

I understand the complaints that people have about working with a scripted
curriculum. As we climb through the grades, I think those complaints are more
valid in high school than they are in kindergarten.

After six months with our particular reading curriculum, at the moment I’m a
fan of it. We’ll see how the year finishes out…

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

What exactly IS leadership?

Is the term leadership a euphemism? If so, for

Since about half of America is holding a primary or a caucus today, that
question seemed relevant. I’m not sure most people know what leadership

I’ve been listening to what the presidential candidates are saying about
themselves and each other over the past few weeks. One of the most interesting
discussions is between John McCain and Mitt Romney over the question of which of
them is more qualified to be president. Romney, in a nutshell, says McCain lacks
some important basic skills. Romney says that his own Harvard MBA, his business
resume and his executive experience as a state governor give him the theoretical
background knowledge and the experience needed to fix our government and
economy. John McCain’s response, basically, is that he doesn’t think Romney was
that great a governor, and that he can hire someone with a Harvard MBA and some
business experience to work for him when he becomes president. McCain says that
Romney’s background makes him a manager in a country that needs
leaders. And (surprise) McCain, of course, thinks of
himself as that leader.

Whether you agree with either of them, the discussion provides some
contrasting images of just what might constitute leadership. I think that one of
our problems in education (or in America, for that matter) is that we’re not
sure what leadership is. The fact that two men who both want to be president are
having this discussion seems to indicate that even our leaders don’t know
clearly what leadership is – or at least they don’t agree on what it is.

I think one of the problems is that leadership, whatever that is, is usually
only one component of most administrative jobs. School administrators do have to
manage. They also do have to remain educators. As basic as that sounds,
I’ve met principals who didn’t think it was their job to be an educator anymore.
They didn’t think they were obligated to keep up with the research or changes in
best practices. They thought their job was to manage and that the
school had other people who were responsible for all that educational stuff.
Heck, they’d become a principal partly because they didn’t really like education
very much!

The corollary to this is simple, but also often overlooked. You don’t have to
be an administrator to be a leader. In almost every educational environment I’ve
ever been in, some of the most effective leaders weren’t administrators; they
were just committed educators whose character and values required them to lead.

I can’t articulate a definition of leadership that satisfies me. I know what
it isn’t. I know it overlaps with many things. But I’m still looking for a
crystalline definition. I worry sometimes that because the idea is difficult to
define, people will think it is a euphemism for administration and thus miss the
real nature of leadership.

I do know that I don’t have to be an administrator to be a leader.

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

Can We Prevent Learning Disabilities?

Is it possible to prevent learning disabilities? There’s a policy push to do
just that, and it was the main focus of the 2004 revisions to the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

My afternoon today was consumed with meetings. When I worked at the college
level we used to joke that meetings were the logical alternative to work. But
today’s meetings were less frivolous…

Normally I spend my afternoon working through some very scripted
reading interventions with small groups of students that I pull out of their
classrooms – some fifth graders, some fourth graders, and a mixed group of first
and second graders. Today those students stayed in their classrooms, and my
afternoon was instead spent in a series of IEP meetings.

If you’re not familiar with IEP meetings, let me introduce the concept. The
acronym stands for Individualized Education Program. Students who have been
determined to have an educational disability under IDEA have an IEP, a document
that describes how their school is accommodating that disability at the

The meetings were chaired by my principal and they took place in her office.
A specialist for the central office was present today. Obviously I was in the
meetings. The classroom teacher that has the child also sat in on each meeting
and contributed to the discussions that took place. And when we’re lucky, the
child’s parent comes to the meeting. At this school, we’re generally lucky in
that way; but today we didn’t have parents in most of meeting – although we’d
talked to them about what was going to happen in the meetings.

Five of the six meetings today were routine, almost formalities. We had
meetings to discuss whether a particular student needed to continue seeing this
or that specialist for a particular problem. We had two meetings to discuss the
status of a child’s disability; a requirement that comes around every three

One of the meetings was not particularly routine. It was a meeting to decide
whether a particular student had a disability – whether, under IDEA 2004, they
were eligible for services as a special education student. For obvious reasons
of confidentiality, I can’t say much about the child or the meeting. But I
can tell you that the process of identifying some disabilities is vague
and slippery.

Emotional disturbance (some states call them behavior disorders) are very
real. But federal law is so vague that they are almost impossible to
legally define. Children with emotional disturbances make up only a very
small portion of those who qualify to be served under IDEA. But students who
have learning disabilities make up a much larger portion of the special
education population.

Until 2004 we had a pretty clear definition of learning disabilities. It
wasn’t a very good one. We called it the discrepancy model. It was clear as a
bell – a mathematical definition of a disability. Unfortunately, it was a time
consuming definition to satisfy and it often meant allowing a child to fail a
grade as proof that they needed help. For years we did this to kids…

IDEA 2004 came up with an entirely new definition of learning disabilities.
Conceptually, it’s rather clear. A learning disability is evidenced by the
failure of a child to respond to academic interventions designed to bring his or
her achievement up to grade level. Those are my words, not a technical quote.
The difficulty now is that we are grappling with just what those interventions
should be, and what level of response is sufficient to avoid the determination
that a child does in fact have a disability. And as a result, there’s not nearly
as much certainty in the process as there once was.

If you are an idealistic optimist you will say that one of the main goals of
the new law is to use intervention to prevent a child’s problems from ever
developing into a disability. If you are a cynic you will scoff that the new
law’s goal is just as I phrased it above – to avoid the determination that a
child has a disability, even if they really do. But either way, you are begging
the question of what actually constitutes a learning disability. It’s a question
I expect to keep begging for a few years.

So I go back to my original question: Is it possible to prevent learning

The irony of the new law is that a breakthrough in medical research that
occurred at about the time the new law was passed challenges some of its
assumptions. Somewhere between two-thirds and four-fifths of children
classified as having learning disabilities are thought to be dyslexic. And about
the time the President signed the new law on educational disabilities, a medical
researcher published findings that showed that a dyslexia gene exists. A year
later, two more genes connected to dyslexia were discussed at a meeting of the American
Society of Human Genetics

The question of whether we can prevent learning
disabilities may now be largely a question of whether or not we can prevent a
genetic condition. And as for identifying them, a cheek swab or simple blood
test at birth may soon accomplish that.

I suspect that the policy makers will all have to rethink learning
disabilities again soon – maybe before the 2004 revisions to IDEA even get fully
implemented in most states…

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger

Time to Get Dressed

How was your weekend?

I’d be willing to bet you watched at least a little football yesterday. I’d be surprised if you didn’t think about politics once or twice this weekend. Probably you did other things to relax…

Me? I watched the Game. I slept late on Saturday. The weather was nice (especially for February) so I took my dog out and played with it some. I blogged a little. My wife and I went to an auction house that we visit on a semi-regular basis. I cooked a couple of meals (I enjoy cooking). I drank a little Burgundy from a brandy snifter I got at the auction a year or two ago and read some Hemingway. We watched some TV – Numb3rs on Friday night (a whole show about math, how cool is that?), Some football on Sunday night.

How’s your Inner Person? I took a graduate class a couple of years ago that used a text by Marsha Speck. The book was The Principalship: Building a Learning Community. In it she looks at the different roles a principal has to play – educator, manager, leader – and concludes that those roles are all held together, more or less, by the principal’s "inner person." In her own words, "The inner person is a term used to describe the personal beliefs and internal balance that the principal needs to keep…" (p. 21). She goes on to devote a chapter to the subject and, among other things, says that the Inner Person helps to keep a balance between work and life outside of school.  While Speck is writing specifically about principals (something I’m not, but might be someday), my guess is that she’d agree that the concept applies to most educators, and maybe to most people.

Did I do anything related to work this weekend? Sure. I looked over my lesson plans and touched them up. I spent a little time preparing for some meetings later today. And I mailed off some paperwork that I hope will resulted in some additional certifications being added to my license.

I’m not suggesting that I don’t think about my Inner Person during the week, or that work should completely disappear on Saturdays and Sundays. But the weekend gives me some extra time to think about my Inner Person. So I’ll ask again: How’s your Inner Person? Speck’s contention is that if you neglect your Inner Person, you probably won’t be a leader for long.

While you think about that question, I’ll get dressed and go to work.

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger