Category: Uncategorized

Git ‘er Done

By , March 16, 2013 5:20 pm

“Processes become highly mechanistic when you don’t trust people.”      -Anonymous DC district administrator

If my job as a teacher ever falls through, I have determined that I should have no problem going to work for my other favorite governmental agency, the US Postal Service. Yesterday was spent rounding up answer sheets from the entire math department of the district’s thrice-per-year (“triannual”?) math periodic assessment to mail to LAUSD.

While I am regularly assured that the results of these assessments (which I’ve heard cost in the neighborhood of $40 million district-wide) will not be used to evaluate schools and teachers, I do get a fair number of worried emails from folks in the district checking and double-checking that they are submitted on time. Perhaps even more frustrating is that what’s emphasized is not so much how well our students do on these assessments, but how high our school’s “completion rate” is.

The sad reality of all of this is that this district is monstrously huge and really does (by both its emphases and processes) betray that leaders don’t seem to have much trust in us, whether the “us” is an individual school, or an individual teacher. While the question remains as to whether that lack of trust is deserved (in some cases, it is likely warranted), it will be hard moving this district forward for all kids unless better lines of trust between teachers, principals, district managers, and district leaders.

One of my favorite bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo, brings up this very subject in one of his recent Ed Week posts.

 

 

Why We Need to Pass Prop 30

By , September 22, 2012 7:37 am

Last evening, I had the privilege of attending a high school football game. The home team, coached by a former colleague, played their hearts out, but ultimately was defeated in the end, not only by the opposing team, but by the referees.

Yes, as much as I do appreciate seeing my team win, I also appreciate the level of skill it takes to accurately referee a game, and I honor and respect calls for the opposing team when they are the right ones. I may “boo”, but I know that it was, nonetheless, a good call.

Yet last evening’s fiasco was abominable. In addition to consistently conflating “encroachment” and “false start” calls, we began the second half kickoff with a “Safety”/”Inadvertent Whistle” / “Re-kick”, followed not a few minutes later by a referee long tossing a football from the sidelines in the direction of the referee in the middle of the field, only to have the errant throw hit a player directly in the head.

Brilliant.

All I can assume is that the salary for this high caliber of referee is coming from the LAUSD budget.

Do we need more funding for schools in California? You bet. Or there will be more of this:

5th down and 14 to go…..wait, wait…….something’s wrong here….

 

Great Expectations Part I

By , September 20, 2012 11:00 am

This summer I did not see the film What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Nor do I plan to. Ever.

Yet it’s mere title illustrates one of the main educational questions I’ve been wondering in the past few months, which is simply this: When we use the phrase “high expectations“, what is it that we mean exactly?

In my 8+ years as a middle school math teacher in Los Angeles, I always thought that I knew what I meant when I said I had “expectations” for my students. Yet, as I’ve recently come to appreciate the subtle and often subversive power of language, I’ve found it really important to “unpack” for myself exactly what it is that I (and globally, the educational community) mean by the term.

Despite oft-touted phrase of “high expectations” among ed policy makers, professional development leaders, teacher placement organizations, administrators, and even teachers, it is not clear to me that we all mean the same thing by this term.

What follows may simply be semantics, but, by golly, semantics matter. The title of this seemingly ridiculous film illustrates my point. In the phrase “What to expect“, the term expect essentially means to “predict” (or a similar word with a thrust toward probability), yet three words later, this notion of prediction is utterly abandoned as the term expecting now connotates  a meaning of anticipating, hoping, or desiring (looking forward to with pleasantness).

In some future posts, I’ll be delving deeper into (1) what exactly what we might mean by the phrase “high expectations”, and (2) consequences of the lack of clarity surrounding this term.

Stay tuned as this important issue will be addressed by me in future posts……and by KISS right now.

Should Teachers Be Accountable for “Grit”?

By , September 8, 2012 11:21 am

I know I’m a terrible person for doing this, but it’s too tempting. So here’s a pre-book report for Paul Tough’s recently released “How Children Succeed”. And while I have not yet read the book yet (I plan to), I’ve read plenty of thoughts from those who have. Here are some good starting points:

Perhaps most surprising for me is that I suspect it is possible, at least from what I’ve read, for ed policy wonks in opposite camps to embrace what seems to be the main thrust of this book twofold: First, non-cognitive skills (grit, self-regulation, perseverance) is as important (if not more) to a child’s success as mere content knowledge is. And second, these non-cognitive skills are “learnable”, and thus “teachable” across all age groups (though certainly easier in the earliest years).

If Tough is right, then ed reform advocates are likely to carry the text as a banner for the expansion of charter schools, such as KIPP, some of whom actively attempt to incorporate “performance-character” education into their curriculum.

However, if I’m reading the reviewers right, I can also see critics of these organizations touting the message of the book as evidence of the unreliability of test data for use in evaluating teachers. Assuming Tough’s argument is right, then this begs the question surrounding teacher evaluation: If “grit” is such a huge factor in student success, shouldn’t “grit” be one of the control factors used when calculating a teacher’s ‘value-added’ score?

While I’ve not heard Tough answer this question directly, he acknowledges that “for the most part, we don’t yet really know how best to teach these skills” and that “so far at least, no one has been able to come up with a bulletproof method of teaching non-cognitive skills” (see the Interview w/ Tough, above).

If this is the case, then critics of value-added might just have some more ammunition.

 

Back to Blogging

By , September 6, 2012 5:54 am

April, 2012:
The Mets were in first place.
Republicans still hadn’t landed on a nominee.
The last time I wrote a blog post.

I could give lots of lame excuses as to why I seemingly dropped off the face of the earth, but I’d rather just own it.
My bad.

The first week of September for the first time, is bringing the third week of school, and as my kids settle quickly into their routines, I’m finding that I must, as well.

Here I go. Back to blogging again.
(Also a good way to check which of my IFTTT rules are still set up

Random Tweet of the Day (Edmonth)

By , March 20, 2012 4:07 pm

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The quotes go full-circle.

Edmonth, is quoting Amy, who is quoting LAUSD Board member Monica Garcia, who was speaking at, you guessed it…Edmonth.

Thanks to the 140-character limit, I’m certain that this quote is taken completely out of context. After all, education will simply not solve the problem of the 2012 New York Mets.

But I get that. Twitter is designed to take quotes out of context, and our job as readers, to figure out what’s missing.

So as I finally get back into the swing of this blog again (sorry about utterly abandoning my last series), let me take issue with a few aspects of such a myopic viewpoint (a viewpoint which I’m sure Ms. Garcia does not actually have).

Issue #1: The term “education” is simply left undefined. This is not so grievous a sin except that it opens the door for just about anyone to substitute anything they’d like for the term. “Funding education solves all of our problems”, “Analyzing student data solves all of our problems”, “Great ed policy coming from Washington solves all of our problems”, and “Firing all bad teachers and replacing them with good ones solves all of our problems” are phrases that are not so difficult to justify if one takes this quote axiomatically.

Issue #2: The quote falsely assumes that all of our problems are solvable (which, while potentially true, is actually unknown (and unknowable)) and dangerously implies that where education does solve our problems, it does so very simply.

So, am I taking issue with Edmonth, with Amy, or with Ms. Garcia (only one of whom I’ve met)? Of course not. Odds are that at least two (and perhaps all three) out of three genuinely care about students, families, and schools.

But until the sound byte is replaced by the robust dialogue, we’re doing to be dangerously close to missing the point of why we all got into education in the first place.

Dr. King, the Pragmatist

By , January 16, 2012 1:56 pm

The Entrance Band – M.L.K.

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A shout out to my friend and colleague, Tyler, whose alma mater, Chapman University, hosted Rev. Martin Luther King in 1961. While the text of Dr. King’s address, found here, speaks specifically to the progress of race relations, both Tyler and I couldn’t help but notice that his characterization of the current status of race relations runs parallel to the current philosophical bifurcation that is plaguing the education reform debates today (particularly as it relates to the hot-button issues of evaluation, and “value-added”).

In short, Dr. King’s call for a realist, progressive, and (most importantly) actionable attitude and commitment speaks volumes. In this analogy, it seems Dr. King can also teach us something about the dangers of extremism and polarization. Simply put, for Dr. King, the biggest problem of opposite and extreme viewpoints is not that they are wrong, but that they lead toward inaction.

Below, I’ll quote a bit of a lengthy portion from the address, but it is well worth it. Dr. King’s words of wisdom continue to speak not only across generations, but in all walks of life.

There are three basic attitudes that can be taken toward the whole question in the area of race relations. The first attitude that can be taken is that of extreme optimism. The extreme optimist in the area of race relations could contend that we have made tremendous strides in the struggle for racial justice. He would point proudly to the progress that has been made in the area of civil rights over the last few decades. From this he would conclude that the problem is just about solved now and that we can sit down comfortably by the wayside and wait on the coming of the inevitable.

The second position that can be taken is that of extreme pessimism. The extreme pessimist in the area of race relations would contend that we have made only minor strides. He would argue that the deep rumblings of discontent from the South, the presence of federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the birth of White Citizens Councils are all indicative of the fact that we are going backwards instead of forwards and that we are creating many more problems than we are solving. And from this the extreme pessimist would conclude that there could be no real progress in the area of race relations.

Now it is interesting to notice that the extreme optimist and the extreme pessimist agree on at least one point. They both feel that we must sit down and do nothing in the area of race relations. The extreme optimist says do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says do nothing because integration is impossible.

But there is a third position that can be taken, namely the realistic position. The realist in the area of race relations seeks to combine the truths of two opposites, while avoiding the extremes of both. So he would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But he would seek to balance this by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go.

I’m Back

By , January 13, 2012 1:58 pm

Ace Frehley – New York Groove

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This week was the first week back at school after a long winter’s break. Students mostly completed their winter break math homework, but somehow simultaneously forgotten much of their learning acquired prior to the break.

Regardless, it’s always good to start a new year, and talk about goals (they made me prove that I made my goal from last 2011 – being able to do 52 consecutive pushups, which I did). Kids so far seem glad to be back, albeit shaking the cobwebs from their eyes as they stumble into school each morning.

Good to be back.

First Day Back to School

By , January 9, 2012 4:05 pm

Radiohead – No Surprises

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I definitely feel like this now…

The Counter-Reformers

By , January 6, 2012 6:30 am

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Yesterday, education blogger Alexander Russo posed a question which I too had been curious about:

To summarize: What on earth should we be calling the education reform critics, especially when those they’re critiquing have been referred to de facto as “the reformers”?

Reformers such as Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and Arnie Duncan have drawn criticism by a group composed of such folks as Diane Ravitch, John Thompson, and Valerie Strauss. [Note: A decent summary of this debate can be found here, for those unfamiliar with what exactly all this rhetoric is about].

As the Ravitch/Thompson/Strauss types have rallied against the specific strategies used by these “reformers”, bloggers such as Russo (and myself) have struggled to collectively refer to this group of those who oppose “the reformers” with a simple, memorable name. Unfortunately, the best that seems to have been done so far in describing the position of these folks is that of “anti-reform”, giving them the dubious status of being “anti-reformers”. 

The problem with the term “anti-reformers” is that is implies that these folks are simply for the status quo. This could not be further from the truth. In my reading of their insights, these folks do want education reform, but of a very different type than that espoused by the a priori-named “reformers” such as Rhee/Kopp/Duncan.

So, in response to the lack of a good collective term for the “anti-reformers”, I propose that they start calling themselves the “counter-reformers”.

So why does the name “counter-reformers” work?

First, the term “counter” indicates that these folks are, in fact, generally opposed to the strategies espoused by the reformers. As we saw this fall with the Occupy movement, identifying a common “enemy” can be a galvanizing move. “Counter-reformers” are clearly, by their name, against something.

Second, the inclusion of the word “reform” indicates that, while their movement may have started in opposition to something, these folks are definitely not for merely keeping the status quo. “Counter-reformers” do want education reform, but they want reform on the terms that they believe are best for students, families, and communities (in fairness, the “reformers” would say the same thing).

A final consideration for “counter-reformers” gauging whether to self-adopt this term is the potential for its staying power. Simply put, is the term sticky enough to be repeated in public space to the extent that its mere mention will conjure up the ideals and beliefs of its individuals?

To answer this question, I turn back the clock nearly 500 years, when another institution with hugely problematic and corrupt policies and practices underwent its own insurrection from a group of “reformers”, namely Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, who broke away from the Catholic Church and formed their own protest movement, the “Protestants”. What’s key here is that, in response, the Catholic Church essentially said, “yes, we’ve got some issues, but the way these protestants are dealing with them is completely wrong”. So in response, the Catholics launched the “Counter-reformation”, which sought (and generally did) reform many of the corrupt practices within the church without the divisive split which the protestants sparked.

While that’s probably as far as we should take the naming analogy, it’s of interest to note that the term “Counter-Reformation” is still taught in modern history books, and thus still is a term which both quickly and easily identifies to its modern hearers the content and owners of the practices and policies it refers to.

I think that the Ravitches, Thompsons, and Strausses of the world would do well to re-appropriate this term for themselves in the ever-growing rhetorical gap among education reform advocates today.

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