stephanie jones

Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

the time has come…to say fair’s fair…

In American Dream, corporations, democracy, environmental issues, families, government, social class, work and workers on May 29, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Honda workers in China are striking for better wages and working conditions, and if low-wage workers in China start standing up for their rights even the “cheap” stuff we have in the U.S. will cost more and U.S. low-wage workers will have to start standing up for their rights too.

Workers’ rights, wages, workers’ safety, and working conditions seem to be deteriorating in this global economy where corporations keep scanning the earth for cheaper labor and cheaper produces that will yield greater profits. We also know now that Deep Water Horizon (the BP oil rig that exploded and is now the site of the largest oil spill in U.S. history – and it continues gushing today…) had safety concerns in the past.

Interested in a quick overview of labor union statistics in the U.S.? Click here.

NY Times magazine article on Educational Reform May 23, 2010

In Education Policy, family-school relations, high-stakes tests, institutions, NCLB, politics, Standing up for Kids, Teaching Work, work and workers on May 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Check out the NY Times Magazine article from today focusing on educational reform…

and a short version of my response:

Tears welled up in my friend’s eyes and I knew her daughter hadn’t passed her grade level state “standardized” test that determined whether or not she would be promoted to middle school. My stomach sank and tears rose in my eyes too. My friend was already struggling with motivating her to read at home and with her lack of enthusiasm about school and learning in general. Anything that resembled “school” had become the enemy, even when it included things that people “just do” in life – like read.

The standardization of schooling and the faulty instruments used to measure schooling have crossed the line of insanity and left everyone suffering except the billion dollar publishing industry providing tests and preparation materials to every school in the nation. Arne Duncan might be partially right as quoted by Brill in the May 23rd issue of The New York Times Magazine in that the complex teaching/learning enterprise is about the “talent” of a teacher. However, a standardized curriculum and standardized instrument for measuring learning efficiently strips teachers of engaging their “talents” to integrate curricula and students’ interests, local issues that could provide innovative sites of learning for students, and extend learning to rich out-of-school experiences that may actually positively impact a child’s life. When a teacher’s talent is measured by her or his students’ scores on a standardized test, we have truly entered a bizarre world where words have completely different meanings than in folks’ everyday lives. “Reformers” who claim standardized testing is the cornerstone for educational reform but reluctantly admit that the arts don’t lend themselves to standardized testing miss the point that all disciplines – life sciences, mathematics, writing, reading, social studies, history, geography, and so on – incorporate the creative and innovative typically assigned to the arts.

Education does not lend itself to standardization or standardized testing.

When a society tries to harness the dynamic processes of teaching and learning by attempting to measure the lowest common denominator of the process that is thought to be measurable, we find ourselves stuck with a generation of students who have been constrained and restricted to that very lowest common denominator. Might they earn “better” scores on the rigid multiple-choice and closed-ended short response prompt tests that don’t require higher order thinking, innovative problem solving, or making connections across disciplines to better understand and act on the world? Sure – but who cares? Our society is plagued with problems that require the most innovative, creative thinkers who have deep and broad knowledge and experiences, and we are counting on our youth to have the tools to solve those problems very, very soon. Creating standardized instruments to measure discrete and meaningless parts of “learning” in a child could be the equivalent to the standard measurements we have for the education of the engineers who are attempting to stop the Oil Gush in the Gulf of Mexico now. Who cares what their elementary and high school test scores were or even their GPAs? Can they stop the oil gushing and prevent further disasters?

These are the questions that matter today and in the future – but my friend’s child, who is already disenchanted with standardized schooling and will be “retained” because of her performance on the state standardized test if her private tutoring and public summer school (paid for by parents) doesn’t help her pass the test the next time, won’t likely get a chance to be involved in such important questions. Why? Because she will join the ranks of millions in the U.S. now at risk for dropping out of high school because of her one-year retention, and if she drops out of high school she will not likely attend college during her life and will not likely earn the credentials necessary to even allow her the opportunity to have a job where such important problems will be solved.

High school graduation rates have decreased since the federal mandate of state standardized testing. This is not because learning has decreased, it’s because the instruments are faulty and even if they were good instruments, they would be attempting to measure the immeasurable: Learning, and the teaching that promotes powerful learning, cannot be measured by numbers nor only by words or checklists or surveys or multiple choice tests or short responses or anything else. Learning can be demonstrated in powerful ways through community engagement, project creation, inventions, reports, and an infinite number of other possibilities. The “reformers” of the 80s and 90s – including Theodore Sizer and Deborah Meier among many others who carried much less clout than the politically minded number-crunching “reformers” of today – were more concerned with children’s learning and the diverse ways children could demonstrate their learning through creative weaving of their schooling experiences to the real world of how education gets enacted.

It’s not too late to change the Race, and to change the ill-informed educational future of millions of children including my friend’s child.

States seem eager to ask “how high” when federal officials tell them to jump for educational dollars regardless of the negative consequences. Perhaps federal officials – Arne Duncan at the lead – can ask states to jump into showcasing real learning of children and real talents of teachers by requiring creative and innovative exhibitions of growth.

Why Parents Lose Trust in Teachers – and What Some Teachers are Doing About It #1

In communities, families, family-school relations, institutions on May 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Key to trust: Make sure parents and children don’t feel like they’re just another person in an impersonal “institution,” which of course they are, so this can be difficult and it’s often why families lose trust…

First let’s start with the fact that no one – I mean no one – cares for a child more than her or his primary caregivers. Maybe that’s a parent, a set of parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, or cousin, but whoever holds that child when she is sick, wakes up in the middle of the night for his nightmares, puts food in the home for her to eat, tickles and play-tackles him, takes her fishing, helps him find bugs outside, cleans the laundry, finds someone to cut his hair, teaches her to swing a bat, kicks a soccer ball with him, lets too many kids come over who will wreck the house because it’s fun, smiles at her not-so-funny jokes, chokes up when he gets hurt and blood is involved, panics in the middle of the night and heads off to the emergency room, and picks out that something special for her at the grocery store because she’ll be so surprised…whoever that person is…also cries at night when something is going wrong at school and it seems like there is nothing they can do about it.
Educational research tells us this is true – but I’m also a parent, who talks to a lot of other parents, so I know it in a way that research might not be able to convince me.

In my own research, mothers and grandmothers have cried in front of  me talking about their horrible experiences with schools.

I have cried too. Sobbed, in fact, about the helplessness I have experienced when trying to get something changed at school to better meet the needs of my child.

In my research, dads have told me how pissed off they were about something going on at school.

I’ve been pissed off too. Really pissed off, in fact, about some of the double-speak and empty promises and defensiveness and aloofness I have experienced at school when I ask questions about things that seem like common sense to me (How is she doing? What are you studying at school that I can extend at home? Are parents invited to these events? Why didn’t I know about [some event, or a social problem at school, or a homework assignment, or a disciplinary action, etc.]?

And in my “hanging out with friends and colleagues who also happen to have school-age-children” research, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and really committed family friends have cried, yelled, complained, cussed, shook their heads, and expressed anger/sadness/hopelessness about the children they care about most and what’s going on with them at school.

Interestingly – this often has very little to do with academics.

Instead – this usually has to do with trust.

Do I trust that my child – my pride and joy who I would be willing to die for – will be treated with care and sensitivity?

Do I trust that if something is going on with my child socially, emotionally, or academically at school that his teacher will contact me immediately so we can work together to figure it out?

Do I trust that my child will be provided with security and encouragement by her teacher at all times?

Do I trust that my child’s unique gifts that make us smile at home will be perceived the same way by his teacher?

Do I trust that if I contact the teacher about a concern she or he will respond with a genuine, “How can I help at school?” or an “I’m really sorry to hear that – that must be awful. What can we do here?” rather than a defensive argument?

Do I trust that what I share about my child will be believed by the teacher?

Do I trust that the teacher will be professional, kind, perceptive, and insightful enough to recognize when my child is sad or distant or scared or hungry or sick?

Can I trust that when my child walks into the door of the school that she or he will be treated as if she or he is the future president, physician, artist, engineer, teacher, community worker, carpenter, construction worker, counselor, psychologist, non-profit director, customer service director, governor, inventor, entrepreneur, civil rights worker that she or he can be given encouragement and access to high quality education from the school?

Can I trust that the adults in a school are high-quality professionals who know what education is for, what education makes possible, and that a significant part of “education” has little to do with the math lesson being taught?
Can I trust that my child’s teacher knows that if a child is treated poorly, doesn’t feel welcome, isn’t regularly recognized and encouraged, doesn’t feel a part of a community, or doesn’t see how schoolwork connects to his passions outside of school he will be far less likely to show any signs of success in school and that will affect him for the rest of his life?

To send a child off on a school bus or drop him off at the school door each morning where other adults are in control of his every move is a huge leap of faith taken by millions of caregivers every single morning.

While most schools and districts have policies about parental involvement, or at the very least some nod to parental involvement in their mission statements, very little attention is given at the school level about what parents wish would happen, how parents would like to be involved including in-school involvement and out-of-school involvement, and what turns off parents most about school.

Research tells us what we need to know – but most of the time schools and districts don’t do what research says, because it means paying a different kind of attention to caregivers and children. It’s clear that “PTO” participation or fundraising or even attending special events including parent-teacher conferences are not the keys to connecting home and school. It’s the basic level of trust that a caregiver can instill in a child’s teacher.

It is absolutely necessary that the disconnect between school and home be addressed, and that won’t happen until real people start having real conversations.

To be continued…

Speak with an Accent? No teaching English Language Learners…

In American Dream, critical literacy, democracy, discourse, Education Policy, family-school relations, language, literacy, politics, professional development resources, racism, social policy, teacher education resources on May 11, 2010 at 4:03 am

Well, that puts us all out of work.

Here’s a great commentary that was on NPR today that everyone should listen to…

Call to Action – Who will Respond to K-12 National Standards Draft??

In Education Policy, justice, NCLB, politics, social action, Standing up for Kids, teacher education resources on May 8, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Who out there has been involved on the inside of the development of the K-12 “Common Core State Standards”???

Click here to get the K-12 draft standards documents – and maybe a group of folks could work together for a unified response?

Are other countries better at limiting educational achievement differences among students from disparate socioeconomic backgrounds?

In American Dream, classism, democracy, Education Policy, families, family-school relations, poverty, social class, social policy on May 8, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Apparently all countries experience differential educational achievement aligned with social class – but some are worse than others (U.S. is apparently near the top of that list) and some are better at diminishing those differences in school achievement (Iceland, Japan, Canada, Korea are some of those) but the reasons why are not clear – is it education policy? social welfare policies? economic policies? While no one seems sure about that, it seems we could at least look at these countries to see how they’re making this part of education work while the U.S. still seems to fail miserably. Check out this guest article in the Washington Post.

Continuing to Blame the Poor?

In American Dream, classism, politics, poverty, social class on May 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Great post from Education and Class about the relentless blaming of individual poor people for their circumstances rather than critiquing the societal conditions that perpetuate poverty…

Workers on the Horizon and the travesty of corporations looking for blame in individual workers…

In environmental issues, government, politics, work and workers on May 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

On the front page of the NY Times today, begins a gut-wrenching story about the workers’ experiences as the BP oil rig “Horizon” exploded and went up in flames. Men ran to lifeboats, panicked, thought about their prized possession that was in their room and now headed to the bottom of the sea, grasped at their front pocket to see if a child’s picture was still there, and watched co-workers/friends/homemates’ black silhouettes jumping to their certain death from the burning flames.

Not unlike the horrifying stories of survivors from 9/11, but these stories haven’t seemed to make it into the minds of folks who may or may not be thinking about the oil spill…including mine, until today.

I have nearly cried over the environmental devastation of the oil spill (“oil spill” sounds so small really, like a “spill” of milk – far from the fiery explosion that killed people and brought on an unstoppable tidal wave of oil gushing from the ocean floor and already shutting down tourist towns along the Gulf of Mexico because folks are canceling their travel plans there, and already killing animals and draining the pockets of fishing fleets, and every other small business connected to industries related to the gulf. Nearly everything).

So, yes, I have been following some stories and have been left perplexed and wondering why there wouldn’t be multiple ways of stopping oil from gushing out of the ocean floor.

But I thought so little about the workers and life on an oil rig.

The younger brother who has lived most of his past five years at sea on the Horizon; The father who misses birthdays and soccer games and dance recitals but holds onto the pictures in his pocket and provides his family with a home and life; The boyfriend who might have taken this job because he couldn’t find anything else and knew that it paid better than any other job he could get anyway, even if he spends so many hours away at a time wondering if his girl still loves him and is being faithful.

It’s a kind of sacrifice that most of us cannot imagine and don’t even consider until a disaster happens. Most of us pump gasoline into our cars and we complain about the prices or the damage that is done to the earth in order to get oil and refine it to make gasoline or the billions of dollars we send overseas each year to purchase oil.

But when we pump our gas do we think about the workers who are on the front lines making a decent living to risk their lives finding oil? Do we think about the human toll (as well as the ecological toll) that it takes just to “find” and then retrieve the oil?

Do we think about how those workers are treated if something goes wrong? Their working conditions in their day to day lives? The sacrifices they make to provide the raw materials we need to live energy-driven lives?

I think about workers a lot – but until today I had not thought much about folks working in oil.

Following the harrowing nightmare of being engulfed in flames and assuming they would be killed, the oil workers were prohibited from calling home while BP folks got their ducks in a row. When they reached land, workers were immediately sat at tables with piles of forms in front of them to fill out and everyone was given a cup to pee in. Drug tests. Time to find the reason of the explosion, and from a corporate perspective, it must have been one of these workers who did something wrong.

Locating the problem in an individual rather than in a corporation or institution or policy or governance is worse than problematic – but it’s what corporations and institutions, and governments tend to do.

But in this case, as in most cases (the levees breaking after Hurricane Katrina comes to mind), the mostly powerless individual people who work and live through devastating events are not at fault for doing their job and trying to live their life. Instead, when we dig enough, we often find the fault lies in decisions made by powerful people higher up on the food chain – just like reports that BP did not follow federal regulator recommendations to install additional mechanisms that could stop oil from gushing…

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