stephanie jones

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Classism Exposed blog is fabulous…

In American Dream, classism, democracy, discourse, Education Policy, family-school relations, government, politics, poverty, social action, social class, social policy, teacher education resources on November 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Check out Paul Gorski’s blog called Classism Exposed.

Data is the new curse word…

In discourse, Education Policy, language, politics, teacher education, teacher education resources on November 14, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Thanks to J.E. for sending this!


Teacher: Data, my new dirty word
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Maja Wilson, who taught high school English, adult basic education, ESL, and alternative middle and high school in Michigan’s public schools for 10 years. She is currently a teacher educator at the University of Maine while finishing her doctorate in composition studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006).

By Maja Wilson
I would like to create my own language. I did actually, when I was 10, during my hour-long bus rides to and from school with Sarah. We created elaborate code books for translating the cryptic notes we sent flying back and forth over rows of green, vinyl bus seats.

You had to be in the know, to know what we were writing. And Lorraine couldn’t ever know. We were writing about her most of the time, how she’d pushed me on the soccer field, or how she’d slapped Sarah at the foot of the slide. So, in an act of semantic warfare, Lorraine slipped her own Top Secret! code book to Heather and Nicole and all the girls with long hair and soap opera names who would always be cooler than thou.
I no longer ride the school bus, but I still spend my days in classrooms, where I’ve worked as a teacher for almost 13 years. If I were to create my own language now, “data” would be my all-purpose curse word. It has all the characteristics of a good swear: four letters, the central harshness of the letter “t,” the power to condemn.
Of course, I wouldn’t be inventing the word myself, but would be stealing it from the 21st century educational codebook. When I started teaching in 1998, “data” was not part of the classroom teacher’s lexicon. But when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001, it became a key term in the rhetoric that would both dominate and define an entire era of educational history.
Now, teaching itself has become redefined as generating, collecting, and using data, and learning has become redefined as the curve connecting data points. This is a fundamental
shift in how educators think, talk, and go about educating our children. Unfortunately, it is not a shift that serves anyone but the data-collectors very well.
To illustrate what this redefinition of teaching and learning looks like in practice and why we should be disturbed, let’s take a run-of-the-mill classroom situation—one of a hundred a teacher might confront on a given day. We’ll play it out first in the increasingly common data-driven classroom and then in the classroom governed by professional observation and judgment. Here’s the scenario: Sam, our hypothetical sixth grader, is trying to divide decimals. He gets six of ten decimal problems wrong.
The data-driven teacher in a data-driven school brings her class’ scores on this decimal assessment to her Professional Learning Community (PLC), which consists of all the school’s sixth grade teachers. (Incidentally, “learning” and “community” are not terms in the 21st Century rhetoric of data, but are used strategically to lull data-leery teachers into submission.)
The teacher whose class has the highest average on the decimal assessment shares her lessons on dividing decimals with the members of the PLC. All sixth grade teachers implement those lessons, and the worksheet is given again the following week.
To make sure PLC members take their work seriously, a Data Board is posted in the teachers’ lounge: teachers’ names are listed with their students’ scores in line or bar graph form underneath. Despite the re-teaching and re-assessment, Sam’s chart is still distressingly low.
Anxious about how her curve compares to the teacher’s next door, each math teacher implements daily timed decimal dividing drills, called Mad Minutes! right after the morning’s Pledge of Allegiance. Children who don’t pass the morning’s Mad Minutes! are kept in from lunch recess to practice decimals lest they be left behind. (Apparently, it is acceptable to be “kept in” but not “left behind.”)
Now, if the PLC and the Data Board don’t lead to continually improving scores on state math assessments, the school is labeled a School In Need of Improvement, and a range of corrective measures are taken, including (but not limited to): additional training for teachers in standardized testing procedures; increased standardization of math curriculum; and increased common math assessments which generate more data points for the Data Board, which has now displaced the “Reach for the Stars” poster that had been hot-glue-gunned to the cinder block wall since 1987.
Now, we must ask: Where is Sam in all of this, besides pinned to the bottom of the Data Board in perpetual anxiety? It is hard to say. No one has bothered to talk to Sam, since everyone has been so busy creating, administering, scoring, posting, and comparing all the new decimal assessments.
However—and here’s what matters to consultants, politicians, and the media—there is the appearance of progress, of a school system really taking education and continuous improvement seriously. At least something systematic and data-driven is being done! What dedicated and collaborative teachers!
Now, let’s consider Sam in a classroom where the teacher doesn’t play the data game. Her observations aren’t formed through the use of standardized tools, but she has spent years studying teaching, math, and children, and she’s met students like Sam before. She’s going to be working through dynamics that are difficult to quantify. But that’s okay, because she isn’t going to try to quantify them. Instead, she’s going to thoughtfully observe, examine, and interpret what she sees. Then she’ll figure out what to do.
Our observant teacher has already noticed that the normally gregarious Sam freezes up in class any time he’s asked to solve a math problem. She sees that when he begins his problems, he becomes quite anxious, scratching deep grooves into his desktop with his pencil instead of showing his work on the page. When she asks him to talk through his thinking, he can’t formulate an entire sentence without his voice shaking in frustration.
She wonders why he is so anxious. When she asks him how he feels about math, he says he’s awful at it and talks about last year’s math teacher, who used to yell at him when he got questions wrong. He is angry and embarrassed about how he always had to stay indoors during lunch recess because he could never finish his Mad Minutes!.
Anxiety-induced math withdrawal, the teacher knows, is more dangerous in the long run than a student who works a bit more slowly and methodically than the rest of the class. She decides that the last thing that Sam needs is the anxiety that trickles down from Data Boards, Mad Minutes!, and more frequent assessments. She encourages Sam to slow down; there will be no stopwatches in her classroom. She cuts his daily problems in half and arranges for him talk through each problem to his seatmate. She will keep an eye on him, and once she sees that he can do these few problems without freezing up, she’ll add problems back to his daily work.
She introduces Sam to a second grader down the hall who is having trouble with addition. He spends some time each day helping the second grader talk through his work, and he starts to feel like maybe he does know something about math. By the end of the year, he isn’t dividing decimals quite “on grade level” yet, but he isn’t afraid to work hard with numbers anymore.
Now, is it possible that, in a different classroom, the teacher will observe Sam carelessly, or worse, with prejudice? Yes. But let’s not pretend that carelessness and prejudice don’t exist in equal amounts in data-driven classrooms. And let’s not pretend that Sam is always (or even often!) given what he needs in data-driven classrooms as a result of the teacher’s focus on data.
But wait, can’t teachers’ observations, interpretations, and knowledge of Sam co-exist with the focus on data? Many teachers are heroically trying to preserve a balance. But they can’t co-exist in the long run. Both approaches are not only time consuming, but they require completely different and ultimately antithetical mindsets: The first is based in a distrust and dismissal of the teacher’s subjectivity and experience, and the latter based in an acknowledgment and development of it.
To pursue the first approach wholeheartedly, in other words, a teacher needs to abandon the second.
A new teacher in the data-driven system will spend so much time being trained to administer the assessments that she’ won’t have time or guidance to develop the observational, descriptive, and interpretive skills that our second teacher has worked so hard at. And these skills do require hard work and mentoring. Unfortunately, mentors who value and develop their professional judgment are being pushed out of the profession, and any time for this mentoring to take place outside the classroom is being sucked up by the focus on data in PLC’s.
I don’t expect that, anytime soon, educators will be piously reprimanding consultants and politicians who accidentally let the word “data” slip in polite company.
In the meantime, I’ll amuse myself during in-services and accreditation meetings by imagining that these consultants—modern day versions of Lorraine with their talk about data-driven instruction and what’s the data telling us and becoming consumers and producers of data—actually suffer from an uncontrollable—Data!—urge to—Data!—curse.

Great new blog on Children’s Literature

In critical literacy, literacy, Reading, teacher education resources, teaching reading on November 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Thanks to Grace Enriquez for sharing this!

On Daddy Warbucks Duncan, the growing underclass, and other urgent concerns

In American Dream, classism, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, politics, poverty, prison, social action, social policy, teacher education resources on November 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Thanks to J.E. for sending this!


From Teacher Magazine Living in Dialogue
15629Schools in a Banana Republic
Anthony Cody
November 08, 2010
Nicholas Kristof this week described the economic state of the nation in rather stark terms. Due to the accelerated concentration of wealth, this country is in danger of becoming what is derisively termed a “banana republic.” This term has been used to describe the Central American dictatorships such as Nicaragua and the Honduras, where a handful of families control the wealth, land and economy, while the poor barely get by. Kristof shared statistics that reveal the US has pretty much arrived at a similar situation.
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976.
C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.
And the tax cuts from the Bush era continue to put billions in their pockets.
How is today’s economy affecting our students?
Rising inequality also led to more divorces, presumably a byproduct of the strains of financial distress.
Mounting evidence suggests that losing a job or a home can rock our identity and savage our self-esteem. Forced moves wrench families from their schools and support networks
Yes, unemployment causes divorce. Unemployment causes tremendous stress. Stress that bubbles over in the homes of those in poverty, unable to keep the lights on, to buy adequate food, to feel safe and secure. These stresses are terrible for children, and for their ability to concentrate and learn in school. In many of our schools we have more than 90% of the children on free and reduced lunch. We have unemployment in excess of 15%, and much higher for African Americans and Latinos. The transfer of wealth we are experiencing will be felt by a whole generation of children, and affect school performance for years to come.
As Stephen Krashen pointed out here recently,
American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average. The US has the second highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (22.4%, compared to Sweden’s 2.6%) which of course pulls down our overall average. The success of American children who are not in poverty shows that our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.
When the problem of poverty is solved, all children will have the advantages that right now only middle-class children have. This will close the “achievement gap” between children from high and low-income families.
And how will our public institutions be able to respond? All indications are that we are entering a new era of economic austerity. Newly elected congressional representatives believe they have a mandate to “pay as you go,” and cut way back on “discretionary” spending. Most of these policymakers, unfortunately, do not think they have any say over the half of the federal budget that is devoted to military spending, so that is off the table for cuts. And they can’t touch Medicare or Social Security – so actually 85% of the budget will not be touched. But things in that 15% that are considered discretionary are vulnerable, and that includes federal education spending.
This will have a mixed effect. On the one hand, the reduction of discretionary spending will mean the days of Daddy Warbucks Duncan dangling tempting billions before state policy makers to get them to race to adopt his policies may be numbered. This could be a healthy thing, since many of the reforms he has promoted have been bad ideas. On the other hand, Federal dollars provide crucial support to many low-income schools, and if these funds are cut now, at the same time state dollars are dwindling, the results will be devastating. We should be clear that when taxes are cut for the wealthy, and education is cut for the poor, dollars have, in effect, been transferred upwards.
There is one other area of spending that has, up to this point, been immune from cuts – our prison system. As James Carroll pointed out yesterday,
In 1975, there were fewer than 400,000 people locked up in the United States. By 2000, that had grown to 2 million, and by this year to nearly 2.5 million. As the social scientist Glenn C. Loury points out, with 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of all humans behind bars. This effectively created a vibrant shadow economy: American spending on the criminal justice system went from $33 billion in 1980 to $216 billion in 2010 — an increase of 660 percent. Criminal justice is the third largest employer in the country.
In the 1990s, as federal corrections budgets increased by $19 billion, money for housing was cut by $17 billion, “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the poor.’
Most of those 2.5 million Americans lived in poverty, and many of them have children enrolled in our schools. If poverty has a devastating effect, imagine the effect incarceration of a parent has on a child.
The war on poverty has been replaced by a war against the poor.
In states across the nation, there has been a call for more local control of schools. This is a healthy direction when coupled with real democratic control by parents and educators, but there is one big problem with this. Resources are not spread evenly, and some areas are much wealthier than others. Local control cannot always generate the resources the schools need. The ideal of high quality public schools for all has also been greatly undermined by the drive to standardize everyone and punish those with low scores.
How does the extreme concentration of wealth affect our schools? The middle class is being squeezed out of existence. The result is that voters are more reluctant than ever to sacrifice their money to pay for services – and so they want their taxes cut. People in wealthier communities contribute directly to their schools to make sure they have the resources that are needed – as I described in this post last year. Or they simply abandon the public schools and send their children to private schools that charge up to $30,000 a year. Oddly enough, many of these people are willing to spend this sum for their own brains, but balk at such largesse when other people’s children are involved, insisting “money will not improve the schools.” Private schools across the country have class sizes roughly half that of public schools, and per pupil costs that are roughly double, as shown by the School Finance 101 blog.

What sorts of schools exist in banana republics? Highly stratified, just like the society. The very wealthy send their children to private schools of privilege, just as is becoming the norm here. The poor go to schools where they are daily reminded of their inferiority. How many ways do we have to remind our students of their academic inferiority? Could this be an unconscious or sub-rosa part of the high stakes we now attach to test scores? Is this perhaps part of the reason schools, teachers and communities are stigmatized when schools are condemned as failures and dropout factories? Our schools are inevitably mirrors of the society in which they function.
I must add here, lest I be accused of adopting a fatalistic stance, that I believe schools have a powerful role to play in cushioning the blows of poverty, of lifting the aspirations of our students beyond their circumstances. But everywhere in school reform these days we hear of the need for “urgency,” as if the reason that previous generations of educators failed to eliminate the achievement gap was a lackadaisical attitude, or persistent low expectations. Not so. Unfortunately, although schools can make a difference, poverty and a genuine lack of opportunity usually trumps our efforts.
The intense discomfort the “school reformers” have with our low-performing schools may reflect our unwillingness to recognize that yes, we have a growing underclass in the United States. Yes, we have a burgeoning strata of society that no longer can even grasp the bottom rung of the economic ladder. We can blame the schools for this, but the schools did not create this situation, and getting everyone ready for college and careers will not fix it. Only when we get our economy back onto firm ground and restore some balance, so the wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes, and the middle class can survive and prosper, and the poor can truly access the ladder to success, only then will we see hope return to our students and see the gaps in achievement really begin to close.
Special thanks to teacherken for highlighting these issues in his blogs.

Child Labor in U.S. Schools?

In Education Policy, family-school relations, high-stakes tests, NCLB on November 1, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Thanks to the Atlanta Journal Constitution for publishing my op-ed essay on merit pay, high-stakes testing, and child labor.



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