A Teachable Moment

PCT President Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Social Capital and Student Achievement

One of oft repeated stupidities of the education reformers, most notably Arne Duncan, is the goal of having a great teacher in front of every classroom. There are about 3 million public school teachers in the United States. Assuming we could all agree on what qualities constitute a great teacher, what are the odds we could find 3 million of them? To paraphrase newly elected National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, there are people who seriously believe that it is possible for 100 percent of any population to be above average. They believe such things because all things are possible to people who don’t know anything about the subject they’re talking about.

So, if we agree that the goal of a great or even above average teachers in every classroom is a self-contradictory objective, is there another approach to school improvement that offers real possibility of success? A recent article in the Shanker Blog by two University of Pittsburgh researchers summarizing their studies in public schools suggests an approach that will ring completely true to teachers but will not be easily swallowed by our education bureaucrats who believe that all wisdom flows down from them. Professors Leana and Pil argue that “…organizational success rarely stems from the latest technology or a few exemplary individuals. Rather, it is derived from: systematic practices aimed at enhancing trust among employees; sharing and openness about both problems and opportunities for improvement and a collective sense of purpose.”

These researchers show that what they call social capital is essential to school improvement. Social capital consists of the “…relationships among teachers, between teachers and principals, and even between teachers, parents and other key actors in the community.” In schools with rich social capital, teachers have time and the inclination to talk to each other about their work. They feel confident confiding in others about gaps in their knowledge or know-how. They have a sense of working in common cause. Studies conducted by these investigators show strikingly significant gains in student achievement when teachers have a robust social capital support system.

If Leana and Pil are correct, and my experience says they are, then the function of school leaders is to promote the development of social capital in our schools. Yet, current trends are moving in the exact opposite direction, with evaluation systems that single out individuals rather than promoting cooperation and what union guys like me refer to as solidarity. School leaders seeking to promote the development of social capital spend much less time scrutinizing teachers, putting their time and effort into creating a climate of trust and information sharing. Does that sound like the leadership of your district?

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Most of Us Know We Are Headed in the Wrong Direction

To me the most interesting question in the recently released survey of New York’s school superintendents is the one that reads, “Given all that has gone on in education in the last four years, would you say that the efforts to improve the quality of education in New York State have moved New York schools in the right direction, wrong direction or have had little impact at all?” An astonishing 53% of the leaders of our state’s school districts believe our schools have moved in the wrong direction (39%) or have experienced little impact at all (14%). If we look at the responses of Long island superintendents we find 44% think our schools are going in the wrong direction and 22% think that all of the turmoil we have experiences has produced little impact. 66% of Long Island superintendents, the leaders of some of the best schools in the state have essentially said we have wasted the past four years.

If this is an accurate measure of their opinion, them why are will still implementing all of these so-called reforms. Parent confidence in them is weak at best, teachers believe we are destroying what used to be enviable schools and now most of our superintendents think we are going in the wrong direction, why are we then stupidly doing so if there is clear agreement by all constituencies that what we are doing is ill advised. Imagine if all of Long island’s districts spoke in one voice and said we refuse to be participants in the substitution of training for education. We insist on educating our children. We will not have corporate reformers telling us what’s best for our children.

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Exercise and Standards

I remember sitting in elementary school, trying to stretch my legs without drawing attention to myself, being careful not to let my feet protrude into the aisle lest Miss Truelsen came by and stepped on them saying, “Excuse me!” in a tone that made clear that this was no accident. I remember watching the clock, trying to telepathically move the hands to noon so I could get up and run home to lunch, longing more for the activity than the meal my mother was preparing. What torture it was to sit for so many hours. I suspect today’s kids see it pretty much the same. School still straight-jackets kids whose bodies instinctively rebel against restraint.

I was prompted to recall these days by an article in the Times reporting on a study that sought to see the relationship between physical activity and children’s ability to concentrate. What do you know; exercise improved the ability children’s powers of concentration. I could have told you that when I was in third grade. More interestingly, exercise improved the ability of kids diagnosed with ADHA significantly. How sad that schools across the country are cutting back on physical education. It seems that vigorous daily exercise should probably be a central part of sensible education standards. Have you heard any reformers talking about this/

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Career Ready?

In the days when we had what we called comprehensive high schools, there was a real sense in which we turned out students who were career ready. Every day on my way to work I pass a busy auto repair shop owned and operated by a graduate of our schools who spent a significant part of each of his school days in our auto shop program, receiving top-notch training in the care and repair of cars. I occasionally run into another student who when last we met owned three auto body shops, shops that he runs with skills learned in our auto-body program. I once knew kids who learned to be master woodworkers, hand making furniture and learning carpentry skills that they have since used to earn a better living than many of the teachers I represent. All that’s gone now, victim to what are misconstrued as higher standards. It’s a bitter that irony that the more we talk about our schools turning out career ready students, the less we offer anything that prepares students to earn a living right out of high school. I guess that’s why I get a rush of righteous anger every time I hear some dumbbell talks about how we have to prepare career ready students.

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To Be Human is to Play

If you didn’t hear this morning’s NPR piece on the importance of free-play to the development of the brains of young children, spend four minutes and listen now. After you do, think about what the early grades of our best public schools look like today, with less and less time for play and more and more stultifyingly stupid exercises in what we pretend to be higher order thinking but which are at best age inappropriate, at worst child abuse. Need a little motivation to listen? The brain researcher interviewed in the piece suggests that it is from free play that our brains are prepared for “life, love and even school work.”

I’ve come to believe that we will look back at this era of so-called ed reform as a self-inflicted wound, a time during which we allowed corporate scam artists and the craven politicians in their employ to victimize our nation’s children, literally robbing them of a portion of their humanity by stunting that portion of their growth and development that appears to be genetically programed to require free play to be activated. Increasingly, science is validating what my parents and teachers intuitively knew but which we have been hoodwinked into forgetting – children are biologically designed to play. If we are serious about making them college, career and life ready, we had better make time for them to do it.

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From California to New York

We knew it wouldn’t be long before the Vergara decision declaring California’s tenure law unconstitutional would prompt law suits in other states, particularly in ones with high profile unions. With the “reformers” notching a victory in California, the obvious next place to achieve a dramatic impact was New York, and, sure enough, it’s in the works.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal announced that former news anchor turned education reformer Campbell Brown has found some plaintiffs to bring a challenge to the tenure and seniority laws of New York. The big lie impelling these suits is that but for tenure and seniority statutes, school managements would be free to fire the hordes of incompetent teachers standing in front of our nation’s classrooms preventing our youth from succeeding academically. These law cases are just one prong in a carefully designed strategy to attack and cripple teacher unions which have been the frontline defense against the privatizing profiteers who are hell-bent on turning our public schools into profit centers.

Curb collective bargaining, challenge public sector agency shop laws, attack tenure and seniority, spread the big lie that teacher unions exist only to defend mediocrity and encourage the belief in exploited minorities that their children can only be saved by a privatized system in which they are empowered to choose where and how their children are educated. Spread this anti-public education venom through a multi-media bombardment of the public financed by billionaire bankrollers engaged in what amounts to predatory giving, or as my friend Dave Linton calls it “giving to get.” That’s what we’re up against. I wish I saw our strategy as clearly.

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Learning How to Learn

Over the weekend I tuned into a Facebook conversation between several participants essentially over the relevance of the offerings of public schools to the future employment of the students it educates. The discussion was of interest to me on several levels.

Firstly, it reinforced for me the penetration of the pernicious idea that a k-12 education is about preparing students for employment. All participants to the discussion clearly viewed education through the lens of employment and competition. All appeared to buy into the notion that educators should first of all know what the labor market will be like in the future and train students to be marketable in it. Thus, one wants more attention paid to writing because the business world demands writing skills even at the lowest entry levels. One wants everyone taking calculus based on a curious notion that the ability to solve calculus problems is somehow related to problem solving in other fields of endeavor. Implicit in all of the comments was a belief that our schools are not doing enough to make their children marketable. Is it any wonder that with parents thinking these thoughts their children increasingly see middle and high schools as a resume building time?

This conversation was also an indicator of the success of the corporate campaign to discredit the public schools. To hear the captains of our industry tell it, it is almost impossible to find qualified people to fill the positions available because of the failure of public education. How these companies have managed to amass record profits amid their claimed critical labor shortage they never seem to explain. Their real agenda is to have the public schools take on the training that business once supplied.
When I think about all of the formal education I received, the downright silliness of all of this talk is clear to me. Boiled down to its essence, my education was all about teaching me how to learn. Like many of my generation, I had no idea of what I wanted to work at when I was in high school. College began the process of narrowing the possibilities. In my day the first two years of college consisted of essentially required courses in the arts and sciences. I took course in biology, psychology, economics, history, philosophy, English, math, foreign language and speech. No one talked to me about their relevance to my future employment.
After a master’s degree in English, I went into the Peace Corps to teach English in Ghana only to find when I got there that what my school needed me to do was to teach biology and function as a principal. I had no training to do either. All I had was a broad education in the arts and sciences. But it turned out that was all I needed. So I figured out how to schedule a secondary school with nothing but sheets of cardboard to work with. I went to the university in the capitol city and bought a couple of biology text xt books written using example of plants and animals with which West African students are familiar. Staying a night or two ahead of my students, I managed to teach a very reasonable biology course, even contacting the UN and getting equipment and materials to build a little laboratory. Without any formal training, I met the challenges I faced. I did so, not because I’m special, but because I came to those challenges equipped with the ability to learn what I needed to learn.
Later, while I earned my living as an English teacher, I began to take an interest in my local teacher union, accepting more and more responsibility as the years passed until I ran for and won the presidency. No one trained me to be a union leader. No one taught me how to run a welfare fund. Yet, though daunting at times, I managed to learn what I needed to learn to be effective. When management began using computers to manipulate important data in labor negotiations, armed with a broad education, I learned a couple of computer languages, even managing to write a compiled database program for our union.

Those who claim to know what the work world our students will meet in their lives speak with a certainty based more on ignorance than knowledge. My readers know my view is that our society will need fewer and fewer workers over time so that the real question is how will we politically divide the vast surplus we will able to produce with fewer workers and what will those without formal work do with their days? But, I’m prepared to be as wrong as I believe those who project a future of public schools and colleges as vocational institutions. What I know I’m not wrong about is the value of liberal education which to me is about learning how to learn. With that, not only is the world a more comprehensible place, but one is also as well equipped as he can be for the unforeseen challenges life will surely bring.

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Testing and Standards

The Plainview Board of Education voted last night to not participate in the field testing of the state assessments for the elementary grades. Their action is the latest sign in our community of the growing disaffection with high stakes testing that has no demonstrable purpose other than to convince some people of the existence of accountability schemes for both students and teachers.

In the debate, several board members lamented what they saw as the confusion among many of the Common Core State Standards with the assessments, viewing the two as completely separate issues. While I agree that it is possible, in fact desirable, to talk about high academic standards without discussing high stakes testing, the fact is that the political process that brought us the two combined them from the get-go. Both come from a stream of corporate sponsored initiatives that have sought to propagate the myth that our schools are failing and that it is only through the imposition of national standards and constant assessment that there is any hope of rescuing America from its dramatic academic slide. The Common Core’s spiritual soul is the same testocracy that brought us No Child Left Behind. It’s a failed policy that seeks to punish rather than support – close schools – increase rigor -fire teachers – get tough on all on a system that’s grown slothful and uncompetitive. Its supporters seem to relish failure. It’s as though it provides an opportunity to root out sin.

The time will come when we can have a sensible discussion about standards, a discussion led by educators who bring their knowledge of teaching child development to the table. That can’t happen until we end the connection between standards and testing by getting a testing regime in our state that’s aimed at supporting instruction by pointing teachers to areas of student learning that require additional attention. Once we have ended the curriculum narrowing, culture choking effect of our current testing practices, once we have stifled the corporate raiders of our public institution, once we regain our senses and realize that education is about much more than college and career, once more of our politicians owe their allegiance to their communities rather than their one percent bankrollers, we may have the political space in which to tackle national standards seriously.

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NYSUT Elections – The First Step

Here’s the takeaway from last weekend’s NYSUT convention. NYSUT members are fed up with the measured, halting, accommodationist response of their state union’s leadership to the false charge of failing schools, the imposition and failed implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the maniacal substitution of testing for learning and the public pounding of teachers by corporate leaders bent on privatizing public education. The delegates elected Karen Magee and her entire slate including members of the board of directors, and in so doing clearly said that they want their organization to stand up for our members and energize them to use their to numbers to push back against the forces arrayed against them. With a little over 60 percent of the vote, Magee has a mandate to change NYSUT’s direction and the way it does business.
The challenge to her and her team is daunting. For too long NYSUT has existed on playing the Albany game, putting all its energies into political action, failing to recognize getting members to authorize political action fund deductions from their paychecks neither mobilizes them to vote nor collectively confront the workplace issues that plague them daily. We forgot about being a movement, and as we did the political world began to realize they no longer needed to pay attention to us. I’ve had several experiences where members of the legislature have told me straight out, “I’m not afraid of NYSUT anymore. Your members don’t vote.”

Can the Magee team rebuild NYSUT from the ground up, giving this generation of teachers the same hope that the founders of our union had that if they stood together they could command respectable wages and working conditions and a professional say about the important work they do? I know they will try. I also know that I intend to do everything I can to help them to save our movement.

The education union movement allowed me to make a decent, middleclass living, to practice my craft free of coercion and work with colleagues to better our local schools and public education generally. Though our local union always sought cooperation, when that was not possible, we always had the wherewithal to militantly advance our interests, up to and including striking. I always felt proud to be a teacher and a union member. Today’s teachers need to feel that way again. They will only be able to do so if we are able to revive our movement. Saturday’s NYSUT election was the first step. May there be many more.

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The Creation of Ignorance

If you’re like I am, it seems to you that the world is being overcome by ignorance. Almost half of Americans do not believe in evolution, believing instead that the earth is some 6000 years old. Climate change is seen by many as a left wing conspiracy to undermine the capitalist system. Scary numbers of parents are keeping their kids from being vaccinated against terrible, life threatening diseases. And a president like Barack Obama who once could have passed for a Rockefeller Republican is seen as a socialist bent on nationalizing the private property of Americans, not to mention taking away their guns. If there has been a failure of our public schools, it’s this kind of unbounded ignorance.

I’m thankful to Diane Ravitch for drawing my attention to an academic discipline I have been unfamiliar with – agnotology,the study of the cultural production if ignorance. As part of the WordSpy definition has it, “Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge but an outcome of cultural and political struggle.” In her blog a few days ago, she draws upon scholarship in this area of study to help us understand the forces at work to discredit public education. I know some of my readers routinely read Ravitch, but if you haven’t read this post, it’s a must.

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Obama Didn’t Disappoint Me

While many are increasingly disappointed with President Obama’s education policy, a policy predicated on testing and linking the student results to teacher evaluations, disappointment is not the right word to capture my thoughts and feelings. I’m more apt to respond with, “I knew it,”

When Obama was first campaigning in the primaries, he and most of the contenders at the time came to the National Education Association (NEA) Convention seeking our support. He was completely forthright in expressing his support for charter schools and testing. It was clear to anyone who cared to listen that he thought our nation’s schools were failing. Yet the NEA wound up supporting him anyway, even though Hillary Clinton was much better on our issues. From that time on, I’ve come to expect nothing good from Obama on education. Candidly, if Mitt Romney had presented himself as the moderately progressive governor of Massachusetts he actually was, I would have been very tempted to vote for a Republican for president for the first time in my life, knowing that Obama was going to be nothing but trouble. He hasn’t disappointed me.

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The Alignment of the Anti-Deformers

My, my how the direct action of parents and teachers against the Common Core State Standards and the high stakes tests aligned to them has shifted the positions of many of our teacher union leaders. The AFT ‘s Randi Weingarten no longer supports value added teacher evaluation models and while still supporting the Common Core Standards in the abstract is forced to admit that the implementation has been an abject disaster. Even the leadership of NYSUT, as aloof from the day to day realities of classroom teachers as they can be, is realizing they’ve been standing on policy quicksand and are seeking firmer ground. Where the last meeting of the NYSUT Board of Directors debated whether or not we should invite Commissioner King to our convention this spring, the upcoming meeting will entertain a motion of no confidence in the commissioner offered by President Dick Iannuzzi. Where Iannuzzi recently told me that parents were not interested in fewer tests but wanted better assessments, I suspect it won’t be long before his team retreats from absurd position as they are challenges by a slate of challengers running against them.

With many of our politicians beginning to move away from Common Core and the testing that comes with it, with our state and national union leaders beginning to hear the anger of their memberships, with a growing number of parents questioning what their children are experiencing in their classrooms, with a growing number of them opting their children out of all high stakes tests, there is developing and irresistible alignment of political forces to end the so-called reform movement that is deforming public education in America.

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Skills Gap?

A central tenet of the corporate school reform movement is the belief that the failure of our public schools is making our nation less economically competitive in a world in which trade has become globalized. The offered “evidence” for this belief is the oft stated unchallenged “fact” that there are many good jobs available in the United States that go begging because employers cannot find workers with the 21st century skills these jobs require.

In a brilliantly eye-opening piece in the January edition of Labor Notes entitled ‘Skills Gap’ a Convenient Myth (Sorry no link available), labor historian Toni Gilpin challenges this conventional wisdom, leaving this reader, at least, convinced of its absurdity. When one stops to think, a lesson learned in high school economics gives us all we need to know to debunk this myth. If there is a skills gap, the wages of skilled workers would rise with the scarcity of their skills. It’s basic supply and demand economics. Yet, we know they haven’t risen. In fact they have stagnated or declined over the last 30 years causing what we are coming to see as the our age’s great social and political problem – rising economic inequality. Where one does see skilled jobs going unfilled, Gilpin says, “…it’s because employers seek high-value workers at discount rates.” Witness what Boeing is attempting to do to its highly skilled workforce. Boeing workers, some of the most highly skilled workers we have, are being threatened with having their jobs outsourced to other parts of the country if they do not agree to management’s demand for wage and pension concessions. How could this happen in an economy where there is a shortage of skilled workers?

So it’s not a failing public schools caused skills gap America is experiencing. It’s a jobs gap. It’s not training that is going to provide the jobs we need. It’s the existence of jobs that provides training. We’ve been encouraged to have this all backwards. Just as we have been encouraged to believe our schools are failing. Get a hold of Gilpin’s piece if you can. It’s a wonderful remedy for the corporate bull that clouds our thinking.

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New York is the Key

I’ve written about my differences with state and national union leaders on what I have termed their wholesale embrace of the Common Core State Standards. I had occasion last week to meet with a group of local union presidents from across the country and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel under the auspices of the National Council of Urban Education Associations (NCUEA), a powerful caucus with in the National Education Association (NEA). I used my opportunity to engage Van Roekel to address what is becoming clearer to me all the time: the difference between the Common Core Standards as they exist as originally promulgated and the Standards as they are being experienced in the school districts and classrooms of our nation.

Acknowledging that the implementation of the Standards in New York has been a disaster, Van Roekel went on to explain that the NEA’s support for them has been driven by internal polling of the membership indicating broad support for them, and, in fact, several of the presidents in attendance spoke to the support of their members. He did say that the members have some concerns about implementation but are generally supportive.

While I was reluctant to accept this report on NEA’s polling, a number of experiences at this conference caused me to change my view. Wherever I went, whatever discussion I participated in at this NCUEA conference, there was a sense in the leaders I met that Common Core Standards are here to stay so that we might as well make the best of them that we can. To be sure there are places in the nation where the Standards are being implemented better than in New York, but that doesn’t mean that they are being enthusiastically embraced by our members. In a world where their leaders offer them no alternatives, it’s sensible to try to make the best of things.

I returned home convinced that the battle against testing and the Common Core Standards increasingly linked to that testing will have to be won in New York first. Here I increasingly meet local leaders who see the lunacy the Standards have become, leaders whose members are fed up with the attempt by corporate interests to take over their profession, standardizing their work and neutering it of its creative challenges. Not only must the battle be won in New York, but the driving energy to victory is going to have to emanate from Long Island where parents are joining with teachers to defend what we all know are some of the best schools in our nation.

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The Deadly Connection of Test Results and Teacher Evaluation

Whether it’s Common Core or some other reformist miracle cure for the social pathology that we believe can be cured if only we have the right kind of schools, once we link student performance on standardized tests to teacher evaluations we will inevitably have a system in which we teach to some test. To think otherwise is to believe that human beings will ignore the threat to their income these tests pose and concentrate their attention instead on ensuring the exposure of their students to rich curriculum experiences that lie outside the narrow scope of these exams. Only those drinking the reformist Kool-Aid believe that. The connection between student test results and teacher evaluation will have to end if we are ever to get out of this mess the reformists have created. I say this as the president of a local teacher union in which 77 percent of the members were rated highly effective and none ineffective.

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Talk About the Real Common Core, Not An Abstraction

I’m growing progressively angrier at the blind support of state and national teacher union leaders for the Common Core Standards. The Standards they support are an abstraction contained in a document that bears about as close a relationship to what is happening in our classrooms as s White Castle hamburger to fine dining. My leaders can tell me that the Standards are not a curriculum, but the fact is that the curriculum modules developed by the faceless state ed bureaucracy are becoming the de facto curriculum, as financially strapped school districts, hobbled by a property tax cap, cannot muster the resources to write their own curriculum aligned to the Standards. The Common Core teachers experience is increasingly test driven, scripted instruction that leaves little to their professional judgment and creativity. It is assignments that anger parents who can’t make heads or tails out of them. It is children who are frustrated to the point where many talk openly about not liking school. It is little kids struggling with math problems that they can’t read and drawing the erroneous conclusion that they aren’t good at math.

The Common Core Standards were not developed by teachers, despite claims made that they were. At best, a few teachers, picked through a process unknown to me, got to comment on them, this process lending the Standards the illusion of professional respectability. To me The Common Core Standards are a central plank in a strategy to discredit the public schools financed by the one percenters of our nation and pushed by the Obama administration that has shown itself to be no friends of public schools and the people who work in them. But even if we disagree about the motivation behind the development of the Standards, there is very little room for disagreement about what the Common Core Standards have become in our classrooms. The more our union leaders ignore the Standards as they actually exist, the more their credibility and the credibility of our union is diminished.

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Can we have a discussion about education these days without hearing the acronym STEM, the shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math, the subjects we are being told that will determine the employability of our children in the years ahead? This belief is being sold to a gullible public by a corporate elite that seeks to substitute training for education – that wants people from their very childhoods prepared for their vision of the modern workplace. An article in this morning’s Times about the decline in the study of the humanities at America’s universities has me thinking about just how insidious this attack on learning has gotten and how those of us who cling to the ideal of a liberal arts education had better get an acronym of our own.

It’s in that frame of mind that I propose that we rally around our own acronym HEART, our shorthand for, ”Humanities Education Advances Reading and Thinking.” HEART is not about training, but rather about making sense of the world and the people in it. HEART is about envisioning a better world and having the knowhow to organize people to call it into being. HEART is the antithesis of training. It’s not about making a living but learning to live. It’s about having HEART.

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Forums in Any Format Doom King and Tisch

I watched about an hour of the forum Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch had in Westchester yesterday and am amazed at the consistency of the criticism of State Ed’s efforts. Even more amazing has been the obvious inability of Dr. King or Tisch to get any superintendents or anybody of any stature to stand up and enthusiastically support the state’s reform efforts. Not only is their reform program intellectually impoverished, but these so-call leaders lack the most elementary political skills. I get the distinct impression that the more forums these pretenders hold, the more energized the public becomes to put a stop to the stupidity being passed off as sound education policy. More and more of the people I meet with young children in the public schools are giving serious consideration to opting their children out. More forums, please!

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Reading Fiction More Important Than Thought

Among the many facets of the Common Core Standards that frankly strike me as stupid and ironically anti-intellectual is the preoccupation with the reading by young students of non-fiction texts. English teachers throughout the country have adjusted their curricula to read significant amounts of the kinds of prose it is thought students will have to read in college and the workplace. Perhaps thought is not quite the correct word.

A sub-text of the Common Core Standards is that the reading of fiction is essentially entertainment, not the sort of rigorous, difficult, manly reading demanded for college readiness and career. How the business types who brought us the standards must feel this morning when they picked up their New York Times to find on the front page coverage of research showing the connection between reading quality fiction and the development of empathy and the greater ability to read the emotions of other human beings – qualities sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence.

Could it possibly be that the core of any good k-12 academic program is what we call the humanities? Could it be that to be adult-ready in a humane, democratic society requires skills developed through repeated exploration of great literature, music and art?

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A Seat at the Table?

We will never resuscitate the teacher labor movement by currying favor with those who behind euphemisms like “reform” or “college ready” really are bent on the destruction of public education as we have known it, their ultimate goal being a corporate, profit oriented education market. Yet, the leadership of both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers continue to seek and tout a seat at the table where ironically the demise of public education is cleverly plotted.

I’m on this theme again having read an article in the May 10 NEA today entitled “Six Ways the Common Core is Good For Students.” The article quotes several teachers extolling the virtues of the Common Core . The piece also links to other areas of the NEA website that weave a narrative of how the NEA was part of the development of the Common Core, a narrative clearly written to make it appear as though the voice of teachers was heard.

That teachers voices were not heard, or maybe were not expressed by the National Board Certified teachers the NEA sent to the meetings, becomes very clear when one reads the responses of teachers in the trenches to the article. Not one has anything good to say. And those comments are very much like the ones I hear daily from the members of my local union.

The national unions find themselves living a paradox. Both are trying to get back to their organizing roots. But they don’t seem to want to seriously organize around the issues that excite their members. Nobody I know is marching for the Common Core. Nobody I know is doing labor walks for the Common Core. They are not going to their state capitols to ask for more Common Core. Why don’t the leaders of the NEA know this? Their failure is frightening. In so many ways, our leaders organize opposition to themselves when they seek seats at a table that is set as a trap.

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