Every Child Deserves a Great Education

Archive for February, 2013

Reflections on the Rhee protest in Seattle — photo essay 0

Posted on February 21, 2013 by dmayer

It was a dark and bitingly cold night when 70 or so education activists gathered at the town hall in Seattle to boycott Michelle Rhee. She was in town to promote her new book. Students and members of several groups including Seattle Education, Social Equality Educators, and Socialist Alternative met in solidarity to protest Rhee’s support of corporate reform, charter schools, and high-stakes testing.

Students protest Rhee’s support of charter schools that segregate or “colonize” minority and poor students.

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High-stakes tests favored by Rhee have led to a curriculum of “teaching to the test” and less art, music and P.E. in schools.

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During Rhee’s tenure as Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools, widespread cheating occurred.

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There are at least 3,000,000 teachers in America who have more education expertise than Michelle Rhee. Jonathan Kozol is one that has written prolifically about America’s poorest students. The difference between educators like Kozol and Rhee is that Rhee is in the pocket of her billionaire funders who favor privatizing our public schools, and that buys her influence.

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Charter schools disproportionately enroll poor minority children and are known to push out students with special needs, students with behavioral problems, and English language learners.

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Tax cuts for the top 1%, including the richest corporations, and the abysmal design of No Child Left Behind have left our public education system in much need of repair.

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This one’s for you Bill, Eli, Walton brothers and sisters. 

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You can listen to an interview of Rhee by NPR’s Seattle affiliate, KUOW and a response by Seattle Education blogger Dora Taylor at the 17:15 minute mark.

Michelle Rhee, corporate education reformer was in Seattle Tuesday to promote her new book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First. On the book jacket, Jonathan Alter champions her as “a hard-charging champion of education reform and a strong Democrat,” while Geoffrey Canada calls her “a national treasure.” Apparently reviewers at Amazon.com have a different opinion. Currently, the book has received a one-out-of-five star rating.

From Amazon cirtics:

There are a lot of stories where she’s the only one who cares about kids. She blasts the other teachers at the school where she taught at when she was in her 20′. The politicians, her central office staff, teachers and principals in DC, a funder who won’t give her enough money — they just don’t care. No one cares except Michelle.

When she quits DC’s schools, it’s more of the same. She name-drops all the people who called her and said they wanted to hire her and talk with her–foundations, the Aspen Institute, the Hoover Institution, Meg Whitman, Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel. But she says no. Instead, she asks the Walmart family to give her $100 million to start her own organization, though it’s not clear whether she got the $100 million or what her organization, called StudentsFirst, actually does with its money. Do they put it into schools and classrooms? Is it a lobbying firm? A PAC? A charity like March of Dimes, only for schools?

If you’re really into Michelle Rhee and want to know all about her, hey, go ahead and read the book. Different strokes for different folks. But if you’re looking for an honest self-appraisal of her career, or if you’re the least bit skeptical or if you think critically about what’s really best for kids, this isn’t worth reading. Lots of people see Diane Ravitch as an alternative to Michelle Rhee, but I’d recommend John Merrow’s The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership, which is far more serious and thoughtful than this.

Protesters in Seattle aren’t really that into Rhee, and they already know plenty about her. They met outside the townhall where she spoke passing out leaflets, picketing, and chanting for an hour before she spoke, although you wouldn’t know it from the Seattle Times coverage of the event. A more accurate account was provided by one of the attendees, Steve Nesich:

I sincerely mean no hostility or personal slight towards Sarah Freishtat, the young intern who wrote this story. I’m certain, like many young writers, she possesses a great deal of potential.

But, unfortunately, this is exceedingly poor journalism. It resembles the “puff pieces” I normally associate with some mass market magazines, replete with full page, full color ads, targeted to a demographic obsessed with frivolous distractions such as celebrity, fashion and “lifestyle”.

This view was reinforced, right down to the jarring, pseudo-Saskia de Brauw “wannabe” photo image.

For someone apparently unfamiliar with Rhee’s history, I assume it’s easy to “fall for her”, in more ways than one. Rhee is known for her ability to read and manipulate people, and leveraging that to get what she wants from them. Perhaps that explains the superficial and fawning coverage; however, it doesn’t justify or negate it.

Freishtat’s obsequious tone permeates this entire article. Her narrative demonstrates both a woeful lack of perception and the pangs of an aspiring, but malleable young journalist, desperately hoping to “stay in touch” with someone as wealthy and “connected” as Michelle Rhee.

I was at Rhee’s presentation, and the hall—with a surprising number of vacant seats—was far from “overflowing”. And a high percentage of that audience was clearly disturbed by Rhee’s “stage smile”, and overtly hostile to her many distortions and fabrications.

Ironically, one of the few clearly accurate parts of this story quoted Rhee as saying “if she could do it all over again, she would manage news sources better.”

Judging by the final copy in this “Edu Celebrity” piece, I’d say that Rhee has clearly accomplished the “news management” part of this—exceedingly well; she apparently managed to turn you from a news organization—at least in this instance—into a very compliant “marketing and promotions firm”, with all services courteously provided, gratis, by the compliant “professionals” at The Seattle Times.

Opt Out bumper stickers, yard signs, and buttons 0

Posted on February 19, 2013 by dmayer

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In January, when nearly all of the teachers at a Seattle high school decided to refuse to give mandated standardized district tests called the Measures of Academy Progress because, they said, the exams don’t evaluate learning and are a waste of time, people took notice. Since that time many other teachers, parents, and students have joined in to support them. They have released the genie from the bottle and it’s not going back in. Today many people are beginning to question the testing craze.

Fanning the flames of the debate is a newly released study identifying a stress gene. Slate DoubleX Gabfest posts a great discussion about testing based on an article that appeared in The New York Times February 6, 2013.  According to the authors of “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?”, researchers have discovered a gene that identifies how people react to stress. The conversation focuses on stress induced by standardized testing on students. Depending on their genetic make-up, researchers say, people can have either warrior or worrier reactions to pressure. Warriors, who are more easy-going and not stressed-out by tests, do better than worriers, who are generally more intelligent and better organized, but do relatively poorly on tests under pressure.

In Taiwan, where the research study was performed, administrators stopped giving the tests because they were disadvantaging, unnecessarily, the worriers. The test had been thought to identify the best and brightest achievers to go on to the university and professional careers. But based on test results, the people with higher IQs and excellent organizing skills were being sentenced to toiling in factories. Ironic.

The Little Data Point and the Big Bad Test written by a 12-year-old girl is read by her mother who is hosting the discussion. Her point, no pun intended, in not to be taken lightly.

Listen to the conversation on here.  The test discussion begins at the 21:30 mark and lasts about 15 minutes. Well worth a listen.

United Opt Out National

We opt out of high-stakes testing and we resist all market -based reforms that seek to privatize and destroy public education.

Let your voice be heard in the testing debate. Below are bumper stickers designed to support students and teachers who have been subjugated to unnecessary tests for far too long. These were designed at Build-a-Sign, a site chosen randomly from the internet. The Opt Out signs are interspersed with education appreciation ones. You may design your own and purchase bumper stickers and signs here or from a local vendor. Buttons were designed on templates provided at Make Pins.com. The objective is to support teachers who have no choice but to give meaningless test, and students who have no choice but to take them. UNTIL NOW!

Yard Signs 

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Bumper Stickers


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Boycott RHEE 0

Posted on February 15, 2013 by dmayer

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There will be a protest at 6:00 PM on February 19th in front of Town Hall where Michelle Rhee will be talking about her latest fundraising effort, her book. Join us. We will have signs…and tape.

Seattle Education posts a comprehensive, up-to-date review of Rhee — from her Teach for America days terrorizing little children to her scandal-ridden days as Chancellor of Washington, D.C. Public Schools, to her newest nonprofit venture (from which she will profit handsomely), Students First.

“Most of Rhee’s agenda runs counter to what parents identify as their top priorities, including small class sizes, less high-stakes testing, improving neighborhood schools, recruiting and retaining strong and experienced teachers, and giving parents a real voice in governing schools.”

It won’t be the first time teachers, parents, and teachers have boycotted Rhee. Last year at this time East Bay CTA & CFT Teachers Picketed Michelle Rhee chanting “We Are, We Teach The 99%.”

An Evening with Andy Hargreaves at PSU 0

Posted on February 05, 2013 by dmayer

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Professor Andy Hargreaves was welcomed by Portland State University President, Wim Wiewel, who talked in vague terms of Governor Kitzhaber’s pipeline to streamline Oregon education from cradle to career. He emphasized the ambiguity of the plan saying, “Where are all the boxes?” We don’t know yet. And, “Who or what will live in those boxes? We don’t know.” Hargreaves was introduced as someone to help figure this out.

What had been billed as a lecture turned out to be a 30 minute book talk followed by a short Q & A and book signing. Here are some key points from Hargreaves’ newest book, Professional Capital, co-authored with Michael Fullan, as noted in his presentation.

In his opening remarks, Hargreaves focused our attention on transforming teaching in every school. His formula: PC = f(HC,SC,DC).

“Teachers, along with parents, are the most important people in our lives. It’s the teacher, stupid.” he said.

He elaborated on the system we now have in place that knows only two strategies: to either reward or remove teachers. Then he said something that experienced teachers have known all along. He said in all the mountains of data collected on teacher quality and tying kids’ tests scores to teacher evaluations, reliable numbers correspond to principals’ judgements. Let me say that again with emphasis: He said principals are the best evaluators of teacher performance. Just as research shows that the grades a teacher assigns to a student are the best indicator of how that student will do in college (Krashen), the judgements, or evaluations, principals assign to a teachers are only reinforced by data. (One might ask why we are wasting extraordinary amounts of money on a system that tells us what we already know.)

Although I agree with much of what Hargreaves says, I am not comfortable with the language and presentation of his ideas. For example, his method of defining every idea in terms of “capital.” I have a strong aversion to using the word “capital” to describe human worth since I first came across this website: Strategic Management of Human Capital some years ago. The site elaborates in no uncertain terms the value and manipulation of human life in monetary (capital) terms. Knowing that as a teacher, I am thought of as human capital forces me, on some level, to think of my students in those terms, when for decades that thought had never entered my mind. Maybe this is a compromise educators must accede to these days in order to gain a foothold in today’s profit-driven, business-dominated education environment. I think the price is too dear.

In the words of Hargreaves:

Capital relates to one’s own or group worth –particularly concerning assets that can be leveraged to accomplish desired goals.

Business capital assumes that good teaching:

  • is technically simple
  • a quick study
  • can be mastered readily
  • should be driven by hard performance data
  • is about enthusiasm, effort, talent, and results
  • is replaceable by online instruction.

He then likened  so-called “teachers” produced in droves by organizations like Teach for America, The New Teacher Project/Center, and Teaching Fellows programs as delivering curriculum “karaoke style” — to applause from the educators in the audience.

Professional capital as it pertains to teaching:

  • is technically sophisticated and difficult
  • requires high levels of education and training over a long time
  • is perfected through continuous improvement
  • is a collective accomplishment
  • maximizes,mediates, and moderates online instruction

“Technology and teachers work well together.  One should not replace the other,” he said.

Hargreaves defines three other types of capital as a subset of professional capital: human capital, social capital, and decisional capital.

Human capital involves qualifications, knowledge, preparation, skills, and emotional intelligence.

Social capital involves trust, collaboration, collective responsibility, mutual assistance, professional networks, and a healthy amount of push, pull, and nudge to reach goals.

Decisional capital involves judgement, case experience, practice, challenge and stretching, and reflection.

Notably absent from this discussion is the idea of how cultural capital including race, ethnicity, socio-economic, and other conditions, factors into education.

Hargreaves mentioned Finland as an example of a country that reveres teachers as professionals. In 1992, Finland had an unemployment rate of 19%. Proactively, officials decided to invest in education by investing in teachers. Every teacher in Finland must earn a master’s degree before entering the classroom. Teachers are highly qualified in the true sense of that concept: knowledgeable, prepared, skilled, and emotionally intelligent. They earn the trust of their respective communities, and together with members of the community collaborate, take collective responsibility, mutually assist each other, create professional networks, and help each other to reach goals. Based on case experience, practice, challenges, and reflection they are able to make judgements on how to meet goals. Now fifteen years later, Finland’s education system is hailed as the finest in the world.

Fifteen years ago, the Finns did not articulate their education goals in terms of capital. They did not think of their children or teachers in terms of human capital. Using the definition of humans identified as capital, how difficult will it be for us to give children in our state or country the education they need and deserve? Do the same attributes that worked so well for the Finns take on a new and different meaning when we define ourselves as capital?

He gave a statistic that I find unbelievable. He said that in this country the average time spent in the classroom by new teachers is one year before leaving. (GASP from audience.) I have not been able to confirm that statistic.

Near the end of his talk, Hargreaves announced that he would be working on the governor’s vision of cradle to career. He said that he would be working with Education Northwest, Inc., which had just been awarded a $1.8 million grant for continued support of their work. He is part of the pipeline created by the OEIB that promises to do more with less. From Education Northwest:

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pointed out, NWRCC (Education Northwest) and the nation’s network of comprehensive centers “will help low-performing schools and districts close the achievement gap. They provide valuable support of the Administration’s P–12 initiatives to ensure that every child is able to receive a high-quality education.”

Hargreaves mentioned vaguely these as some of the goals for Oregon:

  • a smaller number of schools in districts to promote social capital
  • tighter faculty groups, and a smaller number of groups to promote decisional capital
  • higher standards for accreditation

On testing:

  • test prudently, not profitably
  • do not test every student in every grade every year
  • do test less people less often and give better tests

“We are not at a stage to give up testing altogether as Finland has done,” he said.

He left us with this quote from Nelson Mandela:

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children and their teachers.

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