John Merrow’s Takedown of the Gates-Jobs Takedown of America’s Public Schools

I don’t know if you watched it (I didn’t), but apparently there was a major TV extravaganza last night about how America’s high schools are obsolete and need to be re-invented. John Merrow did watch it, and was rather disgusted. Here is a bit of his commentary:

Last night’s program was high energy and cute without being daring.  For example, it had a clever ‘red carpet’ segment but with teachers as the stars.  Lots of cheering, but that was it.  That’s sadly timid.  Imagine if Melissa Rivers, the host on the red carpet, had asked teachers the question she always asks the Hollywood stars: “You look marvelous. What are you wearing tonight?’  

And picture a male teacher responding:  “These old things?  I bought these khakis 12 or 13 years ago. I was going to buy a new pair for tonight, but I just spent $380 on basic supplies for my classroom.  Oh, and would it be rude of me to ask how much your outfit cost?”

Imagine a female teacher responding, “What am I wearing?  Actually, I’d rather talk about tomorrow’s field trip….I’m taking my kids to the Getty Museum, where they will….. see provocative art and meet contemporary artists.  And the next day my students will be on Skype, talking with students in a high school in Paris about climate change. We’ve been measuring the air quality here and sharing the data with them for purposes of comparison and analysis.  But I have to charge the kids for the bus to the Museum and I had to ask some wealthy parents to pay for the scientific equipment because the school district has been cutting our instructional budget.”

And another teacher could have said, “To be honest, I’m happy for this attention, but I can’t help but thinking about the fact that you make 17 or 18 times more money per year than I do.”

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A Cartoon Strip I Like – TeachingTed.Com

I just found out about this cartoonist from Diane Ravitch. He’s a good artist and has something to say about education and the world that teachers inhabit. You might like his work, too. Here are a couple of his strips:

cartoon-on-ed

 

cartoon-on-trump

 

cartoon slippery slope.png

Why ‘School Choice’ is actually a Bad Choice

Read Steven Singer on this, inlight of what we already know out Betsy DeVill Devos.

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/top-10-reasons-school-choice-is-no-choice/

An Immodest Proposal

If you look at the lingo used to justify all the horrendous crap being imposed by “Ed reform”, you’ll see that it’s all couched in lefty-liberal civil rights language. But its results are anything but. Very strange.

Q: Can you cite some examples?

GFB: Yes. From the TFA website:

“Everyone has a right to learn. But in our country today, the education you receive depends on where you live, what your parents earn, and the color of your skin.

“That’s a serious injustice. And in the national movement to right  our contribution is the leadership of remarkable people.

“Our people—diverse and passionate—start in low-income classrooms, where the stakes are highest. We help them become teachers who can dramatically expand students’ opportunities. But our teachers don’t just teach their students, they learn from them.

“They gain a better understanding of the problems and the opportunities in our education system and use those lessons to define their path forward. Many stay in the classroom. Others leave. Both paths matter because to set things right, we need leaders in all areas of education and social justice united in a vision that one day, all kids will have access to an excellent education.”

GFB: However, the way TFA works in practice is that the kids who need the most experienced, skillful teachers, instead get total newbies straight out of college with no teaching experience, no mentoring, and courses on how to teach whatever subject they are they are assigned to. Their five weeks of summer training are mostly rah-rah cheerleading and browbeating. Their only classroom experiences during that summer are a dozen or so hours teaching a handful of kids, **in a subject or grade level totally different from whatever they will be randomly assigned to**.

What underprivileged students do NOT need is an untrained newbie who won’t stick with them. If anything, this policy INCREASES the ‘achievement gap’.

Q: I’m sorry Guy, but none of this poses a solution. Paying the teachers more is not the answer. I know this because I would quit my engineering job in a heartbeat to teach. I honestly would. And I would do it for 1/4 the pay. But not under these  conditions. Not with “father education” telling me how to use fancy calculators to educate kids. Not when you take what I love about math and turn it into garbage. The paradigm sucks, independent of the lousy pay.

GFB: That’s yet another reason to oppose Michelle Rhee. She and her allies have figured out how to micromanage teaching down to the minute and to the very sentences teachers are required to read — from a script. Yes, she and Jason Kamras and Raj Chetty and the other billionaires friends have made it that teachers have no say whatsoever on content or methodology.

If they are not on the same page exactly, down to the minute, they can get marked down, harassed, suspended and fired.

Want to teach under those conditions for twice the pay? Me neither.

It’s not “Teach Like A Champion” as Doug Lemov puts it: it’s teach like a robot.

Q: Plus, their answer to teaching is to integrate technology. They think that if they use technology, everybody will be prepared for the “real world”. Unfortunately, the technology they use isn’t utilized in the real world. So…useless. Somebody needs to tell them this!

GFB:  That’s often true. However I think the teacher should be the one to judge how much technology to use and when. Occasionally we should show them really OLD technology like carving quill pens from turkey feathers, or making their own batteries from copper pennies and galvanized iron…

But you can’t do that with Value Added Measurements and rubrics testing whether you are on the Commin Core Crapiculum to the minute.

I wasn’t really giving THE or even A solution. I was objecting to the solution we are having imposed on us right now. If you want proposed solutions, here goes:

  1. Get people who don’t have actual, extensive teaching or research experience out of the command and control centers of education except as advisors.so, no Michelle Rhee, Andre Agassi, Arne Duncan, Billionaire Broad at the helm.
  2. For our poorer kids, make sure they have free, high quality wraparound services of every kind from the moment their mother notices she’s pregnant.
  3. So for example good well-qualified dentists, ophthalmologists, psychologists, general practitioners, and other doctors should come to each school and check eyes ears nose throat etc and give immunizations to every kid, no more than a single hour of class needs to be missed. If they get hurt on the playground or suddenly vomit in class, it’s really taken care of, right away.
  4. There should be all sorts of remedial help available for kids AS SOON AS help appears to be needed: eyesight, hearing, balance, coordination, mental math, memory improvement, spelling, reading, writing, walking, emotional difficulties, etc. (Right now, the provisions of ADA and IDEA are not funded, so school districts have an incentive to NOT diagnose those with deficiences or learning disabilities, because then they would have to take care of them. Charter schools for the most part just pretend that there are no IEPs.)
  5. Every kid gets a lot of ‘gross motor’ outdoor activities – not just team sports but also things like wilderness hikes, camping, horse care and riding, farming, boating. And music and drama and arts of all sorts – not just for the talented few, but everybody. Lots of after-school activities of these sorts.
  6. Teachers (and parents) should select their principals from among the ranks of the teachers. The principal should also teach, part-time.
  7. Teachers should have at least two years of education theory (and human psychology) and a full year and a half of student teaching, and at least a college major in their area, under experienced mentors. Teachers should be given help o0n how to defuse tense situations and child psychology, and should be chosen from the ranks of those showing
    1. academic promise and
    2. the ability to empathize and
    3. the ability to explain patiently and clearly.
  8. Classes should be much, much smaller. If 12:1 is good enough at Phillips Exeter Academy with their Harkness Tables, why not at Malcolm X ES in far Southeast Washington DC? And if it’s a hands on activity like a chemistry lab or using compasses & straightedges or making birdhouses, get an assistant or two so that it’s more like 3:1.
  9. Let the teachers wrangle over curriculum. State level is fine. County level is fine. School level is fine. To hell with these state-wide standardized tests and curricula, be they bubble type or click and drag.
  10. Actual hands-on vocational training that leads to actual jobs should be available to all who want it, and corporations must engage to hire those grads at decent rates of pay and with promises of additional training.
  11. State-college or  state-university higher education needs to be much, much cheaper. Student debt, like all other debt, should be dischargeable upon bankruptcy, and should be payoff able by many kinds of national service. (Exact provisions TBD, but teaching should definitely be one of those forms of national service. Payments and interest in limbo for the first X years, paid off at Y percent per year, fully paid off after Z years. Exact values of X, Y, Z are TBD.)
  12. Teachers should be paid well enough that they don’t need to get second jobs. Pay in DCPS is not the problem. Working conditions are the problem.
  13. I think that 3-4 hours of personal contact time with kids per day is enough. Planning for each class and heading papers can easily take 2x the amount of class time. So each paper turned in by a student should be returned the next day, marked intelligently.
  14. Since the bosses have their own organizations (NAM, Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, the Koch Brothers network, Council on Foreign Relations, the Cosmos Club, etc) so should the employees. Teachers’ unions should continue to exist but should be more democratic.
  15. Students should, in fact, be held responsible for their success or failure. It’s not all on the teacher, as it is now. Social promotion for a number of years is OK, many countries do it without bad effects, but there should be some sort of a test, I think, of all sorts: practical (eg drawing something, playing a musical piece, climbing a wall, drilling a hole, writing an essay, doing a proof, viewing something under the microscope, etc) as well as a pencil-and-paper or mouse-and-screen test of some sort. Not just arcane reading and math.
  16.  Those who don’t meet the mark should obviously be advised as to what their options are, and those options should be available and well-funded, whatever they might be.
  17. We should strike a balance between having kids go to their walk-to neighborhood schools and having truly integrated schools where each school has a mix of kids of all ethnic groups and incomes. How to do that, exactly , under our current mega-segregated urban patterns, is beyond me. The superhighways and redlinings of the last 80 years are not going to be overcome overnight, but having kids ride for hours to charter schools where there is no neighborhood connection – that’s not the answer.
  18. Anything I left out?

Super Scenario for Tonight’s Debate

Wonderful screenplay for an alternate-reality presidential debate, from Aaron Wiseman, who’s been a friend of my own kids for decades – they’be been to each others’ weddings, etc. I had no idea he could write like this. It’s fantastic, don’t you agree?
 
“Best case scenario for tonight’s debates?
 
10-minutes in, we’re seeing the same bullshit.
 
Suddenly, all the house lights go down. The arena is awash in total darkness. Panic begins to set in when the lights flicker and momentarily reveal a cloaked figure in the rafters.
 
The lights flash again and the figure is gone. Suddenly, a crushing guitar riff fills the entire venue. A spotlight shines down on the arena floor. The figure from the rafters has magically moved with supernatural speed.
 
As the music builds, the cloak falls to the floor. IT’S JOE BIDEN! He’s wearing a crisp blue two button suit complete with arm tassels and full Warrior face paint.
 
As the music hits full crescendo, Joe takes off towards the stage at a full sprint! In one graceful move he slides onto the stage and hits Trump with a forearm to the dome.
 
The Great Pumpkin, takes the blow like it’s nothing. That doesn’t slow ole Joe and he hits the Cheeto Demon with a super kick to the face. B-Side Beelzebub just smiles.
 
Is he even human? How can he take so much punishment? Joe looks to the audience pleadingly.
 
As if to say, “I hit him with my best shot. How?” But then the carroty façade begins to falter and Trump’s knees buckle. His eyes roll into the back of his head and he begins to stagger around the stage.
 
Joe goes in for the finisher and hoists Trump into the air by his belt. As Trump begins to flail, Joe sends the would-be-dictator-tot crashing to the floor. A perfectly executed Gorilla Press.
 
Hillary walks up to Joe, her arms open in gratitude. But instead of matching her embracing, Joe grabs the mic from the former Secretary of State.
This wasn’t for you. Hill. A. Ry. Clin. Ton” Joe growls, “It was for America!”

“You will differentiate instruction for every student in exactly the same way, or else”

Or,

One of the many reasons I rejoice every day that I was able to retire!

 

Read what classroom observations have devolved to:

http://nyceducator.com/2016/10/you-will-differentiate-instruction-same.html

What A Joke DC Education Chancellor Kaya Henderson Was – City Paper

Very detailed article in the Washington City Paper showing how our recently-resigned Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, failed to do much of anything to narrow DC’s extremely-high gap between high-achieving and low-achieving students, even though she had oodles of money, complete control over resources, and the ability to fire teachers and administrators almost at will.

As I have shown repeatedly (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters. Or else here) DC has the widest gap of the entire USA between the scores of poor kids vs the non-poor, between white kids and black or hispanic kids, and between those in Special Ed and those who are not. This article shows how the Henderson and Rhee administrations failed to do pretty much anything to improve conditions at schools where there were large concentrations of ‘at risk’ kids, other than saying that by some miracle, they would improve scores by 40 percentage points at all of the schools where 40% of the kids were ‘at risk’.

(A quote from the article: ‘ “No school in the history of time has achieved such goals,” counters a D.C. Council staffer familiar with DCPS school reform. “On its face, the concept of this as a reachable goal was ridiculous.” ‘)

And of course, it never happened. No extra resources, and no miraculous gains.

But according to the article, Kaya has an excuse – just the sort of thing that she and Michelle Rhee used to berate actual, um, educators for saying:

‘ when Payne persisted with a question about Henderson’s “personal goal of closing achievement gaps,” the chancellor explained: “I am not exactly convinced that schools alone can close the achievement gap. I think about the fact that in Washington, D.C., we have the greatest income inequality in the country. That gap is only growing, and the fact that our achievement gap is growing in a similar way shouldn’t be baffling. But I think what we’ve learned is that equity is really more appropriate, giving different people different kinds of support…And for different groups and different kids that means different things.”

My friends and colleagues Elizabeth Davis and Mary Levy are quoted. It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

James Tanton on the Math Common Core Standards

James Tanton is an experienced math teacher and educator of other teachers whom I respect a lot. Part of his take on math is that it should relate to the real world and it should be a joyful activity, because math is all around us if we care to look; if we do, it makes our lives better.  (My paraphrase of his general ideas, not a literal quote at all; but the way I expressed it, expresses my own personal thoughts on the topic. If you want to see examples of his work, I suggest you look at his site, . Again, I think he does excellent work, and I wish I could be one-fifth as original in my own teaching as he is.

In this video, Tanton gives his take on why the Common Core State Standards in math are actually a very good thing, not a bad thing at all, IF they are implemented correctly.

That “if” is a big one. Let us assume Tanton is right, that the CCSS in math (don’t know about any other subject) was written in a very thoughtful way and will promote these eight general concepts and practices in students towards math:

math practice standards

 

I’ll retype those for clarity:

 

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Model with mathematics
  • Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Attend to precision.
  • Look for and make use of structure.
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Those are, in fact, excellent ideals.

And those ‘Mathematical Practice’ goals you see above are, in fact, expressed better there than I recall having seen before in all my years of teaching math.

But — remember that “IF” clause? “If they are implemented correctly?”

As far as I can see, judging by what I see in mathematics classrooms in both charter and public schools in DC, it looks to me as if the worksheets and practice tests were written either by low-paid, low-skilled temps who have almost no experience in teaching math, or else were written by very clever and evil people who want to seriously dumb down the education of urban youth.

And, what’s more, those inequities are being primarily visited upon our poorest kids, especially [but not limited to] those of color.

Let me give examples, judging again by my own personal visits to schools in DC and what math teachers in DC tell me and what students of my acquaintance know tell me and show me (some of whom I have known for years).

What I see is that in the expensive private schools in DC, where there is no test-accountability on the part of the USDoEd, they are continuing to give a pretty good education, sometimes joyful and interesting, sometimes not, mostly depending on the individual math department members and the incoming ability levels and work ethics of the students they teach. Some of the departments use some pretty old textbooks because they prefer them to anything in print at this moment.

At the magnet high schools in DC, there is some pressure from the NCLB and RTTT testing mania, but since nearly all the students are already at or above grade level by any reasonable measurement, they can continue to teach.

However, at the regular, comprehensive high schools and at the middle and elementary school levels, I see that the curriculum is rigidly prescribed and regimented from above, in such a way that NONE of those eight laudable goals can possibly get implemented.

Instead

(1) Unbelievable number of typos and sloppy and incorrect problems (some of which I’ve been documenting on this blog) on centrally-produced tests and worksheets;

(2) Problems that are self-contradictory and involve huge amounts of difficult and confusing text;

(3) Large numbers of multiple-choice test items, which, in my considered professional opinion, can do almost nothing to promote any of those wonderful thought processes; nor do they give useful information to eachers about what the student does or does not understand;

(4) Requiring schools to spend an enormous fraction of their time on testing and test prep, thus preventing them from doing any open-ended investigations into math;

(5) Reliance on electronic on-line worksheets that are at times just as buggy as the worksheets;

(6) Loading teachers with so much time-consumiing but useless busy-work regarding data collection and entry and analysis that they have no time to actually read what the students wrote and drew — and believe it or not, it’s just as important in math as it is in any other class!

(7) Deep understanding is prevented because instead of going at a breakneck speed through umpteen standards a mile wide and an inch deep, it’s now 1.6 kilometers wide but only a couple of millimeters deep! (Get the joke?)

(8) And from what I see over time (30 years in DCPS and 5.5 years retired now), while I thought math instruction in some ways had improved from 1978 to the mid-2000s, it seems to have taken a real turn for the worse since Michelle Rhee and the then-head of the Washington Teachers’ Union, George Parker, along with AFT head Randy Weingarten and the heads of several large foundations (Walton family, an ENRON family, the Broads and one more), along with then-mayor Adrian Fenty and the blessing of Congress and the White House, were able to impose a weird settlement upon teachers which required them to teach to the many, many tests I’ve been complaining about for some time, in exchange for mythical bonuses amd high salaries that almost no teacher will be able to earn because they will be fired or burn out first.

My conclusions:

In mathematical logic, the word “if” is a really big deal.

And it looks to me as if the authorities in DC (both public and charter, with some exceptions as noted above) are NOT implementing the Common Core Standards correctly at all, because everything I see tells me that everything being done in the charter schools and in the public schools that serve poor or working-class kids in DC is in fact thwarting those laudable goals.

Remember what Tanton said, which I granted to him as being valid: If they implement the Math CCS standards correctly, then the results will be excellent.

Logicians say that when you have a sentence of the form  “If A. then B”, then it’s only false in the case where the “A” section is true and the “B” section is false. There are three other cases and they all have overall values of “true”. In particular, if the “A” part is false, it doesn’t matter whether B is true or not: the entire “if A then B” statement is true.

I maintain that the “A” part is false. So in one sense, whether the CCSStandards in math are as clearly- and as well-written as many math teachers think, it remains the case that even by their own standards, the idiots running the USDoE and the other billionaire education ‘reformers’ who think they know all the answers, are implementing it in a way as to subvert every single one of the laudable goals that are promoted by the CCSS themselves.

And that’s quite a trick.

It’s kind of like some of the absurdities in 1984 or recent world history: many regimes upholding the universal brotherhood of all working people while imprisoning, torturing, murdering or enslaving millions of said working people. I know it’s not nearly as bad, but this current situation sure is perverse.

So, what do you think? Believe it or not, there is a ‘comments’ button below this text, but it’s really tiny and you have to search for it.

Again, the link to Tanton’s video.

 

Is it inequity, or poverty, that causes the educational problems we see in the US?

Someone posted this question to me. I think it’s inequity, since poverty is a relative thing. Our ancestors who hunted and gathered 10,000 years ago in the cold or hot and dangerous oceans, rivers, jungles, steppes and meadows of the day, armed only with animal bones, sharpened sticks, rocks and nets they made themselves, mostly didn’t think of themselves as poor. Here in the US we can all see on TV video footage of the most opulent mansions and life-styles the world has ever seen, bar none (not even the Roman or Chinese empires!). If your family only earns a few thousand dollars per year, you are going to live in utter squalor, even though such an income 200 years ago would have seemed amazing.

I’m going to coin a slogan: “It’s the differences, stupid.”

If you see that some kids go to schools where they get to learn horseback riding, soccer, lacrosse, and clay sculpture after school, AND learn foreign languages and have actual physics or biology labs with up-to-date equipment with teachers who are trusted to choose what to learn and experiment with, and your school just gives you multiple-choice worksheets all day in math and reading, with none of that other extracurricular stuff and no classes outside of math, reading, basic science, and ‘social studies’ becomes more worksheets, you will feel like crap.  Especially since the never-ending revolving door of teachers who start with high hopes but then are beaten into submission to Test Prep Above All and following idiotic curricula written by folks who never taught is going to condemn you to bad teaching.

Education should be one of a whole raft of methods used by all parts of our government that is used to end poverty. However, our judicial and police systems seem to be bent on promoting poverty for some while promoting rule over the entire universe for others. I could give many examples, such as judges routinely suspending drivers licenses for not paying small fines the person can’t pay. Then they get more tickets for driving on a suspended license, and eventually in jail or many thousands in debt. While the rich are allowed to buy elections, hire lawyers to evade state, local and federal taxes and don’t go to jail for almost any fraud committed. On the rare instances that a billionaire fraudster does go to jail, then it’s at a nice place and when they get out, they then get to set up lucrative ‘foundations’ that prey on the poor. (Think Michael Milken)

One excellent proposal from Ras Baraka, the new Newark mayor, during his campaign is that school house other agencies that help fight the effects of poverty: have free, good dental and optical and medical clinics in evrery single school, as well as free cafeterias on weekends.

Why?

So kids won’t have to miss school if they have toothaches, can’t see, or need a shot or a medical test or a wound bandaged, or psychiatric help for those suffering from acute mental illness attacks – a substantial fraction of the kids in any high-poverty school anywhere in the USA.

Plus, many families and kids actually don’t have food to eat on weekends, snow days, and holidays. Also, if well done, it would let kids know that someone was looking out for them. I thought it sounded like a great idea. I hope he’s managed to put it into effect. Unfortunately, the elected officials of Newark have for over 10 years not been permitted to run their own schools. Instead, Kami Anderson, an administrator appointed by Governor Chris Christie, runs things. She refuses to go to any hearings or meetings in Newark, IIRC.

 

Fourier Analysis – Done By A Machine With Gears and Levers

Fourier analysis allows your cell phone or MP3 player to transmit your voice and play music without needing huge reel-to-reel tape recorders to store all the sounds and without using enormous amounts of bandwidth. It’s now done electronically, by clever mathematical algorithms that are encoded on the tiny microchips inside your computer or cellphone or iPod or whatever.

The general idea is you take a complex wave-front and you turn it into an infinite series of sine or cosine waves. Believe it or not, it actually makes the data much simpler!

A very simple example. This weird shape

2 COSINES SUMMED

is merely the sum of two cosine waves:

cosines

And all of the music you hear (eg a clarinet, which might look like this on an oscilloscope)

clarinet

can be deconstructed into a whole lot of sines or cosines

 

About 40 years ago, I did some Fourier transforms by hand in a calculus class. It was time-consuming, but very, very cool.

A full century ago, Albert Michelson had to do a whole bunch of Fourier transforms for some astronomy task. It was too time-consuming to do by hand, so he built a machine with gears, levers and so on to do it for him.

It’s a super-cool analog (as opposed to digital) computer — and there is a fellow who shows you exactly how it works!

His presentation is in four parts. Start with this one, the introduction.

Published in: on November 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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