A few comments about education in DC & elsewhere

(1) The US tax code gives extremely wealthy people the opportunity (at the expense of other taxpayers) to intervene in public policy in all kinds of ways. It is not an exaggeration to say that many obnoxious, predatory (criminal?) businessmen have been able to purchase the good will of the public by putting their wealth into things that appear to benefit the public. When we think these days of the names Rockefeller, Frick, Morgan, Carnegie, Yerkes, and Ford, we tend to think of the nice foundations, museums, telescopes, and research that their monies funded. Of course, that was OUR money that these robbers stole. No-one remembers today, for example, what an evil anti-semite and racist Henry Ford was, or how Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay suppressed steel workers’ totally legitimate desire for safer and less brutal working conditions, the right to collective bargaining, and much more. When these wealth individuals donate to charities or set up trusts, it is precisely because the tax code gives them huge benefits for doing so. Either they can pay this money to the federal or state treasuries, or they can spend it on anything they want – almost. In the case of Gates and Broad and the rest of the current handful of billionaires, they may think that they know what to do about public education, but the most charitable thing one can say, so far, is that they are consistently wrong. (If you want to accuse me of favoring some sort of socialism, that’s fine – I plead guilty.)

(2) As a 3rd-generation Washingtonian, a 30-year veteran teacher in DCPS, a former DCPS student myself (starting 50 years ago this fall), a child of a former DCPS art teacher, and the parent of two young recently-married adults who went K-12 through DCPS, I have never been impressed by the superintendents and school boards we have had. (Janey and McKenzie weren’t too bad; the rest were appallingly dreadful. Vance reminded me of old, tottering, semi-fossilized Soviet leaders like Brezhnev, who were periodically propped up to give a TV broadcast about how everything was just hunky-dory.) I only had one principal who was any good (in my opinion). But of all of these DCPS leaders, I would have to say that Michelle Rhee takes the cake for being the most dishonest and mean-spirited, as well as the most clueless about what constitutes good teaching and learning. Which is precisely why I started this blog and retired earlier than I might have.

(3) I agree that teachers are not saints, and that our two main unions (AFT and NEA) often make mistakes or just do the wrong thing. Some teachers (like some of those employed in *any* profession or line of work) need to be in a different job altogether. (And, contrary to the lies of Michelle Rhee, it’s never been all that hard for a principal who cares about education to get rid of a really bad teacher.) The interests of teachers in the public schools, those of the children in their care, and those of the parents of those students, should basically be at least on the same page. The (evil) genius of people like Rhee and Gates is that they have done an outstanding job in demonizing public school teachers and making the case that we deserve no due process, no pensions, and no respect. They have been quite successful in driving a wedge between teachers and parents. It’s really too bad.

(4) I’ve been getting more and more disillusioned by Obama, too. But unlike you, one of my reasons is that I think he’s just about 100% wrong on how to improve public education.


Sound Familiar? A Complaint About Excessive Testing in Detroit

Excerpts from a letter from a Detroit Public Schools Federation of Teachers Official:


Dear Dr. Byrd-Bennett:
We are getting a lot of feedback from teachers concerning the overwhelming  amount of testing and progress monitoring they are required to do. While  each of the assessments may have merit, taken as a whole they leave too
little time for instruction. Teachers throughout the district are asking  “When do we have time to teach?”
In addition to the regular curriculum, students are assessed using the Star  Math and Star Reading programs. They work on individualized lessons and  assessments through Accelerated Math and Accelerated Reading. Three times
per year students take a battery of benchmark assessments including up to  five Dibels assessments, Burst, and TRC. Throw in quarterly Q tests that  take two class periods per day for four days each quarter, and two to three
weeks of MEAP testing, and it’s no wonder teachers want more time to teach.

In between benchmarks, teachers are asked to print up to 80 pages of Burst  lessons every two weeks. These lessons are to be taught to the lowest  achieving four to five students in each class for a half hour per day. Some  schools don’t have enough toner to print these lessons, others don’t have  enough copiers, and nobody seems to have enough time. One teacher estimates  that a quarter of her instructional time is devoted to these assessments and
progress monitoring.
On a weekly basis, teachers also are asked to do time-consuming progress  monitoring for Dibels and TRC. Much if this work is done with one student at  a time. While our teachers are doing their best to keep the rest of the  class doing meaningful work, it is not possible to properly monitor and  coach the others while you are testing  individuals.
Two common themes emerge from discussions with teachers throughout the  district. First, these assessments all have some merit individually, but  together, they are too much. Second, we as teachers can handle all this, but  our students are suffering.
One teacher told me that for one day, she ignored Burst, Dibels, TRC,  Accelerated Math and Reading, and all she did was teach. It was the best day  the class had all year! The saddest thing is, this didn’t happen until the  third week of October, and she had to ignore directives to make it happen at  all.


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