Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela's Epitaph, in His

My Lord, I am the First Accused." Those were Nelson Mandela's opening words as he stood in the dock in the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, South Africa, on the morning of April 20, 1964—nearly half a century before his death December 5 at the age of 95. Mandela and eight other defendants had been charged with violating the Sabotage Act and the Suppression of Communism Act, accused of plotting violence against the apartheid government with the aim of overthrowing it. By fomenting "chaos, turmoil, and disorder," the prosecutor explained, the accused hoped to achieve "liberation from the so-called yoke of the white man's domination." Mandela, who was already serving a five-year sentence for organizing a strike and leaving the country without a passport, assumed that they would be sent to the gallows.
With the verdict all but certain, Mandela and his codefendants decided to turn their trial into an indictment of the apartheid state. When he had been asked for his plea, Mandela replied, "The government should be in the dock, not me. I plead not guilty." Yet the lengthy statement he prepared to open his defense was not an attempt to prove his innocence—in fact, he readily admitted to many of the charges made against him. He instead took the opportunity to forcefully promote his cause. But he also knew that he was offering a doomed man's final words, in essence, a self-written epitaph.
Mandela took two weeks to write the speech. A white lawyer who reviewed a draft exclaimed, "If Mandela reads this in court they will take him straight out to the back of the courthouse and string him up." Mandela's own lawyer urged him to cut out the final paragraph, but Mandela held firm. "I felt we were likely to hang no matter what we said, so we might as well say what we truly believed," Mandela recalled in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The final lines of Mandela's 60-page, 176-minute statement have since become its most famous:

During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students Rebecca Alber

My first year teaching a literacy coach came to observe my classroom. After the students left, she commented on how I asked the whole class a question, would wait just a few seconds, and then answer it myself. "It's cute," she added. Um, I don't think she thought it was so cute. I think she was treading lightly on the ever-so shaky ego of a brand-new teacher while still giving me some very necessary feedback.
So that day, I learned about wait/think time. And also, over the years, I learned to ask better and better questions.
Many would agree that for inquiry to be alive and well in a classroom that, amongst other things, the teacher needs to be expert at asking strategic questions, and not only asking well-designed ones, but ones that will also lead students to questions of their own.

Keeping It Simple

I also learned over the years that asking straightforward, simply-worded questions can be just as effective as those intricate ones. With that in mind, if you are a new teacher or perhaps not so new but know that question-asking is an area where you'd like to grow, start tomorrow with these five:

#1. What do you think?

This question interrupts us from telling too much. There is a place for direct instruction where we give students information yet we need to always strive to balance this with plenty of opportunities for students to make sense of and apply that new information using their schemata and understanding.

#2. Why do you think that?

After students share what they think, this follow-up question pushes them to provide reasoning for their thinking.

#3. How do you know this?

When this question is asked, students can make connections to their ideas and thoughts with things they've experienced, read, and have seen.

#4. Can you tell me more?

This question can inspire students to extend their thinking and share further evidence for their ideas.

#5. What questions do you still have?

This allows students to offer up questions they have about the information, ideas or the evidence.
In addition to routinely and relentlessly asking your students questions, be sure to provide time for them to think. What's best here, three seconds, five, or seven? Depending on their age, the depth of the material, and their comfort level, this think time will vary. Just push yourself to stay silent and wait for those hands to go up.
Also be sure to vary your tone so it genuinely sounds like a question and not a statement. When we say something in a declarative way, it is often with one tone and flat sounding. On the other hand, there is a lilt in our voice when we are inquiring and questioning.
To help student feel more comfortable and confident with answering questions and asking ones of their own, you can use this scaffold: Ask a question, pause, and then invite students to "turn and talk" with a neighbor first before sharing out with the whole group. This allows all to have their voices heard and also gives them a chance to practice their responses before sharing in front of the whole class.
How do you ask questions in your classroom? What works well with your students? Please share with us in the comment section below.

Getting Teacher Evaluation Right Posted by Esther Quintero

Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right, is a detailed, practical guide about how to improve the teaching profession. It leverages the best research and best practices, offering actionable, illustrated steps to getting teacher evaluation right, with rich examples from the U.S. and abroad.
Here I offer a summary of the book’s main arguments and conclude with a couple of broad questions prompted by the book. But, before I delve into the details, here’s my quick take on Darling-Hammond’s overall stance.
We are at a crossroads in education; two paths lay before us. The first seems shorter, easier and more straightforward. The second seems long, winding and difficult. The big problem is that the first path does not really lead to where we need to go; in fact, it is taking us in the opposite direction. So, despite appearances, more steady progress will be made if we take the more difficult route. This book is a guide on how to get teacher evaluation right, not how to do it quickly or with minimal effort. So, in a way, the big message or take away is: There are no shortcuts.
The original inspiration for the book – says Darling-Hammond, who serves on our board of directors – was the Albert Shanker Institute’s Good Schools Seminar Series, the goal of which is to build a network of union leaders, district superintendents, and researchers by creating a safe, off-the-record space where they can work collaboratively on issues related to improving teaching and learning. Getting Teacher Evaluation Right is a response to requests from these stakeholders, and is intended to help all sides “imagine and create coherent systems for evaluating teachers in ways that support continuous improvement in classrooms and schools.”
Despite the recent, intense and controversial focus on teacher evaluation as a means to increasing student learning, “existing [teacher evaluation] systems rarely help teachers improve or clearly distinguish those who are succeeding from those who are struggling.” (p. 24)* One problem is that they are not really systems. Judging from the attention to teacher evaluation these days, one wouldn’t suspect that teacher evaluation is really only one small piece of the educational improvement puzzle: “Changing on-the-job evaluation will not, by itself, transform the quality of teaching.”
We cannot fire our way into Finland, Darling-Hammond says:
We will not really improve the quality of the profession if we do not also cultivate an excellent supply of good teachers who are well prepared and committed to career-long learning. (p. 26)
Getting Teacher Evaluation Right provides a framework for thinking comprehensively about “the development, support, and assessment of teaching,” providing strategies based on research and successful experiences currently found in the field.
A second, important theme is that improving the skills of individual teachers is not enough to bring about large-scale, durable change:
We need to create and sustain productive, collegial working conditions that allow teachers to work collectively in an environment that supports learning for them and their students.
In other words, the way forward does not lie so much with teachers’ human capital as with their social capital or, as Hargreaves and Fullan call it, their professional capital. Carrie Leana and others have brilliantly called this theMissing Link in School Reform and social capital/network scholars refer to the same basic phenomenon as theSocial Side of the Reform Equation. What’s interesting to me is that such diverse disciplines, including sociology, organizational studies, and business management, as well as different methodological approaches, including systems’ thinking, social network analysis, etc. are coalescing around the exact same idea: We need to go beyond the individual and reflect more systematically about the behavior of groups if we are to really address our current educational challenges.
But how do we begin to build this system? What are its components? According to Darling-Hammond, in addition to high-quality curriculum and assessments, the ideal system should include five key elements, discussed in depth in each chapter of the book:
  • Common statewide standards.
  • Performance-based assessments, based on these standards.
  • Local evaluation systems, aligned to the same standards.
  • Aligned professional learning opportunities.
  • Support structures to ensure proper evaluations, mentoring etc.
We should start with standards, says Darling-Hammond, as do most nations around the world. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a step in the right direction but they will require more open-ended assessments, capable of measuring deeper learning.

Next, work toward evaluation and state licensing and certification systems that are grounded in the same standards, and conceptualized as a continuum, so that they can jointly reinforce teacher development. Well-designed performance assessments for such a system would: 1) capture teaching in action; 2) observe and assess aspects of teaching related to teachers’ effectiveness; 3) consider and examine teachers’ intentions and strategies; 4) look at teaching in relation to student learning; and 5) use rubrics that vividly describe performance standards.

To read more click on the following link:

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Why so many parents hate Common Core By Diane Ravitch

(CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Education is legally prohibited from having any control over curriculum or instruction in the nation's public schools, but nonetheless Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a zealous advocate of the new Common Core standards for students' proficiency in English and math.
First, he said their critics were members of extremist groups, and he recently assailed the parents who criticize them as "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."
His remarks were prompted by the nearly unanimous outrage expressed by parents -- moms and dads -- at public forums in suburban districts in New York, following the release of the abysmal results of the new Common Core tests.
The parents weren't angry because they found out their child wasn't brilliant, but because most were told by the state that their children were failures. Only 31% of the state's students in grades third through eighth passed or exceeded the new tests. Among students who are English-language learners, only 3% passed the English standards; among students with disabilities, only 5% passed them; among black and Hispanic students, fewer than 20% passed. The numbers for math were better, but not by much.
The high failure rate did not happen because the students are dumb, but because the state chose to set an unrealistic passing mark. The state commissioner knew before any student had taken the test that only 30% or so would pass; that is where the state commissioner set the passing mark.
Duncan likes to boast that the Common Core standards were adopted by 45 states, but neglects to mention that the states were required to adopt "college-and-career-ready standards" to be eligible for $4.35 billion in the education secretary's signature program called Race to the Top.
Some states adopted them without seeing a finished draft. The standards, unfortunately, were never field-tested. No one knew in advance whether they would improve achievement or depress it, whether they would widen or narrow the achievement gap among children of different races. It is hard to imagine a major corporation releasing a new product nationwide without first testing it among consumers to see if it is successful. But that is what happened with the Common Core standards.
Experts in early childhood education say the standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. Teachers say that they have not had the training or resources to teach the new standards. Field-testing would have ironed out many of the bugs, but promoters of the standards insisted on fast implementation.
No one yet has estimated the costs of shifting from state standards to national standards. Duncan awarded $350 million to develop new tests for the new standards, but all of the testing will be done online
Los Angeles intends to spend $1 billion on iPads for the Common Core Techology Project, designed to help prepare for the standards. If that is the cost to only one district, how many billions will schools across the nation pay for software and hardware and bandwidth for Common Core testing? This will be a bonanza for the technology industry, but will put a strain on public school budgets in a time of austerity.
The Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and reasoning. It is time for public officials to demonstrate critical thinking and to stop the rush to implementation and do some serious field-testing.
It is time to fix the standards that don't work in real classrooms with real students. It is time to stop testing students on material they have not been taught. American students take more tests than students in any other nation. Our dependence on standardized testing has become excessive.
Standards alone can't right everything that needs fixing in American education, and some experts, like Tom Loveless at Brookings Institution, say they will make little or no difference in student achievement.

Schools, Violence, and Mental Health By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers

Public schools have the opportunity to impact more future citizens of the world than any other institution.  Creating and maintaining emotional environments that teach, nurture, and maintain healthy behaviors is an essential element of our responsibility to maintain physically safe environments in which our students can learn. Teaching and modeling civility and respect and teaching children learn how to express their emotions is paramount. 
What drives us to use angry and destructive behavior and what drives us to be violent may be an inability to successfully express what is happening inside of us.  We do not suggest children and adults who act out as bullies or with violence are mentally ill.  We do argue that all of us benefit if children are taught to healthfully process their emotions.  Merriam-Webster describes being resilient as being able to  "be strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens."  How good are we at being resilient and how good are we at teaching children how to be?  What if this is a key to obtaining and maintaining one's mental health? 
As we move ahead to eliminate bullying and teach students to stand up and speak out against bullies, how are we reaching those who bully?  Is the violence they inflict a result of not knowing how to moderate and process their own emotions?  Might we be able to impact rising violence by helping students learn how to deal with challenging emotions? 
School shootings have been documented to have occurred as far back as the 1700's.  Wikipedia reports as the twentieth century unfolded, the number of school shootings increased. In the first fourteen years of the twenty-first , we have had 86 school shootings.  A review of the list of school shootings in the Wikipedia article unveils a common thread of revenge.  And following the incidents, many of the shooters turned the gun on themselves. 
As educators, we are not mental health experts and are not prepared to work with students who are diagnosed with mental illness without partnering with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, special educators and parents.  Disconnection between and among these resources puts all at risk. While we are working closely with our partners to help our mentally ill students, there are those just under the surface who are struggling with their emotions and appropriate expression of them. They, too, are at risk. While the gun debate goes on, urgency is ours. We have students in our schools who need help. 
The Community Mental Health Act turns 50 on October 31st.  This was the last piece of legislation signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.  He signed this legislation into law just two weeks before Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated him. The Warren Commission Report refers to the mental health concerns raised in Oswald's youth and states,
Oswald was remanded for psychiatric observation to Youth House, an institution in which children are kept for psychiatric observation or for detention pending court appearance or commitment to a child-caring or custodial institution such as a training school.  He was in Youth House from April 16 to May 7, 1953, during which time he was examined by its Chief Psychiatrist, Dr. Renatus Hartogs, and interviewed and observed by other members of the Youth House staff.
Michelle R. Smith has written a compelling piece for the Associated Press entitled, Mental Health Treatment Hasn't Lived Up To JFK's Vision.  In it, she reminds us of the state of mental health in the 1960's, and the President's vision for humanizing the treatment of the mentally ill. His vision was to treat patients in their "their own communities and then return them to "a useful place in society." Progress has been made... if progress is defined as deinstitutionalization. Advances in medicine and the influence of the law have certainly helped those diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1963, they would have had an average stay, Smith reminds us, of 11 years in a state institution.  Nevertheless, the true goals of the law have not been realized and half of the centers envisioned have not been built. Smith continues,
Meanwhile, about 90 percent of beds have been cut at state hospitals, according to Paul Appelbaum, a Columbia University psychiatry professor and expert in how the law affects the practice of medicine. In many cases, several mental health experts said, that has left nowhere for the sickest people to turn, so they end up homeless, abusing substances or in prison. The three largest mental health providers in the nation today are jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County and Rikers Island in New York.
Did we envision that prisons would become the nation's 21st century treatment centers for the mentally ill?

Students need school environments that teach how to process emotions and develop the vocabulary necessary for expression. That is within our reach. But while there may be more we can do to advance the interventions offered to our students who suffer with mental illness, we cannot accomplish great changes without the support of society at large. The legislation passed half a century ago was intended to make treatment and possible return to society a more effective and humanized experience for the mentally ill.  Yet, recent shootings focus us on the failure to be societally successful in addressing the needs of those with mental illness. We have not developed the ability to draw the right lines between confidentiality and disclosure.  Diagnosable mental illness still carries a stigma not associated with other illnesses.  And the torture within the mind and within the emotions can be too easily hidden or dismissed or disciplined.  We think of those who entered the schools and movie theaters and the Washington DC Navy Yard. Could their lives have ended differently if mental health were a national priority?  If we can tug something positive from tragedy, maybe this will be it.  Maybe Kennedy's last gift is yet to come.

Education Sec. Duncan under fire for comment about 'white suburban moms' By Rene Marsh and Mike M. Ahlers

Washington (CNN) -- Proving once again that any controversy will be intensified -- if not illuminated -- by random references to race, class, and gender, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has ignited a storm of protest by noting opposition from "white suburban moms" to one of his prized educational initiatives.
In a meeting with state education chiefs Friday, Duncan said some opposition to the Common Core State Standards -- a controversial effort to standardize education -- has come from parents displeased that test results have exposed local weaknesses. Duncan said he found it "fascinating" that opponents include "white suburban moms who -- all of a sudden -- (discovered that) their child isn't as bright as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."
Duncan apologized for the remark Monday afternoon.
Speaking to CNN, he said: "My wording, my phrasing, was a little clumsy and I apologize for that."
Duncan said his point was that the goal is to prepare U.S. students for a "globally competitive work force" and to challenge education leaders to better explain to parents why higher standards are needed and what it takes to achieve them.
"I didn't say them perfectly, and I apologize for that," he added. "My point is that children from every demographic across this country need a well-rounded, world-class education and frankly we have challenges not just in our inner cities but in our suburban areas, too, and we need to have honest conversations about that."
The "white suburban moms" remark was first reported Friday by Politico, which later reported that Duncan backpedaled, saying that he "didn't say it perfectly."
The incident, if nothing else, is thrusting Common Core State Standards into red-hot glare of politically oriented social media.
Duncan has pushed the initiative, which seeks to establish a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through high school for math and English.
Advocates say the standards are essential to improve student skills, prepare them for college, and make the United States competitive with other nations.
But opponents say the standards instill students with elitist values and rob communities of local control of schools.
The remarks triggered a barrage of online comments, and a WhiteHouse.gov petition. As of noon Monday, 1,800 people had signed the petition to remove Duncan as secretary of education. A separate '"National Don't Send Your Child to School Day," protest over the standards has gained thousands of supporters on its Facebook page, though the number of children who were kept from school is unclear.
Conservative commentator and Common Core foe Michelle Malkin scolded Duncan.
"Ohhhh yes, the red blood underneath my brown skin is boiling. This Obama educrat has stepped in it. Big time. Race card-wielding Education Secretary Arne Duncan is nothing but a corrupt and bankrupt bigot," Malkin wrote.
Tweeted Randi Winegarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers: "Arne-if u are reading- you shld walk this back..very insensitive-and not right-moms care abt their kids!!
One Virginia-area mother posted a personal response on the left-leaning DailyKos arguing that Duncan missed the point. She said her own son was late to focus and achieve, and standardized testing would have marginalized him.
"I don't fight the Common Core because I think my child is brilliant, but because I'm tired of these one size fits all educational solutions," wrote Gretchen Moran Laskas. "So yes, I'm opposed. Not because I don't understand it. Not because I think it will make my children look bad. But because I know that children already look bad -- and by the time they might get it together and look good the way (my son) could, it might be too late."
A Department of Education official said in an e-mail that, in making his remarks, Duncan was encouraging state education chiefs to better communicate why higher standards are so important.
"The far right and far left have made up their minds," spokesman Massie Ritsch wrote. "But there's angst in the middle -- which includes many open-minded suburban parents -- that needs to be addressed."
"Arne -- a white suburban dad married to a white suburban mom, with two kids in public schools -- has always been clear that test scores are an imperfect measure of student achievement and school quality, but tests are an indicator nonetheless," Ritsch wrote. "And when that indicator conflicts with parents' notions of their child's abilities or their school's quality, it's understandable that some parents would be concerned."
The White House spokesman also defended Duncan, though Jay Carney said he had not seen all the comments.
"His point was that we need to be honest with kids and parents -- all can agree on that," Carney said on Monday.

What Finland can teach America about education by Jason Miks

America is exceptional in many ways. Sadly, secondary education is not one of them. The most recent rankings for the Program for International Student Assessment has American 15 year-olds ranked 14th in reading, 17th  in science and 25th in math, among other developed nations.  Countries like Finland and South Korea always rank near the top.
In a 2011 GPS special, we went to those two countries to see what they were doing differently. Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley went one step further. She followed some American kids as they spent a year abroad in high school in those two countries and in Poland. The results are fascinating. The book is called The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.
Amanda Ripley joins me now. So what did you find about those three countries that struck you? You actually have three models that you say that they represent. What are they?
So, South Korea is the pressure cooker model. The extreme case of what you see all over Asia, where kids are working night and day, literally, under a lot of family pressure, to get very high test scores. Now, South Korea does get those high test scores, but at great cost. So that’s one, the pressure cooker model.
Finland is, in many ways, the opposite extreme of South Korea. Not in all ways, but in some.  And Finland is what I call the utopia model – they've really invested in quality over quantity and the kids are, on average, doing less homework than our kids, but still achieving at the very top of the world on tests of critical thinking and math, reading and science, with very little variation from school to school or from socioeconomic status from one to the other.
And why did you choose Poland?
Poland is the surprise. Poland is an example of the metamorphosis, a country that has a high rate of child poverty and plenty of trouble and trauma in its background, and yet has radically improved its education outcomes over the past 10 years.
So Poland is not yet at the level of Finland or Korea, but a place that shows that there is hope. You know, change happens, even in places with problems. So in a way, looking at Poland is almost like going back in time and looking at Finland and Korea 50 years ago.
Talk a little bit more about the Finland model, because that's the one that's the most intriguing. What makes Finland work? Why are those test scores so high?
It's remarkable to everyone, including everyone in Finland. They can't quite believe it, year after year. One thing that they've done that's very clear and is very unusual around the world is, in the late 1960s, they shut down their teacher training colleges, which were like ours, of highly variable selectivity and quality. And they reopened them in the top eight most elite universities in the land as part of a broader reform of higher education.
When they did that, it set off a series of cascading consequences that I don't even know that they realized. One thing that happened is the obvious – you eventually have teachers who, themselves, have the advantage of a very strong education, which makes it easier to teach higher order thinking skills.
And they're, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think they draw their teachers from the top 10 or 20 percent of the graduating class. We tend to draw teachers from the bottom third.
Yes. Thank you. We educate twice as many teachers as we need. And in many, many of these colleges, there's a very low bar for entry. So you don't have to have very good grades yourself in order to get in. And that's true around the world, actually. That's very common.
So Finland is unusual.
Finland is unusual, yes, for doing that. But I think what's really surprising about it, and what I noticed when I spent time with kids in Finland, is that the kids pick up on this. So there's a signaling effect, like economists would say, where you know how hard it is to get into teacher training colleges.
And that alone isn't enough, but it sends this message to everyone – the parents, the taxpayers, the politicians and the students – that this is serious, that you are serious about education and that teaching is really hard, not just in rhetoric, but in reality. And so it adds this credibility to the whole enterprise that helps kids buy into the promise of education.
You also point out something about all these countries – and this is true of all three of them – which is, there is almost no sports in the best schools in the world.
Right. Kids play sports, but not in school. It's sort of separate from school – pickup games or community rec centers, but it’s not a part of the core mission of school. This is controversial. I get in a lot of trouble when I talk about this, because Americans love their sports and American kids love their sports. And when I surveyed hundreds of exchange students, you know, they all agreed that sports were more important to their American peers than their peers back home.
But many of them actually really like that. They liked that there was this school spirit and this bonding. The problem is that sports can sometimes, if you don't constantly keep it contained, eat away at the mission of school, which is supposed to be education, right?
So when we are routinely spending two to three times per football player what we spend per math student, when we routinely have teachers leaving to go coach away games and have to bring in substitutes, and we're spending tens of thousands of dollars on buses for the marching band, that's something that should be weighed against the benefit.
It seemed to me, what you really said is that the systems are quite different in all these three countries, the structures are different. The one thing that's true is there's a psychology that says school is hard. You've got to spend a lot of time at it. You've got to work hard. You've got to succeed. And that's missing in America.
It's almost exactly the same attitude many of us take towards sports, towards academics.  It's literally: this is important, there's a big contest at the end, not everyone is going to win. To get better, critically, you have to practice and work harder, you know, and get more help. But you're not innately just bad at math.
So that's a really powerful combination, when you take that intensity on education, when you make it rigorous through highly trained, highly supported teachers and then back it up. Kids know if this is bogus or not.
Did it leave you depressed about America?
No. Actually, oddly, I felt more optimistic when I came back than when I left. I feel like, you know, we have 45 states that have now adopted the common core state standards. Big fights still happening and still to come about that. But those are more rigorous in math and reading, which is much more aligned, particularly in math, with what these countries are doing. It's an obvious first step. Not enough, but exciting that it's even happening in 45 states. I mean that's a huge deal for America.

And I think, you know, more and more people are starting to talk about the quality of our education colleges. To get into education college in Finland is like getting into MIT in the United States. And imagine what could follow if that were true here. I mean you could make a case to pay teachers more, to give them more freedom in the classroom, and to finally give that profession the respect it deserves.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Five reasons America is still in trouble By David Rothkopf,

Think about it. Doesn't the most recent episode of "Keeping Up with the Debt Limit" feel more as though it were an E! production than one by C-SPAN? Hasn't it been as predictable, brief and of itself, as inconsequential as a Kardashian marriage, as odious as Kanye and as certain to lead to unhappiness as Lamar's reputed drug problem? Doesn't the pinheaded disconnect from reality seem familiar?

The problem is that it is easier to deal with the Kardashians than their counterparts in the Capitol. We can just change the channel. The reality is, we all depend on the U.S. government in enough ways that letting it turn into a repetitive, meaningless form of basic cable melodrama would be a formula for national catastrophe.

We should therefore try to draw lessons from this round of Beltway follies: what we must fix if our country is not to go the way of Kris and Bruce's marriage. Here are five critical problems we must address.

1. The political system is broken
Gerrymandering has caused House districts to be essentially "owned" by one party or the other. That makes general elections irrelevant. So it is primary voters who determine who runs, and they tend to be the more energized, activist voters of the left and right wings. The result? Extremes are rewarded and virtually ensured of re-election.

Add to that campaign finance rules that give disproportionate power to big money, and incumbents and Senate rules that give the minority and individual senators too much power, and you have system in which gridlock is virtually institutionalized. We need campaign finance reform, an end to gerrymandering and rules reform in both houses of Congress, and we need to make these initiatives a top political priority of America's centrist majority.

2. Our national conversation has gotten off-track
Promote extremist politicians and reward them for their extremism, and you get tension, incivility and a reluctance to embrace the compromise that is essential to democracy. Bring in the language of religion and culture wars, and the debate becomes about what divides us rather than what we need to bring us together, about our problems and not about their practical solutions.
Wedge issues then play a greater role in campaigns than new ideas. Opponents become enemies rather than neighbors with alternative views.

We need to defuse the language, edit the loaded terminology, reinvest in the separation of church and state and call out dangerously divisive ideas, racism, sexism and sheer stupidity, like denying science, history or basic arithmetic.

3. Governance has become a lost art
The least-valued skill set in Washington is the ability to actually get things done. We mistakenly believe that articulating a problem is the same thing as solving it. We reward those who give good speeches and not those who have a proven track record of fixing things.
Politicians are too often elected because they advance an ideology, and when they serve, they inevitably focus on what they need to do to be re-elected. But their jobs were created to serve the public, to govern and to lead, even if that means making their positions of power more precarious. We need to start voting for people who have proved their skill at bridging partisan divides and focusing on the needs of the electorate.

4. We are ignoring the really big problems
We are trapped in a cycle of punting problems ahead a few months and chipping away at the margins of issues. When this shutdown/debt-limit crisis is finally resolved, we will have a few months until it recurs. If a deal is struck before another crisis happens, it will be incremental.
Yet America has much bigger issues: a too-slow recovery from a great economic setback, an inability to create good jobs at the rate of past recoveries and, perhaps above all, a failure to address the growing inequality that is dividing our society.

It is not just an economic quirk that 90% of the benefits of the current recovery are accruing to the top 10% of our society; it is a formula for social breakdown and national decline. It is also profoundly unjust. We need to start demanding that leaders address these bigger issues.

5. The American people have failed their government ... and each other
You can't blame the politicians. You elected them. You turned away from the system. You didn't run for office. You didn't write your views down and pass them along to people in power. You didn't fund campaigns that supported people committed to big solutions.

You have become ill-informed, caught up in the name-calling and the partisanship and the climate that created the Washington we have today. You've got the government you deserve. Remember, according to the Constitution, the top job in the U.S. government goes to the voter. If these clowns in Washington can't get it right and you don't fire them, you deserve what you get.

This is not reality television, even though it feels as pointless. This is just reality. And reality, in this democracy, is what the voters make of it. You can't blame Obama or Boehner. Scarily enough, the TV screen, whether it shows the Kardashians or C-SPAN or cable news, is just a mirror, a reflection of what America wants and is.

Tea Partyers’ grave fear: Why they disdain young people — even their own! BY JOSH EIDELSON

The past weeks’ showdown in Washington, D.C., has shocked and perplexed some observers. Theda Skocpol was not among them. Skocpol, a veteran Harvard professor, is the author of books on topics ranging from the politics of the U.S. welfare state (“Protecting Soldiers and Mothers”) to the state of grass-roots political engagement (“Diminished Democracy”), and of the definitive social science tome on the Tea Party (“The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” with Vanessa Williamson).
With the immediate debt ceiling/shutdown showdown coming to a close, Salon called up Skocpol Wednesday to discuss how the media misunderstand the Tea Party, how an unpopular movement can move so many members of Congress, and why the right hates Obama’s moderate healthcare law so much. What follows is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
Has this month shown us anything we didn’t know about the Tea Party?
I think people in mainstream media and D.C. politics kind of wrote the Tea Party off after 2012. They thought, “Well, this isn’t popular anymore, and the Democrats succeeded in defeating the primary goal of Tea Party forces.” But I think that was always misreading what the Tea Party was about. It’s been there all along to keep Republicans from compromising. I think we’ve seen over the past two weeks that they have the ability to just tie up the federal government and put the country at risk, and they don’t show any signs of backing down. And I don’t think they will, even if they’re defeated in this episode.
Frances Fox Piven argued to me that the Tea Party is something old and something new – it has some demographic continuity with the Birchers or Christian right, but also represents a genuine shift motivated in part by fear that white people are losing their privilege in the U.S. Do you agree?
In many ways I do. We actually did the research, both by pulling together national [data] and by doing observations in groups in three regions. There’s no question that at the grass roots, approximately half of all Republican-identifiers who think of themselves as Tea Partyers are a very conservative-minded old group of white people, some of whom do go all the way back to Goldwater and the Birch Society. They are skeptical of the Republican Party as it has been run in recent years. But they both hate and fear the Democratic Party and Obama. We argued in many ways that anger comes from alarm on the part of these older conservatives that they’re losing their country — that’s what they say. That they’re the true Americans, and they’re losing control of American politics. So that’s the grass-roots component.
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CT tries new approach to help the 25% of urban students who can't read By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Friday, October 18, 2013
It took third grade teacher Marcy Deschaine three minutes to determine that one of her students was struggling to read.
And it took her another three minutes of hearing Corey Lipscomb read from a book about making pizza to determine that this student's reading was where it should be.
“You’re in the green,” Deschaine, who teaches at Hubbell Elementary School in Bristol, told Corey, showing him his results from the quick assessment on her hand-held iPod touch.
Hubbell is one of 15 schools in the state where a pilot program was launched to help poor readers. The program focuses on identifying reading problems early and then providing those students with additional small-group reading instruction.
The need is acute.
At the state’s lowest-performing school districts, one in four students in kindergarten through Grade 3 was identified as “substantially deficient” in reading last year. Only half of the 47,440 elementary school students were rated as proficient in reading.
Despite these significant deficiencies -- and research shows that students who can’t read by Grade 3 are far more likely to drop out of high school -- the State Department of Education reports that few students are held back.
“We haven’t retained anybody,” Edward Orzulak, principal of Anna Norris Elementary School in East Hartford, said in a recent interview.
While more than a dozen states nationwide have placed restrictions on the social promotion of struggling students past Grade 3, educators in Connecticut are trying this different approach to more aggressively confront the problem.
“Teaching reading in many ways really is rocket science,” said Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, the State Department of Education’s chief academic officer. “Research says retention does more harm then good. It’s what we do when we don’t know what else to do.”
Finding out what works
Ellen Delgado spends part of her day at Norris Elementary helping small groups of students improve their reading.
“It’s not OK to just do the same program with the same lesson and hope for different results. You need a plan,” the literacy coach said during a recent interview.
These small-group interventions are taking place at all 15 of the pilot schools.
The Neag School of Education is leading reform efforts at five of the schools where, every day, 40 percent to 60 percent of students gather in small groups and receive 30 to 45 minutes of additional reading instruction.
Michael Coyne, associate professor and a researcher at the Neag Center for Behavioral Education and Research, says the results of a nearly identical approach are promising elsemwhere.
“Intervention generally accelerated achievement,” Coyne told educators and state lawmakers during a reading forum at the state Capitol complex last month. A chart that showed the increase in reading proficiency of a similiar initiative in Florida was displayed. “This provides evidence we could replicate in other Connecticut schools and high priority districts,” he said.
While there seems to be agreement among state educators that these interventions are beneficial, the pilot schools are also working to help teachers better identify which students are struggling and in what areas -- vocabulary, fluency, phonics, etc. -- they're having trouble with.
In numerous pilot schools, every kindergarten through Grade 3 teacher has been provided with an iPod touch –- a “mini computer,” as some Bristol teachers call it -– to track their students.
Each teacher sits down with every student toward the beginning of the school year and asks him to read out loud for two minutes. As teachers follow word-for-word on their iPods, they note words the student mispronounces, how far in the text the student gets to in the allotted time and whether the student can tell them key points from the book.
Through the three-minute assessment, teachers can see immediately if the student is struggling in phonics, fluency, comprehension and the other necessary elements needed to read effectively.
“Before we knew what we had to teach based on what the whole group needed. Now they will get extra instruction in small groups to support where they may be behind,” said Barbara Tedesco, a first grade teacher in Bristol.
Teachers like Tedesco do follow-up assessments once that initial intervention has taken place to make sure the student is improving and catching up with his peers.
Tracie Sinkwich, the literacy teacher at the Bristol school, says the two-pronged approach is helping.
In one Grade 1 classroom at Hubbell, 32 percent of the students at the start of the school year were far below where they should have been in reading comprehension. By year's end, that number had dipped to 21 percent, and the drop had occurred in classroom after classroom.
“We are in a better place now to get a head start with these students,” Sinkwich said.
Statewide rollout for reading reforms for next year?
Members of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus sought to have these reforms implemented statewide in the spring of 2012.

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Education Reform Becomes Dirty 'R-Word' To School-Focused Mayors By Joy Resmovits

The splashiest education reform wars in recent years have been the province of big-city mayors. New York's Michael Bloomberg (I) and Chicago's Rahm Emanuel (D), for example, regularly clash with teachers' unions and have become national spokesmen for controversial policies that include expanded charter schools and teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores.
Now there's a new group of Democratic mayors with an interest in education beyond the borders of their cities. And they're hoping to be more subtle about changing public education than their predecessors.
This week, four politically ascendent mayors from smaller cities -- Julián Castro of San Antonio; Angel Taveras of Providence, R.I.; Michael Hancock of Denver; and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif. -- kicked off a what they're calling the "Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour" in Denver. The goal, according to promotional materials, is to "learn how each city is helping spark significant turnarounds in their different regions of the country and how to scale these achievements." The group plans to visit all four of their cities by March.
The tour is not branded as an education reform effort.
That term often conjures images of Republicans, Democrats and hedge-fund donorswho advance policies that promote charter schools and rigorous teacher evaluations, and has become so loaded that a school board candidate in Denver recently referred to it as the "r-word."
Even so-called reformers have recognized the shortcomings of their good-vs.-evil narrative. John White, the schools chief of Louisiana who made his name as a New York City deputy education chancellor under Joel Klein, recently gave a speech arguing reformers must adapt to survive. He said America's inherently populist tendencies will topple the movement if it doesn't move beyond the same old fights and self-righteous justifications.
White may be onto something, If New York's recent mayoral primary election is a sign. Bill de Blasio (D), the city public advocate, trounced his Democratic opponents by campaigning against Bloomberg's policies -- especially on education. He called for a moratorium on school closures, a centerpiece Bloomberg policy.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Calling Black Men To The Blackboard by Travis Bristol

W.E.B. Du Bois, the preeminent American scholar, suggested that the problem of the twentieth-century is the problem of the color-line. Without question, the problem of the 21st century continues to be the “color-line,” which is to say race. And so it is understandable why Cabinet members in the Obama administration continue to address the race question head-on, through policies that attempt to decrease systemic disparities between Latino and Black Americans when compared to White Americans.
Most recently, in August 2013, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department’s decision toreduce federal mandatory drug sentencing regulations.  Holder called “shameful” the fact that “black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes.” Attempts, such as Holder’s, to reform the criminal justice system appear to be an acknowledgment that institutionalized racism influences how Blacks and Whites are sentenced.
The parallels between prisons and schools are well-documented. The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the fact that many school systems are unable to provide struggling students with enough skills and support, thereby increasing their likelihood of entering correctional facilities. Those students most trapped in this pipeline are Black males. Given this reality, like Attorney General Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described a policy initiative aimed at improving the in- and out-of-school outcomes for Black boys: increase the number Black male teachers in U.S. public schools.
At a college commencement in December, 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted that this shortage is endemic to the nation: “less than 15 percent of our teachers are black or Latino. It is especially troubling that less than two percent of our nation’s teachers are African-American males. Less than one in 50! It’s unacceptable.” Earlier that year, at Morehouse College, the nation’s only all-male historically Black institution, Secretary Duncan launched the department’s “Black Men to the Blackboard” teacher recruitment campaign
One reason for this recruitment campaign is the hope that it could help redress the current social and educational outcomes of Black men and boys. As noted by one department official at the Morehouse event: “Faced with the startling fact that black males represent six percent of the U.S. population, yet 35 percent of the prison population and less than two percent of teachers, I can’t help but think how far we have to go.”
The dearth of Black male teachers is often attributed to Black boys’ performance in school; that is, the academic under-achievement of Black males makes them less likely to attain degrees in higher education.  However, researchers and policy makers, and those calling “Black Men to the Blackboard,” have failed to ask why many of those who do graduate and enter teaching go on to leave the classroom. Put simply, districts and schools, particularly those in urban areas, might have as much difficulty retaining Black male teachers as recruiting them.
Indeed, in an analysis of longitudinal data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) Ingersoll & May found that minority male teachers, most of whom were Black, were more likely to move to other schools than teachers from other sub-groups. A recent meta-analysis of turnover and retention among teachers of color identified only one studythat explored the turnover patterns for Black male teachers. In this study, researchers analyzed a longitudinal data set from the Texas State Department of Education and found that White female and Black male teachers were leaving the profession at higher rates than other groups. While researchers are aware of some of the organizational conditions that affect the retention of teachers, there is little empirical research on how those conditions influence the decisions for sub-groups (see here), such as Black male teachers.
To add to the research on how schools influence the experiences of Black male teachers, I designed, with the help of Ron Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap at Harvard University, a Black Male Teacher Environment Survey(BMTES). In June 2012, I administered BMTES to Black male teachers in Boston Public Schools (BPS). In an analysis of BMTES data*, I observed that the number of Black men in the building influenced their experiences in the school. Specifically, I explored the responses of “Loners,” respondents who were the only Black men on their faculty and “Groupers,” respondents in schools with four or more Black men on the faculty. From the overall sample, 78 percent of respondents intended to stay at their current schools; but Loners (57 percent), when compared to Groupers (20 percent), indicated a greater desire to leave their current schools, even in a down economy.
Some other interesting differences between the two groups include the fact that Loners were disproportionately more likely to have taught in three or more schools (86 percent), compared to Groupers (50 percent).  Loners were also more likely to cite challenges with colleagues as one influence on their decision to leave. In a soon to be publishedbook chapter, I analyze the differences between how Loners and Groupers perceive the experiences of male students of color.
In sum, preliminary findings from this survey, BMTES, reveal that Black men who were the only Black male teacher on staff are more likely to want to leave their current schools. And, despite ongoing efforts to increase the number of Black male teachers in the workforce, Black men appear more likely to be movers and leavers when compared to other sub-groups. The results of this survey extend the nascent literature on Black male teacher turnover by providing a framework that explores how workers experience the organization, particularly for those in the numerical minority.
As the new school year begins, newspapers across the country – from Florida to VirginiaIllinois to Iowa – are reporting on school districts’ search for minority teachers, especially African American teachers – evidence that we, as a society, continue to navigate around the color line.  If administrators and policy makers continue to focus solely on recruitment efforts, without attention to retention, they run the risk of creating a revolving door of teachers in our public schools.
Only in the past decade have researchers turned their attention to an investigation of Black male teachers. Almost all of this burgeoning research has focused on exploring pathways into the profession (here and here, for example) and the teaching practices of Black male teachers (see here). There has been little research that attempts to understand how the organizational conditions in schools shape the work experiences of Black male teachers. If we are ever to get a handle on this issue, more research is needed, exploring how organizational conditions, characteristics, and dynamics in schools affect the career choices and trajectories of Black male teachers.
- Travis Bristol
* A link to the online survey was sent to each Black male teacher of record on Tuesday, June 26th – three days before the end of the school year. The timing may be one influence to the survey’s 34 percent response rate. In total, 85 of the 266 Black male teachers in BPS responded to the survey. It is important to note that the absolute size of my Loner (n=8) and Grouper (n=33) teachers on whom I base the below analysis only allows me to provide an impression of potential patterns in the district. An increase in response rate could change some of my findings.